Inspired by my new Twitter community to have a go at my first ever blog. My reflections on 2013 and hopes/resolutions for 2014. It’s not all roses – the significant events are not all positive ones, but, as generally in life, I try to find the positive in them, or elements of them…
First, though, an excuse to share three of the quotes that keep me inspired in life and in work:
“Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification.” (Calvino, 1993, p.7)
Teachers have hearts and bodies, as well as heads and hands, though the deep and unruly nature of their hearts is governed by their heads, by the sense of moral responsibility for students and the integrity of their subject matter which are at the core of their professional identity. They cannot teach well if any part of them is disengaged for long. Increasingly, social and political pressures give precedence to head and hand, but if the balance between feeling, thinking and doing is disturbed too much or for too long, teaching becomes distorted, teachers’ responses are restricted, they may even cease to be able to teach. […] Without feeling, without the freedom to ‘face themselves’, to be whole persons in the classroom, they implode, explode—or walk away. (Nias, 1996, p.305)
What matters to you? What goals do you pursue? How do you want others to think of you? What do you believe in? What guides your actions? Whom do you love? What values do you hold dear? Where do you expend your passion? What causes you pain? (Josselson, 1996, p.29)
1. BusyBusy – and a bit eccentric
I’m someone who likes and needs to feel that I’m achieving stuff. This year, I have juggled two children, a husband, a (very messy) house, a Doctorate, and an introduction to school leadership, as an AHT. My sanity has been questioned – openly or through quizzical looks – and I’m seen as a bit of an oddball in this little Hertfordshire village, but I have done it, and felt happy and successful, whilst still nurturing my family, enjoying my girls, being the best wife I can, and sleeping AT LEAST 8 hours a night. (Still making up for the early years of sleep-deprivation – life knows no greater torture!)
2. The girls
Our eldest is now six, our youngest just four, and I’m in the middle of a holiday of full absorption into their humour, their talents, and their constant need for entertainment. They’re exhausting, intense and entrancing and make me burst with pride. I. is a great reader, unusually athletic and can actually sing (genetics are strange things), and S. is a force of nature – stubborn and strong and with the most wicked sense of humour. Above all, they are all that, as a good friend of mine puts it, we could hope for: ‘happy, healthy and kind’.
It probably needs to be said more than it is that none of the above juggling would be remotely possible without the patience, faith, support, and sheer time and effort (helping with kids, proof-reading, insisting I rest, forcing my mind from work, and so much more) of my husband and parents, including endless hours of generous child-nurturing from my Mum and Dad to allow me to do what I do. R, my husband, is as stubborn and focused as I am, and I feel proud of the eleven years of marriage so far – it’s true about experience and challenge leading to strength and all that.
From several years of skittish friendships, I have developed an eclectic, intelligent and infinitely supportive group of friends. Friends made through the early, challenging period of parenthood, a delirium of sleep-deprivation, are made to last. They have in common strength of character and a sense of humour.
A friend of ours died in July of this year. She was forty-seven, she contracted pancreatitis in January, and in the succeeding months, defied the odds on numerous occasions. It was unspeakably awful, and she is survived by one of my closest friends and their two young children. She made a potato salad to die for, was by a million miles the most well-read person I know, didn’t suffer fools, enjoyed her solitude, but had a wicked sense of humour she shared at unepxected moments. And when others thought I was nuts, she urged me to go ahead with the EdD.
I promised to find positives. Our NHS is a very special thing. She received exceptional care. I feel very lucky to have known her. Her partner and children have an exceptional network, and life has remained stable and fulfilling for the kids (her son, D., decided she was coming back as a big brown bear). And finally, if you’re ever in any doubt as to whether you should go to a funeral: go! I was so glad I took the trip to Ireland, so chuffed that the Reverend celebrated her cynical twinkle, infinite generosity, and the civil partnership her family sometimes struggled to accept, and felt privileged to stand alongside my friend as she said goodbye.
“You make the weather” – from Vic Goddard, Jan, 2013. I have this quote plastered to the inside of my office door. Together with, “Never forget a five-lesson day”.
I’ve come to love the word serendipity. An unexpected shift in the leadership team. A laughably bold act of applying for Deputy from Head of Faculty. The most gruelling interview process imaginable. A fourteen-hour process, including panels, data, written tasks and a formal presentation, with a parents’ evening in the middle for good measure! Somehow, perhaps it was the devil-may-care attitude, or the confidence imbued in my by the network of people who spurred me on, from Vic (again) to my husband and parents, but I did really well – and walked away, quite unexpectedly, with an Acting Assistant Headship.
It has been the most challenging, intense, exciting and genuinely fun ten months of my career. I landed a dream-combination of responsibilities, from line-managing 7s and 8s (nothing better than a chorus of 500+ good mornings as you wander through the school first thing!), line managing an under-confident faculty who have blossomed this year and make me so proud, tutoring (and marking the work of) the Masters group, responsibility for Appraisal across the school (not initially a strength, but boy, it did me good!), and taking on issues like litter, pianos, uniform and bells along with all the other nitty-gritty staff that affect staff well-being. And a proud confidante for so many staff and students, from family issues to advice on teaching and learning. I have experienced about three sharp learning curves a week! It has been brilliant.
Perhaps the most exciting element has been the discovery that I genuinely have the ability to empower others, and I now actually understanding what it means in practice to both challenge and support. Never to shy from the difficult conversations – this does nobody any favours – but to have them directly, honestly, and in a spirit of absolute supportiveness. To help people to help themselves.
