Happy Inauguration to the #BAMEed Unconference

On the eve of the inaugural #BAMEedconf17  in Birmingham, which will explore themes of unconscious bias. I can feel the stirrings of inaugural night sentiment. A light is shone on my hopes and dreams for the future and I feel a sense of pride in humanity, in particular that small group of people who have gathered to initiate a game-changing gathering and work beyond.

I am sad that I won't be there tomorrow but I know with absolute certainty that the #BAMEedconf17's existence is ringing in some hugely beneficial changes for all of us educators interested in diversifying our workforce and challenging inequality.

Having been lucky enough to have had a window into some of the back story of this event coming to being, I can attest to the clarity of focus, determination and zeal that the organisers have put into making it a success. 

I want to wish the movement well, I want to doff my cap to the organisers of tomorrow's event and I hope that the challenging conversations, moments of clarity, solidarity and impetus to change things for the better sing from our collective Twitter feeds and into some action that we can all take responsibility for in coming weeks and months.

Here's to you and have a fabulous day!

 

'Not On My Watch': A response to school funding.

I used to be a pastoral leader in a big secondary school, slap bang in what everyone used to describe as a ‘challenging context’. For all the reasons you will be familiar with and will understand, a high percentage of the children that came to our school had tricky times out of which they emerged a bit bruised and often weary. Our job was sometimes to patch them up, often to remind them of our expectations and usually to stand side by side with them, repeating quietly, ‘Not on my watch will you be failed by the school system’, ‘Not on my watch’.

Reflecting on those times, I realise now that I had the best balance of work and rejuvenation. My parents live in the South of France and so I would fly off for the Summer, Easter and Winter breaks to spend time with them and to decompress. What would ensue would bring me annoyingly back to earth. My partner would join my family in a well-meaning ridiculing of the acronyms, the politics and the self-importance of my stories about the school system. I would be reminded that it wasn’t only in schools that the good stuff was happening and that people were working outside of that space as well. I would refuse to give up my position but would eventually soften into the decompression, let go of the stress, gain perspective and ease into my holiday.

One memorable Christmas, it didn’t work. I had spent the first term immersed in a new project, the expansion of our pastoral offer and the set up of an Alternative Provision within the school. We had successfully transferred a number of challenging children into the provision and we were already proving popular with the Local Authority and other schools.

It was on this basis that a Year 9 girl came to us. Her life story was a big and troubled one and she brought this massive irascible personality into our provision of mainly boys. She was hot-headed and at once sweet, super sensitive with a big love of the animal kingdom but with quite a few hard edges that we brushed up against regularly. Everyone in the team grew really fond of her and, over the course of that term, the journey of her life became one that we all felt compelled to change the course of. ‘Not on my watch’, we would repeat, ‘Not on my watch’.

The bureaucratic failures of the care system got in the way of some pretty sensible choices that could have been made that winter to enable this girl to have a marginally better time of things. And as the Christmas holidays approached, I found it difficult to rationalise her situation but the situations of so many of the young people with whom we worked.

As I flew out of Bristol Airport on my way to my Christmas break with family , I burst into tears. I cried for the ones left behind while I went off to the close bosom of family. I cried because despite all efforts I was not making a difference. I cried because everyone on the plane was about to do something lovely and so many of the kids that were at my school were not. It was one of those days when I gave in and almost gave up. I gave in to the belief that I was not making a difference.

I haven’t thought about that moment of crisis for a while. I picked myself up and kept on fighting the good fight. But I have been reminded of it lately and I don’t appreciate it.

When we heard, just before the summer holiday the extent of the budget cuts to higher needs funding we were pretty much floored. The changes to the way on which finding is allocated had already, in one swoop, made sure that my school, with a skeleton infrastructure, had to plan to lose out on vital SENCO resource and bear the cost implication of having a staff member out for days on end applying for top-up funding.

For a school like ours in which the school population contains a higher than average percentage of pupils with additional needs, almost exclusively without an EHCP and often without any allocated funding, we have been assuming the cost burden of providing the essential support that they need.

These are the children that will get left behind if we don’t act and I can’t help feeling what is being relied upon in this current climate is the evident moral purpose that educators within the system carry. The seam of gold that is tucked deep within schools that are struggling, are staff who do this because they can’t not. This can be counted on, and this enables devastating funding cuts to be driven through.

