Sarah Dieck McGuire and Sarah Lumsden Watchorn are the founders of The Reading Academy, a platform for those who want to teach reading to dyslexic and struggling readers. 

The Reading Academy Online offers a complete programme ‘Teach how to read’,  a self-paced online course for anyone, regardless of qualifications, who wishes to learn how to teach reading to dyslexic and struggling readers. Here, the co-founders, talk about building a business with real purpose and how to grow a business while still in full-time work. 

Our backgrounds in teaching

We have over 35 years of combined teaching experience in Chicago; Dublin; Mayo; London; NYC; Paris; and South Carolina. We both have Masters degrees in special education.

Our backgrounds of teaching children with dyslexia (for over 30 years combined) helped us enormously when we set up The Reading Academy.

“We know that the majority of our students feel frustrated in school, and many have low self-esteem as a result.”

How did the business come about? 

We both realised the ever-demanding need for a clear, easy-to-follow, concise, and tailored programme to meet the individual needs of people with dyslexia and struggling readers.

Did you receive any funding or grants when you first started?

We have not received any funding or grants. We applied to the ‘New Frontiers’ programme and were shortlisted. We are thrilled to be a part of the Empower Programme for female entrepreneurs.

“We will offer virtual learning to both students and teachers in the future.”

What is the biggest issue you come across with children reading and writing in your classes?

We find that most of our students’ individual needs are not being met in the traditional methods of education. From talking to their parents, we know that the majority of our students feel frustrated in school, and many have low self-esteem as a result. Class size is a serious problem in Ireland as a child with dyslexia will not be given the attention they need.

A struggling reader may get to a certain level in her/his reading and then reach a plateau. In our experience, this child has not ‘internalised’ the basic phonemes (the smallest units of sound) and will not become a fluent reader until they do. This requires instruction using a specific programme such as our ‘Teach how to read’ course provides.

“We plan to create an agency for Reading Academy instructors.”

How have you grown the business since it started? What was the most challenging part of this?

We have grown from two tuition centres (Monkstown and Greystones) to three tuition centres (Mounttown, Co Dublin; Greystones, Co Wicklow; and Belmullet, Co Mayo) as well as developing an online programme for those who want to learn how to teach reading to a dyslexic or struggling reader.

The most challenging part of growing The Reading Academy has been the lack of funds and the lack of time.

“We plan to be recognised globally and to have our programme used in many different settings.”

What are your future plans?

Huge ones. We will offer virtual learning to both students and teachers in the future, in the form of virtual classrooms and virtual training centres.

We plan to be recognised globally and to have our programme used in many different settings.

“Be prepared to work really hard to make it work.”

Having a full-time job and running a part-time business can be very stressful. How do you manage your time most effectively?

A lot of the time, we feel like we are in a race. Being teachers, we are hugely dedicated to our students. We separate our teaching positions from our business. We work on our business at night and at weekends. We are both busy mums. 

“If choosing a business partner, make sure they are someone you trust, like, and admire.”

What three tips would you give other people in similar businesses?

Our three suggestions would be:

1. Be passionate about your business and what you are promoting. You must believe in what you are selling.

2. If choosing a business partner, make sure they are someone you trust, like, and admire. Try to ensure you both have different skills to bring to the table.

3. Be prepared to work really hard to make it work.

You recently launched a video explaining your online course and its benefits to its users. How did this video come about, did you receive any support putting it together?

We hired a fantastic young videographer named Fionn Rogers (www.fionnrogers.ie). We had a great day filming in Belmullet, Co Mayo (and our kids loved starring in the video). We did not receive any support for this project.