Podcast: Holly Schrieber: Relating to Teens with ADHD as an Educator

Welcome back everyone! Today, I kick off back to school season with an interview with my dear friend and colleague, Holly Schrieber. Holly is one of the few people at Signet who does “all the things” – and this makes her an incredible insightful advisor and supporter for parents and students alike. Tune in to hear about the life experiences she draws on to connect and build trusting relationships with even the most independent and help-averse students.
Access free resources and learn more about Sheila and her team at Signet Education at signeteducation.com or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sheilaakbar/.

TRANSCRIPT

Holly Schreiber: 

If we can create a little bubble where the judgment is not there, then we can work on realizing that, that outside judgment doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, everybody, welcome back. I hope you had a lovely summer. I know summer is not over yet. I am loathe to have it end earlier than it really needs to. But we are back from our break. And everything at Signet is sort of in back to school mode. So I do feel like my summer is over. I did have a good one. And I’m really excited to welcome you back to the podcast, with an interview with one of my oldest friends, and an excellent Signet tutor Holly Schreiber. Now Holly, and I go back 15 years, maybe a little bit more. We met in graduate school, where we were both doing two PhDs because we’re a bunch of overachievers. And as you’ll hear today, there are a lot of reasons for her striving that hard. And I think as you hear her talk about this, you might see some of yourself in her and maybe even some of your kids. Holly is one of the rare people at Signet that does all of the things that we offer here. She is an incredible subject tutor. She is an ace test prep tutor. She’s a incredibly empathetic and transformational coach when she works with teenagers, or young adults. And she is a undergraduate and graduate admissions consultant drawing on her own experience of moving through these various stages of education. So I’m really excited to have you listen in on this conversation, because I think we get behind all of her very impressive academic credentials, to what I think of as emotional or life experience credentials, that she draws on to really connect with her students. And in particular, we spend a lot of time talking about her coaching practice, and how her own late diagnosis of ADD has helped her connect with her students who may be struggling with something like ADHD or motivation issues, or other kinds of challenges. Holly is also really skilled at talking to high performing students who have all of a sudden hit a roadblock, and their academic identity has shattered, and it’s causing a lot of shame, and they’re getting behind. It’s a real cause for alarm for families for you know, a student who really had everything together and then all of a sudden things fall apart and you just can’t understand what’s going on. She’s experienced that herself and she’s helped so many students really understand themselves, learn to reach out for help, and learn to build systems and teams around themselves to help navigate those difficult moments. Let me formally introduce you to Holly before we get into the interview, Holly Shreiber has tutored for over a decade and specializes in a number of services at Signet Education. She received her bachelor’s degree in Russian from Bowdoin College, and two PhDs in comparative literature and American Studies from Indiana University. She stands out because she’s worked as a tenure track professor at the University of Maine and served as a Masters and PhD advisor, and on the Graduate Admissions Committee there before and during her time with Signet, she’s helped over 100 students navigate application essays, program selection, and standardized testing. And she loves acting and comedy. clients and students love Holly because her familiarity with executive function support standardized testing, writing and admissions makes her a great holistic adviser to both parents and students alike. And she’s funny patient and meticulously organized. So have a listen, and I’ll catch up with you after the interview. Holly, thank you so much for joining us today.

Holly Schreiber: 

Oh, thank you, Sheila. I’m so glad to be here.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, it’s great. You know, I mentioned in the intro, you are one of my oldest friends. And I’m so excited that we get to work together at Signet, and I’m so excited for audience to get to hear a little bit more about what you do, and what makes you so good at your job and really how you think about education when you’re working with high school students or college students applying to grad school. So let’s start there with what do you do at Signet.