Because of course, school leaders and dedicated school staff will keep going, they will keep advocating for the children in the communities within which they live and work, they will not fly off on that metaphorical jet plane. I can’t leave the children behind and yet the silk purse that I am being forced to sew in no way matches the ambitions for the provision I would want to have for them.

The most needy in our society have already been disadvantaged; in their lives outside school, essential services have been stripped from communities, ensuring that most families are in fact, islands. Social care, mental health support teams, bereavement counselling and rape crisis teams have been so diminished that the signposting role of schools has all but disappeared.

The ‘within the school gates we are solely about aspiration’, high expectations and that ‘not on my watch’ mantra are difficult to achieve when in actual fact, as the three brave Head teachers articulated today at the Public Accounts Committee, the realities are that we can not afford to have our schools cleaned every day, the gardens and grounds grow unkempt and our staff CPD budget falls well short of the CPD needs.

The time has certainly come for creativity, for entrepreneurship and for thinking outside the box. However, this really needs to arise from a shared understanding of a bottom line below which no school can expect to go. I am still whispering ‘Not on my watch will you be failed by the school system’, ‘Not on my watch’. But how long can I keep saying this and it actually ring true?  

 

#teacher5aday #pledge #2017

With radiant as my #OneWord2017 it feels really important to make a pledge to look after my wellbeing and radiate health, life and energy.

It feels like there are so many areas in which the nourishing voice at the back of mind gets over-ridden and this means I have not been as radiant as I might be at times. I know this pledge will be a great help to me.

#connect

  • I will nurture old friendships this year. Lot's of my friends have borne with me through an exceptionally busy season in my life and I now need to feed those friendships again.  
  • I will connect properly with family this year (without mobile devices around). I have a gorgeous grandmother who I will spend more time with and a very supportive family who, likewise I pledge to give more 'present' time to. Weekends without too much of a programme will be an aim! 
  • I will connect more in the online space with educators and researchers who I have met over the last year and hope to meet new friends on Twitter and Staffrm as the year progresses. 

#notice

  • I will continue to notice and recognise my team at school. They do great things and paying attention to the details of their work makes us all feel so much more positive about our school. 
  • I will notice the little moments and victories for which I should be grateful. It is so easy to rue the day - I will try to flip this every day.  

#learn

  • I pledge to read across a range of topics and genre this year. I have a mixed pile of books (some great new fiction as well as education leadership books) to see me through the next season.  
  • I plan to visit a range of schools this year and get my head out of my school periodically. I always learn so much from talking with other teachers and school leaders so visiting new settings will be a must.

#volunteer

  • I will strengthen my involvement with the @WomenEd community this year. I have already signed up to host an event at my school and would like to do more of this. I will also throw myself into supporting events across the country through attendance or sharing/promoting. 
  • I will continue to offer some pro bono coaching this year as I look to improve my coaching skills and give something back. I have had so much support from others over the years and I continue to benefit from the support of great colleagues, family and friends. Offering my time in this area feels like a real pleasure. 

#exercise

  • I miss having an exercise regime. By hook or by crook, I will fit one in this year. If I can't find a way of squeezing the gym in regularly then I pledge to walk as much as possible each day. 
  • I will dust of the Jawbone and get my bike serviced so I can incorporate a cycle each week.
  • I pledge, also, to complete a 10k in the autumn. I haven't run for three years so this will be a good way of getting back to it! Oh and I am signing up for the #teacher5aday #5kchallenge !!

Let's get to it.

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Talking About Diversity and Sitting in that Fire

I was deeply offended by the views of another person yesterday and responded by offending the person right back. According to the offender, this is just something I do and a position I frequently cast myself in. My initial internal response was, ‘that’s nonsense’, as I carried on verbalising my viewpoint (with some considerable vigour). 

Now, I could pass this off as the kind of Christmas family argument that happens with one’s partner when you’ve spent too much time in a car together, reading a torn map and circumnavigating French cities in the fog. I could put it down to the shared wits end we had reached with our toddler, who was intent on pouring orange juice over coats, duvets and the car seat, but I think it was more than that.

