Cindy Chanin: “Be entrepreneurial and creative”

We’ve all had to go back to basics, which has been good for everyone I know. Clarity about priorities, simplicity of intent, and focus on what truly matters is no longer a mysterious or challenging pursuit. It’s a basic building block of daily life. I think everyone will come out of this with genuine grit […]

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We’ve all had to go back to basics, which has been good for everyone I know. Clarity about priorities, simplicity of intent, and focus on what truly matters is no longer a mysterious or challenging pursuit. It’s a basic building block of daily life. I think everyone will come out of this with genuine grit that will serve them for years to come.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing National education expert Cindy Chanin. She is the founder of Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring, created with the intention of transforming lives through the power of personalized education, customized homeschooling, as well as impactful mentoring and enrichment. Internationally sought after by ambitious parents, Cindy and her team of the nation’s top educators not only help their children prepare for and gain entrance into the most prestigious academic schools in the country, but also help students discover their personal ambitions, desires, goals, and ultimately, their ‘why’ in the world. From working with elementary, middle, and high school students, to counseling with empty-nester parents, Rainbow EDU provides various services that are tailored to each individual and their personal path — no story is the same.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I always had a propensity for numbers, coupled with a deep connection to the imagination. I always joke that I practically emerged from the womb fluent in mathematics, despite the fact that I could barely put together a coherent sentence in English. I spoke my own vivid language quite fluently, yet it wasn’t one that made much sense to those around me. My peers — and even some of my earliest teachers — were quick to label me as “slow” and “learning disabled.” Subsequently, I was taken out of my mainstream classroom to attend “resource” and work with a speech therapist. I felt a great deal of shame and isolation, as my teachers relegated me to the lowest level “cat, hat, bat, sat” reading group in my second-grade classroom. Furthermore, it baffled me that my supposed language barrier would somehow negate my demonstrated aptitude for math, with the teacher outright denying me participation in the accelerated math group.

After a year of senseless charade games and haphazard attempts at securing an in-roads to my education, I ultimately found myself in a different classroom with a new kind of teacher. She radically changed my trajectory. She had us learn about history through reenactments and monologues, explore scientific principles through song and dance, memorize formulas through mnemonics and clever raps and rhymes. I eagerly took to this expressive, performative, kinesthetic, outside-the-box learning style — and with that — something within me “clicked.” I was no longer limited in fluency to just numbers and Cindy gibberish. I found my way into learning through an innovative approach and with a teacher who saw something in me. She mentored me and believed in me. I transformed from a delayed learner to an honors student.

I went on to excel both in school and the arts. Come 5th-grade, I would go home after school with friends, and we would work on assignments together: word problems, creative writing journals, book reports. The next thing I knew, their parents were contacting my parents and offering to compensate me for studying with and “teaching” my friends. Hence, at 10-years-old, I began my very own mama-papa tutoring service.

Who knew that my early childhood learning difference, fun creative analogies, and background in the performing arts would pave the way for a unique and impactful career in education? I discovered that I had this gift for taking complex concepts and tailoring them to an individual’s distinct learning style and interests. After working for years as a tutor, shadowing under different educational therapists, working in college admissions, developing a standardized test prep curriculum, and doing entrepreneurial coaching with teens, I went from being a one-stop-shop educator wearing multiple hats to the Founder and Director of Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring.

With Rainbow EDU, I have curated a dynamic team of talented, passionate, and engaging academic mentors and consultants who work with students from the inside-out. Clients come to Rainbow EDU seeking-out an independent school admissions consultant, a college counselor, a subject tutor, or a standardized test prep coach. Yet, they end up getting their WHY out of it. We blend the holistic and the pragmatic and transform lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

As a child performer, I looked up to other professional singers, dancers, and actors as muses for my artistic aspirations. One performer, in particular, took-up prime real estate on my bedroom wall. In fact, the poster I had of this pop-star icon was the only poster I owned of an actual living, breathing performer. The rest of my collection consisted of Broadway show posters and playbills. “Mini-me” dreamed that someday I would have the opportunity to collaborate with this beloved triple-threat.