Holly Schreiber: 

Well, I have a variety of hats at Signet. Those range from undergraduate and graduate admissions, consulting, academic coaching, test prep, tutoring and writing dude writing as well, like I started in graduate admissions and then moved into undergraduate a little later. But as I’ve moved along, I found that there is a significant overlap and approach to some of these areas. So even if we’re working on different projects or have different goals in each engagement, I really found to feel quite grounded in the fact that my approach to working with students is really building off their motivation and their desire for change. I think in any engagement not really sits well with sickness values of teaching students, not subjects. But I think that really finds its strongest expression in academic coaching. That is an approach that is really, really centered on the student’s agency, what they feel motivated to change in their life, and what their goals are, and the pathway that we go through that I think as I became trained and more experienced in coaching, that really worked its way into all of the areas that I work in. I’ve realized, even if our goal, with the SAT, a certain score, it seems cut and dry, right? You know, there’s the material, there’s the content knowledge that we’ll need, here’s our timeframe. If a student is feeling anxious, or if they’re not able to complete their homework in the timeframe that they want, then we’ve got a problem that really stems from what they’re bringing. And that’s something that that coaching, or at least a coaching approach to tutoring can really help with that we can see. Okay, what’s what’s going on with the student? Why? How can we reframe how we’re thinking about this test and this relationship, to help them meet their goals? And how can we help them own those their goals, because a lot of times, they may feel that they’re doing this to please a parent, or they’re doing it because everyone else is doing it. And all of those are external motivation, it can work, but it’s not going to be as powerful and it’s not going to help them in their personal development. As much as finding internal motivation to do those things.

Sheila Akbar: 

I love that you dive right into all of that, that is really, as you said, at the heart of how we do things at Signet, and you know, of course, I know your work, and I know the results that your students have. So I know that this is your approach, but it’s always great to hear it. You know, when we can put the student’s own motivations at the heart of whatever it is that we’re working on with them, it just goes better, right, there’s less tension, it’s less of an uphill battle, whatever lessons they’re learning actually stick. And it’s the whole, you know, teach a man to fish, as opposed to give them a fish. And it’s a really wonderful thing to watch that transformation in students. So I want to come back to this, because I think this is really important. And we’ll talk about some of the transformations you’ve seen in your students and how you think they happened. But let’s back up a little bit. And talk about how you got to where you are, because you are a highly accomplished academic. And I think that’s a story worth telling. So take us back to high school, Holly, you’re thinking about where to go to college and navigating the whole process. Tell us that story of how you decided where to go to college and what your college experience was like. And then what came after.

Holly Schreiber: 

All right, we’re back to high school enough that it feels like a long time ago, we have to admit. So I was in in Florida for high school. And my parents had moved there. When I was in middle school. And I was very, I didn’t feel like I had any say in it. I felt very much like this is something that was forced on me this entire experience. And again, this was attitude coming from me as a teenager, I pretty much chose to be miserable, in order to protest what my parents had done to me. But it would be a long time before I was really able to reach out and ask for help on these things. But what I really felt was that, and what my family has always felt we’ve always valued education. And so I poured everything I had into what I thought was the right path to study the SAT, you’ve got a high score I’m valedictorian of my high school, to the extent where I actually didn’t take classes that would have, you know, like if I took drama, I might not have been valedictorian, because of the way they calculated points, but I may have discovered something that would really have like, blown my mind and helped my personal growth and helped me be happy.

Sheila Akbar: 

That you certainly discovered much later in life.

Holly Schreiber: 

