#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Awareness

noun. knowledge or perception of a situation or fact; concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development.

Awareness is the state of being conscious of something. More specifically, it is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be cognizant of events.

Awareness is a big part of the work I now do as a Leadership Development Consultant, Coach and Trainer specialising in DEI and MHWB. As an accredited RLE and C-Me coach awareness is central to the coaching conversations I have with clients and the training I design and deliver.

In Resilient Leaders Elements (RLE) the framework breaks the element of awareness down into 3 facets: self, others and environment. This triangulation is important to consider as some people may be hyper self-aware, others may be deeply empathetic to others, whilst other people may be really affected by the environment (ie workplace culture rather than climate) they are in.

Awareness is about doing the inner work to do the outer work, it is about reflective and understanding ourselves in order to understand others and how we all show up in the world. Awareness for me has also been about identifying what brings me joy and what triggers me: so I can self-manage my emotions and my resilience; so I can activate my beliefs and my values; so I can choose who I align myself with.

Raising awareness is something I have found myself naturally leaning into over the years: raising awareness of #WomenEd and gender inequalities in education; raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues affecting our staff and students; raising awareness of the diversity, equity and inclusion needs of our school system and our workforce; raising awareness of the #IamRemarkable campaign from Google and the opportunities that LeanIn extend to women around the world.

I can remember being interviewed by Dr Kay Fuller, Nottingham University, for the research she and Dr Jill Berry were collaborating on about the impact of #WomenEd on those involved. Kay asked me about my activism, she referred to me as being a social activist. This was not a label I had identified with up until this point in my journey, and I have reflected on it ever since.

We raise awareness about the things we care about, the things we are passionate about, the things that impact us and our school communities. Each time I tweet, write a blog or article or speak at an event I am conscious that I am raising awareness of the things that I am involved in, the areas that interest me and the ideas/ beliefs that drive me.

Awareness is about putting our heads above the parapet, disseminating our ideas, cascading our learning, building our legacy and leveraging our networks.

So what I am currently banging on my drum about? What is at the top of my list of things I want to continue to raise awareness about this academic year and this term?

I want to continue to prioritise raising awareness about the important of the role of a DEI Leader in schools.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year many people from my network started disclosing that they were feeling compromised – they had been approached to lead DEI in their context, but they knew it was because of their protected characteristic. They felt the burden of responsibility but also they were acutely aware of the vulnerability of this position. Moreover, most of them had been asked to take on this role for free (ie for love and for passion). They were not being offered additional time, additional training nor additional money.

We created a DM group that soon filled up on Twitter so we now have 2 groups of people leaning into leading DEI work in their schools. The vast majority of these individuals were assigned female at birth and identify as being women. An important factor to consider as I bang my drum about asking people to do this work (ie burden and additional load) for free.

In response, Angie Browne and I developed the DEI Leaders Programme to support them on their journey to combat the fear, to address the isolation and to create a safe space to explore the vulnerability of this important work.

In addition, I created a space each half-term for DEI leaders who were not formally working with us to come together informally to form a DEI Leaders Network as an opportunity to connect, to collaborate and to peer support.

I also began to collate DEI leaders job descriptions, person specifications and adverts so that the individuals could negotiate the framing of this role in their school/ trust. It has been heartening to see a flurry of tweets in the last few months of people from our network and from our programme being formally appointed and properly remunerated for this role in our schools.

My provocation:

Would we ask a SENCO or a DSL to strategically lead their whole school responsibility with out framing their role, giving them additional time, adequately resourcing their area (budget for books/ training) and elevating their sphere of influence to at the very least associate senior leadership?

For all of the schools leaning into DEI work I encourage you to review your infrastructure. The DSL and SENCO do not carry the burden of all of the safeguarding and all of the SEN work on their shoulders, they have a team of people they can distribute the load across, but moreover the collective responsibility of the whole staff team is expected. In my opinion, DEI needs to be framed in the same way.

We would not ask an adult who had been vulnerable to lead safeguarding based on their lived experience nor an adult with an additional need to lead SENCO without the framing, the training, the support and the accountability around them, once they had been identified as the most appropriate person to lead this work and fulfil the responsibilities of the role. So we should not be approaching the staff of colour, the staff who are LGBTQIA+ to do this work, simply because of their identity, and moreover we should not be asking them to do it without a formal process to identify they are the person who is best-positioned to lead this work, and thereby adequately remunerating them.

