I think aspiring leaders need to listen to the people that are there, but set a vision for people to follow. Be determined about that vision, but at the same time, to be able to bring people with you, you’re not leading if no one’s following. – Mike King
After leaving school at 16 Mike fell into Outdoor Pursuits and subsequently into Teaching. Listen to his unique path to Executive Headship and becoming a CEO. Identifying a true “gap in the education market” Mike set up as a charity, that formed into the school Releasing Potential and now offers a teacher training business with one goal, to enrich all children’s lives.
Mike has truly learned the hard way, Releasing Potential is going from strength to strength listen to his fantastic account of what you can achieve if you put your mind to it!
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for show notes, transcript and links…
[00:36] Mikes insights into becoming a teacher.
[03:53] The Launch of Releasing Potential.
[05:00] Is teaching a vocation?
[06:19] Biggest advice to NQT’s.
[08:19] Becoming a Head Teacher and building Releasing Potential.
[13:15] Current initiatives.
[18:34] Advice to aspiring SLT.
[23:47] The next steps for Releasing Potential.
Lee Stanley 0:06
Hello and welcome to Hadfield education good to great webinar series where I interview and speak with the teachers and senior leaders within the UK education sector. Today I’m joined by Mike King, who is the CEO and executive head of releasing potential and releasing potential schools. Morning Mike, how are you?
Mike King 0:28
Morning?Good. Thank you.
Lee Stanley 0:29
Excellent. Mike. Why I always like to start off by finding out how you got into teaching. And so where did Where did you all begin?
Mike King 0:36
So I left home 16 and did the old youth training scheme which is like an apprenticeship and all the instructors there were teachers and that started me on my journey. So if I was gonna make it in the outdoors, I need to become a teacher and that was really influential for me.
Lee Stanley 0:55
Fantastic and in terms of of your study, what what subject did you did you begin teaching?
Mike King 1:01
So I studied P and PSE and those were my strengths. And that’s where I went with.
Okay, um, but you’ve moved into the SEN sector How How did that come about?
So all of my teaching practice says, were with special needs children, they It was either inner city or independent special needs schools where my teaching practices and it just happened to be was good at my friends, they were more academically minded, they would be really good at the a level and stretching back into that side. Whereas I was much more influenced by how do we engage young people and how do we enable them to be part of the education setup?
And do you think activities and sport play quite a large contribution in engagement with that?
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of studies isn’t there about movement and activity can change someone’s mental health and self awareness. And obviously, you know, we all have year 8’s on a Friday afternoon. You don’t want to be out on the wet football pitch during their activities. However, it did always give you a platform to talk about weights, diets, social care, as well as talk about Okay, how are studies going? So it gave you a platform to have conversations beyond the academic attainment.
Lee Stanley 2:34
Excellent show, so which schools Did you initially trained within.
Mike King 2:39
So I trained in a few schools around Swindon. So, Harriet Parkway was one. And also we worked in Breeden special school, which is over Tewksbury. We are trained in children. So those were that was the area that most of my teaching practices, were in
Lee Stanley 3:00
Within the special needs itself, is there a specific niche that you specialise with? Or have you just worked across the board?
Mike King 3:09
Over the years I’ve worked right across the board. Every single special needs that you can imagine I’ve worked with, but releasing potential is particularly about the child who is more social, emotional, or mental health or emotional behavioural or emotionally vulnerable? And obviously, some of them are autistic spectrum and some of them will have other medical syndromes but we don’t focus on the physical.
Lee Stanley 3:43
Okay. Okay. And what led you to Releasing Potential? Was that was there like a light bulb moment or a specific time or decision?
Mike King 3:53
Yeah, so there was so I was teaching in Chicester college which is where I live I, you know, I go to church, I have a face with that. And actually in the culture that I was living in at the time with friends and family, there was a real sense of calling to have a social purpose, not just a career. And so in amongst that there was the challenge of well okay if I believe in something, but also have a passionate about social justice, what am I going to do? So I distinctly remember we lived in Portsmouth at the time, and talking to my wife thinking right? We need to start a charity we need to see how particularly outdoor education can be used to engage more young people than the few hundred that we were doing at the time.
Lee Stanley 4:48
Fantastic asked one question that I often ask is, is teaching still a vocation or seen as a vocation? What do you think?
Mike King 5:00
Well as I is really interesting, so one of my other roles voluntary is I’m the chair of the Institute for outdoor learning. And recently I was in Ireland at the European outdoor education conference. And one of the things that academics there talks about quite a lot is how training now is very specific to creating technicians of education and not educators.
Lee Stanley 5:29
Mike King 5:30
And I think that is not the individuals fault. I think that is probably the quickest and most expedient way to get someone from zero to hero in education terms, by think we do to lose out on putting people in the variety of teaching environments that enables them to become educators. So I did the old four year B Ed. Yeah. And that meant that I was in up to five different schools over a four year period, as well as my holiday periods spending time doing activities. So, by the time I came out, I was an educationalist. And the technician second,
Lee Stanley 6:15
what advice would you give to NQT’s and student teachers then?
