Last year, I began the Unpredictable Minds podcast. It was something I always wanted to try and although it wanted to put some of my own thoughts out there, I recognized the value of the people who also had voices of experience. I wanted them to share their stories. Over the Spring and Summer 2021, stay tuned for all new editions of Our Unpredictable Minds podcast.
Here's the premise:
"What do you know about the learning challenges children of this generation face? This podcast sets out to change the thinking about the kids: who never had it easy, often stood out, and ultimately struggled in school. We focus on getting control over current thinking on the diverse minds of these exceptional children. Join me: Michelle AuCoin, Educational Interventionist with over 25 years experience working with kids with Learning Disabilities! "
I'm so interested to get people's thoughts and ideas. I'm keen to bring in experts - including students - to help all of us learn the best ways to help kids in this generation or, as I always say, to make your life easier.
The years I've spent listening, learning, and training from experts around the world has made me love the field I'm in and want to give back to families by passing on that information. Comment below if you have an idea for a topic, a question you've always wanted answered and I will do my best to make it a part of my show. Thank you for listening. Unpredictable Minds can be found on Anchor and Spotify and Google.
Episode One: The Experts
In my inaugural episode I not only help listeners understand the needs of children with learning disorders, but aim to leave you with wisdom from Young Adults with Learning Disabilities who've overcome adversity and have a message to share! Pop over to listen
Episode Two: Helping Your Child Thrive, One Family's Journey.
Featuring Tracey Hilliard - author of "Through Rainbows and Storm Clouds"
When Air Canada flight 7677 arrived on April 26th, 2019, I looked eagerly at my husband who was as excited as I was to see the doors of the plane open, and see a 25 year old dream become a reality for me. We waited and knew that soon, international Learning Disabilities expert Rick Lavoie would emerge and descend those 12 stairs and at that moment, my career would essentially be made.
Since 1995, I had done my best to incorporate Rick Lavoie’s lessons, his philosophy, his patience, and his analogies into my work as an interventionist. I read his books, listened to his lectures and watched all of his videos. I had drunk the proverbial kool-aid. I was a fan girl. I maintained that Rick Lavoie was a visionary and if you didn’t get what he was trying to tell you about how LD children thought, processed, needed to be treated, and needed to be understood, then you were doing a huge disservice to these children. I had no idea that on this particular day and our very first meeting, that Rick could rise to an even higher level for me. But, he most certainly did.
If you don’t know, Rick Lavoie is a legend in the field of Learning Disabilities. He began his career as an educator over 30 years ago, later as principal of a private school for children with Learning Disabilities, and then evolved into an educational consultant, international best-selling writer, with multiple PBS specials, and speaking engagements all over the world.
My company, LearnAbility, decided to hold its first conference on Learning Disabilities on April 27th, 2019. I had a belief (albeit a very cocky one) that we could do an LD conference that would be comparatively better than many of the ones we had recently partaken in. As a result, we decided to invest in my vision hard and bring in the big guns. I knew there was no one else who could ever compare to Rick Lavoie and hired him to be the Keynote speaker for our event. I felt that Cape Breton not only needed wisdom from a speaker of this magnitude, but deserved the opportunity to access it. Although I was quite nervous, I made contact with his booking agency and it seemed like fate to me. Rick was free on April 27th and would come to Sydney.
Weeks before the conference, however, my dad unexpectedly underwent a quadruple bypass while in Halifax for a routine dye test. Post-test, it was determined that his heart was severely damaged, four arteries blocked, and that soon, he could suffer heart failure. As you can imagine, there was no way I was leaving my dad (thank the Lord, he came out on the other side quite well and still is in great health!). But, at the time, it meant that I needed to stay in Halifax with my mom while dad had the surgery. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who is my partner both in business and in life. He took over home and work while I sat with my dad. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that Rick knew I hadn’t bailed. Much like us AuCoin’s, the Lavoie’s – Janet and Rick – were a husband/wife team and completely understood when Darryl had to step up to the plate. They were not only understanding, they were concerned. They won further affection from Darryl and I.
