Out-of-School Learning Business - Rewards & Challenges: Monique Peters

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes

Monique PetersMonique Peters is a mother of a child with learning difficulties.

Her efforts to help him opened up a new world for her. A world of learning specialists, educators, tutors, neuroscientists, support groups and other parents desperate for a solution for their own learning disabled child.

Monique saw a need that was not being met from the range of existing services for families like hers.  So she established an out-of-school learning business to support parents like her and children like her son. It's called Brainwise Learning.

This is Monique's story.

Listen to the interview

Topics covered

  1. Running and out-of-school learning business
  2. Learning difficulties
  3. Growth Mindset
  4. Using neuroscience programs to develop learning
  5. Coaching parents to support their children
  6. Support groups for women in business

People & organisations mentioned

  1. Dr Norman Doidge
  2. Carol Dweck
  3. Kerwin Rae
  4. Gary Vaynerchuk
  5. Wollondilly Women in Business,
  6. Women with Altitude
  7. Mums in Business

Resources/books/articles/places mentioned

  1. The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr Norman Doidge
  2. Sarah 2.0: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Inflammation
  3. brainwiselearning.com.au
  4. Barbara Arrowsmith

Episode 110 of The Learning Capacity Podcast

Out-of-School Learning Business - Rewards & Challenges: Monique Peters

Peter Barnes:    Our guest today is a mother of a struggling learner who started her own out-of-school learning business, filling a gap in services that seems to exist between traditional services like speech pathology and tutoring.

                       Her name is Monique Peters, and she's got an interesting background in business development, marketing, and administration. She's not a specialist learning person, but she's done something remarkable in establishing her business. So this is Monique's story. Monique, welcome to the podcast.

Monique Peters:  Thank you, Peter.

Peter:               I think your story is really interesting, how you established a business helping people with their learning and where it fits overall. I'm interested in what motivated you to do that. So you want to talk to us about that?

Monique:         Yes, I do. So having a son who struggled with learning, I was the sort of mother that did endless nights of research, all the nights that I used to be up worrying, and I would do an awful lot of research on what I could do next to help him. I was trying to keep him medication-free.

So I was trying things like different diets and taking gluten and dairy and so on out of his diet, sugar, those sort of things. They all worked to some degree, but it wasn't until he used a particular program that he had some success, and certainly straightaway with his speech.

                        I ended up working with the speech pathologist who brought that program to Australia, and I supported other parents for four years. When I saw the sort of success that they were having from that program, I thought I would love to bring this to my area of sort of Campbelltown, Camden, and the Wollondilly, which we call Macarthur.

Peter:               That's out of Sydney, isn't it, for listeners who are not familiar with those places? Yeah, yeah. So you've got a strong personal motivation for establishing this business. Have you ever run a business before?

Monique:         No, I hadn't. It had been a dream. I had no idea what I was taking on when I decided to do this. But that's probably a good thing.

Peter:               So you had no idea what you were taking on. What do you mean? Was it tough?

Monique:         Yeah, very tough, because marketing had changed since I'd had a child. It had gone digital, on social media, and I really didn't understand how to use those things. I really didn't understand how to use them.

I had to put a business plan together, because I didn't know what directions I could take. I was completely blank. I often describe it like a sailing a boat or flying a plane while you're learning how to fly and put it together all at the same time.

                        Yeah, that's been really difficult, but an incredible journey, absolutely incredible. I've met some incredible people along the way. As long as you don't give up and you keep doing things, you will eventually find your way through these things.

Peter:               The fact that you didn't have a background in remedial learning or similar areas, but you've had personal experience with a son and with using some approaches, is that a problem for you, or was it in some way an advantage you weren't bound by traditional approaches?

Monique:         That's right. Well, it's a challenge in one way, because people are often asking me am I a speech pathologist or a teacher? My answer is always no. I understand things more from a parent's perspective. I'm reasonably intelligent, so I'm able to decipher and do a lot of research and work out what's good research and what's not good.

So I am able to put my faith in the evidence-based programs that I'm using, and I know how to use those programs. So I know how to read them really well and how to get the data to help the students, which is the most important thing. But what I really love having is that parent perspective, because it's different for someone in this type of business to have that.

Peter:               So you actually have two clients. You have the parent and the student, and the child.