Mike King 6:19
Oh, so it would be get yourself in as many different schools and settings as possible. Whether that is you have to travel, whether you have to go to a primary school when you’re actually secondary trained, whether you volunteer in a special school. What I mean when I set out Release Potential, I worked in secure units, children’s homes, anywhere and everywhere, where there were children who I could teach, and it was just to learn about what to teach, teaching climbing in a secure unit is not going to be a lesson that works. However, I have to be able to have to expand my teaching remit to get other things in. So it’s exposing yourself to as many education opportunities as you can particularly in those younger years. Yes, you have debt Yes, you want to get in career. But when you become a head teacher or wherever your career takes you, you can draw upon all those experiences.
Lee Stanley 7:27
So when you initially decided to set up releasing potential, did you have senior leadership experience?
Mike King 7:36
No, I was 26. I no, I was a teacher in a special needs family and a college. I I’ve had leadership training through other choices and in the outdoors, you do a lot of outdoor qualifications so I was a canoe coach by that time and sailing coach as well, so I have those types of experiences but I haven’t had senior leadership experience in the education setting.
So talk me through your past them from the start of releasing potential through to then heading up and really developing the organisation.
Yeah, so Release Potential started 18 years ago and what became my daughter’s bedroom. So we had a three bedroom house and there was a tunnel back terraced house in middle of Portsmouth and turned one of those rooms into our office. And we I said yes to everything, you know, so whether it was youth work in the evenings, whether it’s pupil referral unit groups going out during outdoor ed, whether it’s special schools and in the years supply, obviously, and we ended up building this reputation where we could go into pupil referral units and provide alternative provision
Lee Stanley 8:57
Mike King 8:58
and that was great and that works. What we found with the different head teachers and local authority changes, and this was in the early 2000s. So you had labour and government and you you slowly gained towards this different population growth and different financial circumstances and head teachers would change their mind. And they would change their mind quite I don’t blame them, they would change their mind, which meant that you out or for my staff delivering, you know, child A didn’t turn up that day. So they filled the space which Child B which meant that you couldn’t have any continuity in your teaching.
Lee Stanley 9:42
Mike King 9:43
So all that led to as well as the government white papers saying every child needs to be registered under the department for education is us creating a school so we looked at that about four years ago, and we tried to mould something around the national curriculum, and it just didn’t work. Children. Our children have failed within national curriculum settings. And, you know, they can barely get into the classroom Never mind go through this little levels of which national curriculum is asking of them of their age group. So we wrote a curriculum, and we’ve written it from scratch. It is based on other people’s learning. It’s not just us it is, you know, people would recognise parts of it. And we finally managed to register the school two years ago. And we then went through a full OfSTED just a year and a half ago, and we got good throughout. And one of the recognitions was the curricullum and the fact that it was appropriate for our children. The journey has been from doing a whole variety of educational provision to focusing on the school and on the journey. We’ve got an outboard engine business, so students work placements there. We have a Rowing Centre where the community have their rowing clubs, but we look after it with our students. We have an alpaca farm someone gave us some alpaca. So we obviously said yes. And and our children learn how to farm. And we have had said yes to some things like Forest School but decided actually, you know, we’re a school we’re not we’re special needs school and that’s what we’re about. We’re not about the whole population and meeting their needs. So we’ve actually closed that down and brought the Forest School into our own curriculum, and delivering within our own setting because that’s our reality special needs. And those children who don’t fit into other settings,
Lee Stanley 11:46
Brilliant. It sounds like you cater for the actual individual which is fantastic in terms of the size of school, so how many children you have enrolled now.
Mike King 11:59
So we are registered for 50. At the beginning, we always come down, we are actual ideal number 34. And we’re at 24. Now and what will happen as the year goes on, and the reason why we’re 34 is our ideal is just purely the amount of space we have.
Lee Stanley 12:18
Mike King 12:19
so we’ve never borrowed any money. We everything’s come from scratch. And so we have two locations where we do our teaching, one is an old college building and the other is two warehouses where we created 20 metre workshops with classrooms and we have motorbikes and all sorts of things and the learning takes place there. So our facilities really are ideal for 34 children on and off site. And we are looking at then facilitating Virtual Education elsewhere,
Lee Stanley 12:52
Mike King 12:53
Bearing in mind, actually, that then supports children back into their own settings. Ideally, we will have no children at all. And they will go back into settings which are more socially acceptable if you like.
Lee Stanley 13:07
Okay. And in terms of the current initiatives that you’re working on at the moment, what are they?
