The right kind of 10% braver?

I’ve realised that for a long time, I was doing 10% braver all wrong. I’m writing this in case some of you are doing it wrong too, whether you’ve realised it yet or not.

Following the WomenEd hashtag on Twitter and listening to those I respected around me made me feel as though I was only being a strong and courageous woman if I was being 10% braver often. I could only change the world by doing the kind of 10% braver that left me exhausted. Everyone else seemed to be spinning so many plates and contributing so much of themselves to others that I felt I needed to keep up. This says a great deal more about my outlook at the time than it does the community that is WomenEd but there was an aspect of 10% braver that I didn’t hear anyone talking about.

There were good kinds and bad kinds of 10% braver.

There was the kind of 10% braver that others expected of me so I did it without questioning whether it aligned with my own values and moral purpose.

There was the kind of 10% braver that filled me with fear and dread to the very soles of my feet so that I could barely think, act, sleep or function. It was the kind of fear that I told myself I should expect if I was being brave.

There was the kind of 10% braver that left me utterly exhausted at the end of the day, week, month and year as I put in more and more work hours to make up for perceived deficits that I thought only things I was scared of could rescue me from.

There was the kind of 10% braver that made me give all of myself to others, leaving none of it left for my life.

It’s only with time and perspective that I’ve been able to notice this. At the time, I thought I was progressing my career, grasping for my potential that felt ever out of reach, and moving beyond myself and all my perceived areas of weakness; rising above. I proclaimed to everyone that I was being 10% braver and received well wishes and congratulations with women championing me from all corners. I thought that this was feminism. This was belonging. This was progress. This was success.

Was it?

I hid all of the shame, the stress, the not living up to my ‘potential’, and always striving for better when ‘better’ meant taking me further from myself.

In a previous role, I was asked to ‘coach’ a number of colleagues after their ‘developmental’ observations had been deemed inadequate. When I worked with one colleague in particular, she was initially excited about the opportunity and I enjoyed being in her lessons. I practised my self-taught instructional coaching as best I could. She left the organisation. For a long time I owned this as my own failure to coach and to develop another person and so I continued to dig deep and do the job that was asked for me with other colleagues. I perceived this as me being 10% braver at the time; stepping outside of my comfort zone and developing areas I saw as my own weaknesses to make progress and achieve success. It was an even longer time before I realised the reality. Here was a system that was anything but living up to it’s ‘developmental’ label. The coaching stemmed not from a desire for a teacher to improve with the help of a colleague but from a breakdown of communication and a lack of a respectful relationship between the teacher and their manager. The involvement of HR added an obtuse angle of capability that aligned neither with my role nor my soul. It is also obvious now that I look back how many of these teachers were BAME. I was so focused on myself and my own perceived lack of skills and knowledge that I failed to recognise that my 10% braver was facing in entirely the wrong direction. Instead of challenging the system and choosing another path, I was harming both myself and others by stepping so far out of my comfort zone that I was no longer in sight of myself.

I use this example as one of many I could have chosen to share with you. I use it not just as a means of excising some ghosts but also to demonstrate the kind of compromising 10% braver we can persuade ourselves into in the name of anything but a joyful life lived with values and purpose.

I can’t say that I’ll never say yes to something in the name of 10% braver that I really should have said no to but I’m far more aware of the nature of bravery that nourishes me rather than damages me. Let’s take a look at this healthier kind of 10% braver.

A healthy 10% braver is one that leads me to running a bookshop in Scotland and living out my dreams.

A healthy 10% braver is one that leads me to sit and shake my head on the side of a jetty as my partner leaps into the warm holiday sea before taking a moment, a deep breath, plunging in and doing things in my own way without being unnecessarily reliant on the encouragement and support of others.

A healthy 10% braver leads me to applying for a job I know I will love in an organisation I know I will feel proud to work for even though it means jumping clean off the ladder everyone else set up for me to climb so that I can return to myself.

A healthy 10% braver leads me to suggesting that we shout at the full moon whilst flying along in an open topped car beneath the starry night sky to experience the kind of joy I want to feel more often (would highly recommend by the way!)

A healthy 10% braver leads me to running a workshop at work about diversity because I think it’s a conversation that should take place. I set aside the fear I feel because this is insignificant in the face of the challenging conversation that needs to be had.

It’s also the kind of 10% braver that allows me to take my lunch break, to finish work on time, to focus on one job at a time, to not feel the need to respond to colleagues immediately, to take a walk if my head needs clearing, to set aside thinking time, and to make the right decisions in my working day for my health.

None of these are easy, especially that last one, but I don’t feel the same discomfort I felt when I was living out others’ values and expectations of me. I don’t feel the same sense of unease at departing so far from who I am instead of drawing on my strengths.

Take care not to be fooled into thinking that something that makes you feel good more than it does fearful is not filled with bravery and therefore isn’t worthy of your time or celebration. It takes courage to live your life on purpose and to be true to your values. Far more courage in fact than is needed to live someone else’s life and diminish your own value in the process.

A healthy 10% braver never expects perfection from you. You can demand as much or as little of yourself as you feel capable of at the time. Sometimes the bravest decision is to stop.

A healthy 10% braver may still be accompanied by a voice that says you can’t do this but your values can guide you to a decision that sets aside imposter syndrome and your inner gremlin.

A healthy 10% braver doesn’t sap you of your strength. It makes you stronger.

A healthy 10% braver doesn’t make you feel as though you’re living someone else’s life. You’re living your life on purpose.

A healthy 10% braver doesn’t feel you with crippling dread. It’ll lead to joy.

Anything that doesn’t is mere imitation. Leave it be. It doesn’t serve you.

2018: A year of reading

2018 saw the completion of my library at home and a commitment to more reading. Being an English teacher had lead to far less reading than I had naively anticipated at the start of my career and I looked forward to having more free time to enjoy escaping to far away lands with characters I was soon to meet.

Establishing the habit was not easy but I soon got back into it with some good reads early in the year. The quickest way was to exchange habits that were merely giving the impression of switching off such as scrolling through social media, watching Netflix and doing extra work…on the sofa.

So how did I choose what to read?

I read books I’d had on my shelves for years, books that had been recommended to me by friends, family and colleagues, books that were cheap on Kindle and books from my local library. A mix of fiction and non-fiction has meant I could figure out what I enjoy. It’s been so long since I’ve read for enjoyment outside of a holiday read that I think I’ll still be learning each time I read something new.

I enjoy what I enjoy and pay no attention to whether it’s on a list of classics or what more discerning readers are saying about the way it’s written. If it offers something to my soul and leaves a trace of something behind then it’s on my list of good reads.

At the end of a year of reading, I’ve discovered a range of things I love, other things I enjoy and those more forgettable reads that still allow me to switch off. As I look to the year’s reading ahead, I have a few bucket list reads on the list as well as new releases. Some of the reads from Emma Watson’s book club, ‘Our Shared Shelf‘ have made their way onto my list and I also discovered Gnod. You type in the names of up to 4 authors you like and the tool releases a series of recommendations for you to consider. My resulting list seems promising and I look forward to seeing how they work out this year.

My 52 book challenge for the year was surpassed with 57 reads and here they are:

Fabulous Fiction

  • A History of Bees – Maja Lunde (how human actions write the future of the planet. Bees. They’re really important)
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (I’m not sure I’d ever read this in full and it didn’t disappoint – a utopia is never really a utopia)
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (a secret society and a code to be cracked in a 24 hour bookstore)
  • The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (a tale with messages about how we live and treat those different to ourselves)
  • The Midnight Palace – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (one of my favourite writers. I won’t have a bad word said about him. Shadow of the Wind is hard to beat but but I thoroughly enjoyed this one)
  • The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (a heart-warming tale about a man who saves writing from destruction)
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy (A colleague recommended this years ago and I resisted but really shouldn’t have. It made me realise how much I love post-apocalyptic and fiction and the scenes depicted will stay with me forever)
  • Vox – Christina Dalcher (a dystopian fiction where women are limited to 100 words a day… the kind of terrifying fiction that feels completely possible if certain present conditions escalated. Ending disappointing but then I was unfairly comparing it to the likes of the Handmaid’s Tale)

Work- related reads

  • Community Building on the Web – Amy Jo Kim (I’m creating an online community at work so this made for essential reading that’s helped to form the strategy)
  • Design for How People Learn – Julie Dirksen (combining cognitive science and online learning – a great combination for my role!)
  • Educational Research: Taking the Plunge – Phil Wood and Joan Smith (writing online courses on educational research meant this read was entirely helpful)
  • Understanding How We Learn – Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki and Oliver Caviglioli (writing an online course on the effective use of technology incorporates cognitive science approaches and this was accessible, practised what it preached by using the principles to explain difficult concepts, and has left me with further areas to learn about)

 

Notable Non-Fiction

  • Dear Ijeawele – Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie (the first non-fiction I’d read from this author. Advice for feminists everywhere, whether you have a daughter or not)
  • Do Breathe – Michael Townsend Williams (advice about a life with space to breathe that I’ll return to again and again)
  • Forgotten Women: The Leaders – Zing Tsjeng (inspirational stories of women from history you’ve never, unbelievably, heard of before)
  • Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterley (an inspiring hidden true story… there’s a theme emerging with incredible women from history)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life – Cheryl Strayed (writing for your soul)
  • The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell (especially memorable because I red it whilst running a bookshop in the town where it was written so I met Shaun and many of the characters he mentions)
  • Thrive – Arianna Huffington (shaped my year; full of advice for life and work)
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (this affected my perspective on race greatly, led to me swapping books with colleagues at work and hearing from her in person made her words even more important)

 

Perfectly Good fiction

  • Black Eyed Susans – Julia Haeberlin
  • Bridget and Joan’s Diary – Bridget Golightly and Joan Hardcastle
  • Force of Nature – Jane Harper
  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  • The Book of Hidden Things – Francesco Dimitri
  • The Boston Girl – Anita Diamant
  • The Cows – Dawn O’Porter
  • The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan
  • The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Summer of Impossible Things – Rowan Coleman
  • The Taliban Cricket Club – Timeri N Murari
  • The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

 

Non-Fiction with a little something

  • Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind – Jennifer Shannon
  • Help – Simon Amstell
  • The Little Big Things – Henry Fraser
  • The Little Book of Ikigai – Ken Mogi
  • The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry
  • The One Thing – Gary Keller

 

Enjoyable at the time with a busy brain

  • Can you Keep a Secret? – Karen Perry
  • Daisy in Chains – Sharon Botton
  • Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land
  • Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson
  • Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
  • Moonlight over Manhattan – Sarah Morgan
  • Paper Aeroplanes – Dawn O’Porter
  • Since We Fell – Dennis Lehaine
  • Thanks for the Memories – Cecilia Ahern
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • The Girl Before – J P Delaney
  • The Girl you Left Behind – JoJo Moyes
  • The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert – David Barnett
  • The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
  • The Man I think I Know – Mike Gayle
  • The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

A Necessary Journey

My awareness of race and the need for representation in both education and society were not inherent in me at an early age, rather it was a slow realisation of what existed around me but not within me. Perhaps the journey I am about to describe is familiar to those of you who don’t have to deal with the prejudice, discrimination, and lack of privilege that accompanies the colour of your skin. Perhaps it won’t be. Each of our journeys towards this realisation will differ but it’s a journey I hope all educators take sooner rather than later.

