Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Coming soon to a cinema near you… Moonlight Over Great Eastern Street!

Matt Damon stars as the rough, tough, maverick accountancy lecturer who’s never afraid to push his budget analysis to extreme variance limits.

I think Matt Damon would be good to play my part. Okay we might have to fatten him up a little, and perhaps dye his hair grey, but I think he could pull it off; the part that is, not his hair.

Sad though it is to admit, my subjects just don’t have mass-market box office appeal. So what can I do to enliven my teaching? Humour! That’s it. Humour. Education inspectors who’d attended one of my accountancy classes once said that I bring humour to a subject not known for its humour. I suspect however my students might claim that my humour is not known for its humour.

I sometimes describe my subjects as ‘gear change’ subjects. Learning to change gear is not exciting in itself, but you cannot have fun in a Porsche without first learning how to do it. So it is with accountancy and finance: learning such subjects can appear ‘dry’ but they support careers which might span from being a finance director of a large company to the next Sir Richard Branson. 

Consequently the ‘gear change’ becomes the all-important link to the adrenalin rush of the supercharged engine, and that is why I can find these subjects stimulating and exciting. I find that students who are further down the line in their careers know and understand this already and share the feeling. However, what can we do for the younger students just starting out who have not yet engaged in this way? How do we help them to go down the line and share the feeling?

I have been teaching for a long time, however I believe the best approach is always to share good practice. Recently before teaching politics and economics to a young group I asked a colleague how she approaches the subject. Out of this discussion came a link to the BBC news channel, where a game show format had been used to ask people in the street about how well the UK economy was working. I replicated this in the class, and it went down really well.

Another colleague overheard our conversation. She had an idea… she got her students and mine up on their feet to do star jumps! It only lasted a couple of minutes, but those students were re-energised and their output improved afterwards. I remember that such class room creativity was encouraged during my teacher training days, when we all had to try a new way of delivery, and I taught a segment by rapping it.

The theme here is clear. Don’t be a hero, be a teacher. A hero would try and do it all alone, but a teacher should care and share. This is why we also encourage an exchange of ideas between the older and the younger teachers: the older ones have the experience, and the younger ones have the fresh ideas, and together the synergy is irresistible.

Sadly not every institution can make this happen, as personal politics can get in the way of a free flow of shared ideas. At ECBM we don’t have this problem. Someone is always ready with a suggestion or an idea. It all goes on behind the scenes, and although our students won’t see this preparation taking place, hopefully they will feel the benefits.

Now if you will forgive me, I have to climb up the outside of the building to the helicopter hovering overhead, leap up and pull myself inside, overpower the pilot and speed off in to the velvet night sky. Destination: a place of mystery far away. Route: via the supermarket.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Top of 'Brexit Towers’ hidden in the fog

The sky was calm, a drab mid-grey, as I walked out in to the energising cool breeze of an English autumnal morning. Golden brown leaves carpeted the damp spongy grass, their crispness diminished but not their vibrant beauty. Woodland trees were standing on guard on the other side of the valley, distant but reassuring, shrouded in a mellow milky mist. Such a peaceful scene.

Later that morning I was in the fast-moving current of the City which is anything but peaceful. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes rumbled through the busy streets, and pedestrians of all shapes and sizes darted along the pavements. You could never choreograph the pavement, as the opposing dance of the work-bound is far too intricate. Determination and necessity take over, and we all get to our destinations.

The City of London contains a fascinating eclectic mix of new tall buildings, and today – just like the trees in the valley – they were bathed in fog and low cloud. Ever upward they reach, but today the tops of these towers were not in sight. I knew there was a conclusion, a summit, but I couldn’t see it. Nature was mirroring life. At the moment there are many conclusions that we cannot see or predict.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has been reassuring business leaders at the Confederation of British Industry that Brexit will not result in a damaging cliff edge scenario, and that she will be seeking a transitional deal for the City even if the UK will need to continue paying contributions to the EU post-Brexit. Yes, even if we have to continue paying. 

