Upgrade Your Tutoring Business and Improve Your Confidence-Building Skills as a Tutor, with Sumantha McMahon: 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 2:17
Hello, and welcome to the next episode, this 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, Sumantha McMahon. Welcome Sumantha, welcome to the podcast.

Sumantha McMahon 3:30
Thank you for having me.

Ludo Millar 3:31
Thank you very much for being here. Thank you for the appearance on your podcast, the Upgrade Your Education Business Podcast that you invited me onto earlier this year. And that was one of the first times I have been on the other side of the microphone as it was on the full experience. But as a brief introduction to Sumantha, many of our listeners will know Sumantha already. She is and has been a valued member of the Qualified Tutor Community ever since its earliest days. And as I said just then, was very kind in allowing us to appear on her podcast as well. Sumantha has a wealth of experience in both the entrepreneurial and teaching fields, Upgrade Your Education Business and Sumantha’s other exciting venture, The Upgrade Project, are not Sumantha’s first businesses. I’m sure Sumantha if she feels it’s right to draw on this will draw on these experiences in the next 25 minutes or so. And despite Anya closing down in 2020, after a simultaneous stint as a classroom teacher, this experience gave Sumantha the confidence and the expertise to launch herself back into the world of business. And here we are now, it’s spring 2022 and Sumantha’s two businesses are helping a great number of students and of course small business leaders, including many dear friends of Qualified Tutor, such as Ilana King and and Judy Brice. Sumantha, a mightily impressive CV. Thank you for being here. What’s giving you reason to smile today, Sumantha?

Sumantha McMahon 5:17
Well, your introduction for a start. Thank you for that, it was very generous. It’s really nice to be a guest on the podcast, I really value the Qualified Tutor Community and I like what it represents in our industry. So it’s a real pleasure to be a part of it.

Ludo Millar 5:34
Thank you, Sumantha. Such kind words. And I’d love to kick off this podcast by finding out a little bit more about about why you do what you do. I think this will be a really good insight, Sumantha, into your background into your career and why you’re here today. So that question is, Sumantha, what is your why as an educator?

Sumantha McMahon 5:58
So I’ve been an educator for my entire career. I’ve been teaching adults, I’ve been teaching children. And my why has always been to empower people. When I was a classroom teacher, for instance, and I would teach GCSE groups, I would say to them, leave your target and predictive grades at the door and just focus on doing your absolute best in class. And when I work with children who face personal challenges, I try and empower them with lifelong skills so that their personal circumstance, you know, never hold them back. And as a private tutor, which I do feel is different, I do design lessons to support children’s individual needs.

And I don’t just mean from an academic perspective, I even do this from my group classes. And I like to work alongside them like a team, so that there isn’t this, ‘I’m the teacher, and I’m the boss’ type dynamic. And I do a very similar thing with adults when I train them as well, because people are people. And you know, we all like to feel confident, we all feel like we’re doing well. And that motivates us. But with the tuition side of my business, I work very closely with families, particularly for younger students, to make sure they’re getting the level of the support that they need. Because it’s a multi-agency kind of approach. So, you know, my aim as an educator is always to empower people. And a measure of success for me is that they really shouldn’t need me for too long. If they need me for too long, then I’m perhaps not doing my job quite so well.

Ludo Millar 7:35
So that’s formed your philosophy, ever since your education days? Or before that even?

Sumantha McMahon 7:43
Good question. I think it formed my philosophy after my education days. I don’t think I was mature enough to think of it that way before, I mean, to being a school teacher. I was a corporate trainer, corporate business trainer, before I was a teacher. And in the corporate world, there’s a really, in my view, a low-level understanding of teaching and learning and how learning is transferred. And so again, I was going through the motions.

But I think I really gained this insight when I became a classroom teacher, and was working with children from so many different backgrounds, that it made me reflect on what my role really is here. Because it was a huge responsibility. I was changing and shaping people’s lives. And that responsibility doesn’t come lightly. I wasn’t part of a big corporate machine anymore. And so I think that that ethos probably developed there. But I realised that it had always been inside me. It’s the way I train adults, even if I’m teaching them something quite dry, like Microsoft Excel, you know, it’s still about them being very active in their learning, so that they go away and remember what they’ve learned and they can apply it.