In writing this blog, I was struck by how many times I’ve had to look back on moments in my life, from a place of new learning and fresh perspective, in order to identify the significance of what had taken place. I guess that’s what learning is but I’d very much like to learn more, and learn faster in order to contribute to positive change.

Once I left my predominantly white hometown and moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for University, so began an awakening of all kinds (not least of all discovering alcohol and later abandoning it altogether). I attended classes where I was challenged to think, I travelled abroad for the first and many more times afterwards. I made some great friends. These friends came from all over the country and from a variety of backgrounds.

Two of my friends were Asian; one was born in Hong Kong, and the other’s parents were Pakistani. It was years before I would really think of their race as a difference. It was one day, well after University was finished, when we headed to an art gallery preview night that their experience of life was made explicit to me. A young man ran past and shouted abuse at my friend. I was horrified. I felt so angry and shaken. This person didn’t even know my friend. He’d hurled abuse at her just because of the colour of her skin. Both of my friends looked at me with bemused looks on their faces. They couldn’t understand my level of outrage and concern. ‘Oh Hannah. That kind of thing happens ALL the time. In fact, that’s not the least of it.’ I was shocked. I’d never heard any racism levelled towards them and had never considered their lives might be different from my own. We all had siblings, we were all on the same course. We’d had very different upbringings but I guess I’d not considered that their lives might be so tremendously unlike my own because of the colour of their skin. I just saw them as my friends. Looking back, I can see how ridiculously naive this was of me.

I began teaching in 2009 at a Further Education college in the North-East. I was a white teacher working with students in the community; accessing basic literacy and numeracy or employability courses. Race was never an issue because I didn’t encounter it. It was once I taught on access to university courses that I began to encounter a more diverse range of students. On one course, students were asked to pen a personal story from their lives. We read some heartbreaking pieces, including a story of attempted suicide, loss of a sibling to drugs and alcohol and one particularly memorable piece from a student who described their treacherous journey from a war torn country to safety in the UK. Looking back, I notice the distinct differences that generally existed in life experiences between the white students and our EAL speaking students. The latter more often then not working night shift to make ends meet before coming to college during the day. I’ve since wondered how these circumstances have continued to play out as they progressed to university and into careers within the health sector.

A few years later, in a very different part of the country I became the sole A Level teacher a couple of months into the job. I had the opportunity for the first time to consider which authors we would engage with. When we arrived at the poetry unit, I began by sharing some of my favourites with the group, and they would research and share their own favourites in return. I played clips of, amongst others, Maya Angelou, Hollie McNish, and Benjamin Zephaniah. I noticed my black students respond with animation I’d not seen from them before to some of the poets I shared; it became apparent that they were responding to writers who could speak to them in a way white writers could not. Looking back, I realise how white the curriculum had been and how excluding this was for our diverse range of learners.

In 2013, I entered a leadership position and I began to notice the distinct lack of diversity that existed at that level of the staff body. FE Colleges are generally known to have decent gender representation at leadership levels but in the kind of representation that would reflect the communities we were serving, my experience is of failure. Across two leadership teams in two different colleges, I haven’t worked alongside more than 4 fellow leaders who were not white. We were serving diverse communities but our staff body making all the decisions about how these communities should be served weren’t representative enough to ensure that we were catering adequately and with aspiration for them. Looking back, I recognise how championing colleagues whose voices I felt should be heard began to have an impact but more often then not, was met by deaf ears and inaction.

There were many more moments I could have included on my journey to a slow awakening but I feel these ones adequately represent my journey to date. The moments have not been earth shattering but their slow rumble has been enough to create a sound loud enough for me to begin listening to.

Every day, I don’t need to look very far to notice the dangerous results that stem from a lack of representation across boards and leadership teams across society.

As an educator, I’ve witnessed the way in which our teaching and leadership teams don’t adequately represent the communities we serve. Schools have a tremendous capacity to affect change. Get things right here and it seems possible for us to influence the rest of society along the way.

For a while now, I’ve been a supporter of the the BAMEed Network and when an opportunity to support their work revealed itself in the form of a Tweet from Amjad Ali, I was keen to be involved.

I’m using the skills I have to contribute to the network’s activities and so I’m helping out with the website. One of my first focuses has been to begin amplifying the voice and presence of BAME educators so that we can start working towards better representation at education events. For the teachers and leaders who attend these events, a strong message will be sent about the benefits of hearing from a range of voices that truly represent the profession.

If you’re planning an education event, or if you’d like to feature on the speakers page then you can view it here.

Perhaps your journey to awakening has been less of a slow rumble and more of a deafening explosion. If you think your journey towards discovering the strength in diversity is yet to begin then I’d recommend the following:

  • Look around you with open eyes. Could your community be better represented by a more diverse leadership and teaching team? Could your organisation become more efficient and effective with a more diverse range of voices?
  • Read Renni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. Allow her words to affect the lens through which you view the world around you. BAMEed Network have gathered further reading recommendations here.
  • Challenge what you notice around you from recruitment strategies, CPD and career advancement opportunities, curriculum design, resources and images.
  • Follow the BAMEed Network and support their work
  • Listen, really listen, to colleagues and peers with a different voice to your own.
My final recommendation, wherever you are on your journey, is to attend the BAMEed Network’s second birthday conference at the University of East London on January 19 2019 – click here to buy your ticket, and perhaps one for a friend who should really be there whilst you’re at it.

#WomenEd Unconference 4

Today’s WomenEd Unconference was to be an event unlike others I’d attended previously. It wouldn’t be my first, I wouldn’t be presenting, I wouldn’t be attending from the perspective of a middle leader in a college. My resulting pledges and response to the day would be very different from previous events.

The start of the day went much as a typical WomenEd event might. I had a smile on my face and felt the warmth of women sharing their ‘so what?’; being open about how they’d learned and grown from their involvement with WomenEd. Their simple yet powerful messages were filled with a new-found sense of belonging, sisterhood, a life they could decide for themselves, brave choices, and permission to accept 98% as enough.

Next was the chance for me to hear from Alison Kriel for the first time. Her keynote did not disappoint as she reflected on her experiences as a black female CEO; sharing experiences with both men and women that had been filled with the kind of prejudice that will have been familiar to many in the audience but that when spoken aloud were enough to elicit shock. She added words from Maya Angelou to messages of her own and transformed them to become messages of collaboration for the day ahead. As someone who makes full use of crying to release emotions, my tear-filled eyes may have just spilled over a tiny little bit. This is known as stage one (?) on the Carly Waterman cryometer scale, I believe.

At previous WomenEd events, I’d had very clear reasons for being there and attended workshops based on that purpose. This time, I arrived late and picked as the session started, changing my mind frequently before finally plumping for a room and dashing in at the last possible moment. My only hope for this year’s event was to surround myself with the honest stories and voices of a diverse range of women and on that count, the day most definitely delivered.

Instead of summarising my learning from each separate workshop, I have chosen to share some of the things I’m left thinking about as a result of all conversations on the day.

Choosing yourself

There were a number of moments throughout the day that addressed the concept of self, values, and what it would mean to choose ourselves. One really useful exercise was included in Jas Dosanjh’s workshop. She asked us to write down all of the roles we played in our lives and place them in order of importance to our sense of self and therefore also how much of ourselves we might be willing to sacrifice to maintain each. For instance, you might have parent at the top, writer second, teacher third, wife/girlfriend fourth, sister, daughter, citizen, neighbour, friend, volunteer and so on. I wrote my list and then had to start over several times. I like to think about these things carefully and will enjoy revisiting my own list as it grows.

As I wrote my list, I really just wanted to place ‘woman’ at the top but saw that no-one else was thinking this way and assumed I must be wrong. If I did my list now, I’d really like to do that. It’s the one role I have in my life where I have no obligation to anyone other than myself and the relationship I have with myself is the one I’ve learned to prioritise as the most important above all other roles I have.

A couple of attendees vocalised that ‘women shouldn’t’ put wife/girlfriend/partner near to the top of the list, instead investing their energies in other places as men come and go (problematically assuming there that we all have male partners). Whilst I would never reject someone else’s reality, we need to take greater caution over our use of language. I believe there to be enough expectations placed on women by society, by the media, by colleagues, by themselves that we don’t need to impose any further shoulds and shouldn’ts on one another. Our own reality, however similar, is never someone else’s and remaining mindful of that will enable us to push for progress as a collective.

I can say, like someone else in the room, that my role as partner is very high on my list. My relationship is a strong source of energy and love. We each have our own lives and identities but have endless reserves of support for one another’s endeavours and therefore it’s a role worth investing my self in. I recognise this will be different for other people; we each have our own set of values and circumstances.

Prioritising the small things

Further in Jas’s workshop, we were asked to state two things that we’d like to achieve before we die – for ourselves – and then consider what was stopping us. I reached my first one pretty quickly but then, having just achieved a long-held ambition to visit Florence, I couldn’t think of a second. Janice, sat on my table, spoke passionately about a walk of a lifetime to Santiago de Compostela she’d wanted to do. I think this kind of adventure needs some serious exploring and it occurred to me that such a journey might make a perfect WomenEd holiday. Ladies?!

In another workshop, conversations around wellbeing and quality of life emerged. I’ve recognised in recent months that it’s actually not the great lifetime achievements and successes that bring me joy. Much of what I’ve been led to believe in the past is that climbing the ladder of leadership, achieving big success, and grand experiences were the path I should be on. I could only be a good woman and feminist if I ‘had it all’, if I ‘did it all’, and if I could speak at conferences about how I had ‘worked hard to achieve it all’.

Today confronted me with this truth I’d been led to believe. In the last 12 months, I’ve been gradually dismantling that truth as I stepped out of a life that was draining me of myself and into a non-leadership position where I’m well on the way to finding me.

  • I’ve learned strategies to counteract my inner gremlin telling me I’m not good enough.
  • I’ve adjusted the distant boundaries I had that meant I was saying yes to everything and everyone above saying yes to me
  • I’ve given myself permission to engage in self-care that tops up my energy and allows me to experience and notice the present

I’ve decided I’ll write in full about self-care soon but I will share that the start of this journey was to recognise the positive knock-on effect self-care had on me. This enabled me to notice when it wasn’t happening and choose differently. I recently started to get into a bad habit with breakfast. I was eating it before work whilst checking emails. I’d fooled myself into thinking that at least I was having breakfast and it allowed me to ease into work but all it did was allow work to encroach on the time that should have been mine and made my day longer than it should have been. I’ve started to make sure I eat my breakfast elsewhere with a book. It seems like an incredibly small thing but it means I’m starting every day by choosing me. I’m now holding myself to account with breaks, lunch and finish time in similar ways.

The days when things don’t quite go to plan are the days when I’m practising forgiveness. The other days this inevitably goes out of the window are the days when I’m in the office; it’s so much harder to maintain a habit I know is good for me if my colleagues aren’t doing the same. My next challenge will be to continue these habits when I’m in the office.

Flexible working options benefit everyone

In conversations that emerged about flexible working throughout the day, I began to recognise the benefits that exist for everyone if a school can wholly embrace flexible working. It opens up the realm of the ‘possible’. My current workplace is supportive of working patterns and approaches that suit the individual as well as the organisation whether that be in hours, location, days of the week, or contract. I appreciate the lucky position that allows me to be in but some of the experiences shared by attendees today indicate that schools are well on the journey to doing and being better. There’s clearly a long way left to go before parents of any gender have all the options they might need in order to find the right balance for them and their families yet it was encouraging to hear from women who had successfully found a way to manage motherhood and work in a way that suited them in workplaces that support them.

