April 22nd, 2014

(In which Steven attempts to write something unique about being unique, or having uniqueness, or he just attempts to write something after all this time.)

Have you ever thought about what is unique about your classroom, about your class, about your input, about your relationship with your students?

I appreciate a simple question dragged on a little there so I’ll give you a little time to think about it.

To think about…

Is uniqueness important, even desired?

In a competitive environment, why should students come to your class? Competition in education is mentioned often, and increasingly so, but I don’t just mean colleges in competition with each other or with schools and I don’t just mean your faculty/department in competition with another over finite students.

I mean competition for your students’ time.

Getting them out of bed! Out of the house! Into the college! Into the class! Into the lesson! There are lots of challenges (and exclamation marks – Ed) and you could simply say that you deliver your lesson and it’s up to the students to attend. And that’s the end of it. Except it isn’t. Retention is a major factor in college funding now, and college funding is a major factor in getting paid and being able to eat (which, as previously mentioned, is important – Ed)

Unique can be a double-edged sword, or triple-edged if added to cynicism

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all-singing, all-dancing cr*p of the world.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

So it’s important to know what is meant, and whilst I could throw in a dictionary definition here (Urban Dictionary has nothing of interest on the word – Ed) essentially we do mean different, but we mean different in a useful positive way (hopefully – Ed) Don’t try to copy somebody else’s uniqueness.

Consider not what you teach, but the way that you teach it, the way that you say it and the environment in which it is said. Consider if the college’s marketing was based around your class, if the college’s funding was based around your class, if the course’s success was based around your class; would it be successful?

If there was a poster about it, what would it look like?

If there was a song about it, what would it sound like?

If there was a film about it, what would the tagline be?

November 4th, 2013

(In which Steven continues to talk about you, but sometimes I wonder if he is really just talking about himself…)

Last time I finished talking about you. I’d like to do that again if that’s OK.

Branding is very important in business, and the knowledge delivery business is no different. Recently a note went out that it is MidKent College, not Mid Kent. No matter what spell check says (Damn right – Ed.)

Branding is huge. The Golden Arches are more recognisable worldwide then the Christian cross.

What’s your brand? If you don’t think you have one then you are mistaken!

Your classroom is unique, as is the environment you provide and how you deliver your subject.

How much time have you thought about that?

Think about it more.

When a student sees your class on their timetable, what emotion do you want them to have?




And why?

Seth Godin once said: “You can’t drink any more tea than you already do, you can’t wear more than one pair of shoes at a time…”

A student can’t attend two classes at once.

Godin said that the only thing selling that’s growing is belief. Belonging. Mattering. Making a difference.

Tribes. We have an unlimited need for this. Believe in something.

October 14th, 2013

(In which Steven is a little quote happy and FINALLY gets round to writing a new blog, and in doing so makes it about pitching. Again.)

For those of us in the Knowledge Delivery Business there is a process that can take anywhere from six months to six minutes. This can be during an open event, a formal interview, or ‘clearing’. We discussed this in the blog ‘pitching – the sixth P.’

“Pitching is 80% of the game and the other half is hitting and fielding”
Mickey Rivers
(So you finally make a sporting reference, and it’s baseball – Ed)

The element you need to pitch is you. Your customers are entrusting a year, maybe more, of their lives to you. You need them to be open and honest with you regarding any issues that may arise whilst on the course so that any support can where possible be provided.

For this to happen you need to sell them you.

That you know what you are doing.

That you can help them succeed.

That you can help them progress.

You might only see them an hour a week, but in that time you have to show them you are somebody they should listen to.

If you just assume that they should, then you risk losing them. It is said there is an element of performance to our job.

“Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre”
Gail Godwin

This is true from open evening to induction, from parents’ evening to progression. Take the time to think about what it is about you that makes you the right person for these students, at this time.

And make sure they know this about you.

“Pitching is always a weird, difficult thing.”
J. J. Abrams

May 2nd, 2013

In which Steven attempts to write a blog post about PowerPoint. I think. I’ll be honest, already the idea bores me – Ed.

Is it better to die by PowerPoint or get motion sickness from Prezi?

It’s said that teaching can be one-fifth teaching and four-fifths theatre. I’d like to consider it – for the purpose of this blog at least – as an opportunity for show-and-tell between you and the students, and this should be two-way.

What can we learn from TED Talks, the mixture of lecture, performance and visuals? TED Talks are often inspiring, but can we use them to improve our own performance?

A picture can say a thousand words but these are only aids. They are there to aid you telling a thousand words.

