Reimagining the Fabric of our Education System: How to Create Incredible Learners, with CEO of Streamline Learning, Ian Siegel: 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 1:07
Hello, and welcome to the 122nd 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 Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course, a huge welcome to today’s guest, Ian Siegel. Ian, welcome to the podcast.

Ian Siegel 2:20
Ludo. Thanks for having me on. I’m so excited to be here.

Ludo Millar 2:23
Now, I’m delighted today because Ian is someone who comes to the podcast with a great deal of experience in the tutoring industry and was connected to Qualified Tutor and to me recently, and it’s been great to get to know in just this brief time and I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more from him as a community, as the Qualified Tutor Community in weeks and months and years to come in is the founder of Streamline Learning, a US-based tutoring agency and also has recently written a wonderful book on the field of literacy tutoring more widely but also about how we learn it’s such a key message to Qualified Tutor and to our community. That book is called The Tutor Bible, Learning to Learn Again, and we will be exploring the the ins and outs of that book and the wider philosophy and what that means to Ian over the next 25 minutes or so. But in I want to start with something that we often start with on this podcast. Now, when I brought this up with you a few days ago, you mentioned that while full school report may not be available, it may have got lost in house moves or clearings or whatever it is, you do have a story to tell from your 7th grade. Is that right?

Ian Siegel 3:51
Yes, absolutely. And you know, I was guilty of whenever I got a mark that I was unhappy with I would you know sometimes I was a terrible student and I would toss my paper because without looking at my teachers feedback because I thought, wow, they must have made a mistake. And this story kind of illustrates the same mindset at some level. So I picture me I guess in the States, I was in middle school, when I was about 13 years old and around there, I guess 12 and I was in science class and I was generally  what we would call a good student. I just intended to get all As. But there was a science project that we were tasked with and in the States it’s a very kind of methodical approach that you have to take in terms of engaging with the scientific method. You have to have a clear problem hypothesis procedure results all the way to the conclusion. And the teacher wanted us to present those parts of the project in a very clear order, you know, based on the rubric that we had, so I was a curious kid and I felt like I was chasing ideas.

So once I found out that plants use carbon dioxide to complete photosynthesis. I thought, ‘Oh, I know what makes carbon dioxide dry’. So I created this whole experiment where I’d throw dry ice and some, you know, boxes of plants and others with none, pretty much all of the plants died, it didn’t really work out too well, for a variety of reasons. But I at least felt like I was like, ‘Oh, I feel like I’m learning something’. So during the presentation of the project, I felt like a little bit just like I could tell from the teacher’s eyes that I wasn’t quite doing what I was supposed to, according to the rubric. And this wasn’t actually just me, but multiple people in my class, there was this kind of feeling of like, something’s not quite right.

A couple days later, the teacher asked us what we thought we would have got, we all had to write letters to our teacher saying what grade we thought we deserved, and why me being the smart aleck that I was said, ‘Look, I think I should get an A for this. But the reality of it given the you know, the kind of anti-creative stance of the school and schooling in general, I think you’re gonna give me a B and maybe even a B-‘ … I got a D on that project [LAUGHS]. And I wasn’t the only one. There were multiple Ds in the classroom, kids who hadn’t gotten bad grades before were crying.

But that was a big lesson. But after that point, I was one of the few students she took aside. She took me outside of the classroom and said, ‘Wow, you’re mean, you’re fundamentally mean’, and I said, ‘You know what, I stood my ground’. I really felt like I was trying. I mean, if anything, you’ve proven my point [LAUGHS]. So I mean, I guess that gives you an example of the iconic class that I was before. And I guess saying it out loud, I was thinking it’s like, I really haven’t changed that much, at least on that.

Ludo Millar 7:13
That’s wonderful. I wonder, then, do you think then that that informs a little bit about who you are today? And why you do what you do now?

Ian Siegel 7:29
Yes, I think it very much does, actually. I mean, that’s just a small anecdote that might illustrate a greater reality, which I, and this kind of sounds weird, because it toots my own horn just a little bit. But I do find consistently through tutoring, that the most capable learners tend to be the worst learners. And I think that I was trying to be a good learner at that point. And I was fighting to do so. But this experience that happened so often in school, where it’s like, you are being indoctrinated into a set of rules. And certain frameworks that are already accepted, rather than helping someone kind of engage with the unknown, which is what I was doing, making a fool of myself in some ways. But I think that’s really my why at the end of the day, is really investigating what are the factors that are leading to some of the most capable students trending to being the worst learners over the course of their lives?

