Success Stories

Relationship Marketing Weekly: Special Education Edition

This week we interview Michelle Slaney-Trovato. Michelle has been a special education teacher in secondary education for 21 years. She had a deep-rooted passion for working with these kids, and since 2010 Michelle has developed an extraordinary way to encourage her kids, and share their accomplishments & achievements with her students and their parents through implementing relationship marketing.

Michelle will share her heartfelt moving story about how, with relationship marketing, she celebrates her students when they overcome struggles and display extraordinary kindnesses.

Kody Bateman: Hey everybody. This is Kody Bateman. Welcome to a new edition of our Relationship Marketing Weekly show. I’m very excited for our show today. This is our Special Education edition and we have a super exciting guest to be on with us today.

You can see by that smile on her face, she is just a bubbly personality. You’re going to have a lot of fun listening to her today. Without further ado, Michelle Slaney-Trovato from Greater Vancouver, British Columbia. Welcome to our show today, Michelle.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Hi Kody. Thanks so much for having me. I’m super grateful to be here.

Kody Bateman: We love having you on here. You are just a delight. You’re so much fun to listen to. I love talking to people who have passion for what they do. Like we said, you’re in the special education. Can you just give us a little background? Talk to us about your experience. You’ve been doing this for 21 years now. Tell us a little bit about what you do.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Sure. Well, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I started teaching, I was actually a special education teacher in the area of deafness. So my teachable subject is English. So I taught English to students who can’t hear using sign language as the language of communication in the classroom.

It was amazing. I did that for about 12 years and our school is actually two schools in the same building. So we host a provincial school for the deaf. So students from all over the province come and the larger school is a hearing school. It’s a very large school. When I started, there were close to 3000 students in the building. So we were vastly outnumbered as teachers and it was amazing. I also was invited about 12 years into my teaching career to take over teaching hearing kids how to sign and to start working in the student leadership program where I introduce deaf kids into the hearing classes and we worked on building community within those classes.

I did that for about eight or nine years and then moved back into teaching English in classes that were a little bit smaller with students whose needs were a little bit greater and have done that now for the last six or seven years.

Kody Bateman: So the last six or seven years, you’ve been working with special needs. I guess that’s the way to say it. Special needs students, students that other teachers, they deem as challenging. You’re passionate about bringing in – it’s like when a student has that attached to their name. It’s like OK, I want that student. So tell us where that comes from. You know, because you’re very passionate about it, obviously very effective with special needs students. Where did that passion come from?

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: I just discovered that I liked the challenge and they are challenging. So many of these kids that I’ve seen over the years have – well, they’ve had some interesting and really different experiences. Sometimes it’s really heartbreaking, the lives they lead outside of the school they come to. Sometimes they have behavioral challenges or emotional challenges or they have learning disabilities that they don’t want anybody to know about. They have all kinds of stuff, an emotional armor this thick when they come through the door.

You’re right. I get most of them by referral. Not kind of the referrals most people would like to see. But they are my absolute favorites. I love working with the counseling department to get some information on these kids and when they come through the door, I just like them where they’re at.

My favorite thing to do is actually to scare them a little because I tell them. When they come in the door, they look at me. Like oh, lady, you’re going down and I’m looking at them going, “Oh no. You’re coming up,” and they look at me like, “You’re crazy,” and I say, “I know and you’re going to like it.”

So I love the idea of connecting. You got to pierce through that armor. It’s my job to connect with them. They’ve been told an entire lifetime in some cases that they’re not worthy and my job is to teach them that in fact they are. They have worth. They have skills. They have something to offer the universe and I need to just help them figure out what it is and then showcase it.

Kody Bateman: So you’ve given the quote of the day. Somebody needs to post this after the show today from Michelle Slaney-Trovato. When somebody says you’re going down, you just need to say, “No. You’re coming up.” I love that. I think that is super cool. Somebody better coin that. Make sure you put Michelle’s name at the bottom of it and let’s see that on social media after the show today. That is really powerful.

Now here’s what’s interesting. Most people that are on this show are in business of some kind and they use our services, relationship marketing services, to better their business. They follow up their clients and customers. They spread kindness on people and they generate referral business and a lot of what we talk about is the return on investment that a business person receives based on implementing these relationship marketing principles. What you do – and this is what I love because what you do is you’re not doing this for monetary gain at all. You’re doing this 100 percent to make connection with students and parents of students to show people that you genuinely care about them.

