Though Orton-Gillingham was traditionally used to reach children with dyslexia and learning disabilities, Jeup has worked tirelessly to expand the methodology to general education classrooms, with a focus on early learners.
Today IMSE-trained teachers are in districts across the country — many facing some of the most complex obstacles to bettering their students’ reading outcomes.
Jeup is a former first-grade teacher, and a mother and stepmother to five. She was recently named an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Michigan and Northwest Ohio. IMSE Journal sat down with Jeup to discuss literacy pedagogy, growing a business and her passion for reading.
E&Y Michigan and NW Ohio Entrepreneur of Year Award Video
IMSE Journal: Jeanne, you were a first grade teacher. How did your experience in the classroom lead you to launch the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education?
Jeanne Jeup: I just didn’t feel prepared when I started teaching. I was in a first-grade classroom and didn’t have the skills to teach children how to read. A complete quarter of my class were not readers and really didn’t have a support system at home. We also didn’t have a phonics-based program within our school. Some of my colleagues were teaching phonics, but they were teaching it behind closed doors.
When I graduated from college, [we were taught] a whole-language approach, and you were not supposed to be speaking of phonics. You were only supposed to be doing embedded spelling. The thought was: By reading to children and by immersing them in literature, they would eventually pick up on the proper spelling — and those things will come over time. Phonics was not something that was supposed to be explicitly taught.
So, unfortunately, that’s how I was taught at the university. But as a child, I was taught phonics. I was searching for a balance — immersing them in literature but also trying to find a very phonetic controlled system that would help children learn how to read if they weren’t picking it up naturally.
After experiencing myself the power of Orton-Gillingham, I knew I wanted to bring a modernized version of the approach to the masses – teachers in diverse classrooms all over the country. I wanted to create a training that offered much more than theory, and that explicitly modeled real techniques and practical ideas that teachers could use immediately in their classroom and start seeing results. Teachers leave our 30-hour, week long training ready and confident to start working with students. That was twenty-five years ago and I’m so proud of the impact our trainings have had since that original mission was born. our trainings have had since that original mission was born.
IMSE: To this day, the IMSE brand is very rooted in supporting teachers. Do you think that, too, stems from your experience in the classroom?
JJ: I’m always trying to find easier ways for teachers to assess their students and easier ways to do multi-sensory activities in the classroom — whether it’s with the whole class or in small groups, in a special education classroom or in a general education classroom. It’s just really about understanding what the teachers’ needs are.
No matter how long you’ve been in the system teaching, it’s always new children at the start of the year — sometimes 25 or 30. Class size and ability levels are going to be all over the place.
At IMSE, we work with teachers and see the challenges they have with classroom diversity. There are demands from the district. There are demands from the parents. There are changes in the curriculum that need to be learned and applied. You have to deal with the emotional needs of children. I mean, there’s just so much that teachers have to take on. So, I look at that and try to create a plethora of things teachers can choose from to move their class forward, depending on what they’re faced with.
IMSE: Orton-Gillingham has long been associated with special education classrooms. When you realized it could also be hugely beneficial to general education students, did you meet resistance? How do you push for a new way of thinking?
JJ: Orton-Gillingham has been around since the 1930s and was designed for children with dyslexia and neurological-based disorders who required a one-on-one system.
We were going into schools here in Michigan, knocking on doors, and had a lot of doors slammed in our face. The mindset was that OG was for special education. We went in and said: We can help your special education population, and we can give them the tools to learn how to read and to catch up and to really leave no child behind in terms of literacy.
Early intervention became our big thing. A lot of children were being diagnosed in third grade as being “at risk” or “failing.” So, we went in with the philosophy that in Kindergarten or pre-K, we can start helping or identifying those children who are struggling, and we can try to give them a very structured and sequential approach to learning how to read — while also having fun doing it in a multi-sensory manner.
We then really honed in on that multi-sensory approach with the general population. We went in the back door, so to speak, having success with children in special education classrooms. A lot of the general education teachers were saying, ‘Susie is coming back from the resource room, and she’s doing amazing. What’s happening? … I want that training.’ So from there, it was a nice bridge to talk about OG with all of the teachers.
By having ALL of your teachers trained … everybody speaks the same language. Everyone knows what’s going to help that whole child and really make some movement. If you’re not identifying kids who need help in the general education classroom until third grade, there’s a lot more work to do to catch up.
IMSE: You’ve grown this business dramatically over the last 25 years. What were some of the big decisions you made along the way that have brought you to where you are today?
JJ: It boils down to constantly believing in teachers and listening to them. We do a lot of evaluative forms. We do them every single day at OG training, and we do a final one at the end. It really helps us hone in on our content, make sure that we’re hitting on those elements, giving teachers the support system that they need.