Years later, I was tutoring a lively, Santa Monica-based 8th-grader in a myriad of subjects: composition, math, foreign language, etc. During one of our sessions, he needed help tackling a Spanish project, which required him to describe everything in his bedroom in Spanish, including any artwork, posters, or decor. Somehow during the course of our conversation about all the hip-hop artists and anime posters that adorned his walls, I casually mentioned the “sole pop-star poster” that marqueed the walls of my childhood bedroom. Eyes widening, he nodded. He knew exactly to whom I was referring. This certainly surprised me! My student wasn’t even born when that poster was printed in the late 80s! He then swiveled out of his chair, motioning to the kitchen. “I’m going to grab a glass of water.” He returned a few minutes later with a glass of water AND a cordless phone lodged between his ear and shoulder. “I have someone on the phone who would love to speak with you…” I took the phone and let out a tentative “hello?”

There, on the other line, I heard: “Hi Cindy…it’s such a pleasure to finally meet you! I’ve heard all about you and the amazing work you’ve been doing with my godson!”

Here I was, 15 years later, no longer imagining a conversation with my childhood idol yet experiencing the actualization of it. It was surreal. And this was only the beginning. A few days later, we met in-person and soon found ourselves joining forces on an educational fundraising endeavor! This first collaboration heralded in a slew of other passion projects. Now we’re friends, and we’ve both inhabited the role of mentor and mentee for one another. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever envisioned such a divinely orchestrated unfolding of events.

The crazy truth is that this story is only one of many serendipitous, coming-full-circle encounters that have occurred over my 18+-year career.

Another pivotal story that comes to mind is when a yoga teacher acquaintance overheard me speaking to a client before a class and asked me if my company or I did homeschooling. I had run into this individual on-and-off throughout the years, yet we hadn’t spoken much before. She set-up a session for me to consult with her daughter, and it proved an impeccable match. I felt as though I was getting to homeschool and mentor a younger version of myself! In working with the family, I got to meet the student’s adopted father, who turned out to be a corporate CPA — much like my dad. Though super busy and hardly ever around, the two of us finally got to talking after six months of my coming to their house. We commiserated about tax season, and I shared a few amusing anecdotes about my father amid it all.

I joked how my family and I were lucky if we even just so much as caught a glimpse of him. Several months leading up to the big April 15th tax deadline, he would come home from work at these obscenely late hours, only to go hibernate in his “music cave” … playing one of his many guitars while listening to many a beloved jazz compilation. My client’s interest piqued, as he shared with me that in his 30+ years of working in accounting, he had only ever met one such Musician/CPA who had led a very unconventional career. “The man was a genius,” he told me. “And he had a huge impact on my life. He met me when I had just graduated from college and took me under his wing. He helped me land my first job as a CPA and convinced me to follow in his footsteps and get an MBA/MBT. He took a chance on me when no else did. I would not be the person I am now or have built such a successful career without his mentorship.”

It didn’t take long for us to figure out that the CPA he was speaking of was none other than my father! And now, this otherwise very stoic, business-like CEO let down his guard as we recounted memories of my father that no one else outside my family knew. It was uncanny. And it was painful to have to relay the news to him that my father had passed away just a few years ago. My client was moved to tears, and so was I, especially in coming to terms with that full-circle realization that I now get to be of service and transform his daughter’s life in the way that my father had impacted and transformed his.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I founded Rainbow EDU Consulting & Tutoring with the belief that celebrating individuality and developing clarity of purpose is essential for young people to thrive emotionally, socially, and academically. Getting an education should be an exciting, active pursuit instead of a dreary, passive obligation. The key to unlocking that excitement is holding space for each young person, as they are and where they are. We listen first, develop a plan and goals, and collaboratively execute. I believe educators need to adjust standards of excellence to each student, to set educational goals in relationship to a student’s particular learning style, and teach from the perspective of a student’s genuine interests.

