“What if you are enough as you are right now?”
Several months ago, my therapist asked me this question during one of our sessions. (I burst into tears.) Since that moment, I have been returning to and reflecting on this idea of being enough as I already am. How is it possible to be enough, yet still not have all the answers?
A little background: I am highly sensitive. I remember always being this way. This trait comes in handy because I am able to read a room and feel another person’s feelings. When I see another person hurting I hurt. I also feel another person's excitement and fully feel their joy. My husband tells me that my energy is contagious, and when I am full of positive energy, I can bring the party!
Being highly sensitive has its pitfalls too. Sometimes I miss a joke, read too much into a comment, get my feelings hurt, or in a moment of anger, lose the ability to problem-solve. Sometimes I focus so much on how I’m hurt that I miss the opportunity to see the possibilities, take risks, and identify solutions.
I go to therapy to help me stay on the solution-oriented, growth mindset track. Going to therapy doesn't mean I’m not enough. In fact, when I realize I am enough, my mind opens to all possibilities, including utilizing therapy! I realize I CAN solve the problem in front of me. I DO have the tools to work through issues in my job, with my spouse, with my sons, friends, etc. If I don’t know something, I have the ability to ASK FOR HELP. All the resources are within me and around me. I just have to access the right one. Going to therapy helps me stay in this mindset, and return to it when needed.
I wasn’t always able to do this, especially as a teenager and young adult. Does this resonate with you about your son or daughter? Here are some questions to pose to your son or daughter:
I have been there. I understand. For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me. I believed I was not intelligent, or good enough. So where did I turn?
1. Connection and Validation
For me, connection is key. Connecting with others who understand, and admitting my fears and worries to a person I trust is crucial when moving towards solutions. A trusted person who validates my feelings also helps me process them in a healthy way. This process helps change my negative self-talk to solution- oriented talk. Sometimes this person is my therapist. Other times, it’s my best friend.
2. Develop a Solution Toolkit
A toolkit is made up of resources we access when we need support with a specific issue. Sometimes it may be one of the following:
3. Educational Therapy and Growth Mindset
If you believe your son or daughter might benefit from extra support in building a solutions-oriented mindset, please reach out. We focus on:
Remember, you are enough. Asking for help is just part of your toolkit!
The bulk of Brittany's career has been spent working with students with learning disabilities, including Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Executive Functioning Issues and Processing Disorders, as well as children with ADHD- Inattentive, Hyperactive, and Combined. Brittany's passion is collaborating with and empowering diverse learners through a caring and evidence-based approach. Please reach out!
From Public School Special Educator to Private Practice
By Brittany Steen, Ed.S, MA
I always felt like they needed more.
In one of my earliest assignments as a special educator, I was given a caseload of thirty students. This means I was in charge of writing, monitoring, and amending Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for thirty students. In addition to this, I taught about 75-90 students each day, and every one of those students had an IEP. My largest class for students with disabilities was 28, and I saw them daily for 50 minutes. I had no assistant or paraprofessional.
I asked myself repeatedly how I could reach each learner and his/her individual needs when given an environment like this. Many days I felt like I was failing them, and deep down, I knew I was given an impossible task. I remember teaching several 7th and 8th grade students who were reading at a second grade level, and feeling like they deserved more. I could not find a way to integrate systematic instruction they needed in a consistent and thorough way.
I felt overwhelmed and frustrated, and I can only imagine how my struggling students felt! I worked with an incredible team of special educators who helped me through those tough days and inspired me to not give up. I believed that with enough time and practice, I could learn how to serve this number of students efficiently and effectively.
Sometimes I told myself the following lies:
At times I believed these lies were the truth.
After several years, however, I finally accepted that I couldn’t provide the needed instruction with the model we were expected to implement. These students needed more than what they were given.
So I sought after other opportunities with a model I believed worked. If given the right environment (one-on-one or small group), the right service time (45-50 minutes daily), and the right instruction (systematic, explicit, and multi-sensory), those same students would make significant growth.
