On the TV show Super Nanny, an expert enters a family home, observes the parents and the children, and then offers up advice on how to bring order to the house.
As a family coach, Jan Benoit is a Super Nanny of sorts, only she observes a child in many arenas - including the school and at home - aiming to improve the child's learning by setting goals, following through and succeeding.
"I never met a family that didn't need or require or want some kind of infrastructure in their family to make everyone happier, to relieve the stress," Benoit says. "I come in as part of the circle and work with parents and the school to help the communication."
The Ontario Ministry of Education believes Benoit is one a kind, saying it is unaware of anyone else providing her kind of services.
|Melanie Chambers, Business Edge|
|Michalia Walls, 8, gets help from Jan Benoit, who currently works with several families.|
Benoit began her educational career more than 20 years ago in London as co-founder of the Oxford Learning Centre, which now has more than 100 franchise tutoring locations in Canada and the United States.
At Oxford, Benoit helped children "learn how to learn" and wrote much of the curriculum. But, she says, there was a gap in the system.
"What was missing is the parents' side - they need and want to know how to help their kids. What are the strategies that a learning centre or tutor uses that helps the kids succeed?" Benoit says.
About three years ago, Benoit sold her Oxford shares when she began to consider family coaching. Today, she helps about 13 children from several families in weekly sessions that last an hour. The youngest child is five; the oldest is in Grade 10.
A Kitchener client makes the one-hour drive to Benoit's home office just outside London.
The method is simple - keeping in mind that every child learns differently - and involves teaching the ABCs of learning, Benoit says: Access the child's needs and strengths; build the child's self-esteem so that they say "I can do anything"; and celebrate the child reaching their full potential of learning.
Depending on what they are working on, the hourly rate hovers around $65, Benoit says.
She adds that clients have come from referrals or knew of her work at Oxford.
One of Benoit's first client families was Barb Fedor and her children - eight-year-old daughter Michalia Walls and son Taylor Walls, an 11-year-old with learning disabilities who has trouble processing and recalling information.
For five years, Fedor picked her son up at school at lunchtime and he would then work with tutors at Oxford for the remainder of the school day.
Before the tutoring began. Taylor was one of 26 children in his classroom, Fedor says. "I would go into his Grade 2 class and he was doing dot to dot because the teacher didn't know what else to give him because he can't keep up and he was already behind a grade."
Taylor, who is now enrolled in a special education program at Sir Isaac Brock Public School in London, also attends Oxford two nights a week, visits Benoit once a week and has a session with his speech therapist.
Fedor says that Benoit, who meets with her, Taylor's teachers and the therapist, is the link that brings everything together.
"You teach a kid like the way you were taught and you would expect that they would pick up on that and he didn't. I found it draining and frustrating and I didn't know any other way to do things," Fedor says. "Jan provides tricks of the trade that work with kids with learning difficulties."
Benoit says part of her success in helping families is because she has an unbiased and unemotional connection to the family.
As she's a third-party observer, children and parents are more apt to take her advice.
One of Taylor's former teachers, Liz Clarke, says Benoit accentuates the positive.
"She makes the program fit the child and not the other way around," she says. "Jan saw Taylor as a whole person and not just a child with learning problems at school, or social skills that needed work. Everyone worked together."
Clarke says that while she was open to learning from Benoit, others could find it intimidating to have a third party watching.
She adds that she believes that not just anyone can be a family coach.
"Jan has a gift - she knows what kids need," Clarke says. "She has a 'try-this-and-that' approach as opposed to 'you must do this or that.' " (Melanie Chambers can be reached at email@example.com)