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Categories: 2012, April
by Mari Foret
THE TWO WEEKS BEFORE SCHOOL OPENS IN THE FALL can be some of
the busiest of the year. Typically, faculty and staff are setting up
their rooms and finalizing lesson plans to prepare for the influx of new
and returning students—as well as honing their craft through
professional development opportunities.
The faculty and staff of Commonwealth Academy will remember the early
weeks of the 2011–12 academic year for the full-day presentation
of CHADD’s program, Teacher
to Teacher: Classroom Interventions for the Student with ADHD. Head
of School Susan Johnson, PhD, asked every teacher and staff member to
attend this workshop to ensure that the school can best meet the needs
of students with ADHD and their families—not just in the
classroom, but at every juncture of the student-school-family
Commonwealth, a private college preparatory day school, is the first
school to provide this workshop to each person within its organization.
The benefits of this holistic approach were enormous. Commonwealth also
extended invitations free of charge to faculty and staff from several
neighboring schools and to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alexandria.
“As local leaders in the education of students with ADHD, we
believe it is our continued responsibility to disseminate information
about ADHD best practices whenever possible and serve as a
resource,” said Dr. Johnson.
Benefits of the workshop
Sharon Weiss, MEd, and Maureen Gill, LCSW, described the latest
research, strategies, and practical classroom techniques and
interventions for students with ADHD in a dynamic, interactive
presentation. A behavioral consultant, Weiss is the coauthor of From
Chaos to Calm (Perigee, 2001) and Angry Children, Worried
Parents (Specialty Press, 2004) and a former CHADD board member.
Gill, a pediatric social worker, chairs the Fairfax County ADHD
Partnership and is the parent of two young adults affected by ADHD. In
addition, each participant received a copy of the CHADD
Educator’s Manual on ADHD: An In-Depth Look from an Educational
After the workshop, participants were asked to complete an evaluation.
The compiled results demonstrated that it had been an invaluable day for
teachers and staff alike. In an audience comprised of first-year
teachers, new and experienced administrators, and teachers who had been
teaching students with ADHD for a decade or more:
One hundred percent of respondents said
they would make changes in their teaching as a result of the training
workshop. Specific examples of changes included: give choices for study
habits, use more visuals, implement more peer-to-peer instruction, use
the learning pyramid to plan lessons, institute systems for encouraging
positive behaviors, introduce journals for impulsive students who
can’t wait to tell me what they know, and incorporate more
one-on-one conversations with students.
Ninety-five percent or more “felt
excellent or good about” knowing at least five classroom
interventions that will help increase the academic success of students
with ADHD and at least five intervention strategies to address typical
behavioral problems with ADHD.
Both new and experienced teachers benefitted from the
workshop, in very different ways. The workshop helped train new teachers
in understanding students with ADHD and in implementing classroom
strategies. At the same time, it reviewed important concepts for
experienced teachers, while exposing them to current research and
reinforcing best practices.
“New teacher on the block, that’s definitely me,”
commented Will Robertson, a chemistry and math teacher at
Commonwealth’s high school. “This is my first real teaching
experience after getting my master’s in chemistry…. The
workshop taught me the necessity of implementing a variety of teaching
strategies to help the students focus. I wasn’t sure how I was
going to go about teaching kids with ADHD, but this professional
development workshop gave me a pathway, strategies that work. From
hands-on activities to visual aids, or a small thing like a fidget toy,
I learned so much in just one day.”
Meanwhile, veteran teacher and chair of the history department Rob
Henneberg reflected, “I have been working with children who have
ADHD for eight academic years…. [The workshop] helped me revisit
concepts at a critical time when teachers are reviewing our
students’ accommodations and setting up our classrooms for the
school year. It strengthened my commitment to put these accommodations
at the forefront of my teaching strategies, and it reminded me of what I
am doing right. That is reassuring, and it helps me to continue to value
the uniqueness of every kid who walks through my door.”
We often think about learning strategies as they relate to academic
subjects, but Jeff Brown found the workshop very helpful in his approach
to teaching physical education: “For me, it is all about
changing my coaching style... teaching in smaller segments. I now know
to talk about one element of the game, one move, one play, demonstrate
it and have the kids put this into action. Then, call the students back
and reinforce the same point if they need more practice, or move on if
they are ready. Breaking things down into more manageable pieces will
help produce the results I know they are capable of
Benefits of the holistic approach
The inclusion of support staff and administrators had direct
benefit for the school as a whole, as well as providing useful
strategies to improve relationships with students and families. In
attendance were the school’s registrar/office manager, business
manager, college counselor, nurse, and director of marketing, director
of communications, and director of admission. This setting boosted
morale and teamwork and motivated all employees as they identified with
each other’s responsibilities and challenges, whether in the
classroom or at the reception desk.
Because all of Commonwealth’s programming is geared for students
with organizational, attention, or learning differences, the workshop
also brought the school’s mission to life. Lisa Harrington,
Registrar and Office Manager explained: “I am new to Commonwealth.
I have worked many years in corporate life, but never in a school. The
workshop helped me understand Commonwealth’s mission and how
different the culture is from my own educational experience. It set a
tone for personal acceptance of our students as I gained insight into
the challenges these kids face in their daily activities. I know it will
increase my patience with my own nephews who have ADHD, and in many
ways, I think I will be more of an advocate in the larger
Harrington’s comment about the larger community resonates loudly
because Commonwealth’s mission extends beyond the walls of the
school. “Each of our employees is an advocate for students with
learning differences; and all, as a team, are responsible for
disseminating and educating the larger community,” commented Dr.
By making the workshop a part of required professional development, Dr.
Johnson felt strongly that relationships between the school and students
and their families would be greatly enhanced, whether students were
being greeted by reception, attended to by the school nurse, or working
with a teacher on a specific project. Parent questions or concerns would
be better understood, whether parents are discussing contracts or bills
with the business office, working with admissions or advancement, or
participating in a parent-teacher conference. The attainment of this
goal was echoed by Melissa Pollack, a middle-school science teacher:
“One of the presenters talked about the challenges of raising her
own child with ADHD. This was the first time I heard a parent speak with
candor about such difficulties. I gained more empathy for our families
and this will influence my parent-teacher conferences.”
While many school districts use CHADD’s Teacher
to Teacher program for faculty, Commonwealth’s approach is
different in that we strongly believe that each person within the
organization must understand our students, their families, and their
specific needs. We are proud to be leaders in taking this holistic,
all-employee approach and hope that our success encourages other schools
to do the same. With the right strategies and systems in place, teaching
students with ADHD, and watching them attain previously unattainable
goals, is pure joy.
Anthony Rostain, MD, MA, on the years of transition to adulthood
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