And… Along came David
After about four months of searching, I was offered the opportunity teach overseas in a school for American children from military families, (DoDEA). I accepted, and two months later, I walked into a K-8 school, with 74 total students, and less than 5 students on my caseload.
David became my main man for two years.
I spent approximately half of my work day with David one-on one, EVERY DAY. He had just entered 7th grade, and read at a beginning first grade level. He experienced difficulty with sight words, remembering word patterns, (phonemic awareness), rhyming, and hearing all the sounds in words spoken aloud, (phonological awareness). This directly impacted his fluency (the ability to read with expression, automaticity, and comprehension), and his comprehension. However, if I read aloud to him a story at the 7th grade level, he answered comprehension questions aloud without hesitation. His struggle with reading was not related to his intelligence. (Check out The International Dyslexia Association for details .)
David also came with a guarded heart. He had previously felt pushed aside and like he didn’t matter by other teachers. He felt like others had given up on him. By the time we met, I needed a pick-me-up from the frustrations of my previous job assignment, and he needed a lot of love, encouragement, AND belief from someone that he could learn. (Side note- a large number of children with dyslexia struggle with these same issues in young adulthood, but on a larger scale. See the article, "Perspectives on Dyslexia" for more information).
We did not hit it off. He resisted. I pushed. We practiced the same passages every day at his instructional reading level. He asked why. He told me it was stupid. I made him do it anyway. We worked on phonological awareness. He didn’t want to clap out syllables or number phonemes from left to right. I “strongly encouraged” him to do it anyway, and he did. I showed him how to make Elkonin boxes (boxes which separate phonemes in words on paper). He did this as well. Eventually, over a period of a few months, we got into a rhythm. I timed him. I taught, retaught, and helped him develop awareness of punctuation and expression while reading. It wasn’t about reading aloud as fast as he could, but about reading with automaticity, expression, and comprehension.
The relationship we built was one where I pushed him beyond what he was used to experiencing, and while he initially resisted, once he saw his reading improve, he responded with rapid growth, becoming increasingly motivated. The change did not occur over night, but I recall at some point in the middle of our first year together, he entered my class smiling, wanting to get to work, and feeling confident. In just two years, David made two years growth in reading. But he didn’t just learn how to read at a higher level. David learned STRATEGIES to cope with his reading difficulties. He developed confidence needed to open his mind to more learning. His reading difficulties didn’t go away. He learned how to manage them.
I received an email from David's mother about two years ago, and David reached out to me this past month. He shared that he graduated high school AND college. WOOHOO!
The time I spent with David and his family, and hearing of his successes, gave me a renewed energy to work with struggling learners. He and his parents are one of the core reasons why I entered private practice a few months ago. After working with David, I taught in various settings for several more years, and similar feelings of inadequacy reared their ugly heads. I wanted to do more for my students, but felt pressured by all the other pressures of my job so much, that it impacted my ability to teach with the passion, attentiveness, and compassion that I was able to give to David.
In 2017, after having my first child, I decided stay home with my kids, finish my Educational Leadership degree, and re-evaluate my life and my career. My time with David always came back to me, and I wanted so much to spend that type of quality time with all my students. I LOVED working with colleagues who pushed me to be better. BUT I always felt behind, inadequate, and lacking in what I could give to my students in a school setting. I felt like I could do so much more, if I were given the appropriate setting.
Then I read about Educational Therapy, which is described below:
“Educational therapy is the practice of providing personalized remedial instruction to children and adults with learning challenges, including but not limited to dyslexia, ADHD, executive functioning deficits, and language, visual and auditory processing issues. The ultimate goal of educational therapy is to foster development of self-confident, independent individuals who feel positively about themselves and their potential as lifelong learners.
“Educational therapists understand the social, behavioral and emotional factors that can impact learning. They have extensive training and experience in administering academic assessments, developing intervention plans, and implementing strategies to addresses challenges with reading, writing, spelling, math organization, and study skill. A vital role of the educational therapist is to serve as case manager, working in collaboration with family, teachers, and other professionals involved in the client’s life" (AET's About Section).