The ppt or Prezi isn’t there to do the job and it isn’t there to be a badly laid out textbook for you to reiterate word-for-word what is on the screen. It should be a visual guide for you – a map for the lesson and something to be looked at while you speak. So make the pictures interesting, relevant and fun. (I think the BBC puts it a different way – Ed)

If you intend to have the presentation available (e.g. for a hand-out), have any relevant information in your notes – not as a block of impenetrable text in a slide.

Next, video clips. The Rt Honourable Mr Gove and I have a difference of opinion here (and that bombshell I am sure will keep him awake at night – Ed). He has stated he won’t spend a penny (wasn’t it a pound? – Ed) that leads to videos in class.

I believe that video in the classroom can be a great tool. (You mean aid. The tool blog was before – Ed). I believe that video in the classroom can be a great visual aid – to highlight a point or theme. To introduce a topic. As part of plenary, whatever that is.

As part of the current educational focus on employability, I believe visual aids, as part of a planned scheme of screening and analysis, can through cultural literacy improve basic oral communication skills.

Exposure to art, TV and film, to clips relevant to equality and diversity issues and the latest meme. The opportunity to know what this stuff is, and then to discuss it, if not through embedded lessons but integrated into the schemes of work, will not only improve communication in the classroom but in the workplace as well.

When the cultural conversation moves on it’s good to know what people are talking about and to have an opinion on it, whether that be subjective or objective.

This is not a pipe.

(Then what is it? – Ed)

It is a picture of a pipe.

(Oh, ok – Ed)

Actually it is a digital reproduction of a picture of a pipe.

(Right. I see – Ed)

Finally, how are the visual aids in your classroom? Not just in terms of student work on the walls, but in terms of the department or faculty in the room? Are there visuals to aid the atmosphere and environment of learning?

Be seeing you.

February 25th, 2013

In which Steven gets into an imaginary Q&A, invokes Glee, quotes the DofE and fails to slip a sweary clip past the editor.

How often do you practice pitching?

Why – you might ask back – do you need to practice pitching?

Our glorious leader Google defines a pitch in business as: to plan or design something in a way that will ttract a particular group of people:

Education it would seem is a business, despite how much of a cold sweat that thought might bring you out in. And a large part of the dialogue is regarding our customers or clients, previously known as students.

Working in the knowledge delivery sector I need to ensure several factors;

- That I am providing a course that interests future students

- That the course is felt suitable by parents/carers for a year of the students’ lives

- That the student is interested enough to enrol

- That they are interested enough to attend induction

- That they attend classes

- That they submit assessments

- That they complete the course

That requires what is referred to as the five ‘P’s – planning, preparation, personalisation, professionalism and proving it.

It also requires pitching.

I require a certain number of students to ensure that my course runs. This guarantees work for my colleagues, resources for the students and also that the curriculum continues to be delivered. This is even truer with the new Study Programmes.

‘Study Programmes will extend the benefits of challenging and substantial vocational qualifications enjoyed by many students taking academic programmes to those studying more vocational subjects. The Government’s new principles for Study Programmes are central to the reform of 16-19 education.’

Department of Education 2012

As well as a main qualification, the Study Programme must ensure community cohesion and work experience. Because students aren’t our only customers, there is also the community and local business needs to consider.

Also, as with any other business, I must ensure that I’m providing a product which beats my competitor; this includes other level 1 and 2 courses at the College, educational provision at other colleges, schools and academies, plus apprenticeships and work. Unusually I also set entry requirements to ensure that students are right for my products. Assuming that I’ve done my job right and the customer has researched correctly, half the selling has already been done before we even meet.

The interview process is an unusual business response; you can’t imagine Sainsbury’s asking you to prove your interest in lasagne before you buy the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Once there you engage in a mix of mutual appreciation and challenge. At the same time as I am assuring the student that my course is right for them, they are assuring me that they are right for my course. Simultaneously I am testing that they really want to do the course and they are checking that the course is really what they want to do.

If it all works out, then we have ‘conversion’ and the student enrols on the course. If it really works out then we have ‘retention’ and the student completes the course. That’s your livelihood, your colleague’s livelihood, the College’s reputation and the student’s future, potentially dependent on a series of one-to-one conversations you have.

How often do you practice pitching?

Warning – Clip contained a great scene from a great film.

It featured a great script with superb acting.

Also contained swearing.

December 5th, 2012

In which Steven becomes the Cliff Richard of MKC blogging. You do not hear from him all year then he releases greatest hits just in time for Christmas. With enough new material to make it almost seem worthwhile.