I thereby pledge to continue to bang my drum, to continue to raise awareness of the need for all schools to name someone to be the strategic lead for DEI, to appoint them and to adequately remunerate and support them so that the role does not perpetuate the glass ceilings, the concrete ceilings and the glass cliffs that already exist in the school system.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Affirmation

Noun. the action or process of affirming something; emotional support or encouragement.

* The word affirmation comes from the Latin affirmare, originally meaning “to make steady, strengthen.”

It is interesting to reflect on which themes create flow for our group of writers and which ones make the head (and the heart) hurt whilst we grapple to unpack a word to get some words on the page. I usually write and share before I read and share the other posts but I fell behind with my writing this month, so I have just had a peek at everyone else’s angles on this topic.

The tension between the head and the heart, the internal and the external, is an interesting one to mull over for the theme of affirmation…

Are we seeking others to affirm us, to make us steady, to strength us?

Or are we affirming ourselves, steadying ourselves and strengthening ourselves?

I have pulled out some threads from the other posts that have been shared this month:

To affirm…

To confirm something to be true…

Lindsay’s post talks about the imposter syndrome and needing evidence to make something true, to affirm it. It made me think of how obsessed we are as teachers with evidence. Is it more important to show it then it is to know it?  

To manifest…

To encourage positive changes in our lives…

Annelouise’s post dismissed the mantras and affirmations you can find on the internet as they are generic and not personalised. They are a good starting point, but we need to affirm ourselves in our own words to truly be able to own it.

To appreciate…

To give and receive feedback…

Fiona’s post reflects on the trust needed in a relationship before we can believe and accept affirmation from others. As educators we nurture others, we affirm others as part of our daily practice but who affirms us?

To strengthen…

To give assurance and support…

Chris’ post explored the etymology of the word affirmation and broke down what it means to affirm someone else and the impact it has on the receiver. He repeated the word transmission and posed how a look, a gesture is all it takes to affirm another human being.

To compliment…

To accept and assimilate praise…

Jess’ post unpacked her upbringing and how she struggles with accepting and believing praise bestowed upon her. And in turn how this has shaped her as a parent and a teacher in ensuring that she praises others, and encourages them to believe it.

To steady…

To reinforce and to empower from within…  

For me an affirmation comes from within. It is how you think and feel about yourself. It is an internal validation, instead of an external one. It is an active belief.  Affirmations help purify our thoughts and restructure the dynamic of our brains so that we truly begin to think nothing is impossible and that anything is possible.

We are what we think.

I often suggest creating a daily affirmation as part of my coaching and my leadership development work. It is a powerful tool for positive thinking and self-empowerment as an affirmation is a self-validation and projects to the universe what we want to manifest in our lives.

An affirmation is an antidote to the Inner Critic and the Imposter Syndrome. An affirmation is about making your inner world and your internal voice, louder, stronger and more powerful than some of the negative voices in your head and some of the critical voices in your life.   

In the work I do with Resilient Leaders Elements one of the tools is the strengths mantra, which affirms your values, forces you to articulate where your strengths lie and reminds you what you should be leading with, as we often zoom into and amplify our areas for development and lead with them instead. My clients often struggle with articulating who they are at their best and I challenge them to dig deep and to find the words to articulate who they are as opposed to who they have been told they are!  

Perhaps as educators we need to practise what we preach when it comes to believing our own strengths, our own impact and our own value. Our inability to do this is often compounded by our identity, our Britishness can get in our way, our belief systems instilled in us by others can also be a barrier which makes me link to the #IamRemarkable sessions I run and our relationship with self-advocacy and humility.  

I believe that affirmations start from within. It is an internal process instead of an external process. It is about affirming ourselves, rather than seeking or receiving affirmation from others. It is about owning who we are, standing by the choices we make and accepting ourselves but focusing on the strengths instead of the perceived weaknesses.

To affirm ourselves is to live our values, to affirm our values and to strengthen our values.

To affirm ourselves is to know the value we have and the value we add.  

To affirm ourselves is to own who we are and to be proud of who we are.