Educational Therapy incorporates everything I love to do in the school system:
Educational Therapy supports the school’s standards and curriculum. I work in collaboration with all parties to determine the most effective approach to helping the struggling learner.
I can help fill the gap between school expectations and services, and the individual who may need more than what the school is providing for support. This is why I have JUST applied to become part of the Association of Educational Therapists. This group is a unique set of qualified individuals, many who have either practiced for several years in Special Education like I have, or who have earned a degree in Educational Therapy. (See requirements here).
Ultimately, I want more David Experiences.
If you think your child might benefit from outside support like Educational Therapy, please reach out.
Also, check out the resources listed below to see if your child or someone you know might need to be evaluated, receive additional support, or if you are curious about learning more about learning disabilities and dyslexia.
If you are looking for a person to perform an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) in conjunction with your child’s school evaluations, please contact me for referrals.
“Perspectives On Dyslexia”
International Dyslexia Association
Understood.org for Learning and Attention Issues
Association of Educational Therapists
Thanks to David and your mother Robbin for allowing me to share your story while also sharing mine. Your struggle and insight brings a depth of hope which is relatable to so many.
The bulk of Brittany's career has been spent working with students with learning disabilities, including Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Executive Functioning Issues and Processing Disorders, as well as children with ADHD- Inattentive, Hyperactive, and Combined. Brittany's passion is collaborating with struggling learners, educators, and families to find solutions and strategies for growth in order to thrive long term in school and in community.
Assumptions are toxic, but we all make them. Before I married my husband, I made assumptions about marriage. Before I became a mother, I made assumptions about moms. Before I became a STAY-AT-HOME mother, I made assumptions about working moms and stay-at-home moms. AND I made assumptions about their kids. Before I became a teacher. Before I lived overseas. Before I taught in public schools. Before I became a mom to TWO kids under two. Before I earned a degree in Educational Leadership. BEFORE. BEFORE. BEFORE. For my entire life I have been making assumptions.
It’s very easy to be on the MAKING SIDE of assumptions.
The photo above was taken during what was one of the most difficult seasons of my marriage. I had just gone through two pregnancies back-to-back, both hard on me physically and emotionally. I experienced postpartum depression after giving birth to both boys. Add to that a major move, finishing graduate school, and after working for fifteen years, becoming a stay-at-home mom. LOTS of CHANGE. Lots of joy. But still very difficult. No one would know in this picture, though. By looking at the picture in isolation, one might ASSUME we were happy and well adjusted. If you walked with us during this season of our lives, you might know otherwise.
What assumptions do you make about others? Teachers? Parents? Students? Friends?
On the Receiving Side of Assumptions
I shop at Costco once a month. On my most recent outing, I experienced two people make assumptions about my life, specifically my tolerance threshold, and my awareness of others. One came from an older woman, the other from an older man. Here’s the short of it.
I dropped my husband off at the airport, and took my two boys, ages 2 and 8 months, to shop at Costco. As every parent knows, this outing could have only gone two ways. I am usually waiting (with clenched fists) for the bottom to fall out and my kids to lose it. Today, my oldest helped feed my youngest while I packed as many items into the cart as quickly as possible. My oldest even decided NOT to jump out of the cart (which has been known to do). Both boys giggled with one another, enjoyed the lights, the people, and the noise.
When we finally made it to the checkout line, I felt relieved and giddy that my experience with my kids at Costco had been so PLEASANT. Then… (of course, there’s always something )… an older lady approached me and shared how refreshing it was for her to see me out alone shopping with my boys. She then shared how her granddaughter, who has twins, refuses to shop alone. The only response I knew was to say, “You’re catching me on a good day,” and continued to place my items on the checkout counter. We exchanged a few more comments, then went our separate ways. (For all you mommas out there choosing to stay home instead of shop with your babies, I am with you. YOU DO YOU.)