CBI President Paul Drechsler believes that the business community is 100% committed to achieving a smooth and successful Brexit in 2019 in partnership with Government, but then again there have been allegations in the press that the British government does not have a single plan regarding how to manage Brexit, and that civil servants are overwhelmed already with preparatory work.

I would like to know what Mr Drechsler means by the terms ‘smooth’ and ‘successful’, as without such clarification they are fairly meaningless. Words alone cannot help us.

The top of ‘Brexit Towers’ is certainly hidden in the fog, of that there is no doubt, but surely that is to be expected in a process new to us all in the UK? Is there a need to panic? I don’t think so as I have faith in the EU. With the energising cool breeze of pan-EU co-operation, determination and necessity, we can all eventually reach our destinations under clearer skies.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

No ordinary days in London

Last Thursday I attended a conference about internal audit and regulation for the banking and financial services sector. What a great time we had! Fun, games, jokes, and to end it all three games of bingo with great prizes to be won. Well that would have been nice I guess, had it been true.

Actually we were a room of banking, finance and audit professionals, and addressing highly significant areas of regulation which will have a serious impact on the credibility and validity of our industries. The event was very interesting and very informative and, as everyone knows, we are always people who are great fun to be around. What? You didn’t know that?

The next day however was a day for sober reflection. November 11th. Armistice Day. A time to reflect on the immense courage and fortitude in unimaginable conditions faced by men and women in battle. At 11.00 the two minutes silence was observed by those who wished to, and in my town another minute was added for the seven people who died in a tram crash just last Wednesday, during what they thought would be an ordinary journey to work.

I often think that the men and women who died in battle must have been just like my students: full of life, with hopes, fears and ambitions, making plans and more plans for their futures. Their lives had stretched out ahead of them, but were then so cruelly denied them. As I look at my students I am so grateful that they were born many decades later. May we never forget those of all nations who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Honourable Artillery Company
November 11th was not only about remembrance, as it had another aspect of a happier kind. A day to celebrate the men and women attending their well-deserved graduation ceremony! This joyous event was held at the centrally located Honourable Artillery Company, an oasis in the midst of the city, and full of character and history.

Excited men and women came together to be robed in caps and gowns, the symbols of their character and achievement. Family and friends arrived and were greeted by the ECBM reception staff. An atmosphere of excited anticipation hung in the air. Pictures were taken, some formal and some informal, pictures that will be shown to families for many years to come.

Up on stage congratulatory hands were shaken. Applause spontaneously rang out from the audience. Praise and recognition came from eminent members of the commercial, political and academic worlds who gave time out of their busy and important schedules to support and congratulate the graduates who they clearly admired. Friends and family were so pleased to see such success. ECBM management and teaching staff, having seen at first hand many of the challenges our students faced, were delighted for them.

In one of the speeches we were reminded that, in life, we can either take a chance or make a choice. The graduates had made a choice to open up more doors of opportunity and they were determined to succeed, as they did. I will always advocate making choices rather than taking chances. And the nice part of all of this is that age is never a barrier. I last graduated when I was 53 years old.

Yes… our graduates certainly had a great time in London. ECBM wishes them all further great times in cities around the world in the years to come.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

It's never too early to start with your professional development

On a bright and breezy autumnal Monday morning I get off of the bus, and walk down Great Eastern Street to the ECBM building. For me it’s just a normal day, but for the 19 students I see congregating with their group leader on the corner of the street it is a day they will never forget, because it is ‘day one’ in London on their Professional Development Programme (PDP).

Students from Koblez on their first day in October

I say ‘day one’, but in fact the group leader and their team have been giving time from their busy schedules to make this programme offering possible for their students, addressing the necessary planning and administration requirements in liaison with the ECBM PDP team. The students have been making their applications for a place on the programme, making preparations for three weeks in London, and the prospect of studying in a second language.