Well, we’ll get to that on the journey. That was just a little preview. But for me, it was very much, I’m very, very focused and that was my goal was a very, it kind of I imagined that achieving this credential or this this these awards would somehow change who I was or how I felt. And it didn’t that was actually my graduation speech was about I thought I would feel awesome right now and I feel the same. And yeah, I even knew it then because they told me you know, I knew for a couple months and I was like okay, I did it when I set out to do And it’s still me. It worked out that I got into Bowdoin College, which amazing school and Maine, which I had never been to previously, but in my heart was just the fantasy of not Florida. But yeah, like this is sort of small school kind of way different sort of feel culturally and, and I went there, and it was my time choosing something. And you know, my sense of agency. And I think I was determined to then to make the best of it. And really love it, even when hard things were happening or things weren’t a great fit. But in general, the small environment and the ability to create communities, I made lifelong friends on my, you know, the floor of my freshman dorm, that floor and you know, roommates or people that lived across the hall, I’m still friends with them. And those were some of the really meaningful relationships that I had to kind of help me determine, you know, what I wanted for myself, and not just like, totally concerned with what everyone else thought, or just hiding in my room studying like I did in high school. So that was great. I really fell in love with Maine and learned a ton. And then I, you know, I thought I was going to be a scientist, and I was going to study biochemistry. And then I found my experience of actually getting lab experience was that I’m not very good at it. And I don’t like it that much. So a bit of a double whammy, which would have been nice to do internships prior to that and get a sense of it. But there was some time, right, like, you know, you don’t have to know everything by the time you go to college. So I switched my major to Russian, which was a wild choice. But it was a small department. And it just made me feel so happy to be in an environment where everything was brand new, you know, learning a language and learning all about a new culture and seeing the same people in each class and kind of seeing the growth that way. I think there were a lot of things that drew me to that. And I love studying the literature as well. So that was a big part of of that major. And I took a variety of coursework. One of my major experiences in college was immediately pretty much immediately I got a job as an academic mentor. They have a wonderful center, a Baldwin Center for Learning, where it’s a based on peer mentorship. So students may come in and they’re, you know, if they’re struggling with time management or specific topics, but they’re assigned an academic mentor, that’s quite similar in some ways to academic coaching. So I started that immediately. And then I became a writing tutor as well, I was the only person that did both at Bowdoin at that time, which is, in some ways, maybe a precursor to what I do at Signet, I like wearing a lot of the hats. So sometimes I’d work with students that needed both a writing tutor and an academic mentor. But I think that was partly what helped me get through college and navigate it is always being plugged into these learning communities, where people are thinking about learning and how we learn. They’re thinking about helping each other. All of these were peer models. So that was something that pretty much from the beginning of college. So it’s now been 20 years since I’ve been doing this type of mentorship and writing tutoring. But I’ve carried that with me. And in grad school, I also was part of the writing center there. And it’s always that’s always been a really important part of my educational journey.

Sheila Akbar: 

So how did you decide to go to grad school? Because, folks, Holly, like me, has two PhDs. We couldn’t help ourselves, we just had to add on another. So tell me how you made that decision?

Holly Schreiber: 

Yeah, so I went straight out of undergrad. So my senior year I applied. And I think at that point in my life, we advise sometimes people against this, but I just really, there was nothing else I could think of that I wanted to do, except to continue studying. It was just, I think that’s like a character trait of mine that I’ve been really fortunate to be able to indulge and continue is always to find a way to be learning something new. And to feel really like a beginner till I continually maybe advisedly would keep adding languages. Like so I added, I started with Russian and I’m not actually that good at it later in graduate school, Sheila and I would would meet with some people that just so amazingly gifted with languages that it would just, you know, they would learn a couple rules and then start speaking and pick it up. And they would have you know, could have a dozen at some point. I’m not that person. But I love it. I love jumping in and everything is different. And we’re all struggling in little building blocks. Like it feels a little bit like a toddler. So I started Yeah, Russian was brand new when I started that in college, and then my sophomore year, I started Chinese as well. And I loved it. And I wanted to continue both. So in part in grad school, comparative literature was split the field where I could continue both I didn’t have to choose that in the basis of that field is broad inquiry like looking past boundaries and not confining yourself to one tradition, one geographic area, or Yeah, one language, you could really branch out. So that was the field that I chose and continued on, because it could allow me to continue that feeling.

