From Head Teacher to Head Tutor: Key Lessons Learnt Along the Way and How We Ensure Mental Health (for Student & Tutor) Stays at the Forefront, with Founder of MyTutorElite, David Bell: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

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Ludo Millar 1:23
Hello, and welcome to the 125th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast Welcome back to regular listeners. Welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course, a huge welcome to today’s guest, David Bell. Welcome, David.

David Bell 2:36
Thank you Ludo, and good afternoon to all your listeners.

Ludo Millar 2:40
Yeah, there’s been a really rich vein of guests over the summer period, so I’m very glad to be welcoming you, David. Now, many of you may know David from LinkedIn, edu circles, and the like, but if you haven’t come across David before, then I’ll just give a short introduction to David just for a bit of context. And so you can see where we’re coming from with this conversation. So David is the founder of MyTutorElite, which is a newly set up bespoke mainly primary tuition and exam prep tuition business that David has set up himself. And really, David brings with him a great deal of experience and accolades to the tuition market. So David is a is a fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching, has been in education since really 2004, and the headmaster on top of that for the 5 years up until July of this year where he left the school environment. And to top it all off, David also holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Management. So no shortage there of understanding of how to make education work best for both the team environment in the school, and also one to one with students that he works with.

So this will be such a valuable episode for tutors who have recently left or are thinking of leaving other professional roles they have, and then who are looking to start their own tutoring venture, which David is obviously just really beginning this year, but with so much coming with him. So I’m delighted to be welcoming David to us today. Now, regular listeners will know that we like to kick off our episodes over the last 6 months or so with a special feature that brings us all the way back to the beginning of the story for our guests. Now, David in our previous communication, I gather you were able to locate a little bit of gold dust. Is that right?

David Bell 4:57
Well, absolutely. And first of all, can I just say thank you Ludo for that introduction. That was fantastic. Thank you very much. I’ve got a lot to live up to now. But yes, absolutely, I did manage to dig deep and find some reports going back to the early 90s from my secondary school, and it’s fair to say they were a bit of a mixed bag, I think would be the honest way of putting it. Yeah, clearly some teachers prefer me to others. I think that would be a fair assumption.

Ludo Millar 5:36
Were there any particular subjects in which you thrived or didn’t thrive?

David Bell 5:45
My English report wasn’t bad actually. This is December 1998. Apparently, I ‘worked well and made a lively contribution to class’, which was pretty good. I was quite happy with that. Further down, however, sadly, the accolades didn’t really last, my pottery teacher felt that I ‘lacked concentration’. And I am ‘yet to finish a piece of work yet’. So no pots coming home at Christmas [LAUGHS], from me when I was in year eight. And playing games is a recurring theme that I ‘try but have limited success in all sports’. So I think it gets better as it goes on. I obviously took that to heart. But again, my art teacher felt I was ‘a boy with more ability than I exhibit’. So I think that sums it up really, very much a mixed bag.

Ludo Millar 6:50
An amusing array of responses there and it clearly shows that you had specialism in certain subjects and perhaps not in others. But do you think then that you have continued to live those summaries and assumptions into your adult life, David?

David Bell 7:10
I think we underestimate sometimes how influential these sort of comments are on us. And I think the world has changed a little bit. I think there’s probably less negativity in school reports, whether perhaps that’s a good or a bad thing. But I do think these comments can sometimes live with children. And you do get into that mindset, ‘Well, they told me when I was 12, that I was rubbish at pottery, so I’m never going to be a potter now’. Actually, you know, if we’re doing that for children, maybe pottery doesn’t matter, but I argue it probably does, if you’re in that business. But you know, we’re saying that to children at that age, ‘You’re not very good at it, your success is limited’. It’s a bit of a closed mindset really. It’s just sort of shutting down the conversation, which I think is a shame. Perhaps it suggests I shouldn’t have gone in the more creative direction in with my life, but who knows if it would have been different, but I do think, you know, we have to be as teachers very careful in the language we use the children, because I think we can affect them for a long time.

