Voice Recognition

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In Conversation With ... Allison Slone

Allison Slone

on advocating for dyslexic students and becoming a teacher leader

Kentucky School Advocate
November 2019

In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

Allison Slone, a special education teacher in Rowan County, has become a visible advocate for teachers and for students with dyslexia. A Facebook group she launched to inform teachers about issues and opportunities has grown to almost 20,000 followers. She has also become involved in numerous dyslexia organizations after her son was diagnosed several years ago, and she started Kentuckians Ready to Advocate for Dyslexic Students (KYREADS), which trains teachers to identify and help students with dyslexia and works with lawmakers on mandates that will ensure these students get the help they need in public schools.

Q: You started the Facebook group Kentucky Teachers in the Know (KTITK) two years ago. What motivated you?

A. As a teacher leader, I was going to conferences and learning about opportunities for teachers, and I wanted to share them. I started by adding my teacher friends to a Facebook group. That was Sept. 17, 2017. Then one month later, Bevin happened. He told everyone he would call a special session to make massive changes to our pensions. So, I started sharing information about that. The more I shared, the more people wanted to know. They started messaging to ask if they could add their friends. By January we were at 10,000 followers. Two years later, we’re at about 19,300. 

Q. And all are Kentucky teachers?

A. It has gone somewhat beyond. Some are teachers in other states who are looking for a job. We also have legislators. We feel that is the best way for them to know our concerns. Some legislators are active. They’ll message me privately to ask questions, give information and if they see something incorrect, they’ll let me know how to fix it. We decided to include them because if we want them to open doors to us, we have to be willing to open doors to them. 

Q. Any thoughts on why the group grew so quickly?

A. The need for information. I’ve been teaching special education 20 years, and until I got involved in organizations across Kentucky about six years ago, I didn’t know about all that was going on. I think our teachers suddenly were awakened to the fact that everything that happens in their classroom is a political decision. Our Facebook group provides them a place where they can talk and debate. We have mission statements and rules and regulations. In two years, we’ve only had to kick out and block maybe eight people. 

Q. What are some positive things that have come out of this group?

A. We have helped teachers learn how to be involved in politics. We’ve made sure to not just tell the issues but to educate members on how the process works and help them navigate that process while communicating with legislators and policy makers. You have to do that in a way that has positive results. 

Q. What are Kentucky teachers especially concerned about?

A. We want to be considered the professionals that we are, and we want to be heard. We know that not everything we want or need will always be met – that’s not reality – but we want to be respected and given a seat at the table. Because, if you want to know how to make things better in our public school classrooms, we’re the ones who can tell you. 

Q. You’ve said the teacher shortage is actually a recruitment issue.

A. Our future teachers are sitting in our classrooms watching how we are being treated, what we have to go through. It really impacts whether they want to do that themselves.

Q. You have worked hard to raise awareness about dyslexia after your son was diagnosed with the learning disability. Why was that advocacy needed in Kentucky?

A. When my son’s diagnosis was made, I started crying. My husband asked, ‘Why are you crying? We wanted to know what was going on.’ I said, ‘Because dyslexia is not recognized in most states in the United States, especially not in Kentucky, as a specific learning disability, and they’re not going to do anything to help him.’ 

Q. That proved true as your son’s test scores did not qualify him for special education services.

A. In hindsight I can’t say that that was a bad thing or a good thing because the special ed teachers, and I was one of them, were not trained in the structured multisensory strategies and interventions that a child with dyslexia needed anyway. Luckily, he had amazing teachers who were good at teaching reading, and so he improved drastically once we knew he had dyslexia.

Q. Describe what you’ve done to help teachers understand dyslexia.

A. First, I started doing a lot of research to help my son. I got on Facebook and connected with dyslexia groups –that’s how I found Decoding Dyslexia, a group of Kentucky mothers whose children have dyslexia. My husband and I attended meetings. From there, I got involved in the International Dyslexia Association, and that’s where my organization, Kentuckians Ready to Advocate for Dyslexic Students (KYREADS) came from.

Q. You were asked to serve on a Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) task force on dyslexia?

A. Yes, we had applied to attend a Teach to Lead Summit. We were going to work on a plan at the summit to approach KDE about having a dyslexia task force. Within a day of being accepted for the summit, I got an invite from then-Education Commissioner Dr. Stephen Pruitt to be on KDE’s dyslexia taskforce. We didn’t go to that Teach to Lead Summit but we did go to a later one, and it was the first time Kentucky had had a team of teachers work on the dyslexia issue at a Teach to Lead Summit. 

Q. Explain the idea behind KYREADS, your dyslexia effort.

A. We want teachers to know what dyslexia is, the signs and symptoms and the strategies or interventions. Without any major training, what are some things you could do in the classroom that would help those students immediately? Through KYREADS, we started doing a basic presentation at conferences. People were eating it up. They wanted more information.

Q. And KYREADS has also led to work with legislators?

A. Yes, legislators started hearing about KYREADS and talking to us. We worked with them and now we do have better legislation in Kentucky. There’s a toolkit for dyslexia in districts, which has been a great boost. We’re now advocating for legislation to say that our universities ensure that pre-service teachers are taught about dyslexia and how to deal with it and how to teach reading. You would be amazed how many teachers say, ‘I was never truly taught how to teach reading.’ I was one of them. So now, we’re being invited into districts and into schools. Most important is that connection between legislation and mandates, and of course we have to get funding behind mandates to really be effective. 

Q. What advice do you have for teachers who want to be more active in statewide education policy?

A. Open the lines of communication and reach out. It’s been so negative the last couple of years that sometimes we want to build up a wall. We’ve become untrusting of people in high places. Teachers also need to learn how to be advocates in a way that’s positive and solutions-oriented so we don’t get doors closed in our faces.

Q. Talk about some of the demands teachers face.

A. I always go back to the paperwork. We develop more and more ways to cover ourselves to prevent a lawsuit, but at the end of the day we’ve lost common sense. I spend at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes almost every day documenting things. And, family infrastructure has changed. I deal with grandparents more than I do parents. We’ve become more than a teacher. We’re parent, nurse, we’re feeding them through the day because they’re hungry. So, the classroom looks different than what the parents and grandparents who we’re dealing with remember. 

Q. What one thing can a school board do to support classroom teachers better?

A. They need to be in our schools and see what we’re dealing with. I could sit and tell them all day long, but until they see how it impacts the classroom, the meetings and paperwork. … And it should not just be board members, but central office staff, superintendents, special ed directors. I don’t mean come in for 10 minutes and say hi. Spend a day on the bus, in the classroom, in the cafeteria. Follow a teacher around for a day. I think then it would start having a positive impact on education because they could understand when we come to them with questions, why we’re having these problems.
Photo cutline: Allison Slone, who grew Kentucky Teachers in the Know from a Facebook group of a few teachers to nearly 20,000 members, held the first KTITK conference in September at Morehead Community and Technical College. (Photo provided by Allison Slone) 

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