Faculty Who Think Differently - Kelly Sampar

Amy Dempster


At Carroll, our faculty think differently ... so they can give each child what they most need, ensuring every child has a clear path to unlocking their potential. This year, we are chatting with various teachers to uncover how they approach teaching and are making a difference in the lives of Carroll students.

Kelly Sampar, 5th Grade Science Teacher

How did you come to be a teacher at Carroll?

I came to Carroll in 2010 so it’s going on 10 years. In my fourth year of teaching before Carroll, there were two kids in my 6th grade class who were, I realized later, dyslexic. They weren’t reading independently but I didn’t have the resources to help them. There was nobody to come in and work with them and I didn’t have the background. So I left to go to graduate school. I ended up doing my student teaching in Kitty Mahin’s 5th grade classroom. I interned with her for a year and then taught RAVE-O until I moved to the 5th grade teaching team.

Before Carroll, I liked the idea of inclusion. Theoretically, it seemed like a great idea - all kinds of learners in one classroom, relating to one another. But those two kids with dyslexia were so smart yet I still couldn’t help them. It was really hard. So coming to Carroll, it’s more homogenous in the sense that everybody is dyslexic. Seeing that these kids are actually able to learn and relate to one another has changed how I think about inclusive classrooms.

Of the 5 professional development courses, which has been or is most impactful for you?

(Carroll has a new professional development track that requires every new teacher to take the following 5 courses, all designed by the Carroll Academic Leadership Team: The Whole Child, Pedagogy, Orton-Gillingham Principles, Diversity & Inclusion, Data-Informed Instruction)

The most helpful course for me is data-informed instruction. Using the data helps me understand why situations present themselves, why a child is behaving the way they are. It takes the “me” out of it. It’s not about me but how the student’s brain is working. Now, I’ve got this information and this is how I can approach that. I can set concrete learning targets for each child.

In other schools, this often falls into the laps of the special education coordinators. At Carroll, you are expected to do your own homework. Then, we talk together as a team to get more information. Our 5th grade has a great team approach so I’m getting input from everybody and people are helping me to understand the data. Then, I can do something with it and make a difference.

What makes Carroll different from other schools?

At Carroll, each child is dyslexic but what that looks like is very different in each child. So there is no cookie cutter approach. Being able to acknowledge that is a huge game changer. Other places tell you to use this program - “this is what we have and this is what meets most kids’ needs.” We don’t think of it that way. We get to know that particular child, and their little nuances, and figure out how they tick. Then, we tailor the activity around trying to get all of the students and tweak it in the moment to meet those kids who are not connecting with it. In other schools, you don’t often have the luxury of stopping and tailoring your curriculum.

Have you had an "a-ha" moment when you realized you are making a difference in a child's life?

My “a-ha” moment was in my first year teaching science here. A boy student kept resisting doing one of the activities. He resisted and resisted. I sat down with him and said, “Alright, so I’m noticing that you are not doing XYZ. Can you tell me more about that?” And it turned out that he had sensory issues and didn’t want to touch whatever it was. I suggested, “What if we got you gloves? Could you do it that way?” He agreed and it became a non-issue.

It was an “a-ha” for me to always ask why and not assume anything. After that moment, we had an understanding. “I can’t read your mind so you’ll have to tell me if you’re having an issue. Because for me, the message you were sending me was that you didn’t want to do it but the true message was something made you really uncomfortable, which is very different.” I don’t know if I could have taken the time to have that conversation in my last school and that’s a game changer for a student.

The "We believe" statements were updated by faculty and staff prior to school opening this year. How does this process and the statements that were created exemplify the Carroll faculty?

It was fun to collaborate with people that I don’t generally get to see. I was in a group with middle school teachers, tutors, and different staff members. It was nice because you have a lot of different perspectives, teachers that work with kids at different developmental stages than what I'm used to. In the end, you all come back to the same thing - child first. Then it’s figuring out how to actually work as a team with parents, staff, and the kids to help enable children’s gifts and hopefully guide them to contribute to society. The conversations were pretty cool.

Targeted Cognitive Intervention is another way we give kids what they most need. How has it helped you in your classroom?

After learning about what they’re actually doing in TCI - the reaction time and working memory piece - I’m understanding more and more about what that means and how it looks in the classroom. I think about how I can tweak my lessons to have students authentically practicing reaction time in my class. With working memory, just getting the kids to understand what that actually means is important. “If you’re having a hard time recalling a vocabulary word, well, let’s unravel that. What else are you thinking right now? If you’re thinking that you’re hungry and tired or going home with someone different after school, you’re trying to hold onto information. Of course you can’t pull up that vocab word because your brain is on overdrive.” Being able to teach those concepts to the kids in the classroom and connect that to their TCI work is actually kind of fun.

Tell me more about that. When there is a student whose brain is in information overload and feeling overwhelmed, how do you get them back into the lesson?

In a professional development workshop last year, we learned about how if a kid is stressed out about something, having them take a walk or color is actually worse because they end up just circling the drain and not resetting. Instead, I have all kinds of cognitive puzzles and toys, which forces the brain to shift off whatever it’s hooked into and shift back into learning.

In 5th grade, we are also teaching kids to be aware when they need to shift. “If you’re feeling all squirmy, if you’re feeling like you want to start poking your friend or doing something that, I don’t want to correct you or have to talk to you about behavior. The goal is for you to know that. These are the tools you can use and just go do it when you need to.” Most importantly, they have to practice it so we do that too.

Educating the whole child means also nourishing social-emotional skills in students. What does that look like in your classroom?

Fifth grade is a fun age where the students have started shifting from looking to you as the person that they’re trying to please, to really trying to please their peers. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s really fun to try to help them navigate that but also really tricky.

It’s a lot like parallel play - I’m over there next to them supporting them but also letting them figure out stuff on their own. If they need help, I’m here. It’s about creating a safe space. I emphasize to my students that my first role is to make sure they’re safe, and that doesn’t mean just physically safe but emotionally safe too.

What are you most excited for this year?

Raising turtles is our big project for this year. I love teaching at Carroll, especially science, because I get the freedom to adjust the curriculum to meet the needs of the kids. I can use real-world, applicable practices and build skills. Our kids, especially in the 5th grade, have a connection with animals and they’re concerned about the environment right now. And this is the time where you can actually help mold them into becoming the citizens that will have to take care of the planet.

For this particular project, we are collaborating with the Grassroots Wildlife Conservation through Zoo New England. They have provided us with two endangered Blanding's turtles that we are headstarting all year. The kids are collecting actual authentic data on the turtles; getting the weight, the length and tracking how much they’ve grown. That data goes into a global spreadsheet that they record and analyze to find out what’s working for the turtles, what’s not, and then they tweak their program every year. After we’ve cared for them all year and their chance of survival is greater, we’ll go as an entire group to Great Meadows to release them.

It’s a great project. I just keep imagining how they may apply this later on in life. I’m just hoping to plant the seeds that sprout into something good someday.

Share something surprising about yourself.

One of my favorite ways to decompress is learning Olympic deadlifting. I played college soccer. I’ve been a runner my whole life. But I never did any kind of weightlifting. So, talk about cognitive reset. The Olympic lifts are so technical that I can actually feel my brain working to make those movements even when my body says differently.


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