In light of the realities of COVID-19, Rainbow EDU has built out our homeschooling options based on our principles. With intensive family/educator collaboration, we have launched in-person and virtual individualized education and collective learning pods. The advantage of our approach is that students and families have a generative stake in how learning outcomes and curriculum are developed, as opposed to taking what they are handed from an institution. We are also creating an exciting, affordable online enrichment program with experts in creative fields driven by what fascinates our educators or puts their current research to practical use. Much of this is project-based, like collective filmmaking, music production, or experiential science projects. We are also helping students embrace their own passion projects, birth their own businesses, as well as cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit. The goal is for students to take the reins of their education — architecting an experience that is genuinely happening FOR them rather than TO them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Honestly, there isn’t just one person who got me to where I am now. It takes a village. So many people come to mind. However, in just emerging from an epic Honors-Chemistry session with a client, I feel particularly inspired to pay homage to my own Honors-Chem teacher, Mr. Coffer.

Just before COVID, I had returned to my old high school stomping grounds for the first time in 18 years only to run into this amazing teacher, still head of the chemistry department! Mr. C had made stoichiometry and entropy come to life with his iconic Grateful Dead analogies and the way in which he likened The Periodic Table to an amphitheater seating chart for a rock concert! This tie-dyed lab-coat donning genius made me fall in love with science! Yet to see him after all these years and share with him how I, too, work in education, and how his captivating music analogies and unique teaching style influenced and embolden the ways in which I teach my students — I barely have words for that. And then a few weeks later, for him to catch me on a TV news segment and take the time to search for me online and then send me a personal message through Rainbow EDU’s website about how inspired he is by the work that I’m doing…WOW. That certainly moved me to the core.

Still, even in recounting this coming-full-circle moment with regards to reuniting with my high school chemistry teacher, I have to acknowledge that getting to where I am in my career now was by no means an easy feat. In order to fully appreciate and actualize the wins, I have had to learn to value and embrace the losses, too. The path to fulfillment or prosperity is rarely linear; it is marked by obstacles…i.e., opportunities for growth. That which has challenged me has led to the most invaluable epiphanies and prolonged success.

As an educator and entrepreneur, I have learned the value of failing upwards, gleaning insight, and emerging wiser and more determined than ever before. Experience has taught me the importance of surrounding myself with passionate, savvy people who believe what I believe as well as those who excel in areas in which I do not. Delegating is key, and while we can achieve amazing feats on our own, team work brings out everyone’s best selves. Collaboration is the stuff of growth. And I’m grateful for those early guides like Mr. Coffer who helped me pave the way toward the most impactful of educations — both inside and outside the classroom.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

There is a presumption that women business leaders are living a normative life: married, with children, taking care of parents, nurturing family and friend relationships, caring for our homes and employees and businesses. The truth is, there is no norm. Nevertheless, women typically have taken on more responsibility in every facet of life during the pandemic. We do the lion’s share of care, including household labor and emotional labor. We are expected to care for ourselves and our communities.

This isn’t a standard explicitly handed to us by some sort of sexist figurehead. It’s a standard we have internalized from patriarchal culture. The standard is that we provide our care extensively, freely, dutifully, and without anticipating reciprocity. This cultural expectation is why men retire to the living room on holidays and women head to the kitchen to clean up — even if they did all of the holiday planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, and serving. This would be a good time for women to speak out about the inequities they experience in their own families and talk about solutions for fair distribution of the work it takes to simply keep lives, families, traditions, and communities intact.

My personal situation is certainly not the norm. I live alone and don’t have any children. My work, in essence, has taken center-stage. While I do perform the kind of care I just spoke to, I do it with a different set of motivations and expectations. I look after so many students and am constantly checking-in and taking their temperature. I hold space to listen and glean insight into how this period is impacting their energy, mindset, performance, motivation, creativity, productivity, and so forth. I do this because helping others discover and become the best version of themselves is my calling.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

My personal approach to addressing family-related challenges is to simply live my life with confidence, compassion, and style. I am supportive when I have the bandwidth and I don’t do dishes unless it’s my turn. I have no qualms about asking for help or delegating when it’s necessary. I can’t do it all, and it would be a disservice to my clients if I pretended I could.