Now we try to teach people in business that that’s what you should be doing. You do this without really any thought of – there really is no monetary attachment to it other than it helps you to be a better teacher. I think that that’s really powerful. That’s the true essence of what SendOutCards and what our relationship marketing system is all about.

Now you do a lot of things that trigger. You use our card system. You do a lot of things – there’s a lot of things that trigger card sending to people. I’ve noticed in our notes here, special accomplishments, overcoming struggles and people that are showing kindness to others. You like to recognize that. Do you have any examples that you just like to share with us, some of the things you do with your students and maybe even parents of your students?

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Sure. I have lots of examples. One of the things that I like to do is well, some people talk about Facebook, stalking people where you kind of troll them on Facebook and you watch their post. I do that with kids but live and in person and in the hallways. So when I’m out and about walking through the halls, I’m looking for when are people doing stuff that’s really cool that nobody notices.

So for example, if some kid is walking along and drops all their stuff. If one of my kids stops and helps to pick it up, that will trigger a card and a comment in class.

If somebody – we have a very large special education program in our school besides the deaf program. So we have a lot of kids that do things very, very differently. We have one kid that calls himself the “music man” and he runs around the school literally with his phone like this, dancing through the halls.

We weren’t sure how that was going to be received by the student body and one day I remember him walking by this group of really big – so if you think about the scariest grade 12 kids you could think about, you know, the kid with the beard, you think like, “How long has that kid been here?” Well, a group of those guys and they called him back and I said, “Hmm, this is going to go one of two ways. It’s either going to be really good or really bad.”

So I was close to the door of my classroom thinking if it’s really bad, I’m right there to jump in and they asked him like, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Oh, I’m the music man.” Then one of the kids looked at him and was like, “So that’s a cool move, man. Could you do that again?”

So this kid did. He did the dance move all over again. They gave him a fist bump and off he went. You better believe that triggered a card because they made that boy feel so special and included and they’re the influencers in the hallways. So if that kid ever had a problem before, he was never going to have one after that because those boys have his back. So those are a couple of little stories.

Kody Bateman: Now do you capture some of this with a picture? Like when that fist bump is going on and stuff, do you ever like take pictures of the event?

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: I do but I’m not allowed to put it on the card.

Kody Bateman: Yeah. I was wondering if you were allowed that.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Yeah, without parent permission. Now I have sometimes asked for parent permission. Like those grade 12 boys, I could ask them for their parents’ permission to send that picture to the parent of the special needs boy because that would be so meaningful to that parent and to that family and that boy. So I have done it. But in general, I’m just looking for those moments where I can go, “You are awesome and I need to tell somebody about it.”

Kody Bateman: So in most cases where you don’t add a picture due to rules, you still send a card where you convey the story and congratulate or tell them “Job well done!” or something like that.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Yeah, or a crazy picture of me.

Kody Bateman: Well, that’s cool too. A crazy picture of you saying “Thumbs up!” and that kind of thing. I got to tell you, I reflect back on my education in high school, which like you said when the dinosaurs roamed many, many, many years ago. But I still remember this day teachers who expressed extra kindness or extra interest in me and to this day.

I mean I know their names. I remember Mrs. Evans, fourth grade. So this was before high school. Mrs. Evans was my fourth grade teacher. I still remember what she looks like. I still remember the things she did that made me feel good, that made me feel special. It has – and I could talk about all kinds of other teachers too. But just the impact that you have by sending a card with a thumbs-up is unbelievable. I mean – and it won’t be recognized for many years. But I’m going to tell you – and you already know this I’m sure.

Those kids are going to save those cards and years from now, they’re going to still have those cards because at a critical time in their life, you made them feel important. That’s your payday.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: That is.

Kody Bateman: I mean that’s your payday and you and I have had conversations with that in the past and I just really applaud you. You’re one of the true heroes for sure and there’s a unique story that you have. You talked about a 12th grader that you had an experience with recently, a great, big kid, and I love this story. In fact you shared this story when we were at our Relationship Marketing Summit we recently had up in Seattle. You shared this with our whole audience and I thought it was so powerful. Can you just tell us that story?

