Dana Kaplan, an educational coach for out-of-the-box learners, founded Developing Empathetic Education with Dana (DEED)® just before the pandemic. Dana leads in-person and virtual workshops for elementary through college age learners in addition to large organizations on discovering and owning one’s superpowers, understanding and accepting their unique (and others’) learning styles and paths, and mastering uncomfortable conversations. As an award-winning retired classroom educator with over two decades educating and focusing on Holistic Brain Health, certified trauma specialist, and coach for neurodiverse learners, Dana has become an internationally recognized educator for the world.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Dana Kaplan: Creative, curious, courageous, and convicted in your vision and purpose!
Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
DK: A GLOBAL PANDEMIC! I had programming and structures in place to begin in person small group workshops for kids and families, and two weeks prior to launching, the world started paying attention to the unknown virus rapidly taking over the world. HELLO 2020! I can honestly share that flexibility and adaptability is one of my many superpowers, which allowed me to pivot and support families around the world. Thus, taking my business global before I had even considered stretching beyond NYC!
What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
DK: As a young child, the concept of “smart” became a focal point in my life, clearly defining a class system perpetuated by society, culture, family, and educational structures. Being “smart” was a label everyone wanted, but not everyone heard or even received. Thus, quickly highlighting the weight of labels and limits, depending on your perspective.
During elementary school, I was scared to ask for help as I wasn’t actually sure what I needed or even how to ask. I actively hid my reading struggles by forging my parents’ signatures on “completed” assignments. Emotional Intelligence, open communication, and feeling safe to use my voice were foreign concepts to me during childhood and even into my late twenties. As an adult, triggers from my youth surfaced as I watched young curious humans experience similar hurdles. I realized that if I wanted to be the boulder for the world, I had to start with myself! Leaning in and choosing to move through my childhood triggers and healing old wounds created infinite space for me to be the educator and leader I envisioned.
With almost two decades of experience in the traditional school setting, I knew my gifts were meant for the masses. Before stepping out officially as a solopreneur, I visited myriads of schools in NYC and across the US, traveled internationally and continued to see and hear how easily children and learners of all ages were consciously and consistently placed in a box. The only way to dismantle the walls was for me to take the leap and BE the educator, leader, coach, and facilitator as my own boss!
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
DK: I knew when I started my business that I was years ahead of what many were and still are ready for . . . HONEST, OPEN, ACCESSABLE, AND ACTIONABLE CHANGE. Interestingly, change has never actually scared me. What scared me was being alone. With an abundance of gratitude and appreciation, I had former families from my classroom days cheering me on, sharing my work in the world, and encouraging me to shine my light despite the challenges of a pandemic and the uncertainties of everyday life. With so many intentional supporters communicating their expertise in a way for me to understand and put into action during a time where everyone was in survival mode created a comforting blanket that continues with me today. Don’t get me wrong, I do wish I had someone helping me with the tech and daily minutiae, and at the time, I know then and still believe now that every experience, regardless of the hours, was a reminder of what and why I created Developing Empathetic Education with Dana (DEED)®.
What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
DK: The idea of sharing MY biggest dreamS (*yes, I intentionally capitalized the S in dreamS) feels like I’m running naked and the entire world can see me. OH, WAIT, that’s fear attempting to stall. Success is me finally submitting MY Faces of Entrepreneurship! I received an email on December 15, 2022 and have stalled for over three months out of fear! Yes, three months! I made up every excuse to perpetuate my procrastination because the truth is, sharing with the world instantly opens every opportunity to bring each moment into REALITY!
I teach, coach, facilitate, and mentor humans of all ages to DESIGN THEIR OWN SUCCESS STORY. Now is my turn . . .
Choosing to share MY BOLDEST DREAMS IS . . . THRILLING!
I will have an ocean front compound in the Hamptons for underserved families to feel like they’re at summer camp. While volunteering at Mount Sinai Beth Isreal hospital’s Pediatric ER as well as talking with thousands of children, the amount of humans that have never felt sand soaked by salt water, much less swam in the sea was daunting. NYC is surrounded by water yet so many children AND their families had never experienced a day at the beach. From medical needs to financial burdens, my dream began to build itself! The compound will have all service providers to support children receiving required physical, occupational, speech, and other therapies as well as a team to support families on how they can create similar experiences when they return home. There will be every opportunity for FUN, JOY, LAUGHTER, and NOISE as children discover the glory of being in and by the ocean.
I want to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to show up unapologetically authentic and embody radical self-love! Creating psychologically safe environments in and beyond school is essential for Holistic Brain Health. We must provide all learners with purposeful and accessible practices to help them use their powerful voice courageously and confidently. Most essentially, I want ALL humans to safely enter and experience every arena with freedom, joy, love, and curiosity.
