Last month, I had the opportunity to attend Eye to Eye’s annual “Partners Meeting” at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Many of you will recall that one of the leaders of this national non-profit organization, David Badillo, gave a short presentation about Eye to Eye at a District Lead Team meeting last year. For those of you not in attendance that day, Eye to Eye is a national mentoring program for students with learning and attention issues. The organization trains high school and college students with learning differences to mentor similarly identified middle school students. In essence, it is an after-school social-emotional intervention that has demonstrated high impact.
The Partners Meeting at Brown featured two luminaries in the field of learning differences: Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and Lindsay Kruse, Vice President of Understood for Educators (and a member of the ECLC founding faculty). The leaders presented findings from a study that the two organizations had recently conducted and released: “Forward Together: Helping Educators Unlock the Power of Students Who Learn Differently.” The report is an analysis of teacher attitudes toward the 1 in 5 students in the United States who have learning and attention issues. This includes those with identified specific learning disabilities, diagnosed ADHD, or related disorders that affect learning.
As Jones and Kruse told us, the majority of these students, despite often having average or above average intelligence, are achieving below grade level. For example, the report shows that 1 in 3 are held back at least once; they are suspended 2x more often than their peers, drop out at 3x the rate of their peers, and enroll in college at half the rate. We also know that, later in life, 50 percent of the 1 in 5 is unemployed and 1 in 2 has been involved in the justice system. As the report asserts: “This equates to millions of students across the nation whose strengths and potential are going untapped.”
Toward solving this consequential problem, “Forward Together” addresses several key questions:
Through surveys of 1,350 teachers, 13 teacher focus groups, and 150 academic articles, among other inputs, the project team sought to better understand the situation on the ground in schools across the country. Their research revealed that most teachers are extremely interested in learning how to reach struggling learners. It also suggested that when teachers get the support they need and believe in their own teaching abilities they are more likely to believe they can effectively teach the 1 in 5, and that these students can learn at high levels. That’s the good news.
The more sobering news, the report concluded, is that teachers need far more experience and preparation than they currently receive, in order to build self-confidence in their ability to work with the 1 in 5 in the classroom full-time—and that once teachers are in the classroom, they need consistent and robust support. Jones and Kruse also emphasized the importance of bringing multiple stakeholders into the conversation about what educators need to succeed. This includes policymakers, district leaders, school administrators, general and special education teachers, parents, and members of the community as a whole. It is high time, they said, to break up the regular and special education silos that may have inadvertently developed as the result of good intentions, and employ the most efficacious strategies that reach all students.
For more detailed information, the full report can be found here.
Welcome back, Essex County Learning Community (ECLC) members! We hope that you’ve had an opportunity over the summer months to refresh and renew, and that you are ready for the 2019-2020 school year.
I remember when the year 2020 once seemed like a distant horizon, but it is now a near reality. This particular number has meaning beyond its sheer mathematical value — “normal” eyesight is said to be 20/20 vision. For some of us, that is a physical reality; for others of us, we approximate it with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses, or perhaps laser surgery. Please allow me to share a story about vision that goes even deeper—demonstrating how easy it is to not see what’s in front of you.
As many of you know, my daughter has some learning challenges, including a math learning disability. In the last quarter of her junior year, she failed an important math exam. For several years, I had been asking the high school to let her demonstrate her understanding in an oral exam, knowing that the written format triggers massive anxiety, while an oral exam provides relational support that enables her to stay on task. When we were notified about the F, I asked again for an oral retake, and they listened this time. To their great surprise (not mine) my daughter scored an 80 percent on the same exam that she had failed just a few days earlier! Perhaps even more remarkable was the email that I received from the teacher afterward. “I have to say it was fantastic to work with [your daughter] today. In class I very rarely get much reaction from her, but was amazed at how much her personality came out when she was working with me one on one. It was a pleasure. I know there isn't much time left in the year, but I look forward to working with her more.”
My daughter’s teacher had clearly had not fully “seen” my daughter for most of the school year. The teacher’s vision, in other words, was not 20/20. She made assumptions about my daughter—due to the fact that she had an IEP and that she protected herself from feelings of shame by not participating in class. When the relationship moved to center stage, both my daughter and her teacher could feel more capable and more energized.
As this story illustrates, vision in its fullest flourish is far more than what one can see with the eye; it is about what we think and feel, what values we hold dear, and how we express them in ways that bring together the hearts and minds of our colleagues, our students, our families, and our communities. In my years working with school and district leaders, some have argued that vision is the soft and fluffy stuff, and that “we just need to get down to work.” Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve noticed that those who do set aside the time with their teams and the community at large to articulate a clear vision tend to make more sustainable progress. It may take a bit longer, but without a vision, there is not a clear driver for change; and that lack of destination creates anxiety in the system that can lead to poor decision-making.