The only part of these conversations that are niggling still is the the route of ‘having it all’. This phrase remains a dangerous one for women and society. Dr Mary Berry’s adage, ‘If you want it’ remains a useful one that adds context and whilst I’m far from a expert in this area, I still find it a problematic concept for multiple reasons. Instead of having the life they want, ‘having it all’ insinuates that a woman must have the full-time job (and do it successfully), that she must bring up the children and take on the lion’s share of care and organisation in this area. Perhaps it is the only reality women will ever get to experience and I recognise it as the reality for many women I know but I refuse to believe that we can’t fight for more than that through flexible working that adequately recognises and encourages a man’s role as a parent too. I also recognise that for some women, there is no choice as to whether or not they have it all. They’re forced to choose one or another because of money, or personal circumstances… and what of those women who choose to solely parent? We should support that choice as much as anyone else’s. Fighting for equality means fighting for choice. Fighting for women to decide the way their life looks as much as physically possible.

Today was my first conference attendance in quite some time. Sunday will be a day of rest to energise ahead of the challenges of the coming week. I’m looking forward to watching the recordings of some of the sessions I missed at some point and catching up on other people’s experience of the day. In the meantime, I’ll be making some pledges that prioritise me as a human first so that I can bring the very best of myself to all parts of my life.

My pledges – the two to continue

Continue with the journey my friends affectionately refer to as my retirement (albeit a rather productive and frenetic one right now). It’s allowing me to connect with my values, my truth, and my self; enjoying the moment, the small things and finding joy.

Continue to support #BAMEed by being part of their steering group. I’ll be blogging about the importance of this work soon.

My pledges – the new one to think about

Attending conferences always comes with nerves as I attempt to overcome my natural introversion and the fact that I don’t actually know anyone that well, beyond the odd tweet now and again. I heard an attendee ask another why they were so quiet and shy; suggesting confidence coaching. I don’t see shyness, introversion, or a quiet and reflective quality as a deficit to be fixed.

I’d like to explore ways in which we could support one another ahead of these events. For instance, meeting up at the start of the day, perhaps messaging in advance to get to know each other so we have some faces to at least say hello and a few words to. Finding introvert-friendly gaps so that we can escape the switched-on-ness of the day and find space to recharge. In the spirit of today, if anyone would like to collaborate on generating some ideas and making it happen then I’d absolutely love to work with you on it.

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Embracing Difference

30 days ago, I started working at the Chartered College of Teaching. This time has absolutely flown by and I found myself arriving at the Annual Conference early on a Saturday morning to help with the set-up wondering what I would get from the day.

When working full-time as a teacher and leader, it was always at this time of the year (and to be honest – most other times of the year) when I badly needed an injection of inspiration to propel me forwards. It was rare that I’d find enough juice for my batteries in the staffroom and so a Saturday conference was invariably where I’d head. I began the day doubtful that I was in need of this same shot of passion in my new position but this was to be a very different Saturday conference for more than one reason.

The programme put together for this day represented diversity in all of its facets. We heard from teachers and leaders throughout the day that I’d not heard from before. We were inspired by passionate educators who affirmed our purpose through honestly sharing their own.

There are many things that separate us as humans, and certainly as educators –
– Our voices and perspectives
– Our backgrounds and politics
– Our qualities and challenges

It was whilst listening to Abed Ahmed that I  recognised the strength that lies in not just accepting a difference in yourself that others may see as a weakness but going beyond mere acceptance and towards embracing it wholeheartedly.

This video explains much of the power Abed has, in his words, as a result of ‘stammering with confidence’ and helping his students to do the same. And stammering confidently, believe it or not, is wholly achievable – we were all lucky enough to witness it first hand.

It seems to me that society often labels difference as weakness, rather than strength. Oftentimes, apologies are made for such differences and perceived limits are put firmly in place. Abed referenced a point in his life when he’d been told that teaching wouldn’t be the right career choice for him; his stammer would apparently hold him back.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock shared a similar story later on when she related her experiences of schools where teachers had underestimated her abilities as a dyslexic girl from a broken home… and yet, it was a teacher who was able to turn this narrative around. Just the encouragement, on a single occasion, to answer a tricky maths question was enough to help her think differently about her future and to continue believing in her dreams.

Listening to the debate panel on inclusion later in the day made me consider the strength in difference to an even greater extent. Teachers and leaders have the capacity to enable every young person they work with to look to the stars, yet so often we give up before all avenues have been explored and limits are placed on what a student is able to see for their future. Maggie shared her view that as teachers, we are the nurturers of their ‘desire to aspire’.

Whilst there is an enormous barrier to be overcome in persuading some of this philosophy, there are other hurdles to be overcome too if inclusion is to be realised across the education system and I believe they demand a more nuanced discussion. For many, there is a fear over inclusion that became apparent for me through overheard discussions and questions asked by members. We can’t just bury this fear with moral arguments. I would suggest that many schools and colleges are a long way off realising inclusion, not necessarily because they don’t buy into what it means but because there is no investment in the development, structure, and support to enable it to happen effectively.

Listening to our teachers when it comes to inclusion is vital if we’re to begin changing the narrative and the importance of teacher voice was highlighted throughout the day, not least of all by Dr Helen Woodley.

How many times have you listened to your colleagues share their ideas for positive change and they’re ignored? It’s not that the ideas simply can’t be actioned but more than that – no dialogue even takes place about the possibilities that might result from such ideas. Many of you will have witnessed what this does to colleagues over time and disengagement is the least of it. If we are to inject a greater level of professionalism into teaching then we must begin with dialogue and genuine listening. Change can be actioned by a single teacher within their own classroom and it is on most days of the year so to ignore their voice the rest of the time is foolish at the very least. I love Nancy Kline’s work on this with ‘Time to Think’. So often we shut down our vocal colleagues because they’re ‘off on one again’… and yet, what might be the reason for their being ‘off on one’ again? Perhaps we shut them down the last time they tried to speak too… At the other end of this spectrum is the colleague whose opening to speak is not a busy team meeting but a conversation with a trusted colleague over a cup of tea in the morning break. How can we ensure there is space for each of our teacher’s voices to be truly heard in meaningful ways?

The voice of Farhaan Patel has been left resonating in my mind since the conference. He showed what’s possible in a world where difference is not merely ‘tolerated’ as British Values would let us believe but celebrated. It’s clear to me that as educators, there is a moral imperative to help our young people to see difference as simply a part of living in the modern world. When we show our young people what diversity looks like, we make them curious about it and we’ll have moved far beyond the kind of ‘telling them about it’ that ticks the ‘E&D box’ on a lesson plan. Farhaan shared a window into his school where children ask endless questions as a result of open dialogue with the adults they trust. Through a partnership with another school, his students became thirsty to learn more and ultimately found friends in places they would likely never have ventured. I’m left wondering why every area in the country has not done as Leicester has and connected their young people through projects like their ‘UnitEd’.

Another ‘box’ leaders and teachers should be equally reticent to ‘tick’ is the wellbeing one. With the current situation with retention and workload in the sector, more fundamental changes need to be put into place. Dr Tim O’Brien facilitated a panel of practising teachers and leaders from his recent wellbeing CPD programmes for the Chartered College. Having attended the pilot as a member, I’d recommend to it anyone. You’re encouraged to take a ramble through wellbeing issues in the education context and you engage in an experiment within your own context to assess its impact. You can read more about it here.

At the end of the panel, I was speaking to a Chartered College member who shared that he finds his colleagues’ negativity a drain on his energies as a relatively new teacher but the most uplifting parts of his day are when he walks into his classroom and shuts the door to teach. More than that, he relishes the opportunity to engage with pupils on his thrice-weekly lunch duties where he can continue to foster positive relationships with the young people at his school. I was reminded that there is no single way to ‘well-being’ and that an individual approach is best. As we spoke, I reflected on the places I’ve worked over my teaching career and the leaders I’ve worked for. I don’t wish to lay the responsibility of wellbeing at the feet of every leader but one thing is left abundantly clear for me from these reflections: where there was trust, autonomy, support, and gratitude then the very challenging job that is teaching was made far easier.

Our day ended with trainee teacher, Philip McCahillsharing his advice for his future teacher self. He ultimately spoke of hope and possibility. We were shown today that, without doubt, there is always another way. It’s simply a case of being open to ‘possibility’. As a teacher, this sense of ‘possibility’ is multiplied exponentially if we can consider all of the lives we may influence by embracing the power that lies in difference.

2017: The year of the coach

Imagine, if you will, a small Quentin Blake sketch of a woman. She’s eagerly skipping around the empty page of a book – leaving sparks of colour with her feet as she goes. You watch her doing this from afar for quite some time before she finally lands at the bottom right hand corner of the page and lifts it up just a fraction. She turns around and eagerly beckons for you to join her.

That particular image was conjured on Thursday evening sat on my newly purchased beanbag in the corner of my office on the phone to Naomi Ward. Many such images have been conjured since November 2016 and whilst each have helped me to reach the point from which I write this now, few have meant so much.

Naomi has been working with me to identify and believe my strengths, crush my inner gremlin (the voice so that so often used to tell me I couldn’t do it), and articulate my values so that I could feel like less of an imposter in my leadership role.

Alongside coaching sessions, a number of other events have been pivotal on my journey over the last year –

In December 2016, I spoke to all of our staff at The Sheffield College about being 10% braver. Since then, staff have spoken to me about what this has meant to them and how they too have been propelled by 10% braver since.

The apparent impact of this message on my colleagues lead to me being more engaged with the work of #WomenEd and so 2017 lead to me attending my first WomenEd event in March. I left feeling so utterly uplifted by the people who surrounded me that day that I endeavoured to remain involved. This was a special place to be indeed.

I continued to connect with the WomenEd crowd and was drawn to present at TeachMeet Reading in June after linking with the incredible Anshi who exudes endless positivity. Just after I presented, I received an email from Jaz: a woman I admire so much for speaking her truth and empowering others through her vulnerability. Her words are pinned on my 2018 noticeboard so that I have a constant remind of the impact I have when I live my values:

Hey hey! I am so chuffed now I get the chance to send you a personal message to say YOU ARE AWESOME! Your presentation was honest, resourceful and powerful! Well done on being 10% braver.

Fast-forward to September 2017 and I had been selected to share my journey towards crushing my inner gremlin and finding confidence at the national WomenEd unconference in September. That day confirmed it for me. I had found a tribe – a group of people it felt good to be around. Here was a collective within which I felt empowered to be me. Truly me. No excuses. No apologies. For the first time in my life.

The last year has brought me to a position where my narrative has been rewritten. No longer is it penned by the dominant voice of my inner gremlin.

  • I have confidence about the impact I have on my team and colleagues.
  • I regularly celebrate the smallest of my accomplishments (mainly with star jumps!)
  • I recognise that proper rest and relaxation is necessary nourishment.
  • I have a clear vision of the supportive tribe I want to be surrounded by.

I emerge from a chapter of my life whose narrative had dominated me with its doubt and distinct lack of confidence in the impact I’m capable of having. I’ve chosen not to rip this chapter up but rather roll it up tightly so that I can hold it in my hand from time to time and remind myself of all the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

On Thursday, I sat on the phone to Naomi unsure of how I would ever thank her for the impact she has had on my life.