I left the checkout line and moved into what I thought was the line for food. After a few minutes I realized I wasn’t in a line at all, and the line for food started in a different area. At that moment a man who was in the actual line just happened to YELL, without making eye contact with me, but loud enough still, “Yeah people. This is the line. I guess some people don’t pay attention to where lines begin.”
It’s not fun being on the receiving side of assumptions.
Assumptions about Children
I was most recently reminded of how I make assumptions about children (and myself). I have been teaching and working with struggling learners for sixteen years. I have a lot of knowledge on children and teens with disabilities. Recently, I’ve been helping a few people connect with local resources for teenagers with Autism Level 1. While researching, I learned new facts specifically about female teenagers and Autism Level 1. Here is what I found:
As I reflect on that time, and how I missed that opportunity to research and find answers for Jan and for her family, I also know that research on females and Autism was just beginning. Not a lot of information was easily available at that time, but our Special Education Committee as a whole did not even recognize it. I know I am not the sole person to blame, and somehow, we ALL missed the signs. We assumed we were viewing the situation from the correct perspective, but we weren't. HOW does that happen?
It’s difficult to accept I failed at something based on my wrong assumptions.
Assumptions about Our Current System
As a former public school teacher, I read the papers and hear comments about our public school system, our teachers, and school board, state policies, and federal mandates. Sometimes what is printed is accurate. Many times, I read opinions and assumptions about our schools.
Here is my experience. I remember wanting to help and provide as much support and structure for each student as he/she needed. As a teacher of Exceptional Learners, I often felt like I wasn’t enough, that my students needed more than what I could offer, even in a system with already built-in supports and structures.
Every teacher with whom I worked directly looked for new, innovative ways to help our students. We collaborated, advocated for them to our administration, in faculty meetings, and at teacher-parent conferences. We referred students to our Student Support Teams and Special Education Committees, looking for guidance and help. We lost sleep thinking about our students. We arrived early, stayed late, and took work home.
Not one time did I ever witness any of my colleagues give up on a student or stop trying to find ways to reach struggling learners. We ALL wanted to find a better way, more effective methods, to reach these kids. Many times, through this messy and arduous process, my colleagues and I witnessed students pass high-stakes tests, make 2-3 years growth, and attain life-long strategies for task management and content mastery. Sometimes, what we did still wasn’t enough.
Assumptions about The Need
As I began this venture of starting my own business to support struggling learners and their families, I assumed I would be working one-on-one with students to teach learning strategies and provide academic support. What I’m finding, however, is that families who reach out to me have children who require more supports and structures in place than what they are currently receiving. The fire is growing inside me to help these families, and although I know their needs are greater that what I can provide as one person, I want to be a resource, and an advocate, in finding and advocating for supports and services for their children.
What I also know is that these children need specially designed to support their kids’ individual strengths and needs. The public school offers this through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Response to Intervention (RTI), and, at highest level of need, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This process can, at times, be cumbersome, and take several years. Parents might assume all options have been exhausted. It can feel overwhelming. Parents might feel paralyzed, or angry, and want to run away from it. A parent might think that to become fully informed, and to fully understand your child’s rights and how to advocate for them, is like swimming in an ocean with no land in sight. You might need guidance, someone to clear the path and make it understandable for you.
That’s where I come in. If you are a parent looking for guidance on how to walk this path with your struggling learner, please reach out. I am here to advocate for you, help you understand the process of MTSS, RTI, 504s, and IEPs. I can support you in school meetings. I can analyze your child's records to help you understand where your child may benefit from more supports. I can work directly with your child to develop solid learning strategies which can be applicable to multiple subject areas. I can also provide you with a list of resources in our community where you might receive more specialized support. You can refer to our Parent Education and Advocacy page for more details about how I can help.
Parent to parent, when I struggle to wade through the waters of uncertainty with my family, I choose to assume, or I choose to find the truth. I hope most of the time I seek the latter. I seek truth from experts: educators, therapists, and medical specialists. No one needs to walk alone. Reach out. When we move away from assuming, and open our minds to learning, we will find the answers we need.
