Of Turtles and Tutors and Crossing the Streams

To be honest, I don’t always like to work with friends and family. To use a Ghostbuster’s reference (and why not, considering this past weekend was Halloween), it can be a bit like “crossing the streams.”

Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Raymond: Total protonic reversal.
Peter: That’s bad. Okay. Alright, important safety tip, thanks Egon.

Okay, so maybe no experience of working with friends or family has ever been quite THAT bad. But the point is that things can get messy. I suppose because no matter how “authentic” we try to be, it’s hard not to tell a slightly different story to ourselves about who we are with family, with friends, and with clients or coworkers. And those stories aren’t always compatible.

But sometimes they are.

Case in point, over the last couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of developing websites for two friends (and fellow TMS alumni), each of whom are the founders of businesses with inspiring stories that deserve to be told. And so far, I’ve seen no protonic reversal.

The first website, which I worked on in September, was for Turtle Dance Music. This amazing business was founded in 2012 by Matt Mazur “as a way to provide inclusive and interactive entertainment for children of all abilities including children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum.”

Put more simply, the mission of Turtle Dance Music is “to help kids come out of their shells.” And it does this by getting them dancing, moving, singing, laughing, learning, and connecting with each other through the magic of music.

Matt Mazur approaches this work armed with a BFA in Drama, an MA in Theater for Young Audiences, and a graduate degree in Developmental Models of Autism Intervention and Early Childhood Development. But more than anything, he loves what he does and cares deeply about the kids and parents and teachers and librarians whose lives he enriches.

Prior to this year, almost all of Matt’s engaging and educational performances were live and in-person in front of huge rooms full of kids. That all came to a screeching halt in March, of course, with the pandemic. Undeterred, Matt pivoted quickly, taught himself everything he needed to know about livestreaming, and now entertains those same audiences online.

The transition to an entirely new business model hasn’t been easy, but Matt is a textbook case of somebody who saw his story taking a bad turn, through no fault of his own, and decided to write a new story with a better ending.

If you know of any teachers, librarians, or administrators who are looking for ways to keep kids engaged, particularly those on the autism spectrum, I encourage you to have them check out TDM.

The second website I worked on, just this last month, was a business in the UK called Qualified Tutor, founded in 2019 by Julia Silver as a way to raise standards for tutors and improve outcomes for all students by improving the way tutoring is done.

As the Headteacher at a primary school in London, Julia herself has been tutoring for fifteen years, and recognized a growing need for a “quality mark” that parents could use when making decisions about which tutors to hire for their children.

According to a study from a few years ago, more than 40% of children at state schools in London have had a private tutor at some point. And with the recent creation of the National Tutoring Program in the UK, designed to bring tutoring “to disadvantaged pupils whose education has been affected by school closures,” these numbers can only grow.

Faced with this kind of growth, Julia created the Qualification for Tutors, an accredited 4-part live online workshop that covers topics like professionalism, safeguarding, learning cultures, and evidence-based best practices. This interactive workshop is currently in its tenth session, and has been well-received by tutors.

In addition to this foundational workshop, Qualified Tutor offers others courses as well, designed to help tutors deepen their craft. There’s also a free-to-join online community for tutors, as well as an informative podcast series hosted by COO Ludo Millar.

As with Turtle Dance Music, what makes the story of Qualified Tutor so compelling for me is that it’s ultimately about serving the needs of children. Now more than ever, faced with increased standardized testing and the advent of distance learning, education has become an uphill climb for many students. Quality tutoring can offer these kids the helping hand they need, and Julia’s mission is to enable and empower tutors to do this in the best way possible.

So if you’re a tutor or know a tutor in the UK (or anywhere) who’s looking to up your game, be sure to check out the QT website.

All in all, it was an honor and privilege to help both Julia and Matt advance their inspiring stories by developing their websites, and I’m proud to call them clients as well as friends.

Clearly, sometimes “crossing the streams” isn’t so bad.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that prior to this year, I had mostly distanced myself from web development, in favor of strictly writing or storytelling. But working on websites for amazing people like Julia and Matt has helped me realize that websites are a critical part of the story a business tells the world.

And if I can help somebody tell that part of it, then I should.

So if your business has an inspiring story to tell, and if you’d like to work with somebody who can handle the strategy, copywriting, design, and/or build of your website (and even some video editing if you ask nicely), then I’d love to hear from you.

Just visit RandyHeller.com and drop me a line.