Sue Johnson’s son Weston was in second grade when she realized he had a serious problem reading.
“He had taken a test, and he had circled ‘none of the above’ on every single answer, and that was the clue to me that something’s wrong here,” she said. “That was a key point when I realized he was just really struggling.”
When she approached Weston’s teacher, she said the teacher brushed off her concerns.
By middle school, Weston was reading years behind his grade level.
Then the Johnsons met Sue Klund, a reading teacher at what was then Fred Moore Middle School in Anoka.
“She was just a little tiny spitfire, and she just had the enthusiasm that she could teach everybody how to read, and she knew how to do it,” Sue Johnson said.
It was the beginning of a breakthrough for Weston.
“I think her dedication to just read, read what you enjoy and read a lot was a really impactful thing to me,” he said.
It wasn’t easy, but he went on to graduate Anoka High School in 2004.
Now, the instructional coach for the Goodhue County Education District, which includes Kenyon-Wanamingo Public Schools, holds a master’s degree in literacy education and a doctorate of education in leadership, Weston has dedicated himself to helping struggling students, their families and their teachers. This year he released a book that aims to inspire teachers throughout the school year by reminding them to recenter on the reason they teach — the students.
“The idea is to just keep bringing teachers back to the purpose of supporting student learning,” Weston said. “As an educator … I just kind of keep finding the comfort in that simple understanding. No matter how chaotic, whether it’s paperwork or student behaviors or, this year, a pandemic, I can refocus myself on supporting student learning.”
Each short chapter in “Purposeful Teaching: A Reflection on the Practice of Supporting Students as They Learn” is designed to “encourage engagement and self-reflection to spark deeper reflection” throughout the school year.
Weston hopes other teachers will find value in the insights from his decade in education. He spent three years as a special education teacher before coming to Goodhue County. He also started a company, called aLEARNcoach, that provides reading lessons and support to parents.
Throughout his years in education, Weston’s own experience as a child has helped him relate to students who have difficulty reading.
“I think having that sense of what it feels like to be a struggling student lets you kind of see that insight … into what’s going on in your student’s mind when they’re struggling,” he said. “You’re thinking empathetically. It’s going to be more than just that they don’t get it. They’re going to be feeling something when they don’t get it. ... It’s not just I’m trying to teach a computer something and it’s not working. No, there’s a lot of things going on. So you need to try to take all those things into consideration when you’re trying to help this child learn.”
And for Weston, helping students learn so they don’t struggle needlessly is the point.
“My passion is really to get in there and teach, help parents teach, help teachers teach,” he said.
“Purposeful Teaching: A Reflection on the Practice of Supporting Students as They Learn” is available at barnesandnoble.com.