Round of Applause for Dr. Dan Peters: Reflections From Our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

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Dr. Dan Peters and Dr. Lisa Reid

Creating a school program was something I considered for quite some time, but had recognized I could not effectively accomplish on my own. When I met Dr. Dan Peters of Summit Center, I realized that his approach and expertise would be the perfect fit and huge asset to any program that I hoped to create.

What made him different from any other person in the field?

In addition to being knowledgeable, experienced and invested in supporting the needs of gifted and twice-exceptional children and their families, he is startlingly humble and approachable. In addition, he has been on the other side of the table as a parent of gifted children whose pathways in education needed to be adjusted.

He has shared that this experience changed his perspective toward the way in which he approaches his career, and that is apparent in his work. He gets it.

When Dr. Peters visits our school, he takes the time to review the plans and progress of all of our students, and he works with them directly. During his last visit, Dr. Peters met with our students to discuss their experiences with anxiety and to ask where the Worry Monster (a term he coined and wrote a book about) was present in their lives. Anxiety is the most common theme that exists amongst 2e students, so to learn coping mechanisms in dealing with these stressors is an important part of their curriculum. As we watched Dr. Peters interact with the students, we witnessed his great ability to relate to them. By sharing his personal experience, and integrating heart and humor into what are traditionally difficult topics for children to communicate about, he was able to successfully reach them at their level. The students connected with the different scenarios that Dr. Peters presented and were able to see that they are not alone in their fears and that their fears are not insurmountable.

Although dealing with anxiety can be a lifelong battle, mindfulness regarding the realities that surround it makes a tremendous difference. It was exciting to see our young students begin to recognize these realities. It was wonderful to facilitate the easing of their often unspoken concerns that sometimes leave them unavailable for learning, or, more importantly, to fully experience their lives.

Additionally, our staff and teaching team were able to listen and benefit from the discourse that occurred between Dr. Peters and the students because, young and old, we all have a Worry Monster somewhere in our lives.

A Tribute to Our Trailblazers – Reflections from our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

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As an educator of gifted children, I am continually inspired and awestruck by boundless displays of excellence from both a personal and cognitive perspective. The completely unexpected and challenging nature of the children I have the honor to work with is what makes me love my job and want be the best I can be within it.

The old adage of surrounding yourself with excellence if you want to be excellent yourself certainly rings true within our walls. To some, it may seem surprising that the excellence we reference is the excellence that exists not only within the professionals at our site, but also within our young blossoming students.

As an educational therapist and seasoned teacher, I have come to know that one of the most important factors in my ability to effectively guide a student’s learning is context. I need to be able to consider all of the factors that shape my students’ points of view, and put myself in their shoes. I need to meet them where they are.

In addition, within our program we take a team approach toward learning. We realize that the most important member of that team and the person who has the most influence over their progress, is the student themselves. That said, any child who is a part of our program has made the decision to enroll and to be part of a group of people who are working to create the best future possible for them.

My decision to become an educator was largely driven by the fact that I had teachers and educational environments that made tremendous influences in the trajectory of my life and in the way I perceived myself. As an adult, I can reflect and realize that many factors that I did not understand, or even like, during the course of my childhood made the huge difference in who I am, what I can do and what I can offer others today.

Standing with that reflective wisdom and considering my students in their context and in their shoes, I am forced to wonder if I would have had the courage to make the decision to start anew as our inaugural RDS trailblazers have this year. Our team of adults, teachers and professionals can agree with a resounding “Yes!” that this is an exciting and positive move, but our students, without a doubt, have had to make some big decisions this past year, and they have done so with wisdom beyond their years.

Each of our students knows that they were accepted to RDS because they have something very special to offer the world and they deserve to have that nurtured so that they can allow it to grow, and ultimately shine. We know that these youngsters are our change makers. That they are taking the brave course of action toward that future, when they had the option to settle for the familiar, to become all that they can be is commendable.

It is with sincere respect and joy that I congratulate our inaugural class of RDS trailblazers for their courage, wisdom, and excellence during this start to the new school year! Together, with us, they are creating new pathways toward learning and the future not only for themselves, but also for the students and families who are following in their footsteps.

We are so proud of our RDS students and look forward to seeing an excellent year as they explore their vast potential!

The Importance of Self Regulation – Reflections by Our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

Elementary school age children

Self-regulation (the way which students’ independent thoughts, feelings and behaviors are utilized toward realizing goals) not only impacts students social/emotional well being, but their academic achievement as well. It is essential that this aspect of child development be fostered because it is only after students become able to self-regulate and control the outcome of their performance that successful academic independence will occur.