Not starting that way, being incredible learners. But I’ve been paying very close attention, using the vacuum of a tutoring session, to understand what are actually the variables that count, that affect someone’s ability to learn? And what’s the kind of calculus between someone’s environment and their capacities, that can create an incredible learner versus someone who’s basically stuck to shut down?

Ludo Millar 9:17
So how, then, is someone who is a very capable, intelligent learner, and therefore someone you say can be a bad learner because of the way that they are, that brain works, how does that play out when that learner becomes an educator like you? How do those people who have become tutors, how does that interplay work between being an capable intelligent learner to being a … what kind of educator?

Ian Siegel 9:47
So I find that tutoring is one of the few ways to save yourself as a learner whether you’re experiencing the tutor yourself or you’re delivering the tutoring. That’s a big point in my book is that, when a tutor is born, so is a learner, and I find it very consistent that we can find- my business started off in Baltimore, where we’re right next to Johns Hopkins [University]. And we would pull very bright students who had just recently graduated from Hopkins to be our primary staff. But I’ve consistently found that these students, although incredibly bright, were not good at interacting with the unknown, they were extremely good at proving what they already know. And so that kind of shift happens. If you’re going to do tutoring, right, this shift is inevitable. Because you’re finally in this one-on-one situation where what you don’t know is obvious, it becomes incredibly obvious and how you’re unable to actually convey knowledge in a way that you’re asking questions, thinking from the student’s perspective, while having mastery over what you need to have mastery over, like you can get away with that outside of tutoring, but all those pieces of knowledge, deep knowledge of the student, deep knowledge of the subject at hand, it’s kind of inescapable.

And tutoring holds the very valuable function of helping you integrate, which is what everyone’s missing in school. School gets you to conscious awareness. But I noticed that you went to Oxford, and you’ve got to experience the tutorial. And I think that’s the missing piece for so many students is that having an expert put you on the spot, ask you 100 critical thinking questions or get you to defend what you think, and really using that to neurologically integrate, so that it becomes part of your conscious prediction of the outside world, which fundamentally reframes the possibilities of your life, which never actually happens for the vast majority of students. And then they judge themselves within that very narrow framework, which is really unfortunate, because it’s just like, people aren’t really changing. And just like the institution of school hasn’t changed very much, which is, to me, a really scary idea, given how much everything else has changed.

Ludo Millar 12:34
I think that topic is so important about what happens when very bright students learners grow up and become adults and become educators and how they’re able to relate to learners. I think, certainly something that myself and my university friends talked about was how we found, when some of us went into tutoring, we were less able to relate to learners who struggled, because it was less likely that, during our school days, we had struggled greatly on subjects, even if we had, you know, in certain subjects.

So I think that’s an incredibly important topic. And actually, you mentioned in your book just there, a fantastic book, highly, highly relevant to our audience. I’d love to know more, tell us why now is the time you’ve chosen to write and release The Tutor Bible because it was released in June this year, is that right?

Ian Siegel 13:37
That’s right. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think there’s a two-part answer to that question.

One is externally, like the environment today, at least in the States is finally opening up to the possibility of tutoring on a wide scale, but kind of understanding that it’s a viable possibility, to the extent that Biden is rolling out this, you know, multibillion dollar 250,000 tutors are going to help change the country, all that because there’s a massive admission inherent in that plan, which is this is better. And to me, I want to go a couple steps further to say like, Well, why weren’t we doing this all along? We’re spending so much money on COVID relief, if we put- in my experience, tutoring is a form of education in which the more you invest, the more you get out of it, unlike school, which can be a black hole in terms of investment.

If you just look at the study done, you know, a decade ago where they found that when you adjust for socioeconomic class, a student paying for private school versus public school, that same student, there’s no difference in learning outcomes, so putting more money into school doesn’t actually always make a difference. So what I’m trying to do is really capitalise on this moment to say, ‘Hey, well, once you start going down the path of tutoring, the more investment, the better’. And not all tutors are created equally, or at least not all tutors have the same level of experience that they can really change a student within that situation. And the reason is, it has a lot to do with how both parties, the student and the tutor, are coming into this situation, as probably pretty bad learners like that tutor, you know, who’s new, has not mastered things to the extent that they might need to, and the student is a terrible learner because of expectations that they’re constantly judging themselves in, or what we’re kind of reacting to.

