The Spark: November’s Newest Sparkie

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Tuesday is news-day at Spark Academy. This week’s article introduces Spark Academy’s newest member, Barbara Herbert.

November’s Newest Sparkie

The Growing Team


In October 2017, it became apparent that the usual influx of new students at the beginning of a new term was still going strong. Founder Mital Thanki and the rest of the team were thrilled by the interest of so many students. However, the demand on Spark Academy’s administration team continued to increase. It quickly became clear that the admin team needed to grow at the same rate as Spark’s student base.

Mital decided to hire another admin assistant. Therefore, in November Spark welcomed a new member of the team. Barbara Herbert joined Spark Academy from a school-based background.


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Barbara (top left) in her first outing with the Spark Academy team before starting officially a few weeks later.


Background in Education


Barbara has worked in education for over ten years in various roles. Her roles began in the science department, where she worked as a Senior Science Technician for six years. More recently, Barbara also worked as an Inclusion Officer for four years. This involved running an alternative classroom for students with various emotional, physical and behavioural needs.

Barbara has previously worked closely with pupil premium students and vulnerable students. She supported these students with struggles in their school and home lives. Barbara told The Spark that her role as an Inclusion Officer included


raising students’ confidence by working closely with each individual.


What can Spark Academy offer Barbara?


Barbara chose to join Spark Academy to focus on education in a different way. She hopes to support students in their educational journey and in moving to the next chapter of their lives.


I enjoy working with the Spark team. Everyone is very friendly and they made me feel welcome. I am looking forward to my journey with Spark and to watch it grow and develop into something very special.

Student Thought: Different and Varied Learning

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This week’s Student Thoughts are from members of the Oadby Year 5 class. Their ideas and comments help us to shape our lessons and develop the way we teach Maths and English.


What do you like about Spark?


We always ask our students what they enjoy about lessons at Spark Academy. Without student enjoyment, Spark would be the same as all other tuition providers.

Rohan Upple told us that his favourite part of both Maths and English is


that it is fun


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Rohan (right) and fellow student Ariyan (left) working together.


At Spark, we strongly believe that making our lessons fun is key to helping our students learn. This is especially important as we are very aware that our students have spent all day learning, so by ensuring our lessons are enjoyable we can help our students stay focused.

Another student, Amelia Suleman, told us that


I enjoy learning different things in maths such as percentages. I enjoy learning different things in English such as spellings and comprehension.


The varied nature of our lessons and our coverage of the whole curriculum means that every week at Spark is different. This is obviously something our students also enjoy!


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Amelia working hard to create sentences using the progressive tense.

Why did you choose Spark?


Amelia told us that she


looked at Kumon before Spark and I picked Spark because they follow the school curriculum


We strongly feel that following the national curriculum is the best way to support our students at school. It is clear that our students feel the same way!

Surviving Sixth Form

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As we approach the final weeks before Christmas, some of you will look back and feel your first term at Sixth Form hasn’t been plain sailing. We spoke to Mital to get some advice for Year 12s. If her advice is as good as her A-level classes, you know you’re in good hands!

Sixth form. Sure, in essence it’s just the same as school –studying subjects and gaining qualifications. But as you are probably aware by now, it is a whole different environment. Free periods, no uniform, independent study, less subjects, more freedom – sounds great, right? Yeah sure, it is for a while, but the procrastination between lessons has led to your workload piling up. Crying might seem like the only option… And you no longer get excited about wearing your own clothes. If only you could wear pyjamas rather than make an effort!image001 - Spark Academy

The difficulty of the modules, the amount of deadlines and lack of structure can be an overwhelming adjustment. However, there are ways to overcome the stress of sixth form:

Time Management


You might not have a student planner anymore but this does not mean you don’t need one. It will become crucial to record your lessons, deadlines, targets and to-do-lists.

With the glorious introduction of free lessons, it feels like you have won the lottery, but this free time is an opportunity for you to get lots of work and deadlines done within school hours so you are able to use your time at home to get a head-start on reviewing your lessons and making revision notes. Wait? What? Revision notes already? Yes, now is the time to make revision notes but it will bail you out later on. The depth of the GCSE subjects you took pales into comparison to A-Level courses and so it will become important to revise as you go along rather than leaving it to the last minute.



Sixth form may mean that you no longer use exercise books in lessons. It’s really important that you have a system in place for keeping track or your notes. You might want to buy folders for each of your subjects. Have sections so you can divide your class notes, revision notes, homeworks and past papers.