To affirm ourselves is to self-validate, to self-empower and to increase our sense of self-worth.

To affirm ourselves is to self-advocate.

I have spent the summer affirming my personal and professional choices. Working independently, and going solo during lockdown, meant that any affirmation that I did use to receive from others (from my colleagues and former teams), disappeared overnight.  My affirmation now comes from my clients – the people I coach, the people I train, the people I develop – but mainly from myself.

We need to empower ourselves, as much as we empower others, to affirm who we are. We need to understand ourselves, at our essence, to believe who we are.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Expectation(s)

noun. a strong belief that something will happen or be the case; another term for expected value (a predicted value of a variable, calculated as the sum of all possible values each multiplied by the probability of its occurrence).

I have always had high expectations of myself and others, in my professional and my personal life. It comes from the simple family rules and values my parents instilled in us as children, and it also comes from the work ethic they established as self-employed small business owners.

Professional Expectations:

For 2 decades, working in the school system I operated within the processes and systems of schools. I knew how to set and maintain expectations for students around learning, behaviour, homework, uniform and standards. Furthermore, I knew how to reward and sanction those expectations.

I knew how to set and maintain expectations for staff around performance, productivity and professionalism. I knew how to show appreciation, how to support and challenge, and how to be a critical friend.

I knew how to set and maintain expectations for parents and carers around working with us and supporting their child to attend, to behave, to learn and to be a positive contribution to the school community. I knew how to communicate with stakeholders and how to develop relationships.

I didn’t realise how institutionalised I was until I left headship and started working for myself. Suddenly everything I knew how to do seemed different and how I knew how to be was being tested and needed to evolve.

I am now in charge of my time, my energy, my diary, my workflow. I can say Yes and I can say No to what and whom I like.

I have done a lot of work on my boundaries and how accessible I am over the last few years and I push back when I get messages about work on social media and messages out of hours on whatsapp. My standard response is “Lovely to hear from you, please can you email me and I will check my diary and respond in working hours”. If I don’t make my expectations clear around communication then things get messy and blurry very quickly, people also expect me to at their disposal 24/7.

Setting and reinforcing expectations with professional contacts has been a work in progress over the last year of working independently. It is nuanced when the professional relationship overlaps with personal contacts as friends are often the ones who cross the boundary of asking me work questions and favours in the evenings and weekends via whatsapp when I am trying to decompress.

I manage different relationships and stakeholders now and here are some of my reflections:

With coachees – being clear in the contracting phase of the relationship established how we will interact, how often we will communicate, how much challenge and support they want is really important when you are coaching someone. I have been coached by different people who have managed this in different ways so I have amalgamated some of their strategies to create my style of doing this.

With clients – I have spent hours in meetings with prospective clients, listening and consulting, then submitting proposals. I am always staggered at how few then acknowledge the time and energy this has taken and ignore the proposal for weeks and months. For the clients who do commit, being clear on deadlines, time frames, meeting commitments and payment is key, as is clarifying the expectations of the cancellation policy.

With associates – this has been the hardest one to navigate as I am used to working with people who I am senior to, who I line manage and performance manage, who I am developing and holding to account. Working with other independent people who work in different ways and aligning them has been a learning curve. I have reflected a lot on who I work well with and why this is. I have a tight inner circle of people who I collaborate regularly with, and our styles compliment each other as we bring out the best of each other.

With partners – another interesting dynamic, we have 5 named partners for Diverse Educators and we agreed the commitment at the start of this academic year. I have recently held review meetings with each of them to get feedback on whether their expectations have been met, for me partnership is a mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationship, a collaboration. Each organisation has had their own way of supporting us and we are reviewing if these partnerships will be extended into another academic year.

With volunteers – I still do a lot of pro bono work and I collaborate with a lot of people who gift their time, energy and expertise very generously. Co-editing the #DiverseEd book is an example of this. My project management skills have kicked in and I have been the admin for the last year coordinating the comms, the meetings, the deadlines – we have had a tight timeline to work within but our team of 110 people are all in full-time employment so balancing expectations during school lockdown

Personal Expectations:

I have a large and varied group of friends but they all know that with me what they see is what they get. They also know if they want an honest answer or some support/advice that I am always there for them.