Ludo Millar 8:59
Yeah, I think perhaps that style of teaching is even more effective with adult learners, because with children, with students who are used to learning in the classroom all day, when they come to a tutoring session, they want to be active in their learning. Whereas it could have been years since an adult was in that environment, and was kind of, you know, au fait with the fact that active learning is the best way to learn, you know, it could have been 10-15 years. So I think it’s even more effective, even more kind of a shock to the system for them. So, I mean, tell us a little bit more about how you’re giving students kind of new-found confidence and competence as part of The Upgrade Project.

Sumantha McMahon 9:49
Well, confidence is at the core of what I offer. It’s splashed all over my website. And the motto that I use as an educator, whether I teach children or adults is if we feel confident with what we do, then we enjoy it. And if we enjoy it, we want to do more of it. And if we do more of it, we see results. So that’s a principle that I really follow. And I make very clear to parents, because as good as that motto sounds, some parents and some children, they do want just a really pure academic focus, they want something really intensive. And in that situation, maybe I’m not the right tutor for them.

So I do make sure that confidence-building is at the core of everything, because I believe it unlocks results. And the way I build confidence, it really depends on what people need. So for instance, something I’ve always done is, whenever I’ve asked students a question, I don’t accept ‘I don’t know’ as an answer. ‘I don’t know’ is not allowed in my lessons. Because I always like to encourage them to just try. And when they take these educated guesses, they usually actually get the answer right, or they’re along the right lines. And just that tiny nudge has made such a huge difference for my students, because they not only feel confident to try even if they’re unsure, but it just removes this fear of failure, this fear of getting it wrong. So it’s created this really safe environment that I hope they can take forward in other situations.

But I also try and stay very responsive, you know, for example, at the start of this academic year, I welcomed a new student into my group class. And she really struggled because she was really shy, she was a real introvert. So I introduced an icebreaker activity at the start. And it was meant to just be a one-off just to ease her in. But the students all really loved it. They were like, ‘What are we doing next week?’. So it helped this student with her confidence, the students were really engaged. So now it’s become a thing. We do it every lesson. And I’ve shaped it into something that helps with that analytical [side], their critical thinking and articulation skills. So what I do is always changing and evolving, depending on what my students need, how they respond and how I can respond to their response.

Ludo Millar 12:08
Are you able to give us a tiny insight into what the icebreaker is? Or is that protected IP?

Sumantha McMahon 12:13
Oh, no. It’s I google ‘dilemmas for children’, ‘ethical dilemmas’. It’s that kind of thing. So I think once I asked something like, If you if you saw a thief, stealing a whole lot of money from a house, a really wealthy family. But you knew that they were actually donating this to an orphanage? What would you do? Would you tell the police because if you tell the police, they would have to return all the money. And that really got them thinking and then, you know, questions like, ‘Would you want to earn five pounds a day? Or would you like to get a million pounds all in one go?’ You know, things like that. And then sometimes I give them a week to prepare. And then sometimes I put them on the spot. I think the most entertaining one, if I’ve got time to share it quickly, was that so it was on International Women’s Day. And so I’ve got one child who’s a boy and the rest of them are all females. And I asked them so next week, I want you to tell me about a woman who has had a real influence in your life, someone you admire, it can be your mom, it can be someone famous. So all their hands shot up. And you know, they were asking how to be a singer and all of this. And the male student he looked at me was like, does it have to be a girl? And I was like, yeah, yeah, it does today, and another one. And I thought this was probably the best answer I’ve ever heard. She’s only eight. And she said, ‘Can I choose me?’. And I just thought, ‘Wow, yeah, of course you can’. And the following week, they did, they all came up with really interesting things. And then that male student, he said, ‘It is my mom’, I said ‘That’s lovely’. I said, ‘What did your mom do that helps you admire her, that makes you admire her?’ He’s like, ‘Nothing really. She’s just my mom’. So we do have some laughs and they are really entertaining with these questions.

Ludo Millar 14:17
Yeah, in the QT world, we know them as thunks. I don’t know if you’ve heard that terminology. Perhaps they’re slightly different to dilemmas. And I think my favourite one has always been, ‘Would you be friends with yourself?’ which is quite similar to what the girl in your class said, you know, ‘Can it be myself? Can I be my inspiration?’ Yeah. I think, ‘Would you like to be friends with yourself?’, initially people are like, ‘Yeah, yeah- oh, oh, well, maybe not actually’. The initial reaction is yes, and then no, but you know the idea of thanks comes from our good friend, Ian Gilbert from Independent Thinking, but I think you know, wherever you hear them, wherever you get them from, Sumantha, they are a great way to start a session, or to end the session or to know however it is. And I think that’s where tutoring becomes more than just the passing of knowledge or the passing of academic learning. And kind of more into your confidence-building, coaching, mentoring. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more, given it’s something that clearly you do quite a lot, is how do the areas of tutoring and mentoring intersect?

