Helping Teachers Reach Every Student Tyson Smith, Reading Horizons CEO
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles about the men and women who are creating today’s EdTech companies.
By Kenna McHugh
Since its inception over 33 years ago, Reading Horizons focus is building the awareness of their educational products that center on the Reading Horizons Method. The method teaches children to read by providing training and direction instruction materials for teachers and individualized software instruction for students. “Too many students fail to learn to read by third grade because they’re not explicitly taught the rules and patterns that govern the English language,” explains CEO Tyson Smith. “Another challenge we solve in the classroom is that students need more individualized instruction than their K-3 teachers have time to provide. Our technology tools allow students to receive instruction that is catered to their individual skill level without requiring more time from their teachers.”
Smith assumed his role at Reading Horizons in October 2001 and since has overseen steady sales growth and a multitude of improvements to their line of products. He worked with thousands of educators across the world to help improvements in literacy rates. He has presented at education and technology conventions throughout North America and internationally.
“There was a time early in my career when I was invited to present for a group of administrators who had heard about the success of one of our customers in a juvenile detention setting in Washington state and who were assembling in his classroom to learn more,” recalls Smith.
Smith flew up to Washington to help with the presentation. It turned out the administrators consisted of superintendents, assistant superintendents, and legislators. “I was a little nervous as I made my way through the facility to his classroom, which was in the heart of the jail. I stood up and spent a few minutes providing an overview of our program.”
Next, three teenage students of the detention center, who went through the Reading Horizon program because they had previously never learned to read or write, stood up and fielded questions from the group of administrators. “The students expressed their appreciation for their teacher and then explained their literacy story, including how much they had learned in only a couple of months.”
The group asked the students various questions. One question that stood out for Smith was “How do you feel you have changed and how will this knowledge help you when you get out?”
The first student said, “I looked forward to going on a date and being able to read the menu.” Another said, “When I came here, I could only read picture books, and now I can read chapter books, and my cellmate knows I can.”
The last student wrote all of Reading Horizons rules on a piece of paper and pulled them out of his pocket to proudly show everyone his phonics papers. “Their answers overwhelmed me as they expressed their newfound confidence in their ability to read street signs and job applications,” recalls Smith. “Their improved reading ability resulted in self-confidence and self-esteem that was evident as they spoke. This experience was formative for me as I recognized how impactful literacy was and the influence that it has on self-worth.”
Today, many challenges arise when a school or district implements the Reading Horizon program for the first time. The change includes a little strain, but once the teachers and administrators are fully committed to the implementation, the challenges work themselves out. “Teachers are frequently at the tipping point when it comes to the time and energy that is required to implement programs and to fulfill standards,” explains Smith. “We feel that we are in a unique position to help improve literacy for all. We have a proven method for teaching students to read that blends teacher instruction and education with technology tools.”
Recognizing the difference Reading Horizons makes in a classroom makes handling any challenge worth it. “I strive to help us grow for the sake of impact over profit. I know that is not what most CEO’s would say, and it flies in the face of what business school teaches—but we focus on the impact we can make in the lives of students who need to learn to read. At the end of the day, reading is for everyone and we can make that a reality.”
Smith takes pride in the results that schools produce with their program. Referring to his staff as team players, they know their efforts are worth more than just wages because they help change the life of someone who is learning to read. “The initial training is engaging, informative, and fun. Most teachers come away saying that it is the best training in reading instruction they have ever received. Ongoing support is offered through our customer portal, Reading Horizons Accelerate, where teachers can access online training modules, lesson plans, worksheets, and videos modeling instruction. Our customer success team and implementation coaching staff provide service and support throughout the process as well. The support systems that we have put in place guarantee success for schools when they commit to upgrading the reading culture at their school.”
Smith knows educational technology extends the reach of the teacher and can help plant what they teach in the heart of each student. “Even the best teacher can’t reach every student in a class of 15-30. The impact that we can make for students who are learning to read and for teachers who instruct them is exciting to see what technology can do as we press the limits of our tools and techniques.”
“Investments in research and development will aid tech tools as they get better at meeting student needs and becoming more student-centric. Teachers will gain more trust in tools as they prove themselves capable of instructing students at their level and that will allow the seeds of blended learning to sprout and grow,” concludes Smith.
About the Author
Kenna McHugh is a staff writer at the Learning Counsel. Her writing credits include Breaking into Film, Orchid Care Booklet, and contributions to screenwriting and film production books. She writes curriculum for K-12 school programs and education technology, and is an experienced tutor, helping children learn how to learn and creating positive effects in their lives.