guest blog by Mari Foret*

The two weeks before school opens in the fall can be some of the busiest of the year. Typically, teachers are setting up 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 relationship.

A private college preparatory day school, Commonwealth 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.

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.

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.

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.

Read the entire article on the CHADD website.

*Mari Foret is the director of communications at Commonwealth Academy. This is an abridged version of her article, which appears in the April 2012 issue of Attention magazine.