This week Mr Phil Beadle graced us with his towering presence and ‘edutained’ 60 Year 11 students. I was going to call this post “Beadle’s About” but I’m sure he’s heartily sick of any comparisons to the bearded prankster Jeremy (no relation) Beadle.

To be absolutely honest, I hadn’t heard of Mr Beadle before I was bullied into reading Dancing About Architecture, his fantastically leftfield book on creativity in the classroom. For sheer bloody minded buffoonery it beats the hell out of anything Sir Ken has written and I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone wanting to liven up lessons with some judiciously executed lunacy. Phil told me that it has apparently “done nothing” which is a scandal. it is, quite simply, the most enjoyable book on education I’ve ever read. It’s that good that I stayed up til 4am to finish it!

Subsequently, I went on to read How To Teach which isn’t really aimed at me but is still wonderfully down to earth, practical and avuncular. As well as quite rude in parts. Which is good. Suffice it say, I’m a convert and when finances permit I will devour the rest of his output with equal voracity. For those unaware of Phil’s oeuvre, here’s small taste:

So, I’ll admit to certain degree of nerves on meeting the great man. We had a brief, if not terse, exchange of emails in advance of his visit and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. A number of the kids I’d selected for the session weren’t sure if they could be bothered to attend and were talking about the fact that they’s rather attend engineering, psychology, their uncle’s cat’s funeral etc. I had a bet with one lad in my tutor group that if he went and didn’t enjoy he would win £1. Clearly there was a lot riding on this.

Practically Phil’s first words on meeting me were to ask whether I was a musician or an actor. Now despite failing to make any effort to pursue a career in either of these disciplines, I have always harboured a fond but increasingly unrealistic wish of ‘being discovered’. I asked why and was told, “Because you dress well.” Clearly this a man of taste and discernment. Mollified and flattered, I began to relax into the day.

Phil began the session by revealing to the assembled students some of the complements he has received in various publications: ” There are times when I could happily slap him until his nose bleeds and think it’s unlikely that I’d ever tire of kicking him”; “I’d like to punch him in the balls maybe 250 times” and “I have already said I find it hard to vocalise the irritation I feel at this guy”. Good times. Suitably impressed, the wide eyed students then listen as he unravelled what Ian Gilbert has referred to as The Great Educational Lie: work hard at school and you’ll get decent qualifications, a good job. You’ll get married, and live in a nice home and have kids and be happy. Instead, he offered them the proposition that “Happiness is the accidental by-product of positive action on something else. It happens when you are focused on something else.”

He then outlined the five skills they would need to master in order to have a successful life:

1. You will need to be able to recognise your own emotions

The idea here is that we have fight or flight instincts that take over in stressful situations. If you can recognise this happening, you stand a chance of being able to do something about it.

2. You will need to be able to manage your emotions

An emotion like anger can be triggered by something relatively minor a unimportant which causes a surge of hormones; our bodies take on a state of readiness to act. We are then operating on a hair trigger. At this point it is next to impossible to manage anger in a skilful way. The trick is manage it at the point of the initial trigger; to know what pushes your buttons and to be able to avoid getting carried away by our hormones.

3. You will need to be able to motivate yourself to work

Phil describes this as the ‘master competency’. If you can master this, you can master anything. He described the two different kinds of extrinsic motivation which operate in most schools: the carrot and the stick. Effort will rewarded and lack of effort will result in a kick in the arse. Well, as Carol Dweck points out for us, we have to be able to want to do it for ourselves if we’re going to be successful. Effort brings with it the risk of failure. If we invest something of ourselves in a project and it goes wrong, what then? This is where for many of us that crafty fixed mindset pops up and advises us not to bother. Well, as dear old Sam Beckett said, “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Being able to delay gratification is also hugely important here. If we can get the difficult, uncomfortable stuff out of the way first then we’re going to find life a lot less stressful.

4. You will need to have empathy

Interestingly, one of the students in the audience had Asburger’s which is, as I’m sure you know, partly about the inability to feel empathy with what other people feel. We had an interesting discussion about whether this was something he could learn to fake. I don’t know the answer to that, but at the end of our discussion, he flet he could and was reassured that having a successful life was within his grasp. Here are some examples of statements which reveal a lack of empathy:

“If she resists, she’s playing hard to get.”

“This is just another form of affection.”

“This is just good discipline.”

5. You will need to be able to handle relationships

The key advice here was that you get back what you put in and that smiling always pays off. Which of the Mr Men would we want to be taught by? Most of us, after due reflection might answer Mr Happy. Emotion is viral and the simple act of smiling and being cheerful is easy to catch. Negative emotions are perhaps even easier to spread. He ended with the advice that we should offer compliments whenever possible and then got students to cover each other with post-its of praise, flattery and kind words. All free. And all, nonetheless, very gratefully received. Not least the couple that I had stuck on me!

The similarities to Mr Beadle are startling

Naturally, this took me back to Phil’s comments about my sartorial sensibilities. Had I been played? Is it all that cynical? Well, I reflected, does it matter if it made me feel good?

Afterwards, I chatted to some of the students involved. They had been entranced and were buzzing with new ideas and insights. One particularly reluctant attendee commented that he had “learned loads” and “couldn’t wait” to tell his mates about it. Most importantly though was the lad with whom I’d had my bet. Did I owe him a £1? Thankfully, he conceded that it had been a worthwhile two hours. The highlight for most had probably been the bit where Phil told them the secrets of body language and how to recognise if someone fancies you. You could have heard a balloon pop.

And the best thing about it all? Phil gave up his time for FREE! Thanks very much Mr B, please come again soon.