Perspectives #4 - "My Journey as a Female in Leadership"
"Perspectives" is a series of blog posts written by people different to James, the usual writer of this blog: a white heterosexual non-disabled male. Through this series, we will hear from people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, LGBT+, and faith communities, as well as women, people with disabilities, and people from a low socio-economic background. Each individual is speaking from their own experiences alone, not speaking on behalf of a group of people. The aim is for all of us to hear voices of those who are different to us, so we can understand and build a culture in our schools and organisations where the wellbeing of all is at the centre, not just the wellbeing of those who are the same as us.
Joanna Young is a Headteacher of a larger-than-average primary school, and Director of Primary for The Learning For Life Partnership. She has two teenage sons, and is passionate about developing others and leading with compassion.
* * *
I have been asked to write this blog by James, as part of his "Perspectives" series.
At first, I questioned why he would want me to do a blog. As a white heterosexual who was privately educated, I wondered what I had to offer in the diversity and equality agenda. But then I reflected and I realised that my life experiences as a female have shaped the way I embed wellbeing as a priority at my school.
I have never really questioned inequality of opportunity in terms of a male/female divide in my career so far. I have been fortunate that my mentors have seen my potential and encouraged me to reach for the stars, but when I unpick this I realise that without that encouragement my voice may have become lost amongst more confident and (dare I say it) more egotistical males. Imposter syndrome has been something I have suffered from significantly up until a few years ago, and it still raises its head now. I needed people to believe in me before I took the jump into something new and I sought reassurance when I did make the jump.
Since becoming a Headteacher I have grown in confidence and this has stemmed from my passion to develop others. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your staff thrive. I still have my ups and downs (see my previous Ofsted blog) but right now I am stronger, more compassionate, and more positive than I have ever been.
I remember announcing my pregnancy (my second son is now 15) and within hours it had been leaked to our male Headteacher, who didn’t speak to me for 3 weeks! Of course I understand, as a Headteacher, the feelings of panic each time a teacher announces they are pregnant and the inevitable recruitment processes that follow, but I use my experience to make sure teachers I lead feel they are supported and I can share in their celebrations. I would like to think I treat them, like all members of staff, with utmost respect and compassion.
I often question my parenting skills and whether I could have done a better job. As I live in my school community, both my boys went through my primary school: this meant I could see them on their first day, watch their nativity, and keep a close eye on their progress. I was so lucky to really be there to watch them grow up, and as a leader, I make sure my staff have these opportunities too. With a hard working staff, there is no questioning when a teacher asks to watch their child’s sports day or nativity. There is a focus on workload so that as little as possible is taken home, and there is compassion shown when children are ill.
In conclusion, my journey as a female in leadership hasn’t been tainted by my gender or inequality, but it could have been if I had let the demons take over. What I believe it has done is make me more emotionally intelligent, compassionate and confident.
My 3 tips for a school to embed wellbeing in its ethos are:
1. Have a solution-orientated culture. There is nothing worse than negativity caused by problem after problem. Something magical happens when you build a culture of looking at solutions. It encourages staff to lead at every level and this in itself builds self confidence, positivity, and improved wellbeing.
2. Teach staff how to manage their workload. Use staff who do this well to mentor those who are struggling. Keep an eye out for those taking boxes and boxes of books home and intervene. Make sure staff don’t feel like they ‘have’ to stay late or get in early and be sensitive to those who may just need a bit more time.
3. Engage staff in consultation. I have been out of the classroom for over 7 years now (some would say I should still teach, but with over 550 children and a school improvement role across 4 other schools this is difficult!) so who am I to dictate what staff should be teaching? They are the experts and I treat them as such. Before any changes there is always full consultation. Staff feel they have a say and are listened to, and subsequently give their all with a smile.
* * *
Blog: chilledheadteacher.school.blog (Joanna's post was originally published here, on 17.6.20, under the title "Embedding Well Being")
Twitter: @JoYoung1974 (Interestingly, Joanna was actually my first ever follower on Twitter!)