Ludo Millar 8:16
Yeah, I totally agree, David. And I think that’s a really important point to raise. Because, you know, although tutors may not give formal school reports to their students, or even the parents of their students, there’s continuous language that we’re using to assess, and give feedback on the students who work with them. And I think it’s, as you say, it’s easy to pass over that and just to give a kind of quick or perhaps unconsidered piece of feedback, but actually, that language can be really powerful content.

David Bell 8:48
Absolutely. We, as educators, as tutors, we do have a huge amount of influence on the young people that we’re working with, and a flippant comment can be very quickly taken to heart.

Ludo Millar 9:03
Now, David, as you’re someone who’s just set up a tuition business, I’m sure you’ve done hours and hours of thinking into the vision behind the business and what you want the business and the brand to look like and how it can appeal to parents. I’d love to ask: what do you think is the why behind your business and your role as an educator?

David Bell 9:30
I’m really glad that you raised that, Ludo, because finding my why really has been at the heart of this journey, and I’m sure many of your listeners will have come across Simon Sinek and his writing around finding your why. And this actually, again, this is a wider story that goes to show how much support there is within the tutoring industry. A few months ago when I was sending out some ideas on social media, Sally Michaels from Red Bird Tutoring reached out to me. She actually met me and gave me some fantastic advice. And part of that was to pick up a copy of Simon Sinek before you go down this road, before you go through with this journey, find your why. And I did. And I think it really helped me and just flipping it on its head and not thinking, how am I going to set up a tutoring business? But why am I setting up a tutoring business? Why am I leaving the classroom. And for me, it’s about getting back to what matters, it’s about quality of life, about freedom, about setting my own agenda, it became very challenging in the last few years, pretty much since COVID, working, I worked in the independent sector, as a head for seven years. And even in the independent sector, more legislation, inspection regimes, and so on. And expectation as well, working for a small company, which is family owned, became very challenging. And I felt that I had to do something different, go in a different direction and having the opportunity to get face-to-face with children. And there’s so many children, I think, post pandemic, I’m sure you’ve discussed at length on your podcast, who need support and need somebody to give them that extra bit of hand holding. And it just felt for me it was the route that I wanted to take.

Ludo Millar 11:21
I’m really interested in this, David, not least because it really speaks from the heart and aligns hugely with how we see the education sphere evolving since the pandemic, just as you’re alluding to there, why did you decide this year was the year then to leave the school environment?

David Bell 11:41
I think it was really a case of a number of issues really going on. At work, at home, I reached a critical mass. And it just felt that it was a now or never situation, it was the right time for me. I felt once I lost that joy, and that happiness, then I wasn’t giving my best or wouldn’t be able to go forward and give my best as a headteacher. And that is no reflection on our work with our wonderful team of staff who work with me, amazing children and families. But there were too many negative forces perhaps acting from outside, which made me feel that this wasn’t, of course that I wanted to stay on. And it just felt this was naturally the right time for me to do this. Because putting one’s mental health at the heart of the conversation is so important. It’s something I’ve preached so many times to colleagues and to parents and children that I felt my mental health had to then actually be provided to prioritise that.

Ludo Millar 12:49
Yeah, I think it’s something that’s really come to the forefront, hasn’t it, in education since our lives were uprooted so enormously, this focus is absolutely on mental health. I wonder, David, if you could give some insights then into how we bake an understanding and a focus on mental health into our education, whether as a teacher or a tutor? How do we ensure that that is a concept that is spoken about in education?