Sheila Akbar: 

Alright, so let’s fast forward a bit, you finish your PhDs like a boss, you get a tenure track job at University of Maine, going back to Maine, where you are so happy. And yet that didn’t scratch some sort of itch for you, right being a professor. And that’s when you and I reconnected, really, because you got on Facebook during the pandemic. And I was like, Hey, come work for us. And we could say the rest is history. But I do want to hear a little bit more about your work for Signet. So at the top of our recording, you were just saying how you see these interactions between the services that Signet offers, and the ones that you work on with students, the writing, the test prep, the coaching the admissions, whether that’s college or graduate. And I want to hear a little bit more about that. And maybe you could illustrate that for us with a student story or two, who comes to mind.

Holly Schreiber: 

Let’s see. So I’d say okay, when one test student, this is typical of something, well, we’ll call it a rescue mission, we might encounter a student that gets to the next like big stage and their academic journey, and hits a big roadblock. So the student in particular that I’m thinking of super, super smart, could wait almost until the last minute and, you know, pull an amazing paper out was praised for writing abilities, praise for analytical insights, gets to college. And all of a sudden, the magic isn’t happening. It’s much harder to write these papers at the last minute, it’s really, at some point, like, you know, okay, once the deadlines are passed, that’s no longer motivation, which is really scary. So all of the kind of understandings about how academic works and who the student is, we’re totally disrupted. So my way of working with the students, so on the surface, this is a writing coaching thing. All right, like, it’s okay, the student has a couple of papers do, we need to make sure that they do them and get some help with writing. But through working with this student, we were able to work on writing talk about it, but understand that beneath a lot of these writing issues, and the writing block, is a crisis of confidence in himself, of having to totally feeling like he had to totally recreate his identity, which previously was the smart Wizkid that was good at things and good at writing. And think about, okay, what what is a way to, to keep all of these things that what’s essential to you, and think about how you might need to change some behaviors without losing the sense of who you are, as a thinker of you know, the ideas that you’re bringing, and the value of what you’re contributing. So there was a lot of motivation work, a lot of kind of thinking about, you know, how we approach writing, and some of the things that can stop us from performing at our skill level. And working with a student, it was really a semester, sort of intensively, kind of as the papers were coming, planning, thinking about it. And then the next semester, knowing to take it slow with some of the writing intensive classes. And then by the end, they were ready, you know, often succeed, and in college, knowing that, that they had the skills that they needed, and were, you know, performing at the level that they had been before better.

Sheila Akbar: 

That’s fantastic. So I’m imagining that the kind of results of the students work with you were less of a block when it came to writing that they feel more confident about their abilities. But I imagine they just felt better about themselves on the whole, and that probably kind of like the rising tide that lifts all boats, really help them across a lot of different domains.

Holly Schreiber: 

Absolutely, but also helping them find their support network. So there were a lot of people that were ready to help. But there was a lot of defensiveness, and there was kind of an unwillingness to show how bad the problem was. So when that happens, especially the various stages in student’s academic careers, sometimes when they’re encountering these, these roadblocks, if they feel ashamed of it. And if they haven’t had to deal with this before, they might not share it with their parents or their teachers. So you might not know about it. So that was a big victory as well was kind of opening up and being like, well, you know, we’ve developed a trusting relationship, which was great, you know, in working through these things, but our goal is not to meet forever, even though I would have liked that I really, I really loved working with the student. The goal was to kind of open up and see at the students college, there were so many resources to help and to sort of help him be brave enough to seek those out and find the ones that would work long term for him and help him build community there. As I said before, the learning centers that I worked at, they were my place, a place of belonging. And I think that we can also help students find that where they are and encourage them to seek it out.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and build that support team around them. And I think that’s a really common challenge for smart students. Like I’m thinking about both you and me, we both have trouble asking for help. It’s really hard. And I think that’s something that parents might underestimate, especially if your student was a really strong student in high school, and you never had to step in to support them, or help them make sure things were done on time. All of a sudden, they go to college, and it’s like, wait, how did these skills not translate? Sometimes it’s because they don’t know how to adapt or how to ask for help in learning how to adapt. So that’s, that’s definitely something to check on. Great. As we kind of come to the close of our episode, there is something else that I would really love to talk to you about. And that is your own ADD. So you mentioned this a couple of times, it’s actually not not something that you and I have ever really discussed. But I know that it informs the way you connect with students and the way you kind of manage all of the students that you’re working with. I’m curious, what is your ADD happened to look like for you? And what are some of the things that you have developed to help you use it as a strength and not let it hinder you in the ways that add can often hinder people? And then how does it help you connect with students?