My partner and I were on the above ‘delightful’ and potentially scenic (hmmm, thanks fog) road trip home from our Christmas spent ‘en famille’. We got talking about what the likely experience of moving to an all-English village in the Dordogne might be. I snorted and sneeringly gave forth my opinion of how utterly ridiculous the suggestion of that idea was. Clearly moving to a village ‘like that’ with people ‘ like that’ would be an absolute no.

He gave a more measured, ‘Can we just talk about what the experience of moving to an all-English village in the Dordogne might be?’ I explained that anyone who would even conceive of moving to a village ‘colonized’ by the English was clearly off their rocker. As is often the case with discussions like this, he stood on the North Pole and I on the South. I looked at him like I had never met him before and he looked right back with a similar un-knowing. How could someone I know harbour such a ridiculous fantasy that living in an English only (colonized) village in France would be in any way acceptable?

Somewhat wounded by my vitriol, he wouldn’t let the emotion behind the force of my argument go. We ended up in a painful (for me) but fascinating discussion, in which we explored my bias about the 'kinds of people’ who live in ‘places like that'.  We touched on why it is that I believe I know exactly what ‘kinds of people’ they are. I heard myself making the sort of sweeping generalisations that I would consider utterly offensive if made in the direction of other (more marginalised) groups. I was forced to pause for a moment, and take in the fog obscured landscape, while I tried to work out what was going on with me.

As I have been exploring in a post I am yet to share, I have hidden all sorts of past injuries and affronts in my life, in an effort to ensure that the ugly face of discrimination never knocked my confidence. This monumental effort to ignore certain behaviours, certain biases cast in my direction, has meant passing off all sorts of unacceptable behaviours and attitudes on the part of others. I have been a person that rarely ‘speaks up’ for fear that taking that position will marginalise me further. I have opted instead for a blending in and for a moderated version of myself. I have never, therefore given calm, considered and straightforward voice to the ugliness I have seen and to my views on this.

The stuffing down of how it feels to be discriminated against and of ones true self in an effort to blend in, occasionally leads to some quite ugly behaviour on my part. And, as is in the case of this English occupied village that I have never been to in France, I launch, quite emotively, into allsorts of assumptions and generalisations about groups of people. This is all quite unconscious and delivered from a position of pain that my former hurts at the hands of certain groups have never been acknowledged.

When we argue with our nearest and dearest, the change in our perception often happens when a deep knowing of our position and its roots takes place. The shift in our relations is made possible through an acknowledgement of what might be driving us. It sometimes feels that the online debates about diversity end up in some strangely polarised positions with each party staring at the other like they are complete strangers (well, technically they often are). A perfectly balanced exchange can begin to take place and then one notices that pain has kicked in for one of the participants. A hidden hurt, disappointment or fear has reared its head in the discussions and missiles, from a place of unconscious bias, start being launched.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could share our actual views with the calm, consideration of where these views might be rooted? It would be guaranteed to be uncomfortable, it would surely get very hot and because it would require us to de-censor ourselves, it will certainly be hard. But, I think we are forged anew in that difficult place, that ‘fire of transformation’, and that, crucially, we give ourselves more opportunities to emerge together from that fire completely different people.

I'm still not moving to an all-English village in France. I hate Cricket and I refuse to discuss it. Missile launched ;)

 

Looking forward and back: #nurture1617

Despite rough seas, the occasional bleak landscape and, on more than a few occasions this year, icy stares across the kitchen table, 2016 has gone pretty well.

The over-riding learning has been recognising that, not only can I not do it all, that I don’t want to do it all, not only can I not do it alone, I similarly don’t want to! Collaboration at home and at work have been the big themes of the year and learning to collaborate as a perfectionist has been hard but felt like the good stuff.

Looking back on 2016 then…

1.     The team at Steiner Academy Bristol continued to flourish. In great big dollops of glorious colour they made themselves across the canvas in ways that were ever more spectacular than I could have hoped for. This year I really felt that, as a Principal, I weathered unimaginable storms. The second full year in the life of a brand a new school was always going to be a tough one and my epiphany came in the local park (not in the staff room).

