In a few days I’ll be starting my new role as deputy head. Even though I know I should have spent the Easter break relaxing and recharging my batteries, I’ve been busying away preparing for my new job. I am excited!
What does a great leader look like? This is what I’ve been pondering since I got the job in February. Since I got the job and have been sharing my news with colleagues, these are the comments I’ve received:
“Oooh. That’s a tough gig. Are you up for it?”
“That’s a challenging school – why did you apply for that job?”
“You’re a great teacher and leader but this job might be beyond your capabilities.”
I could go on…
When I told people I was applying for this DHT post, many people said “There will be easier jobs coming up. Don’t jump ship too soon.” For every person who shared this sentiment with me, the more I was determined not only to apply for this job but to make a success of it. I can be stubborn and I don’t like people telling me I can’t do something!
In November 2016, I attended a #WomenEd #LeadMeet in London; my friend and colleague, Julie Jerham (@Ms_Jer), was presenting about her experiences of being a research and development lead. Whilst I was there, I heard so many inspiring experiences of women being 10% braver and going for jobs that they weren’t wholly sure they could do well. But they got the job. And they were excelling. So it made me think: why don’t you be 10% braver?
Fast forward three months and there I am on the end of the phone accepting a deputy head job. I am euphoric. But then, a few days later, my thoughts are ‘Oh gosh, what have I let myself in for?’ My confidence has completely deserted me. I feel like a fraud. I’m tempted to not go through with it and stay at my current place and keep doing the same thing I’ve done for the past four and a bit years. But then I remember the rallying call of #WomenEd: ‘How can you be 10% braver?’ and I think to myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ and sign the contract.
With a few days to go until I start my new job and leave behind all the fab colleagues and students who have become my second family, I reflect on the 8 Cs of #WomenEd and how I hope to become an effective deputy head and, eventually, a headteacher. When I tell people I want to be a headteacher:
“Gosh, you’re brave.”
“Really? You don’t have children, do you?”
“Are you planning on having children?”
“Best to stay as a deputy and still enjoy your life.”
Very few people I’ve spoken to in the last 12 months have given me a positive response to my goal of becoming a headteacher. It normally takes less than a minute for them to mention I’m a young woman of child bearing age. And I am so bored of it.
So, with all this in mind, I relish the 8 Cs of the #WomenEd agenda. And I hope to grow as a leader over the next few years so that, when the time comes to apply, I’ll be a confident and capable headteacher in the making!
Fab illustration from @MendoncaPen
With this in mind, I make my leadership pledge:
CLARITY: Acknowledge the gender imbalance in education leadership
I have so many female friends who I work with that I look at and think ‘You are amazing!’. I am so excited to see them step up to SLT as I move on to a new adventure. My goal in my new school is to identify talent and encourage them to believe in themselves that they can make a difference on a larger scale.
COMMUNICATION: Promote the WomenEd mission
This is such a key goal. I find that male colleagues can get a bit funny when I start banging on about #WomenEd. One of my male SLT friends even sent me a link to the definition of misandry! But, all jokes aside, until women are equally represented in senior leadership positions, we must keep ramming this point home. I am pleased to be joining a school where the headteacher has three deputies – all of whom are female.
CONNECTION: Connect existing and aspiring leaders and those who support them
Networking has always seemed like a thing that the private sector does. But in the last few years, I’ve come to realise the benefits of connecting with leaders across phases and regions. When I found out I had been shortlisted for interview, so many senior leaders and headteachers contacted me to wish me luck, offer advice or share resources with me. This all happened through the power of Twitter. It filled me with hope that I could do this gruelling two day job interview. I hope to be a positive force in the #WomenEd community for other female leaders out there who think they’re ready for the next step but are unsure where to start. Sometimes all you need is friendly encouragement to remind yourself that – YES! – you can do it!
COMMUNITY: Create an inclusive and interactive community
Working in silos is the quickest way to limit yourself. Being part of something larger than yourself makes us feel like it’s worth carrying on – even when things get difficult. I am part of several learning communities and I am keen to share these with my colleagues at my new school. For example, being part of the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) has made a significant difference to the way I plan, deliver and evaluate CPD. Another team I absolutely love is #TeamEnglish on Twitter, which exemplifies the positivity and kindness you can find on Twitter if you look hard enough. Dozens of dedicated English teachers sharing their resources for no other reason except wanting to support the learning of students who are not in their classes.
COLLABORATION: Enhance collaboration and sharing of experience
Collaboration is a word that gets bandied around but, when enacted, is one of the most powerful tools we have to develop our practices. Today I read a great excerpt from Carl Hendrick (@C_Hendrick) about the IKEA fallacy, where we believe that what we have created is more important than it actually is. If we’ve worked hard on something then we become protective of it. At my new school, there is a myriad of things that need to be changed and this will be painful for a range of teachers. One thing I am keen to do is create a team of departmental Lead Learners who are working with me so that, rather than me employ a top-down hierarchical approach, we work together to make these changes and motivate staff to come on board.
CONFIDENCE: Empower ourselves by being braver and by taking risks
I never feel clever. That famous ‘Imposter Syndrome’ is me to a tee. Unless you’re close to me, you might not know this. I talk a good game and, on the surface, I seem to be in control when presenting to or talking with teachers. But the reality is I am undergoing a serious bout of hives and am waiting for someone to turn up and shout ‘Don’t listen to her – she doesn’t know what she’s talking about!’. But I have to silence this irrational voice and keep taking risks and embracing challenges. I want to show other female colleagues that you don’t have to be perfect; all you need is authenticity and a passion for what you are talking about.
CHALLENGE: Highlight systemic barriers to more inclusive and diverse leadership
Why are there so few female headteachers? I work in the borough of Ealing in West London; there are 16 secondary schools and only four of them are headed up by a female headteacher. High school heads meetings are dominated by white males aged 50+. To be honest, it’s kind of depressing. I work with so many talented female leaders who could be headteachers yet very few think it is the job for them. Something is seriously wrong when this kind of talent is being frittered away. We must retain our best leaders – whether they’re male or female – and, if that requires systematic change, so be it.
CHANGE: Collate evidence of impact on developing inclusive/ diverse leadership
Deep down we all know that having a diverse senior leadership team can only be a good thing. Just as the police want to reflect the communities they serve, we too must hold up a mirror to the families we serve in our communities and ask ourselves ‘Do we reflect the community we serve?’ It’s not just about the representation of women; #WomenEd also advocates for BAME leaders and we must all get behind and support this grass-roots movement.
Here’s to being 10% braver!