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: I would love to. So I predominantly taught students in grades 10, 11 and 12. Most of the time when I get them, they stay with me for several years. So I have the opportunity to see them when they come in in their rough phase, like a diamond in the rough and hopefully send out a few diamonds into the universe when I’m done with them in grade 12. This particular boy I taught for a couple of years. Really nice kid. Didn’t always make the best decisions in his personal and social life. Found himself in lots of trouble repeatedly from the decisions that he made and – but a nice kid, quiet kid, never said too much in class, always sat in the back of the room. Mostly in the hopes that teachers would ignore him if he hid back there.

But I had my classroom set up in a circle so there’s no back and there’s nowhere to hide. So he couldn’t hide from me and one day, I happened to be passing through the office going to my class because that was the shortcut to get there and I noticed him sitting in the vice principal’s office and so I went by and then I came back and I stuck my head and I said, “Are you OK? Are you in trouble?” Of course the reason I was asking was well, A, I cared for him. But B, he was supposed to be in my class. So I needed to know he was going to be there.

I thought, well, if he was – they were finished doing whatever, we could walk down together. At least that way if I walked him there, I knew he would come.

So he said, “No, no. I’m OK. You can just go on,” and he kind of shook his hands at me and normally when they do that, it’s an indication that they’re in trouble of some sort and they really don’t want me to know about it. But the vice principal happened to walk into her room while I was standing there and said, “Actually, you need to hear this story.”

So directly in front of him, she told me this story. So there is a 7-Eleven pretty close to my school and across the street from that a subway. Now this young man was sitting at the subway with two or three or his friends eating his lunch and he noticed over at the 7-Eleven another little guy. So probably a grade eight, a little, tiny, short, little guy coming out of the 7-Eleven.

A car pulls up and three big guys jump out and they just start beating up this little kid, the three of them, and so this student of mine left his lunch which he never did ever. So that was the first clue to his friends that something was going on. He got up. He just walked out of the subway, crossed the street, walked up to this fight that was happening and literally started – he just would grab one kid and throw him

It was kind of like Muppets going through the air and he grabbed the other one and he threw him and he grabbed the third guy and he threw him. They all kind of got in their car and took off and he scooped up this bloody mess of a little grade eight, grade nine boy and he predominantly carried him back to the school.

He brought him in through an entrance that most people don’t use, so that he wouldn’t be seen, and brought him up to the office where he banged on the front office desk and said, “This kid needs help. You need to call an ambulance and I’m not leaving.” So they had him ushered into the office where he did. He stayed with that young man until the ambulance came and was very focused on the fact that that boy needed help. He would file a police report. He wanted this boy’s parents called. Like he really wanted to make sure that this little guy was OK. I happened to show up at that point in the story, in the office. That’s where he was sitting.

So the vice principal said, “He can come with you,” and I said, “OK. No problem.” So I took him and I said, you know, “That’s amazing that you did that. Like who does that? Who risks their own personal safety for the safety of this other child?”

I said, “Did you know this boy?” He said, “No, I’ve never seen him before.” I said, “Well, why did you jump in?” and he said, “Well, that wasn’t a fair fight. Three on one and they were all bigger than him. If it was a fair fight, I might not have jumped in.” He said, “But it wasn’t a fair fight. That’s not cool. You just don’t do that.”

I said, “OK, fair enough.” So I’m walking along beside him and I guess he was reading my mind a little bit because I was thinking I would tell the class the story and he said, “And I don’t want you to say anything.” I said, “Why not?” He said, “Because I don’t want that boy embarrassed.”

Once he gets out that he’s there, they’re all going to know. They’re going to go searching around the school to figure out which kid got beat up at lunchtime and then everybody is going to talk about it. He said he has already had enough beating today. He doesn’t need that too.

I thought, “Wow. That’s so impressive.” So I didn’t. It was very hard. I didn’t brag about him in class but I thought about it and I felt, “What could I do that would honor what he did, that would honor the fact that he cared enough to step in and probably save the life of this little guy?” For sure it changed the trajectory of things in his life.

So I decided to send his mom a card and I did. I wrote the story and I started out by addressing the card to his mom and saying, “Today your son is my hero and I would like to tell you why,” and proceeded to tell her the story.