Exploring Sri Lanka with my close friend Valerie, and visiting families who received humanitarian and educational aid from her nonprofit agency; Christmas 2010.
In 2011, I lost my close friend and colleague Valerie. Prior to her passing, we were developing a business plan to grow her nonprofit agency, the Isaiah Institute. After spending two weeks with her in Sri Lanka, a country where she and her husband focused their humanitarian and educational aid efforts, I unofficially joined their team. Just four months later, Valerie passed away. I was immediately hit with shock and denial. Then came the fear and waves of anger. Raw sadness finally took over. Even though Valerie had a huge community and we all were experiencing this sadness together, I felt isolated in my feelings. I didn't know how to deal. I felt like I was drowning.
As a Special Education teacher, I've witnessed parents, family members, and close friends experience these same emotions when they are faced with the possibility that their child might have a disability. I've observed friends and spouses struggle to get on the same page about why their child is struggling in school and how to solve it. I've sat with parents as they mourned the loss of a life they envisioned for their child. I've witnessed friends' marriages dissolve. The struggle is real for these families. Grieving isn't isolated for the dead.
Here are several thoughts we might experience when faced with the reality that our child has a disability:
DENIAL & ANGER
Statements we tell ourselves might include:
You may fear that:
GUILT & SHAME
You may feel guilt and shame:
You may feel:
When Valerie passed, I experienced all these emotions, even though the logical side of my head knew I wasn't alone. I was experiencing an extreme disconnect between my mind and my heart. Parents with a newly diagnosed child often feel the same way. I was searching for answers and came up empty most days.
So I decided to seek help from experts. By doing this, I was able to process my experience in a safe place. I also was able to reconnect my heart and mind. While I was powerless over what happened to Val, I could take action by helping others. I became involved with Valerie's nonprofit for a while after her passing. I also dove deep into friendships with people who were willing to give me the space I needed to be sad, angry, and confused, and would love me through it without judgement. Being surrounded by these people and organizations helped lift me out of my despair and brought me back to life with a new and hopeful perspective. While I still experience waves of sadness and anger today, I don't stay there. Meeting other parents who face similar challenges and identifying the right resources for your child can help.
How to Find Help
If you are a parent who is struggling with a child's diagnosis of having a disability, or if you know someone who is, please reach out to me. This summer, I will be offering a parent support group called WATER. This group will be designed to help you connect with others like you, build a network, learn how to effectively advocate for your child, and learn about resources in our area that will help you and your family.
Water is a strong symbol. Water can overpower. It can drown. But water also brings life. As a parent of a student with special needs, you have the power to be like water. While we are powerless over our child having a disability, we do have to the power to effectively advocate for our kids when we connect with one another, educate ourselves on our rights, and become aware of resources available to us.
As Margaret Atwood wrote in The Penelopiad, "Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall; it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
Like water, when we align ourselves with one another towards a common goal, we empower one another and ourselves. Be like water.
***Please note: the grieving process looks different for everyone, and doesn't happen in the same order. I was consumed by grief for a long time, and I was a mess for a couple years. My grief negatively impacted some of my friendships, but those experiences also helped drive me to become whole again.
***This blog has been modified to exclude details surrounding Valerie's death, in honor of her family's wishes.
Brittany has worked in public education for fifteen years, and is a certified teacher for Students with Disabilities, English Language Learners, and General Education students. She also recently earned her license in Educational Administration and Supervision. Brittany spends most days playing in the dirt and water with her two-year old, giggling with her 6-month old, and sneaking in a romantic date with her husband every chance she can. Brittany owes her revision and editing skills to Jen Woods, and further inspiration to two of her closest friends, Lindsey and Meredith.
Making meaningful connections with my three favorite people.
