Nurture blogs and that odd in-between time sandwiched between Christmas and New Year make great companions. They’re a chance to take stock, remember what was important 12 months ago, and realign and adjust priorities for the year ahead. Now that I blog so little they’re one of the few posts that seem to still come easily.
2021, fall its flaws, will forever be known as the year I became a mum. As you might expect, my first wish of last year, whilst heavily pregnant, was that our daughter would arrive safely. And she did. She flew into the world with arms and legs stretched straight out – her WomenEd power pose already perfected. Since then we’ve spent every day (even the ones where everything seems covered in poo) pinching ourselves that we get to be parents to such a funny and beautiful egg. As I type this, she’s pulling wooden carrots out of a toy and chewing on them Bugs Bunny style. She’s a delight.
Having returned to school for 7 days before the Christmas break, I’m yet to fully grasp how being ‘mum’ will change the way I work as a teacher and leader. But I have an inkling. Whereas once I’d be reluctantly dragging myself away from the job pile, it’s no longer difficult to leave school early knowing I have Hana to get home to. I’ve set aside time each evening to work but it’s defined and it’s finite. If I was pretty good at prioritising pre-baby then I reckon I’m going to be laser sharp now.
In terms of mumming, teaching has inevitably already affected the choices I’ve made. The brutal reality is that we’ve reached the ‘I can’t do this any more’ point of sleep training earlier, and are moving away from breastfeeding more quickly, than we might have done had I taken off the full year. However, I’m confident our daughter will have more to gain from seeing a happy and fulfilled working mother that a few extra weeks of 1am boob.
Last year, after IVF, and already witnessing the mammoth scale of the response to the pandemic, I was in awe of science. This year, I’m increasingly conscious that the vaccine roll out has been a triumph of science, yes, but also humanity. Humanity in the sense of people working together in a way that is systematic and purposeful.
There is much to take from this back into schools in terms of collaboration for the greater good, precision implementation, and system leadership: driving change across boundaries. The latter is something I am especially passionate about and what keeps me returning to Twitter. The more we can connect expertise across institutions and sectors the greater chance we have to improve the life chances of all young people and, consequently, society at large.
My second wish for 2021 was to be a more vocal advocate for pupils in areas of disadvantage and from disadvantaged groups. I think I envisaged more blogging - maybe even returning to writing a bit for TES – in order to bang the drum for evaluating and meeting the needs of all of our pupils, raising awareness about the Values-Actions gap, which might go some way to explain why our beliefs are not always borne out in the action of holding the highest expectation for every child. But this definitely hasn’t happened (besides one measly case study for the National Tutoring Programme website).
What I have managed to do is set up regional DM groups to connect PP leads and spoken at a couple of webinars including one with the guru himself, @marcrowland73. Instead my attention has been devoured by the realities of being a senior leader this year, working with my brilliant colleagues to get out 300+ laptops to pupils who need them and set up a Saturday tutoring provision to support home learning. I’m indebted to my partner in crime, @AViewAskew, who has been a constant support and enthusiast. She has also been relentless in keeping the Spaldhouse vision alive whilst I’ve been on maternity leave. For that and a million other reasons, I love her.
Finally, I’m proud to say that with the support of my family both in terms of the practical (childcare and a hefty spot of proofreading) and emotional (accompanied by plenty of cups of coffee) I did indeed complete my NPQH. Whilst it feels good to have it under my belt, I’m not sad to see the legacy qualification go. The assessment itself was a tick box affair and there were swathes of the course that felt a bit pointless, if I’m brutally honest. Spending half days with excellent leaders like Alistair @SMSATeaching and @MrHuntingtonSAT on my school visits was at least equal professional development to the thousands of words I ended up churning out. Before I begin to sound bitter, time to acknowledge…
My positives for 2021
1. I was appointed as an Evidence Leader in Education.
As yet, I’m unsure how the role will develop. My first commitment is to my own school and our pupils and, quite frankly, schools need their senior leaders in-house at the moment. However, it’s already afforded me the opportunity to be involved in co-facilitating the NPQLT: any reason to chat teaching and learning and I’m in.
I’m excited by the possibilities of working beyond my school and of championing evidence-informed practice. Schools are knackering, underfunded, pressurised places and anything that gets us focusing more sharply on best bets to save time and energy has to be a good thing.
2. I realised that I am replaceable.
I once had the privilege of listening to @Mr_ShepherdHT critique his (highly successful) first Headship. He spoke about the need for leaders to build sustainable change so that school culture exists – persists – even when you are not there to champion it. I’ve been out of school for just over 8 months this year and my first realisation on my return was how colleagues had picked up the baton and not only run with it, but jumped over hurdles and set new PBs (literally and metaphorically in the case of @AViewAskew).
This, of course, is the hallmark of a school functioning effectively, one where capacity-building and succession planning is working. Which doesn’t make it any less of a dent to the ego. At the end of my first week I was left pondering where I will fit in to this further strengthened team.
Now, with the benefit of a week of down time I can see this for what it is: an exciting chance to carve out new initiatives and responsibilities. When you can spin the plates of a familiar role with greater aplomb you’ve got an opportunity to pick up the hula hoop and hone a new skill.
3. I spent a decent whack of time with the people I love.
In the midst of the pandemic I spent a blissful two weeks with my in-laws in an isolated villa in rural Spain. Through the freedoms and demands of maternity leave I’ve seen my parents almost daily. My husband has swapped a three hour daily commute with working from home.
We have family and friends spread around the globe from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Japan who are missed terribly now travel restrictions mean we’re unsure when we’ll get to visit again. That my closest are a five minutes hop in the car is not something I will ever take for granted.
My wishes for 2022
1. To model happy, sustainable leadership
I reckon secure, content people make better decisions and better decision-makers are better leaders. Therefore, if I want to be good at my job I need to make sure I’m good at home.
As I near 40, and with the pressures on school leaders ever more acute, I also think I have a responsibility to the next crop of aspiring leaders to show that you can do this job and be fulfilled and sane.
Mate, school leader, and mum of 3, @KColburnHayes, gave a brilliant WomenEd speech about the importance for women especially saying what they need. I think this is brilliant: why make others guess then hand wring when they get it wrong? There is no reason a childfree colleague should know what it’s like to have been woken up multiple times by a teething baby. Or a male colleague should know what it’s like to have to rush home to breastfeed. It doesn’t mean oversharing but it does mean being upfront, clear, and confident about your preferred ways of working. It’s something I’m going to try to return to this year when needed.
2. To become a Deputy Headteacher
I’m confessing with one with a degree of trepidation. It makes me feel a bit vulnerable. However, I am certain I am ready for my next challenge and I think there’s value in putting pen to paper and stating clearly your ambitions.
To date, I’ve only ever applied for one Deputy post, two and a half years ago. I blogged about the experience here. If that was too early then I know now is exactly the right time as I return to work with experience under my belt, having had impact in my role, and with a renewed commitment to the profession I love.
3. For my husband to be happy
I am incredibly proud of my husband. He’s a truly excellent dad and my best mate (plus I fancy the pants of him). He’s the sort of man that buys me books instead of flowers. Anyway, he’s recently reached a transition point professionally and has shown courage in stepping away from an incredible 13+ years in the music industry. I’m excited to see what 2022 will bring for him. And us.
Happy New Year, all. May the next twelve months bring you happiness, whatever that may look like for you.