Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is author of “Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework” and founder of Educational Connections, Inc., a provider for individualized one-to-one instruction based on each student’s learning style.
Dolin received her undergraduate degree in Child Psychology with Teacher Certification for grades 1-8, and received her M.Ed. in Special Education, ED, LD, MMR from Boston College.
WashingtonExec chatted with this former Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) teacher about her company, how she became an “accidental entrepreneur,” classroom changes, and more. Read on below for our interview with Ann Dolin.
WashingtonExec: What is one thing that you learned throughout this experience of starting your own business that you did not expect?
Ann Dolin: Early on, I assumed that my good teaching abilities would easily translate to running an education business, but boy was I wrong! I had to develop a whole new set of skills that I never had a chance to develop before. I needed to know about finance, accounting, managing employees, and website search engine optimization, just to name a few. It’s been a humbling experience these last 14 years. The good thing is that I’ve been able to use my passion for education to focus on the business part of EC Tutoring.
I’ve always used the motto, ‘Do what’s best for kids and the rest will come.’ Following this mantra has helped me to realize my vision for the company.”
WashingtonExec: Where do you hope to see your company in 2 years?
Ann Dolin: In two years, I’d like to have a much stronger presence in Montgomery County, MD and DC. Northern Virginia accounts for the majority of our business, yet I see a tremendous opportunity to expand into Maryland. I’d like to have a full-time staff there similar to our main office in Fairfax. Our test prep tutoring business (SAT, ACT, SSAT) has tripled in the last few years without any marketing efforts. My staff and I feel that with more emphasis on this sector of the business and on geographic expansion, we can grow overall company revenue by almost 40%.
This year, a fellow employee and I created a set of materials to help kids get organized. It’s called the Organization Rescue Kit. We just started to sell it on our website, but next year we’d like to have a greater online presence by selling it through larger distributors.
WashingtonExec: The Washington Post referred to you as an “accidental entrepreneur”…do you like that term for yourself?
Ann Dolin: Most definitely! I never intended to employ 200 tutors and a staff to manage the company. What started out as me tutoring one student at my dining room table has grown into something I never imagined. It’s been the greatest challenge of my life, aside from raising my own children, but also one that’s unbelievably rewarding. Fourteen years later, I still love to get up every morning to go to work.
WashingtonExec: What has been your best outreach method for gaining clients…social media? Word of Mouth (WOM)?
Ann Dolin: Without a doubt, word of mouth has always been our number one way to get new clients. One of the reasons word of mouth is so strong is because we have a special approach, when needed, called Educational Coaching. This is a specialized type of tutoring to help students with organization, time management, and study skills. Many times, parents are stressed because their child is disorganized and tends to procrastinate. With this approach, we help students to develop better study habits, improve grades and help parents stay sane. In 2010 my book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework was published. It’s a roadmap for parents on how to help their children with homework, no matter what the issue is. There are over 100 strategies to help kids with everything from rushing through schoolwork to improving focus and attention.
Parents come to us through their friends, teachers, and mostly professionals such as pediatricians. There’s already a level of trust established before they pick up the phone to call us which makes our job easier. We are then able to use our professional judgment to select the best tutor possible for the child. We make a match based on the tutor’s area of expertise, location (all of our tutors travel to students’ homes) and most importantly, personality. We want to be sure the child and tutor are a great personality match and can develop a strong relationship. For many students, rapport with their tutor is crucial for improving confidence, grades, and a positive outlook when it comes to academics.
WashingtonExec: What do you think has changed the most about our local schools since you left teaching?
Ann Dolin: When I left Fairfax County Public Schools 15 years ago, the state tests, Standards of Learning (SOLs), were just being rolled out. Back then, the way we taught changed dramatically because we knew our students had to do well on the tests. Now, the same holds true but even more so. From September to May there’s an overwhelming emphasis on teaching to the test. Every school nationwide is judged based on their pass rates. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on administrators, teachers and students to do well and unfortunately, this focus has zapped a lot of creativity from classroom lessons. In Virginia, it’s more about memorization and less about critical thinking which is what kids need to be successful in honors and AP classes at the high school level, in courses at college, and in the workplace.
And with the budget cuts, class sizes have also increased. Teachers have less time to assist students that may need a little bit of extra help. They have less time to grade papers and provide constructive feedback. Many teachers have students switch papers when they call out the answers so that one student grades the other one’s paper. I don’t like that practice at all, but I believe teachers do it because they are carrying class loads that make individualized feedback difficult. One-to-one tutoring fills the gap so that students who need additional explanation or a different way of learning a skill get it. Other students are ready to leap ahead and enrichment tutoring can provide just that.