Ensuring EVERY school within the United States offers the AP African American Studies Course as written as well as be invited to visit and sit in on as many classes within as many schools as I can to ensure students are learning and living in a psychologically safe space to curiously ask questions and learn about history freely. THEN! As a celebration, taking ALL the students to NYC to celebrate their voices being heard by honoring ALL with the Bell Ringing Ceremony at Nasdaq!
What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
DK: ADHD is my superpower as I can pivot and create opportunities for all to gather, explore, learn, and curiously expand. As a neurodivergent learner constantly crushing barriers to ensure all hear, see, and feel the power of flexibility, has also startled many because of resistance to change and fear of the unknown. Modeling, facilitating, and coaching practices that openly encourage curiosity, inquiry, and connection. By dismantling my diagnosis as a limitation as celebrating my superpowers as a neurodivergent learner continues to pave the way for individuals to design their own success journey well beyond the confines of societal and systemic boxes.
What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
DK: I live curiously, which influences my ability to consciously create a culture of accessibility and inclusivity for rich belonging, personal and collective growth and expansion, and openly celebrating the power of uncomfortable conversations with compassion, honesty, and integrity. Most importantly, ensuring that everyone purposefully crushes barriers placed upon them and our collective invites all to powerfully show up and choose radical self-love.
How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles?
DK: Intentionally living curiously organically prevents judgment, assumptions, shame, guilt, and blame. I want everyone I work with, partner, mentor, and guide to live curiously in order to confidently and courageously ask for what they need and want, take powerful leaps, and trust their inner knowing so deeply that they embody the belief “I AM MY OWN VALIDATION!”
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners?
DK: Working solo has most definitely had amazing highs and stressful lows. I’ve gained many new skills as a solopreneur while also clearly know when asking for help saves my energy and allows me to do what I love, supporting and guiding children, families, and learners of all ages.
Have you raised outside capital so far?
DK: No . . . I would LOVE guidance on the benefits of fundraising, how to obtain investors, and seeking out partners that want to actively and sustainably disrupt our current paradigm to ensure accessibility, inclusivity, and radical belonging occur and flourish across ALL arenas!
Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
DK: My mentors are the most magical gifts! I love learning what works for them and exploring how their approach, discoveries, and lessons support me building, growing, and expanding. I’m a HUGE believer in having mentors beyond my zone of genius because expansion and iterating is essential for the work I’m doing in the world and what I where I want to take my business.
What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
DK: Having and being a mentor is a gift for both parties. As a voracious learner and curious being, I always want to know the latest practices, shifts in approaches, and boundless opportunities to explore and implement new methodologies and techniques. Having a support system to receive feedback, suggestions, and different perspectives is icing on the cake!
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
DK: Every morning, before putting my feet on the ground, I allow myself to feel joy wash over me as the unknowns from the new day begin to blossom. Then, I immediately look in the mirror and tell myself GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE before walking to my balcony and putting my face directly in the sun. The small practices set the tone for me: I MATTER!
What are you reading or have read?
DK: My brain LOVES stories, both real and fiction. Currently, I’m listening to The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renne Taylor and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, and I’m physically reading White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao as well as Princesses Wear Pants by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and What Kind of Sick is Uncle John? By Sharon Simon. I intentionally share and bring hard copies of the books I read when giving keynotes because books are bridges for connection.
Where do you go for inspiration?
DK: The beach grounds me. Being by the salt water and watching the waves or even the slight movement of water reminds me that I CAN DO, I AM DOING! I also LOVE to listen to music that hits my soul and allows me to dance, cry, sing, ponder.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
DK: I have nothing to prove and everything to share!
What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
DK: Restrictions on what’s allowed to be taught in school, specifically the AP African American History course as well as every book being taken on off the shelf because communities fear history has lit a fire within me to not only take the course, but to ensure I meet and partner with as many people that CAN AND WILL MAKE CHANGE! Children must be able to freely learn, freely be their authentic selves, and most importantly, freely use their positively powerful voice! John Lewis said it best, “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” and I have EVERY intention of making sure I leave the world a better place than when I entered.
How do you think about helping others through your work?
DK: Mentoring is one of my favorite ways to give back while also learning about other’s unique gifts and talents. Helping others creates opportunities for the person to receive perspectives, support, and a safe space for vulnerability and exploration beyond their fears.
What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
DK: YOU define and write YOUR OWN success story! Embodying the belief that you are your own validation, your own success provides boundless space to play. Believing so deeply in yourself will allow YOU to soar despite the hurdles and challenges. Reminding yourself of YOUR WHY will consistently redirect you towards expansion, awareness, and boundless opportunities.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
DK: I am a disruptor and trailblazer, shifting the educational paradigm to ensure all humans uncover their learning needs, are openly given expansive opportunities to strengthen areas that pose challenges, and provide conscious communication for uncomfortable conversations in order to dismantle biases and hatred created from fear, generational lineage, and societal structures.
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