I had some therapy sessions at the start of the year as we were having some post lockdown family dramas and one of the things my therapist worked with me on is meeting people 50:50 and holding myself back from going 70:30 which is my natural tendency. Over-compensating and making allowances for others have been my Achille’s heel at times in my relationships – they are things I reflect on and try to reframe.

I think sometimes it is harder to be clear on expectations in personal relationships than it is in professional relationships as there is more nuance. Especially if the friendship is a historic one and it has not evolved as each individual has.

I have some relationships that have served me for nearly 4 decades, but I also have friendships that have naturally fizzled out. During lockdown a number of old contacts got back in touch, which was lovely, but virtual reconnection is different to physical reconnection.

The last year has been an opportunity to reflect on who and what brings us joy, who and what serves us, who and what we want to amplify in our lives. It has also been an opportunity to realign our expectations of ourselves and others.

It has taken me a month to process and write this piece as I reflected on my expectations of myself and others, along with the expectations others have of me. I need to process my thoughts before I could write them down and articulate them. So my final thoughts are my expectations of myself and others moving forwards.

Some of my expectations of myself:

  • Be values-led – I live my values and operate in an ethical way
  • Be purposeful – I make sure what I do is aligned with my why
  • Be efficient – I manage my time and energy well
  • Be effective – I am clear on how I will add value and have impact
  • Be supportive – I empower others to be REAL (resilient, empowered, authentic leaders)
  • Be challenging – I help others to grow and learn

Some of my expectations of others:

  • Be honest – I am a candid person and expect openness from others
  • Be loyal – I have people’s backs and I expect them to have mine too
  • Be trustworthy – I am trusted with a lot of confidential information and expect others to be discrete too
  • Be reliable – I do what I say I will do and expect others to do the same
  • Be responsive – I am a communicator and I try to acknowledge all comms in good time
  • Be punctual – I strive to be on time as it shows respect and I expect this from others

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Togetherness

noun. the state of being close to another person or other people.

After writing so much last year and finding it really cathartic, I fell off of the writing bus in the Autumn as my life began to get busier, I am constantly thinking about (normally when in the shower or in the car) all of the things I want to write about, but I need to intentionally return to the writing habit to make this happen.

I also wonder if this theme has been a particularly hard one to sit with, following the sense of isolation of the last 12 months.

Being together.

I am a sociable person, I have a large friendship group and an even larger professional network. I am often referred to as a social butterfly. I am used to having a busy social life, have lots in my diary to look forwards to and lots of ways to connect with different people, in person. I know that I have a skill in bringing people together, in creating a sense of belonging and togetherness for others.

As a teacher, I have always felt the sense of “we are in this together” as a team. After a bad lesson, a difficult meeting, a tricky phone call there is always someone to have a chat to, a cuppa with or a rant to. I always strived to create an inclusive classroom where we felt like a team, there was a sense of unity and my learners knew they belonged. I tried to make all of my students feel both seen and heard.

As a leader, I never felt alone, as I have built circles of support around me. I have surrounded myself with people who I trust and respect. They have my back and I have theirs. Both in school, in trusts and in the grassroots spaces I have occupied I have created strong relationships, many of which have become friendships and have outlasted the roles I have held.

As a Headteacher, I built a dynamic team around me, a start up school journey is a bonding experience, we all had to be team players and be committed to the sense of togetherness to make it a success. Even when I was dragged through the tabloids for our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, it gave us a sense of togetherness and made some of these bonds stronger. We had a shared vision, a unified purpose, and a collective determination.

I perhaps took lots of this for granted.

Relocating for a new role, I had perhaps not considered the full extent of the emotional labour of leaving my vast support network in London and starting over. For a while my social life was solely through my professional network, and it took a while to reestablish myself. I didn’t have time, that is I didn’t make time, to have hobbies and interests to meet new people outside of my work circle. My social life moved from evenings to weekends, my friendships moved from little and often to a weekend every once in a while. Over time this has changed, I have a greater sense of belonging and togetherness in my new area, aided by buying a house and anchoring myself. I have created a new support network around me.

Leaving the school system, spending a short period in a university role, made me appreciate how institutionalised I am in how I like to work. Being part of a team, having a sense of camaraderie, has always been part of my professional identity and journey. I don’t mind working hard when I can play hard too, when there is a spirit of generosity and an atmosphere of positive team work. Loyalty is an important value for me, as is respect and I left the role quickly as the sense of togetherness was fractured and not being nurtured, and I felt disempowered that I could not fix it.

