I have always liked the number 7. This time of the year always makes me reflective as it was the first time students flooded into The Homework Club in Blanchardstown in 2009. Many of these first cases turned out to be hugely influential in my own journey.
The first parent to ever ring me seeking help had a teenager who had not attended school for months, having dropped out of the system. He took classes with us for 6 weeks and did so well in his State Exams the school rang his mother with the results wanting to know what had changed. We worked with him for the next 3 years and hence I found myself taking on a huge number of cases with Asperger's Syndrome. I'm now known internationally as an expert in an area I never expected or set out to be.
By the following September, even though I set the school up for second level students, I found myself taking on the transition age before you start big school. By the following January, a year after my craziness to set up my own school with my own teaching methods, the youngest students were now 4.
Within this time, I had been encouraged by people to go for a number of awards. These were important to me personally as the first outside validations of my work.
I guess all along the only judge of my work, research and methods had been the results my students have received. From there I have become a top referral for many organisations. I find it sad that in many cases I am the person who people are sent to when no one else has been able to help them.
Two years after starting the school, I realised I needed to convert all my work, experiences and methods into a formal system. This meant the birth of The Purple Learning Project. I have always felt there is a balance between supporting people currently in the system and making real change for the future.
I remember this odd moment of describing the basic Purple Learning method to someone and they asked, "Who's work is this" and saying, "It's mine." What book could they read it in? The answer was none - my head. It's always been a bit bizarre to be so outside the box. To work in a way that has not existed before. The Homework Club was, for me, about proving all the wacky ideas in my own head.
Along the way in those years, I developed all these ways of working with people with a whole spectrum of conditions including: ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Audio Processing Disorders, Hearing Impairments, Home Schooling, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Confidence, Bullying, Self Harm, Sexuality, Learning Disabilities, Gifted Children, Exam Fears, Child Development, People Development, Team Development, Business Success, Bereavement and so on.
When I started the school I had one main question in my head. Why do no two dyslexics learn the same way? Through working with so many people and conducting interviews, which allowed me to create unique profiles for everyone, I now have the answer to that question 7 years later.
I now have the recorded patterns of how personality and learning styles go together.
I reached the next major crossroads in the school 4 years into the project. The students knew what we did. I collected many of their comments and feedback. It was a magic sense of achievement having created an environment they all loved so much. Hence, the tagline became, "Develop Your Love of Learning." But the parents had no idea in many cases what the project was about. I felt I was missing part of the puzzle. I also felt that many parents had lost involvement in their own children's education.
Confidence Club was born.
I was also itching to take the projects nationally and internationally. Every time I did a radio interview I would be contacted by all these people rurally in Ireland with no support. Confidence Club has been about supporting students in their own homes, with the support and understanding of their parents.
Along the way, the methods have continued to develop in the background. It feels like a back room factory sometimes. The most significant one being in 2013, Periodic Table of the Development of Results. Nicknamed Purple Success. It brought my science and creative brain together. It is the table of the elements each personality needs to succeed in life. Whether it is a 3-year-old I am helping to talk or a 5-year-old to read or a business to grow. It is always just about people and their personalities.
With all the work I have done to date, my key focus in life still remains to take literacy and intelligence out of the same sentence. Because even after all these years, I still remember what the teacher said to me in school at the age of 7.
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly
Most Educationists take the summer off. We use this time to refine and develop what we have learned in the last few Academic years. Like our students, we are always moving forward and learning. I will talk about this new Method in more detail over the coming weeks. But needless to say, I'm excited! I think the results we have had contradict everything that has been understood about empathy. In particular, I see this as a way for students to grow and develop their personalities without social anxieties and labels such as Asperger's Syndrome. I would predict that cases will never in future be given a diagnosis of Asperger's. I never set out to "fix" people. It has always been about creating the best versions of themselves but in recent years I have seen that our results mean that students no longer exhibit classically labeled conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, Asperger's Syndrome or a whole host of other challenges. They move beyond these labels and recognizable challenges.
Journalist Fiona McGarry’s Education Article featuring Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly on “The Teamwork Approach to Homework: 7 Ways it Can Work for You"
If the way we are was purely genetic or environmental - kids in the same family would be the same. They would react to situations and challenges in the same way. Your birth order wouldn't matter. Children from abusive or alcoholic families would act out their challenges in the same ways. Kids from highly nurturing environments would all turn out perfect. Issues such as self-harm and eating disorders would not exist. All kids in all families would feel identical to their siblings and parents. No-one would ever feel like a misfit.
So, our personalities determine how we react and what we do. They determine an integral part of who we are. The most important part. For example: No two dyslexics from the same family in the same school with the same challenges will be the same. They won't get the same results. They won't be good or bad at the same subjects.
The family and school environments are the same. The dyslexia is genetic and inherited with that same family. But their coping strategies, reactions and lives will be completely different.
This is why personality matters so much in education. It is why one size doesn't fit all and why just because we focus on the dyslexia that education has not appeared to change for the better. When we focus on personality needs - everything changes. Then we can help anyone to be successful regardless of any issues, difficulties or differences.
This is at the crux of what’s different about the Psychology of Success because you’re looking at not just what makes up people or what their challenges are - you’re looking at what they need in their personality to succeed. Plus, looking at the effects generationally that have been built up environmentally but concentrating on their reaction to it because of who they are.
Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly.
The first question I asked myself when I went to write this piece was, “what is the definition of a gifted child?” The federal government statutory definition of gifted and talented students in the United States is:
“The term "gifted and talented" when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities."
