When All This Is Over: Transition

Some have questioned whether we should even be thinking ahead. The urge right now to speculate when so much is unknown can be an unhealthy one – even overwhelming. Focusing on the day to day, on surviving is understandable. But for me, in Lockdown doing the brunt of childcare for my extremely demanding one year old whilst balancing responding to pupils on Google Classroom (Make sure you read the instructions carefully x 10000), I desperately want to think ahead, to ‘when all this is over.’ This series of blog posts will address just that; the beginning of a return to ‘normality’ in education, and what that ‘normal’ may need to look like.

A National Approach?

I write from a position of having lead on KS2 to KS3 Transition across two different schools over 7 years – I consider myself experienced in this area, and yet – how to start?! I posed this question on twitter recently, and found a variety of responses. A point much agreed upon was the need for a National, or at least Local Authority approach.

The Ideal: In an ideal world, the virus will reach its peak in the next couple of weeks, with the absolute minimum of deaths, allowing the NHS the fulls resources needed to treat it effectively, and we as a society will quickly eradicate COVID-19. Thus in turn, schools will return for HT6, allowing for time for the important rites of passage – prom, leaver’s assemblies, and proper goodbyes. Although Year 11 and 13 would usually be long gone, I would imagine schools may request them back to support with evidence gathering for grades submissions, and also to allow them their goodbyes. This would ensure no student has been off school for too long, and give them time to adjust socially and emotionally, whilst catching up on missed learning ready for September, and allow colleagues to gather the necessary information on each child if they are due to start in a new setting in September.

The Likely: The likelihood is that schools won’t be back until September, with many families who have experienced trauma. In this case, I see there being a few alternatives that the local authority or government might set:

Plan 1, The Path of Least Disruption: All students start their new year group in September – including starting at new settings. Colleagues may start gathering information on new students remotely through HT6. Staggered starts may need to be considered, with reduced hours to gradually build up resilience for the rigours of a full school day, and being used to larger groups of people. More than ever, support and pastoral colleagues will be valued to support all students. Mentoring and 1:1s will be needed extremely regularly to check in. Curriculum leaders will need to consider using time to re-teach, revise and re-visit key learning. Time spent with form tutors on well-being with practical emotional support. I fear that colleagues with experience in trauma and grief will also be required in vast numbers. The benefits of this plan are that it is the least disruptive to the current system, with exams and tests held in the Summer term. The negatives are that it puts pressure on schools and school leaders to return to academic ‘business as usual’ sooner than their communities are ready to do so, for fear of falling behind others in the results race. It also particularly disadvantages our students and families from key groups.

Plan 2, The Path of Slow and Steady Wins the Race: All students will return to their previous year group (of academic year 2019-20) in September. Students will then move into their new year group (and setting, where applicable) in January 2021. The benefits – students will have the support they may need from colleagues they know and trust. They will have time to say proper goodbyes, take part in leaver’s activities, and catch up on and consolidate missed learning. The negatives – the question of what to do with Years 11 and 13 – perhaps they return for HT1 to support with evidence gathering for their final grades? Also, the knock on effect of having less time to prepare for exams in the summer may unfairly disadvantage exam year groups.

Plan 3, The Best of Both Worlds?: All students start their new year group in September. Students in a transition year will have local authority supported days/weeks to return to their previous settings for the social goodbye activities, whilst gradually transitioning to their new setting with the support of all colleagues. The benefits – this seems on the surface to be the best of both worlds. The negatives – the logistical organisation of the time needed and additional staffing will need to be considered carefully.

A School Approach:

Speculation on what the government or local authorities may or may not do doesn’t help you who are leading on, or concerned about, the area of Transition. So below are just some suggestions on what you can do over the coming weeks and months as a school to support our students who are transitioning to a new setting ‘when all this is over’.

