Thursday, 17 March 2011

School report: Could do better.

I attended Parents Evening at my son's school last week. Like many fathers of young teenage boys, one approaches these things with a degree of caution. And sure enough, teacher after teacher leant back in their chair with the words "Ahhhhh, so you are his Dad. Right, let's see..."

The general conculsion was that he is a "teenage boy".

When I got home, I sat the lad down and droned on for an hour in a fatherly way about the need to focus, work hard etc. Then I decided to impress him by showing him my school report from when I was exactly the same age.

That's where it all started to go wrong.

Or possibly that's where it all started to go right.

It turns out I was also a "teenage boy". In fact when I read parts my report my wife could hardly tell which was mine and which was my son's.

So, to give hope to all you teenage boys out there (not that you actually bother reading at all at this stage) here is the report of a 13 year old boy who went on to get several degrees, build several companies, become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, present alongside Bill Gates, be invited to attend Davos and do one or two decent things (I think) in education. So, parents, have hope. If your son's report looks anything like mine, all is not lost.

English: 66% Thomas works well with enthusiasm and intelligence. He is always willing to take place in class discussions

(where is my classic story about the potato? A masterpiece.)

Maths: 56% Tom works very hard when the work interests him. If he concentrated on the harder parts he could do better.

(I loved maths and loved the maths teacher. Made me feel special. Best teacher of my life. Wish I could remember her name)

Science: 31% Tom is a very capable lad but he is a great source of distraction to others and resents rebuke very strongly and spends a lot of lesson time sulking. A pity

(How ironic. I was actually always fascinated by science and went on on to get a degree in Applied Physics. But I really didn't get on with that science master. It was war every day.)

History: 61% Shows interest. Good project work.

Geography: 67% Work standard generally but not always good.

French: Grade A. A vast improvement since last year. 4th in group

(The result, I'm afraid, of a pretty French teacher replacing the old bloke we had the year before. Sorry. I was a teenage boy.)

Physical Education: Grade B. Unfortunately a change in Tom's attitude has retarded his progress. He continues to be an outstanding all round sportsman.

(Readers, please note: "Outstanding all round sportsman" :) But did he just say "retarded"? Can you write that in school reports??)

Music: Grade C. A capable but moody individual. Effort very variable

Drama: Thomas is very good in this subject, particularly where there is any movement involved.

(I am very proud of having been "Young Johnny Jones" in the school play. Although I didn't like it when they made me "black up". I refused to go on stage.)

Art: Grade A-. Has talent in this subject

(Hold on, capable in music, very good in drama, talent in art. Why did I end up as a computer geek?)

Metal work: Grade B. Has shown keeness and above average ability in this subject

(Do they still do metal work? We made some dangerous implements in that class, some of which were put to work in the playground...)

Form Teacher Summary: Thomas works well and in general has improved. But if he causes distraction to other in the class his work will suffer in the end. He must learn to concentrate a little harder and put maximum effort into his work.

(Improved! Gosh, I must have been really bad the year before)

Section Head Summary: Good work standard but I am concerned about his immature behaviour which is distracting others from working in some subjects. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE IN SCIENCE!

So there you have it, warts and all. And calm down about the science - I did change my attitude! To be honest, most of the work was trivially easy so I felt my main duty at school was to make the lives of anyone who sat near me as entertaining as possible. I hope life worked out for the poor souls who sat next to me (sorry guys, wherever you are !)

Mind you, this is all an improvement on my report aged 7 from primary school which included the legendary phrase "Can be rather slyly naughty". Moi? Never!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A little haiku

Shaken from slumber

Screams fury at her children.

Cold blanket brings sleep

Friday, 11 March 2011

Do you have a mentor?

Mentoring is on my mind at the moment. I have just been invited to be guest speaker at an awards event for a national mentoring scheme, and I sometimes get asked whether I will be a mentor myself. I am also trying to help organise a mentoring programme for students at the new Academy that I chair.

I have never really had a mentor as such, not in a formal sense, and I feel I suffered from lack of a mentor at times, particularly early in my career. But I think in a way I have always had informal mentors. Individuals who I have looked up to, listened to, watched and learnt from. A nudge here. An eyebrow raised there. It all adds up to a mentoring relationship.

Personally I am not a great formal mentor. The formalised process of meeting regularly to listen and dispense advice doesn't fit with me personally and I really admire people who are able to give of themselves in this way. I would feel under such pressure in that situation to say something profound and meaningful that the responsibility would be too much. Or I would say something that sounds like common sense to me, the mentee takes it as if it was a blinding insight and then I would feel like a fake who is only inches away from being found out.

But I think I am quite a good informal mentor, if you can call it that. I am always happy to have one-off, ad hoc meetings with people, over a cup of coffee, to listen and share my experience. I try not to say what the other person "should" do (I hate "should's"). I try to give him or her another perspective to add to the various perspectives that they have already. I invite them to use whatever they find useful and cast aside the rest. If they use none of what I've said but my input helps them get clear that the choice they were going to make anyway is definitely the right one for them, then that's fine with me too.

I think the worst kind of mentor is the one who is very directional. You "should" do this. You "must" go that way. Or the mentor who pretends to be impartial and open but is actually quite manipulative and guides the mentee in the direction that they "should" go, deriving feelings of satisfaction out of their subtle skills. I have certainly encountered (and suffered at the hands of) that type of person before I woke up to what was going on.

The advice I tend to give to young people when approaching someone about being a mentor is not to start by going straight for the jugular. Finding a good mentor is like Big Game Hunting. The person you are approaching is busy (probably) and gets asked a lot to be a mentor (probably) and generally graciously declines (probably).

So you have a sales job to do - AIDA - awareness, interest, desire, action. Does your targer mentor know you exist? If you pop up from nowhere with an email and say "hi, I am no-one you have ever heard of but please mentor me" then you will be lucky if you even get a response. Target-mentor has to know you exist first.

Then, what is is about you that Target would be interested in? What have you done that's relevant to their life? Have you done anything useful for the Target, or do you just want to take from them? I operate on the 3:1 rule. I must do three useful things for you before asking you to do one useful thing for me. Is Target interested in you?

Only then start to create some desire in Target for the idea that he might want to assist you. Has Target watched your development? Does Target feel part of your journey? Are you at a stage where you could do with a bit of help and Target feels like they want to help because they have a stake in your success?

Now you can move to action. Only ever ask Target for a quick coffee, never to "be my mentor". Target hates commitment. Target likes to help. So ask for 30 mins for a coffee so that you can bounce a fe thoughts off them and get some input. Don't ask for a long term mentoring relationship. If you have a good first coffee (and by the way, in that meeting, do you do something, anything useful for Target or did you jsut take from them?) then Target might say "if you fancy catching up again at some stage, let me know". When Target says that, don't whip your diary out and schedule six more two hour sessions. Casually say "sure that would be great, I'll get in touch". Then leave it two weeks (don't be a stalker and email the same evening!) and suggest a date for a coffee in 3 months time.

Remember, you are never too old or senior to have a mentor. But the same rules apply. It is a drain on the mentor to mentor you, and they want flexibility so you take your time and build a relationship.

In fact all that talk of mentors makes me feel like I want one! Right, time to identify a Target and go hunting. I wonder if they'll spot me coming.