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….