And so, it’s kind of a bad situation, in my opinion, because a lot of people are what I would call not in a ‘learning state’, but instead in a ‘survival state’. And in that situation, people are just trying to prove what they already know. And whether it’s a teacher, a parent, or a student, may not actually kind of engaging with what they don’t know, in a healthy way. So that’s my analysis of the bigger challenge in bringing tutoring in. And so I’m hoping that when people read The Tutor Bible, they’ll realise what the inherent problems are with school, and also realise that there are certain aspects of tutoring that are essential, that you have to really kind of ground your instruction in to make tutoring as effective as possible.

Ludo Millar 16:54
Yeah, it’s an idea we’ve had discussed by several guests about how the very fabric of the education system can be reimagined, especially since since lockdown and since the upheaval in the way that we’ve taught in classrooms. I want to ask you, because your book clearly shows demonstrate an ability to imagine differently, what should education look like to you in 2022?

Ian Siegel 17:32
So I think that this is kind of like a Galileo moment in which we’re kind of wrong, we’re focusing on the wrong centre of gravity in terms of education. And that tutoring could be really the nexus of what we care about, as opposed to school, school, to me, comes later. Helping an individual as a learner early on in their life, is the recipe for genius, in my opinion, because it’s like helping you reorient your engagement and with the world at a time when your neurons are changing at a million miles a second.

So I feel like we should be shifting the entire education system to be based on tutoring, play, group projects and adaptive technology, that the actual classroom could be more seminar style, where students are better versions of themselves as learners. Right now, I think the image, in my mind, is the high school classroom at its best, which could be an English seminar at a private school, where there’s 10 kids who have all the resources in the world, talking about writing, sharing perspectives, that idealised vision of what school could be, [that] could be actually real, as opposed to a complete fiction, because the reality is kids are way too stressed. They’re reading SparkNotes, they’re barely reading a page. They’re only making reading real insofar as it might sound like an insightful comment to their teacher, never making it real to themselves, doing terribly on the LSAT because they haven’t had any practice reading in that way.

And then that’s it, you know, I think it’s just that we need to restructure it around an honest appraisal about the variables that count in education, and the number one is the student, and schools will shy away from looking at cognitive assessments. They’ll shy away from engaging with the psychology of the student, but those are top two for me, most smart kids, they don’t need to go to school. They just need to have like brain health and the right psychological orientation toward the world. Set them free. Otherwise, it’s just really oppressive and it just creates a kind of strange competitiveness that undermines our own abilities as learners in the first place.

Ludo Millar 20:19
I’m in awe of the passion here. And podcast listeners may not be able to see this, but Ian is remonstrating like an angry parent at a parents’ evening. He’s fighting for the future of what education could look like. My question then in, [well] I have millions. But my question is, how does tutoring, how does one-to-one or small group tutoring, facilitate that?

Ian Siegel 20:59
Tutoring to me, needs to, number one, be grounded in the idea that it’s an invitation, that learning is an invitation, that is not a top down, hey, this is what you need to know to survive in this world. And if you don’t know it, you’d better watch out because you might not be as successful as you want to be, or not survive at all. It’s instead saying, Hey, you have a place here at the table in this world, and you’re bringing something special to the table. So what I find is to really bring learners back is you have to find that island of brilliance or inside that student there’s still just something that just comes in immediately, naturally, and really kind of support that, and build that out. Because I find that, like plants kind of growing toward the sun, people grow toward affirmation, and if anything that can really give them a sense of like, ‘Wait, I’m special’, it gives you the chance to stop judging yourself constantly, worrying if I’m stacking up with everybody else, or some expectation I have for myself that might be subconsciously adopted from my parents, and actually focus on your development as a learner and engage with the uncomfortable without using it as another reason to beat yourself up. And that’s the biggest challenge most people face because most people really are using the world as a source of affirmation and a way to be accepted, rather than thinking of learning as a means of accepting the world. And just getting that shift is really grounded in unconditional acceptance of the student. And that invitation, which to me really boils down to a question rather than a statement.

Ludo Millar 23:00
And do you believe that what you’re saying is realistic? Do you genuinely believe that that is something that the education system can become?

Ian Siegel 23:13
I think that the biggest challenge is ourselves, and not any kind of logistical reality. I find that people are in such survival states that they have the hardest time listening, especially in the education industry. And to me, that illustrates how stressed the system as it is, and so when I come on and talk and say, ‘Hey, school is awful for smart kids’, I really mean that, you know, and I’m trying to speak plain English and I’m willing to reconcile my perspective with people who are defensively, you know, saying no, because I spent the past 30 years as a teacher, but it’s like, at a certain level, my experience in school is its teachers and students reaching over the constraints and structure of something that fundamentally doesn’t work and doing amazing things anyway.