Holly Schreiber: 

That’s a great question. So for me, my energy is a very inattentive type. So I’m not necessarily you would not think of me as as like hyperactive or acting out. And I’ve always been a high performing student. And this is the type that often will fly under the radar. Because it’s not as visible, right. I just daydream a lot, you know. But for me, it meant that, you know, when I’m doing readings, I would drift off it would I mean, what finally got me to that that diagnosis was in kind of frustration with a doctor just being like, Well, then why does it take me four hours to read an article, if I’m not depressed, if I’m not these things, and a doctor could finally be like, well, we ruled out so many other things like have you considered talking to someone about this. So if I, if I back up a little, I was diagnosed, I was in my mid 30s, early to mid 30s, I was a professor already at the University of Maine, I’ve done a lot. And I felt honestly, especially looking back, like it was just a white knuckle ride all the way through, in part because I didn’t quite put that together. So you know, my my behavior and coping mechanisms for for dealing with ADD or, you know, hyper scheduling things, making sure that when I was on I was I was really on. And that sort of stimulation really helped me focus and stay in the moment, and also waiting until the deadlines compulsively. But in graduate school, when you have a dissertation to write, or you have a 20 page term paper, I was really pushing the boundaries of what could be accomplished under last minute pressure and deadlines. And I was not, you know, my performance would fall as the more difficult the task became, in part because I was really relying on crutches without knowing that I was I was really, I think, yeah, flying blind in some ways. So what really helped and even leading into being a professor that sort of continued is like, keep the bustle up, keep the many different things, you know, in the air, but the, you know, writing and work on that, like I developed a pretty pretty debilitating sense of writer’s block, you know, the farther I got, in part because of the cycle was just I Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, and then it doesn’t meet my expectations. And then I get really frustrated and ashamed that the work I’m doing doesn’t, isn’t what I could be doing. So that what the diagnosis did was really, really helped me, step back. And that’s something I had to do, which was really hard when you’re on a tenure track, and everything is telling you you have to go forward, you have to write this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You can’t you just have to write these articles. It’s not that hard. Just do it. I mean, that was every sort of pressure. And I think having a diagnosis and understanding that it’s not that I can just turn up the heat and just do it. You know, at some point I have to acknowledge that I have limitations and I have different abilities that I haven’t been understanding I was putting the wrong type of fuel in this vehicle. And it leads to problems. So a couple of reasons led into me deciding to leave academia in that position. And working at Signet, it was a perfect transition for me because similar to the work I did in learning centers, it is grounding and healing for me to be in places where people talk about learning and growth. And that’s what we do. You know, we’re about about relationships and about helping each other. And so for me, it was a wonderful place to think about a lot of the things that happened along my journey and rebuild along with students to right like I’m learning from them many times, thankfully, so many of them are getting diagnosed earlier than I am, if they’re, if they’re struggling with these things, it makes me so happy. I usually congratulate them when I hear it. Because like, you’re, you’re starting this journey earlier than I did. Which means that you have so many more opportunities to learn your you know your superpowers earlier, and find mentors that will help you along the way and figure out what paths are really going to help you grow. Because I think it’s people are so adaptable, especially people with with ADD ADHD, they can adapt to so many environments, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the best environment for them.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right, or that it’s easy to adapt.

