It can be frustrating to feel as if you are the lone voice calling out for help to be given to children with dyslexia. You may feel as if you are in a David and Goliath battle. You may wonder if the “five smooth stones” of your Science of Reading knowledge could possibly be enough against the “Goliath” of administrators and teachers who think the problem is the student with dyslexia, not their approach to teaching that student.
The astoundingly good news is that one person can indeed make a difference, and as Dr. Sandman-Hurley states in the quote above, one person certainly can change the whole culture of a school.
This month we begin a recurring series I am calling “The Power of One,” about individuals who have been the one to spark change. In their sphere of influence, they have been the sole voice speaking up for a different, better way to instruct dyslexic students. Over time, with cheerful, stubborn persistence, they have changed their corner of the world for the dyslexic students and their families who live there. I will start with the story I am most familiar with, my own.
After 14 years of classroom teaching, and a few months after I first became aware of dyslexia, I spent a little over two weeks sitting in a musty church basement in the downtown area of Huntsville, Alabama. I was enrolled in an Orton-Gillingham Associates Level training course. The course forever changed my outlook on teaching. I left the training and began a side business tutoring students with dyslexia. My mentor, Marcia Ramsey, guided my efforts and kept me centered in the Orton-Gillingham approach.
As student success brought confidence, and my private practice grew; I left my classroom teaching position and went full-time with tutoring. I was loving my role as Dyslexia Therapist, doing one-on-one tutoring. No one was more surprised than I at the doors which were about to be opened for me to have a larger role in helping students with dyslexia and their families.
One of the students I tutored was a kindergartener, Amy, who was being retained due to her lack of progress in reading and spelling. We tutored three times weekly through the summer, and A made excellent progress. When the new school year began, Mom asked permission for me to come to school twice weekly to continue with the tutoring lessons. After several weeks of being told no, permission was reluctantly given by the principal of the private church school Amy attended. As lessons continued, Amy rapidly improved in word recognition, spelling, and comprehension. The changes were noticed by her teacher and the school principal. The child whom they felt needed to be retained was now top of the class!
Intrigued by Amy’s success, the principal asked great questions and really listened as I explained what dyslexia was, how common it was, and the Orton-Gillingham approach. After that, I stopped in her office for a short conversation about O-G many times as I came to tutor Amy. Through those informal chats, the principal came to see the benefit of O-G tutoring. Next, I was called into the Headmaster’s office and asked if I thought a program at the school to provide Orton-Gillingham approach tutoring could be put together. My solo voice had now become a quartet of people at that school who understood the possibility of the right approach’s power to change the life of a dyslexic child.
August 3, 2010, was the day I stood at the door of the Faith Christian Academy Dyslexia Center to welcome my half-dozen students to the new program I had designed and implemented just for them. Phase one of changing the culture of a school was accomplished. I had an administrative mandate and support from the parents of students enrolled in the program.
The much harder phase two lay ahead: winning over the teaching staff. A quick program pivot to include small group instruction in the language areas was an important first step. Over the next several years I worked teaching the teachers about dyslexia and dyslexic learners. I was supportive through assisting in creating modified classroom materials, working through what accommodations were and how they helped, answering questions, and being willing to step in a teach demonstration multi-sensory lessons. While ongoing professional development helped, it was when we hosted a Fellow led Orton-Gillingham training for classroom teachers that the true shift to being a Dyslexia Friendly School happened.
I spent a decade as director of the Dyslexia Center. We survived the sale of the school where my dyslexia program started to Lindsay Lane Christian Academy as well as changes in school leadership and teaching staff. We grew from me as the sole employee of the Dyslexia Center to me overseeing fourteen part-time tutors and small group teachers who served over fifty students. Additionally, I managed accommodations for well over one hundred graduates of the program. The LLCA Dyslexia Center became a hub in our area for information about dyslexia and for Fellow led Orton-Gillingham training each summer that benefitted over twenty area schools. As I planned to retire, a new director was named, and she has carried forward the original vision of a school where students with learning differences are valued and given what they need to thrive.
From what I learned in my ten years working with classroom teachers as director of the dyslexia center, I have written a professional development, which I call Dyslexia Friendly Classroom. The training, both in person and online, covers what a teacher needs to know about dyslexia and the classroom needs of dyslexic learners. Intended as a supplement to Orton-Gillingham training, Dyslexia Friendly Classroom shows teachers how to tweak their teaching to create a classroom that is friendly to dyslexic students. Through this training, I hope to reach into many more schools, supporting the one teacher in each school who is educated about dyslexia. With that support, he or she can go on to change the culture of their own school.
The power of one is real. I know, because I have been privileged and challenged to be that one in my sphere on influence. I would love to hear how you have been the one to change your corner of the world. Email me if you’d like to entrust me with your story.