Sumantha McMahon 15:35
Well, mentoring has two meanings for me really. Because, firstly, as well as tutoring and teaching children, I also mentor them, even though until you asked me that, I’d never really put that label on it. But upon reflection, I do mentor them. But I also mentor education business owners, and there’s an intersection between them for my students. To me, mentoring comes in the form of being able to support them fully. As in not just the academic side. I mean, children are great at blurting things out, and it’s not unusual for them to be in the middle of a task and suddenly blurt out something that’s bothering them that’s completely unrelated to our subject. And so we swerve and we talk about that. And I really wished that I’d been able to do that as a classroom teacher. It’s actually one of the reasons why I took on extra responsibility, I was a deputy head of year. But in a room full of 35 children, that’s really hard.

So when I moved into tutoring, I first felt guilty if we had these types of conversations, because I felt like I might be in trouble with a parent for allowing the distraction. But I very quickly realised how important these conversations are, especially in a one-to-one or very small group environment. And when I work with education business owners, a very similar thing happens if say, we’re talking about coming up with a social media strategy, we bring in factors like their lives, or their personal challenges, or, you know, just to create something that really works for them and is actually sustainable. And when I take a step back from all of that, they’re all interlinked, because as one person, there’s only so many students I can support. So by helping fellow educators get more visible, develop services and products, it means there are more high-quality educators in the market, which means of course, that more children can also be supported.

Ludo Millar 17:31
And it’s perhaps that final point, there is where Upgrade Your Education Business came from. That’s important for listeners, you know, there’s The Upgrade Project, which is Sumantha’s tutoring side and then Upgrade Your Education Business, which helps fellow education businesses. Why did you move into that area?

Sumantha McMahon 17:56
There are a number of reasons really why I took that step. From a very logical point of view, I’m a qualified business trainer. And before I was a teacher, I was working with corporate organisations. So when I blended this in with my teaching and tutoring experience, it was quite a natural transition. But also, when I first set up a business, I was 22. And I really didn’t know anything, and there really wasn’t much information out there. You know, you couldn’t go to YouTube University. So there is a lot of generic advice out there and rules that often I find people think they need to follow. But often they don’t work because every nation, every industry has their own nuances. And so with a blend of my experience, I feel like I can support people in a very targeted way.

But also the reason, you know, from a personal point of view, why I went down this road, is because tutoring has been life-changing for me. It gave me the exits I needed, I really needed it out of the classroom, but it also realised my lifelong dream to be a full-time business person, because I grew up with this mentality that don’t rely on your own businesses, it’s unstable. And it’s, you know, not a good idea. And so for 17 years, I ran my first business while working full time, because I just assumed I always needed a fallback. But taking that risk or that step into tutoring, and being a full-time business owner has been just, it’s been so liberating. So I really enjoy helping other people, design businesses, which is what I talk about a lot, that are completely on their terms. So that, you know, we’re very focused on our target audience and we should be, but I also focus on business owners and what they want to get out of the experience of being one. Otherwise, there’s little point in running one if you’re not getting what you need out of it.

Ludo Millar 19:53
That is so powerful, what you’ve just said. Some of that I want to just draw on. I’m sure you get asked this a lot, Sumantha. But what is your number one tip for a teacher wanting to move into the world of their own business?

Sumantha McMahon 20:13
To choose one tip, it’s really hard to.

Ludo Millar 20:16
Ok, I’ll give you two …

Sumantha McMahon 20:18
Thank you. I think the first thing that I always talk to people about is to make a conscious decision. And this decision can change and it can evolve. But just to start with, so make a very conscious decision about whether you want to be self-employed, or whether you want to be an entrepreneur. Because that will dictate how you take those steps. So let’s say you say, I really don’t want to be doing all the marketing and all the other things that are required to develop a business. But you do want to be a tutor or you want to set up a business in a totally different field. Think about the stepping stones that you might need to take if it is tutoring. And I’ll use that as an example, given the podcast. If it is tutoring, then you might want to go to some agencies. And yes, they will take a commission. But quite rightly, you know, you’re getting students based on their reputation, and they do a lot of background work that you don’t have to do. So that’s a great way of being self-employed, where you have some control over your time, but at the same time you teach and you get paid.

