Explo Alum Michael Delman is the founder and CEO of Beyond Booksmart, the largest Executive Function coaching company in the world. Beyond Booksmart has offices across the United States and serves elementary through college-aged students. Prior to Beyond Booksmart, Michael, a Brown University graduate, was a an award-winning middle school teacher as well as the founder and principal of the Christa McAuliffe Charter Middle School in Framingham, Massachusetts, USA.
Right up front, did Explo have any lasting influence on you?
Well, my best friend at Explo ultimately became my college roommate and we are still good friends. I took a journalism class [at Explo] and went on to be the editor of my high school paper, I tried Ultimate Frisbee for the first time, I just recently played in a Grand Masters tournament, and I also took a class on Extemporaneous Debate, where I learned essential structural concepts that I used in my eight years as a school teacher. So I think it is safe to say "yes!" to that question.
As a professional educator, the thing that still impresses me about Explo is that it was tremendously fun, but I really did learn a lot while I was there. Additionally, being exposed to life on a college campus and living in a dorm was both a blast and good preparation for going off to college.
How did you decide to start a charter school, and what was the process like?
I had been teaching middle school for eight years and I was becoming more and more frustrated by the limitations of public schools. There wasn't enough interdisciplinary learning for me. I wanted to be able to show kids the connections between the subjects that they were studying. Also, I had become invested in some terrific programs, such as an advisory class, that were abandoned due to a majority of teachers deciding that they just took too much effort to implement.
I started thinking about creating a school where this wouldn't happen. It took five years, but in 2002, my colleague Robert Kaufman and I opened the school. I was the founding principal. Now there are roughly 400 students!
That's excellent! What prompted you to leave?
Running the school was an all-consuming job and I had been at the school or working to start the school for more than 11 years. I was ready for a change and I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family. Also, I was fascinated with the problem of how to really reach students on a one-to-one basis and how to teach better study skills. I wanted to know what was getting in the way of students' success.
From your perspective as a teacher and school administrator, what was the problem?
What I have come to realize is that for all students, engagement is not a nice thing, it is the necessary thing. So I started to think about why students were not engaged with their work. While it is certainly the case that some kids have difficulty with particular subjects, many, many times the difficulty is really how to tackle a subject and how to break down an assignment into action steps. Moreover, if a child is frustrated, bored, or anxious about an assignment, it is extremely difficult for them to do the work.
It isn't that the student can't manage the subject — they can't manage themselves. They literally do not know what to do and I wanted to know why. I started a coaching business, but at the same time, I began working with neuropsychologists to understand what was actually happening in kids' brains.
What did you learn?
It turned out that the disconnect that I had observed in the real world was what neuropsychologists called Executive Function Disorder. There is a cognitive reality but there is a huge gap from understanding these challenges to doing something about them. Doctors were diagnosing the difficulty, but there was very little out there to address the "where the rubber meets the road" reality of helping these kids succeed at school once they have a diagnosis. It all started to fall into place in my mind.
I wanted to be able to help students in a lasting way. So I really dug into the science and worked with doctors to learn everything that I could. Ultimately, I came up with a program that combines my years of classroom experience with clinical research. As a result, Beyond Booksmart has been endorsed by some of the leading Executive Function diagnosticians in the country.
So with all that, what makes Beyond Booksmart different than conventional tutoring?
Beyond Booksmart focuses on helping kids strengthen their executive function skills. We use students' homework as a springboard — the vehicle to teach the skills and habits like prioritization, metacognition, and self-regulation that are necessary for long-term success in school and beyond.
Doing homework is not just about the assignment, it is about normalizing a framework. "This is what I do and how I go about doing it." Our coaches are all educators, school psychologists, or speech and language pathologists with master's degrees, and they receive a substantial amount of proprietary training as well as ongoing supervision.
How does it work?
We are a concierge service — students have their regular session where we come to your house (or connect via Skype if desired). But beyond that, our coaches are always available and they text the students several times a week to make sure that everything is going smoothly. Additionally, the students can also always reach out and text their coach with questions.
We really make sure that the kids are on track. In many ways, we are as helpful for parents as we are for students because we take the parent out of the homework equation, which really reduces stress at home. Mom and Dad no longer have to nag or worry about whether homework is done! It's also worth mentioning that as much as we tailor the approach to each student, everything we do is based on research. Add in a couple hundred tools that we have sorted for the exact challenge — such as task initiation for homework or planning skills for projects — and we are able to be very precise and responsive in how we help.
Do kids need a specific diagnosis to sign up with Beyond Booksmarts?
No — we work with straight A honor students as well as kids who are struggling or have specific IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). The skills that we teach are going to help kids be successful in high school, in college, and throughout their lives. We give them the tools and strategies to tackle anything.
Visit the Beyond Booksmart website to find out more about how it works.