Introduce yourself! Who are you?
Hi! I’m Kortney, a school based Speech Language Pathologist by day and fashion blogger/social media influencer by night. The two may seem completely unrelated, but at the end of the day, they're both about helping people and offering a little inspiration when I can.
Who would you say is your #1 inspiration?
My #1 inspiration is my sister, Katy. Growing up in small town eastern Kentucky, opportunities for young women were limited. The culture is that most women would be married at a young age and become stay at home mothers like their mothers before them. My sister is a modern day pioneer in her own right. She never let anyone tell her what her future would behold and doubting her only fueled her determination for success. She was the first in my family to graduate from college and pursue higher education. She is now a doctor and provides the utmost care to her patients in West Virginia. It was her that paved the way for me and showed me that anything was possible as long as I willing to put in the work.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Never apologize for being yourself. I’ve spent so many years trying to fit into a box and meet the expectations of others. It’s taken me awhile to learn that I’m at my best when I am genuinely just being myself.
Have you ever had anyone doubt you?
My first Master’s degree is in Geosciences and I was one of very few females to be accepted to the program. Everyday my intelligence and integrity was questioned. My classmates would even call me Barbie and make bets on how long I would last behind my back. Fast forward a couple of years and I was the only female to graduate with my class and have my research published in several sciences based journals.
Do you have a favorite photo of yourself?
My favorite photo of myself is one of me when I’m probably 4-5 months old, wearing a strawberry print bikini on the beach. I had rolls upon rolls and about 3 chins. My childhood nickname is Pokey, because my family said I was so fat that I couldn’t walk but could only poke around.
What motivates me most are the amazing children I work with. They have communication disorders and many have cognitive impairments/other health issues, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Traumatic Brain Injuries, etc. Their determination and unbridled spirit inspires me every day to never give up and remember that anything is possible. These kids don’t know feelings of hate, jealousy, or prejudice. They only know love, acceptance, and forgiveness...and if you ask me..we could all use a little more of that in our lives.
What advice would you give the 16 year old self?
You never have to be just one thing. I used to believe you couldn’t be pretty and smart or kind and successful. I thought you had to choose. In reality, I’m a mix of all sorts of different things, some good some bad but that’s what makes me uniquely me.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
I listen. I learned at an early age that knowledge and wisdom come from just listening and observing those around me. When something is going on with one of my students, I stop and I listen to them. When I’m looking for fashion inspiration, I listen to what my blog readers and social media followers want to see. In my opinion, listening is the most important ingredient for building strong leadership, meaningful relationships, and thriving organizations.
What is your favorite thing about where you live?
My favorite thing about living in Arizona is the outdoor lifestyle. Arizona is one of the most beautiful and diverse states that I have ever visited. It has everything from mountains, to lakes, to deserts, to forests of Aspen and Pine. My husband and I love to spend our weekends hiking or kayaking and taking in the breathtaking views.
What do you love most about yourself?
I’m not afraid to try new things. Though I don’t have a degree or experience in the fashion industry, I’ve always had a passion and nact for it. I decided to dive head first into fashion blogging and social media influencing without ever looking back. Putting your words/images out into the world is intimidating and I would be lying if I said I didn’t get butterflies every time I hit that publish button. I may sink or swim but at the end of the day, I know that I gave it my all.
A Little Fashion A lot of Fearlessness
I wish I could tell you this was a happy story. People like happy, like when the hero slays the dragon at the end or the guy finally gets the girl. This isn’t one of those stories.
It all began with a pair of plain black ballerina flats. It was my first day in my new school district in my role as a Speech Language Pathologist. I decided I needed to dress practical for my first day and slipped on the most comfortable but also most boring pair of shoes I could find and headed out the door. That morning, I had been asked to deliver a new wheelchair that had just arrived from the front office to one of the classrooms. I had only been in the school a few times previous, once for the interview and twice for new teacher orientation and it was still like a maze to me. The school was divided into two sections, the K-4 side and the 5-8 that are separated by the library as the central hub. After several wrong turns and a kind 3rd grader, who pointed me in the right direction, I finally arrived to the Fifth grade hallway and found my destination. As soon as I turned the corner and wheeled the chair into the room, I was greeted by a woman whom I assumed was the teacher, thankfully sighing, “Finally, we need that chair over in the back corner, quick!” She seemed a little annoyed at my tardiness. First day on the job and I’m already making friends, I thought. I wheeled the chair over and as soon as I hit the parking breaks, another woman who introduced herself as the class aid, instructed me to stand back and don’t get to close to her. “To who?” I asked. A second later a young lady was escorted into the room by two large men with “Coach” printed across their shirts. The teacher directed them to the wheelchair I had just brought in. The young girl became very agitated when she saw the chair and began to swat and spit and everyone acted as if this was completely normal behavior. The coaches finally got her in the chair and with a sigh of relief, they said, “She’s all yours,” as they quickly walked out the door.
