One School’s Faculty-wide Exploration of Schools for All Kinds of Minds

By Mary Mannix, Guest Blogger

Last spring, administrators at Indian Creek School, an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction, searched for a book for summer reading for the faculty that would be meaningful and relevant to teachers across all three divisions of the school, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

Why Schools for All Kinds of Minds?

Administrators chose Schools for All Kinds of Minds because they believed it would serve as a platform for the faculty to review, reflect upon, and discuss Indian Creek’s ongoing commitment to using the All Kinds of Minds approach to teaching and learning. Group discussions would also provide the opportunity to learn how teachers in each division are using the All Kinds of Minds philosophy and framework in their instructional practice.

All faculty members were given a copy of the book on the last day of school and asked to prepare for small group discussions to be held at the start of the school year.

Framing the Book Study

Ten faculty members, designated as small-group facilitators, developed guiding questions to frame the group discussions. Throughout the summer, they shared their thoughts and reflections on their own blog. As their discussion unfolded, several questions emerged:

  • How are teachers nurturing and using students’ strengths and affinities to support learners and learning?
  • How has the teacher’s role changed with the All Kinds of Minds approach?
  • How do we help students develop metacognition and insight into how they learn best?

The facilitators agreed that the goal of the discussions would be to determine how reading the book would affect our teaching and our students’ learning this school year.

Faculty “Aha’s”

Over 80 faculty members gathered in small groups on the first day of school. A major “aha” for many was the book’s shift away from a focus on students’ weaknesses and the emphasis on using students’ strengths and affinities to support and leverage learning. Teachers perceived this to be an important change in perspective which would allow a broader implementation of the All Kinds of Minds framework and would ultimately improve the learning experience of all students.

“To build a mind requires that you understand it” was an idea that resonated for many teachers.

Teachers also felt that the book validated the importance of investing time and effort into understanding the unique minds in our classrooms. During discussions, it became obvious that while the details of how teachers achieved this goal differed according to the grade level of the students, teachers shared a belief that getting to know students is the best way to support them. “To build a mind requires that you understand it” was an idea that resonated for many teachers.  

Book Study Takeaways

Reading Schools for All Kinds of Minds as a faculty allowed us to see clearly that the All Kinds of Minds approach is a thread that weaves itself throughout all three divisions of our school. This way of thinking about teaching and learning allows us to realize the goal set forth in our mission statement: “to provide an academically challenging education in a warm, nurturing environment to a group of students with a wide range of talents and skills.”

Discussing Schools for All Kinds of Minds reenergized our teachers, deepened their understanding, and renewed our commitment as an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction. It provided a meeting ground in which elementary, middle, and upper school teachers could learn from each other and share insights and ideas. For us, it was the right book for building bridges across three divisions.

What’s next at Indian Creek?

The book discussion was so successful that another has been planned for mid year so teachers can share how they are implementing the ideas they took away from the book. We are focusing on “small-wins” – a concept highlighted throughout the book – and sharing our success stories regularly at faculty meetings. Administrators are also giving teachers an opportunity to visit classrooms across divisions to observe the implementation of All Kinds of Minds strategies and practices.

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Mary Mannix is the Lower School Learning Specialist and All Kinds of Minds Coordinator at Indian Creek School in Crownsville, Maryland.  She is also a long-time All Kinds of Minds facilitator.

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Have any other schools out there engaged in a book study using Schools for All Kinds of Minds?  If so, tell us about it!  What were your faculty’s “aha’s”?  How will you continue to use the book throughout the school year?  Questions for Mary?  Leave a comment … we’d love to hear from you!

Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  We’ve already given away several books, and this is the last week of our giveaway!  Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win!  Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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Adapting to New Realities

There is one particular area where independent schools can play a large leadership role over the next generation.

Because they are less encumbered by the laws and mandates that public schools face, independent schools can more readily adapt their programs to meet the needs of 21st century learners, digital natives in the parlance of the field. The sooner schools realize that the unbridled access to information provided by 2009 technology, the sooner they can teach to this new reality.

But we don’t just need change, we need effective change. Applying a simple solution to a complicated need only creates greater problems. We should not simply drop more technology instruction into an already bulging curriculum.

This is where using the AKOM framework can be a big help – the evolution of teaching should examine and address the ongoing neurodevelopmental needs of children. Schools must look at their evolution to the digital age of literacy through a student-centered lens.

But it is difficult to create an evolution while at the same time managing the day-to-day realities of running a school.

Armed with a deep knowledge of the AKOM framework and the experience of working closely with today’s learners, I hope my role as a consultant can help provide independent schools with a perspective on how to proceed during these fascinating and uncertain times.