In 2018, I have taken a lead from Hannah Wilson and selected a word that will guide my actions for the year and this will be my first act of gratitude to Naomi. My word is ‘Believe’ and I will choose to –

  • Believe in being unequivocally and unapologetically me
  • Believe in the strength I possess to get through any challenge
  • Believe in the power of rest to nourish my soul
  • Believe that there is a tribe that awaits me where there is trust and collaboration
  • Believe in all of my strengths and the impact I am capable of having on others

On Friday, I wrote the following words to colleagues I have worked with for two years at The Sheffield College –

Today is my last day at the College and I hold a lot of fantastic memories of my last two years here. I have always believed in the power of sharing our learning journeys with one another and so I will share some brief reflections with you for one last time.

The work we do in Further Education is transformative and over the last 10 years working in the sector, I’ve witnessed the conditions that enable staff working within it to excel.

None of us can do this job alone. It is those staff who work closely with each other and value one another as humans above all else that deliver the best results for our students. I’m thankful to all the teams and individuals who have proven this during my time here.

Gratitude gets you far. I’ve seen, first hand, the impact of a sincere thank you: an email, a kind word, or a small token of appreciation.

Generosity in sharing of resources, ideas, and viewpoints enables great things to emerge. One idea sparks another until everyone is buoyed by their newly-discovered collective efficacy.

Developing people is about opening up a space for them to step into; a space filled with heartfelt encouragement, honest dialogue and listening. Being able to step freely into such a space allows us to step into change, growth, and learning.

No sooner than my message had been sent did I begin to receive responses from all corners of the organisation and I was reminded yet again of how important it is to never underestimate the impact you have when you live your values. These words came from a support member of staff who I had interactions with but someone I never guessed I would have had such an impact on –

Since you started work here you are the one person I believe has had the biggest impact on the College. I have seen how our staff development days have been transformed and how you actually engaged staff, made us think in new ways and have given us so many forums in which we can share our ideas. Most of all you have helped give us a feeling of belonging and empowerment.

As I read through all the messages received and considered my time in Further Education over the last 10 years; the colleagues I have worked alongside and the students whose lives have been transformed, I’m left feeling so privileged to have been a part of such an incredible environment for such a long time….But my Quentin Blake drawing is calling me to turn the page into a new chapter and I’m ready to follow her, or at least I will be after enjoying some days of leave ahead of my new adventure.

2018 will see me take a 10% braver step into a role as the Online Learning Specialist at the Chartered College of Teaching. The role combines my love of professional development and learning with technology and I could not think of an organisation that better aligns with my values. I believe I will find colleagues to form my trusted tribe for 2018 (alongside WomenEd) and I know it will be a brand new space from which I can continue to grow and flourish.

Thank you to all who have shaped my journey thus far. Here’s to a brand new chapter.

Crush Your Gremlin #WomenEd

A few months ago, I’d seen the advert online for WomenEd looking for workshop facilitators. I flagged the form for that evening, resolving that I would register and move from TeachMeets to a workshop attended by hopefully more than four people (as my first national conference delivering on ‘making the most of meetings’ had been). It would be a test for me and the 10% braver I needed.

A day from hell ensued and by the time I sat down to the form in the evening, there was no way I could do this. Who was I kidding? What would I have to share with anyone?

By the end of the week and after a session of coaching (arranged through WomenEd), I submitted my form a little after the deadline and this would be my topic. I did have something to share – I would share my journey towards taming my critical inner voice.

But there were months to go yet. My inner voice told me that no-one else shared my journey. They all had this mastered and what did I really have to share? I hadn’t totally conquered it and there were occasions when it was most definitely still getting the better of me.

But here I was because when you make a pledge to 10% braver, you can’t go back on it. Especially as my name was now in black and white on the programme.

Fear lead me to several weeks of me promising to write my presentation and failing to do so; leaving it all until last minute and then changing it all again 48 hours before because I’d had some better ideas, inspired by Naomi Ward.

My workshop began with participants filling out their sticky note of what had made them proud that day and eating a sweet. I wanted to begin the workshop in a positive way. I also allowed time for them to share why they wanted to be at the workshop. I had planned to preface this with a hope that they hadn’t ended up in mine as a last resort because none of their favoured options had spaces left but as mine was one of the full workshops, I knew this wouldn’t have been the case. Hurrah!

I then shared what participants could expect from the workshop and here’s what you can expect from this blog – lots of ideas, not all the answers. Elements of experimentation and I would be sharing my journey. I had heard other women during the day apologising for sharing the personal journeys, stories and perspectives. But how can we share anything else? I’d find it pretty hard to share someone else’s journey and whilst this presentation didn’t share much research or data for people to grapple with, it did share my truth.

In exploring issues around what holds women back, it’s important that we don’t neglect to consider the important part we may be playing in our own sabotage.

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Click here to read the full speech containing the above quote from Meryl Streep.

I then asked all participants to sketch an object that would sum up who they were. We’d be returning to it later. I shared that mine had emerged as a sunshine over time and I had turned it into a motif I could use to give me strength when I needed it the most.

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I began to share how my journey into leadership had progressed. This gif seemed to sum it up perfectly…

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Early on in my leadership journey, I had read this in an ‘Insights’ report about myself –

‘She may underestimate herself and either takes anything she does well for granted, or regards it as no great achievement at all.’

This statement had resonated with me. It felt true and I recognised where it had appeared in my life until this point. The issue was that I took it so to heart that I became fixed mindset about it and saw it as unchangeable aspect of my own personality. I soon learned this wouldn’t be the way to view my critical inner voice but in the meantime, I did the following things-

Ignored the problem and hoped it might go away of its own accord-

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Berated myself; believing that I was the only one experiencing this problem-

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And that’s where part of the issue lies. We all wander around believing that we’re the only ones who experience a negative inner voice… but more of that later.

I then shared three of the approaches my old manager, Graeme Hathaway had been able to share with me.

Recognising Impact

Part of the battle in the shift from teaching to leadership is that your impact is not quite as visible and immediate and I was struggling with this. One approach is to consider an action you’ve made and begin to observe it as a ripple moving out from that moment and the sphere of influence it has led to.

Daily Affirmations

There’s a great deal to be learned from this little lady about how to start a day right. Daily affirmations work by helping to remind you every day of your strengths. Your values. The things you will prioritise. Shape your own 3-4 statements to begin with and see how you get on with these.

Celebrating Successes

At the end of every day, I would write down 5 successes, however small. Graeme would write his down too to establish the habit, there was some accountability there. There are plenty of journals and diaries out there that can prompt you to do just this. The advantage is to seek the positive in every day, no matter how bad it has felt.

My favourites are these Inner Truth journals (available on Amazon).

After sharing these 3 strategies, I also shared how WomenEd #10%braver had helped me to take those small steps to be bold, brave and see how my confidence was positively affected. When it went well, my critical inner voice was nowhere to be found. When it didn’t, well… my gremlin was to be found everywhere.

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I knew that I needed to tackle this at a deeper level and that’s where my coach, Naomi Ward, comes in. From a recent session with her, I was able to form 3 guiding principles of gremlins to share at this workshop-

  1. Your gremlin’s voice is not yours. It’s not even a part of yours.
  2. Your true voice is of value and deserves to be heard.
  3. Imagine what you could achieve if your gremlin’s voice could no longer be heard?

A Twitter poll I shared in the days leading up to the conference made it clear that it wasn’t just me who was tempted to listen to my critical inner voice. Whilst not everyone who answered the 1st question answered the second, it gives some indication of how frequently we might be giving our gremlin more airtime than it deserves-

One other aspect of women holding themselves back, is frequently referenced by members of the WomenEd community – Imposter Syndrome. I shared my belief that this is driven very much by our gremlins as it is by other social constructs that exists for us. Our gremlins often mean we put other people on a pedestal; we believe them to possess all of the skills, knowledge and qualities we don’t.

The School of Life’s book, On Confidence, has a chapter dedicated to Imposter Syndrome and this is a quote from it-

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Once the room agreed they were ready to move into crushing their gremlin, I revealed the first part of my workshop title by playing a clip from Bridget Jones and asking a couple of questions –

What does Bridget reveal about her inner voice? and How does it affect her relationship with Mr D’Arcy?

The room concluded that she deflected the compliments and it was clear she had built up some defences based on her perception of herself, or at least the one informed by her gremlin. One participant made a great contribution in that it’s actually rude for us to behave in a way that deflects other people’s compliments or praise of us. Are we suggesting that people we like and respect are incorrect? Are we so arrogant that we really know better than everyone else?

We then worked through stages of a reflective activity that involved individual reflection and paired discussions at points-

  • Visualise a recent time when your gremlin was present and prevented you from doing something you wanted to do.
  • What things does your gremlin say to you?
  • What did the gremlin look like?
  • Where was the gremlin positioned?
  • How did the gremlin make you feel?
  • What did your gremlin stop you from doing?
  • What evidence do you have that the gremlin’s voice was accurate?
  • What was your own voice saying to the gremlin?
  • How would it have felt to do what you wanted to do instead of giving in to your gremlin?

Now was the point at which we returned to our image created at the start of the session. We fleshed it out a little more; noting down how it embodies our voice and values. I then asked participants to consider-

  • What would your object do to crush your gremlin?

I was then about to take a risk and hope that the room was with me. I had forgotten the tape I was going to bring to make a line on the floor so instead we used the doorway.

I stepped through the door and told them what awaited. Their values. Their true voice. Freedom from their gremlin. When they were ready, they were to join me on the other side of the door, which I promised was a totally awesome space. Luckily, everyone came through and I could sense the smiles on some of the faces around me as they stepped into this space.

I shared how since being introduced to this strategy by Naomi on Thursday, I had searched for lines I could cross during my day. I now already look forward to stepping over the top step at the train station I use every day, walking into my office and other rooms in my workplace. It’s a way of me noticing how my gremlin is speaking to me and allows me to press reset. Before my workshop, I had a wander around to find suitable lines I could cross over to feel free of my gremlin as I knew I’d need this to counter the nerves that inevitably accompany the facilitation of a workshop for the first time.

Then came the challenge of encouraging the group to go back into the space where we’d just left our gremlins…

Once we were back, we explored how actually having a greater awareness of other people’s struggle with their gremlins might help us with our own. WomenEd is an incredibly inclusive community of people that allows everyone to share their stories with one another but I still felt we could do more to share the truth of success and the gremlins involved.


I challenged everyone in the room to go away and write a letter to me that I could share more widely via my blog. A letter because the art of letter writing is lost, and it would be a letter that could-

Remove the gremlin’s power for women everywhere.

Click here for the letter template

Send to: Hannah Tyreman, The Sheffield College, Granville Road, Sheffield, S2 2RL

The workshop ended with Billy Joel’s lyrics, some of which have helped me to accept my strengths and myself just the way I am. In the world of education, eternally driven by what’s next and what else is going to be improved of developed, it’s not easy to achieve.

As we listened to the song, participants shared pledges and I handed out their workbooks and letter headers to take away. You can find all links to resources used in the workshop and those for further exploration here. I will also be adding those recommended by workshop participants too –

https://www.smore.com/432rc

Was my gremlin heard during the workshop? Absolutely! Did I step over a line to escape the voice numerous times during the workshop? Absolutely! Was it rather loud a few hours ago once the workshop had ended about what I could and should have changed about the workshop? Absolutely! I chose nice food and a Lush bath bomb instead. A future day will allow me to consider with logic and perspective what could have made my workshop better should I choose to run one again in the future but for now I would celebrate –

  • I had managed to get the workshop together after leaving it until last minute.
  • I had been 10% braver.
  • I had facilitated a packed workshop to 29 participants, many of whom have now made year long pledges to tackle their inner gremlin as part of the closing call to action for the day.
  • Other participants spoke to me afterwards and tweeted out what they had gained.
  • I am immensely proud of myself for being bold for both myself and others.