Getting back to April 26th, when I finally saw my idol emerge from the plane, I was instantly overwhelmed. I flashed back to all of the lessons I’d learned over the years from him. He was older, but unmistakeable and I told myself – you are in the presence of genius, be on your intellectual game. But, to my surprise, the first thing Rick did when he approached me was hug me. He straight up hugged me. Then he very sincerely asked “How’s your dad?”
Gone was just my idol. This humble, invested, and very caring man, who jumped off the video screen and into my reality at McCurdy Airport in Sydney Nova Scotia, was suddenly invested in the welfare of my family and through further conversation, was excited about the work I was doing to support my community. He was encouraging and excited about what I WAS DOING.
I spent the 15 minute drive to the hotel literally, just enthralled. I probably would have cried if I hadn’t had my husband in the back seat with me and if the conversation hadn’t been so stimulating. That Friday evening, I spent focused on organizing the event space, checking in with speakers and trade show participants. Rick would periodically pop by. He went over routine things with me, but was so relaxed that I could tell he was actually trying to help me feel confident. At one point, I remember him looking at me and saying – “There’s how many people coming tomorrow? That’s an amazing number for your first conference. Good for you.”
The next day, however, this quiet and humble man stood on the stage for his Keynote speech and captivated me and an entire room of 150 educators, professionals, and parents instantaneously and multiple times that day. I recognized that man. He was the one who had shaped my career for 25 years. I was inspired and reminded of why I fell in love with helping children with Learning Disabilities. He made me “get them”. I “got them” and I was never supposed to do anything else. I knew that way back when I started my career and I was reaffirmed on this day.
Later that day, I presented a session on multimodal learning for students with Learning Disabilities. It had been awhile since I presented to an audience, but I was told by someone who had seen me speak many times that I had never been better and stronger than ever. I knew Rick had re-inspired me to be the best that I could be.
After a busy day of our very first conference, I sat in the Crown and Moose pub of the Holiday Inn with Mr. Rick Lavoie and actually talked shop with my idol. How lucky am I? Not only was I granted a day and a half of professional development with this incredible man, but I had my own private audience with him for a couple of hours. Our final moments together, were shared over a drink and some great laughs. I was more inspired than I had ever been and believed more in myself than I ever had before. Rick Lavoie saw in me what I always hoped I would be. As far as he was concerned, I was authentically an expert in my field. I never saw that as an outcome of my conference. His unforgettable words changed me: “You are a resource for me now and part of MY network of colleagues.” He gave me a hug and said, “Congratulations kid.” Rick’s network of colleagues includes Dr. Mel Levine, Dr. Edward Hallowell and now little old Cape Breton, me? Apparently.
I never expected to learn more about myself on that day, but I did. Here’s what I wish to pass on to you no matter who you are or what you are doing in your life:
Things I learned from Rick Lavoie about Learning Disabilities, over the years, that every professional and parent should know:
I gave myself the greatest gift that weekend by having him with us. Right now,
I’m handing you the gift of knowing his name. Rick Lavoie. We keep his books in stock in our office. He is also online, on Youtube, and has PBS series’ that are accessible. If Learning Disabilities impact your life in any way, I implore you to look him up. I’m forever grateful that I was introduced to him in my early career. I am even more grateful that I took a chance and actually connected with him later on.
Stay tuned for my upcoming Podcast Series including interviews with experts in the field of Learning Disabilities and child development. Coming soon….
So I don't know about anyone else, but I am tired of the phrase "Our New Normal". Now don't get me wrong, I take all health guidelines very seriously and my business is not even open to the general public right now so that we can protect our kids and our staff. But, when I hear the phrase "Our New Normal" I feel a combination of overwhelm and confusion. I have a lot to change, remember, and protect now.