Monique:         Yes, because what I do is actually support the parents. So I'm getting the ... All neuroscience programs have a lot of repetition. While they have the reward in there, the children recognize that it's very tedious. And the part of their brain that wants to stay in their comfort zone needs to be challenged.

I've found ways and techniques of being able to do that. So I've also developed a lot of expertise in coaching the parents through the program. the wonderful thing is I've learned things for myself, and I also am able to pass things on to the parents as well.

So they start to see things and they start to develop skills. The perseverance, I guess.

Peter:               Yeah. Good. I understand you've got a background also in working with kids in one of the local high schools in your area, which must be useful.

Monique:         Yes. I'm sorry. I've been a high school mentor for about seven years, six or seven years. From there, I've learnt a lot of incredible things about especially high school children and the challenges they face. Out here, there's a lot of challenges for young people to face.

Peter:               So it sounds like you have a unique combination of you've got a parent's perspective, and also you understand how to mentor and coach adolescents, I would think so.

Monique:         Yeah, and that's a learning journey for myself. So at first, when I first started mentoring, it was difficult not to walk the path or want to walk the path of a counselor, but you soon learn as part of the mentoring skills that that's not your job. Then the more you actually listen to them, the better relationship develops between the two of you.

                        My particular angle is I've come in wanting to teach them more skills, because I know that skills is something that can take them forward. The more skills somebody has, the better their confidence improves anyway, and I can work on that side of things for them, while they often have their own counseling and things as well.

But at least from my perspective, when they go on, they've got more skills to go forward with.

Peter:               Right, and what's the name of your business?

Monique:         So it's called Brain Wise Learning, brainwiselearning.com.au.

Peter:               Okay. Are you purely doing your work with your clients remotely via Internet and so forth or phone, or do you do any face-to-face stuff?

Growth Mindset

Monique:         No. So the programs are all online-based, which is absolutely wonderful, because that way, we can access a lot more students. I'm in touch on the phone with the parents so that we're in touch that way. I send the children a lot of certificates, and they get a lot of support that way and encouragement.

                        I have learned about something called the growth mindset, which ...

Peter:               By Carol Dweck? Yes, yes?

Monique:         Yes. Absolutely fantastic work. With that, I can coach the parents. I've got some resources that I send them, a whole book of 80 pages. Yeah, it's a really good thing, because when Mum understands the growth mindset, you can teach that to the rest of the family. She finds that she can upgrade her skills as well and not be afraid to take that step forward.

Peter:               Well, it sounds like a really useful service.

Monique:         Oh, thank you.

Coaching parents to support children

Peter:               So you're working equally with the parent and the child, it seems to me. Would that be a fair statement of what you're doing?

Monique:         Definitely, because if you ... I'll put it this way. If you work with the child alone and nothing changes in the household, then I think the chances of success are limited. Whereas if you can get the whole family on board, the chances of change are better and quicker.

Peter:               Yeah. Give us an idea of the sort of clients that you're working with. What do they come to you for? What are the problems that they want solved?

Monique:         I'm sort of like my ideal client. I am my ideal client, and I understand what it's like to have all that worry. You see your child, usually with auditory processing issues, if it's not too severe and it's just causing them to struggle at school a little bit, they start to fall further and further behind.

So they may start in kindergarten, even with everyone else. But as the work becomes more complex, so getting to years two, three, four and five, it starts to become quite evident. The child, depending on their character, may completely withdraw, like my son did.

                        So I completely understand that journey. The parent will worry. So these are the parents that I work with. They may or may not have had speech pathology, or they may or may not be doing tutoring.

But when we can get down to that really deep, neurological level and work at that acquisition level, the language acquisition level, things can change. It's a deeper change.

Success with Adults

Peter:               So you don't just work with children, though, do you? I understand from our earlier conversation you also work with adults who have some ...

Monique:         I do. I once worked with an 80-year-old lady who had a hearing problem, a hearing deficit. She was wearing a hearing aid, and we couldn't bring back the hearing that she had lost, the acuity side of things, perhaps, but she was able to understand what she could hear better, and she loved being able to rejoin her gardening club.

Peter:               Oh, very good. Any other adults you've worked with?

Monique:         Yes. So I worked with Sarah recently, who was on your podcast.

Peter:               Oh, yes. Yes, yes. Interesting, really interesting story.

Monique:         Yes. You've got to listen to that, everybody. It is just an incredible story, and I was very humbled by Sarah's comments about how I supported her through that.

