Member Spotlight: Dr. Kathy Koch
Kathryn Nielson · Oct 29, 2018
Kathy Koch has spent the past 27 years speaking and writing on ways parents can help their kids be more successful in school and in life through her education resource provider, Celebrate Kids.
In her latest book, 8 Great Smarts: Discover and Nurture Your Child's Intelligences, Kathy is on a quest to explain to both parents and their children why the all-too-common question “Am I smart?” is the wrong question to be asking.
“There is no person alive who doesn’t want to know that they’re smart,” Kathy says. She insists that “God doesn’t make stupid people. Stupid is your choice.”
The question isn’t “Am I smart?”, but rather, “How am I smart?” The beauty of the 8 Smarts approach, Kathy says, is that it champions the uniqueness of each person. When children recognize that God made them smart and that it’s just a matter of figuring out how they are smart, kids take ownership of who they are in Christ and what He has created them to do.
“There are so many messages from the culture telling them who they are or who they should be,” she says. “When they find out that God chose that (smart) for them, it changes them. It gives them a new appreciation for the God Who was Creator, Who was intentional and knit them together well. It gives them a hope that there is something they can do and be with that.”
Do your children think with words? They’re word smart. Do they ask a lot of questions? That’s their logic smart being used. Do they think in pictures? They’re picture smart. Are they drawn to rhythms and melodies? They’re music smart. Do they excel in sports, enjoy crafts, or are always moving? They’re body smart. Do they enjoy patterns and being outside? Nature smart. Do they enjoy group work at school and being with people? They’re people smart. Or do they crave alone time and privacy and studying on their own? They’re self smart.
Because most schools are set up for word smart or logic smart kids, the rest of the students are often left feeling like they aren’t as smart.
“That actually lowers their expectation for their education and their career in their life,” she says.
Develop as many of the 'smarts' as possible
Kathy points out that we all know people who did well in school but go on to do not so well in life. The opposite is also true. We also know people who didn’t necessarily excel in school but are doing quite well in life. In a nutshell, what Kathy wants is for “parents to raise up children to develop as many of the eight (smarts) as possible because it makes life richer,” she says.
The 8 Great Smarts concept is similar to theories of “multiple intelligence,” which are often traced to work done in the 1980s by Harvard professor Dr. Howard Garner. Kathy saw that the idea of multiple intelligences is also consistent with the amazing diversity of God’s creation and the diversity of gifts given to “each one” as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7).
“I was fascinated, in my own life, by the faith-development perspective: How can we use this to strengthen our faith?” Kathy says.
She had no idea of the reaction she would receive from both kids and adults. Some of her personal victories are hearing about adults who, after feeling like they were not smart enough to finish, have gone back to college, or about young people who have decided to stop comparing themselves to others. Instead, they owned their smarts, plugged in, and got better grades.
And while many ministries are born out of pain, that is not Kathy’s story.
“I was a celebrated kid, and I want parents and teachers to pay attention to and celebrate children more for who they are and not what they do,” she says. “We are human beings. We are not human doings.”
How Kathy's passions and her faith melded
Kathy’s faith journey was part of her learning process.
While she grew up in a religious home and attended church regularly, “We didn’t really understand the difference between church attendance and a relationship with Christ,” she says. “My parents wanted their religion to save them.”
In college she started to realize that church alone wasn’t leading her where she needed to go and spent a lot of time during her freshman-year breaks talking with her youth pastor. Understanding that Kathy was bent on learning and gaining more knowledge, her youth pastor helped her to see that, in her quest for God, she was seeking wisdom and not love.
“The appeal that God is love was not that appealing to me at all,” she says.
But her youth pastor showed her Colossians 2:3, which says that in Christ are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
“I realized that maybe this Jesus is Who I need because I wanted wisdom.”
She accepted Christ, but it wasn’t until about six years later that she decided she needed to give back to God as an act of gratitude for what He had done for her. Since then, she has spent her life encouraging parents in their quest to raise godly kids and encouraging kids that they were created to do good things by God.
From as early as second grade, she knew she wanted to teach children, specifically second-graders. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Purdue University and spent the next four years teaching second grade. She thought she would spend her life doing this but soon realized that teaching elementary wasn’t where it was at for her. She went on to earn her master’s degree in elementary ed and her doctorate in reading and educational psychology, both from Purdue.
She became a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and taught all the reading methods and educational psychology classes there from 1984-1991. She loved it, but again she realized this wasn’t her final spot and came to understand that “You can be very successful and joyful, and God can still move you on.”
Realizing what God has to say about education
During her years as a professor, Kathy was an outspoken Christian on campus, serving as the faculty adviser for the school’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter. She also served on the board of a Christian school and began to realize that God had something to say about education. Around the same time, she was offered a chance to start her own ministry and determined in her heart that she would move on from teaching in the school setting.
Through a difficult process, Kathy stayed at the university long enough to earn tenure because she knew if she quit before doing so, it would have been assumed by her co-workers that she would have never made it. She was convinced that it would have been a bad testimony to her integrity as a Christian. She left the university in 1991 and moved to Dallas to start Celebrate Kids.
Over the years, Kathy has spoken at numerous churches, schools, and pregnancy centers and has been a regular speaker at the Great Homeschool Conventions, CareNet, Summit Ministries, and many others. Her newest undertaking is resurrecting Hearts at Home, the ministry to moms started by Samaritan member Jill Savage. Hearts at Home 2.0 will have its first national conference March 15-16, 2019, in Bloomington, Illinois. Her next book, Start With the Heart (Moody Publishers), will be released in February 2019.
In everything she does, Kathy is passionate about Jesus and passionate about helping kids and adults understand their unique God-given talents.
“Jesus died that we would have abundant life,” she says. “Eternal life starts here on earth.”