Independent School Leadership

As noted in the last entry, an independent school’s administration plays a role in developing a climate that welcomes students with diverse learning needs. Most administrations probably fall into one of these three categories:

  • Willing and able – can promote an atmosphere welcoming to the needs of individual learners
  • Willing but unable – promotes the ideal of a comprehensive learning atmosphere but lacks the understanding of how to achieve it
  • Unwilling – recognize that the school’s mission is to serve a certain segment of the student population

As a solo practitioner, I love working with the first group, and appreciate the honesty and integrity of the third group.

The second group is most interesting, and where I find great opportunities for growth.  These administrators want what is best for all students, but have too often relied on a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to learning interventions and missed out on opportunities to make a real difference for their students.

One size may fit most, but only guarantees that there will be students who fall through the cracks.  Often these students are bright, talented, and outstanding school citizens.

I welcome the opportunity to work with an administration that is open to learning more about how to serve all kinds of learners, for they will foster teacher growth and student achievement.

Consulting in Independent Schools

Many of the students I work with attend private, independent schools, and the Philadelphia area is blessed with a large variety of high-quality schools.

For students who learn differently, the atmosphere of the school they attend has much to do with their sense of success. It has been my observation that atmosphere is established in either a top-down or a bottom-up manner.

The students I currently work with are all in high school, and this is what I have observed about their teachers:

  • they have generally been open to ideas and suggestions for better serving struggling students;
  • at the secondary level, they typically have had interesting and enriching experiences with developing their abilities to teach content to students;
  • very often, they have had little training or sustained professional development about learning differences.

Sometimes, the experience of working with a struggling student has inspired teachers to promote greater faculty-wide understanding that how students learn is as important to consider as what students learn. These teacher-leaders are critical to creating the right atmosphere for students.

As a private tutor, it is gratifying to serve as a link in the chain. Consulting with a classroom teacher provides an opportunity to spread the credo that kids have ‘all kinds of minds’.

Next time, we’ll look at the role of a school’s administration.

Schools Attuned at Wasatch Academy

The integration of Schools Attuned principles, philosophy, and practices can look very different from school to school and educator to educator. Each individual and each institution can find ways to blend the Schools Attuned program with the work they are currently doing. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I have been working in both academic and therapeutic settings. My work with Schools Attuned as a participant and a facilitator has given me further insight into the unique neurodevelopmental profiles of students. Conflicts may arise when students find themselves in environments that place demands where they are weakest or limit their affinities.

At Wasatch Academy, my primary responsibility is to help meet the needs of students who would benefit from private counseling. Although this is not academic counseling, I am in a position to notice how emotional difficulties are often caused by stressors in the classroom. Difficulties with attention and completing assignments can lead to feelings of failure. Problems with memory and recalling information for tests may lead to anxiety or feelings of inadequacy. Poor social cognition can make group projects difficult and lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Although Schools Attuned is not a program for dealing with the emotional needs of students, there is a strong connection between academic success and failure and a students emotional state. Student cannot be present cognitively if they are consumed by personal/social/emotional issues.

I was hired by Wasatch Academy, in large part, due to my familiarity with Schools Attuned and the ways in which I have integrated it into my professional practice. The school works to meet the academic, residential, and recreational needs of every student. My counseling practice is yet another aspect of student life at Wasatch Academy that is guided by the All Kinds of Mind principles. Even though I am primarily concerned with the emotional needs of a student, I am able to suggest accommodations and modifications in the classroom and dormitory that while academic in nature, may work to ease emotional stress as well.

As a professional, I am curious about ways in which other counselors are integrating Schools Attuned into their practice. How are other educators who are not primarily classroom teachers integrating Schools Attuned?

-Lori English

Implementing SA at WA

Since Max has taken the time to introduce you to the school, I’ll take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Chris English. I am in my ninth year as an educator, and will be starting my first year at Wasatch Academy this month. I have a MA in English, and have been working in North Carolina Public Schools until this summer.

My wife, Lori, and I were first introduced to Schools Attuned (SA) while working for Edenton-Chowan Schools. After completing our initial SA course, we were asked to attend Schools Attuned Facilitator Development Academy (SAFDA) to become facilitators for North Carolina Schools Attuned. We met Max at SAFDA, where we quickly became friends.

Since SAFDA, I have facilitated several courses in NC, and have become a member of the Schools Attuned Facilitator Advisory Board.

Here at Wasatch Academy, I will continue to teach Advanced Placement English courses, something that I truly love, but will also be working in another capacity as a Learning Strategies teacher. In this role, I will work closely with small classes of students (class limit is 6) to help them understand their own neurodevelopmental profile, the neurodevelopmental demands of their classes and assignments, their personal affinities, and the modifications and accommodations that will allow their affinities to overcome any learning difficulties.

Sounds challenging, but it is one of the many ways that Wasatch Academy in integrating Schools Attuned.

Please understand, this is not a replacement for EC services, the Learning Strategies Course is open to students who desire/need a better understanding of their own learning.