A member of staff had just told me she was moving away from Bristol and her news came third in a line of unfortunate and difficult resignations. I held myself together during her resignation (just) but then, as tears streamed down my face during an AWOL 30 minutes in the park, I said aloud, (in front of a depressing wintry ice cream van) I can’t do this on my own. Gosh – thank goodness I realised that. Since then I have been wide open to fallibility, failure and unknowing and this (much like travelling the road less travelled) has made all the difference.

2.     Not being a good mum featured big this year. I have felt the guilt of not being there for my son when trying to put in the endless hours required of being the Principal of a new school. I have realised that the attempt to do it all is ridiculous and this realisation has forced me to work out what I need to do for the health of my family and for the health of my soul. It turns out that I love work and yet I feel a selfishness about this which I am still finding words for. I have been at the hard end of some considerable criticism for this position but I am learning to find my way alongside my beautiful family, confident that it will work out just fine.

3.     I have been planning a ‘Nourished Teacher’ event mentally for years, and this year I finally hosted and curated a lovely evening in Bristol. It was filled with talented women educators, delicious conversation and tasty food. The evening was a great example of progress not perfection and I am so glad to have kick-started this area of my work, about which I am passionate.

4.     Certifying as a Women’s Leadership Coach brought me so much learning and much more confidence in the skills that I have felt have been latent for a while. I met a great community of women during the training and was mentored and coached by the formidable Elizabeth Cronise McGlaughlin. Elizabeth is known to say ‘Thank-you more please’ and in terms of the gratitude I feel for this community I would like to say the same.

5.     Speaking of communities of women and women who have been part of supporting my growth and development this year, I have to shout out to and about Miss Hannah Wilson. Another formidable uplifter of women and a professional connector of people. She has encouraged me to join and participate in @WomenEd, which has introduced me to a host of awesome women educators, many of whom I have grown instantly fond of. 2016 saw me initiate collaborations and capitalise on opportunities more so than ever. Thanks for my 10% braver nudges dear Hannah!

And looking forward to 2017…

1.     Having been lucky enough to be pushed a little more into the world of blogging (yes - thanks dear Hannah) and having properly gotten involved with Twitter this year. I am definitely going to make 2017 the year in which I write more and get my voice out there in print and online. I hope, in this way,  I can give a little more to the wider education community, in sharing whatever insights I have had in a bid to support and encourage wherever possible.

2.     Next year I have already pledged to be guided more by inspiration and intuition and make these aspects of my leadership sing. I am braving my inner voice (the doubter) and vowing to speak on this aspect of leadership more publicly, and at as many opportunities as possible. This will mean braving new and unfamiliar territories within which to talk about leadership and I am both terrified and excited by the prospect!

3.     The plan for Nourished Teacher events was always to host a retreat. In 2017 under the moniker #nourishEd Retreat I am excited to be partnering with Amanda Pearce-Burton and Samantha Wheeler in the curation of a super stunning retreat. This has been a dream of mine for about 8 years now and I am sooo looking forward to bringing this dream to life.

4.     I am hoping to keep on a healthy stream of coaching clients this year. Working alongside and supporting colleagues in leadership makes my leadership of my school ever stronger. This work gives me such a valuable insight to how lucky our schools are to have great teachers and leaders. It also gives me endless ideas about just how much we can do in our schools to support colleagues to grow.

5.     Lastly an area that has always been more difficult for me to find alignment with and to give voice to, has been my role as a BAME educator. This year I am committed to exploring issues of diversity, reflecting on how they have shaped me as a leader and supporting others on a similar journey of discovery. I am delighted to be part of the @BAMEedNetwork as well as offering coaching to participants in the @DiverseLeaderEd Programme.

Ooooh, now I am getting excited! Roll on 2017!

 

Intuition and Inspiration as Leadership Tools

I have been energised, this year, by the new friends and colleagues I have made within the education sector and within the field of women's leadership coaching. It has been so exciting to be surrounded by dynamic and inspirational women leaders and such a rich experience.

It feels as if many of us are rejecting old means and methods of leading our schools and our teams. Although, at times, it is like we are working within an impossible hierarchy, and a system that is on its knees, many of us are are working through this terrain creatively and so our work in turn, creates the sense of endless possibilities.