By Brittany Steen, MA, Ed.S
Everyone wants to experience connection. As a child, I remember feeling very connected to my family, my school, and my friends. I loved Kindergarten and flourished throughout most of elementary school. I wasn’t gifted, but I worked hard, finished my assignments, and respected my teachers. I was shy but made friends easily. As a teenager, however, I struggled to make and keep friends, while also struggling with self-doubt. These struggles interfered with my ability to focus on my learning, and I became an average student at best. I graduated high school with a 2.6 GPA. Based on that alone, no one would consider me among the best and brightest. From an outsider’s perspective, I was just your run of the mill student who got lost among the other average kids my age. Inside, I felt isolated and disconnected.
Luckily, a few great teachers and adults entered my life and helped me see I am more than average. Here is one story I’ll share today.
Mr. Klein entered my life as my 10th grade Chemistry teacher. After nearly failing Biology the previous year, I wasn’t feeling too confident about my ability to achieve in science. Mr. Klein thought differently. He didn’t do anything extraordinary, but what he DID DO was implement some simple, yet highly effective, strategies, which empowered me and other kids alike, to experience success. Mr. Klein never brought up my previous bad grades. He never singled me out or put me on the spot. Instead, he placed me near his chalkboard where he took notes. He made eye contact with me. When I did raise my hand to answer questions and was wrong, he remained calm, honest, and ensured I understood before moving on. He established clear behavioral expectations and followed through with calmness and clarity.
I felt respected, heard, and cared for.
I connected with Mr. Klein. This would be the foundation for my success in his class.
Furthermore, he modeled how to take good notes and apply them to similar problems. He clearly taught how to look for key words and phrases. In public education, when analyzing assessments, we call these ‘question stems.’ Mr. Klein taught us which notes to use and study based on a specified question stem. Mr. Klein also allowed us to use “cheat sheets” on our exams. Our cheat sheet could be only one page, but we could put all the important notes needed for the exam on that sheet. I made and used a cheat sheet for EVERY SINGLE EXAM. I never made an A in Chemistry, and over twenty years later, I don’t remember much of the course’s content. I do remember I learned HOW TO LEARN the content. I also learned I was strongly motivated by my deep need to connect with my teacher. If I connected with the teacher, I could connect to the content and the course.
Everybody wants to experience connection. Is your child is struggling to connect with his teachers or the content? Are you struggling to connect with your child? Here at Grassroots Education @ Elbow Tree, we want to connect with you and your struggling learner. We are passionate about diving directly into the need and meeting you and your family in your pain or struggle. We want to come alongside you and your child, engage with you in the struggle, and offer tools to make the struggle surmountable and help you and your child experience connection and wholeness. Feel free to call or set up an initial consultation so we can get to know you.
You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (904) 559-1944, (757) 287-7382, where you can leave a general message for me.
NOTE: Grassroots launches on April 1st, 2019, but feel free to connect with me anytime before then.
Brittany has worked in public education for fifteen years, and is a certified teacher for Students with Disabilities, English Language Learners, and General Education students. She is currently awaiting license approval in Educational Administration and Supervision. Brittany spends most days playing in the dirt and water with her two-year old, giggling with her 6-month old, and sneaking in a romantic date with her husband every chance she can.
by Hayne Steen, LMHC
One of my wife's favorite guilty pleasures is receiving a "word of the day" email from the Urban Dictionary.
On many mornings since she first discovered it, I will wake up to her giggling next to me. Her all time favorite word is "S-T-Ruggling." (Pronounced Ess-Tee-Ruggling)
Here's an example of how it can be used. "Did hear about Tom's broken arm? He is S-T-ruggling!"
Another friend likes to make ironic comments when things are going amazing in his life. He'll say, "the struggle is real, man. The struggle is real!"
Humor is just one of the many ways we attempt to cover up real pain. Numbing is another. So is avoidance.
We all grew up hearing things like, "no pain, no gain."
One popular 80's jingle for a commercial pain reliever covered Carly Simon's famous, "I haven't got time for the pain." The original song hit #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #2 on Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Midway through the original song, we hear Carly sing these words...
Suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive
Though that's just how much it cost to survive in this world
'til you showed me how, how to fill my heart with love
There is a reason a song about struggle can rises to the top of the charts. We all struggle. We all experience pain. We all suffer.