  • Send communication to children and parents – it’s ok to admit you don’t have a solid plan yet, with all the unknowns, but you could reassure them that they will be soon be a part of your community.
  • Include photos of key staff – putting a face to a name is always comforting, and helps open up the lines of communication
  • Suggest activities to support with transition – an idea for this is sending out blank postcards for them to send to you with their hopes of what they will experience, and a worry. This will help you to plan their pastoral activities in the first few weeks back. You could also link with your colleagues from their previous setting to help them ‘move on’ – perhaps a booklet or picture of their classmates with opportunities to write down goodbyes would be cathartic? A few conversation starters for parents also, eg ‘What do you think you’ll enjoy the most?’, ‘Is there anything you’re worried about?’ etc.
  • Communicate with your colleagues in the previous settings – get in touch now to ask for information that will support their students to settle in, this will also give them reassurance that you care for their students as much as they do
  • Avoid academic testing straight away – yes, we want to know their gaps in knowledge as soon as possible so that we can plan, but we need to do this in a supportive way.
  • Suggest, ask, offer – don’t demand. This applies to communications with parents, students and colleagues. They may be juggling children, WFH, key worker responsibilities, or, like us all, just plain struggling. Your support and understanding will matter so much to them.

I’m sure you will have many more ideas – please feel free to share them in the comments below, or with me on Twitter @MrsLFlower. Ultimately, no matter what I, or anyone says, you know your setting and your context better than anyone else – you will know what will and won’t work for your students. Stay safe.

A Day In The Life Of A Teacher Parent

The alarm shatters sleep. Having been awake for a few hours in the night, it’s distinctly unwelcome. Over the baby monitor I can hear my little one stirring, chatting nonsense away as I realise I’ll have to be quick to make sure she doesn’t start crying for her milk.

Bleary eyed I manage to drag the straighteners through my hair in an attempt to make sure I don’t look what I call ‘full apocalyptic’. My war paint forgotten for the time being, I root through the many dresses in my wardrobe in an attempt to find something casual to wear. Defiantly I select a favourite dress, and don it over a pair of leggings.

After wishing the baby good morning and getting her dressed, I enjoy my one peaceful moment of the day – giving her her bottle. She slumps, warm and heavy in my arms, smelling of laundry liquid, her face focussed in concentration as she sucks down her milk. For a few blissful seconds the world is completely quiet, but then my brain kicks in. Will she recognise her grandparents? How will delaying her nursery affect her social skills? Will she become clingy and scared of new experiences?

Breakfast is a reasonably jolly affair – we put the radio on, dance around our kitchen to amuse little one, and all eat toast and butter with relish. Then, I am shut in the living room with a restless, demanding pre-toddler. It’s just over an hour til her first nap – I tell myself over and over. She is relentless in her pursuit of my drink, my phone, my space. By 9:30 my husband comes down from working at his desk to put her down for the first nap of the day. I’m already exhausted from singing, playing, reading.

Desperate for time alone, I try to utilise it productively, as I know this makes me feel better. Yoga, connecting via Twitter, responding to my students on Google Classrooms with my usual breezy positivity – Hello sausages hope you’re all ok! But sometimes I give in. I just curl up on the sofa and try to lose myself in something mindless on the tv to stop my thoughts spiralling – there’s still an entire day to get through, and I’m already shattered.

Once little one wakes we take a walk round our neighbourhood – her resplendent in her buggy with toys to keep her amused, and me in sunglasses to attempt to hide the pallor of my un-made up skin. For 45 minutes I tread the same few streets on a loop, trying to find new ways to go, new things to see, new thoughts to think, but always ending up the same.

On return I have another hour til my husband joins us. Little one happily plays away, returning regularly to me, little mouth open like a baby bird, fingers grasping for her picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit and snacks. We ring my parents on FaceTime and they sing and chat over the phone with her, and we all pretend that everything’s ok, belying the strain seen in lined foreheads, tired eyes, and slightly too-tight smiles.

Then comes the afternoon nap – an entire hour and half of freedom. I again respond to my students via google classrooms, and virtuously make plans to bake, put on a load of washing, or read one of the pile of edubooks staring shamefully at me on the living room shelf – instead I invariably scoff down lunch and switch off in front of TV, guilty but relieved.

She wakes again – the final stretch before bedtime. Too young to find benefit in ‘educational activities’, but too old to just let lie on a playmat, batting at things, we survey the living room – our safe place, full of toys, but swiftly starting to feel like brightly-coloured claustrophobic jail cell. We read, we sing, we play, we absorb CBeebies, on an endless loop. My husband finishes work and joins us downstairs. Finally it is the start of her bedtime routine – dinner, cuddles, story, bed.

