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On March 4, 2020 I wrote the last LPS newsletter leadership blog post on “Flexible Thinking.” In it I referenced what a necessary skill it is to possess and gave examples of how we approach teaching our students to be flexible thinkers at LPS. On March 4, 2020, I did not know what I know now. I did not know what was so soon to come and I sure could not have imagined how vital this skill would be for the future. At the time, I talked about using flexible thinking to manage when “Friday Pizza Day” was unexpectedly changed to “Friday Hot Dog Day,” that seemed like a big deal at the time. Throughout this past year everyone has had to become flexible thinkers, we had no choice. For some things it is easier than others, like having to hand sanitize upon entering a public space, we never used to do that before. Some things have been harder to adapt to like going through your mental checklist of the necessary things that one needs before leaving the house. Other situations have been very challenging to wrap our flexible brains’ around like our return to school with our cohort model. Staff, students and families had to have flexible, open minds as to how this was all going to work. For staff, we told them that this year would be like no other and even if you had worked here for 15 years, this would feel like your first year of teaching at COVID LPS. For students we have asked them to be flexible with their mindset regarding almost everything they once knew of Learning Prep. While all of the supports are still in place, they look and feel different and it is often hard for our students to be flexible with change. What has been the most amazing thing to me is to see the students, staff and families rise to the occasion of this flexible thinking scale. We are all doing it every day and we sure have been thrown a lot of curve balls.
Finally, with flexible thinking comes learning. For some of the situations that we have been forced to rethink, we have actually created better systems that hopefully we will utilize once COVID is not a thing. For example, the great learning and growth regarding technology usage has been immeasurable for both staff and students and will be skills and tools that we can build on for the future. Teaching flexible thinking is in the fabric of all that we do at LPS; everyone plays a role in this job. Utilizing flexible thinking skills every day has been put to the test by all of us this past year and we passed!
“Flexible thinking is when one is able to think about something in a new way.”
We talk about flexible thinking a lot at LPS, and not just for the students. We all have our moments when it is hard to get our brain around something not being how we thought it would be. A few personal examples:
New England weather plays tricks on us! Last week when we had those lovely few days of spring-like weather it was very easy for me to change my mindset and I was ALL IN; running outside, wearing fun spring outfits, grilling on the deck, you name it! The shift back to our (what should be expected) normal winter weather has been way more challenging and I’m not totally on board.
Sometimes flexible thinking is made more challenging when faced with alternatives that you don’t really like. About a month ago, I was thinking about and planning my long marathon training run. Looking ahead to Saturday, it was slotted to be bitter cold and windy with mixed precipitation. Not ideal conditions. Kick in flexible brain: an alternative would be to do the long run inside on a treadmill or change the day. All options had their pluses and minuses. My inflexible brain said “if only the weather would just cooperate, this would be easier.” Sadly, wishing that didn’t help and my inflexible brain had to pick the best choice out of the three choices I did not really love.
Flexible thinking is an important social skill that helps us navigate life. Nothing is ever exactly the way we want and life is full of change. The ability to think flexibly helps people get along with others, helps people work in a group and be successful, helps people navigate change and problem solve, helps people think about something in a different way, and helps people to try a new way of doing things. Students (and staff) who like structure and are most successful with routines have to work very hard to have a flexible brain. LPS works very hard every day to help students develop these skills. We have many systems in place, such as previewing changes, providing the ability to make choices, taking a break to process, talking with their counselor, that help to support students when it is difficult for them to have a flexible brain.
Students have to utilize flexible thinking on a daily and, often times, moment to moment basis. For example; when a student has a schedule change or when a teacher is out and there is a substitute or coverage for a class. This year for our intramural sports team there were a few games where there were not enough players for the other team and LPS students had to play for the opposing team. I’ve staff and students have slightly inflexible thinking when once on a Friday, normally our pizza for lunch day, we had a change and served hot dogs. Another example is when a student who has been sitting in the same seat all year (not assigned, just the one they picked) is asked to change seats so a teacher can support them in a different way. There are countless more examples that happen all day long and this is a lifelong learning process, as you can see…I’m still working on it.