Going independent, working solo for the first time in my 42 years of existence has been a steep learning curve on togetherness. As a connector, a collaborator and a network builder, I have created the circles of support, the extended team, the critical friends and the collective spaces that I need around me. I get reached out to regularly by fellow consultants and coaches who feel adrift at sea who are looking to connect, who are looking to find a safe harbour to put their anchor down.

Working alone, working at home, working virtually means that you need to forge a sense of togetherness in a different way. You can’t pop in for a chat, you don’t bump into people at events, you don’t meet the clients and coachees you spend hours with so the togetherness very much exists in the virtual world. I have an image in my head of some of the people I now work very closely with who I have never met!

The global pandemic has also challenged our sense of togetherness. Not seeing our friends, families and loved ones for a protracted time has meant that relationships have evolved. I have reconnected with lots of people from my past, and I have lost contact with lots of people in my present.

As we emerge from the darkness of the last year, I hope that we can all reestablish a sense of togetherness. At times during the pandemic there has been a strong sense of community, of belonging, of bonds through shared passions and commitments, at other times there has been a sense of isolation.

One of my mantras is collaboration over competition, and I wholeheartedly believe that there is an abundance of opportunities out there that we can embrace together. Connecting with others, coming together purposefully as a community to collaborate on shared passions is what I am looking forward to.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change  the world: Indeed it's the … | Margaret mead quotes, Inspirational quotes,  Margaret mead

After all, as the African Proverb states: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge – Boundaries, by Elizabeth Walsh-Iheoma

When Boundaries are Broken, Speak Up!

I am an introvert by nature. My default is listening and observing more than talking. What I really enjoy observing though, (particularly in films) is when an introverted person like me, speaks up because a line has been crossed. A boundary has been broken.  I sense an awakening in me. A liberation of some sorts.  A fearlessness and hope rising within me. A voice prompting ‘You can do this too. Stop observing. Speak up and give someone else hope!”.

I recently watched my favourite scene (for the umpteenth time) from Steven Spielberg’s film, The Colour Purple (1985). It is the emotionally charged dinner scene towards the end of the film where Celie Harris, the protagonist finally speaks up. This scene is powerful because of the horrifying abuse that she has been subjected to throughout her life by her father and her callous husband. So many boundaries have been crossed. So many values compromised. When she speaks, she gives hope to one of her female companions, Sofia who has also experienced unjust treatment. Seeing the once meek Celie speak up, gives Sofia the courage to tell her story of oppression and injustice and when she finishes her story, she is able to relax, smile and eat. Something in Celie had come alive. Celie was manifesting the behaviour of a liberated human being who would begin to consciously exercise her boundaries and in so doing was also liberating those around her.

I was brought up to be polite and to be always agreeable. As I grew, I had a fear that if I spoke up and communicated my boundaries, something terrible would happen. I would hurt people’s feelings and would probably lose close friends. Whenever I want to default to silent observation mode, I think of this dinner scene and I think of the liberating effect speaking up will have for me and for others who might be observing. Speaking up and making people aware of your boundaries does far better good than harm.

Here are five reasons to speak up when boundaries have been broken:

  1. It instils hope in those observing and empowers them to do the same.
  2. It has a ripple effect in that you are speaking up for others who struggle to find a voice to be heard.
  3. It creates a safe and transparent environment.
  4. It prepares you to be a better ally for others.
  5. It prepares you to confidently speak up on bigger issues in the future.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Impact

Noun. the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another; a marked effect or influence.

Verb. come into forcible contact with another object; have a strong effect on someone or something.

When I think of impact I reflect on the gap between the intent and the reality. A lot of people want to make an impact, to have an impact, to create a legacy of impact, but many fall short. We need to reflect on why this is. Throughout my career I have learned as much from impactful leaders as I have from leaders who have little or no impact. Observing leaders who fail to have impact can be uncomfortable to observe and experience, but we can also ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

Who or what comes to mind when you reflect on:

  • The impact of great leadership and positive role models?
  • The impact of poor leadership and negative role models?

