Learning about Oxford
In early 1998, I was a few months into working in the public high school system under a long-term occasional contract when Patricia phoned me. Since we had graduated from teachers college, she had started teaching at an Oxford Learning franchise in Woodbridge, Ont. She only had positive things to say about her experience and suggested we go into business together and open our own Oxford Learning franchise in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood.
I thought it was a great idea. We were both young and enthusiastic, but we also had practical, in-class teaching experience. Established in London, Ont., in 1984, the Oxford Learning brand had name recognition, a solid reputation, and proven teaching methods.
Founded by Nick Whitehead, who also serves as the company’s chief executive officer (CEO), Oxford Learning offers students a customized tutoring curriculum, catered to suit their strengths and help them achieve personal success. Upon enrolment, a new student undergoes a cognitive and educational assessment, referred to collectively as a Dynamic Assessment (DA), to determine his/her unique skills and learning potential. The Oxford Learning DA model emphasizes the individual learning process of an incoming student and is used to develop a customized program, tailored to suit his/her style of learning. Additionally, most instructors working within the franchise system are certified teachers.
While traditional teaching styles outline skills or principles needed to answer questions, which are then graded as either right or wrong, the Oxford Learning method differs entirely. Rather than focus simply on getting the right answer, students are encouraged to celebrate their mistakes and learn from them.
In many ways, Oxford Learning teaches children how to learn. The program shares organizational and study skills that are applicable to real-life situations, effectively empowering students through the learning process by providing them with the tools they need to achieve success independently.
I found the company’s values matched my own. Oxford Learning’s individualized educational process reminded me of what I loved about Linden. Further, the extra time I could spend with students meant more of them would feel prepared and confident in their classrooms. I appreciated the idea of putting students’ needs ahead of everything else and of celebrating both successes and setbacks through positive feedback.
While looking into franchise ownership, I was offered a full-time classroom position at the high school where I had been teaching occasionally. I briefly considered taking the job in addition to purchasing a franchise, but realized co-owning a business and working at a separate, full-time job would not be possible. It would have to be one or the other and I knew owning and operating an Oxford Learning franchise was the right choice for me.
Patricia and I contacted the head office in London to ask about our next steps. They vetted us to check out our backgrounds and credentials before ultimately inviting us both to come in for a meeting to see if we were suitable candidates. Following an extensive interview, the team agreed we were a good fit and our interests aligned. We purchased our first franchise and started to look for a location in the Beach neighbourhood.
At the time, Oxford Learning was still in its growth phase. The company had some brand recognition, but there were only a few franchises in Toronto. Patricia and I met other franchisees in the city to get some advice and ask about some of the challenges they faced when they opened their centres. We were both excited to get to work but, although we were confident and prepared teachers, neither of us had a business background and we were unsure of what to expect.
Fortunately, in addition to the advice from other franchisees, the franchisor provided us with a tremendous amount of support and guidance. Before opening our doors, Patricia and I attended a two-week intensive training session at head office. The team there helped us with every aspect of the business, from determining the demographics of the area to scouting out specific sites for our centre and, ultimately, negotiating the lease.
In May of 1998, when we opened the doors of our Beach location, the team from head office was there to help us celebrate.
Small town, big city
In many ways, the Beach feels like a small town nestled in the largest city in the country. The community is tight-knit and, soon after opening, Patricia and I realized that a lot of our advertising would be via word-of-mouth and personal referrals.
The strength of the Oxford Learning brand helped establish our franchise’s reputation in the neighbourhood, but Patricia and I also needed to strengthen our relationships and develop sincere connections with our clientele. Tutoring is a personal business, so building a trusted team, comprised of teachers who care about the well-being, happiness, and success of their students, is of the utmost importance. Since opening our franchise, we continue to work every day to maintain a positive, supportive environment, where both our students and teachers feel comfortable, confident, and respected.
Following Oxford Learning’s DA model, we customize each student’s learning program, allowing them to tackle materials at their own pace. The assessments help our teachers see how each student thinks and areas where they may experience challenges. They allow us to see if a student is a visual or auditory learner and give us an idea of his/her level of concentration and grasp of verbal language skills.
With this information in mind, our teachers help students focus on their own goals, whether they are behind or ahead of the standard curriculum, and guide them to develop the skills they need for independent learning. Students come to the centre for two one-hour classes per week, with only three students per teacher. We find consistency helps foster a positive learning environment, so these groups tend to stay the same for every session.
We teach kids of almost every age. The Little Readers program helps children aged three to six develop their reading and imagination skills, while Beyond Tutoring aids students from Grades one to eight in thinking, learning, and study skills. We have time management programs for high school students, as well as university preparation courses. Additionally, we offer language programs, such as ESL and French, to students in Grades one to 12.
Every six weeks, our educators meet with parents to discuss their children’s accomplishments and celebrate their successes. Our teachers provide students with genuine, positive feedback, which helps them to develop their confidence and