Role Models and Resolutions:
Learning from Former Struggling Learners
Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds
It's hard to resist the temptation to make a few New Year's resolutions each year—resolutions that typically focus on something we want to change to improve ourselves. We look to people we admire for their success (whatever that might mean to us—popularity, wealth, fitness, power, balance) for our inspiration. Rarely do we contemplate that a role model's current success may have resulted from his or her own resolve to conquer a lifetime of challenges. Yet for so many of today's successful adults, the road involved taking a long-haul view—and looking to others for help over hurdles along the way.
I've learned a great deal about resolve from many of the successful individuals who have been involved with All Kinds of Minds. Two individuals in particular come to mind. For both, as students who struggled in school, a promising adult life seemed elusive. Both of them have written terrific books that can inspire those who are helping students "stuck" in a learning struggle chart a roadmap for long-term success.
Paul Orfalea's story has been highlighted by Fortune magazine as an example of the many CEOs who struggled with learning as children. Paul, who founded Kinko's, recounts his journey from a student on whom most educators gave up to successful businessman in his autobiography, Copy This! Paul also graciously agreed to reflect on this journey in the foreword to All Kinds of Minds' forthcoming book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds: Boosting Student Success by Embracing Learning Variation." (Read more about the book here.)
All Kinds of Minds trustee Gary Cohen also struggled with learning issues throughout school. His neurodevelopmental profile shows weaknesses in aspects of memory, grapho-motor skills and attention. Gary, founder of the executive coaching firm CO2 Partners, recalls that these made school "devastating" for him. "If I had to sit and listen to a teacher talk and write down notes in order to get information in, I just couldn't," he says. "Of course I was grades behind as a result."
Like Paul Orfalea, he benefited from parents who never gave up the search to find the educational services he needed. Gary also credits a handful of teachers throughout his schooling who helped him cope with his struggles and find joy in learning. He recalls how a teacher taught him to create mental pictorial images to understand math. Gary became very good at math—an asset that gives him an edge as a businessman. "I can look at a company's financials and actually envision the business from those statements," he says.
Understanding how his mind worked—and what the stumbling blocks were—also enabled Gary to work around his learning weaknesses. He credits this as a main factor in his success as an entrepreneur and executive coach. "My strategy was to partner with the brainiacs," he says. "I'd table up with the smart kids and get them to help me. And I learned how to ask questions."
Asking questions helped Gary become a successful learner in two ways. "First, it helped with my attention issues—asking questions refocused me on the topic. Second, it helped me learn how to learn—how to seek out information in a way that I can internalize."
This questioning skill is the subject of Gary's recently published book, Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions, now in its second printing. "This isn't just a book for people in business," Gary notes. "It's about leadership in any setting. I keep having parents tell me that they've used these ideas with their kids, and it has worked!"
The book's primary message is that in any leadership situation, asking questions helps you uncover important information, create accountability and trust, and make better decisions—ideas that will resonate with educators seeking insight into and connection with complex learners. Indeed, asking questions of students, parents and other adults who are part of a learner's life is critical to getting the needed data to make the best decisions about strategies for unique minds.
Paul's and Gary's stories are testimonies to the kinds of success that educators can help promote by using the All Kinds of Minds approach. They remind us why we should not give up on students who are struggling with learning differences—and they are examples of how the hard work and creativity required to overcome learning weaknesses can ultimately contribute to success.
They also remind me that truly meaningful success rarely stems from a resolution to simply change or "fix" something we don't like. So my resolution this year? Ask more questions.
More Schools Implement All Kinds of Minds Approach
Four more schools have been recognized as Schools of Distinction for their amazing work with students. Meet Sandhills Elementary School and Sandhills Intermediate School both in Swansea, South Carolina, Tigerville Elementary School in Taylors, South Carolina, and Indian Creek School in Crownsville, Maryland.
In 2008 Sandhills Elementary School began working with All Kinds of Minds to explore students’ learning diversity. This public elementary school serves more than 500 3rd- and 4th-graders and has made strides in fostering students’ awareness of their strengths, affinities, and needs, as well as using program resources to teach and encourage student self-advocacy.
Sandhills Intermediate serves more than 500 grade 2-6 students in rural SC. Sandhills educators use All Kinds of Minds processes to construct "balance sheets" of students' individual learning strengths and to create plans fostering academic improvement. The school also offers "Learning about Learning" enrichment classes that teach students to appreciate different learning styles.
Tigerville Elementary serves 325 K-5 students in Taylors, SC. With 92 percent of its staff trained, the Tigerville Elementary teachers have incorporated All Kinds of Minds pedagogical tools into their teaching practices and have integrated its processes into classroom curricula to encourage children to have an appreciation of themselves and others as learners.
Indian Creek School is a private, nonsectarian, coeducational day school with a combined student population of 790 in its lower, middle, and upper schools. Since 2001, Indian Creek has used the All Kinds of Minds’ Attuning a Student process to develop student learning profiles that enhance Indian Creek students’ learning experiences as they advance from grade to grade.
These interactive modules are designed to help you balance your continuing education needs with the rest of your busy life. Learn more about how you access our complete set of online learning modules.
With Attention you will explore mental energy controls such as regulating cognitive energy flow; and processing controls including regulating the processing of incoming information; as well as production controls that include regulating academic output and behavioral control.
With Memoryyou will examine short-term memory, active working memory (mentally suspending bits of information while using or manipulating them), and long-term memory (storage and retrieval of information, experiences, or skills).
In Their Own Words –
Learning About Students from Students
Asking authentic questions and engaging students in conversations about learning can provide teachers with insight into how a student thinks. In the pursuit of better understanding a student’s mind and how he or she learns best, what are the questions we might ask? How do we get that conversation started?
Keep in mind that tapping into a student’s affinities is always a good place to start. Acknowledging and leveraging affinities is a way to build trusting relationships with students. Here are some additional questions and conversation starters to get you going:
Explore strengths and affinities:
- What parts of school are easiest for you? Why?
- If you were to design the perfect day, what would you be doing?
- What are your affinities – those things you love to do or learn about?
Dig deeper to learn more about areas of weaknesses/struggle:
- I noticed you seem to get frustrated during Algebra (or Science...Math... Physical Education) class. Tell me more about what’s bothering you.
- I really enjoyed your presentation on Mt. Everest. You shared lots of interesting information with the class through your PowerPoint slides. In fact, there seemed to be more information in your presentation than in your written report. Is writing particularly difficult for you?
Discover strategies that work:
- What is the best part of your school year so far? What is the worst part? What strategies have you tried to make the difficult parts of school easier? How did that go?
- I’ve noticed you like to take notes during class. How does that strategy help you? What other strategies do you find helpful?
- You really seem to know a lot about reptiles (or westward expansion…football…poetry). How did you learn about that?
Take the 60-second challenge!
Give every student one minute of your attention each week just to explore something about them as a learner – their strengths, affinities, or strategies that are working well for them.
Use the questions listed above to get started. Make use of the information you gain from these quick conversations to inform your instruction and how you work with students in your class!
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