My reflection: I have had had some brilliant line managers in my career who have shaped me as a leader: Pam my HOD when I was a NQT, Rob my VP when I was AP and Andy my EHT all had a lasting effect on my and I have absorbed some of their ways of being and ways of doing into my leadership repertoire. I won’t name the poor leaders I have experienced but that list is a lot longer! Line managers who have taught me how I don’t want to lead and how I don’t want to be led. The leaders who were not impactful in their roles, had a negative impact on my wellbeing and job satisfaction, but they still made me a better leader as they made me more resilient, more robust, more determined.

When I consider why this is, I go back to leadership change theory and strategic thinking. Impact needs to be intentional, deliberate and by design; instead of being by luck or by chance. The desired impact of a policy, practice or project needs to be built into the plan, the impact needs to be evaluated throughout to inform the course of action. To have lasting impact we need to think and behave in the macro/ think in the long term to ensure that what is initiated, is implemented and institutionalised to become embedded, to form legacy.

Firstly we need to be clear on:

Who or what do we want to impact? And more importantly, why the impact is desired?

  • Impact on self
  • Impact on others
  • Impact on our environment

My reflection: I have spent a lot of time in the last few years, ensuring that I feature on my radar as well as others. As a servant leader, my previous roles have become all-consuming as I have been focused on the impact on others, but I have not observed/ or I have chosen to ignore the impact it has had on me. Heightening our sense of self-awareness enables us to be reflective and to rebalance when things become pressurised and stressful; considering how we impact others enables us to modify our behaviours and temper our language to be intentional about how things land; being aware of our environment enables us to leverage the processes and the people around us to both frame and contextualise our impact.

As Leaders How Do We Make an Impact?

Our individual and collective impact can be broken down into 3 categories of behaviour:

  1. What I/we say
  2. What I/we do
  3. What I/we pay attention to

My reflection: I am a direct person and my candour can sometimes seem abrasive, I have been working on intentionally filtering and softening my messaging when considering my audience and how they need to hear what I want to say. I am a confident, empowered and assertive person and this can often intimidate others, and I sometimes bring out the worse in others as I trigger their insecurities; I have become resilient to disrupting the status quo and making myself unpopular in the process. I have a strong sense of my ethical code and my values guide my focus and where I invest my time, energy and resource. I am tenacious in what I commit to and I know this can be wearing for others at times.

As Leaders How Do We Increase Our Impact?

I read an article recently about the ‘Circle of Impact’ and it broke it down into 3 pillars, with 3 connectors:

  • Vision, Values, Purpose
  • Structures, Ideas, Relationships

My reflection: creating a strategy for our impact is key. As a school leader my vision was often shaped by the organisation I was working for and the role I was being paid to do, but the values I brought to that role individualised it and that is where I humanised the impact I had as an individual. I am a purposeful and passionate person who has impact through my hard work and my drive for success, but I have also had impact through influencing others. Pioneering ideas, nurturing relationships and harnessing the structural mechanisms of the organisation have enabled me to maximise my impact. Stepping out of the system and leading in the grassroots space and now independently has made me consider the impact I want to have and how I will strategise it, communicate it and evaluate it from a different leverage point.

Many leaders have the intent to have impact, but they do not have the clarity of direction, the strategic vision, the leadership presence to realise this intent. When considering the impact we have, we have had and we want to have, we can distill down the behaviours and actions that have served us as leaders and enabled us to have impact. We are often quick to judge others and can see the gaps in leaders around us, but by self-scrutinising we can learn from previous successes and failures to maximise our impact moving forwards.

My final thoughts on impact are how we articulate it. In my #IamRemarkable sessions I emphasise how we evidence our successes and demonstrate our impact. We need to consider the qualitative and quantitative ways we can substantiate and exemplify the impact we have as a leader and gather the evidence as we go so we weave it into our leadership narratives and the story we share with others about the leaders we are and the impact we have.

#ResilientWomenLeaders

This morning we hosted our first in a series of events to celebrate #IWD2021. I was joined by 4 of my fellow consultant coaches form the Resilient Leaders Elements community for our empowerment event – Audrey, Isa, Skye and Yamina. Each speaker unpacked one of the elements that forms the foundations of our RLE coaching framework. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge and each speaker shared what they had chosen to challenge and the impact this had had on them, both personally and professionally.

