Maud reflects on her experience of the Teach First Training Programme – a two-year graduate route into teaching and leadership. She discusses the skills she gained, their transferability to her current role as CEO of a tech company, and the benefits of effectual thinking.
After graduating from Clare, Maud trained and worked as an opera singer before retraining as a Secondary English teacher through Teach First, and then as an entrepreneur through the Centre for Entrepreneurs’ NEF Fast Track scheme.
In May 2019, upon graduation from the CfE, Maud co-founded Adapt, a smart revision timetable app for GCSE and A-Level. It now has over 500,000 users in 5,000 schools, and maintains its position in the top 5 education apps on the App Store.
Why did you decide to join the Teach First Training Programme?
I joined the Teach First Training Programme at twenty-seven, as a career changer. I’d already done a postgraduate Masters in vocal performance at the Guildhall and worked for five years as a professional opera singer. I had no idea that I wanted to pursue teaching, until I realised very clearly that I didn’t want to pursue singing. Then, I started to think about what I had loved about singing, and it had always been the communication for me: the excitement of getting a text across to an audience and them understanding it. It called skills which I’d developed during my English Literature degree at Cambridge, and I realised that I wanted to go back to English Literature full-time. So, I became an English Teacher, and loved the experience of communicating with my students, explaining texts and poetry that I loved, and helping them to understand them.
‘I loved the experience of communicating with my students’
I was drawn to the leadership development opportunities, but at that point the main draw for me was the subject, and the chance to use my subject expertise again. The secondary draw was, of course, the mission: a mission to which I, and my company, still subscribe very strongly today. We believe in levelling the playing field in education, and that educational resources need to be free to students in order to have the best chance of making that happen. This free, open access to our smart planning tool is one of the reasons we’ve grown to over half a million users so quickly; students like us because they sense that we’re on their side, and that’s something that grew out of the Teach First mission.
What did you learn on the Teach First Training Programme and how did it prepare you for your current role?
I’ve spoken a lot about the transformational impact that I witnessed Teach First have, to some extent on myself but more strongly on my peers. It’s perhaps easier to notice seismic change in others, whereas it creeps up more quietly on you personally. I remember being struck by the moment the new Teach First university friends I’d made over the summer were suddenly… grownups. It was the beginning of the second term. In the first term we were all flustered, and late, and disorganised, with ties askew and absolutely no control of our time or our practice. In second term, everyone was early, suited up and organised, with data packs and routines and the ability to hold a class of teenagers in the palm of their hand. It was really inspiring to watch and I’m absolutely certain it’s why Teach First is so respected as a development programme in other industries.
I’m now the CEO of a tech company and I love hiring Teach First Ambassadors, not only because I know they share our mission, but also because I know I can rely on them to be capable self-starters, who are on time and contributing meaningfully from the moment their boots hit the ground. I have colleagues in the PwC, Deloitte and Civil Service Ambassador networks who say the same thing. The programme instils in us all an incredible ability to manage time; as well as being an incredible opportunity to give back and make a difference, it’s a fast-track programme to professional competence.
‘as well as being an incredible opportunity to give back and make a difference, it’s a fast-track programme to professional competence’
My current role requires a lot of the same skills. Instead of managing teenagers, I’m managing adult professionals, but I still need to be the driving force behind the progress that we make as a team. My leadership style is to lead from the front (or so my executive coach tells me) and this definitely came from my experience with Teach First. Not only that but Teach First really taught me to present. After years of five hours a day in front of a class of teenagers, my public speaking is of a standard to win global pitching competitions without a second thought. We are CVC’s Young Innovators of the Year and London Tech Week’s Elevating Founders winners, and I personally am one of Innovate UK’s fifty Women in Innovation for 2022. I wouldn’t have had the ability to persuade, inspire and communicate well enough to win these awards if it weren’t for Teach First; it’s the best advocacy training a person can receive.
What advice would you give to students weighing up their career options?
Be an effectual thinker, not a causal thinker. Causal thinkers identify causes they want to pursue: eg. “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be a lawyer”. Effectual thinkers think of the effect they want to create: eg. “I want to communicate with people” or “I want to improve people’s lives.” With that kind of thinking, you don’t need to know what you want to do, just the effect you want to have, and then you can explore multiple paths that take you there. I’m thirty-three and still career-restless; so far I’ve been an opera singer, a teacher and a CEO. I’m currently studying for the Bar, and next I’m going to be a barrister. I’ve won the top scholarship from Inner Temple (thanks, Teach First!) and I’m going to be a commercial advocate, representing business owners like me in disputes about their companies and their livelihoods. I couldn’t do the same job forever, but I can see now that all my jobs have been tied by a love of communication, persuasion, and advocacy, and I think that knowing that at twenty-one would probably have been enough.