Benjamin N. Powers has been headmaster of The Southport School since 2012. Prior to that he was headmaster at The Kildonan School. Powers is also an affiliated research scientist at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven and is co-director of the Academic Center of Excellence for The Dyslexia Foundation. He lives with his four kids in Madison. We caught up with him as he was preparing for the coming school year.
What inspired you to work with kids with learning challenges?
From the first time I walked into a classroom as a substitute teacher, what was most intriguing was the opportunity to deliver instruction and engage students in different ways than I had experienced as a student. During my time at Kildonan, Diana Hanbury King, one of the most influential voices in the field of teaching students with dyslexia, became my mentor, which has led to nearly twenty years working with students with dyslexia and ADHD.
TSS used to be called Eagle Hill Southport School. Why the name change?
Our school has an incredible history, but it might have been a short story had it not been for the support and enthusiasm of a handful of people in the Southport community. Part of their effort was to create a short-term partnership with Eagle Hill in Greenwich. As the years went by, the camaraderie between the two schools persevered, but each was autonomous and followed its own course. When we made the decision to purchase and renovate the Southport Savings Bank and turn it into our new Arts, Music, and Movement building, it seemed like the right moment to celebrate our connection to the community and become The Southport School.
Tell us more about the Southport CoLAB?
The CoLAB is an exciting initiative that helps integrate findings from research in areas like reading, writing, math, and executive functions with educators, parents, and the community through outreach, training, and awareness efforts. The CoLAB is designed to level the playing field by providing resources to the larger community to benefit all students, families, and educators who might not be able to access a school like TSS.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about teaching kids with dyslexia and ADHD?
I think visitors are surprised when they come in and find “normal” students experiencing a “normal” day. The nature of our students’ disabilities is that they are hidden. You might not realize that someone you know has dyslexia unless you hear them struggling with reading. The paradox of our work is that our approach to instruction would help so many students without learning and attention issues because we are grounded in pedagogy that is based on research- and evidence-informed instruction.
What do you think is a must-read about different learning styles?
Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain is excellent. The research is accessible and Wolf is the mom of a successful adult artist with dyslexia.