The teacher then informed that the young girl’s name was Amanda and she was one of my speech students, although she does not speak.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Amanda is completely non-verbal, she has never spoken to me and I have been her teacher for 2 years now.”
“How does she communicate?” I asked.
“She basically doesn’t,” said her teacher. “Although if you make her mad, you’ll know it. She likes to hit, scratch, and bite. Just try not to get too close to her when you’re doing therapy.“
That day I went home and made a communication book for Amanda. I created picture symbols of basic wants and needs such as bathroom, drink, food, help, yes, no, etc. I put on my ballerina flats and hit the ground running, I was determined to reach this child and motivate her to communicate. The first day I introduced Amanda to her communication book, she ripped it out of my hands and threw it at me. The next day was the same and the same after that. I tried everything I could think of to motivate this child. I would bribe her with her favorite snacks, time on the iPad, YouTube channels, anything that the other kids her age would be happy to work for, but nothing motivated her.
After weeks of no success and feelings of failure, I decided there was one thing I needed...retail therapy. I needed something I was good at and genuinely enjoyed, and styling the perfect look was exactly it. I went to the mall and found the most perfect pair of red heels with pearls accents. These things were beautiful and after the couple of weeks I had, I convinced myself I needed them.
The next day, I decided to wear my new red heels to work. If I couldn’t succeed at getting Amanda to communicate, at least I would look good trying it. After giving myself a 3-minute pep talk in the hallway, I walked in to Amanda’s classroom carrying her communication book. I pulled a chair up to her but not too close as I had learned my lesson, and began to start my ritual of asking her basic yes/no questions using her picture symbols. As usual, she did not look at the pictures I was holding up for her but she did turn her head towards me and looked down at the floor. After several minutes of observing her starring down towards my feet, I noticed that her eyes were fixed on my shoes. I decided to ask her, “Amanda, do you like my shoes?” She paused for a minute and then slightly shook her head yes. I about fell out of my chair. I had never seen Amanda gesture or head nod with the purpose to communicate before. I asked her again, “You do, you like my shoes?” This time she gave me a more definite nod and it was obvious that she had understood me and was trying to communicate.
The next day, I wore my red heels again and this time I paired them with a black fringe sweater. I put the yes/no cards in front of Amanda and asked her. Amanda, do you like my sweater? She grabbed the “yes” card and handed it to me. Finally, I had found something to motivate this child to communicate. It turns out that Amanda loved fashion. No one had ever attempted to talk to her about it before because they assumed she had no interest. Over the next several weeks, I would make sure I was dressed to the nines for work and every day, she would talk to me about fashion and what I was wearing. She would even rate my outfits 1-10, numbers and ordinals... concepts we never knew she understood. I would bring in fashion magazines and we would communicate about what styles she likes and what colors she would wear them in. We were two girls in love with fashion and sharing our passion together. I never wore those plain black ballerina flats to work again.
Now this is the part of the story you’re not going to like. This September, Amanda’s body succumbed to her condition and she passed away. It was devastating to all who knew her and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a dark time for me. I had finally reached this child and to have her taken at such a young age when she was just beginning to show the world who she really was, was shattering. Amanda was buried on a Friday, in the most amazing pair of red pearled heels that anyone had ever seen. They were the same pair that forged our bond and inspired a young non-verbal child to communicate.
So when people ask me why I started a fashion blog? My answer is always, “Amanda.” She gave me the courage to pursue what I am passionate about and share my message with the world. Our bond over our love for fashion was much more powerful than just a great pair of shoes. Fashion was only a small part of it…our relationship was built on trust, love, and courage. She taught me that no matter how difficult something is, anything is truly possible if I put my mind to it. I donated that pair of black ballerina flats and I can’t say that I miss them one bit.
More About Kortney
Kortney Leet is a school based Speech Language Pathologist by day and fashion blogger/social media influencer by night.
Kortney is passionate about helping people and offering a little inspiration in any ways she can.