I hope that I receive some letters so that I can begin to share stories of conquering our gremlins. I hope that all participants commit to their pledge and we can stop allowing our inner gremlin to hold us back from smashing ceilings and being our authentic selves.

Teacher Wellbeing – Day 2

After Day 1 of this wellbeing CPD, offered by The Chartered College, I was really excited to meet up with everyone again, spend a day talking about wellbeing and hearing how everyone’s interventions had gone. On day 1, we explored what we meant by wellbeing a little, spoke about stress and anxiety before we ventured into exploring what our wellbeing intervention back in our own contexts might be. If you missed it, you can read about day 1 here.

We were introduced to a great deal on day 1 so I knew that day 2 was likely to provide some all important space for us to reflect (one of many things that’s invariably missing from a busy educator’s week and indeed, most CPD programmes).

Data as Truth

After a short introduction from Tim (@Doctob) and Dennis, we set about considering the importance of being more critical about data we’re presented with. What does it actually mean? Has it been manipulated? What are we really looking at? Does it really say what others have concluded it has? I believe that Tom Bennett (@TomBennett71) and the ResearchEd (@ResearchEd1) crowd would have been pleased at teacher CPD containing this call for a more discerning look at ‘evidence’.

The figures that sparked the discussion were these ‘measures of national well-being‘ that indicate an increase in ‘trust in government’ for instance (?!) and a decrease in ‘difficulty managing financially’ (?!).

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https://www.ons.gov.uk/visualisations/dvc364/dashboard/index.html

A couple of questions we might ask of this data was:

  • How representative is the sample? Who was asked and what are their contexts?
  • The data indicates the % of people who think their wellbeing is better but this is surely relative? We recognise that wellbeing is not clearly defined nor shared across groups of people – it’s an incredibly personal concept so wouldn’t you think it better if one year you were dealing with a serious personal trauma and the following year, things improved? How could this be reasonably compared to someone moving from one job to a more stressful one?

These questions and their answers wouldn’t necessarily mean that we dismiss the findings of this research altogether; but we were encouraged to be more wary of any research that presents itself as THE truth. It’s merely A truth and perhaps not an especially reliable one at that.

This discussion lead to one about measures we use in our own roles and how helpful these are. We may often present parents and students with THE truth- you’re working at level 4. ‘Actually, no. I don’t really know what that means and I don’t really know how to explain it to you but it’s a judgement I’ve been required to make.’ In an education system with grades holding such weight, students will always be working at or towards something. As teachers, it’s demanded of us that we keep pace with ever-changing measures, criteria, expectations – we then have to apply these measures to students with little clarity about what we’re measuring. I was left wondering how detrimental this lack of clarity and compromise of our values might be to our wellbeing over time…

Is teacher wellbeing really unique?

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Image available from here

After Tim and Dennis left this grenade of ‘using data as truth’ and ‘measures as truth’ for us to contemplate further, they set off another one-

Assuming teachers’ wellbeing is different to that in other professions, what is it that makes it distinct?

Well, that generated some discussion! Whilst we had touched upon this on Day 1, it was here that we explored it in greater depth.

Amidst my recovery from the morning’s travel sickness, I somehow managed to scribble down an entire A4 sheet of possibilities and thoughts that captured the majority of discussion had in the room-

  • The extent of comparison and benchmarking and the level of competition this creates
  • Ongoing scrutiny and hyper-accountability
  • Low levels of trust
  • The complexity of and speed with which information is having to be dealt with during a small space of lesson (during a lesson specifically)
  • Heavy responsibility- for the moral, social, emotional, cultural, spiritual, physical and cognitive development of a child…. Or up to 200 children at any one time.
  • Continual proving of our impact
  • A lack of shared responsibility amongst colleagues
  • There’s a requirement for us to be highly resilient due to the nature of the job.
  • The emotional labour involved in the job- there is a need for us to self-regulate our emotions
  • We’re rarely adequately equipped (internal and external resources) for the job we’re expected to do but we still have to carry on doing it regardless
  • Our sense of agency has been reduced over time, we’ve lost ‘control’
  • We suffer from decision-making fatigue
  • The number of initiatives and directives has resulted in a generation of teachers who are unable to think for themselves
  • An attack on professionalism
  • We’re never allowed to be in a state of ‘not knowing’

We considered the extent to which other professionals might experience these things and we recognised, as expected, a number of commonalities with other professions for each of the things on the list. Not least of all the high levels of stress likely within health professions. Just the fact this research exists into how the helping professions can develop their emotional resilience indicates there may be something in common where wellbeing is concerned – CLICK HERE to read.

Nurses having to cover several wards with numerous patients, all presenting with different needs. Their job is to meet these needs whilst also competing against the pressures of reduced funding and fewer staff and the heavy demand on the service and beds.

Paramedics having to respond to situations and take on board lots of information quickly, adapting to the individual(s) and context they have suddenly found themselves in. Having gone through high levels of stress, they would then drop them off in the hospital often with little satisfaction and a feeling of, ‘Did my work have any impact on that person?’

Whilst there were obvious correlations in what causes teachers’ stress with health professionals, there are other professions where stress would be high-

Architects having to please all of the stakeholders’ ever-changing expectations and needs in a fluctuating budget. Having to deal with sensitive conversations and egos whilst also finding space for their own creativity and expertise so that their own values weren’t being continually compromised. Often never getting to view the finished ‘product’, perhaps only ever getting to see the unfinished shell before the project is classed as ‘completed’ (Based on a random conversation I had a couple of years ago with an architect whilst we were delayed on a train between Didcot and Reading one morning).

It’s clear to me that any job at all has the potential to have a negative influence on our wellbeing but stress does seem to be high in the teaching profession so do we all just lack the internal resources and resilience to deal with the negative influences on our wellbeing or is it more than this?

After further discussion, I reached the conclusion that, if the wellbeing of teachers was to be seen as unique then it would perhaps be the ‘fuster-cluck’ (@LeadingLearner) of a whole host of factors affecting wellbeing negatively convening in one place . Whilst each of the following factors can apply to other professionals, the collective influence of all of these factors may set teaching out as unique (although I’m not left entirely convinced that it is)-

  • Generosity Burnout – educators give a great deal of themselves to others- parents, students and colleagues without topping themselves up sufficiently in between.
  • Our desire for job satisfaction is high (a number of us had discovered this through our research) but the job is never done and there are always things to develop further.
  • The pace of new initiatives thrown our way (without consultation) that we then become accountable for, yet are given little support and time to adapt to.
  • Absolutely everyone has an opinion about education and what ‘good’ looks like and so we experience continual criticism from all angles.
  • The job involves a high level of planning– we don’t just have to ‘do‘ our job but we have to plan for it, reflect on it and continue to plan. Many other professions get to just ‘do’.

One additional thought I’ve considered as I write is the negative impact the holidays might have on teachers’ wellbeing. Hear me out here…

Teachers know that they get to have a ‘break’ in 6 or 7 weeks time. It’s a milestone for them to work towards, plan for and enjoy. It does mean, though, that they may ‘save up’ all of their relaxation, down time, time with friends and family, hobbies, and exercise for these moments. They work so relentlessly hard in the weeks leading up to it and the pace of workload is so high that the holiday becomes more recovery time than the restorative break it should be. Perhaps leaders in schools and Colleges could be doing more to ease the pressure and workload so that terms don’t feel like such a relentless slog and a countdown to the holidays.

So all of these factors can make the profession one of high stress and many of them link to workload and external pressures but I believe we still hold part of the solution too. What potential for change is created by us questioning more of the work sent our way? What potential is there to ease the pressures in initiatives that seek to find the joy in our work? Yes, there’s a decrease in the sense of agency we feel in the profession at present but I don’t think a search for better wellbeing is a hopeless one.

The flip side of wellbeing

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Image available from here

Whilst there is so much focus placed on how being in the teaching profession can negatively impact our wellbeing, I feel that there is a need to recognise that, at the same time as all of these stressors, the job of teaching (in the right circumstances) has the potential to offer the perfect combination of factors to positively affect wellbeing too-

  • The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues
  • Ongoing learning opportunities
  • A supportive community
  • The strong satisfaction and meaning added to our life when our students go on a journey…

So whilst our wellbeing may be affected uniquely in a negative way, it may also be just as unique in how it is positively affected.

 

Resilience

Tim spoke of espoused values. Many of us can articulate to others what our values for. What we stand for,. What’s important.

But… How are these lived out? What do they look like day-to-day?

If our lived out experiences are undermining our espoused values then there’s a mis-alignment that can greatly damage our resilience. I’ve found this a useful free tool to explore the alignment of my values-

https://www.mapwellbeing.com/

Our ability to bounce back when our values are undermined or when we experience setbacks has become a part of the modern conscience. Whilst ‘resilience’ is bandied about freely, is it truly understood?

Sometimes you’re up. Sometimes you’re down. Get your head in the right place, look around… 

The Happiness Hypothesis was shared as a reading recommendation for us with an interesting chapter about adversity and resilience. We can only become properly resilient when we experience adversity for ourselves. We think we’ve experienced it and then we finally do. We may not be able to bounce back immediately, but we may have developed all the inner resources needed to bounce back longer term.

As if these two days of CPD, with research in between, hadn’t been god enough already, Tim went and read us a story. And Dr Seuss no less.

This is nowhere near as good but as none of us filmed our reading, this will have to do…

Resilience is an acceptance that things don’t work out all the time but that we have responsibility for how we respond and relentless optimism is possible. People who lack resilience can get stuck in behaviours for some time and as Dr Seuss tells us, ‘Unslumping yourself is not easily done‘. 

When we are struck with adversity, we should ask- ‘If it was different, what would it be like?’ Well, It can be different. Different is possible. Our wellbeing is within our control.

Wellbeing Interventions

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Throughout the day, we were all able to share our wellbeing interventions and how they had gone. I have chosen to write a longer piece about mine that will be shared soon. What follows are my reflections on what colleagues shared. Full summaries of the research will be officially published by The Chartered College (@CharteredColl) in September.


Could CPD hold the answer?

A number of colleagues shared interventions, such as lesson study, that seemed to affect wellbeing positively. Participants in on intervention (Alison) shared that they had felt greater motivation, confidence, feeling valued and job satisfaction. They appreciated the time to fully engage with CPD, felt a greater confidence to experiment, and crucially they felt less isolated in their practice. Within the groups and teams where there was already a higher level of trust and staff felt comfortable with one another, there was a greater impact on colleagues’ autonomy and risk taking. It was clear that group dynamics and team ethos is a vital platform from which to build effective CPD. This clearly aligns with what we know about what makes a good professional learning culture – CLICK HERE to read a write-up of a workshop about professional learning from Bridget Clay.

Other participants reflected on how making time for CPD was vital; protected time, without fear of other activities encroaching on their learning. This kind of investment lead to feelings of feeling valued that are difficult to rival in any other way.


Should we focus our efforts on reducing workload?

A number of interventions were shared that sought to reduce workload. Wendy had involved colleagues in this approach at her school; asking them to consider what they were spending their time on and what the impact was of each activity, whether low, medium or high. Moves were made to question approaches to homework feedback and involvement in extra-curricular activities. Positive solutions were found and I was impressed with the collaboration and speed with which these changes were achieved. Even the smallest of changes can have an incremental effect.