Peter:               I'll put a link under the podcast. So if people are interested in listening to that, they can. Okay, good. So your challenges, you were telling me. We're circling right back now.

Monique:         Yes.

Peter:               So you started your business, and I guess pretty much everything was a challenge at the beginning, setting the whole thing up, making a plan, all of that stuff.

Monique:         Yes.

Peter:               Any things that sort of stand out for you now, with the benefit of hindsight, the biggest struggles you've had? I'm going to ask you about your successes in a minute, but let's just focus on this for a second.

Monique:         Probably how to use technology and how to find my ideal client, how to use the language that they're going to hear. That's been quite a journey, because I thought at first, if I put out a whole lot of information, that's all I need to do, but now it's way more complex than that.

The amount of information coming to people has increased, so people are more selective about what they read. In order to find the people I want to help, I have to speak their language much better.

Peter:               I imagine that could be a challenge, but you're making progress, clearly.

Monique:         Every day is progress. One of the things about all the challenges that I face is that, through doing this work, when I learned about the growth mindset, it was quite a revelation that I could actually use that myself to grow my own skills. Amazingly enough, it really has been a big benefit, knowing the growth mindset.

Peter:               For any of our listeners who are not familiar with the growth mindset, do you want to just give us a quick summary of what the growth mindset is?

Monique:         Yeah. To try and simplify it, it's just understanding, basically, what neuro-plasticity is, so knowing that the brain can grow new neural pathways and you can learn new skills well into old age. So it's knowing how the brain does that.

                        It's that effort is what gets results, not natural talent or being gifted, so to speak. It's about the effort that you put into things, that making mistakes is a welcome part of the learning process, and that, on its own, is extremely liberating, because the fear of making mistakes stops people from doing so many things. It even causes things like cheating in exams, because they don't want to be seen as making mistakes.

Peter:               Yeah.

Monique:         They want to be seen as being really good. If we can get the idea through to children that, "Hey, make mistakes. It's great. It's wonderful," it's extremely liberating.

                        I took that to heart when I was learning how to produce videos for my content. At first, I really didn't want to make videos, because I was worried about how bad it might look. But I've been reassured by this growth mindset and also from friends who have been very supportive, "You're great on video. Just keep going. You'll be fine. So what if you make a mistake? I think it's great for other people to see your mistakes."

Peter:               You're human, eh?

Monique:         Exactly. It's a big shift in mindset.

Peter:               Yeah, great. That's really good, and it's great that you're able to apply that to yourself and your business and your clients as well.

Monique:         Yes.

Peter:               Yeah. Now, you've told us some little success stories about big successes, no doubt. I met a couple of adults. What about your children? Anyone there that stands out as that's really been a great outcome for the child?

Monique:         Oh, yes. I've had a few of them. So my son, for a start, and working with him, the fact that he challenges me now. He's become fairly entrepreneurial himself. So we'll sit down and watch either Kerwin Rae or Gary Vaynerchuk videos together and things like that. He'll challenge me to make my next success, and he's very encouraging that way. That's fantastic.

Peter:               Oh, how great is it to have a son sort of in the same business mindset as you? That must be wonderful.

Monique:         That's wonderful, yeah. I'm so glad that he has his driver's license now and that he's able to start accessing support and networking groups and things like that himself. So he's a little bit shy, but yeah, a bit of growth mindset.

Peter:               Right. What about any successes outside your family which come to mind?

Monique:         Oh, yes. So on my website, I have a few testimonials, one, a recent one from a lady who had three children who all struggled, had very big struggles with learning. One of her daughters was basically nonverbal.

What she would do was speak only in rehearsed sentences, And she had a collection of these rehearsed sentences. After doing some of the program, within the first three months, she started to have spontaneous conversation, and her confidence improved so much that she was actually going out shopping.

She was an older girl, about 17. She went to a JB Hi-Fi and started looking for her own music, and she engaged when she bought the album that she was looking for.

Peter:               Wow.

Monique:         Yeah, and she was saying please and thank you. Her mom was just absolutely delighted with that.

Peter:               Wow.

Monique:         Her son, who would avoid lots of these sort of things, had actually started ... He enjoyed using the program so much that he decided to set himself up every day, and that became part of his daily routine. He actually looked forward to starting to work on it.

Peter:               Sure.

Monique:         Yeah, many other children. For me, it's when their confidence comes up. So the changes can look very organic, and the children don't necessarily connect it with the program. It's the parents that say, "Oh, all of a sudden, their coaching performance improves" or "Their sporting performance improves."