I start our dinner – the 6th meal I have made today – whilst my husband goes out for a walk, his first chance for fresh air of the day. The evenings are the worst. I start to think of my students who are not as lucky as I – where home isn’t a safe, warm, loving space. My hands shake holding the pan as I think of individual students I adore, and what they may be going through. I clutch my phone and fire off some breezy messages via google classroom, hoping to hear back from them, but knowing I probably won’t. The guilt starts – how dare I feel upset, depression, grief in my own, extremely fortunate situation?! How dare I feel a loss so profound I can barely articulate it?!

I remain strong and cheerful for as long as I can. Most mornings I wake up determined to make the most of the day. I jolly along everyone – my friends, my family, my husband who is under immense strain from his work who are making many of his team redundant, even people on Twitter. But eventually, I need the space and time to grieve, to bellow, to wail. And so, we go again the next day.

12 Years Ago Today

I must have taught thousands of music lessons over the years, and I couldn’t for a moment tell you about many of them. But I can tell you about my first one.

I had to teach a song to a group of Year 9 students in 15 minutes. To be really honest I hadn’t thought much past chunking it up. I had no idea of relevant pedagogy, retrieval practice, or honestly, what on Earth I was doing. Somehow, my enthusiasm, and the confidence of the very naive, bore me through.

This first ever lesson was in fact my interview for my PGCE course. I’m sure there were other components: hazily I remember some sort of literacy task of correcting a letter, I had to perform a piece on the flute and piano, and there was a formal interview, but the memory that stays with me was of the delight of the teenagers, who despite having been taught about 10 songs in 15 minute blocks all day, were still enjoying learning mine.

My PGCE was one of the best years of my life. I worked incredibly hard, but relished every second of dissecting pedagogy, creating new lessons, and learning the legalities of working with young people. Back then, we were taught to make lessons as engaging as possible, eschewing ‘learning’ for fun, being creative with mystery envelopes, the freedom of choice, classroom carousels – I loved every second of it!

I loved the variety of children in my different placement schools, from a well off grammar school to a rural Catholic school, to my favourite, a very comprehensive city comp. But what I remembered most of all, was the way our wonderful subject course tutor made us feel.

If we’d had a bad day, he would listen sympathetically to our tales of woe, never for a second making us feel judged for forgetting essential learnings, leading to the inevitable melt down of an otherwise carefully crafted lesson plan. He would delight in our successes, leaving us buoyant and giddy with his praise and obvious joy. For him, we went over and above the bare minimum in our assignments, longing to impress him. He saw us at the end of a busy week every Friday – but never let his tiredness affect how he connected with us.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate how rare he was – how, in my years to come, I would seek to find a leader as warm, authentic, loving and joyful as he. How I would long for the praise he would easily give out. How I longed for the stability he would present, no matter what other pressures he must have been under.

Through my recent difficult leadership journey, I’m now reconnecting with the kind of leader I want to be. I want to make my students and my colleagues feel inspired, valued, warm, joyful, and loved. I want them to feel as I did in my course tutor’s company, from the very first day I met him – at my PGCE interview, 12 years ago today.

The revelation: the truth of connection

I always felt that connecting with others was a strength of mine. Right from my SCITT days, over 11 years ago, I received feedback that my ‘relationships with students were really strong’. Everyone tells me I’m ‘bubbly’, ‘outgoing’ and ‘confident’. I was nice. To everyone. In every situation.

Much like Taylor Swift reveals in her documentary ‘Miss Americana’, I had built an entire belief system that being nice to people was the right thing to do. People would like me if I was nice – and people would think well of me. This was unshakeably the most important thing to me.

In line management, I would say ‘don’t worry!’ if someone had missed a deadline, or failed to do what I had asked them to. In my own line management meetings, I would say ‘no problem! Happy to help!’. At home, I would never argue with my husband.

When I went through post natal depression, I found it very difficult to articulate how I was feeling. I had only the very basics of emotional vocabulary: sad, happy, confused, mixed up. When the GP asked me how I’d been feeling, I struggled to speak. I’d based my entire being to this point on judging how I was feeling by how others saw me. I hadn’t connected with myself.