A new paradigm is emerging and the context for our work is slowly changing. As we gain confidence in our worth, more of us are making important shifts and are reconsidering the terms and conditions we feel happy to work within. Women leaders are returning to the workplace following maternity leave and deciding on more collaborative models of leadership, opting for co-headships and similar. Others of us are looking to lead across the education system in grass roots organisations, are looking to develop projects alongside our work in our schools, and so we are becoming more interested in shared leadership models for this reason.

As the context changes, so to does the way we speak about our work. Women leaders are purposefully using alternative vocabularies to populate their staff rooms, meetings and interactions with their communities. They are replacing compete and control with community and collaboration and affiliative or coaching leadership styles seem to be labels that fit much more comfortably than they ever have done in the past.

I listen and read, as much as time will allow, in the fields of women’s leadership, education, coaching and entrepreneurship. Of late, I have been feeling a little saddened by the way that women leaders frequently caveat their words with ‘now I know this might sound a little bit woo woo’. It seems to me that this undermining of the spiritual, inspiration led and intuitive areas of women’s leadership, simply serve to disparage our gifts. 

Women’s experience has, through the ages, been characterised as a realm in which earth guided wisdom dominates, in which intuition, inspiration and divine guidance are foregrounded. So why is that when we come to new paradigm models of women’s leadership, we are still so nervous about foregrounding these skills?

I have set out this year to consciously work with these areas in my leadership role and it often feels like the hardest work I have ever done. It is messy, uncomfortable and heart-poundingly tricky. I have been leaning in to the moments that history (and my job description) tell me require knowing. So when, for example, a member of staff comes to my office to let out their anxieties about their role, or relations with a team member, rather than tell them what to do next, I have sat in silence with them, actively created a 'fireside listening space'. Or, when a teacher has come and asked me what to do next, has said they don't know what to do for the best, I have sat with them, for what feels like an age, waiting for inspiration, waiting for guidance, waiting for something to inspire them too, in order that we are both guided more richly by the moment of crisis than we might have been had I leapt in.

There is a moment that as educators we are all familiar with, a moment we often take with children. You know, the moment when a child is so lost to their emotion, sometimes dangerously so, and you take a leap with them into the unknown. You have no idea if they will completely follow you, but you start, you divert, you reach out to them wherever they are and give them a hand to grab. Well this practice, intuitive, instinctive, this capturing a moment of inspiration is the kind of leadership I am talking about.

There is a place for this alongside all other kinds of leadership and, I for one, will be bringing it to the table without shame, embarrassment or undermining this New Year.  I am going to be courageous in not knowing, accepting that this is a vital part of my development as a leader.

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A Winter Supper and the start of something...

Saturday night's event was a long time coming. As I hopped out of the car, unloading bottles of Prosecco, baskets of haberdashery and spa treats for my guests, I had a gentle chortle at the fact that I had finally arrived at the evening of the first Nourished Teacher Seasonal Supper. 

I've been working on this idea for a long while, you see. The vision of it has been taking up space on the numerous Pinterest boards I use to help envision future projects, and a clear sense of it has been gathering as I have listened to the progressively downward spiral that the narrative around the education system has taken. I’ve been wanting to counter this narrative with something softer, warmer, more affirming and at the same time attend to the pressing need to provide a wellbeing space for my fellow female travelers.

I know that when I get together with educator friends and we really get into a good chat, we invariably end up celebrating the brilliance of our pupils, the resilience of colleagues and the hilarious mysteries of school life. A catch up with a teacher friend, that often starts with the dismal side of things, soon sprouts into an enlivening and affirming moment shared.

Gatherings of women have ancient roots. As Aleya Abdulla writes in her essay The Power of the Women’s Circle “throughout history, women have gathered in sacred circle. Be it around a fire in prehistoric times, within hushed monasteries of the Middle Ages, in consciousness-raising groups in 1970’s living rooms or online groups in the digital age, women have long congregated to laugh, share, heal, care for children, grieve, and spiritually connect in community.”  

With this in mind, I have been refining and honing a gathering based on the idea of a return to a women’s circle. My dream was simply to get a group of women around some great food, good wine and sparkling company and in so doing provide a space to put the world to rights, therein affirming our profession and ourselves.