We do not have to struggle alone. That's why Elbow Tree exists. We want to meet you in your particular situation and serve as a traveling companion as you face those areas in your life or your family's life where you are S-T-Ruggling.
Do you have a struggling learner in your home?
For young people, the pain of "not getting it" academically can leave them carrying loads of unnecessary toxic shame. We are launching GRASSROOTS EDUCATION to serve as a support structure for your children as they face inevitable challenges in their education journey.
Let's partner together!
If you'd like to set up a 10-15 minute free consultation with Brittany Steen, Ed.S feel free to email her at email@example.com or call (904) 559-1944 to leave a general message for her.
by Hayne Steen, LMHC
I have been a struggling learner my entire life.
In elementary school, I craved affirmation and attention from my teachers and peers. I was talkative, active, and impulsive. Keeping me focused for any length of time had to have been a challenging endeavor for my teachers.
Educators were not seemingly equipped to address underlying issues. Year after year, I squeaked by. I often dreamed of turning in excellent work to please my teachers and my parents. Due dates for assignments would come and go, and I would often miss them. I envied my classmates and wondered how they remembered to do their homework. Hundreds of times, I heard myself repeating a familiar phrase out loud in front of everyone. "I forgot to do my homework...again."
I often felt "different" and carried so much shame. Feelings of defeat and discouragement could consume me. I masked it with attempts at humor or not caring.
In the fifth and sixth grade, I spent a lot of time sitting alone at my desk outside of my classroom in the hallway because I was distracting my classmates. My misbehavior was a cry for help. I was drowning academically and the best solution that my teachers could come up with was to isolate me.
I needed more than that. Surely there could have been more helpful interventions.
In sixth grade, my teacher permanently placed my desk behind an enormous blackboard in the back her classroom. She isolated me from engaging socially, telling the class they were not to acknowledge that I even existed. Most days she turned the lights out in that part of the room so I could not seen. Classmates were threatened with severe punishments for talking to or about me.
I left Woodstock Elementary (K-6) and entered into seventh grade at Kemps Landing. It was overwhelming. All year long, I struggled to make even average grades and often felt lost during lectures and exams.
Toward the end of seventh grade, my social studies teacher, Mr. Taylor, reached out to my parents to schedule a parent/teacher conference. I was so nervous about why he wanted to meet with my parents.
Mr. Taylor was genuinely concerned about my readiness to move on academically. He recommended to my parents that I repeat the 7th grade. He spoke those words to them against the grain of what many other school administrators and teachers were recommending for me.
Mr. Taylor's advocacy for me was one of several necessary interventions that saved my life.
When my parents shared the option of being held back with me , I felt so much relief. Finally! I was being given an option that might allow me to have a second chance. I can only imagine what might have happened without his care for me as a struggling learner. His voice and advocacy in my life help reorient me in a whole new direction.
So we decided that I would repeat the seventh grade. In between those two seventh grade school years, I spent time with a school psychologist and professional counselor. My time with her marked by a mixture of meeting one-on-one along with some testing to explore any underlying learning issues. What we discovered was that I had plenty of intelligence but lacked focus, study skills and organization.
I started meeting weekly with a tutor and learning specialist who helped me get organized. She taught me how to focus, take effective notes, how to organize my notebooks, how to record assignments and due dates, how to prepare for tests, and a host of other necessary skills that I have leaned on ever since.
One teacher's advocacy partnered with my parents commitment opened me up to a world of resources that I had been needing and craving. It has been my longstanding desire to offer this same resource to my community someday.
That's why I am so excited to announce that my sister Brittany Steen is launching an amazing new Elbow Tree initiative called "Grassroots Education" offering targeted education services for struggling learners.
If you have a struggling learner in your home who needs some extra individual attention, I'd like to recommend you reach out to Brittany and explore if there might be some way she can help in your situation.
You can reach Brittany by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (904) 559-1944 where you can leave a general message for her.
NOTE: Grassroots launches on April 1st, 2019.