There is anticipation in the air. In class, introductions are being made. The ECBM teachers are friendly, and they speak at a pace which suits the students’ language skills. We put them at their ease. We prepare them for what is to come. We know that some will be faster learners than others, or more fluent speakers than others, but the important things is that they are all here together sharing the same positive attitude and desire to grow, and so our welcome is warm and genuine.

By Thursday everyone is settling in. The London way of life is becoming familiar, the transport system is far less confusing, and yes they have successfully undertaken a range of business classes in English. They can do it! There will be taken on excursions around places of interest not on the usual London tourist map, and it will be great just to soak up the atmosphere of Victorian cobbled streets, or narrow alleyways in the City. After lessons, the students are making plans for their first weekend and nights out together in London, and probably not to the library this time! There is so much to see and do.

Students from Bad Toelz on excursion to Docklands & Greenwich

Before long it is the final week. Presentations are being perfected, exam questions are being prepared for, and on Friday a ‘farewell’ takes place. Most students want to return to their friends and family and their own bed, but equally don’t want to leave the vibrancy of London’s unique atmosphere. Some however will return for holidays. Some will return at the appropriate time to enrol on one of our Undergraduate Study Programmes. We will be pleased to see them all.

It is such a pleasure to work with these students, with their strong work ethic and positive zest for life, achieving so many things so young. Their self-confidence has grown, they know they can work in English, and their resumes have a valuable addition which employers will value. I did not have the confidence to do what they are doing at 19 or 20 years old, so it is rewarding now to be part of a team – the group leaders, the ECBM programme management, the ECBM teachers – which can provide the arena in which they can enrich their lives and build memories and experiences that will last a life time.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Do you like cheesecake?

I love it. All soft and lemony, with a spoonful of chilled crème fraîche, served up on a warm summer’s day. The best cheesecake recipe I know is from the culinary angel and goddess of the kitchen, Nigella Lawson. Ah the sheer joy of watching her at work as she creates food heaven.

Can I ask you something… at this point, are you sharing my feelings? Do you feel the joy? Will you be logging on to get her recipe? Somehow I doubt it. I have a reason for asking you these questions as you will see.

I made the acquaintance of a senior nursing manager some years back, and he had just returned from a six-week training programme in California. He was wide-eyed and fired up over new management techniques he’d learned about that would revolutionise nursing care on his hospital wards – his words, not mine. A few weeks later when I saw him again he was sad and confused, as his nursing team showed no interest in the techniques, and he could not understand it. “It’s all so wonderful and they just can’t see it” he said. However, he was the one who couldn’t ‘see it’.

While he was out in sunny California enjoying a great life experience, his team were living their same old lives, working under the cold winter clouds of South of London, dealing with sick patients and their families, working to tight budgetary constraints, and under the weight of ever-increasing paperwork. His exposition of the great things he had discovered were meaningless to his team, and nobody could get interested in his ‘brave new vision’.

One of the things we learn in the academic world is that a concept cannot live in a vacuum. It must touch, and be touched by the world around it if it is to ‘live’ and add value. Connections must be made, and we call this ‘application’. This is what the nursing manager apparently failed to understand. He was so motivated by what he had experienced that he stopped thinking about the world in which his team lived. There was no connection between what had motivated him and what was needed to motivate his team. He had failed at the application stage.

Would you or I ever make such a mistake and sacrifice such an opportunity? It’s possible. Experienced people get things wrong just as inexperienced people do, which is why study is so valuable to us all, as it reminds us to think, re-think and re-evaluate critically what we see and experience, even in familiar areas of our lives. It reminds us that we live in different worlds which must be connected to facilitate the sharing of concepts if those concepts are to work.

An example in the business world can be seen when a new restaurant comes to town. The owners know that their love of food – their concept knowledge - is not enough. They step out of the vacuum and on to the pavement. They hand out samples of their food to local people to make that all-important connection. To make the concept ‘live’ and add value. The motivation is passed on and the public are subsequently more likely to book tables.

So if you ever see me standing in front of ECBM handing out samples of cheesecake, you will know why. Find out more about study programmes at ECBM.

Graham Harman-Baker