Organisation, time management and proactivity – mega important. But also making sure you have a good work life balance is just as necessary. Don’t forget to hang out with your friends, for a much needed break Remember the importance of regular exercise and a balanced diet– these help maintain a healthy state of mind for working. There is a lot that needs to be done but don’t burn yourself out!

Sixth form can be a daunting and an overwhelming adjustment, but it takes time to master the level of independence and increasing difficulty and depth of the work. We’ve discussed how to make the transition easier but also remember that this change is preparing you well for university. University lacks a lot of structure, more free lessons, less discipline and less guidance. This is all a process of growing up and becoming independent characters and your sixth form college is providing the first steps in this transformation. So take the bull by the horns and take control of your sixth form learning experience.

Student Thoughts: Organise; Revise; Survive!

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As you know, at Spark we are always looking for ways to share the successes of our students. What better way is there to do that than to ask our students to write about their successes themselves? This week’s Student Thoughts post with advise on how to organise and revise in Year 11 comes to you from one of our AS Level students. 

Hi, my name is Kiran and I am currently studying AS Chemistry and Biology at Spark Academy. I have been a part of the tuition centre since Year 8. I truly feel that Spark has not only helped me with my school work but has also allowed me to develop as a person and provided me with support throughout the years.


What I like most about Spark:


One of my favourite things about Spark Academy has to be the teachers. Their enthusiasm towards teaching their subjects is amazing; you can see and feel the passion that they have which encourages you to stretch your potential and work hard. Every lesson is unique and enjoyable which makes you look forward to next week.


Getting the balance right


I am here to talk to you about how I revised for my GCSEs and how I balanced my studies with extra-curricular activities. Over the course of a few blog posts I will be sharing ideas that I used to help me revise as well as manage my time!

If I had to narrow the key points down they would be:


Know What You Need to Do and When Your Deadlines Are


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Whether this is having a to-do list on post it notes or a diary that you check regularly, having work written down will prevent you from forgetting to do it. For example each piece of work I have I write on individual post its and stick them on my study wall so I remember. This can be used for reminding you about homework you need to be do or when and what to revise for an exam.


Stay Organised


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Try to have each subject’s notes or books kept separately instead of all mixed up. When it comes to revision you need to know where everything is and not waste time looking for your notes! You could use plastic wallets or folders with dividers to organise yourself.


Look After Yourself!


Make sure you have regular breaks. Revision in large chunks is not effective. For example, I used to revise for 30 minutes followed by a 5 minute break or even 45 minutes of work with 10 minute breaks. Whatever suits you best! Also don’t forget to leave time for you to relax and do things that you enjoy.

See you next time where I will talk about revision techniques that I use! Remember – if you organise, you can revise and you will survive your GCSEs!

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Teacher Talk: Calculus – Super or Scary?

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This week’s Teacher Talk comes from Spark’s KS5 Maths lead Chris, who is determined to show us that calculus is not as terrifying as you might believe…


What’s involved in A-Level Maths?

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Since the start to term in August, our Year 12 students have been revising and improving on the knowledge of several topics. These include Completing the Square, Surds, Coordinate Geometry, and Factorising Quadratics.

Now that this introductory period is over, we will now begin to look at the first really new topic in KS5. This is the first topic to break away from the regular GCSE curriculum: Calculus.

Calculus is an umbrella term for two key topics: Differentiation and Integration.


The History of Calculus


One popular topic in KS3 and 4 was to determine the gradient of a straight line. This would be rather easy considering that the gradient would be constant throughout all values of x on the graph.

What do you think would happen if you tried to find the gradient of a curve instead?

From the animation below, you can see that the value of the gradient (sometimes called a derivative) will alter, depending on the x-value on the graph.

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So instead of a constant value, we need to find a general equation for this gradient. How is this done?

Well, with differentiation of course!

We can date the first evidence of gradient dates back to Euclid (c. 300 BC) and Archimedes (c. 287 – 212 BC). However, we credit the modern development of calculus to two mathematicians. These are Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) and Gottfried Leibniz (1646 – 1716).

Historically, it has been long debated over whether Newton or Leibniz was actually the first to “invent” calculus.


Newton vs. Leibniz


Newton had begun working on his investigations into physics and geometry in 1665 – 1666. He used calculus as the scientific description of the generation of motion as time changes. He had called these “fluxions”, rather than derivatives.

However, he did not publish his work officially.

In 1684, Leibniz had published a book explaining the concepts of calculus for differentiation, and another in 1686 for integration.