And I just invite any teacher to participate in something where your brilliance as an instructor has a direct correlation with incredible impacts on the students that you work with. So it’s really a matter of persuasion. How can I speak to something that subconsciously people know and work around all those defences that are keeping them surviving within the framework that they are in so that they can let go of that? But it’s the same thing. It’s a moment of learning whether it’s for the students on the individual level, or it’s all of the educators out there who have their own specific stance on things who are locked down and what they’re doing. And you know what I call it the ‘get to the glass of wine at the end of the day’ kind of mindset that I think a lot of teachers might be in.

Ludo Millar 25:19
Yep. And might be in after this very conversation. [LAUGHS]

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Ludo Millar 25:25
And now, a short word from last week’s guest, Sandra Pyne.

Sandra Pyne 25:35
Hi there, Sandra here from Jigsaw Phonics Tutoring. And when I took part in the Qualified Tutor Podcast, I really learned that it’s a great opportunity to be part of a wider community that has so much wisdom and experience on offer, because it’s always good just to have your tribe. I really enjoyed Ludo’s questions and the chance to talk about my area of interest, which is literacy, hopefully in a way that interests everybody listening. And to a future guest, I would say just get your story out there, it has real power to spark something in somebody else.

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Ludo Millar 26:18
I think we must be mindful of our listeners’ ability, their working memory as it as it were, there’s a lot to think about there. And for any educator who has visions for a better education system in the near [or] far future, wherever it is, there’s a lot to contemplate there. We stayed very high-level thinking here. And I hope that our audience, our listeners are able to get to know you a little bit more over the coming weeks and months, however you are able to be involved further. So just before we bring this wonderful conversation which I’ve enjoyed very, very much to a close, I’d like to ask: what’s next for you? What’s next for Ian Siegel?

Ian Siegel 27:12
So I’m really motivated to take what I’m saying to a broader audience to really start to change people’s minds on a national level. I feel like I need to speak to parents, and especially mothers, about their responsibility in reimagining who we are as learners on a daily basis. Because as we create who we are with, you know, every new crop of humans who are born every day. And I think that starting there, that’s where I feel like we become learners, as humans, really, it’s through that mother-child relationship, that we could really kind of rectify what we’re doing now. And reconcile it with how we became incredible learners in the first place, and really come back to that path. So it’s a high-level journey and it’s very challenging, but I’m very motivated to help. I just feel like there’s a tragedy in education right now, in how kids are spending their time and the psychological impact that’s happening, that’s pretty devastating. So I want to give especially bright kids the chance to be the best learners that they can again, and take full advantage of life by spreading this message on a national level, if not international. So I’m glad to be in the UK here.

Ludo Millar 28:45
Yeah, insert ‘international’ into that, I don’t think the new framework of the education system or the way that we work needs to be, or even can be, restricted by national borders. So welcome to the UK, Ian.

Thank you so much, you’ve given myself predominantly but I assume many of those listening here so many visions for the future, so many avenues to explore in their own education frameworks, in their own education lives. And that’s really the true power of a great guest, Ian, so thank you. Of course your next step listeners, after taking a moment to pause, is to head online and to grab a copy of The Tutor Bible. Of course, all major book retailers, including Amazon, will sell it or you can head to ian-siegel.com to find out more about the book, and if they want to contact you directly, what’s the best way to do that?

Ian Siegel 29:53
Via email ian@streamlinelearning.com is perfect. Excellent.

Ludo Millar 30:00
And we hope to be bringing you into the conversation in our communities much, much more in the near future over the coming weeks and months. As I said, it’s great to invite you onto the podcast for the first time, I leave the door open for a second or a third visit onto this podcast if you so wish. But really, thank you very much. I hope you enjoyed speaking about what you do.

Ian Siegel 30:24
I did and absolutely would accept the invitation so I appreciate it Ludo.

Ludo Millar 30:27
Okay, sure we’ll see you all next time.

Ian Siegel 30:30
Bye. 

Ludo Millar 30:31
Alright, cheers.

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Ludo Millar

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re a regular listener of this podcast, or you’ve just stumbled across it, join the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group within the Qualified Tutor Community. To stay up to date with our latest news offers workshops and of course, simply to meet other tutors like you, whatever your level is as a tutor, our training courses will be the next step in your professional development. Visit qualified tutor.org/training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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