68 days until the marathon
142 miles of long training runs left to complete
20.11 hours of long training runs left to run
There are some interesting things about those numbers. In 68 days the weather will hopefully be nicer than today and spring flowers will be starting to come up. Some of you may be coming to cheer for the marathon or maybe some families will be on a very fun vacation. The “142 more miles of long training runs” and the 20+ hours of long training runs caused me pause. Those are pretty big numbers. That distance is the equivalent of running from my house to the Mass/New York border! That feels far when I drive it in a car!
Running a marathon is a physical and mental challenge that is not for everyone. You have heard me say it before that it is an easy thing to do for our amazing school and it truly is. I am committed to raising $17,500 this year. So far I have raised $1,200. That is 6.86% of my goal (wow - there was a lot of math in this update!). Thank you to everyone who has donated so far.
-Amy Davis, E/MS Principal
Amy’s ambitious goal will require all of us in the LPS community to come together and support her fundraising goal. Please consider donating to Amy’s 2020 Boston Marathon Fundraiser today! Amy runs for all of us in the LPS Community and every dollar she raises directly supports student Learning at LPS through the LPS Family & Friends Fund. A gift to Amy is a gift to LPS!
-Alex Magay, Director of Development
Below is an updated version of something I wrote in May 2018. I think it is useful and timely in understanding the financial challenges faced by private schools and especially Chapter 766 schools.
Tuition receipts for private schools leave little room for discretionary spending. Eighty-five percent of operating costs are typically used for salaries, taxes, and fringe benefits; twelve percent of operating costs are used for contractual and facilities related expenses such as audit fees, legal fees, rent, utilities, maintenance and property and liability insurance. This leaves about three percent of operating expenses for discretionary spending like program supplies, staff training, and other operating expenses. This breakdown of expenses is true for most private schools, including Chapter 766 schools like Learning Prep.
Unlike truly private schools, Chapter 766 schools do not have the option to raise tuition annually, except by the state adjusted Cost of Living Allowance, which will be 2.72% for the 2020/2021 school year. In addition, 766 schools are not allowed to reduce tuition beyond the state approved levels. Furthermore, they are not allowed to significantly modify how they spend their funding. Tuition, staffing levels by position, average salaries, and operating expenses are set and monitored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Massachusetts Operational Services Division (OSD). Tuition and spending levels are reset every six years by going through a process with DESE and OSD called Program Reconstruction. Learning Prep’s Program Reconstruction was approved on November 1, 2019. This has allowed us to adjust staffing and invest in technology to better meet the needs of our student population.
In order to be able to invest in the welfare of staff and students and add new initiatives, private schools, Chapter 766 schools, colleges, and universities engage in fundraising. In addition, many public schools have Education Foundations and other groups actively engaged in raising funds for initiatives that public tax dollars do not meet. As a parent of two children who went through the Arlington Public Schools, I saw how the Arlington Education Foundation and the Performing Arts Parent Association were very active in raising additional funds for the benefit of students and faculty.
Due to the generosity of the Learning Prep community, and the approved Program Reconstruction, we have been able to make many improvements to our program, including adding a state-of-the art library media center, a Makerspace classroom, iPads and Chromebooks for students, computers for faculty, and have provided technical training to faculty for iPads and Chromebooks. The combination of Program Reconstruction and continued fundraising will allow us to continue to address the needs of our students and faculty and invest in our future and continue to improve our infrastructure.
It’s not likely you sit around thinking about how it is you learned all you did about how to be a successful adult but if you did, you may have similar thoughts like I recently had. We were heading out to dinner and had ordered a pizza for our 14 year-old son which hadn’t arrived when we needed to leave. We were explaining what he needed to do and how much cash he should ask for in change when the doorbell rang. My instinct was to answer the door and pay for the pizza but my husband gave him the $20, told him to answer the door and watched how he did. I thought...well, that was easy and he is all set for the next time!
Of course, there are hundreds of examples that I can think of that we have fostered independence in our children but there are also many examples that I can think about when it was just easier for us to do it, as busy parents often do. It really isn’t about paying for pizza delivery but each instance a child has to be independent, even at an early age, begins to develop self-confidence in their own abilities. This confidence builds self-reliance, which builds more confidence to be independent.
