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Tom came to teaching with one goal in mind – to be an inspiration. He continues this mission by providing workshops for students and teachers in all aspects of learning to learn.


Think it worked

It did...


It started with a ..... cake!

Tom Barwood

Apologies to 'Hot Chocolate' for ruining the opening line to a great song but needs must and to avoid any further confusion here is the cake. It is a banana yoghurt loaf which I made with my eight year old son.


It was made from this recipe which I wrote down 26 years ago.

Whilst I was staying on this farm in New Zealand (just outside Nelson on the northern western tip of the South Island).


So what does this have to do with anything you may ask? Well, my son and I made the cake in response to my wife and daughter making one and both of us feeling the need to even up the household cake making gender balance. To avoid having to ask for help I reached for a recipe I felt confident with.

During the course of the cake making my son asked where the recipe came from and how I had learned to make it and hence I told him the tale partly retold above. How I ended up staying on the farm and what it lead to are the interesting bits though.

I ended up staying there as a result of cycling round the South Island by myself and getting to a point where I simply could not cycle a pedal stroke further. (To my credit I had virtually circumnavigated the whole S. Island by this time following the route below - starting from Christchurch and done some fairly big distances over some impressive topography e.g. The Southern Alps, Crown Ranges, Canterbury Plains).

The owner of the farm saw me sat outside his farm and kindly invited me in for a cup of tea. I very gladly accepted and then ended up staying for nearly ten days. The farmer in question, Stephen was one of the most original and eccentric people I had ever met and staying with him was fascinating. 

Apart from teaching me how to make cake he also enrolled me into becoming a WWOOFer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) where, in return for your labour you are given food and accommodation and the chance to learn more about organic and, in this case biodynamic, farming.

For those of you of a more esoteric inclination you may recognise that much of this resonates with the 7th insight from the Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield.

Waving a fond farewell to Stephen after my ten day stay I made my way to Nelson and from there onto Napier on the North Island to take up my next WWOOFing post at the Hohepa Camphill Community.

Based on the works of Rudolf Steiner (an Austrian philosopher, playwright and artist who lived between 1861 and 1925 who founded a spiritual movement called Anthroposophy, which works on the basis that children's creative, spiritual and moral dimensions need as much attention as their intellectual ones) the community sought to provide community living for adults and children with 'intellectual disabilities'.

This was nothing like I had ever come across before but it was as if it was meant to be and that stay has shaped the rest of my working life for the last 20 years.

I am now at the point of wondering what to do next. The appetite for the type of workshops I provide in schools seems to have faded , education budgets are minimal and frankly I feel as if this part of my mission is done.

The reason why this was all so potent for me is that it made me realise where I have been going wrong in my search for what to do next. Essentially I have been trying to fit myself into other people's ideas of who and what I should be and that is only serving to make me feel anxious and uncomfortable. This was neatly summed up for me in Thom Hartmann's book on 'Adult ADHD - how to succeed as a hunter in a farmer's world'

What I have realised is that despite all my best intentions I am, at heart,  an adventurer, an explorer, a dreamer, a storyteller, an opportunist and without doubt a hunter. I gave up a good 'farming' job in advertising to go travelling and a good job in mainstream teaching to be an educational presenter of the most original sort.

So, when I find myself awake in bed in the early hours beating myself with the worry stick emblazoned with the words 'I should have.....' (stayed in advertising, teaching, got a Phd or whatever) I will remind myself of how I got to be where I am, just what a great adventurer I am, have been and will continue to be.....


Desiderata - whoever she may be!

Tom Barwood

Recently I delivered a workshop at my daughter's school. This was part of their 'Bright Futures' project. Fortunately for my daughter it was not her year group and fortunately for the school, as I am a Governor as well as a parent, I did it for free.

It was a lovely session to deliver as it involved the favourite slice from my favourite workshop and a relatively small group of polite and well engaged students for just over an hour.

One of the quotes which this group uses as a mantra is one from Salvador Dali which states that 'Intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings'. Having been reminded by Linked In recently that I have been working as a consultant for seventeen years I have been absorbing myself in the deadly routine of ruminating on my past and asking where it has taken me.