And on Saturday night we did. A group of 24 women gathered in the candle lit, festively decked under station tunnel that is Hart's Bakery. Head chef Simon and his team cooked and served us up a divine four course feast. My dear friend and colleague Charlotte, got the evening started with a beautiful winter craft workshop and we talked the night away.

We made connections, realised mutual friends and made commitments to honor a space like this in our lives. For me, and and for many others in the room, it felt like the beginning of something really important. The will to come together and be part of this movement of small, intimate and meaningful gatherings, to be part of a group of women intent on nourishing their souls in order to better nourish those around them was certainly felt on the night.

The seeds of this movement are now firmly planted, with future events on the way. And regardless of whether we see you there, I'd like to invite you to take a moment sometime soon, to sit down with a friend over a cuppa, next to hearth (or indeed a radiator), and honor the space that is simply connecting and setting the world to rights.

If you're interested in finding out more about The Nourished Teacher Seasonal Suppers you can sign up to our newsletter via The Nourished School Facebook Page. You can also connect with us on Twitter @nourishedschool

Leading from the Middle

The TES this week referenced a study conducted by the NAHT Headteachers’ union in which it was found that in 2014, just 15 per cent of school leaders said the rate at which teachers were quitting the job was making it harder to recruit but that the figure has now jumped to 42 per cent.

The study showed that almost four in five schools had struggled or failed to fill vacancies this year and it backed up the TES’s evidence that Headteachers were ‘having to resort to offering “golden handshakes and other financial incentives to recruit and retain teachers.’

I’ve spent the last two and a half years setting up a school from scratch. Alongside managing the, sometimes fragile, dynamics of a new student body, overseeing a building project and forging the new wider school community, has been the central task of motivating and retaining the staff body.

With a small school population, this task has been made ever more tricky because of our inability to offer candidates plum positions. More often than not, we have been recruiting to fractional roles and hoping that the staff that come our way will stay long enough to grow into the middle leaders and full time members of staff that will one day populate the staff structure.

The consequences of the teacher shortage as well as the impact of losing staff each year have rocked our small school and I have had to position myself squarely next to the issues. I have had to cosy up with the problem and really get to the heart of how to retain staff.

I now think I may have encountered every variant of the urgent ’I need to meet with you’ conversation and had every response to losing staff that is possible. I have indeed wept (not in front staff but I don’t rule it out), I have been sad, I have been angry, I have been secretly pleased and I am sorry to say, I have even been indifferent.

What I have learned from these conversations with staff is that every year, for them, the job has gotten harder, and that without a sense of moral purpose and the conviction that your purpose will be met with change, the job loses its appeal for many.

I have learned that trying to hold on to people is futile and that the only way to encourage people that staying will be fine is to gently let them go. Let them come to your office and stamp and fury about what doesn’t work, let them into a space in which it is ok to envisage an entirely different future, let them go deep into that space in which they imagine leaving the school.

I have learned that to sit side by side with colleagues in this space, to lead from the middle of the crisis rather than to try and get ahead if it, somehow let’s a bit of light in, lets space in. And when folk feel that anything is possible, that if they stay its fine and if they go its fine, that they are wanted but that when they leave, someone else who is needed in that moment, at that time will fill the void, that typically they decide to stay.

When once I would fear the urgent ’I need to meet with you’ conversation (for how on earth can we afford to fill yet another post in the school?), now I look forward to circling back, joining them back there on the walk, sitting for a moment and looking back over the terrain we have walked together. I enjoy sitting alongside them and looking out onto the various horizons they have ahead of them. I enjoy seeing the view through their eyes and hope, at least, to give them the sustenance they need if they are to set foot out there in a different direction to the rest of the travellers and I.

Leading from this perspective is so empowering, so joyful, as it reminds you that you are a leader of people, not just a school and that your leadership, your openness, has the opportunity to touch many different horizons, not just the one you are heading for. 

Crying at Work (again)

I have been writing about, thinking on and doing ‘radical authenticity’ lately and so many opportunities have emerged as moments for me to practice my preach and walk my talk. In this post, I want to talk about being a woman in tears, and in particular, what I did when that was perceived as me being a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

In the name of authenticity I need to say just how vulnerable a position I feel I am putting myself in, in writing this post. I almost feel that, as I am a serving headteacher, I should not be divulging any of this, I mean how can I admit this ‘weakness’ and be trusted to run a school? But, then I realise I am talking about my life, my relationships and more importantly my relationship with leadership, so who is anyone else to censor this? Indeed, why would I try to censor this piece when it could be of use to my tribe?