Children crave independence, even at an early age….I can’t tell you how many times I heard my kids say “I do it” when they were little. But because we are busy, sometimes we just want it done without having to teach or explain, or we want it done the way we want it done. I would call these missed opportunities. Embrace each chance you have to let them try themselves. Have them pick a meal each week to make (it might be cereal for dinner but you didn’t make it). Pay them an allowance but have them have to pay their cell phone bill to you out of it each month. Have them order a meal in a restaurant. Going to the movies? Have them research the theater and time of the movie they want to see. And when they ask to do it themselves, seriously consider it. Building confidence is key to independence!
School communities are a microcosm of the larger macro community, the society in which we all live. Humankind has long recognized that we must establish parameters that enable us to live together harmoniously (laws, rules, & regulations). Schools must do the same. In a democratic society these parameters of accepted behavior define the essence of good citizenship. In essence, if you abide by and promote these expectations, these laws, you are considered a person of integrity, a person likely to contribute to the common good. Again, this expectation and this definition of good citizenship applies to school communities, as well. This is a major focus of teaching and learning at LPS.
Highly effective schools understand that any departure in behavior by any member of the school community must be addressed as an opportunity to redress that behavior by using it as a teaching moment. This approach is exactly what we expect our teachers to do with respect to teaching and learning n the classroom, that is, seize the focus of study in each class as an opportunity to further student understanding and appreciation of the subject of that lesson. This approach is embedded in highly effective instruction in the cognitive domain. Quite simply, it is what great teachers do!
Unfortunately, far too many schools have not transferred this approach to the affective domain, the social emotional development of the child, particularly with respect to student conduct. Again, simply stated, action that violates the way we do things here! The recidivism of student misbehavior in such an environment is extremely high.
It is only when we treat these behaviors as teaching moments, as opportunities to advance the understanding and appreciation of each child with respect to the need for these community norms, that we truly make a constructive contribution to the child’s life.
This approach requires that all members of the school staff embrace and advance this protocol, understanding that they must seize these opportunities as teaching moments, as real opportunities to make a constructive difference in the life of the child.
As it does in the cognitive realm, in the affective realm some students will take a longer and more sustained effort by themselves and by staff to truly understand and to manifest the accepted norms of being a good school citizen.
At the heart of all successful schools is a healthy, vibrant culture that embraces this approach to advance the personal integrity of each member of the community, staff, as well as students. The foundation for this work is character education. The core principles are embedded in a code of conduct that delineates the core values of the school. These five core values include respect, honesty, caring, compassion, and responsibility. These values are advanced through common reads, by integration throughout the educational program, and by modeling. At LPS we are dedicated to this work, to applying the same intense focus to the affective needs of our students that we bring to their cognitive needs.
It is the time of year where we are all, in one way or another, thinking about and expressing what we are thankful for. It seems like everywhere you turn (even my Thanksgiving table) we are asking this question or maybe we received an email or letter letting us know what an organization is thankful for at this time of year. Most popular answers seem to be related to health, family, friends, food, etc.
For our students it may be hard to be put on the spot with such a big and open-ended question. There are SO MANY things that someone could be thankful for and it can be overwhelming to narrow it down to just one. At Learning Prep we try to teach our students the skills to be prepared for these situations by scaffolding and scripting typical answers so that students don’t have that nervous, uncomfortable feeling in front of others. We work hard to teach students the social fake of just picking one thing, even if there are many, many things they are thankful for because all the guests at your dining room table will be thankful for that. While this is an excellent skill to teach and learn, sometimes it is also nice to hear students’ genuine answers that may come from a different than the norm perspective. One particularly good one that caused me pause was: “I’m thankful that the sun came out today, because it isn’t always going to be here, ya know.”
I’m thankful that this student made me stop and really think about this and the gift that I take for granted. Sometimes our students’ unique perspectives are a gift to us all.
I don’t know about you, but I have conflicting emotions when it comes to the Holiday season. They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful, especially for children with special needs. Planning ahead is a great way to try and mitigate some of the stressors and focus on the good stuff! Here are 8 Holiday tips that may help make this time of year less stressful and more enjoyable:
1. Create clear/reasonable expectations
Make a list, describe or even role-play expectations for an event or gathering. Keep in mind what is reasonable in terms of their abilities.