First up was Audrey, who explored the element of Clarity of Direction, which is underpinned by the facets of Strategic Intent, Unifying Purpose and Determination. Audrey shared the journey she has been on in reidentifying her professional goals and reframing her personal identity since leaving headship. She was courageous in her open and honest narrative about being in the fog, and she shared the steps that she took to move forwards and identify a new goal. Her Strategic Intent emerged as she focused on her strengths and the value she could add, her Unifying Purpose manifested as she sought feedback from others about where they saw her going, and her determination empowered her to navigate this period of uncertainty and to come out the other side stronger and clearer on who she is, and what she does.

Next up was Isa, who unpacked the element of Awareness, which is underpinned by the facets of Self, Others and Awareness. Isa deconstructed a global large scale project she had led in a formal role and modelled how she raised awareness across an organisation and with collaborative partners to empower 80,000 employees to volunteer in their local communities to pay it forward. Her awareness of Self was in how she had held a mirror up to the leaders who were driving this project forwards with their teams to understand how they showed up, her focus on Others was on engaging the leaders in deploying their teams and the Environment was significant in the social responsibility aspect of this work.

Skye shared her story for Leadership Presence next, and this was special as it was the first time she had articulated her journey over the last few years. This element is underpinned by the facets of Authenticity, Serving and Intentional. She reflected on her journey as an officer serving in the British Army and her experiences as a medic being deployed to war zones. She moved on to share her intentional bridging career as a physiotherapist serving the soldiers who have been traumatised by war and later a rugby team. Throughout her story she surfaced her exploration of her authenticity as a woman in leadership, in male heavy domains and how this led to her identity crisis as a mother looking for a different lifestyle in fulfilling her purpose and career goals.

Lastly, we heard from Yamina who led us through a discovery about Resilient Decision Making and the underpinning facets of Creative, Robust and Versatile. Her story was raw as it is current and she is still processing it. She openly shared how she has grappled with the decision to make a big career decision. She reflected on how she was weighed up the pros and cons to make a robust decision. This resonated with many of the audience who are at crossroads in their journeys. Yamina shared how she tackled this situation and the reflective process through which she had deliberated to create the best outcome for herself, her family and her future. Her objective approach to this dilemma showed how we can approach problems and resolve them to find the solution that will enable us to be the best version of us.

Following the storytelling from each speaker who brought an element to life, we had breakout rooms to reflect on the shared learnings and we gathered the collective wisdom in the room. As we approached the end of our morning together we held a panel where the audience could follow up with questions to the speakers to help each other apply the RLE framework to their own personal and professional journeys. We finished with an individual commitment as we all made a #ChooseToChallenge pledge for 2021.

Thank you to our speakers for your radical candour. Thank you to our audience for your engagement. I left feeling inspired and empowered by you all!

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Pride – an anonymous post

I grew up with a biblical interpretation of pride and have tried to steer clear from being a proudful person. It is not easy. How am supposed to feel when I have achieved something great against all odds?

My instinct is to feel proud and exclaim ‘Look at what I did!’ and post it on every social media platform. What could possibly be wrong with pride? The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible lists forty-nine occasions where pride appears in the Bible.

There are 14 different words that can also be translated as pride. Nevertheless, in all its usage it has been translated as negative. (I stand to be corrected).  Here are few examples:

New King James Version

I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” (1 Samuel 17:28)

But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him (Daniel 5:20)

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

Using more modern Bible translations gives me greater clarity on the pitfalls of pride:

New International Version

 ‘I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” (1 Samuel 17:28)

The Clear Word Bible

‘But when he became proud and stubborn, he also became insensitive and was removed from his throne and stripped of his glory’ (Daniel 5:20)

‘Pride leads to self-destruction and arrogance to a man’s downfall’ (Proverbs 16:18)

When my pride leads me to be conceited, stubborn, insensitive, self-destructive, and arrogant- then it is not helpful. I can be proud of my achievements and the achievements of others, but I also need to be sensitive with how I share that with others.

Pride in my achievements should acknowledge the contributions of others; that I did not make it on my own, but I made it because there was that someone who: had my back; who prayed for me or who gave me that encouraging text message, phone call or email. Acknowledging others in my achievements, safeguards against an arrogant and insensitive attitude.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Boundaries

Noun. A line which marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

A fence. A perimeter. A border. A line. A limit.