Holly Schreiber: 

No. And so I think that it’s, you know, just knowing that you have agency in that process. And, you know, just because something feels, you know, prestigious or the highest place to go, doesn’t mean it’s the best place for you, or the highest you can go, that’s also something that I had to sort of recognize was like, okay, I can be an overstressed mediocre academic that, in my mind mediocre, but like that doesn’t feel like she’s performing at at her best. Or I can find a pathway that I really feel like I’m growing, I feel like I can keep my promises. I feel like, you know, I’m constantly helping others in the way that I want to, and creating meaningful relationships.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right. And yeah, you’ve set your own definition of success. And I can only imagine how how much of a basis of understanding it gives you, for your students and however much you’re comfortable sharing aspects of your story, help students feel like they can trust you that you’re not just another teacher coming in to say, Oh, do it this way, you’re doing it wrong, or try harder. You can really empathize with what they’re going through, and then help them navigate what’s actually going to be helpful to them. Because it’s going to be different, right for every student.

Holly Schreiber: 

Yeah, I think for me, it’s one thing that many people fear so much is judgment. And that’s something that keeps them from being open about what they’re struggling with, or, you know, setting real goals or being ambitious, is that they just the opinions of others can, oh, that can be so hard. I think we all struggle with it. But I think when I can share that with a student of just like, okay, like, here’s, here’s what I’ve been through, and here’s how I felt about it. And, you know, some of my fears, or some of the things that it’s made me feel, hopefully that can make them feel like okay, I’m not going to judge you for a messy room. I don’t think you’re lazy or that you don’t care, or are those things right? Like it, it really helps. And then hopefully, because sometimes the world is judgmental, right? I don’t, I don’t want to diminish that. But if we can create a little bubble where the judgments not there, then we can work on realizing that, that outside judgment doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. And kind of build build a little thicker skin, which I think is necessary for neurodiverse people to just know, like, my brain is awesome. I deserve to be here as much as anyone else. And explore my gifts. And you don’t have to apologize or necessarily explain yourself to everyone if you don’t want if you want to and it helps you navigate your life and build relationships, then that’s great. And I do that sometimes, right? If I if I forget something, you know, I’ll just be like, okay, you know, sometimes I have trouble with this. I have ADD, if you can send me a reminder, that would be amazing. But I don’t always have to win, I certainly don’t have to always just apologize or feel like I need to, for for the way my mind works.

Sheila Akbar: 

That was just so beautiful. Holly, I think is a great place to leave it. I think we’ll certainly have you back to talk in more depth about, you know, your specific approach to test prep or, you know, whatever else. But I just think that’s such a lovely message. And as with most messages that we share, I think we can all just do better at putting aside the external judgments, trusting ourselves, not apologizing for who we actually are, and really listening to those sorts of internal sources of confidence and meaning as we navigate this, you know, crazy world we live in. So thank you again for joining us. And thank you so much for everything you do for your students.

Holly Schreiber: 

Oh, you’re very welcome, Sheila. Thank you for having me on.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, folks, I hope you enjoyed listening to that conversation with Holly, and if anything she said resonates with you, or reminds you of your own student. Please give us a call. We’re always happy to chat. In fact, every interested client gets a free 30 minute conversation with me. And we’ll talk about the situation and whether I have suggestions for you, or if one of our services might be of use to you. I also have a tremendous network of educational partners as you can tell from all the wonderful people that I interview. And so maybe one of them could be the right person to help you through whatever challenge you’re facing. So please don’t hesitate to reach out and coming soon, a little teaser. We’re starting a community on circle. If you’ve never heard of circle, check out circle.so. It’s a great place to host a community forum where people can learn from each other’s experience, ask questions of experts, we can have live learning sessions and office hours on there. That’s going to be launched on August 15. And I’m really excited to engage with people in that broader way. So check that out. You’ll find the link in our show notes. Thanks so much.

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