Tuesday, 31 December 2013

In defence of tutoring

For some reason, every few months, the press bring up the private tuition industry. Some proclaim that it is divisive, some accept it, some just monitor its growth (often in the same article of course).

What's the big deal?

Private tutors have existed since the beginning of formal education. Having a mentor, a coach, a master to teach you a trade is nothing new. Indeed, as an apprentice, a pupil often gave up wages in order to learn: i.e., they paid the master with their time and energy while they were apprenticed for usually seven years.

Today, there are thousands of ex-teachers, enthusiastic postgraduates and undergraduates - indeed, some sixth formers too - who earn money from tutoring.

For myself, it's not a hobby or a way to top up my pension or other earnings, but a profession.

I see the position as one of great responsibility and privilege. I work with those who voluntarily want to purchase my services - sometimes it's for content, sometimes it's for content, direction, and confidence.

It is a privilege in the sense that working with a young person one-to-one is highly rewarding - it's not teaching in the sense of broadcasting the information and hoping that some of the pupils get the ideas (some of the time); it's a matter of working with the pupil and learning with him or her. To be adaptable and sensitive is critical.

Sometimes I spot a need for a change in lifestyle - diet or environment, or even a change in school: discussing such issues requires enormous tact and timing of course, but it has been wonderful to open a door to a young person and say to them that they don't have to struggle so much!

Behind every great business leader is a mentor, by the way. If you don't have a mentor in your life, someone to turn to and discuss ideas or who can point out what you need to be doing then you're walking blind. Mentors can come in the form of books - the great motivators and leaders of our world whose words can enthuse - but they can also be met in person, which is much better!

I've got several mentors I can ask or explain things to, including my personal trainer, Guy Baker in Nottingham, whose holistic approach to training reflects our own view of education; my wife and I have wealth and business mentors who we can discuss ideas with.

Now imagine being a young person and having an academic coach and mentor - what a difference that would have made to my life is incalculable! I would not have made so many errors in my youth and early education - my grades would have reflected my mental potential rather than being a little haphazard, and I would not have struggled for so long thinking that "only I can do it and I can do it alone" selfish philosophy. The wisdom of the years has taught me to delegate to others but also to listen to those who have created paths in academia and wealth.

I don't understand why some may oppose tuition - it's like saying, don't get extra golfing lessons, don't go for football coaching, don't have a business mentor...perhaps they've not experienced the benefits of one-to-one? Whatever their reasons, it's nothing to do with 'the rich will pay for the tutors and the poor won't and the poor will suffer lower grades.' It's all to do with attitude. If you're a teacher, you should be open to teaching from all quarters and you should be instilling an attitude of life long learning as a matter of course, and to encourage people to take that learning from all areas that are available. After all, we all buy hair cuts on the free market (at varying prices) so we are free to buy extra learning.

Monday, 30 December 2013

The attraction to things that don't work...

We are creatures of habit and as an educationalist I am keen to encourage good habit formation with my  pupils.

But the difference between good and bad habits is not always apparent. Good habits, we would assume, are conducive of higher productivity, great health, better friendships and relationships with family, a clearer sense of purpose, an organised life and house.

Bad habits negate such values - they lead to lower productivity and time wasting, poor health, random swings in relationships, a lack of purpose and direction, a disorganised household and life. Of course, we would all wish to avoid those but what is it about us that creates mayhem, purposelessness, poor health, and disorganisation?

It's because we don't pay attention to the little things in life. We become wedded to poor habits that take us away from succeeding. We are attracted to that which does not work.


Funnily enough though, successful people aren't attracted to that which doesn't work. If it doesn't work, they quit it; they move on; they keep on trying until they get something that does work. And they don't get emotionally attached to doing the wrong thing.

Unsuccessful people or 'lucky' people do not do this. When things are going well, they slowly but surely engage in habits that eventually wreck their success.

Imagine being a student who's just scored an A on a test. Well done! But what really got the A? If it was luck - the questions fell the pupil's way and that burst of revision paid off. But if that's not repeated, guess what - the student will receive a lower grade next time. Then he or she will feel despondent and moan that they're not good at exams or that they didn't really like the subject anyway (I hear 'it's boring' a lot - I change that to 'it's difficult' or 'I'm not engaged in class').

On the other hand, if the pupil reasoned, hey, that bit of revision got me a good grade, so if I work a bit harder on my next exams, I'll do better … and guess what? The average level of attainment will increase.

However, while revising, the student thinks, hey, I'm doing fine, I can take some time off to watch a dvd or surf some funny youtube videos or call my friends or play with my phone…then they quickly lose the edge they were sharpening for a higher performance.

It's the same as looking at our household budget and finances. Oh, it's only a little thing to add to the shopping trolley. Or, hey, I really need a new coat/shoes/car…Then the credit card bills come in and you're struggling and you pretend you don't know why … or even worse, you stick your head in the ground and pretend that you don't really owe so much on the cards or overdraft … or dream of winning the lottery. What good will that do?

Or with weight loss. If you think that that little bit of sugary food won't really do you much harm…you're wrong. The good habit of avoiding that which fattens you up or reduces your immune system is broken immediately - one exception becomes another and then another and then the rule, and before you know it you've put the weight back on.

There are no fairies in life that magically wave the wand and suddenly life's different and you're thinner, smarter, richer.

No, it all takes good habits. And no exceptions to the rule.

I'm suffering at the moment. Generally, I eat very healthy … but it's Christmas, I reasoned (or rather rationalised): that little bit of sugary food will be okay, and ah, another cup of coffee, after all, I love the taste, and let's stay up later and get less sleep…  I must be very sensitive, because my body has rewarded me with a cold!! So, back to the stricter diet (I follow a paleo based diet of no dairy, grains, legumes, or sugars sticking to meat/fish, lots of salad, nuts, fruit and organic as best as we can get.)

