Wednesday, November 29, 2017



The holidays are rapidly approaching.  To-do lists and wish lists seem to get longer and longer as the days get shorter and shorter. On many of both those lists are the getting and receiving of the latest new devices.  For adults and children alike, visions of a new smartphone, tablet, laptop, gaming device and/or video games are dancing in their heads.  While these wonders of technology do make wonderful gifts and have many positive applications, particularly when giving these gifts to children and teenagers, there are some considerations to keep in mind.


First, technology has a serious impact on young people.  They spend around six and a half hours a day looking at screens.  Much of this screen time appeals to their young brains because of the constant novelty scrolling through pages and sites provides.  This pleasure-seeking behavior causes the brain to produce dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.   While adults also engage in these types of behaviors in order to gain the same response, our more developed brains have a greater ability to limit our use of these devices.  Younger brains have yet to develop this self-control, which is so essential to success in school and in life. As adults, we must help our children and teenagers learn to practice self-control by limiting how much screen time they have as well as teaching the responsible use of their devices.


As of 2015, almost 70% of beginning high school students had a smartphone.  While these phones can often be used for classroom purposes, when not in use for a specific academic purpose, they can still be a distraction, not only to their owners, but to those around them.  Phones and other devices become a different type of distraction than just daydreaming or doodling in the margins. While these “low-tech” types of distractions may, in some cases, allow a student the ability to tune out other distractions and focus, the use of devices as a distraction, become the focus.  Contrary to popular belief, the brain cannot multitask.  Instead, the brain shifts from task to task, much like an oscillating fan, and is not able to fully focus on any one task.


The constant exposure to the novel stimuli these devices provide can cause the young brain to tire and experience decreased performance from overstimulation.  Girls, in particular, face increased pressure from social media’s frequent over-emphasis on looks. This constant body consciousness can negatively affect cognitive ability, often permanently.  Additionally, for boys and girls, too much screen time can interfere with sleep patterns and can cause test performance to suffer. Besides negative impacts on academic performance, too much time spent with devices limits children’s ability to build friendships. 


In order to combat the negative effects of these many devices, parents can take these several steps.  As with other areas in their lives, children respond to clear, consistent, and specific boundaries.  Talk with your child on what are the acceptable uses and times for their devices.  Develop rules for use with them, so that expectations are clear and make sense to your child.  Teach your children appropriate digital citizenship by modeling in your use of your own devices what that looks like. Create opportunities for both you and your child to disconnect from your devices and screens and connect with each other.  Put those opportunities into a contract that both you and your child must honor.


So, this holiday season, take time to focus less on screen time, and more on “face time.”



Monday, October 2, 2017


Dyslexia Awareness Month

Nancy K. Harrison

October is Dyslexia Awareness month. For many years the word “dyslexia” was not broadly used in education. Thankfully, because of the diligence of parents and policy makers in Virginia and across the nation, the term “dyslexia” is recently being used in schools more openly.

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (Definition adopted by the Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association, 2002)

At New Vistas School we address the needs of students with dyslexia by providing for them a multi-sensory approach to instruction. Trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach to education, our teachers strive to implement the use of hands-on activities, and varied instructional practices. When students are able to work with the material using a variety of modalities, they are rewiring the brain to function more efficiently.

Typically, a student with dyslexia can learn the same amount of information a traditional learner can master, he just may take a little longer to do so. Sometimes a student with dyslexia may process auditorally or visually more slowly than his peers, while being capable of learning the same material. Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading authority on the subject of dyslexia, describes it as, “An island of weakness in a sea of strength.”

Some helpful websites on dyslexia are:,, and


Monday, September 11, 2017

“Focusing is about saying no.”—Steve Jobs


As a new school year now underway, it is important to take a few moments to acknowledge the power of saying no and the effect it has on helping both children and adults to focus.  All too often, we find ourselves in the position of saying “yes” to more people, activities, and objects  than we neither want nor need.  When we continually say yes, we give ourselves more distractions that prevent us from putting our focus on those people, activities, and objects that truly need our attention.  In doing so, we increase our stress and decrease our productivity.


Many times, we feel pressured to say yes because we are concerned we may hurt someone’s feelings by saying no.  In order to spare others, we take on more than we can.  This situation is especially difficult for children.  They want to be a good friend and worry that if they say no, they will lose a potential friend.  As adults, we must help our children learn and understand that to be their best selves, they must protect themselves.  Part of this protection is being able to advocate for themselves by saying no.  No to constant messaging and/or texting, no to multiple playdates, no to hours and hours of gaming.  By helping our children say no to too many outside activities, we help them say yes to more with family, more time for sleep, more time outside, and more time to focus on schoolwork, which in turn, will free up time for those fun things.


We, as parents and guardians, have the opportunity to model saying no for our children.  We can say no to overscheduling our children with one activity after another. We can say no to misuse of technology (including cellphones) by limiting that activity and teaching appropriate use. We can say no to our own misuse of technology by not constantly checking our phones while we are spending time with our children.  By saying to no to those things, we let our children know we are saying yes to them by focusing on the moment.





