March 27, 2012

Here’s a link to a reduced version of my slides from last Friday’s IATEFL talk.

Thanks to Pedro and MacMillan for giving me the opportunity to speak at the event.


Here is a link to the talk I gave at the International House DoS Conference in January. Leadership tips from Muhammad ALi, Abraham Lincoln and Sir Alex Ferguson.




IH Milan Conference 2011

November 3, 2011

Here’s a link to slides and video from my talk at the IH Milan Conference 2011



Useful Apps: MindTools

November 1, 2011

There seems to be general agreement between people who know me – that if there is any mind out there that needs additional help – it’s mine. So, thank God for MindTools.

The MindTools website is a treasure trove of useful management, career and thinking tips.

The Mind Tools app brings you a great selection of these articles – and is now available for the iPad…And it’s free!

What more could you wish for?

There are articles on everything from French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power (could anyone see that title and not want to read it…immediately?) to anger management (unfortunately the article is about controlling your anger – not how to merge your temper with your newfound knowledge of the Five Forms of Power) to something tantalisingly called SCAMPER.

Download the app and explore!

Here’s a link to the website – www.mindtools.com and to get the app – iTunes

I have dark secrets.


Once, when I was about 10 years old, I bought my mother some perfume as a gift only to swap it on the way home with a friend for a parachuting Action Man…Come to think of it perhaps my friend has some dark secrets too…

There are others.

I cheat at sudoku, for example.

I used to be a member of the Queen fan club…The group – not the woman on the stamps.

But as a manger who prides himself on being anti-paperwork, perhaps most shocking of all is the admission that I regularly use checklists.

I know. It’s bad.

However, having read Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, I feel it may finally be safe to admit it in public.

I couldn’t function without them, because, you see, I was born with a special condition – I have absolutely no memory for anything that might be remotely useful. The names of minor characters in Judge Dredd comic stories that I read over 25 years ago? No problem. The theme tunes of TV shows cancelled decades ago? easy-peasy. The three things I have to take intongfg a lesson? not a chance? The two pieces of paper I always need in a teachers’ meeting? You’re having a laugh, aren’t ya?

Gawande’s fascinating book isn’t about teaching but focuses instead on how easy it is for medical professionals to miss routine steps in complex procedures. Mistakes that literally cost lives. The introduction of checklists – as opposed to investment in training, etc., – has proven to be highly effective in avoiding such issues and has saved countless lives.

Luckily those of us in educational management are not facing the same pressures as surgeons, however, some simple checklists can help us become more efficient and effective in our jobs.

They take a few seconds to glance over, but I have found them the best tool for getting round my memory difficulties.

I will share some of the checklists I use over the next few weeks, I know, You can hardly contain your excitement, can you? Fell free to add your own!

Living in Italy has taught me that what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next. Clothes, for example – Most of my Italian friends would look good in a shell suit. Whereas I’d manage to make an Armani suit look scruffy.

Smiles, are another thing. You’d think they’d work for everybody – and then you come across a picture of Gordon Brown – and well, no, you realize that they don’t always work, do they?

Oh – and team-building games. I’m amazed that people actually seem to enjoy them –how you could possibly create a bond with someone who’s  just sellotaped themselves to a beach ball is beyond me. Personally, I’d rather watch the entire series of Sister Act films than do any kind of team-building…mmm, on second thoughts – pass me that masking tape…

I’ve just started reading StandOut by Marcus Buckingham and I’ve been reminded that what’s true of apricot-coloured jeans is also true of management techniques. One style does not fit all.

In the book Marcus shares the story of a manager who turned a failing store round when he gave ‘everyone a whistle and told them to blow the whistle whenever they saw anyone do anything good.’ Can you imagine? However, the store went from the bottom to the top of the performance tables. Marcus makes the astute point that this doesn’t mean that we should all rush out and get the whistles in. Heaven forbid. The whistle was an important factor – but equally important was the personality of the manager himself. In the hands of another that motivating whistle could quickly become an instrument of torture.

I like to think of my management style as not-necessarily-too-organised-pretty-relaxed-bordering-on-the-David-Brent-let’s-cross-our-fingers-and-see-what-happens approach to getting things done. I’ve come to realize that not everyone rolls that way.

My great hero, football manager Alex Ferguson, achieves a lot through the effective use of anger. I’ve tried this – and failed miserably. People laugh. I go a bit red, can’t get my words out, and generally look as if I’m about to start crying. People point. And they laugh.

Equally, I can’t see Alex Ferguson playing dice games with Ryan Giggs to see ‘who gets the coffees in’ – but I think that particular game is one of my most effective management tools.