One year later, Newton had published his book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (or: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). This is widely considered as one of the greatest science books of all time. The book contained Newton’s three laws of motion and Newton’s law of universal gravitation. These both help to form the foundation of classical mechanics (but this is a story for another day!).

Throughout the book, Newton uses mathematical methods included in modern-day calculus. However, the notation that we use in the 21st century was largely absent in Newton’s book.

It is actually Leibniz’s notation such as

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 for differentiation


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for integration


that we continue to use in classrooms and lecture theatres to A-level and undergraduates throughout the world to this day.

Newton began to discredit Leibniz’s reputation. He used his newly found status and influence from his latest book. This came to a head in 1715.The Royal British society decided to settle the infamous argument once and for all.

The President of the society in 1703 was Newton. He appointed an impartial committee to decide the issue. The committee concluded in its official report that Newton was sole inventor of calculus. Newton was the anonymous author of the report.

What a coincidence, you might say!

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Teacher Talk: Finding Fun in Finding Information

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This week’s Teacher Talk comes from one of our English teachers, Charlotte. Her ideas for teaching a lesson on finding information in a text led to some fantastic experiences in our Year 7 lessons last week.

At Spark, we understand the importance of the national curriculum. However, we also see the benefit in steering away from typical teaching methods. This is why teaching information retrieval to Year 7 is important, but can also be made into an interesting and exciting activity.

Information retrieval involves being able to find information in a text. This allows students to form an understanding of the information a student is reading. Rebecca, our Head of English, explained how we used this concept but altered it to make it an activity that caters for all abilities:

Here at spark we wanted to maintain using the national curriculum, but we wanted to avoid teaching by the book. This meant that students worked as part of a group to make sure everyone was involved.

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Finding and compiling the information, ready to decide who was guilty.

Retrieving the information


The information retrieval mystery involves using witness statements to decide which suspect stole from a school. The witness statements were chosen from a variety of witnesses, ranging from 7-year old Maximus Marlo to the suspicious Caretaker, Argus Filch.

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The pupils had to note key information from these statements, including appearance, description of events and timings. They then had to cross-check these statements with the description of the suspects and come to a group decision in response to the big question: Who committed the crime?

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The suspects and everything we knew about them.

Year 7 student, Saimon stated


The information part was easy but then putting the suspects into an order was the hard part.


Presenting the findings


The second part of the lesson included a group presentation to the rest of the class. Presentations are sometimes a daunting experience for most students.


It’s best to focus the presentations on something fun. This means the students are less focused on presenting but genuinely want to explain what they have figured out as a group.


When presenting, students had to order their suspects in terms of most to least likely to have committed the crime. They received marks for how well they presented, and whether they placed the suspects in the right order.

Year 7 English student, Tanisha explained


It was really fun but I found it unfair that the boys won.


The group with the most points won, and received valuable Dojo points as their prize.


A summary of the lesson


Here at Spark, the students are at the heart of every activity we create. This activity required students to think critically and analytically. It also that they exercised both reading and summarising skills. The students also had to work as part of a group, and this not only ‘sparked’ debate between groups but also allowed the less confident pupils of the class to voice their opinions. We also had great fun finding out who did it!

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Student Thought: ‘Great Experiences with Spark’ A-Level

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science 1 - Spark Academy  We value all of our students and we love to know what they think about us. For this Student Thought post, we spoke to some of our A-Level Biology students.

Of course, at Spark most of our A-level students study more than one subject with us! Shivam Jiven studies Biology and Chemistry, and Bhupinder Walia studies Biology, Chemistry and Maths. It’s great to see how manybio dna - Spark Academy of our A-level students choose to come to use across our range of A-level subjects.

We asked our A-level students what they most enjoyed about Spark…


The style of teaching – how’s its broken down into parts with teaching and past paper questions

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We know how important exam practice and learning to tackle exam questions is for our A-level students. It’s great to see they appreciate the effort our teachers put in to balance their lessons between learning and exam practice!

The teachers are supportive and the work extends past school work

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Studying a topic at Spark before looking at it in college can often give our students a big boost of confidence. They have their basis for the topic before the rest of their class and can work to further their understanding.

What did they have to say about teaching during lessons?

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The teaching is clear, well detailed and allows for a fun experience instead of us being confused. The teachers are nice and extremely friendly which makes asking questions fine.


Our Biology specialist Gemma is always happy to create an environment where students feel they can question their teachers – it all goes towards our greater understanding.

