Submitted by David Klenk ’22, Graduate Assistant Communications
In this part 2 of 2 episodes of Saints Spotlight, we speak with Kayla Steltenkamp, Ed.D., assistant professor with the School of Education. Kayla discusses her experience and work within education and how she is driven to help others learn with dyslexia. CLICK HERE to read part 1.
David Klenk: Hello and welcome back to another Saints Spotlight. Today we are joined by Kayla Steltenkamp, a member of the education department. Thank you so much for joining us here for this edition. How are you uniquely qualified to launch and lead this institute? I know you said that, as soon as you heard that you were able to get a topic in, like dyslexia, that that was a spark in your mind.
Kayla Steltenkamp: I taught for seven years before I learned about what dyslexia was. I had an elementary degree, I had a special education degree, and one of my newest qualified students with special education/special needs was dyslexic. The director of special ed said, “What do you know about dyslexia?” I really didn’t know a whole lot. I happened to be also working on my doctorate at the time and a mentor of mine was a professor out of Texas. Dyslexia in Texas is much further (along) than we are here in Kentucky, so I did an independent study on dyslexia back in 2015. As soon as I learned about what it was, I was passionate about helping other teachers understand what dyslexia is. I think a lot of the time teachers only know what we’ve been taught or exposed to; there is so much misinformation about dyslexia. My research passion became to teach the knowledge of dyslexia. I have been doing so much work in that field ever since, probably since 2015 even. Since that time I have been involved in a lot of different organizations and a lot of movements within our state, and within our country. I always want to help other people to better understand their students or their children or themselves. Dyslexia is not debilitating, it’s just something that we have to understand and then give supports and structure to move forward with it.
DK: What dyslexia organizations are you associated with?
KS: The one that I’ve been associated with the longest is the International Dyslexia Association, it’s a national organization. I jumped into that, in Kentucky, as soon as I started my research because I knew that there were lots of passionate people in our state that were interested in dyslexia as well. I was the president of our branch for a few years and am still heavily involved. When I was the president of our state, I got connected with a lot of people throughout our country and now I stay in close communication with the national board of that organization. It’s provided a lot of opportunities. Recently I’ve been working a lot with Made By Dyslexia, an organization out of London. They provide training for teachers and they’ve been coming to the states a lot and providing different opportunities. Decoding Dyslexia is an organization that was started by parents and I’ve been helping them since 2016. I continue to help them it is essentially a resource for parents as they want to learn more.
DK: What drives your research on dyslexia?
KS: It comes back to when I first learned about what it was, there are two students that I always have in my mind, and I think if I knew better I could have helped them better. I really want to be able to help other people understand their students or their kids or themselves because it really is something that we can use as an empowering opportunity to teach the right strategies and skills. I think those original two students are still always in my mind because I think I could have (helped more), if I just knew better. So my passion is always to help continue to increase knowledge and awareness so that we can support everybody to be successful.
DK: How has your journey in education and work led you to Thomas More University?
KS: I grew up here in Northern Kentucky, so Thomas More is something that has always kind of been in my backyard per se. I have taught at a variety of different institutions both public and private. I was at a public institution before I came here and I absolutely loved it, I loved the people that I worked with, but I had large classes and sometimes we would have several classes with several sections of the same class. There wasn’t as much flexibility in terms of adjusting coursework or assignments and things like that. When Thomas More had an opening and opportunity to come, it was really exciting because I could come and teach both in the elementary program and the special education program. I could teach that literacy coursework that I love. I was able to adapt the coursework keeping all the standards and expectations, of course, but then infusing some of those best practices that I know are helpful for all students. Thomas More is just a really unique opportunity because we have a more direct impact on our students for a small program; we are kind of like their mothers at some point, I think. We get to watch them, get to teach them in the class, we get to go out of the classroom, we get to watch them be able to use what we’ve taught them, and practice it with students in the in the community when they’re out in their field work. We get to watch the whole transformation which I think is really helpful. It also helps me as a teacher because sometimes some of the things that I’ve taught them didn’t translate as well as I thought maybe (it should) when they were out in the field. So then I can come back and adjust things within my courses as needed just through that cyclical process which I think is a really unique opportunity.
DK: You mentioned earlier about some of the strengths that dyslexia can provide or how it encourages creativity in some cases. What’s one thing you wish people would know about dyslexia that they may not know already?
KS: I think that the most important thing to understand is dyslexia is not rare, it’s actually very common. It oftentimes is not diagnosed as much as it could be or should be, but many people have characteristics of dyslexia. I think the biggest thing that I would love for people to understand is that it is a difference in how we learn to read, and as long as we’re supporting it and providing the right strategies, everybody can be successful. I think sometimes school is hard, it’s not always the right setting for every student. Being willing to adjust some expectations and to be patient and to allow the student the opportunity to show what they know without having to read a whole book and write a whole paper. If they listen to the book and they explain the whole book to you the world would have been up to them, so I think sometimes just understanding that we have the ability to support them to be super successful as long as we understand the way that they learn and the way that they express that they understand they learned. It would make school and work a much better place.
DK: Lastly, what message would you like to share with the incoming education students?
KS: I think that they’re coming into a very unique opportunity. Our education faculty and our School of Education as a whole, is continuously looking at innovative opportunities in the field. We are constantly revising our coursework, making sure that we are relevant to our research and bringing that research into our classrooms. Then we have a lot of different unique opportunities and partnerships in our community with our different schools that we take advantage of and allow them (the students) to practice what they’re doing in their coursework out in the field with the collaborations that we have. I think we continue to think outside the box, but what is our field and education need, if we look at our public and private school systems right now? They’re ever-changing. We are constantly thinking of how we can best prepare teachers to be the best when they get in the classroom. We build those connections so that when they’re out in the classroom, they can always come back for help. It’s really a great time right now in education, especially with Thomas More because we really are being innovative and helping to think of unique opportunities to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of our community in the education field and preparing those pre-service teachers to be fantastic out there.
DK: Right on. That sounds like a bunch of exciting news and I’m excited to see where you and the program go in the years to come. Thank you again so much for being our Saint Spotlight today and taking the time to sit down and talk with us. Thank you all, back home, for watching another edition of Saint Spotlight, be sure to tune in to the next one and have a good one.