Are we only as good as our titles?

What brings us worth at work? Is it all about titles? What can we do when we know we need a change? 766 words

At the start of this academic year I’d pretty much decided that I wanted to leave teaching. There were things I liked about my job but I was also frustrated. Each job I’d done was to have more impact. I was now an Assistant Head and facing the fact that maybe education couldn’t do what I’d idealistically thought when I started as a bright eyed and bushy tailed as a new recruit to the Teach First scheme in 2004.

Had I become part of the problem?

Was I really in the place where I could make the biggest difference possible for the bits of society I wanted to?

The past academic year has seen many ups and downs. I’ve felt stuck personally and professionally. I’ve been confused and despondent. I’ve been self critical and asked people I respect to help me reflect and reassess things.  I’ve also grown immensely and discovered that I have, do and can continue to make a difference. In ways that were unexpected in September 2015 but still as important.

I’ve finally seen the fruit of some of my behind the scenes work with middle managers and students in my own school. I’ve had leaders from other schools that I’ve worked with talk to me about the impact I’ve had on them and their teams and I’ve discovered that I’m a person whose writing and speaking can touch particular people, especially those in leadership positions and spur them to real and important action.

After being somewhat at sea and realising that a promotion and new school weren’t going to solve whatever my issues were- I started to think about what else could be done. Then I started to try and make things happen. This unexpectedly lead to a wonderful opportunity  for me and  I had really honest conversation with my boss. As a result we came to a solution that would have been unimaginable for me back in September.  I’ll be working for 2 days at my current school in the maths department (maths teachers are always needed) and will be working for 3 days with LMKco helping other organisations to tackling social disadvantage in a different way. It seems like my mission is the same but the way I’m tackling it is different.

So the title thing? I’ve been in middle or senior leadership positions since my 4th year of teaching. I was clearing my office ready for my own move but also because the school’s into a brand new building. I’ve never really cared about titles but they matter to other people. You can see people reassessing you as a youngish woman when they ask what you do and you say you are a senior manager.  I like the freedom and autonomy + potential impact on a much wider range of people that senior leadership in a school can bring even if I can do without some of the other bits.

I know I’m doing the right thing for me. I knew that as soon as I made the decision and it was all finalised a few months ago.  I don’t think that I’ve mentioned to my Nan and Mum yet that I’ve decided to step down from SLT. Have a let them down? People always talk to me about what a good Head I’d make but I’ve decided to go in a completely different direction.

I’ll still be me, with the same knowledge and experience. I’ll still write about leadership here and in my book because I feel that effective leadership can impact such a wide range of people and people tell me that I have interesting things to say. It seems that I’ll still have the opportunity to work with leaders within and beyond education, which is exciting.

I’ll enjoy my new teaching role working at the same school with children I’ve built relationships with and it won’t do me any harm at all to experience leadership from the other side again for a while.  I look forward to taking on a new challenge with my new team in my other job.

It doesn’t stop things being scary though. The unknown is often scary.

If you are reading this and thinking of making a big change or leap into the unknown- don’t discount things. My decision hasn’t been easy, it’s had real practical implications on my family life. We’ll have to change how we live but it will be worth it.

Consider what really matters to you, personally and professionally and remember that titles are just that. They don’t measure your worth.

 

Introverted leaders: brief notes from my Telegraph Festival of Education 2016 Talk

Last Friday I delivered a talk at the Telegraph Festival of Education about the benefits that introverts can bring to school leadership. Here are some brief notes.

I don’t tend to do powerpoint for these kinds of talks and they are designed to be experienced rather than read but here are some notes and resources that may be of use.

In Jung’s view, introverts and extroverts compliment each other and can help broaden their outlook and use new perspectives. He saw both types and their traits as important and valuable – Sylvia Loehken, Quiet Impact, page 9

Five typically introverted traits which can be used as strengths that were explored during the talk were:

  1. Listening
  2. Quiet passion
  3. Caution/reserved nature
  4. Observation and ability to notice what others may miss
  5. Independence/ self sufficiency

The books that I quoted, in the order that they were featured in the talk, were

  • Quiet Impact, Sylvia Loehken
  • Do/purpose/Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more, David Hieatt
  • High Challenge, Low Threat, Mary Myatt
  • Quiet; The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain

Quotes from school leaders that I read were from interviews that I have conducted for a book that I’m writing. The working title is ‘The Unexpected Leader’ featuring successful school leaders who don’t feel they fit the traditional mould. It will be published by Crown House in 2017 but I have to finish writing it first.