Fostering the development of self-regulation within students involves helping them to take responsibility and become actively involved in their learning process. Doing so allows for them to develop an understanding of the relationship between their progress and their process. The cognitive ability of children to self-regulate, and their tendency to do so, changes over time within the adolescent years. This is to be expected given that self-regulation largely relies upon interrelated cognitive and affective elements that are in a crucial stage of development from both a biological and social/emotional perspective. It is during this stage that students’ long-term attitudes toward learning and toward themselves are shaped.

It is expected and accepted that young children will have automatic affective (emotional) responses toward things that they like as well as things that are non-preferred, or uncomfortable. With youngsters, there is minimal self-awareness, or sense of personal control toward circumstances. That is acceptable during the early stages of life, but as children develop into young adults and are expected to begin to manage multiple facets of their life independently, it becomes essential for them to increase self-awareness and actively regulate their affective responses. This is not to say that children should not express their emotions. Rather, by developing awareness and understanding of their emotions as well as healthy responses to them, students become able to take the risks necessary to progress socially, emotionally and academically. If development is asynchronous, or if for some reason student development in these areas is thrown off track then challenging issues can arise. Young adulthood is a fragile time, especially if there are special needs present, but with a caring and thoughtful approach, all students can be guided to a path of confident and gratifying learning.

Essential components of self-regulation include locus of control and motivation. Locus of control describes a person’s belief that there are factors that control the events and outcomes that occur in their life. Depending on circumstances, this individual belief can range from an internal locus of control (I determine the outcome of situations) to an external locus of control (My situation is determined by factors that are beyond my control). Student’s perception of control is directly related to their academic achievement and their motivation is impacted by whether or not they recognize a causal relationship between their behavior and the result of that behavior. Research has been conducted to investigate student’s perception of the cause of their success or failure at different grade levels. Within this research, a significant positive relationship between student perceived control and achievement was found. Interestingly, this was found to be the case more so with fifth grade students than with sixth grade students. This is perhaps because by the time students are in sixth grade; they have become more aware that intrinsic factors impact their learning. Sadly, at this stage, many students most often express a desire to change a behavior not to improve their progress or learning but instead in response to a fear of failure or appearing incapable.

It seems logical that as students mature, they become more aware of their ability to self-regulate. However, although students may become aware of self-regulation strategies during their developmental years, they often do not recognize the correlation between the impact of their use on their progress. In addition, although they may be aware of these strategies, student’s belief in themselves, and the way in which their attitudes toward learning have been shaped over time may leave them increasingly less inclined to utilize them. Additional research has demonstrated that in seventh grade, students were less apt to use regulatory strategies in spite of their awareness of them, and that there were more frequent displays of behavioral challenges when compared to their younger peers. Decreased interest in content and the perception that it was not valuable to their future were also increasingly apparent. These results are highly consistent with reports by developmental researchers, which show that students often will exhibit declines in their self-directedness and intrinsic desire to engage in learning during the early middle school years. This decline may be due to the fact that students are not equipped with the skills necessary to reflect upon their progress and adjust their learning strategies, and thus, may not feel as though they are in control of their learning process.

As students progress through their upper elementary and middle school years and become more aware of the impact of their own actions, the importance of self-efficacy enters the equation. Students may know what is expected of them and they may, in fact, have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet those expectations. However, if they do not believe that they are able, or they have an obstacle in the way, they will not be motivated to try. This is a critical juncture at which we often start to see students described with comments such as “not working to potential” or even, “lazy”. Other displays include avoidant behavior that can appear as fooling around, or even straight defiance. What is unfortunate is that these frequently misconstrued actions change the focus from the students as learners to the students as underachievers or disruptions. In response, teachers and parents often unknowingly bypass the root of the behavior and transition into a “Power” role that directly impacts student’s perception of their potential as a self-directed learner. In turn, the student’s motivation to utilize self-regulatory behaviors in order attempt to make progress can decline or cease all together.

In situations where this turns into a pattern of events, the trajectory for the child’s positive self-perception and successful academic progress can be drastically impacted. For that reason, it is essential that educators take the time to investigate underachievement and challenging behavior as their looks may be deceiving. The appearance of underachievement and challenging behavior is a sign that there is a discrepancy between what the child is being asked to do and what they are able to do. When we see that sign, it is the responsibility of the adult to consider what needs are not being met. Sometimes issues are as simple as a child not understanding directions, or feeling bored, while other issues can be more complex such as lacking self-efficacy or inaccurate self-perception, a problem at home or with friends, an avoidance of writing due to dysgraphia, or what we often see with our students, a masked learning disability, or stealth dyslexia.

Creating a safe place and line of communication where these issues can be uncovered is highly important. Further, explicit expectations, clear feedback, meaningful and relevant work and scaffolding of skills are essential so that students can take small risks and establish their confidence without feeling the need to escape through incompletion or acting out. In order for students to establish motivation toward self-regulation, they must have a belief that they are able and that there is a causal relationship between their behavior and their performance. If control, efficacy, interest and purpose are not present, students will not be motivated to engage themselves. This is particularly true for populations of students who are not interested in external praise or reward.

