Tuesday, 28 March 2017

We may not always succeed, but we try our best

Edith Piaf was a celebrated French singer, who lived from 1915 to 1963. She was affectionately known as La Môme Piaf, which loosely translates as ‘The Little Sparrow’. Nearly always dressed in black, this diminutive lady emanated not only a powerful voice, but a powerful presence on stage.

Her early years were very tough, and I won’t go in to details here. Some people are hardened by such experiences, and others become more human, and in the case of Piaf it was definitely the latter. She was a generous lady – some say too generous – but it was in her nature. Life however did pay her back through a successful international career, but sadly also in the tragic death of people she loved.

While performing in New York, she missed her boyfriend Marcel Cerdan, a French boxer. She wanted him there with her so much that she asked him to fly out one day early. After some strings were pulled he obtained a seat on an earlier Air France New York flight. While making an approach in to a stop over it crashed and he was killed.

Not only did she share her money, she also shared something more personal and profound – herself. Many of her songs were autobiographical, and she would sing with her heart reaching out to the audience. People felt they could share their troubles with her, as she was sharing hers and her pain of life with them. It was a genuine experience.

Let’s come back now nearer to home. Some students find studying a pleasant emotional experience, and others struggle against the demands of a busy life. However one of the pleasures of being a tutor is the ability on some occasions to ease the pain to some degree. Although we are here to teach, we are also very experienced in the ways in which a busy person can react to a schedule of teaching and assessment, and we understand their problems.

We cannot wave a magic wand, but usually we can help to re-frame our student’s problems and improve how they feel. We are not trained in counselling, and cannot play games with people’s minds, but often it is enough to be a good listener, and good listeners we are. Good listeners with helpful suggestions. We may not always succeed, but we try our best.

I would say to anyone thinking of starting a programme of study, or going back to study after a long absence, see the problems but focus on the opportunities. Problems can often be overcome, but not so easily a lack of opportunity. You won’t be alone: family, friends, college administrators and tutors can share in the journey with you. Nothing worth achieving is easy, but a challenge is not the same as an impossibility, and the highest hills provide the best of viewpoints.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Data is the Fuel of the New Economy

I’m a man who likes to live on the edge, always bathed in the glow of a powerful adrenaline rush. And so last pay day I went out and brought myself a new piece of extreme kit… a vegetable spiralizer. No more boring sliced carrot for me I say.

I am trying to eat more healthy foods, and so lashed out £29.99 for the machine, and then went to the market with my wife to buy courgettes, beetroot, apples and so forth. Back home I assembled my little machine, placed some vegetables in its jaws of death, turned the handle, and et voila… a range of fascinating shapes appeared thanks to its four blade options.

Green apple, beetroot and carrots curled themselves around each other with colourful crunchy delight, and with the addition of some ham and cheese a really tasty salad was born. It took only a few minutes to wash the blades through and pack them away… money well spent.

There is another market on my mind at the moment, and there’s not a courgette in sight. I refer to the Digital Single European Market (DSM).

The European Commission website states, “The internet and digital technologies are transforming our world. But existing barriers online mean citizens miss out on goods and services, internet companies and start-ups have their horizons limited, and businesses and governments cannot fully benefit from digital tools. It's time to make the EU's single market fit for the digital age – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one. This could contribute €415 billion per year to our economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs”.

On the 10th January 2017, it was announced from Brussels that The European Commission is proposing new legislation to ensure stronger privacy in electronic communications, while opening up new business opportunities.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: "Data is the fuel of the new economy. To ensure that Europe is successful in the new era of the industrial economy, we need a solid and predictable framework for data flow within the Single Market”.

So how will the UK share in all of this, now that we are intending to leave the EU? The European Commission’s web site states, ‘The Commission will engage proactively in discussions on reaching "adequacy decisions" ….. with key trading partners in East and South-East Asia, starting with Japan and Korea in 2017, but also with interested countries of Latin America and the European Neighbourhood’. What that would mean for the UK is too early to say.

As a Brit I am feeling like someone all dressed up for the party going on next door, but with no invitation in my hand.  All I can do is look over the fence and wish. Prime Minister May is about to trigger the UK’s intention to leave the EU… with so many issues on the table I just hope the significance of the DSM is not overlooked in the maelstrom of negotiations which are destined to follow.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Hakuna Matata - It Means No Worries

Life is never what it seems, we're always searching in our dreams to find that little castle in the air. When worry starts to cloud the mind it’s hard to leave it all behind and just pretend you haven't got a care. These words were written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent for their hit song ‘The Other Man’s Grass is Always Greener’.