Is it about explicit permission?

A number of the interventions shared were designed to encourage staff to engage in exercises of self-care and commit to activities that would positively impact their wellbeing. Whilst many of us know that we need to engage in things outside of work, it’s difficult to commit when there are competing pressures of marking, planning, and meeting students’ needs. Many educators speak of the guilt experienced when they’re not on top of their workload. What I learned from colleagues sharing their interventions was that an ‘explicit permission’ to put themselves first, often granted by members of the leadership team, could make all the difference. From staff selecting their own, personalised activity, to time off to start late or leave early, the main part is that leaders created an ethos void of guilt. 


What’s at the heart of these initiatives?

In addition to the above, other participants shared Cake Monday, Music Friday and Cycle Saturday, reducing emails, a weekly focus on the positives, and non-threatening conversations about challenging learners with staff and trained professionals- How are you managing the child and how do you feel?– generating a supportive culture of powerful listening.

One thing all of the initiatives shared have in common is the clear message they communicate- ‘We care about your wellbeing.‘ All participants seemed not to be motivated by exploring wellbeing because it might help each school or college to achieve better outcomes for students, but because they came from a place of genuine compassion for colleagues.

 

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This two day programme was one of the most valuable pieces of CPD I’ve engaged in since beginning my teaching career 8 years ago. You’ll be able to read more about its impact when I share how my intervention went.

  • The programme was facilitated by experts and not one but two complimentary voices that provided different perspectives.
  • We were encouraged to explore evidence and research to inform our practice but to approach it with a critical eye.
  • We engaged in our own research too meaning that some level of impact was achieved and so the investment of time was worth something more than a ‘pleasant day out’.
  • Reflection was prioritised so that all of the attendees (primary, secondary, grammar, independent, further education, SEND and alternative provision) each had multiple opportunities to make learning meaningful and relevant for their own contexts.
  • We were continually exposed to a variety of different avenues to explore further and I can certainly say that this CPD has left me curious to learn more. I
  • t’s great to know that our explorations will all be shared with others via The Chartered College too.

Each of us left knowing that our journey in wellbeing had only just begun and should you get the opportunity to attend this programme for yourself in the future (I believe there are plans to run it again) then I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

Teacher Wellbeing- Day 1

On Friday 9th June, I got up at a ridiculously early hour and headed down to Cambridge for the day – all in pursuit of wellbeing. More traditional approaches to improving wellbeing might be a session in the gym, some meditation or a walk in the park to notice nature – not quite the same as an 8 hour round train trip, yet I held the firm belief that it would be worth it.

Ever since @MartynReah launched #teacher5aday on Twitter, wellbeing was placed firmly on my radar. I regularly began questioning what I was doing about my own stress levels and as I entered leadership roles, there was an emerging need to do this more effectively. This was further reinforced over the last few years for a number of reasons and I soon recognised I wasn’t alone in my struggle for better wellbeing. Those around me: teachers, leaders, support staff- were all in battles of their own; better work-life balance, less stress, improved health.

The networks of support I have been able to access over the last few years have aided my learning and made me feel a part of a wider community. First with the #teacher5aday initiative, #ukedchat, #ukfechat, then with #WomenEd and now with the Chartered College. I have already benefitted from access to thousands of journals as part of my membership and their inclusive approach is refreshing; it’s rare that membership organisations do what they say they will in this regard. Soon after joining the College, they advertised a two day wellbeing CPD opportunity that would involve a short experiment in between the two days. I was well and truly sold by their CPD approach that seemed as though it would meet the standard for teachers’ professional development AND I’d get a free book to boot!

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My general aim for the programme was to learn more about wellbeing for myself and colleagues. My hope was that we could learn from the experiment and that we would end up with a clearer sense of how to improve the wellbeing for staff. This had become an incredibly important part of my current job role. I lead on CPD across a large FE College and before we can truly engage staff in their professional learning, we will need to create the right conditions of honesty, trust and integrity. If we can manage this then I believe a further consequence will be that staff wellbeing will improve as they will feel supported, trusted and able to take the kinds of risks that have real payoff for their students.

What follows are my notes on Day 1 of the programme with Dr Tim O’Brien (@doctob), Visiting Fellow, Psychology and Human Development, UCL IoE and Dr Dennis Guiney, Educational Psychologist, Former Associate Lecturer UCL IoE.

Day 2 is next week and I’ll be able to share how the experiment has gone at that point… and I’ll definitely be taking my iPad. Whilst writing this blog from 9 pages of A4 notes (!) has allowed me to reflect further on my learning, typed notes will be far easier for me to translate! I apologise in advance for what might read more like a stream of consciousness than a structured blogpost.

What is wellbeing anyway?

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An activity we were asked to do early on in the day was to consider what 5 things we’d place in a bag for our wellbeing. Having worked with a coach recently, I found that these 5 things bubbled to the surface quite easily for me and this helped me to realise how far my journey has come in figuring out the positive influences on my wellbeing and what I value. We weren’t asked to share the 5 things and were told this in advance – I love it when reflective and personal activities are set-up in this way as it allows everyone to be so much more honest with themselves. That extra layer of having to reveal your thoughts with the rest of the room, as yet unknown, is enormously intimidating and I felt grateful I wouldn’t be asked to painfully expose my introverted self in this way.

Why Wellbeing?

We then spent some time exploring the need for a focus on ‘wellbeing’ at all; sharing personal aims for the day as well as setting our personal aims within a broader context.

  • It would be important for us to look at wellbeing beyond ‘lip service’; something far more sustainable would be sought.
  • Poor wellbeing was frequently, although certainly far from exclusively, a result of relentless journeys out of ‘requires improvement’ and ‘special measures’.
  • Ever-increasing workload is serving to pull the rug out from underneath teachers.

We still live within a world where mental health is viewed as a taboo subject. We need to reach the point in our schools and colleges where it’s ok for staff to say, ‘I’m not doing too great right now’ so that we can have those conversations about what might help. The situation we currently have (one of many) is that staff are endlessly struggling in silence to the point that their work is affected, they can’t see a way to improve things so they take time off sick; sometimes never returning to the profession as their stress has been so high and level of support so low.

Defining wellbeing

‘Wellness’ is seen to reference solely physical health whereas we felt that ‘wellbeing’ was, beneficially, concerned with the whole being. After discussing possible definitions of ‘wellbeing’. There were various themes discussed by groups but there were patterns to be found. The ‘regulation of emotion’ was seen as significant. Someone struggling with their wellbeing might spike between different emotions but moving to a space with fewer spikes was viewed positively. The ‘zone of proximal development’ was referenced too and whilst the ideal would be to enter this zone, we can all too often be balancing on the edge of it, struggling to regulate emotions. Environmental factors can have enormous influence on our wellbeing but we do have power and control over how we respond to these factors (excluding any poor mental health). If staff have better awareness of the signs that their wellbeing is becoming affected and also have a variety of resources they can draw on (both internal and external) then they’re more likely to be stable more often. We debated the difference between pressure (which can be good) and stress (which is not!). We discussed whether wellbeing could be seen as being the absence of fear and panic or perhaps this was too narrow a definition. I believe there to be mileage in further exploring the interplay between values and wellbeing- where our values are compromised then surely our wellbeing will be affected too…

Our facilitators, Tim and Dennis, shared that wellbeing originated from the ‘positive psychology’ movement. ‘A state of being comfortable, healthy and happy,’ was presented as a possible definition and yet this brings its own challenges- what is ‘happy’ after all? Perhaps a state of ‘contentment’ is more helpful than ‘happy’. ‘States of being’ exist and all of these should be noticed – recognised for what they are and embraced so that ‘wellbeing’ becomes more intimate and less of an ethereal and distant something or other. If we are not able to embrace our feelings but deny them then it could be seen that our wellbeing is even more heavily affected.

I could see already that I was moving towards a definition that involved ‘awareness’ somehow – an acceptance of the moments when our wellbeing isn’t ok and seeing this as normal but also the understanding to recognise when our wellbeing has got beyond ‘not ok’, or even better to identify when it’s headed that way so that different resources can be drawn upon before a crisis point arrives.

This discussion was incredibly helpful to begin framing how we all viewed ‘wellbeing’ and the terms of reference in moving forward with the remainder of the programme.

Self-esteems and self-compassion

Self-esteem has been seen, for a long time, as the solution to confidence and happiness. It’s misleading as it’s surely more accurate to view ourselves as having multiple ‘self-esteems’.

Self-compassion is perhaps more helpful for wellbeing- it means recognising a feeling and doing something about it; recognising what you need and meeting that need. I’ve been focusing far more on my self-compassion in recent months and have found this page of short exercises especially helpful- http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/

Stress and Anxiety

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Stress is externally influenced and is an actual threat; an over-stimulation of the senses.

Anxiety is a perceived threat and is created from within.

We can see pressure as existing as a motivator until the point where our internal resources feel lacking or redundant and it becomes stress. Stress can also originate from an external source that becomes internalised.

What may make stress for teachers different to other professions may be in us metaphorically taking our students home with us (in a similar way to social workers or health professionals perhaps). There is prominent tension, worry and apprehension.

Generalised anxiety is a predictor of poor mental health as it can snowball so that one anxiety leads to another until no internal resources remain.

Free-floating anxiety is of concern as it can locate itself somewhere and emerge with little warning (think of the student who kicks off in a lesson for no apparent reason). As it locates itself at random then it might be the case that what someone feels anxious about or fearful of may have nothing to do with the cause of the anxiety. Hyper-accountability (good is never good enough) can lead to free-floating anxiety.

Allowing staff to speak about these things more openly will help us to see these predictors and take appropriate action and/or provide effective support. People working in other professions – surgeons or air traffic controllers for instance – absolutely have to talk about anything affecting them as the consequences would be so dire. Whilst our poor wellbeing would not necessarily lead to anyone else’s death, surely it’s just as vital for staff to feel they can share how they’re feeling? Rather than ask, ‘What’s the problem?’ it’s better to ask, ‘What’s happening?’ Share that you’ve noticed something about the person recently (they may feel glad that you’ve noticed it as it saves them having to bring it up themselves) and ‘Why is that?’

With millions of pieces of data flying at us, our brain uses ‘patterning’ to process it all- hide/ reveal/ hide/ reveal/ hide/ reveal… What is revealed to us is what we spend our time and focus on. Fear and anxiety can result from what we focus on as it becomes all-consuming. Our brains like equilibrium- we need to make meaning of something so we may make more of one thing until it dominates our thoughts so much that it begins to control our thoughts. This can result in us catastrophising – and things like imposter syndrome creep in.

False

Evidence

Appearing

Real

It’s why certain conversations, that seem helpful, can prove to be the exact opposite in reality. ‘I’m so stressed’. ‘Tell me about why you’re stressed…’ – this can just reveal our stresses to us for our focus to remain on.

What’s different about teaching?

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  • We’ll never really arrive at a point where we’re on track- the human element. Every child is different. Every year presents new challenges.
  • The emotional aspect and the strain of this
  • Decision making fatigue
  • Our concept of duty

The people who choose teaching as a profession are probably the least suitable for it as they’re unable to switch themselves off to many of the stressors and nor would they be willing to- it’s quite often their why. @KLMorgan_2 shared this, I think.

Going into education can tear some people apart as it’s not possible to meet everyone’s needs yet it’s what is strived for on a daily basis.