Mike King 13:15
So first thing is that we’ve, we’re bringing the school to the centre of the charity making that at the heart of what we do. And the enterprise businesses are developing so that all of our children have a place to be in work, and learn about work. As we know, special needs children don’t all fit into the normal place of work and we can, you know, so rather than have that difficulty, we’ve created those and then we also have an academic Institute, and the academic Institute is teaching our staff but also other people around the management of challenging behaviour. And the programme that we use is for all of our staff, they do a level three level The NVQ level three. And it’s based on Glasser and choice theory. And it has a bit of NLP in it and it has other teaching elements to it. And the idea being is that children are able to make a choice regardless. So this requires us to not do any restraint on our children, which might end up with a broken window or broken door. But that’s the risk we take. There’s a massive risk, but we all have a common language by being trained in our management changing behaviour. So that’s now developed from an online course, CPD, which British cycling and the Institute for outdoor learning recognise right we also have a level two online and then we have a level three, level four and a level five. So we go up to degree level. And in our area here, actually, this Friday, we will be teaching all of the primary schools in the locality on this methodology. We’re going to be taking through a course. So that’s. So we’re basing our teaching on the management of change behaviour on our practical application. So we have three things that we want to focus on. We want to be able to provide quality alternative education. We want to resource other people providing alternative education. And we want to stand in the gap between the marginalised and society. So that could be as simple as our children are in an outboard engine business, and they learn how to do customer service. Yeah, can be as simple as that, or we can be a voice in very difficult circumstances. So those are our three objectives. Excellent.
Lee Stanley 15:45
And what are the bigger term pictures? What what are you looking to to progress on to in the next sort of 3 to 5 years?
Mike King 15:52
Yeah, okay, so we have a three year plan at the moment. This year is about really cementing We’ve established and developing it within our own restraints. Next year is our OfSTED year, which is always good fun. But, you know, that does focus the mind. And so it’s establishing everything around, showing ofsted just what we can achieve with these children. And then the year after, we’re going to be looking at planting new schools, not miles away, they will be connected within 40 minutes of where we are now. So they can still visit the alpaca farm, they can still go to the rowing. So is to do that. But then it’s also to provide more resources in the challenging in the management of challenging behaviour, so that people within their own settings can do things so I’m not interested in having a worldwide web as it were schools, but I am interested in resource and people within the context of where they are and sharing what we’ve learnt sharing the mistakes Sharing the trials sharing the tears, you know, just being able to say this is our reality, and this is what we’ve learned so that people can hopefully learn themselves what works and doesn’t work within their context. So what’s been becoming a school? That was a that was a really triumphant moment, obviously. Yeah, just this week, quite a very quiet, humble organisation. And so the idea of becoming executive heads and things, that’s not our driving force, but be able to have a place where our children can be in a recognised establishment. That was a really big win. I think having the confidence of local authorities in what we do is a is something else, you know, Our reputation in Hampshire and West Sussex is high. And personally, probably outside of education other than family and all of those wonderful things. It’s probably been the chair of the Institute for learning and so having a national influence around things in the outdoors. Fantastic.
Lee Stanley 18:21
Fantastic. And what advice would you give to any say senior leader who is contemplating making the jump and setting up their own school like you’ve done?
Mike King 18:34
Never burn your bridges lies. Number one, you just, you know, you can’t be being nice. People always come in and out of your life, you will always make mistakes, but never burn your bridges because you just don’t know when those relationships will come back into your sphere. Sure, and so it I guess it’s a Never burn your bridges apologise when you need to be humble. Also be determined there’s that you can have a determination without being arrogant. And so I think having a humble determination around what you’re about actually opens doors.
Lee Stanley 19:27
Absolutely. And in terms of now being a head within a school, what what advice would you give to any sort of aspiring head teachers that are just going to follow a normal path if we call it that?
Mike King 19:45
Yeah, I think
Lee Stanley 19:48
because you really
learn the hard way, haven’t you? You know, you really have learned via trial and error and then going out and testing another Probably failing an awful lot in comparison to what 90% of the people who watch this will, they will be in a mainstream or an AP that is already established and already structured. And they will have a route and a path. Whereas your roots been completely unique. You’ve got so much so much sort of information that having to learn it yourself.
Mike King 20:27
Yeah. So I think aspiring leaders need to listen to the people that are there, but set a vision for people to follow. Be determined about that vision, but at the same time, to be able to bring people with you, you’re not leading if no one’s following. Yeah. So you’ve got to be able to lead people who want to follow your vision and I think that you know, people have great means about failure is only a point of learning. And I think that is true. But I would say put support structures in around yourself, whether that’s you play a sport, you do it a hobby that’s going to sustain you through the difficult decision times because you will have those difficult decision times. And you will need to have something that sustains you that is healthy for you. And that is always difficult.
Who’s been your biggest influence within your your teaching career?