Things have changed, as they have a habit of doing. When last we met I had a goatee beard. Now I have a full beard.
Important changes make us reconsider our life choices, our daily choices and occasionally our lack of choices. Who we are, defined by something other than what we do, and why we do it.
Next month I will have been employed at MidKent College for five years. My interests, perspectives and knowledge have changed dramatically in that time, but an aspect of my attitude and sensibility has not. What changes will occur over the next five? I ask myself a lot.


_ _ _ _ _
I recently went to a conference that looked at the future of Media and Film education. There was much discussion about primary, A-level and higher education, but not further education or the lifelong learning sector.
“However, not enough discussion is given to the role of FE, and the fact that for many students they are the first generation to stay on at college or sixth form, let alone go to university.” – Me, previously.
I still don’t understand students, but I think I’m closer. Thanks to a colleague I have been reading ‘Why Children Fail’ by John Holt. I understand that for some of them, choosing isn’t pro-active, its just better than having no choice and doesn’t fully mean they have clear aspirations.
“Students are great. They challenge my perceptions and assumptions…and they enable me to have a class and a job and a home. That’s very important to remember.” – Me, previously.

“Though teaching isn’t a job is it? It’s a vocation, a calling. One of those roles we choose to do because we believe we can make a difference…”
A touch of cynicism there, which I have since underpinned with theory, thanks to our friend Stephen Brookfield, who states:

“Reflection becomes critical when educators consider how to challenge our own untested hegemonic assumptions to uncover practices that appear to make teaching easier but actually work against our own long-term interests. Hegemonic assumptions are those that we think are in our own best interests, but have been designed by others who are more powerful to work against us; they have, however, become so embedded in our practices that we can no longer identify the oppression or disenfranchisement contained within them. Examples of hegemonic assumptions include beliefs about teaching as a vocation or calling that justify an overwhelming workload to our own physical and mental detriment.”

_ _ _ _ _
So, as it is the end of the year, what are your academic New Year’s resolutions (that you will admittedly break straight away)?
Academically, how will you lose those extra pounds you’ve gained?
Academically, how will you experience more culture?
Academically, how will you…etc.
If you do ‘something’ a certain way, is it because that is the best way to do it, or is it the way it has always been done?
_ _ _ _ _
I still don’t have a business card. I think about it occasionally. Rarely. But I do wonder. Maybe 2013 I’ll get one. Who would I give them to?
_ _ _ _ _
I updated my CV recently, for reasons that were beyond my control (honest!) I’m no longer a school governor and there were a couple of other things to remove.
I recently enquired about a slot as a speaker at a conference, and they informed me they could only offer lunch and kudos. Well, that’s all I ever ask for.
How is your personal literacy? If you had to write a bio about yourself, when would you begin? What would be the most up-to-date thing about you?
_ _ _ _ _
I’m still lucky and enriched by the conversations I have with colleagues, though there seems to be less of them these days. Less time, though no less inclination. Something to note for 2013.
How much of that chat will be productive? Depends on your definition of productive and if you consider touching base important.
I do.
There is an Anglo-Saxon term – Wyrd. Considered by some to be the personification of fate. The more you try to achieve, the more people will arrive to help you.
_ _ _ _ _ 
Whilst getting myself up to speed, I rediscovered the following set of questions, around the subject of state, and realized I had never answered them myself. I’m going to spend some time doing that. Will you?
Are we bored of the lesson we haven’t even taught them yet?
When we plan our schemes of work, our lessons, how much do we take mood into account?
How much has the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ affected our decision whether or not to use PowerPoint?
If your lesson was a colour, what colour would it be?

How is your flow?
Is your skill level equal to the challenges you face?
Are you bored?
Are you aroused?
When was the last time you learned new skills, and do you have challenges that enable you to use them?
_ _ _ _ _ 
Before I vanished I asked the question of whether you feel valued and how much are you worth.
In an age of austerity and public sector pay freezes, I really must get back round to that question as well.

Be seeing you.

December 4th, 2012

This Teachers Life

March 27th, 2012

In which any attempt to write a blog has been unsuccessful, due to; the blogger (finally) successfully completing the first year of his teaching qualification; having a birthday where he upset his mother by revealing she had a son who was old enough to have grey hair; and finally, experiencing what can only be described as a rodent version of Ocean’s Eleven.


What are you worth?

Do you feel valued?

What do you make?

These questions, whether asked individually or collectively, are important.