When I think about worrying I cannot help thinking of my paternal grandparents. My grandfather could never stop worrying; my grandmother could never start. Such a stark contrast would make a good case study, but that ship has sailed. Suffice to say I inherited my grandfather’s genes.

So what is all this leading to? Well as you ask, it is leading to some words I would like to share with you about student anxiety. I must say up front that I have absolutely no medical training, and that my words are just purely personal thoughts which you might find of interest, based on my experience of life.

Let’s start off talking of the students who believed they were going to fail. I referred last week to a lady who told me at the outset of a professional programme that she would fail an accountancy module, but one year later went on to study for her professional accountancy exams having grown to enjoy the subject. This gives us our first point about worry… it is so often pure fantasy, yet look at the energy we spend on worrying about things going on in our lives.

Another time a student told me they were worrying about passing their exams, and I replied that this was not what they were doing. I explained that they were perhaps worrying about how their career would be affected, or what their line manager would think, or even friends and family. You might think my reply solved nothing, but my second point is that taking the trouble to understand what you are really worrying about at least helps you to manage your thoughts more accurately.

Moving on, one student said that because they worried about taking part in a group presentation this was perhaps a sign of weakness. I pointed out that if they were really weak then they would not be on a programme. Their worry was that they would not do a good job for themselves or their fellow group members. You may not agree, but I think this demonstrates that the student was caring about task and team, and that this was a professional attitude. Point three then: sometimes just a little re-framing of the situation helps you to see things more clearly and realistically.

Finally point four: some people will never get to be students! When looking in to a course or programme they will meet a wall built of anxiety ‘bricks’. There could be many considerations to take in to account, and sometimes study is just not feasible, but I wonder how many great minds were never given their freedom because anxiety prevented it?

If you are thinking of studying, don’t let anxiety hold you back. Yes it’s a challenge, and no I don’t have any quick answers as I am a worrier myself; but I can leave you with this…

Don’t focus on what you don’t know today. Focus on what you are going to know tomorrow.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Approach the World of Study With a Fully Open Mind

What can be nicer than picking up a really good book, feeling the clean un-blemished cover, perusing the précised comments about the author on the back cover, and then tearing out the last page before anyone gets to read it. Oh the joy, for yes I am a former banker [sound effects: crash of thunder and maniacal laughter].

That is the kind of person I have been perceived to be when in the industry. The reckless behaviour of certain bankers did contribute to the financial crisis of 2007/08, and many businesses and individuals still bear the painful scars, but those bankers were the tip of the iceberg, and most of us are really normal and nice individuals.

It is interesting how our perception of people is influenced by the work they do. You are a nurse? How wonderful. You are an artist? How fascinating. You were a banker and now you teach accountancy? How… well I really must be going!!
The image of the bad banker couldn’t be further from the truth in most cases. Last week I was teaching a vibrant cohort, all banking and finance people, supported by excellent employers, attending ECBM for their Higher National Diploma programme. They have plenty of personality, and are all decent young people. They offer hope for the industry of tomorrow, its reputation and its integrity.

Perception can be a useful tool – marketers understand that – but sometimes it can discourage. I wonder how you would perceive going to college on a weekend? My colleague has just taught from Saturday to Monday, and his post-graduate students really enjoyed their learning experience. When dedicated talented students are led by a dedicated talented teacher the synergy which flows is exhilarating.

On graduation day I will see the results of all these students’ efforts and will applaud them loudly.

Sometimes people lack faith in themselves, to start a programme or to take it to the next level. I can cite a lady who told me at the outset of a professional programme that she would fail an accountancy module, but one year later went on to study for her professional accountancy exams. I introduced a despondent young man in a café to a foundation course he never knew existed, and now -after several years of study - he is a fulfilled, well-paid business consultant.

The point I wish to make is that we should approach the world of study with a fully open mind. Some of the most rewarding experiences in my teaching career have arisen out of transformations; watching people become what they thought they could never be. You don’t need to stay as the person you think you are now if you don’t want to. Become the person you wish to be through the pleasures of study. It will change your life, as it did mine!

And now, I must go down to the book shop…

Graham Harman-Baker