Terri Douglas was nominated by the head of her school, Jeremy Robbins.
Mrs. Douglas is an absolute LifeChanger, not only for the students at Brehm, but for their families and staff. Brehm is a holistic boarding school for students with learning disabilities and differences focusing on four main areas of growth: cognitive and academic, functional life skills, positive behavioral integration, and emotional intelligence. Known for advancing students with learning challenges where other resources have failed, Brehm’s industry-leading expertise and unique holistic approach have resulted in a stellar history of successful outcomes that set the school apart. As an original faculty member, Mrs. Douglas has played an integral part in writing Brehm’s story – a story of rejuvenated hope, awakened potential, confidence, and acceptance.
Mrs. Douglas is a teacher at her core, though you’ll see her wear many hats – school administrator, life coach, cheerleader, friend, and home-away-from-home mom. She wears them all with compassion, dedication, knowledge, work ethic, leadership, and a tireless pursuit of positive outcomes for students and their families. She understands each student's learning profile and personality, and she has the expertise to create individualized learning programs to support their success.
Mrs. Douglas is uniquely brilliant at designing an educational program for each student that reignites a lost passion for learning. Her very being emanates the ideals, skills, and care associated with guiding others to become better versions of themselves. She strives for understanding, whether it's a fellow administrator, a teaching colleague, a student, or a parent. She utilizes all methods for reaching her audience where they are, whether she’s leading a staff meeting, speaking to a group of students as their principal, helping a parent to understand their child's needs, or guiding an individual student to cope in a difficult situation. Mrs. Douglas has made a difference to everyone
Mrs. Douglas works hard, and she guides her staff to commit to what they're doing with the same voracity. She'll tell the truth in a compassionate way, even when it's hard for others to hear, and she makes recommendations based on what's best for the students. She is transparent about her limitations and presents herself with humility. Mrs. Douglas works in good faith, without cynicism, and is indefatigable in her determination to do right by the community. To her, the integrity of Brehm's program is not lip service or a marketing phrase. It's a genuine standard which she holds in the highest regard.
Mrs. Douglas is dedicated to every student's learning. She participates in the admissions process and meets with new students and families. She reviews the profiles and knows when her school's program will not serve the student. Mrs. Douglas voices her opinion and lets the admissions department know if they can serve a student. She doesn't jeopardize a student's chance to succeed when she knows Brehm is not the right place for them.
Mrs. Douglas' sagacity compels her staff to consider the whole student and possible contributing factors that might not be immediately apparent. She constantly reminds her staff that every student wants to succeed, no matter how loudly their behavior and performance might scream otherwise. Her staff's task is to help students uncover just how to do that. Mrs. Douglas is always there to support and cheer her team on in the process.
“We were privileged to have a bright young woman among our students last school year. She tended to debate expectations and engage others in circular 'Yes, but...'-like arguments in response to given directions," said a staff member. "When I had reached the apex of my patience with her one day, I had marched into Terri's office, feeling frustrated and utterly defeated, for guidance. I had expected her to remind me that I was the professional and that I should find a way to scaffold and meet the student where she was; or, effectively, suck it up! Instead, Terri affirmed the validity of my feelings and offered to show me a strategy to try with the student. Wasting little time after that, she convened the three of us together and demonstrated the strategy for me. I watched her take our student from teetering on the edge of a screaming fit to slowly, but assuredly, birthing a dynamic of open, mature discussion that resulted not only in her meeting the expectation that caused the impasse in the first place, but, more importantly, being able to reflect, label, and reconstruct the situation as it had occurred with Terri's gentle, but firm guidance. It was truly awe-inspiring.”
Many leaders are successful when the going is easy but fall short when the going gets tough, like during the COVID-19 pandemic. When things are tough, Mrs. Douglas attacks the problem with well-thought solutions using accurate data, research, creative effort, and group cooperation. She was instrumental in designing a plan to make sure Brehm met its mission and students continued to learn as individuals, not just an IP address, as they transitioned and adjusted to remote learning, a task that is daunting and unimaginable to many students with learning disabilities and their families. She made sure teachers continued to teach with the added caveat that Maslow comes before Bloom, meaning students’ psychological, safety, belonging and self-actualization needs must be addressed before learning can occur.
Mrs. Douglas is quick to assess whatever situation her school is in and create and adapt within whatever parameters her staff have been dealt. The pandemic has been no different. She has spearheaded the research and creation of new delivery models to reach students, no matter what mode of instruction COVID requires. She has used input from individuals directly affected by those decisions and has been a constant source of understanding and flexibility while still maintaining high expectations for staff. Mrs. Douglas' expertise in system design and understanding of our students, as well as the reality of the pandemic in spring 2020, led to a very workable remote schedule for all concerned - teachers, parents, and students. Within eight days of lockdown, Brehm was up and running with a compassionate plan that made sense. As fall approached and Mrs. Douglas prepared for a blended in-person return to school, Illinois experienced a surge in positive cases. Mrs. Douglas quickly tossed her Stage 2 COVID safety plan. She has developed another class delivery design that respects the needs of students and staff and follows best practices for limiting COVID transmission. In response to several families that were reluctant to send their child back to school due to COVID-19, Mrs. Douglas developed a model of instruction that includes both in-person and synchronous online learning.
“In helping Terri design various systems, plans, curricula, and written materials, it always became a joyful endeavor, it was never 'just work,'" said a staff member. "We would freely brainstorm and 'blurt' ideas - as she would say - bouncing thoughts off each other, giving frank feedback, and delighting in creating something of value for our community. For Terri, there is no box. There are only creative possibilities and always solutions to be found."
"She has been an amazing leader and role model during this difficult time," said Robbins.