Returning to a high pressured role, still in the throes of post natal depression, feeling determined to be the bright, breezy, positive person I once was, was so clearly headed for disaster. How could I possibly connect with leaders, with my colleagues, and with my students, when I was completing blocking any aspect of connecting with myself?!

Now, I can see the importance of connecting with myself. I even schedule time to do this in peace each week, to try and take my temperature, and I’m not afraid to dig deeper to find out the why. since doing this, I’ve noticed a huge change in my leadership style.

Instead of being loud, outgoing, and breezy when interacting with my colleagues, I’m quieter. Instead of trying to make them like me, I listen. I’ve found out things I never knew before, and I notice so much more. I can hear their real thoughts and opinions, and with my leadership head on, can start to see how I would make changes to take their views on board.

Being nice to my colleagues isn’t about letting them off. It isn’t about taking the flak for them when they miss something. Through connecting with myself and with them, I can see I need to hold them to account, and I think about how I will do this.

Instead of rushing round school on my way to the next vital job in leadership, I take my time, I look around, and I can see. I see the child who walks round on their own, I stop them and I gently bring out their concerns. I laugh with the children who are celebrating their friends birthday, and I join in the merriment, to their great hilarity. I literally walk into the child about to be excluded, and listen, and connect, and I guide them towards the right choice.

The question will be – how to ensure this capacity for connection continues when I (someday) return to a leadership role? More than ever I value its importance in a) ensuring I’m the best leader I can be by connecting with myself and with my needs, b) building relationships and trust with my colleagues and pupils, and c) using connection to really notice the temperature of those I lead. Take the time to connect – you’ll be surprised at what you find.

Leading without a title

It’s a funny thing, going from huge responsibility for the running of the school to…nothing. After planning my lessons, marking my books, and printing my resources, I simply…go home. At breaks and lunchtimes I sit and eat my lunch, have a chat, surreptitiously check the BBC news website. It’s liberating, it’s relaxing, it’s peaceful, calming and it’s stress free. It’s weird.

I find it nigh on impossible to focus solely on one thing – when lesson planning, surely I should also be writing a document on last term’s attendance for the Governors, whilst simultaneously having a phone conversation with another senior leader about end of term arrangements, before suddenly remembering I’m on break duty in 2 minutes, and need a wee first?

In my more self-flagellatory moments, I wonder if I’ve destroyed my career for good. Surely no-one will want to employ an ex-golden girl, fallen spectacularly from grace, unable to cope with what everyone else seems to manage flawlessly – combining a new family with working life? Who wants a leader that can’t lead her own life?

I am buoyed by the connections I have made through twitter – the empowering roar of WomenEd and the MTPT Project. The knowledge and experience, backed up by infallible evidence, of countless leaders before me, that it can happen, you can have it all, and it will work! The reassurance of shared views and values through #SLTChat and #NewToSLTChat reinvigorate me. My transformative coaching sessions help me recognise my achievements, and forge a new pathway. I am re-assessing what it means to be a ‘strong’ leader, and owning my vulnerability.

At work, I find that although my official responsibilities have gone, the skills and attributes of leadership remain, and I discover to my surprise that more colleagues than ever approach me for advice. Not having a formal title clearly seems to make me far more approachable for informal advice. Taking a step back, rather than being in the thick of the action, enables me to see the broader issues, and excitingly, think of creative solutions.

Having the space and time to reflect on myself as a leader feels extremely indulgent, and strangely free-ing, after the sheer busyness of having every second accounted for – even down to scheduling time for a wee! I feel much more in tune with myself, my emotions, and as a result I can more clearly and confidently articulate what my strengths are, and where and how I need help. I love having the time to lift others up, providing much needed optimism and joy wherever I can. I now look forward to forging my new pathway in leadership, and I know I don’t need a title to do this.

The awkwardness of applying for a job

The excruciating, toe-curling cringe feeling of ‘bragging’ is not one I’ll ever be comfortable with. I might joke with colleagues, or even with students, projecting confidence, putting on the mask, and I might even laughingly say something along the lines of ‘I’m good, but I’m not that good’- when the reality is the voice in my head tells me something very different.