You get a greater understanding and the teachers help identify strengths and weaknesses so you know where to improve.


Being able to assess your own strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important at A-level. When you are freer than ever before to direct your own learning, it’s important to be able to pick out what you really need to work on. Mital, Gemma and Chris are very happy to find they’re supporting their A-level students in this self-assessment!

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Anything else to add?


Keep up the good teaching!


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Thanks Shivam! Your participation and willingness to learn is just as important when it comes to our successful lessons.


Teacher Talk: What’s up with Fireworks?

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This week’s Teacher Talk comes from our headteacher Gemma in the Science Department. With Bonfire Night just around the corner, Gemma wanted to teach us all a little about what’s really going on in fireworks…

fireworks 2 - Spark AcademyWhat exactly are fireworks?


WHIZZ! WOOSH! BANG! It’s all we’re hearing at the moment, as it’s the time of year that we have fireworks to celebrate many different occasions. But have you ever wondered how fireworks actually work? How do they explode into different colours? And who thought it would be a good idea to have fireworks anyway?

Well it is widely believed that the essence of fireworks was discovered, by accident, by a Chinese cook over 2000 years ago. The black powder, which is now known as gunpowder, was stuffed inside bamboo tubes and thrown onto the fire. The gasses produced would build up in pressure and then explode. Hey presto! We have the first firecracker.

It wasn’t until the 13th century that gunpowder was first recorded in Europe by an English scholar and monk called Roger Bacon who investigated the composition of the chemicals in gunpowder.  The most famous account of the use of gunpowder comes from the 17th Century, of course it was the ‘Gunpowder Plot’! This plot to kill King James I of England is the entire reason we have Bonfire night and fireworks on the 5th November.

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Left: Guy Fawkes arranging barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament. Right: fireworks celebrating modern day Bonfire Night above Big Ben

So what are in fireworks?


The base for any firework will be the part that makes it explode. This is known as Potassium Nitrate. This reacts with sulfur and carbon to form potassium sulphide, nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide. By lighting the fuse on a firework, we add enough energy to kick-start the chemical reaction and BANG! you have the explosion.  But fireworks are not just all about the explosion, they make pretty colours too. These are all due to the metal compounds that are packed inside. So sodium compounds give yellow and orange, copper give green or blue and calcium and strontium give red.

That’s the chemistry, but then there’s the physics… A basic law of physics, the conservation of energy, states that the total chemical energy packed into the firework before it ignites must be the same as the total remaining in it after it explodes, plus the energy released as light, heat, sound and movement. Physics can also explain why fireworks always make symmetrical explosions. Another basic law of physics, the conservation of momentum, states that the momentum of a firework must be the same before and after an explosion, so explosions to the left must be exactly balanced by explosions to then right.fireworks 1 - Spark Academy

Is it only physics that’s involved?


I wouldn’t like to leave out the biology side of fireworks, but what could biology possibly have to do with fireworks?! Well our Science Sparkies will be well aware of the safety procedures in a science lab when handling explosives. It is exactly the same when handling fireworks. Fireworks should be kept in a box with a lid. Instructions should be read using a torch, not a flame. A safe distance should be kept between yourself and the firework and you should never put them in your pockets! Sparklers should be held at arms length and when finished should be placed in a bucket of water or sand. Finally, never return to a firework that has not gone off… it may decide to do just that once you are right next to it!

Headteacher Talk – October’s Principle Focus

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Here at Spark we’re very proud of our new Headteacher, Gemma. In fact, we’re making it a principle that we focus on our ‘principal’ each month. We’re dedicating one Teacher Talk each month to Gemma to let us know how everything looks from her point of view.

Well. First let me start by saying, ‘WOW’ – what a busy start to the new academic year we have had! We have welcomed new staff (including myself), a brand-new staff uniform and in the not too distant future, a new and improved Spark Academy Headquarters at our Belgrave site.

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Who am I?

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself to you. My name is Gemma and I have joined Spark Academy as Headteacher.

I have come from a Science teaching background and am continuing to teach Science at Spark. My specialism is Biology, so along with teaching KS3 & KS4 Science I am taking the Year 12 & 13 students for their A-level Biology lessons.

I taught for over 10 years in state-run Leicestershire Secondary Schools before coming to Spark. Because of this, I have been fortunate to have had many proud teacher moments, from seeing former students continue their learning at university and the pursuit of alternative avenues of education to reach their desired goals and careers.