We’ve developed workbooks. We’ve developed apps to support teachers. The workbooks are going to be easy for them to implement. … They can do spelling and reading, and it’s all in one place. We’ve created an assessment app, where in 10 minutes of one-on-one time, you can identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses. You can go on from there for the instruction. I think it’s been extremely beneficial for the teachers.
We’ve also found that a lot of school teachers don’t want to be out of the classroom during the school year, so the summer training months are a short window of opportunity for us. What we’ve done is find more instructors to work during the school years for their own schools — but then also be able to train in the summer so that we can increase our instructor model to really meet teachers’ needs.
Watch and listen to Jeanne talk about IMSE:
IMSE: Where is IMSE going? What do you hope to accomplish in the next five to 10 years?
JJ: We do a lot with orthography and morphology, so we’ll probably do more in the workbooks for teachers. They’re always looking for resources that can support what we teach them. We’re definitely working in that direction of supplying more hands-on workbooks.
We’re also trying to set up more virtual trainings and consultations to extend OG instruction to people from rural communities, or even different countries, that don’t have the access or ability to come to traditional training sessions. We can go to them virtually, so I’m trying to navigate through that right now.
We’re hoping to increase what we call our district-training model, where we can actually have a trainer from their school who works for the district and can serve as a mentor and instructor right there on base. They would be the expert in their school.
IMSE: You recently won an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for Michigan and Northwest Ohio. That’s incredible. What is your favorite part of your job?
JJ: I would have to say going and working in the classrooms. Working with the teachers, working with the children. I think that’s where I really learn the most about the challenges that teachers face, and I can really hone in on those specific skills and make those changes internally. It’s something I can give back to some of our districts; I’ll go in and support them just so they know that we’re here. That’s something I’m very passionate about.
I’ll do model lessons working directly with the children to show teachers: Look, we can do this with 25 Kindergarteners. This isn’t a one-on-one program. We built a movement.
I was just doing a consultation with a school district nearby, and a Kindergarten teacher said, ‘We don’t do the workbooks. I think it’s going to be too challenging for them. We do everything in dry erase boards.’ And I’m like, ‘No. No. Let’s try it. Let’s see. I want you to try it out and teach your students to do something auditorily and then take it to paper and pencil.’ If they’re working on a dry erase board, the challenge is in the writing. And I went back probably two weeks later, and the teacher was showing me all these pictures of the children writing these words and being completely successful. She was like, ‘It really works. They’re doing amazing.’ It’s believing in the methodology and really pushing the children in a direction of success.
IMSE: What is it about literacy that gets you so motivated?
JJ: I tutored everyone from preschool children to a woman who was in her 70s and a non-reader. She said, ‘I have grandbabies, and I can’t read to them.’ I have a gentleman I used to work with who was in his 50s who never learned how to read. He was a successful businessman who didn’t know how to read and faked it. And it’s just mind-boggling to me that literacy is still a challenge in this country, because this was 25 years ago.
The fact that we’re pushing children through our school system when some still do not have basic reading skills — something needs to change. Every child deserves to read.
IMSE: What would you tell aspiring entrepreneurs? Can you offer some advice for success?
JJ: If it’s not something that you’re passionate about, you’re really never going to be successful. I’m very fortunate that I do what I do: I love it and I believe in it. You need to pursue something you can grow and that people can aspire to. A lot of people give up [on entrepreneurial endeavors] because it’s not something that they really want to do. You look at Elon Musk, and obviously he has a drive and passion for cars. And he’s just constantly growing. He has an amazing team, and I thankfully have found an amazing team that I’ve surrounded myself with. I realize I can’t do it alone.
Most of my ideas hit me in the middle of the night. I eat, dream, live literacy, and I’m constantly thinking of ideas and what we can do and different ways we can help. I don’t stop reading and thinking about children’s success. I think about how we can help children be more successful, and then we figure out how we can implement changes from the operational side of the business. I think the ideas just come.
IMSE: You’re a mom. Can you talk about the unique challenges of balancing it all and how you do it?
JJ: Well, you should probably ask my kids that question [laughs]. I have a very supportive husband who is there to help and helps me with all aspects, with the company and the children. It’s super important to have a partner with you, especially when I travel. It’s difficult to be away. My children have learned to become very independent. But when I’m home, I’m home. I’m a very present person. So I definitely have learned how to turn it off, and try to work when they’re sleeping, or early in the morning. I definitely made some sacrifices.
I’m a stepmom of three and a mother of two. My youngest is 12, and then 13, 18, 21 and 24. My kids are very involved in sports, and I’m always all about cooking and having a meal, making them lunches and breakfasts. Since I’m not always here to do those things [due to my travel schedule], I do them when I’m home. That’s a good time to chat and talk because we don’t always get to. When I’m on the road, Facetime and all those amazing things that are available now allow us to share moments.
Visit imse.com to learn more about the company Jeanne co-founded and what you can do to improve literacy at your school.