So, in I will dive. As I have said in other posts, I have have experienced, in this leadership role, a steadily growing feeling that I just can’t do it all. I don’t know whether it is because leadership in schools has got harder or because I have grown softer. Regardless, what I am finding is the impossibility of doing my job, meeting the needs of my family and attending to me, the woman in the middle who needs different things now, needs a bit of space, needs to be allowed to grow and work in new ways.

A few weeks back ‘things got real’ as they say. I was coming to the end of a really tricky term that had been beset with leadership challenges and personal demons emerging left and right and in need of slaying. I was in a phone meeting with a man we shall call, for the purposes of this piece, ‘The Man’. The conversation was backing and forthing around a variety of leadership challenges I was having and I found myself leaning back into a moment of tears. I saw myself behaving and feeling out of ‘control’ but also strangely exhilarated by this woman who spoke fast and who had so much bottled up that she needed to say.

I raved and ranted, I fought the battle of the woman with a child, with an endless list of jobs and no time for herself to develop and grow and become the kind of leader she knew she was born to be. The Man listened. I cried, indeed I cried and The Man’s response to my tears was an interesting one. Part way through this fairly short episode, it became apparent that my tears felt to The Man as though they were evidence that I was finally ‘opening up’. The Man felt that what I needed was a hug, the repeated refrain, ‘I can hear you are really upset’ honestly just made me rage further. The Man was grateful for a window into my ‘vulnerability’ and felt that, as he had now seen into my depths, we could work together on ‘fixing things’.

The Man is a lovely person and so in subsequent days he went about doing the best he could to help me. He did this by way of seeking unsolicited support for me from a number of my peers in a way that I understood as kind hearted but felt, and have found, very difficult to cope with.

Now, anyone that knows me knows that I have problems accepting help from people and I do find it a challenge when I feel exposed. Yet, in this situation it wasn’t my initial outpouring of tears that exposed me, rather, it was the way in which I knew these tears would be perceived that left me feeling so wide open. I knew my tears would be met one dimensionally as ‘upset’ and felt aggrieved at how lost the message within the swirling, salty rivers would get.

For a few weeks I bore the slightly sick feeling I had every time a peer offered me a virtual hug or a shoulder to cry on and it took a lot of sitting with to work out how I could handle this growing unease. In the spirit of ‘radical authenticity’ I did not see it as appropriate to hope that the issue of my, now public, outpouring would just disappear over time. Instead, I chose to bring it right to the fore and address it at the next given chance. And so it was that at my next public opportunity to address my aforementioned peers, I donned my red jacket, and asked if I could raise something before the meeting begun, asked if I could have the floor to explain myself. In spirit it went something a little like this:

I feel the need to unearth the message behind the tears that emerged a few weeks ago and that you are all aware of. My tears were actually born of hope, not disillusionment. They expressed a hope in the me who no longer accepts unacceptable situations and questions her ability, but who says ‘I can not and, more importantly, will not make these personal sacrifices for a job.’ My tears were shed in favour of the person I am becoming, who sees a better way emerging. They were also shed in mourning for the person who allowed this overwhelm to occur, she has tried so hard to do so much for others for so long. My tears came at the moment of realisation and marked the release of anxiety and stress. Rather than signalling collapse, they signalled epiphany. What you should know about my tears is that through them, I rise Phoenix-like, stronger now, more prepared for the future.

As I explained myself, into the room of men, an awareness grew that the words of comfort they, as my peers, had been asked to send me and so kindly sent, were sent in the absence of my context. What happened next reminded me that this fight to be heard, however, is one we all share, regardless of our rank or status. As it was pointed out to me by one of the headteachers present, the position of a female headteacher who cries and then rolls her sleeves up and gets on with it, is much easier to bear than the mere thought that a male headteacher may cry at all. And this humbled me, for how awful to be in that position.

I marvelled, as I left the room buttoned up in my red jacket, at how my moment of weakness had become such strength and how those perceived as so strong, can often feel so far away from being able to articulate their ‘weakness’.

