Ann Dolin, M.Ed is a Northern VA resident and the author of the Independent Book Publishers Association’s 2011 Parenting Book of the Year, Homework Made Simple – Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework. Her second book, A Guide to Private Schools: The Washington DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland Edition, was published this October. Founder of the tutoring company Educational Connections, Dolin has more than 20 years of teaching, tutoring and education consulting experience that she uses to positively impact both kids and parents in the DC Metro area.
KC: Did you always feel called to work in education?
AD: I knew I wanted to be a teacher in the fifth grade.
The family across the street from me adopted two girls from South Korea. They didn’t speak English, so I took it upon myself to teach them all about the American holidays, how to compute math and how to read basic sight words. I made up worksheets on a daily basis and gave them stickers. I loved everything about teaching from the age of 10.
KC: I read that you left the FCPS system in 1998. What influenced your decision to found Educational Connections?
AD: I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching job in Fairfax County, but I loved tutoring kids after the bell rang even more. I realized that my calling was working with kids on a one-to-one basis and not as much in a classroom with 30 students. When my older son, Will, was born in 1998, I started Educational Connections with one student at my dining room table. Today, the company has grown to employ more than 200 tutors, and we have worked with over 8,000 students in the metropolitan DC area.
KC: What teaching skills have been the most helpful to you in running a successful tutoring business?
AD: I’d say understanding what motivates kids has been crucial to creating a brand and service that are about more than “homework help.” As a business owner, I think it’s important to be passionate about helping kids on a daily basis in a different way. I also believe strongly in our mission statement – to inspire learners to lead more productive lives while decreasing the family stress around academics – in that if we always do the right thing by kids each day, the business will grow organically.
KC: What has been the most challenging part of transitioning from teaching to entrepreneurship?
AD: By far the most challenging part has been the financial end. The first employee I hired back in 1999 was a bookkeeper, and that was probably the best decision I made early on.
KC: For your first book, what drove you toward the topic of making homework less stressful for both children and parents?
AD: When I first started tutoring, I worked with students on basic subject needs. Soon I realized, though, that much of the stress families experienced at home really had nothing to do with these subjects. It had more to do with how parents handled the tensions around homework. Often, parents became the homework police in their own living rooms and power struggles erupted. I realized that by working with parents, and not just children, a lot of the homework stresses were relieved. What works for one student doesn’t always work for another, and there are specific reasons kids struggle with organization. In my book, I profile the six distinct reasons why children struggle with homework and dedicate a chapter to each. From organization to procrastination to frustration, there are specific and practical tips for every issue children face.
KC: In regard to your second book, which factors do you think parents/advocates of kids should consider when determining if public or private school is the better fit?
AD: We live in an area with very good public school systems, and for most kids they’re a fantastic match. For others who may need a bit little more support or who are ready to get ahead or bored in the classroom, an independent school can be a worthy investment. I have one son in a private school and one in a public. There are definitely different fits for different kids. One of the main benefits of an independent school is the student-teacher ratio. In most independent schools in our area, classes top out at no more than 18 kids. In the public school system – especially with budget cuts – class sizes are upwards of 30 kids, and that’s a huge difference.
KC: In what ways have your ideas about education evolved over the last 20 years?
AD: I’ve seen the pendulum swing in the world of private tutoring, and when I started the company 15 years ago, we primarily worked with students in subject areas such as math, reading/writing, science, and social studies. But over the years, I’ve found that more and more students need help in soft skills such as organization, time management, and study skills. Research shows that 84 percent of students study by rereading their notes and textbooks, a strategy that’s proven ineffective. About 40 percent of my company’s business is helping kids through a tutoring model called Educational Coaching, which teaches crucial soft skills directly to students. These are skills that students probably need in elementary, middle, and high school and that they absolutely need in college and the workforce to be successful.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS IN THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA AREA
VIRGINIA INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS
Alexandria Country Day School
Burgundy Farm Country Day School
Congressional Schools of Virginia
Flint Hill School
Green Hedges School
The GW Community School
The Hill School
The Howard Gardner School
The Langley School
Loudoun Country Day School
Loudoun School for the Gifted
The Madeira School
The New School of Northern Virginia
Nysmith School for the Gifted
The Potomac School
VIRGINIA CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
Bishop Denis J. O’Connell
Bishop Ireton High School
Paul VI Catholic High School
VIRGINIA INDEPENDENT RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS
Ad Fontes Academy
Episcopal High School
Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern VA
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
Trinity Christian School
VIRGINIA LEARNING DIFFERENCES SCHOOLS
The Newton School
List courtesy of Ann Dolin, M.Ed., President; Educational Connections Inc.