We're human - we err…but it is useful to know that we are attracted to that which brings us down and thus to be armed against such temptations! Behind the good habits is the key value that rarely gets mentioned in today's world: DISCIPLINE.

What is a disciple? Someone who follows a set of principles. So discipline is - following a set of principles.

What principles should we follow? … those that improve our minds, health, finances, friendships, and relationships...

Now the fun bit of life is working out what works!

I'll end on a not so subtle thought - no one accidentally put food in their mouth.

Think about it.

We can adapt that to no one accidentally picked up their phone to surf, opened their browser to waste time, put those extra doodads in the basket or bought worthless junk.


Friday, 27 December 2013

New Year's Confessions and goal setting

I loved this from Zig Ziglar: New Year's Resolutions are Last Year's Confessions - I didn't lose weight/get fitter/made more money/study harder, etc.!

Well, what can you do?

Last year is worth reviewing. Look at the year in review and sit down and write down what you could learn from it. What went wrong? What went right?

Look carefully at the things that went right - and follow them, not the things that went wrong.

I have an acquaintance, we'll call her Jenny, who last year went to the gym, took on a personal trainer, and lost weight and became stronger. She's back - having put on the weight she lost. What went wrong? She went back to default: munching things that are not good for her and not maintaing her gym routine.

Personally, I took the company into expansion and was bitten by the high overheads that entailed. The dream was good, the practice was wrong - the PLAN was wrong. It could not get me to where I wanted to and it has ended up costing me a lot of money. Ah, hindsight. So, that didn't work. Time to adjust.

Now, it's not use bemoaning last year's mistakes and saying oh woe is me. Jenny did not alter her default plan of eating foods not good for her constitution. I have (with my team) altered our plan - we made some tough decisions and looked brutally that the mistakes we made.

But now we turn to the New Year. What do we wish to achieve in the next twelve months? Are are plans SMART?
Time scaled.

Each of our goals we write down will be visualised: I draw or get photos relating to our goals.
They will then be checked for specificity, measurability, achievability, realism, and time.

Consider aiming for a good set of exam results.

What doesn't work is saying: I need to get a good set of results.

The comment is a dream. It is not specific. Nor measurable. We don't know if it's therefore achievable, realistic, and we don't know the time scale. A dream is unconnected to the world of action.

Let's turn this around:

Think about what college or university you want to get into.

Then look at what needs to be done to get there.

E.g., it may be AAB in your subjects. These are specific and measurable (as are the mocks and essays you do until you get there).

Are they achievable? Well, if you're on D grade average from last year, the higher grades may not be achievable without some fundamental change in learning patterns and perhaps getting a tutor to coach you up to the higher grades. Time scaled - absolutely - you have 5 months to attain the goals.

Work backwards from what you want and you can create a plan as to how to get there. We're doing that with our business. But there should also be a contingency plan, or as our teachers say - two exit plans: what happens if you don't get the grades? Either you do - and you get to where you want, or you don't - and you need plan B to kick in. What is your plan B? That needs thought.

So sit down with some coloured pens, a piece of paper (don't do this exercise on the computer) and sketch out what grades you need for the year (or do this with your son/daughter). Then come up with a plan on achieving those goals - and I always begin with: "If I were to do 5% more work each day, I'd achieve …" what? Higher grades and greater confidence!

Dr Alex Moseley

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Free schools are not really free

Free schools are in the news again - their costs have risen higher than expected. Should anyone be surprised? Once a company, union, quango, or ministry has access to the government's credit card (i.e., the taxpayers) is it any wonder that costs grow? And if anyone, politician or otherwise, does not understand about incentive structures when spending other people's money, I suggest a quick short lesson in growing up. Don't be so naive!

In my practice I have many parents who want me to set up a school following our ethos at Classical Foundations of 100% focus on the pupil, encouraging them to reach their potential, finding out about their dreams and actually connecting their dreams to their learning. I am honoured that so many wish me to set up a school, and when the UK coalition government brought in free schools, which could be set up be parents and teachers keen to bypass local authority control and gain direct access to the department of education's funds - it was tempting. For a moment.

I'm well versed in political philosophy and economics and I know what would happen. A change of political wind and the whole system would be shut down; a few hiccoughs in some schools and the regulators would be down there in a shot.

The question for me is what is the ethical thing to do? To take other people's money (who have not been asked about the systems of education we use and may indeed not agree with them) and set up a local school paid for by the central government, or to rely on the market place in which parents choose to spend their money on our services voluntarily? The latter wins hands-down.

When you're tied to the government's funds - it may seem like a free lunch - but get this idea, one of the oldest and wisest ideas in our cultures: there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Free schools are paid by other people's taxes. That's not freedom. The teachers are not free. They are dependent on continued government funding. And given the debt levels the UK has, that funding can never be assumed to continue.

The school I wish to create is based on true principles of freedom - but that means the price has to be paid. Just as I sell my tutorial services in the market place and people pay me for doing a good job, I believe that the new school I'm planning, should also be fee paying - it should answer to the parents and pupils and to the laws of the land. Not regulators'  fashions or politicians' gripes and peculiar visions.

Does paying for education cause society to split between haves and have nots? Again, it's the question of the naive. Some people put more effort into learning, others don't. It's really not a matter of resources, it's a matter of will. If you wish to get fit, you take action. If you wish to get more educated, you take action. If you wish to be a welfare dependent, you don't take action.

The school I have in mind is all about teaching independence and action from the word go. More on that later!
Dr Alex Moseley