Whereas if you want to develop a business, if you want to be an entrepreneur, then your approach might be different. Or you might still sign up for agencies just as that stepping stone just to gain a bit of momentum, experience and some money that you can reinvest in the business. So to me, that’s always that very first step.

And the second thing because you generously allowed me a second thing [LAUGHS] is something that I did actually, when I left teaching. This was the very first time in my life that I did this is, I think it’s a really good idea to decide on what kind of life you want to lead. I’m not necessarily talking monetary goals. But what do you want your life to look like? What do you want your everyday to look like? And how do you want to feel, and then work backwards from that, and design your business to give you that. And it may not happen overnight, it might take months, years. But as long as you are on that path, and of course what you want might evolve over time, then there’s a really true value to running a business. Because if it’s just money, or if it’s just I want to be my own boss, it’s really hard running a business. And that’s not going to keep you going through the tough times. But if you have a really strong sense of why you’re doing this, and it’s a personal compelling reason, then even when things are tough, it will get you through that. So they would probably both be my, that’d be my top two bits of advice.

Ludo Millar 22:44
Listeners, go back, drag the cursor back and listen to that again, if you need that boost, if you need that extra leg up, if you’re on the cusp of making the leap. Because, Sumantha, as you I’m sure have worked out from the previous 25 minutes has been there before, and has been through that and has been successful in making that leap. So those words come from, you know, the heart, they come from real, firsthand experience. So Sumantha, thank you for that. We’re just kind of drawing to the end here. But I wanted to ask, looking ahead, what does 2022 have in store for Sumantha McMahon?

Sumantha McMahon 23:29
Well, aside from tutoring, and the one-to-one business mentoring that I have been doing for a while, I’m hoping this year will be quite stable because I’ve launched quite a few things. I’ve launched a podcast that you you mentioned earlier, thank you for mentioning that. And I’ve also set up The Tutors’ Mastermind, which is a group if you like that I’m providing a community, I’m providing for people, if they want to grow their business with people who just get it, people who understand. And there’s lots of things included, I’ll let people explore that. So I always provide flexibility so that people don’t have to commit to more than they need. So this year, I’m hoping that the podcast that uses the mastermind will be gaining momentum. And I’m just really looking forward to growing the supportive community of tutors who want to harness that power of growing their business and sharing the thinking with people who really truly understand and are walking that journey. And I have to say that it’s really thanks to people like well, organisations like QT, who have really paved that way before me in setting up communities and helping tutors understand that we can really work together and there can be this groundswell that makes this change. So I’m really excited for this year.

Ludo Millar 24:47
And the next, and the next … we’ll have you back on looking ahead to you know, the predictions for 2023 [LAUGHS]. Sumantha, thank you very much. Where’s the best place for people to reach out to you?

Sumantha McMahon 25:03
The best places to contact me on any social media platform, or to go to www.upgradeyoureducationbusiness.com and there’s information about everything, including the opportunity to book a free call with me. If you’d like to bounce some ideas around and see how I might be able to help.

Ludo Millar 25:21
I hope there is a deluge, a barrage of consultations and check ins because you speak so eloquently, Sumantha, about your journey, but also about what you can do for other people looking forwards, which I think is a very handy dichotomy in which to approach that. So thank you so much for for giving up your Wednesday morning to speak to us here, Sumantha. There is so much to look forward to in terms of what you’re delivering as part of the Upgrade Your Education Business. And also, there is the Love Tutoring Festival 3, which will be taking place in the week commencing the 27th June of this year, 2022. And if you’re lucky, you may just see Sumantha there in a speaking capacity. So keep your eyes out for more information around that. But Sumantha, thank you so much one final time for coming on. And if you would like your next step, dear listeners, head to upgradeyoureducationbusiness.com/upgrade-your-education-business-podcast to listen to Sumantha’s podcast. You can find anything about the podcast on the Upgrade Your Education Business page. So thank you, Sumantha, and we’ll see you all again next time.

Sumantha McMahon 26:53
Thank you for having me, Ludo.

Ludo Millar 26:57
Bye.

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Ludo Millar

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