The beginning of the school year is a good time to reexamine your district and school vision. Is it clear? Is it aspirational? Is it ambitious? Is it do-able? Is it adequate to the task of reaching all students? Does it motivate people to come to work every day with their whole selves? Do students know and understand the vision? Do parents? Do your community partners embrace it?
The ECLC recognizes that educators rarely get the time to step back and reflect on the adaptive aspects of their work, such as visioning. And they almost never have enough time to collaborate meaningfully with their colleagues. That’s why we attempt to foreground both of these activities during and in-between our formal learning sessions. You count on us to hold you accountable to yourselves—and we count on you to help us find an effective balance between technical and adaptive experiences that will help you grow.
Make no mistake about it: the ECLC is about adult development. Eduard Lindeman, one of the earliest writers on adult education, describes it as “a cooperative venture in non-authoritarian, informal learning the chief purpose of which is to discover the meaning of experience; a quest of the mind which digs down to the roots of the preconceptions which formulate our conduct.” This suggests, of course, that we are all works in progress. I truly believe that the more honest we can be about our challenges and struggles, the better we can connect with and support one another, which ultimately benefits students. And it’s not just my opinion: research confirms that when educators are engaged in learning of their own, students are more engaged, too.
The ECLC is focused on reaching all students, especially those who assets and needs may be outside the so-called mainstream for a variety of reasons. We know that these students suffer needlessly when they are misunderstood, not known, or not seen for the strengths they bring into the schoolhouse. Though I firmly believe that every educator wants to do right by all of their students, there are unconscious dynamics that operate under the surface to create barriers in the relationship. Educators must work to identify—and then push through—these barriers. It is challenging work, but surprisingly meaningful.
As we aspire to 20/20 vision in the year ahead, may we all feel more capable and energized. And may the ECLC help you achieve 20/20 vision—perhaps like the progressive lenses that many of us wear—allowing us to focus our vision for both near and distant goals.
Wishing you a joyful and productive school year!
Emily J. Wilson
The 2019 ECLC Summer Institute brought together over 75 education stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, school-based clinicians, researchers, funders, and expert faculty. Participants and faculty convened for two days of verdant learning, which centered around the theme of “Digging Deeper on Difference,” in order to think critically about the ways that school structures, curricula, and partnerships can be improved to best serve the diverse learning assets and needs of Essex County students. The Summer Institute kicked off with a keynote presentation by Patricia Lampron, Principal of The Henderson K-12 Inclusion School in Boston and her colleagues as well as several other mainstage presentations, which focused on student agency and voice, teacher-student partnerships, social emotional learning, and equity.
On the first day of the Summer Institute, Helen Beattie (pictured above) co-led a session entitled “Student Voice and Agency: Enhancing Motivation, Engagement, and Equity.” Beattie founded UP for Learning: her career reflects a life-long passion for elevating the voices of those who feel disempowered and voiceless, either in the health or education realms. Beattie’s goal is to decrease referrals to school psychologists by helping educators better meet the needs of all learners, ensuring that the wisdom and potential of each child is fully mobilized. During the Institute, Beattie was joined by members of her faculty team (pictured above) at UP for Learning including: Lindsey Halman, who joined UP after 15 years as a middle level educator and advocate for youth voice in school transformation; and Clara Lew-Smith, a Yale University college student and activist for educational reform that includes young people as decision makers.
The interactive, day-long Student Voice and Agency session invited participants to learn about teacher-student partnerships, while building their toolkits to amplify youth voice, student agency, and students as partners in learning and school decision making. UP for Learning supports schools in creating and implementing dynamic strategies to strengthen the social and emotional fabric of schools, enhance student motivation, engagement, and ensure equity in learning. Major takeaways from the day-long session presented by UP faculty include a shift in mindset, which prompts us to think about education as something that happens with students and not something that happens to them, and to think of students as key partners and co-creators of learning.
On Day Two of the Summer Institute, Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, Director of Open Circle at the Wellesley Centers for Women (pictured left), led a powerful session on integrating social emotional learning (SEL) and equity in school classrooms. This session helped participants build a better understanding about how their multiple identities play a role in facilitating SEL in the classroom and their impact on equitable (and non-equitable) SEL expectations and practices.