Lessons From the Past: Reflections by Our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

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Albert Einstein

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“Human beings cannot live below their level of capacity without disturbance. You may call it a matter of conscience; for conscience is the instinct of self-preservation applied to the mind.”

– Toward a Psychology of Art: Collected EssaysBy Rudolf Arnheim

During an interview with one of my prospective students last month, I asked him to tell me about his favorite subject in school. “History!” he exclaimed. I followed up, and asked him to tell me why history was his favorite. The response from this insightful 8-year-old was, “Because I think it is interesting to see when we have learned from the past, and all of the times that we have not.” This wisdom is certainly something to consider as we realize that much of what works for our gifted learners is something that can be uncovered, rather than discovered.

In his book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson referred to Albert Einstein as “The patron saint of distracted school kids everywhere.” A few years ago, in a Los Angeles Times article, he went on to explain how many traits of the young Einstein in academia, like his being a slow reader, have caused much speculation over the years about how one of our world’s most famous brainiacs may have struggled with a developmental disorder. Of course, those of us in the land of twice-exceptional children find this conclusion perfectly natural.

Einstein struggled in school like many gifted kids. From an early age, he was quite frustrated by the rigid discipline imposed upon him and throughout the course of his speckled educational career, his rejection of what he came to expect from “school” as an institution grew. Later in life he stated, “The worst thing seems for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the healthy feelings, the integrity and self-confidence of the pupils. All that it produces is a servile helot.” Perhaps the only positive result from the majority of Einstein’s formal educational career was the development of a sense of skepticism and the willingness to challenge existing notions.

While most people are aware that Einstein had a troubled early educational career, many people do not know that he did, in fact, have a school experience toward which he felt fondly. This took place at Aurau where the school instructional philosophy was based on the teachings of educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi who felt it was important to appreciate the “inner dignity” of each child.

Pestalozzi began his quest to improve education out of a concern for the social conditions that existed during the late 1700’s and he strived to establish equal opportunity through education. He believed that the resources necessary when obtaining an education were within the reach of every individual, as they exist in the natural world, which surrounds all of us. His philosophy supported achievement of balance in life and a belief that individuals should focus on their minds, bodies and souls equally and with regards to instruction.

In the classroom, Pestalozzi promoted hands-on activities and experimentation, along with keen observation and reflection. He opposed methodical lessons and a focus on “correctness,” which had been traditional in curriculum. Overall, he firmly believed that children should be free to learn through experience, both socially and through their activities. He believed that the acceptance of children and their individual natures encourages self-confidence, allowing them to feel secure enough to explore and develop their own education and ideas about the world. Similar to Montessori in some ways, his goal was to develop a learning process in which students make observations, reason independently and arrive at their own conclusions based on personal experiences, both cognitive and physical. His understanding was that through these experiences students develop personal responsibility as opposed to responsibility toward the expectations of others. This was in place of the traditional process of education which existed at the time which he felt planted the thoughts and habits of others in the minds of children, thus stifling their individuality altogether.

It was at Aurau, while under the umbrella of Pestalozzi’s philosophies, that Einstein is thought to have developed his first genius visualization of the speed of light and it has been said that Einstein truly enjoyed his learning experience there. That is powerful, given that he was a young man who had grown to detest school and who many assumed would amount to nothing.

So, what can we learn from young Einstein, and the past?

  • Our most challenging children are often the most brilliant.
  • Skepticism and the willingness to challenge existing notions may be signs of genius.
  • The most important tool for effective instruction is making sure that students know that they are respected and cared for as individuals.
  • The potential of our young learners is an extension of their individuality, not their ability to conform to the thought framework of others. An authoritarian, fear based environment is damaging/does not support success.
  • As individual confidence increases through successful independent experiences, so does intrinsic motivation toward learning as well as the desire to develop personal responsibility.

Summertime Stress and the 2e Child – Reflections by our Director Lisa Reid, EdD

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The Worry Monster, created by Dr. Dan Peters of Summit Center

By this time of year, most students are easing into summer with plans that vary from family vacations to lazy days by the pool to special camps or other seasonal activities. Most kids enjoy the long, carefree days and break from the academic calendar. But the twice-exceptional child may see it very differently.

Part of my daily routine as a teacher is to check in with my students. This gives them a chance to reflect upon their lives and it provides me the opportunity to get a sense for their readiness to learn that day. Oftentimes I gain keen insight into what is going well for them or what is not. In the last few weeks of this past school year, I was surprised to hear very self-aware answers from my students after I asked if they were looking forward to summer. “I feel like I should be excited, but I am not really,” and “I’m feeling bittersweet” were just a couple of the likeminded responses. My introspective group of tweens reminded me that being twice-exceptional often comes with high levels of anxiety when routine is broken up from the norm—and summertime is seen that way for many of them.

