Interview with Michael Stewart
Founder @ ESP Thinking

The ESP range of products are aimed at providing a new set of solutions to some of the major problems facing education. A poll published in the Guardian in late 2014 showed that over half of teachers were considering leaving the profession. In order to help these teachers, the ESP mobile and web based applications look at every step in the teaching process to see how we can combine new ways of looking at existing issues. We know that more and more is being asked of our teachers and so we are looking at as many ways of achieving this as possible. This is not following trends, it is creating them.
What are some of the services and tools offered by ESP Thinking?
We're a company that produces web and mobile applications for education. So what we're looking to do is to streamline processes as much as possible. Now I think it's probably important to point out that the basis on which we're doing that is to try and suggest that the most important asset in education is actually the hearts and minds of the teachers. And the reason for that is because that's where the expertise lies. That's where the connections lie. And so everything we do is looking to make the most out of those interactions and that professional judgment of those teachers. So if you take something like behavior management, then the teacher uses their judgment to try and encourage good behavior in this way the bad but the admin around doing lots of those aspects gets in the way. People can't get everything. And so what we've got is called a fluke action recorder. So it's just an interface on on a mobile application that shows the seating plan and all you need to do to record that was really good answer you just put your finger on a seat and flick in one direction. If it's, "I've asked you to be quiet" and flicked down so that take snap professional judgment and condenses it right down into just a second or so. The argument behind it though in terms of where that leads to and those consequences. But teachers can't get to that. It just doesn't happen. And so that we do automatically. So if someone who's been being told to be quiet consistently over the course of a day. Then the system will pick that up. They hit a threshold it automatically sets a detention. If they're consistently doing the right things and everything else and then the top of their class then each term they'll get a digital certificate to say congratulations, "Well done!" The teacher doesn't have to be involved in those parts to be for that data to be very useful. The same goes with assessment. Marking has been shown to be not a very good use of teachers' times but feedback is really important. If you're going to try and keep people feeling included. So what we've got is we created something called a skills focus so instead of having to mark all the individual parts of the teacher's judgment we used to say based on this girl's focus on these criteria I'm going to get that a mark out of five that mark out of five also gives kids with it the feedback because the student can go through those criteria. But it also provides when you take all of those individual skills and put them on what's called a skills map. That gives a visual representation which speeds up reporting and also planning to see what the student needs to work on.
How did you build your team? Did they also come from the world of academia?
Well we're really lucky with the with a group of people we've got working for ESP. But academia or academic achievement certainly wouldn't be my first point of reference at this stage anyway. I know that sounds counterintuitive. We are an education-based company but the thing is is that we're a creative company. Now without sounding too disparaging about academia as it stands, our first and foremost criteria for people within the company at this stage are creativity and resilience. And unfortunately those are not to the things that are actually taught within the current educational structure. In fact we're the ones kind of now trying to create an educational structure where skills are more included in what we do and how we teach. So we're trying to create the people that we would want to employ in the future.
What has been the feedback from teachers and school administrations?
Well wisdom and development so that the feedback has been patchy as we go from face to face but whenever I get a chance to speak to teachers- they're all over the idea since I was young I had to be really good at such a such a relief getting through the door to actually teach.
What was your experience transitioning from teaching to founding a company? What was the most surprising aspect about this transition?
What was your experience transitioning from teaching to founding a company? What was the most surprising about this process? Well I was lucky in that I'd worked in business before. So the surprises one might come along the lines of the amount of work they would require or anything else I'd seen enough of businesses that I'd thought that they could just go in and make it. But I think once you've got that idea burning in your head and you know and you kind of have those sorts through and you're going to you're going gonna make that jump. I mean I was able to go part time first which helped that sort of transition. But then suddenly you, you made that leap and you're on your way and all of the problems are yours and all of the solutions have to come from you. That's you know that is tricky. There are surprises. I think the biggest surprise though is in terms of the amount of development time required. There's an old adage about think of how long it's going to take you multiply it by three. And that's no joke. That's how it works out. You know I haven't had a deadline yet. But it's become part of what I consider to be the natural progression of what we do. So you just cling to the ideas and you hope it's going to be worth in in the long run.
Could you please tell us a bit more about ESP Thinking and what led to your founding the company?
Could you please tell us a bit more about the thinking and what led you to your findings? So I was a teacher for five years and ever since I started the first time I even walked into a staffroom, you could tell there was this mixture of energy of people throwing themselves at the job and there was this desperation and it was really quite difficult to watch. And after a while, the longer I spent in that environment the more sort of elements you something surely we can you know, if we just. And eventually it got to the stage when I just thought well I've got to try and do something and that's what ESP is. It's my attempt to bring as many different elements and tricks together to streamline the job and free teachers up to do the thing that they actually want to do which is build relationships with students and help them along. That's how you get more inclusive schools it's how you get more students feeling included. So yeah that's that's what ESP is about.
What's next for ESP Thinking, as well as your own career?
It's difficult to talk about next week when you're still trying to come something. Let me give you that and we get this done first but we definitely have some plans because when we've when we've done this the first part of the content that we actually want to start to put in is is more around the stuff that again teachers don't get the chance to look into. So the first part of that is early is development. There's some much research to be able to help students when they first start off and to overcome some of the barriers that might be in front of them. And if we can we can put that to teachers fingertips then we can help an awful lot of people. Another one is emotional intelligence. So again this is something that's been hitting the headlines lately. It's always been a problem. And if we can find ways of using those skills criteria to allow students to consider their own actions and think of new and new ways of approaching things then again we start giving them the power to be able to take control of more of their lives. And so in the next part for ISP it's to try and fill in those gaps around and then find some other sort of world crisis to solve.