During the session, attendees took part in several hands-on activities where they were encouraged to engage in self-reflection on racial identity and focus on building meaningful relationships with students as a pathway to equity. Drummond-Forrester has served as the Director of Open Circle since 2017. She works collaboratively with her colleagues to provide curricula, professional development, and support that keeps the wellbeing of students at the center while meeting the needs of schools and educators.
[Photo credits above left/middle: Stuart Garfield
Day Two of this year's Summer Institute also featured breakout workshops, including:
Emily J. Wilson
The second Annual Essex County Learning Community (ECLC) Summer Institute kicked off on August 7th with a compelling keynote address delivered by Patricia Lampron (pictured above), Principal of The Henderson K-12 Inclusion School, located in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. This year’s Summer Institute was focused on the theme of “Digging Deeper on Difference,” to lift and celebrate student diversity across ability, race, culture, class, and gender. Lampron was joined in her keynote remarks by her Henderson colleagues, Joe Cahill, Student Behavior Support Specialist and Sheneal Parker, Director of Instruction in Grades 2-6 (pictured below).
[Photo credits: Diana LeBeaux]
Principal Lampron’s started her talk – aptly titled Creative Collaboration for Inclusion – by engaging the audience in a story of how she arrived at the Henderson, a Boston Public School, in 2009 to take the reins from its namesake, former leader and founding principal Bill Henderson. Principal Lampron said that Henderson, who is visually impaired and remains a champion for normalizing learning differences to this day, helped Lampron understand what inclusion truly looks like through his ethical leadership.
Soon after taking over from Henderson, on her first day as principal, Lampron caught some boys horsing around by wetting paper towels and throwing them on the ceiling to stick. She approached them and said, “Gentleman, come with me…I saw you doing this,” and they replied, looking at her with a bit of wonder, “You can see?” Chuckling with the audience, Lampron recalled how it suddenly dawned on her that “normal” to these students was a principal who couldn’t see. “Our differences are our strengths…. Differences are normal!” Lampron happily shouted, finishing the story. She added that as children, we all deserve to learn, and as parents of children, there is not one adult who sends their child to school without the hope that they will learn.
Lampron explained that inclusion can mean very different things to different people. “I taught at an inclusive school as a teacher – I didn’t know any better – we allowed students with disabilities to be in our school, they were in a separate room, they didn’t go to recess, and they were watched by aides in the cafeteria. They couldn’t sit where they wanted to.” This she said, is far from the model of The Henderson, where there are no Resource Rooms or exclusion at lunch and recess, only general education classrooms where all students are welcome.
Reflecting on her own early experiences as a student growing up in the public school system, Lampron spoke powerfully of how, years ago in her elementary classroom, children who excelled in traditional learning formats were labeled as “stars” and separated from students who struggled with reading and other subjects. Students who struggled were deemed “sunbeams” and not afforded opportunities to learn and develop based on their strengths. Instead, they were viewed through a deficit lens. “Because one group was perceived as smarter,” Lampron said, they were immediately tracked and sorted from each other. This was a formative, salient experience for Lampron – who explained that she was herself categorized as a sunbeam.
In sharp contrast to her own elementary school experience, Lampron highlighted the ways in which The Henderson School is challenging the concept of “normative” in learning. The Henderson’s mission is to serve all students with diverse learning needs, ensure meaningful access to all, and make a daily practice of showing why inclusion matters. “This is what we mean by inclusion,” she said, introducing a definition built upon Henderson’s unique organizational norms:
There are structural barriers to full inclusion within public school systems, Lampron said, including bias, stigmatization, and anxiety among parents about integrating children with diverse learning needs together in the classroom. In response to these, Lampron described that the Henderson’s foundational work is about changing mindsets, that is, showing school staff, teachers, parents, and community members that all students can grow in a regular classroom.
Lampron used a recent example of a Henderson ski trip to illustrate her point. Of the 60 children who went, all of them were able to ski. The key, Lampron said, was both simple and complex. She explained that through meticulous advanced planning among her staff team – for the cold, for the diverse learning needs of each student, and for differentiated instruction – all of the children experienced success. This led Lampron to pose a powerful challenge to the audience about whether the inclusive practices deployed by the Henderson on a ski trip could work in schools and classrooms—reminding them that as a society, most of us still cling to the idea that children must be segregated in order to learn. And yet, she said, we know from the evidence that, “If you put people in a room who are different, it’s better for everyone.” To reinforce her point, she reminded ECLC participants that there are no separate grocery stores for people with learning differences. “We are in a global world of difference and we need to celebrate difference.”