As I am preparing for this school year, I was asked to place my courses on the school’s Atlas Curriculum map. Some of you may be using this in your school. I had plenty of experience with it in Edenton-Chowan Schools. One of the interesting things that Wasatch Academy has done with the Curriculum map is adding a section on neurodevelopmental demands. This allowed me to post the neurodevelopmental demands for each unit, and even assignment types, in my course.

Is anyone else implementing SA into curriculum mapping? What do you think the advantages and disadvantages may be if you were required to include neurodevelopmental demands in the descriptions of courses, units, or assignments?

-Chris English

Wasatch Academy Background Info.

A theme that has emerged in my work with teachers, administrators, and various institutions is that integrating Schools Attuned comprehensively at various levels can be challenging. As the SA program is designed specifically to include tools for integration at the student, classroom, and school levels, many participants leave their core course feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of immediate integration… Let alone at what level. Wasatch academy has developed a unique approach to Schools Attuned training, professional practice integration, and teacher collaboration/ support. My hope is that by sharing some of what we have done, others may benefit. And yes, I also hope to get some good ideas from those who respond to this blog. I will start several blogs with this, an overview of the school, and what I believe makes it a prime environment for school-wide Schools Attuned integration.

First it may be helpful to offer readers some historical background information about Wasatch Academy. This post will be a precursor to future contributions that will hopefully get to the “nitty gritty,” of Schools Attuned integration.

Wasatch Academy, a private co-educational college preparatory boarding school, is entering its 133rd year. It is nestled in the pastoral mountains of central Utah. Yes, Utah. Originally founded by a Presbetarian Minister to teach (and maybe convert) the Mormon population in the surrounding areas, it has evolved into an independent liberal arts school. It holds no religious affiliation, however students do attend non-denominational weekly “chapel” sessions that offer a variety of religious viewpoints ranging from Tibetan Monks, to Southern Baptist Ministers. The philosophy of Wasatch Academy’s chapel program is that people benefit from knowledge of and respect for viewpoints that differ from their own.

Clearly the school has expanded its approach to religion and philosophy since its early Presbyterian-supported days. But the school has also grown in nearly every other way too. No longer is it the mission to serve the local Central Utah population alone (although it still loves and honors its local students and patrons). It is currently attended by students from all over the world (22 countries) and has a reputation for maintaining its decidedly academic college-prep mission, while committing to supporting learners of various profiles. Wasatch Academy is not a therapeutic, academic remediation, or second-chance school. Yet it opens its doors to all students who are committed to college entry and excellence in education.

This is NOT to say that our school sends all of its students to Harvard, although it does send some. On the contrary, Wasatch Academy students go on to attend colleges ranging from Cornell to Columbia, to Seattle Community College. And we (faculty and administration) are proud of all of these students equally, celebrating their unique gifts and supporting them as they find their niche. Wasatch Academy is truly a remarkable institution nestled in the high mountains of this often overlooked state.

OK, so having expressed my love of the school, I should admit my bias as the result of my own experiences here. I was a student at Wasatch Academy for four years. As a scholarship student, I found that the school embraced me despite my difficult childhood circumstances and inspired me to become a lover of learning. Now, I am fortunate enough to come back and be of service to this school; a place that is dear to my heart. I rejoice as I watch my children grow in this small quiet town nestled in the high mountains. The community is something really special here. Anyone who comes can see it right away. The diversity and sense community are inspiring. The school embraced diversity of all kinds when I attended as a student, and continues to do so today. Now, however, I grow even more excited by the progress we are making in integrating Schools Attuned at various levels within our little community (200 students and about 50 teachers).

The faculty at this school are outstanding. Nearly all hold advanced degrees in their field of expertise. We have highly trained dorm “parents,” who look after the students residential needs as a full time position. This is not unique among the private college prep schools though. One of the things that makes our school so unique is its commitment to the promotion of understanding and sensitivity to differences in learning. In short, we wholeheartedly prescribe to the mission of the All Kinds of Minds institute. We require that all teachers, student advisers, dorm faculty and many administrators are certified in the Schools Attuned program. This gives us a shared vocabulary, philosophy, and useful tools as we support our students. Our academic interventions are all based on our Schools Attuned training and commitment to its principles. Teachers are recruited, hired and trained based specifically on their predisposition to the principles and philosophies of All Kinds of Minds. The Headmaster is fully committed to making Wasatch Academy a model school, where Schools Attuned is a major defining factor in contributing to the professional culture of the school.

With that background, I hope to engage some conversations centering around schools Attuned integration at the student, classroom, and school levels. We are doing some exciting and innovative things here and I look forward to sharing them with others. I have also asked a few of my teachers to add their commentaries to the blog. Their perspective will undoubtedly add to the quality and dynamic of the conversations. Cheers.