Author Jonathan Mooney discussed teaching strategies at NDC.

Mooney Offers Compass to a Changing World

“How did a ‘stupid, crazy, lazy’ kid, who didn’t learn to read until age 12, graduate with honors from an Ivy League university?” Author Jonathan Mooney posed this question to an avid audience at Notre Dame College’s Northeastern Ohio Education Association Day last Friday.

Mooney, who has ADHD and dyslexia, took his audience on a journey from his years struggling in special education classes in grade school to his achievements at Brown University, and shared the secrets to his success as a prominent author and speaker. 

In grade school he was labeled as “one of those kids,”  a “bad kid,” and a “problem,” Mooney said. His guidance counselor in high school told Mooney he’d be “lucky to flip burgers for a living if he didn’t land in jail first.” 

So what changed Mooney’s life? How did these negative comments not become a self-fulfilling prophecy? And how can every parent and teacher become a catalyst for this type of change? 

Mooney said the “secret” is a three-part plan.

First, parents and educators must be committed to “building a positive learning identity” within each individual, Mooney said, adding that a child’s self-concept is more important than a teacher’s skill set. 

Most people remember the teachers who took an active interest in them, Mooney said. He suggested that schools equate good kids with compliant kids or those who can sit still in their chairs. Yet, Mooney explained that some of the most innovative entrepreneurs have been non-compliant thinkers.

Howard Gardner of Harvard University has shown there are multiple ways to learn and Mooney wants educators and parents to help the young understand that intelligence is a process, one you need to work at, practice, and strengthen. 

“The question should not be, ‘How smart is that kid?’ but ‘How is that kid smart?’” Mooney said.

He remarked that extrinsic motivation in schools (gold stars versus detentions) should not be emphasized as much as focusing on an individual’s intrinsic motivation. Students should be encouraged to do their schoolwork with the concepts of mastery, autonomy, and purpose in mind, Mooney said.

Second, Mooney attributes his success to those people who were committed not only to “remediating but empowering”him. Parents should constantly be advocates for their children in school, and teachers should connect more with each student to build a relationship in the classroom, Mooney said. 

Mooney referred to a Harvard study which showed that every resilient, young person has had a meaningful adult in his life at one point. About 95 percent of the time that adult was a teacher. 

Mooney believes that significant relationships will result in significant learning. The focus should be on a student’s strengths versus his weaknesses, he said, adding that a student is empowered when his strengths are named and cultivated.

Third, Mooney said educators should “focus on fixing the environment, not the kid.”

He said his success at Brown University was all about finding books on tape, relying on note-takers, and using dictation software -- tools he needed to navigate his ADHD/dyslexic world. The correct learning environment for a child with learning differences along with the development of learning skills will help that child live a meaningful life, Mooney said.  

Mooney challenged each participant to reinvent his/her thinking about learning differences and joked that the most common question he receives at the end of his talks is, “Will you come home with me and will you talk to my class?”

If you would like more information about Mooney’s journey, visit his website www.JonathanMooney.com or e-mail him at jonathanmooney@me.com.