Why I came to Spark


I have developed a passion for teaching and learning. Enjoyment of your work is an important principle for me, and a key reason I pursued a position at Spark. In particular, I have a keen interest in making the current curriculum accessible to all students. Very few people are naturally gifted at academic subjects. For most of us it is something we have to work hard at. It is important to develop resilience as part of your learning, because we often learn better from making mistakes. Many people are afraid to make mistakes, even from a young age,

For some reason from a young age we are afraid to make these mistakes. It is my goal to create a supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable making mistakes and, ultimately, where they can learn from these mistakes. Whatever the background, or ability of students, my desire is that they are able to reach their full potential.

It is important to me that all students have the confidence to discuss their ideas and question the world around them. It is not only independent learning we wish to encourage but also a self-assurance to ask questions and to be inquisitive. We believe at Spark that it is this element to learning that is key to becoming a successful learner.

In addition to the development of our students at Spark, I also have an interest in continual development of our amazing staff. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was mentoring a bright ambitious young lady and having exciting discussions of what teaching and learning meant to her. I’m proud to say she is now our CEO and founder of Spark, Mital Thanki!


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Some of the amazing science Gemma has already taught included making volcanos!

Looking to the future

I believe that teaching is a vocation rather than just a job. We expect students to develop and improve their learning. In the same way, we as teachers also need to continually develop and improve our own practice. This ensures our learners are getting the very best experience during our lessons.

I aim to keep you updated on the teaching and learning strategies we are researching and implementing here at Spark Academy.

What makes a successful student?

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This week the Spark Ideas wheel has been turned over to Mital – what are the qualities she thinks all successful students should have? 

It’s tough being a student! So many expectations from others. However, most people find that the biggest critic is actually themselves. At Spark Academy, we tutor hundreds of students that go through the same emotions, year in year out. Many people think that the key to academic success through doing physical studying, but actually it’s much more than that. It’s your mindset.

The 5 Core Student Values are attributes that pupils must have in order to achieve their best. It’s how you feel emotionally that contributes greatly to your success and we would like to share this with you!

1. Endeavour

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Your motivation is key to your own success. Really sit down and think about what it is that you want out of life. If you have no clue about what you want to become, have an immediate goal in mind. Having such goals will make you want to work harder. Always endeavour to achieve your goal and set realistic targets to achieve it. All successful people have a thirst and drive to attain their desires. Be one of them.


“You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it.” – Lionel Messi



2. Aspire

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This links back to having an immediate or long-term goal to attain. Really think about where you want to be in the next 5 years and set realistic targets to achieve it. Do you want a nice car in the future or a big house? How will you attain these things? Think about how you will get there. If you can’t think that far ahead, then think about something more immediate. Would you like to achieve the highest score in your class? How will you attain this? These are all aspirational goals which, if you put a plan in place, can be achieved. All successful people have a vision of where they want to be. They may not know the actual specifics immediately, but always keep it in the forefront of their minds. Be one of them.

“Every bit of me is devoted to love and art. I aspire to try to be a teacher to my young fans who feel just how I felt when I was younger…I want to free them of their fears and make them feel that they can make their own space in the world.” – Lady Gaga



3. Optimism

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It is hard at times to stay optimistic when you have piles of homework to complete or when life starts to travel in the wrong direction. You have to remember to stay positive through these testing times. See the benefit rather than the negatives. Keeping a positive disposition really helps you feel happier and drives that ‘can do’ attitude. The piles of relentless homework now, will be the foundations of your future. Your school years shape you to achieve greatness. Relish in the opportunities that lie in front of you.


“I hope the millions of people I’ve touched have the optimism and desire to share their goals and hard work and perseverance with a positive attitude.” – Michael Jordan



4. Discipline

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Maintaining self-discipline is vital if you want to succeed. Simple things about how you present your work to how you manage your own time, is incredibly vital if you want to be ahead of the game. Many athletes undergo heavy self-discipline only to succeed at what they do. Keeping mentally fit helps you to keep a strong mind and stay focused on your goals.


“With self-discipline most anything is possible” – Theodore Roosevelt



5. Inspire

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Inspire others around you. Set a good example and serve as a role model. Take charge of your own learning and development, as  ultimately it will shape your own life and future. Surround yourself with individuals that share the same energy and passion as you do. All successful people surround themselves with people that they inspire and are also inspired by. This will further not only your studies but also shape your character.


“My whole thing is to inspire, to better people, to better myself forever..” – Kendrick Lamar