On the other hand, here is what I have seen work. To use an airplane metaphor, before you put the oxygen mask on anyone who needs your help, put yours on, first. Take time to care for yourself first. Parents need to allot some time for their own selfcare. If you have a partner, make sure you both take turns for exercise, meditation, or quiet time with a book. Even if you are wearing multiple hats as housekeeper, business mogul, homeschool teacher, craft service monitor, sous chef, activity coordinator, referee, and head janitor… you need to take the time to put your oxygen mask on first so you can then show-up, hold space, and mirror back to your children how to move through challenging situations.

It doesn’t work to repress your emotions with claims of “I’m fine, I’m fine!” — denying the truth of your emotions. Instead, show kids how to acknowledge and process their feelings. It’s okay to have ambiguous feelings and take time to get to know what to do with them. Parents need to tend to themselves and know that they’re going to feel fragile and unsteady — and that’s okay. They don’t have to figure it all out at once. Besides, kids are very perceptive. They are going to pick-up on their parents’ panic, anxiety, and uneasiness even if mom and dad are acting like everything is kosher.

Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

I’m not convinced my biggest work-related challenges have anything to do with being a woman. My biggest challenge is that I am very social. I meet people — both friends and clients — organically. I meet amazing clients at social functions and social spaces: the smoothie bar, yoga studio, nail salon, high school college fair, or any place where I’m just authentically living my life. I’ve never had to work at getting clients because the opportunity arises out of very simple interactions. Needless to say, this is all shut down right now.

Also, Rainbow EDU holds frequent free and informative panel events for current and prospective clients and their communities. It’s our way of giving back, but also provides a chance to meet wonderful new families who would benefit immensely from the work we do. That interactive meet-and-greet time was stripped away amid COVID.

Also, it’s hard to not meet clients in person. It’s hard to improvise on a screen, which makes inspiring creativity and active learning harder to do. We’ve stayed passionate and involved because we are an essential service, and we get to keep doing what we do, but it has not been easy to translate years and years of lesson plan development and coaching material to the screen experience.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

There is no substitute for meeting potential clients at social functions and social spaces right now. Instead, I’ve amped up my commitment to current clients. In the beginning of the pandemic, the added pro bono hours were all about focusing my care and attention on work to stay sane. Over time, the extra energy transformed into ever more grateful clients, which then generated a huge uptick in client referrals. There really isn’t anything more powerful than an inspired, over-the-moon client. Showing-up in as many ways as possible has been fruitful.

Rainbow EDU has also moved our live panels online. Panels are often about timely topics. This year, topics include managing distance learning, and college admissions challenges during the pandemic. Our panels have always been free of charge — a way of extending our expertise back to the communities which support us. When panels were live and in-person, they were often in an intimate space, such as a client’s home, and were about conviviality and jumpstarting conversation as much as they were about expanding our community. Online panels can’t replace that energy. It’s like attending an opera online as opposed to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Yet the urgency of our message is still there, which we love sharing openly.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Working from home while balancing other needs is the same whether you live alone, with roommates, children, or extended family. If at all possible, keep a disciplined schedule — especially a morning routine. Knowing you can trust how your day will begin is grounding. If your home is a chaotic scene as soon as the kids wake-up, push yourself to get up an hour or more before everyone else. Instead of using that time to read social media or get a jump on the dishes, commit to yourself. An hour of yoga, bathing rituals, or writing every day will help restore your sense of self.