The thing is, every time I meet someone who seems poised, articulate and confident, I feel like an awkward teenager again. I stumble over my words, I feel lumpen and inarticulate – I feel entirely inconsequential. I am wasting their time.

I love being on twitter and conversing with my most admired edu-family. I would love to meet them in person – but the dread I would feel at my real life frumpy, dumpy personality not being as sparkly as the one I can portray online is so hard to overcome. I fear that I’d feel that the outfit I chose that looked so chic and polished at home, at once becomes wrong. What if I can’t remember how to stand, or work out where to put my hands. I’ll catch sight of my hunched shoulders in a window reflection, and try to straighten up. I’ll stand alone, feeling I don’t belong. My experience and knowledge becomes a stutter on my lips. Everything that is said is so clever, so informed, and I feebly nod along, with a few ‘mmm’s thrown in for good measure. I’ll slink away before anyone politely tries to include me in the conversation – what could I say that’s of any meaning?!

That woman now has to apply for her dream job, after facing a further knock to her confidence at work recently. She feels an imposter for every daring to read the job description – the voice in her head mocking ‘what’s the point even looking?! You’d never be worthy enough!’

I start to write. I don’t think about the structure, I don’t think about hitting the key words on the job description, I just write. I write about my passion, I write about my values, I write about my vision. I stop, blinking. I roll back my shoulders, and realise two hours have passed. I can’t face looking at the drivel I’ve written – not now. I can’t bear to look at what I’ve wasted two precious hours on while my baby naps.

The support I get on Twitter about applying for my dream job is unreal. I’m so grateful, yet I still feel that every word is fake – a polite platitude to a total stranger. If they knew me, if they knew how useless I was, they wouldn’t string me along this cruelly.

I come back to my writing a few days later. The vivacity, the positivity, the dynamism shine through. Maybe – just maybe, I can do this. The voice in my head quietens – for once. The voice in my gut says ‘Yes. You are worth this.’

Applying for a new job is always awkward. Bigging up your achievements when you believe you are inconsequential is so hard. But please – don’t listen to that familiar voice in your head. Listen to the one in your gut – the steel, the grit. Listen to the one voice that says ‘Yes. You are worth this.’

SLT – ‘us’ and ‘them’

“It’s easy for them – sat round a table making decisions – they don’t think about the impact on us.” Them. Us. Since stepping down from my SLT role, I’ve been exposed in an entirely new way to how many teachers, see SLT.

The referral to senior leaders as ‘SLT’, as though they are one homogenous lump, seems to me to make it easy to criticise and blame. By calling them this title, often accompanied by an eye roll, it’s almost dehumanising.

The reality, of course, is that a senior leadership team is made up of a whole host of different individuals, with contrasting fields of expertise and viewpoints. What many teachers perhaps won’t realise, is that every point is discussed, every possible outcome weighed up, and every aspect of the impact on students and colleagues is debated, often for hours, until a final decision is made. As so often with complex and sensitive environments, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ decision – but in most cases the impact will have been carefully considered before coming up with a best fit approach.

This means that sometimes, members of SLT who have fought and debated passionately for one point of view or one outcome are in the position of not only having to outwardly agree with a conflicting idea, but also will have to be instrumental in leading the change requested, no matter how much it goes against their heart.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for a ‘poor SLT’ approach. It is even clearer to me now, as ‘just’ a teacher, when SLT get it wrong. I now hear individual situations where it doesn’t seem as if every viewpoint has been considered – and I can see when the impact of an initiative on my teacher workload hasn’t been realised.

What I’ve come to realise is that communication is key. Effective SLT can be confident enough to explain the decision making process, the thought processes and considerations, therefore ensuring that colleagues are on side with effecting real change. Perhaps more importantly, effective SLT can take on board open and honest feedback from colleagues about the real life effect of a decision.

I have been reminded of the potential impact of my scope of as a leader. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is easily brokered by a culture of communication, and the courage to be honest when decisions haven’t gone well. When I return once more to leadership, I will be an advocate for the working lives of colleagues – and will ensure my thought processes behind my decisions are clear and open.