David Bell 13:21
It’s destigmatising the conversation is the key. It’s having an open conversation. One of the things back when I was in school, we did a lot of mental health activities. We had a lot of mental health themed weeks, we talked about it openly. We had mental health committees amongst the staff, who were able to discuss with individual children and so on. And I think a lot of that translates into intuition. Yes, you’re working either one-to-one or you’re working with a group of children. But you still need as an educator, to be listening, you need to be hearing those things. If you’re working with a child who’s working towards an entry exam, they may be receiving pressure from home, from school, in that they may be internalising that pressure. And if it is managed, and you’re not giving that child a time to talk about it, and to decompress. And I think that that stress can build up and actually that can be counterproductive. And I think as tutors we are in quite a unique position of seeing children perhaps at that most vulnerable, where they are setting themselves. They’re setting themselves targets and they are setting themselves challenges. And if they don’t feel they’re achieving that, it’s likely down the line that they could suffer from [it]. Nothing’s more important than your mental health. No exam, no deadline. Your mental health has to come first because if it doesn’t, then the rest won’t follow.

Ludo Millar 14:51
Yeah. So is there then potentially a role for tutors to play alongside the extra academic support, is there another role there for tutors to play in managing the potential stresses on mental health that come with being a child in today’s environment? Because we can’t deny that being a kid in 2022 comes with its own stresses on mental health – do you think tutoring perhaps has that additional benefit?

David Bell 15:24
I think it allows that one-to-one conversation to happen, where if you’re working with a child once a week, you’re having that check in. I’ve always approached my sessions with children with an ear, we have an initial chat, we often do a major learning game at the beginning. If I felt the session has been a bit stressful the week before, we might go back over that and talk about why. But it’s the case, I think, for any professional educator, of listening to those children, and we’re in that unique situation where we can actually then if need to, we can then have a chat with the parent afterwards, we can directly control it, what we’re doing is bespoke. A classroom teacher has to cater for 30 children, what we’re doing is a unique opportunity to tailor what we do to that child. So to me, there’s no excuse. If I’m a tutor, and I know a child is struggling, there’s no excuse for me not to react to that, and actually support them through that because as a tutor, I’ll get better results and they will achieve better results.

Ludo Millar 16:29
I’d love to ask, David, obviously you’ve left the school environment in July of this year, July 2022. And you’ve been avidly picking up clients and working with more and more families ever since then, especially now that people are beginning to turn their minds back to the next academic year. What are your initial thoughts on tutoring? I know, I mean, it feels almost a silly question, but how have you found that transition, especially as you’ve just been alluding there to, how much the school environment took from your mental health?

David Bell 17:07
It’s a different kind of stress, essentially, you know, I would consider it a much more positive stress in that I control that stress. And I have ownership of that. So of course setting up a small business is always going to come with its challenges. But what I’m absolutely loving about tutoring is the fact that I can deal directly with those parents, that there is no kind of wider school agenda that I can sit with those children, we can look at a problem and we can fix that problem there. And that’s fantastic. It’s the ability to react and respond really quickly to when a child has an issue. But I think on a wider kind of context of the how the tutoring business is, it’s a busy business out there. There’s a lot of people in tutoring, and there’s a lot of people in all different aspects of tutoring. And I think anybody who makes that decision needs to go into it, I would say, with their eyes open because there are different challenges out there. And you’ve got to find your niche. And you’ve got to teach what you’re comfortable doing and offer an offer to tutor what you feel most secure in. And intuitively that’s certainly for me how I feel about it.

Ludo Millar 18:23
Yeah, and you speak from great experience, not necessarily in the tutoring market just yet. You have overseen obviously as headmaster for 5 years, you’ll have overseen teachers exiting the classroom, and you’re overseeing plenty of teachers coming into the classroom. And in education, as with many other sectors, there’s a huge amount of transition. So I mean, I’m really, really delighted that we’ve brought you on at this stage in your business, and I hope to bring you on again.

David Bell 18:53
It’d be a pleasure.

Ludo Millar 18:56
Because you’re going to have learned so much more over each stage and step of your business journey. But I wonder what advice you would have, even at this early stage, to those who are thinking of leaving the classroom and going into tutoring. What would you say you’ve learned so far about that transition?

