Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Connecting Students with the Optimal Teachers

Connecting Students with the Optimal is a new social venture launched by marketing veteran Jen Lilienstein that aims to help kids discover who they’re “meant to become” by pairing enrichment teachers and tutors with the local students they were “meant to teach” based on personality type, multiple intelligence strengths and predominant cognitive style.

What Inspired Jen to Build Kidzmet
Every parent I have met is very aware that each of their kids has his or her own learning DNA that’s as unique as their fingerprints. Some learn better in groups, some learn better by listening to lectures, others learn better in a structured environment, still others learn better when a subject is presented through a linguistic lens…or music lens…or naturistic lens.

In the same way, teachers have their own unique teaching DNA. While some of the most gifted teachers can truly inspire and motivate every one of their students, most teachers find it easiest to inspire a love of learning in kids that think in similar ways and have similar interests and strengths.

Because the public school curricula has become increasingly narrow due to budget cuts over the years, parents are left to take over some–if not all–of our kids’ education…not just so that we provide well-rounded educations to our children, but so that our kids who may not be the fastest learners in the linguistic and math realms have the opportunity to feel smart and like they have an array of talents and abilities that are incredibly valuable to our society…even if they weren’t in the 90th percentile on the standardized tests that now begin in second grade.

Whether parents choose to home school their kids (an astounding quarter of U.S. parents have considered this option!) or just help them with their homework each night, parents need to place the subject matter in a context that the child finds relevant in order for learning to be placed in a file folder in the mind that they can continue to reference–not just learn for a quiz or test, then lose in the recesses of their mind because it didn’t have a “place” to be stored. Knowing your kids multiple intelligence interests and strengths can help you make associations between their strong suits and weaker subjects. After all, your child’s multiple intelligences aren’t like a stew where all ingredients are separate–they blend together to make their own unique puree.

It’s not that the teachers in public schools don’t want to make these types of connections and associations for each of their students–they simply don’t have the time to do it during the traditional school day with 29 other students with their own sets of learning DNA in the class.

Even more challenging is locating instructors that can help us nurture our kids’ passions that lie outside of the traditional school curriculum and our expertise…and within the family budget. Every parent I know has had an experience where their child begged to take a certain type of class (e.g. violin lessons, karate classes, ceramics classes) and only after spending money on the series of classes and the “accessories” that went along with the class, did the child lose interest the subject two weeks into the session. Most times this loss of interest wasn’t because the child no longer liked the subject–it’s because they simply didn’t connect well with the instructor.

A combination of all of these factors is what inspired me to build Kidzmet. My daughter has a kinesthetic cognitive style and her primary interests and strengths lie within the kinesthetic, musical and interpersonal realms…not an ideal fit for the public school system.

I also started her in enrichment classes very early based on cues I saw at home. We got her into music classes and she connected well and was motivated attend with one teacher…but not another. (Same curriculum, same program–different class.) Then, the same thing happened with swimming at the YMCA in consecutive sessions. It’s important to note that ALL of these teachers had been raved about by one or more friends–each one thinking that the individual instructor they were recommending was the best one out there. For every poor match, my husband and I grappled with the decision of pulling her out (and losing the pricey investment we’d made in the class) or keeping her in the class (and risk squelching her initial passion for the subject).

I got to thinking that finding a compatible teacher/student match was very similar to finding a compatible spouse…or a compatible employer/employee relationship. I’d been introduced to MBTI testing in junior high school by my parents, and completed my senior thesis on Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences in college. I’d also grown up in a family of educators that could speak to the differences in cognitive styles and how different kids learn best through different modalities. So I began work on an assessment tool that young children could take with their parents (why we chose to use the “smile scale”) that could also work for adults, along with an algorithm that could assess compatibilities in each realm and give an overall score to the match.

I also took the assessment results for the children and began crafting a monthly newsletter for parents to give suggestions for introducing their kids to different aspects of the whole child curriculum in a way that celebrated and enhanced their kids’ unique spirits and gifts.

Since Kidzmet’s Launch…
The results thus far have been promising. We’ve grown our subscriber base a steady 10% per week since we launched 3/24/11, we’ve seen incredible growth in both our Facebook and Twitter followings, and have a couple of pilots in progress with elementary schools to help build optimal class mixes and identify enrichment programs for after care programs in which the student body is most likely to enroll.

We’ve also had a lot of excitement within our teacher community about the positive effect that Kidzmet can have on both parent word-of-mouth and student attrition rates. But, more than anything, teachers are excited about using Kidzmet as an inexpensive student screening tool that will help them get to know new students’ personalities, interests/strengths and cognitive styles before their first lesson even begins, so that lesson plans can be tailored to engage and inspire the student from day 1.

What We Did Right
The biggest thing we did right as an organization was to keep our open-mindedness and flexibility intact and make sure that, ultimately, we were in alignment with our mission/vision to connect enrichment teachers with the students they were meant to teach so that our kids could discover who they were meant to become.

Getting to trade shows so that we could try a variety of different pitches to see what was piqued the interest of our audience was also money well spent for us. The product didn’t change very much as a result of these events…but the way we pitched it did.

Recruiting the insights of people in each field has also proven extremely worthwhile. We’ve got a world-renowned personality type expert that we tap for recommendations in this realm. We work closely with Julie Viens of the MI Institute to help make sure we’re structuring the MI aspects accordingly. And we have tapped thought leaders in different areas of education—from consultants, to administrators, to educators, to afterschool professionals—to make sure we have a variety of viewpoints to help “guide the ship”.

The Tools That Have (Inexpensively) Helped Us To Get The Word Out
We use Facebook to chat with parents/teachers about activities, relevant articles, and relevant quotes that are in alignment with our vision (or that preview what we’ll have in our upcoming parent newsletter to incentivize folks that have been on the fence to sign up).

We use Twitter as our bibliography for each monthly newsletter, retweeting the best content that we find on Twitter and the Web for each month’s subject focus.

SocialSpark has been incredibly helpful in spreading the word about Kidzmet to targeted individuals that may not have otherwise been familiar with our platform.

HARO has gotten us “ins” with reporters who would not have otherwise known about Kidzmet.

MyBlogGuest gives us the opportunity to talk about what matters to us and introduce Kidzmet to new audiences.

Recommended Reading
If you’re a parent that’s looking to make a positive impact on your kids’ lives, I’d highly recommend the following books:
* Fires in the Mind
* Gift Differing
* Nurture by Nature
* Bright Minds, Poor Grades: Understanding and Movtivating your Underachieving Child
* Intelligence Reframed
* You’re Smarter Than You Think!

* The Happiness Project

And, of course, I’d recommend taking Kidzmet’s Pairing Portrait with your kids and reading our monthly newsletter so that you can better understand and nurture each of your kids’ learning DNA.

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