So important he never wrote any more than that…


 Hopefully back next month

February 27th, 2012

In which Steve discusses the midpoint, being in the mood, the importance of state, and having flow (because chicks get him high).

As of writing it is the first week back after half term, and I am tired. My peers, colleagues, friends and I joke that it’s not long now until Easter, but only so much of it is a joke.

Five-and-a-half weeks, 28 working days.

Halfway through the year and that midpoint fatigue is starting to settle in. Things aren’t fresh anymore, colleagues make the same jokes and I know which student will make what type of comment, which student will eagerly want to contribute and which will try to hide under the table.

 I know which will be in college half an hour before class and which will be half an hour after.

 Midpoint fatigue – so long till the summer break…

 This is obviously my personal account – you are no doubt fresh as a daisy, and I envy you.

 It’s like any relationship – it needs to be kept fresh, interesting, honest.

 Seriously getting me down… Listen to this and come back. Editor



Ahh, that’s better.

 State, as they say, is everything.

Mental health strengthens and supports our ability to:

  • have healthy relationships
  • make good life choices
  • maintain physical health and wellbeing
  • handle the natural ups and downs of life
  • discover and grow toward our potential

 Rhode Island Psychological Association


When we enter the classroom, what state are we in and what state are we communicating to the students?

Are we angry and annoyed before we have even entered the room?

Are we bored of the lesson we haven’t even taught them yet?

Are we anxious and apprehensive of their behaviour?

Are we relaxed?



 We are empathetic creatures by nature.

 One person can seriously crash a mood and another can be the life and sole of the party.

 When we plan our schemes of work, our lessons, how much do we take mood into account?

Should we?

How much has the phrase ‘death by Powerpoint’ affected our decision whether or not to use Powerpoint?

If your lesson was a colour, what colour would it be?

 You may or may not have come across the concept of ‘flow’ from Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (side note, if you ever wanted to remember how to pronounce that name, think chicks-get-me-high. Not classy, but it works.)

It’s often used to discuss challenging learners, ensuring their skills and the challenge match.

How often do we use it to consider ourselves?

How is your flow?

Is your skill level equal to the challenges you face?

Are you bored?

Are you aroused?

When was the last time you learned new skills, and do you have challenges that enable you to use them?

And most of all leave a comment and let me know – are you feeling good?


Be seeing you.

January 31st, 2012

In which Steven defends Dance, gets passive aggressive (but not with you, he likes you), takes issue with western philosophy, doesn’t refer to anything metaphorically or euphemistically, makes no use of Urban Dictionary and hopefully finally finishes his story.

 I’d like to apologise – even if it’s felt I don’t need to. Editor


Let us discuss Professional Communication Skills. No really. They are an important tool.

Communication skills are an important part of what we do, and our ability to connect with students can make all the difference in their development – whether that be ensuring they progress to Uni, supporting students through personal experiences, or even – shockingly – learning something fundamental in a subject.

Communication skills are also an important part of how we talk to each other, listening as well as speaking. And this is something often forgotten about with long days, pressures, and occasional lapses of basic human dignity and respect.

Part of the issue with western philosophy is a focus on ‘or’ rather than ‘and’.

This very early on infects the educational system, with an insidious subject hierarchy, and informs public and political perceptions.

Okay, easy on the politics. Editor


Maths is seen as more important than geography. Fine art is seen as more important than dance. To paraphrase Ken Robinson, in defence of dance (and in no way because Louise Molton is my Head of Faculty), what’s more important than dance? To study movement?

The hierarchical attitude to students can not only damage their sense of self, but also educator’s attitudes towards each other. Making them put down other courses, other people.

Those teaching ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects, feeling the need to overcompensate, will often do just that. And for clarity and honesty I can argue why Media Studies is the most important subject in any modern educational system. I can argue why the use of the word ‘studies’ in a subject should be stopped. I can argue how the subject Cultural Literacy should be created and made mandatory, on all courses.



There are many interesting, funny, hardworking, caring people that work at this College who you have never met, and have no intention or opportunity of ever meeting, of communicating with. You have a tool, which you really should, and could, use more often.

Following the previously discussed, enlightening conversation with the wonderful Vanessa Kent, I went to see Lesley Mayo, seeking opportunities to further my community experience. Timing (as is often the case) is everything. Thanks to Mr Grix recently connecting the College to local primary schools, Burnt Oak had made it clear they were looking for a Community Governor. I instantly put my name down. And because I had in previous years taken the time to get to know the School Partnerships team and provide them with support where possible, Lesley was very happy to support me.

And that’s how I became the Governor of a Primary School.

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