An injection of hope and energy

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Which way now?

I haven’t blogged for a while. This is mainly because I’ve been in the final throes of my Doctorate in Education. I PASSED the viva (you’d have to be living in a hole not to have gathered that bit). This tends to mean a teensy bit more work… an excruciating task, if I’m honest, and one I hope to finish TOMORROW (you heard it here first).

But, if you know me, online quiet is rarely a great thing, and tends to mean I’m not in the Best Place.

You see, I’m not sure what I’m doing in September. I’ve had a genuinely wonderful and happy year in my current role. I’ve learned LOADS and have gained invaluable core subject experience. Also, people are endlessly complicated – I will never again imagine I have them sussed, nor assume anything.

In recent months, I have been wary of applying for anything that might be ‘right’ (and vaguely hopeful that a role for me at the same place might be conjured up out of my temporary contract) so applications can be counted on one finger… and ultimately, I was philosophical and Not Sad that one didn’t work out. I sat back and assumed that, post-30 May-resignations, there would be a flurry of SLT posts in teaching and learning or CPD in a variety of enlightened and inspirational institutions.

Number of jobs of this type within 20 miles of my house advertised in the last 7 working days? 0.

This, against the backdrop of the literally unbelievable achievement that is (so nearly) becoming Dr Kell and a genuinely successful year in which there is so much I am proud to have achieved AND the chance to be a half-decent mother, wife and friend in my part-time role. And a book! (Yes, I joined the club – no, it’s not half as glamorous as it sounds!)

Also, my passionate and ongoing decision that I want to stay part of the fabric and rough-and-tumble and joy and challenge and thousands of daily interactions that are life in a school. And that I really, really want to get back into SLT, because I loved it and I was good at it (uncharacteristic self-praise, but I was – I like people and understand people and can get the best out of people. And I Know My Stuff. And I’m honest. And I know when to say I don’t know).

And the letting go of pipe-dreams. Part-time? Forget it. We’ll make it work somehow. Hopefully, having had a year of me every Wednesday before and after school, the girls will be  happy. MAYBE  I’ll be able to go to the odd assembly.

And then, a confession to the rising panic. And the rising worry that the doctorate and the book might actually Put People Off and that my CV might be flawed and that they might just not like my taste in shoes at all and that actually, I might just Not Be Good Enough. And the reassuring of my husband that it will be Fine and I will still bring in at least 40% of the household income and that there is really no reason to worry. And the wobbly, sick feeling that, despite knowing it doesn’t help responds inversely to attempts at suppression. And my colleague in SLT was kind enough to take a moment to let me know that she’d noticed today I Wasn’t OK; that I was in a battle with myself and close to irrational tears. Compared to my usual compulsive (probably annoying) smile and determination.

From one end of the day to the other, there are already options – some less exciting than others, but the dole queue is looking a little less likely. And I know that as long as I’m teaching young people, I’ll build relationships and continue to have those hours which pass in moments because they’re exactly what I want to be doing. And I Will Survive saying goodbye to the young people I’ve got to know so very, very well, though the thought, after 20 years in the profession, brings tears to my eyes. And they will survive too. And a little part of me hopes and thinks some of them will remember me, if only for having to repeatedly explain ‘sweated like a stallion’ from The Crucible to what became a Y8 PSHE module…

And a part of me really, passionately wants to become part of the fabric of a school again – part of the ethos and identity and challenges. To know all the children’s names and know all of the teachers’ talents and foibles. To grow with a school, overcome the blows and celebrate the triumphs.

And I really hope that I’ll be in a position to inspire and guide others to feel the same as a leader. If not now, then very soon.