If you’re not authentic, people are going to see through you. It’s great to look around and see what management tips you can steal – but if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.

For more on StandOut visit http://standout.tmbc.com/gui/

Top Podcasts: Manager Tools

September 6, 2011

On a recent visit to my office, a friend happened to see my computer while I was updating the podcasts I listen to. He looked at the screen, did a double take and then –  with a distinct tone of amusement in his voice – he said, “Good Grief, Mike. How many podcasts can one man listen to?” –  then needlessly he added – “Get a life!”

I now keep my laptop hidden whenever I’m updating.

Still, despite my friend’s mockery, I thought it’d be useful to share some of the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis (Number one is The Guardian’s Football Weekly, but I’m not sure that’s too relevant here).

I’ve mentioned it many times, but my favourite for management is the Manager Tools podcast.

If I’ve managed to learn anything at all over the last five years, a lot of the good stuff has come from listening to Michael Auzenne and Mark Horstman’s weekly discussions – punchy, provocative and packed with good practical advice.

Their goal is to help you become an effective manager. Their advice is often challenging –  and sometimes raises an eyebrow. But I’ve found it works for me.

Manager Tools

Recent casts cover –

  • One-on-one meetings with team members
  • Managing your calendar
  • Coaching

Worth downloading!

More podcast recommendations to come….

Why I Play the Blues

September 6, 2011

BB King is possibly the world’s most famous bluesman – yet he can’t sing and play at the same time. Oh, and he’s not that hot at chords either. Perhaps what he needs is some effective management. Let’s the scene- BB comes off stage after a gig at the Apollo and …here comes the manager…

BB? Got a sec? Just wanted to give you some feedback.

Sure, son. Go ahead.

Well, I couldn’t help but noticing that you didn’t sing and play at the same time out there. That’s fine but It’s just that all the competition’s doing it now. Clapton, Buddy Guy – all those fellas singing and playing – simultaneously.

‘fraid I just can’t do it. When I sing I gotta stop playing. There it is.


Uh-huh. Can’t do it.

Well, maybe now we’re getting to the root of things here. Don’t you think that’s typical of your attitude. ‘Can’t’ ,My woman left me.’ ‘Worry, worry, worry.’ It’s quite frankly all a bit negative. Can’t you sing some happy songs? And a few chords wouldn’t go amiss out there either.

Maybe we should thank God that BB hasn’t had that kind of feedback. Despite his weaknesses, BB has managed to win fifteen Grammy awards, record more than fifty albums and has even made an appearance on sesame street. Luckily BB didn’t worry too much about his limitations. When he sings he just stops playing – and he made sure that the single notes he plays just about knock everyone’s socks off. BB King didnt worry about his weaknesses and focused on what he could do and as a result Rolling Stone Magazine named him the 3rd Greatest Guitarist of all time.

The message is simple. We should spend more time focusing on people’s strengths. When was the last time you told one of your teachers how good they were? We don’t want to give these poor people the blues.

For lots more on making the most of your strengths visit the Marcus Buckingham site.

Lesson Checklist

September 6, 2011

I recently came clean about my dark checklist secret. I promised to share a few.

The first is my Lesson Checklist- A necessity given my inability to remember anything. So, at the risk of been eternally mocked by those of you lucky enough to possess a fully-functioning memory, here it is –

Pre-Lesson Checklist

I scan this before I go into the classroom

1. Homework to check?
2. Lesson aim clear?
3. Photocopies, books & dictionary?
4. Technology, equipment in place?
5. Register

Lesson Checklist

I’ll glance at this during the lesson – I think it’s self-explanatory.

1. Menu on board?
2. HW checked?
3. Feedback – positive – reformulation
4. Board examples in context (chunks)
5. Register signed?
6. Set homework?

After the lesson it’s very simple.

1. What worked?
2. What would you change?

Inspiring Teachers!

August 1, 2011

This is more a request than a posting –  I’m writing to ask if you could spare a few moments to share a story about a teacher who has been an inspiration to you.

Here at International House Milan we hold an annual conference for local state school teachers of English. This year’s event will be held on 21 October and we expect at least 150 teachers to attend sessions given by guest speakers from the United Kingdom and Spain.

I would love to start the conference with some inspiring stories of inspirational teachers.

Was there a teacher who helped you achieve the success you enjoy today? Did any of your teachers help you see the world in a different way or encourage you to make the most of your talents?  Anything you might be able to share – from a few words to a short anecdote – would be a great boost for the teachers at the conference.

If you can help by writing a few lines it would be a greatly appreciated. Some people have even sent a short video clip!

Please send your inspirational stories to me using the form here!

Many thanks!