Jon Smedley, Co-Founder and Director, Teach Active

Jon Smedley is an award-winning entrepreneur, educational consultant, and the Co-Founder & Managing Director of Teach Active. He brings over 20 years of experience in education as a senior leader, primary advisor, and PE consultant.

Currently, Jon is working with schools across the UK and internationally, promoting the rationale and benefits of an active school day and focusing on how it can be achieved through active lessons, active teaching, and learning strategies.

Answering the Career Call

Jon always wanted to become a teacher and had a real desire to work with young people to help them reach their full potential. Jon has always believed that personality and character is just as important as academic success – and he felt he had the personality and skills to be an outstanding teacher who could motivate and inspire children to be confident, determined, resilient and full of belief – ultimately developing them as a whole person ready to take on any challenge.

Jon attended the University of Chester and studied to become a primary school teacher. His topic for specialisation was physical education. During his teaching career Jon was blessed to work with some fantastic colleagues and work in some great schools. His love of PE and getting children active was always something he was passionate about – believing that this subject more than any other developed so many skills and attributes. Children showed their true colours, presented their true selves and learned integral values such as resilience, determination, loyalty, teamwork, social skills, winning, losing etc., through physical education.

This passion lead him to be seconded out to the Local Authority where he was presented with the opportunity to become the PE Advisor for 100 Local Authority primary schools. It gave him the perfect platform to showcase the importance of this subject to hundreds of teachers and, through it, also impact thousands of children. After making the most out of it, Jon returned as a Deputy Headteacher. Now, as a senior leader with responsibility for academic achievement across the school, Jon was keen to showcase his belief that ‘active children do better’ – and as such began integrating physical activity into Maths and English lessons. “My school had some incredible results using this approach, which was cited in an Ofsted ‘Sharing of Good Practice’ paper,” mentions Jon.

A journey from Having a File of Ideas to Incepting an EdTech Company

After a while, Jon shared his file of ideas with other local schools and ran teacher training on the concept of active Maths and English lessons. Knowing the impact this could have on a bigger scale, he then spent a year developing new ideas and resources and turned his file of ideas into an online resource. Given his passion for this, and drive to succeed, Jon resigned from his Deputy Headship role  and launched Teach Active in 2015. “This was a huge step as I had a secure job, good wage, nice holidays – not to mention a wife, 2 kids, and a mortgage – but with their support and backing, I finally took the plunge,” shares Jon.

Seven years on, Teach Active ‘the on-line resource’ is now used in schools across the UK and Internationally – and is allowing thousands of teachers to deliver active Maths and English lessons each week.

How Teach Active is Raising Standards through Active Maths and English Lessons?

Teach Active is a nationally recognised and highly acclaimed online resource which provides schools with lesson plans and resources designed to deliver the Maths and English curriculum through physically active learning. It contains over 3500 active Maths and English lesson plans, giving teachers the ideas and resources to plan and deliver outstanding lessons.

Jon spends a lot of his time travelling and working with groups of teachers – showcasing how Maths and English lessons do not have to be sedentary.

“Our vision is to educate, support, and train teachers through active, creative, and inspiring lesson plans that will engage, motivate and develop the next generation,” reveals Jon.

What Sets Teach Active Apart from Others?

The current generation of children is reportedly the least active generation that has ever lived.

Schools are under pressure to ‘do more’ and make the typical sedentary school day more active. With timetabling and timing constraints doing ‘more’ can be hard. However, with Teach Active, teachers are simply doing what they have always done (teaching English and Maths)- but are now just adding in movement – delivering lessons actively either in the classroom or taking learning in to the school hall or even outside.

In doing so children are naturally more active. Not only this but they also have a new found love and enthusiasm for maths, reading and writing. Furthermore, they achieve better, retain information better and attain better results as a direct impact of this approach.

Jon is keen to continue to showcase this to schools, teachers and headteachers. Not only do Teach Active have many case studies and testimonials from real life schools, they also work in partnership with Loughborough University, carrying out research and impact studies to prove this approach should be adopted by all.

Growing by Leaps and Bounds

Since its inception, Teach Active has witnessed impressive year-on-year growth. For a self-funded EdTech business which has grown organically, this is noteworthy. Additionally, when it comes to product development and improvement, Jon and his team regularly take feedback from the schools and invest in making the product better in terms of the resource and how it works and the overall platform itself. This has resulted in maintaining the highest client satisfaction and retention rates Teach Active has ever had to date.

Furthermore, Teach Active’s numerous accolades and awards, national recognition, and PR have attracted more schools to come forward. “We are now doing some exciting cluster projects with groups of schools and multi-academy trusts and through them, striving to make the maximum impact,” mentions Jon.

Making Employees Feel Included & Valued is Important

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, Jon feels it is important for the employees to feel a part of the bigger picture. Employees also want to be appreciated and valued for their contribution. They need support, trust, and feedback from their leaders so that they can improve, improvise, and deliver better results. To make this happen, leaders must take time, be open, show them where they sit and motivate and excite them towards career progression and opportunities.

“We are an ambitious company, and I want my team members to help us achieve our goals, and in turn, I want them to know that I am here to motivate and look after them,” shares Jon. Hence, with the right set of employees, building a positive work environment becomes easy, just like Teach Active.

Tackling the Challenges

The one challenge present-day entrepreneurs encounter is trying to switch off and give time to their families. “It is very easy to think about work, the never-ending list of tasks or what you need to do next – but switching off and being ‘in the moment’ with your family is very important,” asserts Jon.

Another challenge that Jon faces is managing his time and splitting his time between speaking at events, being back at base working with the team; and also getting strategic time to consider next steps and business progression. Luckily, he has a great team!

Celebrating the Career Milestones

One of Jon’s most memorable and special milestones was leaving his full-time job as a Deputy Headteacher and diving into the entrepreneurial sea. Soon after completing one year, Teach Active won the ‘Start-up of the Year’ award and ‘Business of the Year’ in 2016. As the Co-Founder & Managing Director of Teach Active, these awards were extremely special for Jon.

Later, Teach Active continued to march towards success by breaking its own records: reaching the first 500 schools, then 1000 and so on. Likewise, victories such as forming ties with the first international school, entering into the first multi-academy trust partnership, and becoming a partner of Loughborough University were remarkable mileposts for Jon.

Day in the Life of a Leader

At work, Jon doesn’t have a fixed routine. His busy schedule and diary commitments will often shape where he needs to be and what he needs to do – a variety that Jon likes and enjoys.

A ‘typical’ week may be 50% in the office and 50% on the road – delivering keynotes and conducting workshops on the benefits of active learning – or often meeting with key partners or other businesses within the sector.

At home, life is also just as busy for Jon with two young children aged 10 and 12. “Both of my children enjoy sport so a lot of mine and my wife’s time is spent taking them to fixtures and supporting their interests”

Outside of this Jon enjoys visiting the gym and playing golf with his friends. When time allows, he and his family love to take themselves off to the beautiful village of Abersoch in North Wales where they love to spend beach days paddleboarding, surfing and playing on the beach.

Plans for an Active Future

Moving ahead, Jon is looking forward to growing and getting Teach Active integrated into all the schools within the UK. Along with his team, he is also planning to continue to develop new resources and offer free online training support for all the schools. In short, a happy school makes Jon very happy.

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