So I sent it off in the mail. I never said anything. I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t say anything to anybody. But a week later, he showed up in my class. I think we got an echo going on.

He showed up in my class, walked in, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thanks.” I said, “What for?” He said, “My mom got your card.” I said, “Oh! How did that go?” He said, “Well, I’ve been in trouble and my mom and I have been fighting a lot,” and I said, “OK. What’s going on now?” He said, “My mom came and she gave me a big hug and she told me she was proud of me and we’re not fighting anymore.”

I said, “OK. Good. Like I’m really glad.” He said, “But I still don’t want you to tell anyone.” OK. Of course he will be horrified if he finds out that I told it here, which is why I haven’t given you his name.

About a week or so after that, I received a card at school. It was a handwritten note from his mom with a Starbucks card in there and it was a very beautiful note and it basically said that she was so grateful that I had shared that with her because he wouldn’t go home and tell her these things and lots of teenagers don’t tell their families all kinds of stuff.

So he definitely wouldn’t have told her about it. But more than that, that this was the first time in his entire high school – well, entire schooling life. So from kindergarten to grade 12, that anybody had reached out and said beautiful things about her son.

Kody Bateman: Wow.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: She was so grateful that I had done that because it allowed her to stop and look at him through the lens that I saw him with that day.

Kody Bateman: Wow. I mean there are so many things that you could take out of that story. You know, a mother and her son making a connection because of something that you did and all you did was just convey the story that that mother needed to hear. She needed to see that and just the – you think about the difference that that will make in the mother’s life, in the young man’s life and even in your life, the sender of the card. It’s just really powerful.

I mean just a great, great story. I loved it when you shared it up there in Seattle. So there you have it my friends. I mean this is – again, this is the essence of what we do. Today we’re not talking about return on investments. We’re not talking about how much money you can make. We’re not talking about any business facets of anything. We’re talking about the power of human connection. We’re talking here with Michelle’s example of how to reach out to people and show them that you genuinely care to celebrate other people and their small accomplishments because their small accomplishments are big accomplishments. That boy saved another boy’s life. The trajectory of the boy’s life that he saved, his whole life is going to change forever because of it and all of that was displayed because you took the time to share that message in the form of a greeting card to a mother. So it’s just a beautiful, beautiful message. Now I want to close the show in a very special way.

You talked about teaching sign language and you taught the hearing-impaired for many years and then you taught the hearing how to do sign language. I always like to close our show with final words of wisdom from our guest. Just anything you would like to share for our listeners. Just things to do or things that you might want to remember, just a final golden nugget from Michelle. But if you could do that, just a 60-second message. But if you could say it out loud and do the sign language, would you do that for me?

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Oh, yeah. I will do part of it that way.

Kody Bateman: OK.

Michelle Slaney-Trovato: For sure. OK. So I will start by saying that in general, the vast majority of teachers would love, love, love to reach out to families and to students more often in kindness and share those amazing moments. But school is a busy place and we have so many kids that we see every day. It can be very challenging. If there are teachers watching this, I would really encourage you to look at using SendOutCards because you can really do it like from your phone now and send a card to parents, to connect with them, to connect with those kids. It means such a big deal to those kids in their lifetime. Some of them that I’ve taught will actually watch this, which is pretty amazing and I’m excited to see and hear the responses.

So in sign, let me think. What can I tell you? OK. ROI for school is more about – well, how we help other people feel on the inside. We have the opportunity to inspire and I think that we can and we should. I will end it here by saying in sign language one of the ways that they say good-bye to people, they tell you to take care, TC. But they also quite often will use this. That’s the “I love you” hand sign and they will shake it like that. So I will end by saying I love everybody around. You guys are amazing and what you do Kody and what everybody does at SendOutCards is so awe-inspiring. I just love you guys.

Kody Bateman: Thank you so much Michelle. I appreciate that very much. There you have it my friends. If you know anybody, if you’re listening to this, you want to find out how Michelle does this, get back with the person that shared this show with you. I’m sure they could show you how you can use our systems to do some of the things that Michelle does. So I would like to echo that. I love the way you closed the show today. I hope I do it right. But I love everybody as well. Thank you so much everybody. We will see you next week on another version of Relationship Marketing Weekly. Take care everybody. Thanks Michelle.


Michelle Slaney-Trovato: Bye.

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