Monday, June 12, 2017



Change is all around us.  We see it in nature. We see it in science and technology.  We see it in our children, parents, and friends.  We see it everywhere and in everything.  We know all people and things experience some type of change at some point.  Yet, as much we as we know this, we often fail to see changes in ourselves and/or we struggle with those changes we see happening all around us.  Why is change, while so common, often the root of so much denial and fear?


As humans, we like routine and predictability.  We feel comfortable with familiar patterns and sameness.  Even though our brains respond to novelty and new experiences, our emotions cling to dependability and reliability.

We stay the same to avoid the discomfort and pain of change.  Sometimes, however, change just cannot be avoided.  Additionally, sometimes the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. 


If we as individuals want to grow and develop, we must be willing to accept that that growth and development is only going to happen through embracing new opportunities and facing new challenges.  In other words, making some changes.  Some of those changes can be as small as drinking an additional glass of water every day.  Other changes may involve greater effort, such as taking a new job or moving to another city or state.  Maybe it's change in relationship that needs to happen.  Regardless of what type of change we need to make, in order to move forward in life, we must be open to the situations that will allow us to do so.


As we move into a new season of the school year, summer break, we have an opportunity to look back at the changes we have through during the recently completed school year, and we look ahead to the changes we can make prior to the beginning of the coming school year.  We applaud our children and students for persevering through their learning challenges and moving on to their next grade level.  We celebrate our graduates, Bradley, Brittany, and Dominique, as they leave us to pursue their postsecondary goals-a very great change.  We send well wishes to our faculty and staff members who are making professional and personal changes beyond NVS. 


So, while change is sometimes uncomfortable and scary, it is also exciting, and a given in our lives.  During these warm summer days, let's reflect on how to make change a positive force in our lives.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017



“Are you a need-knower?”

“Are you a need-knower?” That is the question I asked the students at the career day gatherings at New Vistas School last Friday. The theme of the day was “A Balanced Life,” and the invited speakers shared with the students how their lives were balanced between work, family, community and life interests. I approached the topic with an initial question: “Did you ever swim in a current?” The students shared their varied experiences, and we all agreed that one can never swim against a current or he will eventually drown. But understanding the dynamics of the current, one can use the current to his advantage and not only save himself but also have fun in the process. Then we talked about the imaginary balls that I juggled which represented facets of the students’ lives and those of their parents. We realized that we all have to juggle different balls and we better be balanced if we want to keep them in the air. All this discussion led to an understanding: You better be a “need-knower” if you are to succeed and make it.

       I was taken aback by how honestly and how penetrating the students were in their understanding of the necessity to be a “need-knower.” Only the individual can really know his own needs, and with the help of teachers who respond to those needs, real growth can take place. One student confidently told the group that he loved to play video games because he was ADD. He said that his “current” was taking him in a certain direction, but as his own best need-knower, someday, he was going to create games for kids who could not focus easily. We all supported his dream because we thought it would come true.

       I left NVS with a new sense of the mission of the school and a better sense of the students and teachers who live and learn there. Our job as a board is to support the efforts to help the students become their best “need-knowers.” –Bob Gillette, NVS Board of Directors



Monday, April 24, 2017


On Friday April 21st, the Upper School students celebrated Earth day.  The students rotated between classrooms and participated in various Earth day activities.  One room showed a video about Isle de Jean Charles off the coast of Louisiana which is experiencing extreme coastal erosion due to environmental issues and climate change.  In another room, the students created sculptures using only items they have recycled.  We voted on which sculpture was the most creative, had the most recycled pieces used, and which was the minimalist.  In addition to creating art out of recycled objects, the students also created solar ovens that harness the sun’s energy to cook food items.  At the end of the day the Upper School went on a nature hike on the Blackwater Creek Trail, where we visited the Hollins Mill dam.  Overall it was a great day and we all enjoyed the fresh air!




Wednesday, April 19, 2017


“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.  This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”—Carol Dweck, Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success


Several years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University after years of research, published her groundbreaking book, Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success.  In it, she discusses the two types of mindset people have growth or fixed, and how those mindsets affect how individuals deal with challenges in their lives.  With a fixed mindset, an individual believes that intelligence is static and cannot be changed and that talent is innate and therefore, effort is not necessary. The growth mindset individual believes that both intelligence and talent can be increased and improved through consistent development and effort.  Through her research and study, Dr. Dweck demonstrates how individuals can move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset in order to overcome, as well as be proactive about, challenging situations.


During the course of this current school year, the NVS faculty and staff have been reading Mindset as a group in order to apply her ideas to our own professional practices and to assist our students in becoming more successful. For many of our students, previous unhappy school experiences have led them to believe that they are powerless to make changes in how they learn and how they cope with their individual learning challenges.  Those previous experiences, many of which focused on that fixed mindset belief that intelligence and talent are static and cannot be changed and/or are just innate, have caused the creation of unproductive behaviors, such as fear of attempting new tasks and cheating.