This process was made worse by bumping into the MD of a local supply teaching agency who started off in the office next door to me in a small business centre and now has a company which occupies the whole floor of a much bigger business centre both here and in numerous other towns. As for me, I am back working from a room at home to save on costs!

Now I know that the Desiderata tell us that 'if you compare yourself to others you may become vain and bitter for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself' but I couldn't help thinking 'Where did I go wrong?'. (Cue the negative internal dialogue of my Dad, the successful entrepreneur.....).

As I pondered this in the early hours of the morning I kept asking myself - is it the case that I lack vision or lack ambition? Are ambitious people just like the rest of us but they have such a compelling goal/vision that it makes them ambitious or are there people who are just naturally ambitious and goal/vision setting is part of that mind set? 

I have taught sessions on goal setting for years now and really enjoy it. I think the truth is that we are all motivated and focused but simply not around the same things. Quite frankly, despite my best attempts, I am not that interested in 'business'. I tend to measure my wealth in terms of experiences, places I have been, people I have interacted with and - anything to do with sport, sports equipment, the outdoors and having fun; all of which brings me back to the three questions of success I shared with the students which are:

1) What is that you want - that will make you feel successful? (note the highlighted words!)
2) How much do you want it? (on a scale from 1 - 10 where 10 = you would die without it)
3) What are you prepared to do to get it? (without harming others)

Maybe I have the luxury of not having to work that hard and that in altered circumstances I would be a very different person. Maybe it has yet to come? As Martin Luther once said 'It is your friends who will tell you what you can do but your enemies what you must do'.

Perhaps it is Shakespeare who has the last word when, in 'Hamlet', Polonius counsels Laertes 'This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell: my blessing season this in thee! '



When is a lesson not a lesson?

Tom Barwood

For the last seventeen years I have been delivering training to staff and pupils in schools. To date it has been very successful. I seem to have earned enough to keep paying the mortgage and am regularly asked back to a variety of places at least!

Recently however I was asked to do some training for a company in the private sector. The first two workshops were delivered to relatively junior staff and so I treated them much as I would NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) and it seemed to work. Encouragingly I was then asked if I would do some work with the senior management team. 

Strangely this seemed to send me into a bit of a tailspin as I worried about 'getting it right'. Then I reflected on my years of presenting in schools and the conclusion I came to - which is that all people are roughly similar in that they are motivated - or not by most of the same things.

What people do not enjoy in presentations 

1) Sitting still too long

2) Being told too much 'stuff' 

3) Reading lots of text on a screen (whether that be PP or the old OHTs!)

4) Having lots of text read to them from a screen (especially when half of it is kept hidden or keeps flying in from the side....)

5) Not being able to interact, talk, fiddle or get involved

6) Feeling as if you have to be serious

By contrast I think what people do enjoy in a presentation are most of the things which make a good lesson - especially at primary level!

1) Having an intriguing title especially if it is released before the date and gets everyone wondering. (I am still very delighted that one of my ex students who became a History teacher created a sixth form course on Neo Colonialism entitled 'Why don't the Chinese play cricket?'. Atta boy)

2) Lots of props and resources (especially ones you can fiddle with)

3) Plenty of activities which everyone can get stuck into straight away

4) A clear lesson objective which delegates/pupils are guided towards through a series of 'cognitive conflict' type activities

5) A real chance to interact, play, fiddle, sort, move or whatever it takes

6) The opportunity to consolidate the lessons/learning in something they can take away

7) A minimum of input from the trainer / teacher except where necessary (the guide from the side not the sage on the stage...)

8) Arresting images and a variety of media

9) Gentle humour and a light approach

10) Structured and directed questions

This list is by no means exhaustive and I am sure is worthy of many volumes of work but sometimes I think it can be really worthwhile to distill some of the important points from an experience especially when it is something which appears to be in stark contrast to your 'everyday' job. 

This presentation was entitled 'Crouching Tiger:Hidden Leader'.

There were no Shaolin monks in attendance but my next public gig is entitled 'From Worrier to Warrior' so I think there must be a martial arts thing going on somewhere.

 I enjoy creating these titles and love presenting the courses associated with them. As I often tell students in schools 'I get to teach my favourite lesson of the week, every day of the week' so maybe it is also important that you as the teacher/trainer really are enthusiastic about what you are presenting?