Finding Creativity Every Day

I consider myself lucky enough to lead a school in which we are all about finding creativity every day. We do a lot to support the full and rounded development of children in terms of their intellect, their sense of self and others and their hands on skills. In practice this means that, within our curriculum, we focus as much on handicrafts as we do on traditionally ‘academic subjects’, and as much on the ‘academic subjects’ as we do on the creative ones.

This lack of balance in my childhood experience of education has had a direct and unfortunate impact on my own creativity. I was a keen artist as a child but gave up quite easily on crafting projects, I was also hugely academic and found book work easy. I was never encouraged to view these parcels of the curriculum as connected. Thus, rather than finding an ease and a creativity in the flow between artistic, crafting and academic realms I ended up operating in a fairly binary manner. I was very comfortable within certain artistic subjects but I rejected many as I was pushed to develop my intellect.

This polarisation of creative vs academic is very reductive and in my latter years it has really stopped me from venturing into areas that I don’t feel I should enter. I certainly feel I am the imposter in artistic circles and yet, for my entire life, I have been so attracted to these arenas.

What I know for sure is that I am one of life’s dreamers and collectors and while I have never credited this collecting and dreaming as as creative work, I think it just might be. In fact, right here and now I am putting it out there that I am a creative curator. I curate for my sense of an artistic life and, despite what others may have you believe about the difference between doing and talking about doing, I see this creative curation as vital to my success in exploring ideas, thinking widely and freely and then delivering on exciting and hitherto unthought of projects.

I first got into creative curation when I started vision boarding. I felt the expanse of my dreams and the clarity of my vision in the process of curating images that called to me. Vision boarding soon became my go to process at the start of a project or when I felt the need to establish lasting change in my life. My current job was one that I made real through the process of vision boarding. Indeed, many of my old vision boards speak of the range of opportunities and experiences I have created for myself.

My work spaces have often demonstrated my passion for creative curation. They have been designed to facilitate the very process of creative curation. For me, and for many teachers I know, there is a necessity to surround oneself with beautiful objets that inspire one to draw into being creative projects. I have had lovely desks filled with all manner of beautiful notebooks into which I have dreamed, note taken and envisioned lovely things. I am known for a small obsession with stationery of all kinds and this is not for the sake of hoarding. Rather these tiny papery pieces of beauty represent the tangible opportunity for creativity. In curating a collection, I make the possibility of many, many artistic projects real.

When I had my son and found that reading was a luxury that I no longer had the time for I started to curate a wonderful collection of audiobooks. These, I treat as though artefacts in my own museum. The multi-passionate that I am loves this approach to life. I am a person who is very happy with a half finished, quarter finished or merely dipped into book. I am at ease with a fluidity that allows a particular moment of a book or article, an image, or an artefact to have useful meaning in that particular moment. I can’t count the number of times that I have stopped an episode of one of the podcasts that I subscribe to, moved on to something else, only to start again where I left off days or weeks later and find that it is speaking to my exact situation.

What I am trying to say is that my creative curation has no end point or purpose, its sum is lots of interesting and lovely things and many abandoned and never realised ideas and projects. It is entirely unnecessary in some ways and utterly vital in others. After viewing (or listening to) thirty ‘artefacts’ I may come up with 10 projects and realise none. But, that there is creative juice coursing through my veins makes me snap at the heels of my day job in such a colourful way that I now recognise this effort as vital. My approach to creativity feels to be one that occupies a liminal space. We are so taken with linearity, with binaries, with clarity, with ending what we have begun, that we often fail to make time for the unnecessary messing around that colours everything else in so vividly.

One of the reasons for me writing the book ‘The Nourished Teacher’ is to challenge the types of creativity we feel are available to us as school teachers and educators. My hope is that the book sounds a note that reminds us we are all creatives, no matter our field. I hope it underscores that creativity is a state that we can all lay claim to and one we must never undermine or extinguish, for it is in our every day creative moments that magic is born.

If you are interested in the idea of unnecessary creating it is really worth checking out Todd Henry’s podcast here: http://www.accidentalcreative.com/podcasts/ac/podcast-the-necessity-of-unnecessary-creating/