For me, it is always a child who is bored by school, stands outside of the box, can show talents in one or many areas, seem highly developed and thought out for their age, has an adult sense of humour, can seem highly frustrated, has multiplicity - the ability to take in information in all 4 learning styles, often has a rare personality type and may or may not seem brilliant academically.
The last point is very important. Can a child be gifted if they don’t have perfect literacy? Can literacy issues seriously impair a student to do well on the conventional I.Q. tests? I think the answer to both is yes and these are the students who suffer the most challenges in being gifted.
Can you imagine having all the thought processes and abilities of a gifted child but never being able to show them? It’s massively frustrating.
For me, the challenges with gifted children are not just the repercussions to help with making school more interesting. With a reasonably inspired teacher, good communication and some outside the box curricular activities - all these needs can be met.
The real challenges with gifted children are personality based. The first difficulty a gifted child will have is that they are highly sensitive to everyone else. They see far more from a young age than they can possibly understand. They just don’t get why they don’t meet anyone like them and why sometimes others find them too energetic, intense and deep. They can sense more and know more - and others shy away from them. In the same way that they philosophically and scientifically want to know more about the world and how it works - they also want to know other people on these deep levels.
The ages from 7 to 10 are critical for a number of reasons. If you haven’t got the academic side right - you are in fear of having a child switch off education forever. Boredom is a terribly dangerous mode. It can make or break people in terms of educational fulfilment for life.
10 is the age we become aware that we are different to everyone else and for gifted children they get a sense of this quicker than others. Though they may lack the maturity to fully understand why they don’t want to be different or stick out from the crowd. I often meet gifted students who are simultaneously looking for validation that they are bright while trying to pretend they are too “stupid” to fit in. It can be a really complex set of emotions to go with the slight rejection that they are feelings from others.
We can address the academic needs often with a layered approach. If we can get someone beyond 11 and still interested in school they will more than likely go on to achieve greatness. If we can show them the outside world and introduce them to the ideas of others outside the box we can do the ground work for them being different. They will more than likely be a pioneer too and change the world. They may not meet anyone like them until they are in their 20’s but they can know they exist.
But the real challenge for me is in creating the balance of childhood. Just because you are gifted doesn’t mean you don’t need to be a kid. You need to make mistakes. You need to learn from them. You need to play. You need to match your maturity level with the toys and games that non-gifted children play at these stages too. Too often we lose these aspects for gifted kids and they spend too much time “working” and not enough time playing. It is as important to find yourself in the silliness of childhood as it is to balance the boredom. It’s an important life work balance that we need to learn. Gifted children often have very high expectations of themselves and can be work-a-holics later in life. You have to learn to do non-important silly things too! You have to learn to take breaks and not to be so hard on yourself.
I sometimes feel that parents have to spend so much time battling the system to prove their child is “gifted” that they forget to let them be children.
If you want a balanced child - you have to give them an outlet for the emotional side of them that may be several years behind their “gifted” level.
Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly.
I am genuinely horrified at the support this recent TEDx talk has received. I feel it is the biggest regression in education in 100 years. As someone who has successfully worked with thousands of students internationally, and got them all to high achieving results and a sense of belonging in academia, I cannot stand the idea that education is becoming elitist again. I have received Ability Company Status for making education accessible to all.
Academics make too many assumptions - which I have had my own personal battles with over the years. Despite it all, I have earned a Ph.D. and a First Class Honours degree. My students are always heartened by the fact that if I could do it - so can they.
TED and TEDx talks generally enhance our World and make everything possible for people. I am horrified over this talk because it is so small minded and exclusive in its nature.
Not everyone can pick up a book and read it to learn. Not everyone can see the book. Not everyone can spell to write or hold the pen. Do not be presumptive in thinking all visual impaired people are not visual learners. Many of them are! All of us who work with students on the autism spectrum know that they process the World very differently to other students. Their visual and auditory processing has marked differences.
My success stories with students have been down pure and simply to the fact that I encourage them to work in the learning style that suits them - despite whatever perceived disabilities they might have.
I myself am still very much unable to distinguished phonic sound frequencies and never learned to spell in the way it is predominately taught in school. I have learned to read and write through purely visual techniques. I have brought this gift to many others who are now avid readers - despite years of torture in school and feeling inadequate. I get excited when parents tell me their children will not sleep because they are reading too much or now teaching their siblings to read their way.
I hate the idea that kinesthetic learners can be great at sports in school and rubbish at everything else. This is not acceptable and even our most successful sports heroes still anguish over how badly they did in school.
Practical people are great at the practicals in school but only get half the marks in the subject because the theory defeats them. Our auditory learners are in constant trouble for talking and often labeled as disruptive chatter boxes. The number of students labelled as ADHD seems to be growing annually as these students struggle to fit into the constraints of school and find it excessively boring. I certainly do not feel we need to blame our parents for our genes or feel that education is unattainable in any way.
We have a duty to understand, care and incorporate these learners into our education systems - not blankly dismiss them all as not existing. These are many of the reasons why students with learning difficulties and impairments have been marginalised for decades.
A better outlook for me has always been that if we get it right for these people we get it right for everyone. I hope people will start to stop and think before they blankly share this very irresponsible TEDx talk. I have not even touched on the personality factors involved in education. Most enlightened Educationalists agree that one size does not fit all. TED is supposed to make us think about our fellow people we share the Planet with.
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly