In Assembly this week, Andrew Rowlandson, Assistant Head (Staff Development) / Geography, donned a Superman t-shirt to talk to the pupils about dyslexia. It was the first time he had spoken to the School community about having dyslexia and he asked the pupils what their superpowers are…
"Over the past few years GCHQ, the UK's intelligence, security and cyber agency, has implemented a recruitment drive aimed at adults with dyslexia. And over Easter, LinkedIn changed their settings to allow ‘dyslexic thinking’ to be listed under a member’s skillset. However, if you’d told me at school that employers would one day target individuals with dyslexia and that employees would publicize it on their social media accounts, I probably would not have believed you.
I’ve known I have dyslexia from a young age. Perhaps this makes me lucky. As a 7 year old I was sent off to a cupboard of a room to sit with a teacher to practice my reading, writing and spelling. I was told this was because I was special – or at least, that’s how I heard it. Throughout my early schooling though, whilst some children loved their weekly spelling ‘quiz’ or just a ‘reading homework’ – both would fill me with dread.
I remember feeling labelled from a young age. Teachers would ask a question and if I couldn’t answer it immediately they would assume I wasn’t listening. They would write on my work or reports that I was sloppy as my barely legible handwriting scrawled across the page. Peers would see it as a joke that I stumbled and tripped over words when we engaged in ‘reading around the class’. Compared to my friends, I felt unacademic and unlikely to achieve.
I’ve grown to love podcasts. One of my current favorites is the High Performance Pod with Jake Humphries. One of the questions he asks his guests is, what’s your superpower. I’ve come to believe mine is dyslexia.
You see whilst there were many detractors who influenced my early years, I also had a small team of supporters – teachers and family members who believed in me. With their encouragement, I began to find ways to counteract challenges and harness potential:
- I learnt I could achieve
- I discovered more about the way I was wired
- I understood that I might have to work harder to grasp things, approach tasks in different ways, write things down to avoid forgetting them, or make smarter use of technology
- But I was not limited by my dyslexia.
I found ways to celebrate the difference too. In Marcus Buckingham’s book ‘Now discover your strengths’ he talks about the need to spend less time fixating on what we can’t do and more time identifying our talents and building them into strengths.
Over time I realized I often thought in a different way and saw things others couldn’t. I could manipulate scenarios in my mind. See patterns in numbers. Fast-forward and rewind scenarios – imagining how they might play out. Finding chaos difficult, I’ve learnt to create order for myself and try to communicate clearly.
Last year, GCHQ reported that dyslexia is mission critical in their fight against cybersecurity attacks as it equips its spies with a unique ability to “see the bigger picture”. In fact, its apprentices are four times as likely to have dyslexia than those on other schemes. Rather than a weakness, GCHQ sees dyslexia as a neurodiverse skill to disrupt threats to the UK from abroad.
I’m certainly not saying having dyslexia makes life easier – that has not been my experience. In fact, particularly in the early years of education, it felt like the system didn’t allow me to play to my strengths. I feel strongly that schools and society perhaps need to find ways to broaden how achievement and value are assigned.
Once out of formalized education, however, I experienced what it was like to truly play to your strengths. I remember one manager who took time to understand the way I worked. He recognized that fast-paced meetings often left me behind. He could have thought me lazy, unwilling to participate. He didn’t. He called me after a few weeks in the job and said, “Andrew, I want your opinion, how can we do more to hear from you when decision making?” I explained about how I operated optimally. As a result, we established follow up calls after key meetings. This gave me the chance to absorb and reflect on discussion points and prepare considered thoughts. I was given a voice, I felt valued. And I hope the organization benefitted too. He got it. He understood me. This manager continues to coach me to this day.
I hope you will take time to work out what your superpowers are. I hope as a school community we can place value on recognising and celebrating the differences that exist between us. More than that, I hope we can find opportunities to draw the best out of each other, to give us all the chance to thrive."