Beating Back to School Anxiety

I’m running down the corridor, shouting “Line up SENSIBLY please year 8” as my keys swing dangerously round my neck. Panting slightly (a lot) I let them into my classroom, and scrabble to get the lesson up on the board, whilst bellowing instructions at my class. It is at this point that I realise I’m still in my pyjamas.

Yes you guessed it – every English teacher’s favourite surprise twist – it was all a dream. As the return to school date looms unnervingly, the clutch of dread, the anxiety dreams and the general hum of background panic crank up their volume.

Having just had the joy of my first Christmas with my baby girl, the prospect of returning to the extreme busyness of a school day feels, frankly, as unwelcome as yet another meal consisting of cheese and chocolate. Judging by my twitter feed, EduTwitter seem polarised into two camps of either positively looking forward to seeing their students again, or lamenting the end of regular wees, hot drinks on tap, and Netflix. January always seems particularly bad, with the dark mornings and early evenings with not even the prospect of Christmas to look forward to, and, worse, the fact that everyone is hangry due to ill-fated diets and resolutions. So how do we cope with the back to school anxiety?

To-do lists are the ultimate art of the organised – the act of getting it out of one’s head and down in black (or red, or green, or purple) and white can banish those swirling thoughts and allow you to sleep peacefully. My favourite suggestion to upgrade this is having a pad by the bed to get down those 3am moments of sitting up bolt upright with an obscure and overlooked ‘to-do’ on your mind to add to the list.

Cleaning out your school bag is a particular favourite of mine – there’s something about rooting out the wizened banana, leaky pens, hair bobbles (why? Why so many?!) and the shameful scrumpled Macdonalds bag that makes me keen to start afresh, revolving to keep this state of bag organisation for all of the first week at least…

Buying a new coat was a new one on me, and although swishing around the playground during lunch duty in a delicious toffee-coloured trench sounds appealing, perhaps it would be more useful to flat out buy something bulky enough to protect from Year 10’s errant football, Year 8’s cheeky snowballs and Year 7’s snotty tears – maybe a tank?!

But in all seriousness – returning to work after the holidays can be really tough. Some things I’ve found that really help me include:

Listing the positives – which students are you looking forward to seeing again? You know the ones – with funny stories about their holidays, and a cheerful grunt of recognition when they see you. There’s always some extra colleague gossip from the end of term festivities that you can eek some more juice out of, and sometimes a return to routine after days of excess can be a blessing.

Hydration. Hydration at school is always a delicate balancing act between being a dried out angry headache monster to dancing manically to avoid the pelvic floor giving up, but I find it is key to making me feel able to cope with the day.

Sometimes the return to work is frustrating, particularly if you feel like you need a new challenge. Search for new opportunities – believe me, they’re out there! It could be just the thing to reinvigorate your passion for education. Alternatively, it may be the time to question whether your school is really for you, and to look elsewhere for a new role.

Finally – connect with others. Take the time to say hello to your students and colleagues. Enjoy conversations about the weird and wacky! Look around at the positives, of which there are many in our funny, frustrating and demanding jobs, and spread the joy.

Know this – whatever you do to beat the back to school anxiety over the next few days, it’ll never be as bad as you thought when you actually get there!

#Confidence: Surviving a demotion; believing in myself and rebuilding confidence

The awkward, quick smiles. The questioning glances. The open, naked curiosity. The conversations that stop when you enter a room. Recently, I was demoted from my leadership role. Well, actually, I stepped down, but in the high flying, high powered, and high ambition culture of my MAT, the shame that other people feel for you means that a voluntary demotion is tantamount to having to be escorted from the premises. It isn’t what people say, of course, but is certainly the side glances, the sympathy, the whispered discussions.

When the news of your demotion is about to publicly break you have two options: 1) keep your head down, ride out the humiliation, and quietly crawl along, or 2) own your own story, keep your head up high, and soar. My outwards facing mask is certainly the latter: making my own announcement on Twitter, contacting relevant colleagues to tell them personally, and of course, writing these blog posts. To the world I hope it appears that I am holding my head high – owning my vulnerability.