A darker side effect of stress affecting so many teachers is that in some schools and colleges, a stressed teacher can be understood as an incompetent one.

Teachers, within their classrooms, may be made to feel at times by their organisation that they are required to justify their actions constantly- just ‘being’ is not possible for these teachers and their control is gradually taken away from them. Power vs control and autonomy vs accountability exist on continuums. Move towards more control and accountability with less support and we’re reaching a peak point for stress and sickness for colleagues. If these teachers’ actions are for leadership and/or Ofsted then their wellbeing is likely to be compromised far more than teachers working in environments who feel empowered to make their decisions for themselves and their students.

Research

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We were given an opportunity to explore what research had to say about wellbeing prior to discussing possible interventions.

I’m gradually gathering relevant reading, videos and images (including research) at this link- http://www.pearltrees.com/hannahtyreman/wellbeing/id15144400 Thank you to everyone who has cntributed suggestions for this page so far. They will all be added in due course!

Some research into stress indicates that our ability to learn is heavily affected if we are stressed. ‘In fact, duration of stress is almost as destructive as extreme stress. Goleman explained, “Cortisol stimulates the amygdala while it impairs the hippocampus, forcing our attention onto the emotions we feel, while restricting our ability to take in new information” (pp. 273-274). This can help us to see how our performance at work can be heavily affected by stress.

Brine and Dewberry explored how staff wellbeing is key to school success. Finding the positive in wellbeing was important for staff- if they could understand what affected their wellbeing positively then they could make more space for that- feeling valued and cared for, job stimulation and enjoyment, feeling part of a team- for instance.

The report we read from them was exploring the possible relationship between teacher wellbeing and pupil performance. Their research (in short and based on my notes) found an 8% variance in SATs results at primary level and a difference in students achieving GCSEs at A*-C at secondary level. They also found that where there was an increase in job stimulation and enjoyment, there was a positive influence on value added. They didn’t find the same for staff beyond teachers but they did find that the wellbeing of an individual did not have as much of an impact than a group. Perhaps this could relate to the concept of ‘social capital’ over ‘human capital’.

It’s important to state that they saw a relationship between the two- one did not necessarily cause the other. This relationship, it could be said, works both ways though in that students’ performance may well affect staff wellbeing as well as working the other way. If this is the case then it could be seen that in an environment where student outcomes are not high then staff wellbeing could be lower than in a high performing school.

Whilst the relationship is interesting, approaching wellbeing from the angle of improving student achievement would quite obviously be a dangerous route to head down. We shouldn’t be attempting to improve staff wellbeing on the basis of this. This would be an incredibly misplaced source of motivation.

Framing our experiment

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In defining our experiment, it was helpful for us to explore who we wanted to impact and how.

Tim spoke of

  1. Meeting the common needs of the majority- needs shared in a more global way such as a sense of belonging or basic human needs we all share.
  2. Meeting the distinct needs of minority groups- gender, sexuality, faith- for instance women being more susceptible to imposter syndrome for instance. It’s important to bear in mind that whilst there may be patterns within a minority group, it won’t be the case that all the people within that group will have the same needs.
  3. Meeting an individual’s needs- perhaps the greatest challenge of all as needs will be unique to each person at a moment in time therefore we need to have a wider sense of impact.

 

What Next?

After Day 1, we connected on Twitter, formed our interventions for our own contexts and Day 2 will be all about sharing learning with one another. This is the moment where we will all (hopefully) find out from one another what has worked (or not), where and why (not). I’ll blog again after Day 2 and I’m hoping, as my intervention concludes next week, that I’ll also have some useful data and insights to share with you from that.

I am reassured that my faith in the early start, the long train journey and the Chartered College has been warranted. This is a programme of seriously worthwhile CPD and I am sure that the small-scale interventions that will be shared by a group of educators from the last few weeks can affect a far wider community than their own institutions and contexts.

I spoke recently at a TeachMeet presentation about when life gives you meatballs. source.gif

I’ve hit a moment in time where I’m acutely aware of the need to focus on my own wellbeing having been ‘hit’ by several ‘meatballs’. Having been on day 1 of this programme, I was able to tell someone things were ‘not too great right now’. I gave myself the permission to ease off a little at work and finally gave myself the compassion to notice what I needed. As a result, despite the circumstances, my wellbeing has been in a positive place for the last couple of weeks and long may that continue. I feel I’ve reached a turning point on a personal level and results of my intervention next week will reveal the extent of impact on colleagues thus far. I have contemplated what kinds of systemic changes might need to be pushed for at my workplace to result in a longer lasting impact on staff wellbeing but I’m already beginning to think that a similar model to this programme for our staff may be of real benefit-

  1. Raising awareness of how wellbeing can be defined
  2. Exploring how stress is caused and exacerbated
  3. Engaging with existing research
  4. Setting small-scale interventions for staff and teams to try for themselves

So, CPD that has resulted in impact on my own wellbeing, hopefully that of colleagues too, research that can be shared more widely and one day still left to go. I can’t wait for the next installment!

10 things I learned from my first #WomenEd event

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This week marked International Women’s Day. The theme was #beboldforchange

I took this to heart and pushed myself to be (even more) bold all week:

  1. Writing my first feminist blog – Why we still need feminism
  2. Delivering the opening speech at development day on the theme of being bold – Read it here
  3. Organising a development day that was a bold departure from previous days – View the Storify here
  4. Signing up to attend my first ever #WomenEd event

Having followed the movement and been actively involved in it via Twitter, I was keen to connect with WomenEd in person and what better place to start than the event in Coventry, which would be crammed full of inspirational women? This was the bold moment of the week I was most looking forward to but at 10pm the night before, I had still not booked my tickets. Why not?

Well, first of all, it would involve that interaction thingy. That bit where, as a natural introvert, I have to converse with other humans and I feel the pressure to somehow find the way to live up to my, far less vulnerable, online persona. Now this is something I’m used to getting over and moving past. I have to be bold if I’m to enjoy life as an introvert and there are certain things for which I just need to take a deep breath and plunge headlong into. This would be one of them and I felt sure I would be rewarded with valuable connections.

So what else was holding me back?

My boldness this week had left me feeling exhausted and a little bruised. My inner voice was being her biggest b*%$!y self and I had received some less than welcome feedback. You know the kind. Not the stuff you can work with; not the specific comments and helpful suggestions but the kind that attacks you as a person when you’re already feeling vulnerable. Friday night saw me going to and fro about attending. Would it be one bold step too far or would it restore some of my resilience? I finally decided to book my train tickets and fell asleep.

In the morning, things felt clearer. My mum wondered whether I had in fact walked into a public lynching rather than a gathering of educators. And yes mum, the staff providing the feedback were all male, white, and of a certain age. How did you know? After reading the more positive and useful feedback again and watching Maya Angelou on the train (mum’s recommendation), I was feeling a little stronger.

There are many notes and details about the day I could share. I have chosen to summarise it into a list of 10 lessons learned.

1 – Claire Cuthbert is 100% braver

I learned from @Clairecuthbert9 that other people too commit to acts of 10% braver but feel more as though they’re acts of 100% braver. I learned that through sharing vulnerability and nerves with an audience is of value. Did it make us doubt her? Not want to listen? Believe it would be terrible? No. Well certainly not for me in any case. I learned that Claire is a local CEO who’s young, female and defying male expectations of her; no she’s not a deputy, an assistant or even a head – she’s the youngest female CEO of an MAT. I learned that sharing your journey openly and honestly with others can lead to connections and inspiration.

2- Viv Grant is, quite simply, inspirational

I learned from @Vivgrant that vulnerability is important and permitted BUT we need to address our inner landscape so that your outer landscape means your vulnerability becomes a strength. When the inner landscape is in disarray that vulnerability can emerge in unhelpful and uncontrolled ways. I learned the importance of bringing ‘who we are’ to school leadership. But who are we and what are the key experiences that have shaped who we are and how we show up? How we show up is so closely related to our childhoods and how we were brought up. I’ve learned that during my soon-to-be-planned, regular reflection time, I need to spend some time considering the following three questions:

  1. How do I wish to be seen? Authenticity- you have to understand what you want to be. To prevent us adopting a mask that’s not us. There’s too much around us shaping us into something else.
  2. What do I need to let go of? What might be blocking you? Sometimes it’s habits. That’s their stuff and baggage. We can’t carry that around anymore. It prevents the dissonance between our inner and outer landscape.
  3. What will be my first step? My 10% braver.

3- Claire Stoneman is a leader who acts on her values

I learned from @stoneman_claire that it’s important for us to be upstanders, not bystanders. If there’s something that doesn’t sit right with our gut then it’s unlikely to be right. We have a responsibility to do something about it. I’ve learned that it’s ok to question things; even if they are ‘policy’. ‘Tolerance’ for instance – it should be ‘acceptance’; it’s not ok to just to tolerate others; we need to accept them and who they are. I’ve learned that a movement to reduce instance of homophobic bullying in schools and colleges is still necessary and that the truth of Dominic and Roger Crouch can help to begin this journey with students. I’ve learned that once I discover something that doesn’t sit right with my values, I need to make use of the recommended questions to work through it, challenge it and act upon it:

  1. How does it far with your personal values or the values of your school? Why does it need changing?
  2. Who can listen to you, help you, question you, challenge you, support you in making a difference?
  3. What data is there to support you in your quest for change?
  4. What underpinning frameworks (within your faculty, school, organisation, nationally) support you in your quest for change?

4- Kat Schofield is defined by her soul and not her role

I learned from @PearlOchreRose that feminism is absolutely still necessary and not just in the face of sexism from men but in the face of women who do not lift one another up. I learned that there can be life after burnout but that it’s a difficult journey; the need for me to focus on my own wellbeing grows stronger by the day. I learned that sharing honest journeys was certainly an emerging theme for the day. I learned that there’s a great deal of debate to be had about leadership styles but that authenticity and your soul are really the important things.

5- Amanda Pearce-Burton is precisely what was needed

#TSCornerstones opening speech

In planning the opening speech for our March Development Day, I planned it, changed it all, added to it, shared it with some educators on Twitter, showed it to ex-colleagues, asked for ideas from current colleagues and finally ended up with a keynote speech I wasn’t sure I would remember. This would need some carefully planned slides to prompt me. Despite the delivery of ‘speeches’ filling me with dread, it’s the writing and crafting of them that I enjoy the challenge of. This one, it turned out, would all be about being bold for change.
9 March (11).jpgI opened with this image and asked staff to discuss what they felt these three things had in common. Lewis, a lecturer in Sport, has recently started teaching some English so he was able to identify that they were all nouns. The Digital and eLearning team thought that they could all be bought in Ikea. In actual fact, they’re all celebrated on 9 March (Happy meatball day! And peanuts and umbrellas can be celebrated all month, believe it or not!).

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I also discovered that it was don’t panic day. Although some places said it was panic day which left me in a state of confusion and, quite frankly, panic.

How many of you know what day it was on Wednesday?

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It was International Women’s Day and the theme for the day was ‘Bold for Change’. It got me thinking about what it meant to be ‘bold’.

‘Showing a willingness to take risks; confident and courageous.’

So I got to thinking about when this might have applied to me this year:

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1- In my last talk in December to everyone, I shared how I had been 10% braver so far that year.

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2- In December, we launched ‘wellbeing buddy boxes’; designed to remind us to take care of ourselves, as well as looking out for our colleagues’ wellbeing too. This was a bold initiative; not technically in my remit.