Oh, man, I read this question earlier and I was thinking on my life who is it? I think in the early years, I was lucky on my youth training scheme. I was surrounded by brilliant teachers, and they were really good and they were Okay, last. I need to become a teacher. My first boss at the college, she Was formidable in her passion for children. And she understood how to run business of a college and to have a passion for children. So that was that was really influential. I think education Lee, the people who astound me the most is in special needs, you get this thing. Okay, you get this thing where people like to compete about how bad their children are. And we call it the competition of the bad. And it’s an awful, awful things. So, because ultimately, I could regale you all sorts of storeys around the depths of which our children are involved with in society and and those people around them. But it’s the humble, it’s the determined it’s the one it’s the chase you come across, who has such a fierce passion and yet Humility about themselves that they’re confident in what they can deliver. It’s the education lyst rather than the technician, it’s the it’s the person who is able to light a room up not because of their personality, but because of what they’re able to deliver. And it’s not about them as a person. It’s about the children engaging with what they’re putting in front of them. Sure. Yeah.
Lee Stanley 23:26
And in terms of the, the next sort of steps for you, where do you Where do you see the school sort of branching out? You’ve obviously mentioned the locations. It sounds like you have got a really, really nice niche to develop and to progress.
Mike King 23:47
Yeah, so I think, I think one of the key things is we have focused on looking after the staff team and the family and I’m sure there are some staff of upset I’m sure there are things that I’ve made wrong. But ultimately, we’re a family where close knit, we have the privilege of doing debriefs every day. So we have that time together. And so one of the key things for us is not to over expand, because otherwise we’re going to lose the closeness which we require for our children to engage. So yes, we will expand in West Sussex and Hampshire, I think for us from there then is to develop our institute. So I have some academics who work for me and develop the institute in sharing what we’ve learned so that people can take that back to their own setting. They can be able to deliver what we deliver, but within their own context. We only you know, along our coasts, we have cherished ports of Southampton. There are different culturally, yeah. And so we don’t want to expand into cultures we don’t understand, but we do want to release and resist or people who do understand this cultures. So our expansion, if you like, is around a minimal geographic area for the schools, and then to be able to influence and resource others in their own setting.
Lee Stanley 25:15
Because like you said, you look further around the case towards the Devon area, the actual culture on those, those parts is completely different from the Hampshires. So you are able to train and develop those teachers to get your message across and take them into those schools with that understanding of the culture. Sounds like a brilliant, brilliant strategy.
Mike King 25:40
Yeah, I mean, I come from Devon, actually, interestingly, and I think you’re right, it is so very different. The South East is so fast. And I understand this the arrogance of the southeast as well. So actually, we need to be humble in what we do, because just because you’re in the northeast doesn’t mean that actually there aren’t lessons to learn. etc
Lee Stanley 26:01
Absolutely, absolutely. So in terms of your work and what’s your favourite application within work What do you use
Mike King 26:10
so my favourite app in work it well I looked at this and I have I have to admit there are three one is weather app gets you is tides so a quiet tidle here so it’s looking at the ties for on the water in the summer and then three is WhatsApp. So half seven, seven o’clock generally there is a WhatsApp message saying this staff members got this and so is WhatsApp which is one of our key elements to what we used to communicate amongst the leadership team.
Lee Stanley 26:44
Excellent. And within within your actual teacher what what book are you reading at the moment
Mike King 26:52
I’ve just finished just a run of the mill detective. I’m actually just about to read a biography of a business person. So, last, I’m really looking at hat in professional terms. I’m really looking at what lessons I need to learn in the business world at the moment. Before we go on to this development of the business. That’s one of my focuses at the moment. Okay,
Lee Stanley 27:17
where’s your favourite holiday destination?
Mike King 27:20
Well, depends if it’s with or without children. So I have I have the privilege of being in Kenya again this year. So recline now Kenya, so that was good. But I have to say we’ve just visited Croatia, amazing. Croatia, just people friendly, Sunny. And it was a good place for our children as well. So yes, very good.
Lee Stanley 27:48
Brilliant. And in terms of if people wanted to get in touch with you talk in terms of the releasing potential training and what what’s the best way for them to To get you
Mike King 28:01
so our website www dot obviously releasing potential.com Yep. So that’s all the information is out there and around there, you will find me on LinkedIn. So I will post that too. But I am on LinkedIn Those are probably my two major platforms.
Lee Stanley 28:21
Okay, I’ll what I’ll do as normal is I’ll pop the links into the role below. And also go I’ll pop up here right and and then people can get in touch and speak if they need to. So well thank you ever so much for your time, Mike. Really appreciate your insight. It’s been brilliantly unique and it’s wonderful the work that you do and and yeah, good luck with the with the coming OfSTED
Mike King 28:48
Great. Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity to share my friends happy. All right.
Lee Stanley 28:53
Mike King 28:54