The reality? Hiding behind my breezy ‘authenticity’ of smiling brightly and saying (yet again) “It’s so great that I now have balance in my life” is a more complex picture: shame; hurt; frustration; exhaustion; but above all, a lack of confidence and self belief.

Keeping myself busy in my classroom to avoid the stares in the staffroom, and skulking round the school to avoid the sympathetic smiles of my former leadership colleagues cannot continue – nor can getting excited and carried away with an idea of how to improve an aspect of education before realising that I have no power to uphold it. The frustrated leader in me needs a passion.

So now to my Pledge For Change in 2020: be 10% braver to find my passion, believe in myself to make the steps to achieve it, and have the confidence to make it happen.

Being 10% braver: I want to put myself out there more. I’m going to write more blog posts, continue to be open and authentic on twitter, and also offer to speak at upcoming edu conferences and events.

Believing in myself: I’m going to challenge my own negative thoughts and perceptions, as well as filtering comments from others.

Being more confident: I want to have the confidence to articulately and calmly challenge other people when they belittle me or my needs.

Thank you in advance for your support in helping me to build my confidence in 2020 – I can’t wait to read about how you will be making a change for #WomenEd this year.

Defeating the gremlins – who is in your head?

My heartbeat thuds dully in my ears. I feel hot, uncomfortable, my blood pricking at my skin as I feel the tell-tale flush creeping up my neck. My stomach feels like it is dropping away, leaving a gaping hole of worry. My fingers clutch at something; anything to occupy them. My throat feels blocked – invisible fingers of malice squeezing tightly.

Physically, this is what happens to me when I am in ‘crisis’. Recently, overwhelmed by pressures from my post natal depression and returning from maternity leave into a leadership role, crisis incidents have included: having difficult conversations with my line manager; asking for something I wanted or needed; and my worst fear, being asked questions that I hadn’t prepared for on the spot. As a result, as you can imagine, my responses were not what you would expect from a confident, controlled and measured leader. Walking away from the crisis, I often felt frustration for the situation not going as I had hoped.

My wonderful coach asked me – who is in your head at these moments? What are their motivators and drivers?

Meet my cast of characters; my glorious gremlins who for so long have ruled my life.

Ms Panic

Frizzy haired, pale and wan, frumpy – Ms Panic is the loudest voice in my crises. She will blurt out the first thing that comes into her head in an attempt to make the situation go away. She is an avid people pleaser, who craves reassurance.

Miss Useless

‘What’s the point?!’ She sneers. ‘You will never be clever enough, articulate enough, or worthy enough to truly put yourself across as a leader.’ She’s right – stay where it’s easy and comfy. Avoid risk.

Future Fear

A mistress of catastrophising, Future Fear protects me from leaping ahead. Future Fear reminds me of every possible scenario where my risk taking goes wrong…

Captain Courage

Captain Courage is the mask I try to wear towards my colleagues. Captain Courage is warm, generous and buoyed by confidence and joy. Captain Courage sprinkles positivity around like glitter – raising everyone up around her.

Cheerleader – Rosie

It is no coincidence my Cheerleader shares my daughter’s name. She is the little voice that whispers “…maybe I am good enough? Maybe I deserve to feel the warmth radiating from Captain Courage everyday? Maybe, just maybe, I can be whoever I want?!” Cheerleader sees the truth – and whispers it quietly, when no-one else can hear.

All I have wanted for a long time is to defeat these gremlins – to fight and destroy them, to banish their confusing and conflicting aims from my mind. But recently I have begun to realise the support and use each of my gremlins have. Yes – Ms Panic, Miss Useless and Future Fear have negative agendas – but despite their destructive intentions, sometimes it is helpful to consider their points of view. Perhaps instead of killing off these voices, I instead need to become master of my mind’s mixing desk – dialling up the voices I need to hear more of, making them louder in the mix, whilst still acknowledging the helpful points of the others.

Now in crisis mode, I try to stop, breathe, and listen. I listen to the gremlins, and ensure I increase the volume of Captain Courage, and my Cheerleader. I listen to Future Fear, and try to decide when her concerns are valid, and when she is needlessly catastrophising. I listen to, but then try to dismiss Ms Panic and Miss Useless. Their voices have no place here.

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