2. Develop a schedule
Using pictures or a list with times, create a schedule with your child so they can be prepared.
3. Give your child a job
Idle time can be stressful. Giving your child a job to do during an event, like greeting the guests or putting their coats in a specific place, may help them feel important and is also an opportunity to practice social skills.
4. Present opportunities for quiet time
Build into your schedule some quiet time or suggest a quiet break if your child seems overwhelmed.
5. Bring alternate activities
Having some familiar activities in an unfamiliar setting can help an overwhelmed child feel more comfortable.
6. Reduce your stress
Children react to your stress levels, therefore, be kind to yourself and schedule a break for you too!
7. Be flexible
Most of the time, things don’t go the way we plan, but it’s how we respond during those times that makes a difference. Venting your frustrations can come later when the kids are asleep!
Pause for a moment or two, take a deep breath, look around and notice the positives.
If you are a sports fan, living in New England in recent years has been full of titles. Since 2000, the Patriots have won six Super Bowls, the Sox have won 3 World Series titles, the Bruins have one Stanley Cup, and even the Celtics had one NBA Championship win. With so many wins we think our teams are unstoppable and become “those” fans who think that winning is just what we do. The reality is that amongst those wins, there were also a lot of losses.
Losses occur. When the Patriots lose, they analyze what happened, take responsibility for the loss, and figure out how to win the next time by not making the same mistakes. That’s what makes them better. Funny how sports can be a metaphor for life! We all have experienced our own “losses” or mistakes and if we have a healthy sense of self, we know that our mistakes don’t define us. They are opportunities for learning and developing the skills necessary to cope with challenges when they arrive. All too often we find that our society tries to prevent our children from making mistakes or feeling uncomfortable. While no one wants to see their child upset, pushing all obstacles out of the way is a detriment to the healthy development of skills to cope when challenges occur. At LPS, when our students experience mistakes and failures within our supportive environment, we work with them to acknowledge issues, and gain skills to deal with unintended consequences. It may be difficult at times but we are committed to the affective development of our students as well as the academic. Our students may not be winning a Super Bowl but they can win at conquering the challenges that life throws at them!
September is an odd month – it is filled with so many mixed emotions; excitement, nervousness, angst, wonder… It shouldn’t surprise us, as it follows August every year AND marketing has done a good job of preparing us by putting back to school supplies in stores starting in July but for some reason it always does. I always look forward to the change of season and the start of a new school year will new students, eager staff, and 180 days to make a difference. The excitement in the students’ eyes on the first days of school is contagious. One question I often ask students at the beginning of the school year, because I find it so telling, is “Did the summer go by fast or slow?’ More often students say “slow.” So many of our students look forward to the routines and structure of school, me too. It feels good to get back into a familiar, predictable routine. Maybe that is why I like October so much, things are running smoothly after the dust of September settles.
The beginning of the year has been filled with helping us all get back into the “swing of school” with assemblies to review our Citizenship focus this year (Honesty), tours of the school to ease the “where am I going?” feeling, a rotation to meet all the elementary and middle school staff so students are familiar with staff they may not have on their schedule, binder set up to help with executive functioning, discussions regarding LPS and classroom expectations to familiarize students with new student support protocols, and in class assessments to ensure proper homogeneous groupings. Side note: if your student comes home with a schedule change during this time, it is means that we are learning about your student’s strengths and challenges and we are fine tuning our groups to ensure that each student is appropriately challenged.
Things that you can do at home to get back into the school routine is to check your student’s binder every night including their homework and take home folder and their goal sheet and RAPP grades for middle school students. All of these things are helpful communication tools to see how your student’s day was and what they are learning. Help your student have a functional place to do homework BUT not actually help your student do the homework. It is helpful for us to see what your student can do independently. If you have questions about homework or anything in the binder feel free to reach out to your student’s counselor or teacher with questions.
We look forward to a wonderful school year and have prepared our classrooms and lesson plans with great care. Please do not hesitate to call or email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-965-0764 x407.
Learning Prep School | 1507 Washington Street | West Newton, MA 02465 | (617) 965-0764
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