After all, I honestly believe that everyone has the potential to flourish. ‘Scratch any teacher hard enough, and you’ll find they’re in it to make a difference’, as a colleague of mine said early in my career.
8. Losing the impostor syndrome
The first half term was like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I felt I’d been parachuted into a game and had no understanding of the rules. Slowly but surely, through sheer hard work, experience, listening and learning, I have built a genuine sense of confidence. Not only did I have a right to be doing the post I was doing, but no one would thank me from shirking from it out of any misplaced ego-wobbles.
One of the lessons of 2013 has been about being able to achieve more than I’d imagined. The EdD appears to be JUST ONE MORE THING in a crazy-busy life, but in fact, being about parenthood/teaching/academia and identity, it actually fuses together everything that defines who I am. I love the new challenges, love taking myself off to Starbucks (free Wifi!) to get my head around the qual/quant debate or work out whether I’m a phenomenologist, symbolic interactionist or pragmatist (the latter, in case you were wondering), learning to use symbols to represent my thinking (I never thought of myself as a visual learner before), presenting my research to colleagues and hearing their stories of how important they think it is too, pre-empting and confronting challenges to its importance, expressing myself as concisely as I can…
I especially love the unbridled glee of my Year 8s, when I told them I might be Dr. Kell one day soon!
I admit it. I initially joined Twitter for pure personal gain – I wanted to recruit people to answer my EdD survey. I thought I’d get 100 teachers to answer, hoped I might get 2, read up on probablility-sampling and bell-curves, and went for it. 1571 responses later, and I love the Twitter community to bits for it! An added bonus has been the range of massively fascinating, intelligent and supportive people I’ve met. I find it a genuinely positive community, unlike many online networks. And hey, here I am writing my first blog…!
There’s no price on this. Happy, healthy children, a warm, beautiful (if messy) house – a view of the apple tree and the field beyond. A car to take me to and from work. A holiday with friends once a year. I think it’s very important to keep counting blessings.
Brightly-coloured clothes make me very happy. This is my favourite dress. Get Cutie is a fab, UK-baed label. They hand-make each dress. I wear it to cheer myself up.
13. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – and true resilience
A leadership team restructure. The job I was doing no longer exists. Instead, four new posts, which involved middle management as well as SLT responsibilities. Was apprehensive but quietly confident. By contrast to the 14-hour-extravaganza, this was a half-hour interview. Six questions, three points max per question. Hot, nervous, surrounded by all of my SLT colleagues and 2 governors, I bombed it. I didn’t get the job. I’ve been through the full gambit of emotions . What has been more striking (again, finding the positive) has been the incredible support from colleagues, sometimes sweary, sometimes huggy, sometimes genuinely sad I won’t be in SLT anymore. I wore my Russian Doll dress on the first day back after the interview. I said I was resilient in the interview. I’ve realised I really am. Exciting possibilities ahead. For now, I’m still very tired… Currently on secondment to SLT, because they wanted to keep me on the team…
In twelve days, I turn 40. Despite the recent upheaval at work, I’m quite happy to bring it on! These are some of my aims.
1. Admire pretty dresses
S, who died, said it is very important to stop people in the street if you think they look pretty. I have started doing this. I have only earned myself a few strange looks on the London underground.
2. Enjoy family life
Trying to check work email with kids in the background is always doomed. I’m not bad at compartmentalising, but work needs to know its place even more than it already does.
3. Stop trying to have it all
For ages, I used to look around and compare myself to others and crave a little piece of whatever they had. I’m gradually stopping that. What I have is enough – more than enough.
4. Take calculated risks
Time to take a deep breath and start considering my career options. It’s scary. Need to be brave!
5. Embrace change
Eight years isn’t an eternity, but it’s long enough to get comfortable where I am and to find it hard to imagine myself with any other kids/colleagues. But I can do it! Change should be a good thing!
I have received numerous breathing lessons from colleagues and friends over this interview period. They have been genuinely useful. Breathe, and stand like Superwoman!
Keep it simple, stupid. In most elements of work, study and life, this new mantra holds true. ‘So what?’ – the question that drives my research also drives my leadership.
8. Be less naive
Sometimes I’m concerned I appear too nice. Danger of being a people-pleaser – wanted to be everything to everyone all of the time. I’ve got better at this, but there’s a way to go. The recent upheaval has certainly given me some ‘edge’ – I just need to ensure I use it positively and retain my fundamental faith in people.
Shock-horror: it works! A cushion between the end of the working day and getting home again. I did it for a while, but gave up. I must start again.
10. Be a great teacher
My professional identity begins and ends with my own performance in the classroom – to stay reflective and always strive to be better – and ENJOY IT – are things I want to keep doing.
11. Don’t take it too seriously
Learning not to take oneself too seriously is another key point from this year. Years of post-adolescent brooding did me little good!
12. Allow myself to aspire
For the first time ever, I’ve allowed myself to imagine that one day, I might like to be a Head. But I haven’t said it out loud. Oh…
13. Hold onto my moral compass
Vanessa Ogden (Head of Mulberry School for Girls) said this at a FABULOUS conference on women leaders (which germinated the former point). Always hold on to your moral compass – so important, and such a challenge in the current climate.
14. Shoes and Nails
Must find something other than Birkenstocks or Doc Martens that I can actually wear. I am permanently in awe of people who can clack down corridors in spiky heels.
My nails have been a mess for as long as I can remember. The night of the catastrophic interview, a good friend came around and did my nails for me. Best therapy ever. I’ve let her down and gnawed them off again. Pretty nails at 40. I can do this!