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Meet Dan Levine of Engaging Minds in Newton and Natick

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan Levine.

Dan, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The idea for Engaging Minds had been brewing since my work in admissions at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School in the late 1990s. It was there that I saw for the first time the power of teaching academic skills and strategies as part of the curriculum, rather than purely focusing on teaching content. After earning my MBA and moving to NYC for a few years, I returned to Boston and began to focus more intently on developing this business. Working with a few savvy and strategic educators, we took the vision of a skills-based academic tutoring program and built a methodology around it that we began piloting with students in 2010. We worked out of public libraries in Newton, Needham, Natick, and Wellesley and once we found we had an approach that worked in strengthening these vital skills, and that families were interested in this “alternative” approach to tutoring, we opened our first location on Needham Street in Newton in July 2011. We opened our second location in Natick in August 2017.

Has it been a smooth road?
There are many challenges in developing and growing a business, but the three that stand out are:

1. Clearly articulating and defining a skills-based approach to tutoring to families. Most people think of subject-specific support when they think of tutoring. The term “executive function” was not as big a part of the vernacular in 2010 as it is today. One of our challenges was seeing if we could change the tutoring conversation away from pure content tutoring to a more holistic, skills-based approach. As we began our work, I learned that there were a few other groups already out there doing similar work, so I knew if we could make a compelling case for this approach (which was not difficult to do!), there was a growing market for it.

2. How to guarantee delivery of a strong product – always. One thing I learned very clearly in business school: if the product and its delivery are not excellent, the business will not survive for very long. We worked (and continue to work) tirelessly to ensure that our families are getting exactly what they need:

Our methodology is revised and updated at least every six months as we learn new strategies and hone our current ones. We have two Lead Educators who provide ongoing professional development and coaching with our instructors pre- and post-sessions to ensure we’re delivering exactly what each student needs.

Our Learning Specialist is available to delve deeper into academic testing to help identify key points of focus for each student. We’ve developed a stringent hiring protocol to ensure we are bringing the very best and brightest on board to work with students.

3. Managing our growth. We’ve grown organically and slightly faster than we anticipated. Managing that growth, especially from an operational standpoint, has been something we’ve been focused on since the beginning. From our hiring practices, to our operations management, to our instructor oversight and support it’s been a balance we’ve learned to walk quite effectively. As we continue to grow and expand into new markets, new challenges will certainly arise, and we’ll meet those with the same patience and thoughtfulness we’ve used all along the way.

So, let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Engaging Minds story. Tell us more about the business.
Engaging Minds offers a unique approach to traditional (content/subject-specific) tutoring: we teach students how to learn and provide them with academic skills and strategies they need to succeed over the long-term. In addition to providing content support in writing, reading comprehension, and problem-solving, we focus on teaching the increasingly important executive function skills (organization, prioritization, initiation of tasks, time management, goal-setting, planning) and guide students to become independent and self-confident learners. With these fundamental skills in place, students are better able to effectively approach, manage and complete nightly homework assignments, and are better poised to achieve their full potential.

In today’s world, with a smartphone and immediate access to Google, content now resides in our pockets. Our focus educationally must begin to include, more intentionally, the teaching of skills and strategies that students need to manage, synthesize, and organize that content when they find it, and manage themselves to achieve their goals and fulfill their potential. Many students require explicit instruction in how to do this and while most teachers endeavor to teach these skills in class, it’s difficult for them to reach every single student exactly where they are. Therefore, we work only one-on-one and help students determine their best approach to school work.

Engaging Minds has developed a methodology specifically designed to teach the vital executive function skills, all within the context of students’ own school work. By using students’ own schoolwork as the foundation of our instruction, we not only pick up right where the classroom teacher leaves off, but we also engender greater engagement, teach students how to apply the skills they’re learning to meaningful work, and build self-confidence. Our methodology is founded in teaching “best practice” and incorporates many “tried and true” strategies, as well as many of our own, specifically designed to focus on executive function skills.

Another hallmark of our approach is our attention to strengthening intrinsic motivation in our students. At Engaging Minds, we believe it’s important that students are engaged learners who understand the “why” behind the work they’re doing and the skills they’re learning, and who feel in control of their success. Intrinsically motivated learners become life-long learners. Together with our students, we establish short, attainable action plans each week to help students find success quickly and often. And over time, as the successes build, students come to realize that success is within reach and achievable, and self-confidence begins to soar.

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