A resource which I forgot to mention, which is especially useful for creating space and quiet for reflection is meditation. Personally, I’d recommend the Headspace  app which provides daily guided meditations of 10mins so can fit into a busy day.

The most important thing for leaders of all types is to be really clear about our purpose and aims

I think you have to centre whatever you are passionate about. You have to really, really interrogate what you think. It makes you sure that what you are passionate about matters and you will find the confidence to defend it. – CN, School Leader that I have interviewed.

Enjoy your Sunday fellow introverts, make sure you create some time and space to recharge. Remember that our contributions are valid and if you are somewhere where they aren’t, there are other places where they will be.

 

 

 

 

What do our fathers teach us about leadership?

In the UK it’s Fathers’ day today. For many of us, our fathers are the first model of leadership that we have – what do we learn from them subconsciously? (630 words) 

Today is Fathers’ day.  My Dad’s birthday is in the same week and some years ago we decided that we wouldn’t officially celebrate Fathers’ day. He doesn’t expect a separate card or presents from me but it’s always a time to reflect and I usually give him a ring.

It occurred to me this morning that, for me and many other people, my Dad is possibly the first real model of leadership that I ever experienced, even if it was subconscious.

My Dad was and an excellent Dad to a young child. From him I learnt dependability and stability. I remember him once being made redundant and taking a job that he was massively over qualified for in order to ensure that his family were provided for, I never once heard him complain about it. He knew his responsibilities as a husband and father and did what had to be done. He was and is a man of his word if he said he would be somewhere or do something then he always followed through.  He was a fair, calm and considered presence throughout my childhood. Even as an adult I ask him for measured and objective advice about particular things as I value his opinion despite our different perspectives on life.

I have always been a Daddy’s girl but as an older teenager and young adult in my 20s our relationship shifted. My Dad is a product of his generation and upbringing. He is quiet and stoic like his father before him and like many men aged 55+ of Caribbean heritage. Actions are his thing. Feelings, or the expression of them, not so much. The mood swings and exploding hormones of a teenage girl and my earlier difficulties as a young adult were something beyond his sphere of reference and increasingly I learnt that factual things were best to talk about with him but feelings not so much.

I wonder how many other of us have subconsciously taken on the leadership model of our parents?  For many years I considered feelings to be a private thing and the expression of them to be a weakness. Not from others so much- I didn’t really mind that- but from myself. My general approach in life and at work was just to get on with things and if things weren’t going so well to keep on getting on with things and not admit to vulnerability. This worked for a time and it’s not always appropriate to express or share everything in a professional context but actually there is a danger with this approach. Eventually, with some very big life events, I realised that I could’t always keep things to my self.

Now, I have learnt that a healthier model for me is to express feelings (to appropriate people) as well as more factual things. In leadership and life I have found that people appreciate my intellect and analysing of the facts but actually it’s my passion about things that really draws them and and persuades them. In recent years, quite surprisingly to me, my honesty and vulnerability about mistakes and professional and personal conflicts that I have experienced has also been an asset- leading to new and deeper relationships and interesting professional opportunities.

But what about my Dad? Well, this week I had quite possibly the most surprising conversation with him of recent years. What started off as a quick birthday call ended up as a wide ranging discussion about trust, intimacy and our own quirks and mistakes in relationships with our spouses. This was all interpersed with the general laughter and mickey-taking that is a constant feature of our relationship.   It seems that sometimes opening ourselves up allows others to do the same.

 

 

People, people, its all about people

Everything is about people, leadership, teaching, other organisations. Let’s not forget that (236 words).

If you asked most people about what schools are about they’ll say education. This is true and it’s what I probably would have said if you asked me a while ago.

I’ve had a bit of an epiphany in recent years. Schools are about people.  We trade in ideas but actually, the very best schools are about people.

The development of people.

Their ideas.

Their beliefs.

Their confidence.

Their motivation.

Note- that I didn’t say children. I said people.

That’s the pupils, the staff, the community, the parents.

People don’t want to be barked at like dogs.

You don’t get the best out of people via control.

People don’t thrive in cultures of fear.

People want to be seen, to be recognised, to be acknowledged.

People will do their best in cultures of autonomy where they feel they can impact things.

People want to be trusted and know they’ll be supported to be better if they make a mistake.

The number one resource in a school is the people inside it. The biggest expenditure, the biggest source of potential (and in the current climate) revenue generation.

If, as a teacher,  you forget that your job is about people not just facts or your lesson objectives then you are an idiot.

If, as a leader or manager, you forget that your job is about people not just results then you are a clown.

I’ve been both of the above and I’m sure there will be occasions when I make mistakes again but ultimately I know it’s about people and I’ll always come back to that.