To help students (and adults) move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, be aware of the following:

·         Focus on sending messages, in words and actions, that let your child know you recognize s/he is developing and you are interested in that development,

·         Practice using praise that focuses on the processes, strategies, and/or effort your child is using or used to master a task,

·         Use constructive criticism to help your child correct mistakes,

·         Help your child set reasonable goals and understand that everyone can make improvements.

While moving from fixed mindset ways of thinking to growth mindset ways of thinking does not happen overnight, it is possible to change thought patterns to those that promote a growth mindset.  With consistent reinforcement and support, students can recognize that they do have control over their own learning, can embrace challenges, persist through those challenges, and be inspired by their successes, as well as others’ successes.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017


“I’m so bored.”


Many of us have either heard this lament, or uttered it ourselves, in different situations.  Some of those situations include sitting in a class covering a topic in which we’re not particularly interested or waiting, for a movie or sporting event to begin or for a plane to take off or land.  Dr. John Eastwood of York University defines boredom as, “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”  Boredom can manifest as feeling frustrated, anxious, or angry, as well as create negative actions, such as overeating or substance abuse.


Boredom itself stems from several conditions.  The first of these conditions is one’s energy level.  Having a high level of energy but nothing to which to devote that energy can result in feelings of boredom.  A second condition is difficulty focusing attention due to the environment.  If there is too much stimuli in the environment, or not enough stimuli, one’s mind may jump from one thing to another in an effort to focus.  The more the mind wanders, the more one may feel bored because there is the recognition that this daydreaming is the mind’s effort to occupy itself.  A third condition is control.  Feelings of boredom are more likely to occur when one feels little control over a situation.  Sitting in a classroom or waiting in line are often places where one has limited control in changing the situation.  This feeling of lack of control can cause anxiety and/or frustration and long-term, can create negative feelings regarding those things that have become the object of one’s boredom, thus leading to impaired performance in future activities, such as paying attention in class and working memory capacity.


So, what can one do to alleviate boredom, particularly in those situations when one has limited control?   Recognizing and understanding the reasons for boredom can allow one to refocus attention.  Meditation exercises can help regulate and/or lower energy levels, which can help one feel less bored.  Listening to music, if the environment and/or situation allows for it, can help filter out distractions in the environment, as well as have a positive influence on mood.



Thursday, March 2, 2017

Active Listening

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation and realize you are not even sure what the topic of discussion is? It is embarrassing to get caught. When it happens in class, it can be devastating.

Our students often struggle in school to actively listen to class discussion, directions, and lectures. When called on to answer a question or participate in a discussion, they often find they have nothing to contribute. Upon investigation, it is usually not because they do not know the information, but rather the problem is that they do not know what has been said. They may have heard it, but they did not listen to it.

Effective communication is the responsibility of both the speaker and the listener. The speaker should be careful to:

·         Speak slowly to allow students to process

·         Speak with clearly articulated words

·         Gauge the interest level of his audience

·         Change the inflection in his voice

The listener should be careful to:

·         Repeat in his head the words of the speaker

·         Look at the speaker and make eye contact

·         Ask good questions when the time is right

·         Jot down key words, phrases, or thoughts

Working on these skills at home will help your child learn the strategies in a comfortable environment, and his ability to listen will more easily transfer to school and other settings. Model good listening for your child, and help him develop these life skills. –Nancy Harrison, Assistant Head of School





Monday, February 13, 2017


Technology—what a great tool it can be.  Personal devices are continually evolving to be faster, smaller, and more user-friendly.  Infinite information is available on the web or in the cloud with just a click or a swipe.  Social media keeps us connected in ways no one could ever have imagined through photos, tweets, and blogs.  We can do more, see more, hear more—but is more really better?  Or is more too much?


While all of this connectivity and access to information has many advantages, it is important to be aware of some potential disadvantages.  Many studies are finding that children and adolescents are increasingly becoming addicted to their devices.  This addiction manifests as not being able to disconnect from their devices to give their minds, and bodies, some down time without a screen and without pressure to constantly be “on” with their peers.  Often, events of the day, that prior to cellphones and social media, could be left behind at school, follow children home, increasing anxiety and cutting into family time and time that could be/should be spent on other activities, such as completing homework or participation in sports or other recreation.


Students often report lack of sleep because they have spent hours on-line playing games or participating in marathon group phone calls or texting sessions.  Unfortunately, their decisions to engage in these types of activities follow students back to school the following day in the form of lethargy and crankiness in classes and frequently “drama” (in forms of miscommunications and hurt feelings) from the previous night’s conversations and/or social media postings.


As with other parts of their lives, students need boundaries when using technology.  Some types of boundaries include setting time limits on use of phones, computers, gaming devices, and time spent on social media sites, removing or disabling these devices after a certain time in the evening, and routinely checking and monitoring your child’s social media sites and cellphone usage.  Perhaps the best and most effective way of ensuring your child’s responsible and healthy use of technology is to model those behaviors for him/her. Taking time to discuss these issues with your child is a great way to connect with your child—no special technology required.