David Bell 19:22
I would say: (1) know what you’re good at, (2) be true to yourself and (3) don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. I’ve been 18 years in education, in schools, in leadership, but that doesn’t automatically make me a tutor. I may have subject knowledge, but we never stop learning and I think that’s something that I have really found with this process. And there are so many people out there offering support. I mentioned Sally earlier but take the time to do your research. I’m also working with Sumantha McMahon from Upgrade Your Education Business. And it’s been wonderful to have somebody who’s been in tutoring and is now supporting tutors, to actually just bounce ideas off. And I would say, if you’ve got any doubts, invest in a business coach, do research. But if you find something, the right person, it can be fantastic.

Ludo Millar 20:22
So, certainly working with other sorts of mentor professionals?

David Bell 20:27
Yeah absolutely. Because at the end of the day, you know, there are pitfalls, and going into any business and just learning from somebody who’s been there having a chance to appraise your business plan, look at your model, look at the type, the niches that you’re targeting, as a tutor, and just who’s done it and has been there and has walked the walk is just hugely valuable. And certainly for me working with Sumantha has been great, because it’s just been somebody to bounce some ideas of when I’m not sure. Is this a good idea? Is this going to work? This is how I would do it in a school. But actually, now I’m a tutor. It’s not quite the same as it’s a slightly different marketplace that we’re working in.

Ludo Millar 21:12
Yeah, really interesting comment that, David. I think for many people that it might appear that the two are very similar, but actually there are completely different [market] forces out there.

David Bell 21:21
Usually hugely. And that’s something perhaps I underestimated when I decided to become a tutor and something I’m learning now. I mean, I would say, Be careful who you choose, there are a lot of ‘get rich quick’ as I would call them type of, we’ll get you a million needs a week kind of thing going on out there. Be careful with those. But if you can find somebody who has tutored, who has that experience, then I think it’s invaluable and we never stop learning. Life’s a learning journey and we learn from people every day. So I think it’s been for me, it’s been really beneficial.

Ludo Millar 21:59
Yeah, many educators we know have worked with Sumantha. She has a fantastic Tutors’ Mastermind and also the Upgrade Your Education Business Podcast, which you’re referring to there, if that’s somewhere that you [listeners] want to look, we very much love supporting other education podcasts, particularly Sumantha’s.

So just before we draw things to a close here, David, I’ve got two more questions I’d love to ask you. The first of those is about online tutoring. How do we ensure then that online tutoring is as effective as possible for the students we’re working with?

David Bell 22:56
We live in an exciting time as far as tutoring is concerned. Online and technologies is to me at the heart of it. It can make the process seamless. I teach some children face-to-face, I teach some children online, but we’re using technology interactive resources, we can cover the same work, we can do the same things and achieve the same targets but need to embrace it because there are so many different things out there. I mean, I’ve just discovered, for example, a graphics tablet, it has absolutely revolutionised my lessons in Maths teaching, I was using it this morning, setting up two cameras, having a whiteboard, wherever you tutor from. So you can still deliver something close to front of class teaching, if that’s how the child learns, having different tricks up your sleeve, different techniques, different ideas, because you never know when that child is going to hit that wall and you need to find as a tutor, you need to be clever and find that root out of it and help them find that answer. And I would say we are in a fantastic place now with technology that we can bring it to life in a way that perhaps even pre-pandemic, we couldn’t do so yeah, I think technology, and understanding technology, has to be at the heart of it.

Ludo Millar 24:21
Yeah, I think the future lies certainly with that. And those looking to begin their tutoring business journey, if that’s something you’re looking to do or even joining an agency as a tutor, whichever route you plan to go down, I think investing that time into understanding how tech can be used will make your future in the tutoring industry is much smoother, much more serene, because it will be part of the fabric very much.