Peter:               Yeah.

Monique:         So they are better able to follow the instructions.

Peter:               So your work really has widespread positive impacts for your clients.

Monique:         That's a message that I need to get out there, is that because when their language skills improve, their learning improves across school subjects, and not just subjects, because that's just academic. Social, their social skills improve when they're able to understand the other children in the class, and there's less of those misunderstandings.

                        When my son was at school and he had his auditory processing issues, there were misunderstandings between the other children, which would result in exclusion and bullying and all those sort of things. But there were also misunderstandings with teachers. When he was asked to explain what was the latest problem, he couldn't explain it.

Peter:               Wow. Tough, tough.

Monique:         Yeah.

Peter:               But it sounds like you really love what you're doing, right?

Monique:         I've become so passionate about this.

Peter:               What do you love most about it?

Monique:         Oh, I love it, like what I said before, when the children's confidence comes up, because to me, that's the biggest change, when they feel more confident, when they start to read more, when they start to spell more. I really love when I connect with someone who has read the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge, and everyone's eyes just light up. It's an exciting moment, because we all know ... Well, we both know the hope that comes from that book.

                        I love talking about the stories of hope from neuroscience, the stories of people like Barbara Arrowsmith or even ... There's a young boy in England who was born with only 2% of the brain, and he now has 85% of the brain. He's an amazing little character. These stories bring hope to so many people. It's humbling, and it's also very exciting.

Peter:               Great. Really, really good. I guess you've been also out working with community. To develop your business, you must have had to step out of your comfort zone and go and meet a lot of new people, make new connections, all of that. How do you like that?

Monique:         Oh, I really love that side of things. So I joined three women in business groups, one called Wollondilly Women in Business, another one called Women with Altitude, and another one called Mums in Business. They're all very, very supportive, all very, very nurturing. They're not competitive, in the business sense. We're always about supporting one another.

                        I've learned so much from them. I've made some incredible connections with some beautiful ladies who are doing incredible things, and you are inspired by that. You can't help but be inspired by that. In these fires, for example, I mean, the Wollondilly area ...

Peter:               These are the bushfires in Australia you're talking about?

Monique:         Yes, yes, and seeing these communities surround everybody with love ... There's a lot of life coaches, and a lot of ladies will put together a healing group. Others are working behind the scenes, connecting services to people who need it, and there's just so much work going on behind the scenes.

I'm signing up for a community pantry thing to make sure people are getting food and so on. It's a privilege to be able to do that. It makes it more than a business. Yeah, much more than a business.

Peter:               So it sounds like your decision to start your own business has had major benefits for a whole range of people, not least of all yourself.

Monique:         Yes, yes, definitely. I'm actually trying to model my business on a different kind of model, where I'm not that interested in making globules of money for my own benefit.

What I'm wanting to do is put a lot of the money back into it and start to offer things like scholarships and ways where I can really make a difference. I'm not really looking for too much personal benefit, if you know what I mean.

Peter:               Personal financial benefit, you're talking about ...

Monique:         That's right. Yes.

Peter:               ... because you're getting a lot of personal benefit, clearly, from what you're doing. But this is a wonderful story. What advice would you have if there are other people out there, women and men, I guess, who are thinking of starting a business who have never started one before? Not necessarily in the business that you're in, but a business. What are the things that you would advise them?

Monique:         Develop a growth mindset.

Definitely come and see me. I do have coaching packages that I do. But no, I mean, that idea of taking that step. Just keep going forward. Learn from your mistakes. Don't be afraid to make them. Do it, because there seems to be a big shift with the digital landscape. A lot more people will be starting their own businesses and working from home.

                        I hear a lot of talk of monetizing the skills that you have. So you may be working for someone, but say you know how to knit or to bake things. You can produce a course and start selling that online and making some money on the side. It's actually very exciting. The technology that we have that can facilitate this sort of economy is very exciting.

Peter:               It truly is. It truly is. So I want to thank you so much for talking to us today. It's an inspiring story, a really interesting story. Now, if people want to learn more about you and what you do, what's the best way for them to do that?

Monique:         Oh, the best way is to go to the website, which is www.brainwiselearning.com.au. All my contact details are there as well. I'm also on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Peter:               Great. Thank you very much. Thanks for talking to us.

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