In whatever form it takes for you, don’t isolate. Spend as much time as you can around people in your pod, and FaceTime or Zoom with friends and family you can’t see in person regularly. Seek out the enrichment and entertainment you enjoyed before the pandemic. Attend online performances, lectures, and panels that have Q&A sessions. If you are in a 12-step program, attend online. If there is a community you are a part of that does not have online meetings, take the initiative to get everyone together! Plan a reunion or a discussion group and get people excited to attend. It will be worth it.

Naturally, it’s also important to set boundaries and keep them. Practice saying no compassionately, so that when the time comes you are ready to say it without apology.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

So much right now is outside of our control, so it’s crucial to focus on what we do have control over. Here is my long and growing list!

  • The obvious and most cited area of control is self-care, including good hygiene, healthy nourishment, staying well hydrated, getting adequate sleep and exercise. It can’t be understated.
  • Use this time to supplement your education and build-up an arsenal of skills to build your resume and marketability.
  • Becoe well versed / fluent in anything that pertains to your chosen profession or areas of interest .
  • Be entrepreneurial and creative. Create your own opportunities. Launch your own start-up. Work on your own book. Make your own movie.
  • Prioritize unplugging from the news media, the school zoom room, and practice meditation.
  • Talk out feelings instead of avoiding them.
  • Participate in music, art, and creative activities. There are countless out there on the internet, and most cities have drive by, drive through, or outdoor exhibitions and events. Seek them out.
  • Engage in rituals that feed and empower your mind, like gratitude lists.
  • Get involved with a local organization that contributes to a cause that you believe in.
  • Create “new” traditions.
  • Update your professional collateral — website, LinkedIn, resume, portfolio, and cover letters.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. One of my mottos is this too shall surpass. Not just pass, but sur-pass. Someday, the life changes we have made thanks to the pandemic will be a blip on our collective radar. In times like these, it is hard to remember that every hardship we have in life has the potential to make us smarter, more emotionally efficient, and more resilient. When vaccines are widely distributed, when our cultural centers and schools reopen, and when life-in-general seems restored, we will all have a deeply enriched perspective and appreciation for our restored agency.
  2. Old paradigms that no longer serve us are dissipating or shifting. A great example of this from the education field: most colleges are suspending standardized testing this year, and committing to no test requirements for three years. Standardized testing has notoriously favored students of privilege, who can afford test coaching and have the luxury of taking the test over if they wish for a better score. Removing this data point from the admissions process levels the playing field a bit.
  3. Vaccinations are coming. The news regarding vaccines gets better every day. This is the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel right now.
  4. We’ve all had to go back to basics, which has been good for everyone I know. Clarity about priorities, simplicity of intent, and focus on what truly matters is no longer a mysterious or challenging pursuit. It’s a basic building block of daily life. I think everyone will come out of this with genuine grit that will serve them for years to come.
  5. Most of us have benefited from a quieting of the run-around, the stilling of the mind from incessant to-do’s and distractions. From this place, we can do deeply healing and transformative work on ourselves, our relationships, and our life vision and mission.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

To echo something I’ve already said, it is critical to take care of oneself first, and others secondly. You can’t effectively support the needs of others if yours aren’t met. Stay tuned-in to your needs: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. Don’t be afraid to step-out of your routine to stop and give yourself a close listen. Hand responsibilities to others without guilt or shame. While you might want to play Wonder Woman, remember that she is a fictional character.

One activity which can serve you and your loved ones well is a gratitude list. Gratitude lists help immensely with cultivating a positive, resilient mindset. The more we are grateful for what we currently have, the more we attract other opportunities and new circumstances to be grateful for, as well. Gratitude begets gratitude.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.”

~Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ulysses

For several years, a favorite dinner party topic has been neural plasticity — which refers to the brain’s ability to create new neural networks thanks to novel encounters. Everyone we meet, every experience we face, leaves a mark on us and we are forever changed. Tennyson put words to something we now find expressed in neural science. Yet as we move toward our future aspirations, there is no set arrival point. Life is a process, not a destination. The horizon continually moves as we embark upon the journey. I find lots of hope in the possibilities which have not arrived, and believe every one of us has the power and potential to shape a better future.

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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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