Educators please think before you use famous dyslexics to try and inspire your dyslexic students!
We all love to hear about famous successful dyslexics, it makes most of us very proud and pleased for them and their successes; however, using them as inspiration and a way to empower your students may actually be having the opposite effect!
Many years ago I used to work in a secondary school. One day I was working with a fab bunch of teens, who were sadly disengaging with education. I had actually been told that it was too late to work with them (yr10 & yr11) of course me being me, I made sure that these were the students that I started working 1:1 with straight away!
After a term of 1:1s, I decided to do a group session with these yr 10/11s, I had got to know them and knew they were a great group of teens and I felt they could inspire and encourage each other.
So we held a series of group sessions that worked really well, they all learned that they were not alone, bore were they alone on the things they found difficult and this common ground started talks about the things they found easy, and share of good practice, ideas and support started to happen, it was truly amazing to watch, a group of students who probably wouldn’t normally mix, from different backgrounds and school groups!
However I make the rookie rookie mistake in our first group session, of using famous dyslexics as a tool to inspire them. Thankfully Having worked with them in a 1:1 basis before the group session stated, i had built up a good working relationship with this group, which allowed them to tell me straight that it was all well and good hearing about the likes of Richard Branson etc, but actually it didn’t help (in words not so polite) I was told
“…Eli, showing us these people just makes us feel worse…” (I asked them to explain and was told )
“…we all come to extra lessons because we’re doing terrible in school and now you’re telling us because we are dyslexic we are expected to be rich and famous – why can’t we just be normal and happy?…”
I thanked them for their honesty, and told them that what I expected them to do/be was to follow their dreams and be true to themselves.
We then talked about making plans, working hard and achieving their goals and I explained that sometimes goals have to be moved and evolve and that they could achieve anything they wanted to with the the right planning and work.
So my rookie mistake was to follow the crowd, to do what everyone else was doing (using famous dyslexics as role models) and it had the opposite effect to what I wanted to achieve, instead of being inspired and empowered, my students felt under more pressure, they felt that everyone was expecting them to ‘prove’ themselves and become multimillionaires, when they were already stuck in an education system that was failing them on a daily basis!
I was also surprised when they told me that they thought that as a dyslexic they had met, and whose story they knew, an ordinary lady who was a lone parent raising a child on her own, working hard to get herself educated & professionally qualified, whose highest grade GCSE on leaving school was D, that apparently I was an inspiration to them!
That made me think, realise and make a vow to myself that I would from that moment on, I would champion local dyslexics, and celebrate their successes in order to inspire and empower local dyslexics.
So from that day to this, that is what I have done; local dyslexics who are:
… the list goes on!
I am delighted that because of those brilliant bunch of yr10/11s that I worked with back then, that I was motivated to eventually start Dyslexia Awards – my ten year plan… to have as many local Dyslexics who are proud and viewed as accessible and good role models to their fellow dyslexics young and old, as possible!
Written By Elizabeth Wilkinson some time in 2017, blog posted 19.07.18