Yesterday was the craziest day. Herts to Brent to Tottenham to Westminster then home again. 2 near accidents, 2 late arrivals, phone died for an hour, emergency charger purchase AND my lipstick fell under the car seat, probably never to be seen again. My shoulders ache from gripping the steering wheel through rush-hour central London traffic.
By rights, I should be feeling thoroughly sorry for myself. But it was one of those days which incited a shift in perspective – for the better. A day of meeting like-minded people – inspiring, authentic and direct; of vibrant, happy and reflective schools and of the beginnings of a new direction for my career. In short, I’d travel 5.5 hours again in a heartbeat to be there.
I won’t tempt fate by saying much about the Tottenham bit, yet… The Brent bit represents a school where I’ve been happy and lucky (and part-time – hence blogging on a Wednesday!) and to which I will be sad to say goodbye. But it is the crazy journey to Westminster for the #womened #leadmeet, SO worthwhile for all it involved that I wish to reflect upon.
Like one of the other speakers, I was having a rather ‘Tony Blair’ sweaty moment as I ran through the door, 25 mins late, to be handed the clicker by Hannah Wilson. I’m not a natural public speaker, but Jill Berry is right – it does get far easier with each time you do it. I was all geared up for authenticity and solidarity, and I knew that is what I had in front of me, so I made eye contact, smiled, was smiled at, and the five minutes went it a whisk. I have no real memory of what I said (!) but am still kicking myself for missing two bits out:
Serendipity – women tend (more than men) to attribute their success to this – I have consistently referred to it in my studies and writing. I was lucky! I was there by chance. I applied on a whim. I didn’t for a second expect to get it. Hmm. One to think about here and a theme that echoed through the evening.
Social networking, research and suspicion – my experience is that some colleagues find my involvement in these networks worrying and this makes them wary of me. I won’t analyse this here, but I do worry that there are, increasingly, two ‘camps’ in education – those of us who, increasingly, know one another’s names, values and journeys and those who consciously eschew all social media contact. Again, one to think about.
More importantly, I wanted to share a few my take-home messages from the evening – if I were to write them all, I’d be here all day, and every speaker moved me in some way, so I apologise in advance for omissions. I got the warmth and solidarity I’d hoped for, but, more importantly, my thinking was regularly challenged by the speakers.
Yinka spoke about the importance of food for our students. I have always been shamelessly – almost slightly braggingly – rubbish with food, frequently living on Pringles or chick peas whilst my husband is away, and she made me really think about my attitude… and more important about the link between social deprivation and nutrition and the responsibility we have to make this a key priority. Trying (and failing) to quietly open a bottle of fizzy drink whilst she was speaking made me a little sheepish.
There was a lot of talk of mentors and role models and their vital importance. Strong, inspiring women have played a key role in my career journey and two women brought out that fizz of excitement and optimism in me, together with an admiration that made me feel quite emotional – the relief that there are such people out there, playing such a key role, and the frustration that there aren’t more of them. Having spent my early childhood in Italy, the Italian accent always holds a special comfort and security and hearing Alessandra, @everydaymentor, speak was a bit like receiving an in-vitro input of strength and energy. I just about resisted the urge to hurl myself at her and demand that she mentor me NOW!
Carol Jones, a former Head who looks impossibly good for being in her sixties stated her her lifelong commitment to feminism and collegiality – and insisted we put our phones down to listen (something of a relief, I admit – multi-tasking gets exhausting after a while!). Her faith in ‘us’, as a group as potential school leaders of the future was both moving and empowering and made me almost a little tearful. She is right – we can’t wait for it to happen. We need to make it happen.
My friends, Bukky and Natalie, with whom I have shared some uncannily similar experience both did themselves – and us – entirely proud. Bukky has a voice which inspires such respect and expresses such absolute integrity and wisdom and shared numerous nuggets. In particular, an awareness of politics (something I’ve always claimed ‘not to do’) and an awareness of how we present ourselves under the spotlight as leaders really made me think. Aspiring to be owls.
Natalie admitted her nerves but spoke of issues which had so many of us murmuring agreement, and I love this photo of her – literally – getting into her stride (and inspiring major heel-envy!). Those negative voices and how to tame them.
After a brief dash out to avoid a parking ticket (success!), the inimitable Hannah Wilson ended the proceedings. For me, this was possibly the most powerful message. It was around taking control and working together to Make Things Happen. About directly challenging the pay gap by knowing our worth and being prepared to negotiate. About steeling ourselves against – and learning to expect, as Carol discussed – setbacks and rejection and staying true to our values. For me, it was about not giving up, not being a victim, perseverance and true grit.
Thank you, Hannah and Bennie, for organising a phenomenal evening.