We all know that adolescence is a tremendously difficult time for any child. This applies even more so to our twice-exceptional children who are searching to find their place in a world that already seems to be such an awkward fit. To them, it can appear at times like the world wrote a handbook for living but forgot to give them a copy.

While 2e children require room for freedom of thought and action, they also have a great need to know what to expect ahead of time. For that reason, the emerging transition to summer, with its exciting promise of unscheduled days and more unpredictability can be very anxiety producing. Not having routine can often create discomfort for children who are, by nature, often already intensely concerned that they aren’t doing things “right.” Paradoxically, the structure and known expectations that they often seek to escape are what actually provide them a sense of security.

Knowing this, co-create a plan for the summer with your 2e child. Just bringing them into the conversation can take a load off their mind. Talk about a routine that might work well during these months off and create a calendar together as loose or as firm as they need it to be. Set goals about what they would like to accomplish before the next school year and list the steps to accomplish them. Spend a few moments with them each morning or night to create a daily “to do” list. By providing them these small pieces of structure, you will be inevitably freeing them from undue stress and facilitating the enjoyment that summertime SHOULD bring.

P.S. My colleague Dr. Dan Peters published a book this past year called Make Your Worrier a Warrior about how parents can help their children battle the Worry Monster. Make sure to check out this article:

“Ten Tips for Parents and Kids to Tame the Worry Monster”
which was originally published in Huffington Post.

The Reid Philosophy of Learning

Lisa Reid
Written by Lisa Reid,
Director and Founder of RDS

In the typical Industrial Era “teach to the top” American schoolroom the general population is taught to suppress their individuality for the sake of the whole in order to be a good student. Kids are expected to engage in academia by being well-behaved boys and girls; by listening, learning and then leaving to fulfill their academic obligations of homework et al. The twice-exceptional (2e) child, however, inherently has a hard time toeing this line. The 2e child operates on a roller coaster of intense emotions and feelings and a spectrum of learning ability that fluctuates between moments of extreme acumen and moments of deficiency. So even though they may be bright, this oftentimes gets the 2e student pegged as difficult, or learning disabled, and they may find themselves eventually becoming depressed, distracted and displaced from their original love of learning. Sometimes this leads to a student’s reputation as troublesome which can further make a youth disassociate from the system. As an educator myself, I have seen this happen all too often. This is why I chose to open Reid Day School, to give those 2e students a chance to shine on their own accord.

The true definition of learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. I used to think that I could facilitate learning best by holding high expectations, believing that my students could meet them, and that then they eventually would. Although a good majority of them did, some did not. Regretfully, I mistakenly believed that the few who did not had problems beyond my control.

This led me to try to understand how those kids who seemed to be doing poorly in this system could best be led to shine. I became convinced that 2e students needed things that so-called “normal” students did not. They needed their social and emotional needs to be considered in the classroom and they needed differentiated instruction and different modalities that were customized to their unique personalities so that they could excel in learning.

Around seven years ago, I began to realize what it meant to respect the true inner dignity of my students, as well as their minds, their feelings and the ways in which they were shaped. It has been a long road of continual learning since that time and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to be immersed in the brilliance and intensity that 2e kids have to offer in my classroom. It made me realize the importance of the whole child as well as brain based instruction that integrates strengths and interests.

I wanted to create a safe place where 2e kids in Orange County could find learning truly tailored to their needs in an environment where they could feel like the new normal. I have learned to maintain high expectations while understanding what it truly means to respect the inner integrity of students. I have continued to teach to the top but I have a much different understanding of what that involves.

Some of these things include:

  • Getting to know my students as individuals
  • Giving students the benefit of the doubt
  • Respecting that there are times when students aren’t completely available to give 100%
  • Knowing when they can
  • Understanding that behavioral issues mean that there is a discrepancy between what I have asked a student to do and what they are able to do.
  • Believing that all students want to do well
  • Understanding that they can meet objectives in alternative ways
  • Providing explicit expectations and feedback
  • Knowing that learning profiles are very complex and having the background and understanding needed to approach them effectively
  • Supporting their variable needs through appropriate accommodations and accelerating learning opportunities where they have strengths
  • Listening to and supporting their ideas no matter how far fetched they seem
  • Involving students in goal setting, monitoring and reflecting upon their progress so that they can take ownership of their learning.

With this next paradigm shift in education, we are seeing more extremes with many educators and educational atmospheres moving from a one-size fits all approach to an approach that has no expectations, especially for students with special needs. There is a middle ground but until the educational system at large embraces it, we will continue to offer excellence in learning to a niche of those who are twice-exceptional.