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3- I’ve set my students their first pure online learning materials for the lesson they should have had with me today. A bold action to try something new.

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4- I’m stood here today, hoping I’m not going to fall flat on my face but knowing it’s a distinct possibility.

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So what has been the point of doing these things? Was it necessary to take these bold yet nerve-wracking risks?

Since the talk in December, I have had a number of staff share how they too had chosen to be 10% braver and to share their thanks for my bravery.

Since staff have started sending buddy boxes, a number of them have got in touch about how good it felt to both send and receive one. Here’s just one quote I received this week.

We’ll see what the impact of my online learning risk will have been in due course…

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So I feel like I regularly push myself to be bold. Most days in fact. As a natural introvert, being bold is something I just have to do; especially working in the environment and role that I do.

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In fact a fellow introvert shared this book recommendation and although I’ve not finished it yet, I’d recommend it to anyone other introverts amongst you. So bold- tick! But what of change?

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Working in a learning organisation, we’re surrounded by change; some of it welcome, some of it not so much…

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What we will see, if we’re able to notice it, are the small changes we effect in the students we work with. At the start of the year this can be as small as them arriving with a pen, a hello, a smile. But this grows and when we look back at the end of the year, the changes have been huge. How many times has a student you’ve worked with made a change? How much of this has been a result of them being bold? Taking a risk?

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Conducting speaking and listening presentations with my students last week, I was reminded of how brave they are on a daily basis. They stand up. They speak. They share. They write. They read. This requires much persuasion but they do it. They show up.

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We currently have a student on work experience with us and she shared this blog on Wednesday. A bold risk for her to take but already, educators are commenting and sharing her words.

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You see, being bold and taking risks is linked to positive change and learning. Being bold has been essential for me to grow as a leader; to learn and I’m certain this journey will continue for years to come. The changes this boldness has resulted in has lead to changes in the way I work, my behaviours and attitudes, my relationships with others and so, in turn, has resulted in changes for them too.

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I’d like you to now turn to the person next to you and share one moment, from recent months, where you felt you were bold, you took a risk… share what you think the impact was on your students and/or colleagues- whether the risk resulted in a perceived success or not.

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Now what I’ve discovered about being bold is this (and you may have found this too)- it’s not a comfortable place to be. In fact it’s downright uncomfortable. And that’s because there’s a chance of failing of revealing our weaknesses or what we’re yet to learn. But what’s the alternative? What if we don’t move beyond feeling comfortable? What then? Because if we choose not to take the risk. To avoid being bold then no positive change will occur. No learning will take place and I don’t know about you but that’s not a place I want to be. No challenge? No fear? No risk that you’ll surprise yourself or other people?

‘We must prioritise CPD even though it may never be the most urgent thing on the list.’ Shaping CPD, 2016

Which brings me to development days. The learning they contain is plentiful but it’s really about what we do with it afterwards. Investing all that time and doing nothing with our new learning is wasteful and it’s certainly not bold.You have the chance to spend a day thinking about and deciding how you can be be bold, what risks you might take, how you could change or even support someone else to be bold.

CPD can be a vehicle that helps us to move beyond our comfort zone. How will you use your learning today to move beyond your comfort zone?

At some point today, we’d like you all to update the ‘pledge wall’. Look at the pledges you made after the Learning Festival in January and let us know how it’s gone. What’s worked? What hasn’t? How will you move your learning forward even further?

So there are two things I encourage you to do today:

  1. Put your practice out there; see what others think and have dialogue about what works best. Share the risks you’ve taken, the times that you’ve been bold and what learning has come from that.
  2. By openly sharing the challenges we’re experiencing in our practice with colleagues; we’re more easily able to move past them because we can use their experience, ideas and suggestions. We can engage too with research and evidence. 

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Running through term time; with its challenges and tasks at times assaulting us can feel like this. It’s important for us to find some time to breathe, to reflect, to share practice and success and…

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hopefully have some fun too.

A few years ago, I attended a Learning & Development Conference. One of the activities I was a part of was shared as a way of changing the working environment into one filled with:

  • Celebrating achievement
  • Having fun
  • Championing one another

The speaker who shared the activity said that it had been played every morning in the office and a trophy given to the winner.

It’s a bold risk for me to trying this with co many of you know but let’s give it a go! (It wasn’t the most successful activity ever but the majority took part).

After a demo, we played and finally ended up with our winner.

I shared a hope that the energy created now can be carried through the day; leading to championing of and supporting of one another, genuine collaboration, positivity and fun.

The first activity of today will allow us all to spend some time engaging with practice; exploring the Cornerstones of practice (designed to incorporate the 13 themes of teaching, learning and assessment that you’ll already be familiar with). After this 2 hour activity, you’ll then join your teams for the remainder of the day until 3.30pm. At which point, you’ll be heading back here to review one another’s displays produced for the Cornerstones activity. There will be an opportunity for you to vote on the display you think best meets the criteria.

Now my end for the speech was somewhat scuppered due to my facilitators stealing my cocktail umbrellas during the morning briefing. If I had been able to give them out to everyone, they would have been a reminder that although the summer weather is on its way, it doesn’t mean that stepping out of the door without an umbrella isn’t taking a bit of a risk. What risk could it remind you to take today? How could you use it as shelter from all of your other competing priorities so that you can just enjoy some time and space to consider your development?

I hoped that everyone would have a great day filled with learning, that they wouldn’t forget to share their learning more widely on Twitter at #TSCornerstones and be bold for change!

Why we still need feminism #IWD17

I’ve had these words (most of them at least) sat in my phone notes for some months now; never feeling bold enough to post. It feels like today, International Women’s Day is the day to finally share this. Me being #beboldforchange I guess.

Before you read on, I’d like you to know that I am a champion of other people. I am a champion of other women and there are some things to be hopeful about for the future for feminism. Perhaps there’ll be a day, in my lifetime, where it’s an outdated term that’s long past necessary. Perhaps.

But this post is being written not as a celebration (that will come separately), but as a result of there being too many things that make me less than hopeful.


I’m a woman. I hope that’s fairly obvious to those I meet.

I’m also a feminist. I hope I make that clear when it matters the most. And in 2017, it most definitely still matters.

Sexism, to the untrained eye, is something confined to tabloid papers and drunk conversations. To the trained eye, it can be identified- but it is often disguised as something else- an innocent question, a supportive piece of advice, a reporting of a story, just a joke… The comments aren’t always concealing a malicious intention but they do reveal a society where, whatever we’d like to convince ourselves, women certainly don’t experience equality.

These are just some such comments I’ve been on the receiving end of recently:

‘You’re a young woman so you’ll have to work hard to show them they can learn something from you.’

Their sexist mind believes that my age and sex will automatically mean I’m written off.

‘Why don’t you want to get married? Oh, all women do! Why don’t you want children? Oh, you will!’

Their sexist mind can’t equate the fact I might not fit the mould they believe a woman should.

‘You should get him to change/ stop/ start doing x.’

Their sexist mind believes women to be the keepers of their men.

I once saw sexism being described as plain bad manners. And it is, but I also believe it to be much more than that. Its effects have the potential to be far more damaging than mere impoliteness.

The damage is caused to my friend; a shining light in her work. A woman who is about to start a family. A woman who is in the process of moving house. A woman who has stepped up to lead where her manager has left a gap. A woman who, on top of all this stress, is left concerned about what will become of her job after maternity leave is over. It isn’t ok, in 2017, that she should fear losing her job because her employer may or may not be keen about her returning part-time. Especially in a large organisation that could do far better than that to support women to progress; not place barriers in their way that don’t need to exist.

The damage is caused to a young woman, lacking in confidence, who would like to enter the workplace. She is developed enough at college to successfully ace an interview- only to find that her workplace is male dominated (she’s the only woman in fact) and she soon returns to college with her confidence smashed to smithereens. Fortunately, I’ll be lucky enough to be working with her soon as a mentor for her work experience with us.

A few years ago now, I had a student in my GCSE English class who was studying IT. We often talked about her course and what she was learning on it and before long, it transpired that she had been on an Engineering course the previous year. She’d left the course and seemed sad not to be continuing with it. It emerged that she’d been the only girl in the class- not a problem in itself as the other students treated her as just one of their classmates, but the teacher did not. In one of their first practical sessions she dressed into her PPE just as the others did but her teacher responded saying that he had expected her to appear in pink overalls. She’d never felt respected or like she belonged, so she left. Last time I saw her was in the college corridor a couple of years later and she told me excitedly that she’d returned to study Engineering and was headed to an Engineering Apprenticeship with Jaguar Land Rover. I always wonder what longer lasting damage that teacher’s comments could have had on her without so many positive voices to counteract what he’d told her; causing her not just to forget about her dream temporarily but forever.

Sexism will prevail as the dominant view for as long as society reads things such as these:

Of course, many spoke out against such sexism and that’s great but should we have to speak out against it? What about how the view may have been reinforced for those who didn’t speak out?

The agony aunt pages of our local magazine are filled with women concerned about having to juggle it all because that’s what society requires of them if they’re to be happy and the advice that follows does nothing to counter this view; instead strongly reinforces it. It’s clear that dangerously sexist views are not just confined to national papers.

The media can be blamed for many things but getting in the way of women’s equality is certainly one of them. If some of society can believe many of the other lies they sell us and stories they twist with headlines designed to provoke a response, then we don’t have a chance of seeing sexism eradicated in our lifetime. We stand an even worse chance when we have the leader of the free world speaking about women in the way he has. Time passing has not made these words any less shocking.

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A few months ago now, I experienced a typical day of feminist conflict.

Two things happened:

  1. The unveiling of the #womenofsteel statue in Sheffield.
  2. My partner leaving me an MSA magazine dedicated to women in Motorsport to read.

So why are these two things of conflict? They’re both overt celebrations of female achievement and their contributions to male-dominated worlds. Shouldn’t I be satisfied?

It’s the 100 or so years that lie between the two that bothers me. I believe we should be a lot further on in all of this than we currently are.

Having spent more than enough time over the past few years in motorsport settings of a weekend, I can testify that they represent some of the worst sexism that exists in society. To see any woman making it in this arena is remarkable but I don’t want to applaud that. I don’t want to celebrate the lone woman making it in this male-dominated space. It’s 2017. I want to talk about women in motorsport like it isn’t anything new. We’re not in the middle of war. We now have the vote. Yet we appear to be in the midst of a feminist era where equality exists on paper and is beginning to catch up in reality but society’s mindset leaves a lot to be desired.

So the choice we’re all left with for now is to celebrate female achievement and success, wherever that may be.

Whilst we do it, can I also make a request that we call out the everyday sexism when we see it – wherever we see it? Our silence makes it OK and it’s far from OK.

These two actions aren’t as aspirational as I’d like but perhaps they’re essential if we’re to get to an age where gender is no longer an issue and we’re all humans achieving wonderful things.

At my local train station there’s this end of the platform where, on a weekday morning, women don’t stand. Sometimes, as this morning, there as many as 10 men stood there. It is noticeable to anyone who wants to notice. So noticeable that I choose to stand amongst them. I like to think my actions empower other women to join me.

It is a strange phenomenon and whilst I don’t think it’s really a sexist act by this group of men to commandeer a section of the platform, it’s strange all the same. Stranger still, in 2017, is the absence of women and their equal rights, which is to be found everywhere if you are only able to open your eyes to it.

Let’s #beboldforchange so that 2018 is different.