At LearnAbility, we have been fortunate to make the transition to online learning - not servicing all of our clients unfortunately - but many of them. So, I am in a very unique position of maintaining close contact with both parents and children every week since I now come directly into their homes. I enjoy my parent chats, but I see so much heightened worry and concern. Parents joke about their kids being stuck in the house (or being stuck with the kids in the house for that matter), but they worry far more than they joke. I am asked the same heartbreaking question everyday "What do you think is going to happen to their education?" I don't have an answer for them. None of us do. Instead I offer up the same sentence I am also so tired of saying "These are unprecedented times."
The worry I hear from parents is mixed with a greater emotion that concerns me even more - failure. I don't mean our children are feeling failure, although they are feeling a whole host of other important emotions right now. I am calling attention to the moms, dads, grandparents, and other caregivers who believe that "Our New Normal" has created a permanent paradigm shift in the expectation of how a parent educates their child. Parents are feeling judged on their ability to provide a quality, at home, formal education for their children. It is important to point out here, that parents are not being judged by anyone else. They are judging themselves and their own abilities as educators. Our Premier thoughtfully and clearly told parents that they are not to feel overwhelmed by at home learning and to reach out to their children's schools if they needed support with the home packages and online work . But, I'm here to tell you that because the classroom is gone and school learning is now home-based, parents feel a greater responsibility to fill the gaps and are internalizing guilt if they feel that they can't.
Let's analyze these emotions. This guilt that parents are feeling? I'd like to honour it by saying that it is actually a manifestation of a parent's unconditional love. Yep. The unconditional love your have for your child is especially heightened right now. Our parental instincts to protect our children (and we have a lot to protect them from right now) are kicking in hard. How do we keep them healthy, safe, free from inappropriate social media, unbiased, not afraid of social injustice, violence, and racial discrimination, and properly educated? Good luck. It is a crazy job being a parent in the first place and we are being tested more than ever right now. But if you are among those parents who believe that you are not meeting the standards of delivering your child's formal education, then I'm here to tell you that you are dead wrong.
First, I want you to understand, that you have already always been your child's most important educator. From the moment your child was born, you and other family members or caregivers (every family has their own unique community) helped your child grow and meet the developmental milestones of every age. Learning doesn't begin in Kindergarten; formal education does. There is a difference. Children spend most of their time not in school. They learn in every environment and context. What they learn and how they learn it is a product of your lifestyle and family dynamic. Helping them recognize moments in their lives as educational is integral to the process of their growth.
Second, unless you are a professional in the field of education, you are not a formal educator. That doesn't mean that you cannot formally educate your child - many people opt for homeschooling. It simply means that you are not required to. People go to university for years and get an education degree in order to provide your children with a formal education. Remember that and take the pressure off. Our classrooms are filled with trained, qualified professional teachers. They aren't expecting you to take on their role in your homes. I have several wonderful teachers who work for me and I can tell you, they do not expect it.
Finally, although education comes in many forms and you don't have to be a professional educator - you do have to help your children learn. You should make them read, write, do math. Why? Because it is common sense that they will need these skills all the way through their lives. Even if they struggle with some of these areas, even if they have learning deficits or diagnosed disabilities, they can practice reading a book at their level, write a story, do some basic math. You have to keep your kids learning. You have always been required to do that, even in (as my husband calls it) "pre-covid times". That is most definitely your job. If you are incorporating these tasks in your own way into your daily life, it will feel far less overwhelming when the hard stuff comes along.
Here is my definition of a parent's educational "New Normal" - Recognize that every opportunity is an opportunity for your child to be educated. If that wasn't a part of your mantra before, internalize this philosophy rather than internalizing guilt or worry. You are doing the best you can. We all are. This too shall pass. You are without a doubt responsible to help your child learn but the expectations of your role as a parent are not going to change. You are not required to be a formal educator, but you are required to be their teacher. That's parenting. Learning is everyday, forever. Learning is all around us.
I like to say that learning is a lifestyle......