David, we’ve covered a great deal there in just a short time. I think the conversation around mental health in tutoring is hugely important. It’s certainly a very large part of our training courses, is potential barriers to learning how putting your student in the right mindset, or helping them into the right mindset, is going to maximise learning. And then the look at the transition from teaching to tutoring is obviously one of the great transitions in education at the moment, we’re seeing vast numbers of teachers leaving the classroom for better or worse. And then this last look here at the importance of mentorship in small business, I think you’re hitting all of the right notes for our audience. I don’t know if you’ve done that on purpose, David … [LAUGHS]

David Bell 25:43
It’s almost like we planned it.

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Ludo Millar 25:49
And now a brief word from last week’s guest Dinah, Liversidge.

Dinah Liversidge 25:57
Hi, Dinah Liversidge here. You know, I learned by being on the Qualified Tutor Podcast, that tutors really have to think about mindset. They have to think about their mindset, and also the mindset of the person they’re helping. Because mindset is going to dictate the results for both parties. It was great being on the podcast, Ludo’s really friendly, really warm, and obviously cares passionately about this topic. So if you get the chance, and you’re asked to appear on the show, I really encourage you to do so.

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Ludo Millar 26:43
Just to finish, as we often do, David, is a look to the future. And really, what’s next for you. What’s next for David Bell?

David Bell 26:51
Well, that is the journey and actually alongside my tuition business, MyTutorElite, I’ve also set up a parent company, David Bell Educational, because what I want to do, as well as the tuition side of things, is to take some of that knowledge that I have, and carry on working with schools getting into them and supporting them through consultancy. I also have ideas that I still feel I need to share with schools. And that’s really, really exciting. So actually two parts to it helping and hopefully the business will grow, I’d love to be looking to expand into the overseas market and support relocating families. Having worked in the independent school sector, I’ve got knowledge of that, of some of the kind of the quirks and idiosyncrasies of private schooling that I can share with families. And also, eventually, within the next year or so moving to establishing a tuition centre, where I can bring in some really exciting professionals to do something a bit different. But you know, it’s about inspiring children, but keeping that quality.

So there are so many sorts of strands to where you can take this knowledge and this kind of business. And for me, it’s really exciting, obviously. Now, I have to sometimes remind myself, Rome wasn’t built in a day because I’m one of those people who will go 100 miles an hour. But I’m hugely excited about the future because but I want tutoring to remain at the core of that. And then those other things going on as well. So that’s my business plan if you like, Ludo.

Ludo Millar 28:30
I feel we’ve been given a real insight into- I didn’t know that there were the extra parts of business, that’s a really strong value-add, isn’t it, to have that additional consultancy, to be able to almost fight on two fronts as it were. So, David, thank you so much for coming onto our podcast. It’s a real pleasure to have you on. If listeners want to get in touch with you now, what’s the best way for them to do that?

David Bell 28:59
They can email me at hello@mytutorelite.co.uk, look at my website, book a free 30-minute discovery call or give me a ring on 0330 043 8501 and I would love to chat to anybody, any educational professional, whether they’re looking for tuition, or they just want to talk about education. Anybody going into it who would like to just share notes, please pick up the phone, drop me an email.

Ludo Millar 29:29
That’s very helpful, David, and really great to see you being so transparent about just getting in touch and reaching out because I think being available, being personable, being human is what makes a really good education business. So, David, thank you very much for coming on.

David Bell 29:49
Absolute pleasure.

Ludo Millar 29:50
I hope listeners you’re able to take one, two, if not three things from what David was saying forward into your life and work over the next few days and weeks, and we will see you all next week, [where] we’ll be chatting to Walter Kerr and Henry Faber of Oppidan Education, a really exciting mentorship and tutoring business, who have done great things so far in the space. But David, thank you once again, and we will be chatting to you very soon, I’m sure. I hope to talk to you. Okay, then. Cheerio everyone. See you next time.

David Bell 30:32
Bye then.

***

Ludo Millar

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