Boundaries are problematic at the best of times but the last year has meant that work-life boundaries have blurred. The boundaries that once defined our personal and professional spaces – both physical and mental – have smudged into one. As we chase the light at the end of the tunnel and we emerge from a year of hibernating in our caves, it is an opportunity for us to reflect on the boundaries that we will need to not only survive but to also thrive in a new way of being as our lives resume.

How we look after ourselves, our commitment to our own wellbeing and self-care, is more important now than ever before. I reflect a lot on how well I establish and reinforce my boundaries – both personally and professionally. I review and reflect on the boundaries I have created and make sure they are communicated and respected. Our boundaries need to be healthy so that they serve us, so that they protect us.

“Setting boundaries is an act of love to yourself and an act of respect towards others”. Lisa Olivera

In my opinion, boundaries are not about being selfish, they are about self-preservation.

How I set my boundaries:

  • Being clear on what I value
  • Being clear on what I am responsible for
  • Being clear on what I need
  • Being clear on what I will honour

7 types of boundaries we need to establish and be aware of:

  1. Emotional – establishing inappropriate topics, rebuffing emotional dumping, refusing to have our emotions dismissed and being able to separate our own feelings from other people’s.
  2. Financial – establishing boundaries for lending, giving or donating money.
  3. Material – establishing boundaries around possessions and when they can be used, contracting how they are to be treated.
  4. Mental – establishing the freedom to have our own thoughts, beliefs, values and opinions.
  5. Moral – establishing what happens if someone compromises your values and challenges your moral compass.
  6. Physical – establishing expectations around proximity, touch, PDA, your personal space and comments you receive.
  7. Time/ Energy – establishing boundaries around time and lateness, communicating when to contact, agreeing on the transaction of favours and free labour.

Some of my boundaries that I have been reflecting on and that I have been reinforcing in the last year:

Emotional boundaries – I have a large group of friends (many of whom who are also educators) and I have a big network of professional contacts (many of whom have become friends over the years). As someone who listens and supports, who coaches and mentors, who is a ‘fixer’, I have to be really careful about my own emotional regulation. Self-regulation is necessary when you are co-regulating others. I am the friend and family member who is contacted when people need help, support and solutions but this can become energy draining if it is constant. I am getting much better at self-preservation and not always being available at the drop of a hat to pick up other people’s chimps.

Moral boundaries – I have strong core values which I will not compromise and I have a strong ethical code which is a non-negotiable. I say no and remove myself from situations, organisations and relationships which are not aligned with how I believe we should behave.

Time/ Energy boundaries – I am a driven and highly-productive person, I think and I work fast, I can multi-task multiple projects, I am generous with my resources but punctuality is one of my triggers. I have established ways of working about how many minutes I will wait for someone to join a zoom call before I log out and crack on with another piece of work. I know the activities and the people that boost my energy, I also know the activities and the people that drain my energy so I am careful to manage how I spend my time and energy.

Another way of looking at the boundaries we need to establish is to consider the different spheres of our lives.

Our personal boundaries are the line that establishes what is you and what is another. This line separate the outer from the inner, enabling us to own our inner space. Our personal boundaries inform the choices we make about who we let into our lives, who we let into our hearts.

Our professional boundaries are the line that establishes our role. This line clarifies our responsibilities and our remit. Our personal boundaries frame the relationships we establish and maintain in order to fulfil the role we hold.

Our communication boundaries are the line that establishes how and when we interact. This line empowers us to be in charge of own interactions, to own our feelings, to own our attitude and to own our energy.

For me boundaries are about making a conscious choice not to take on someone else’s stuff. A boundary is saying “No”. A boundary is saying “Stop”. A boundary is saying “Enough”. A boundary is saying “Goodbye”.

As an empath I reflect on why I need to create and reinforce my boundaries. Without boundaries I go into overwhelm, I feel overstretched, out of control and my energy reserves rapidly deplete. I am aware that I have a tendency of over-compensating for others so something I am trying to consciously do is to stop trying to fix everything and everyone. I am also intentionally holding myself back to encourage people to meet me halfway rather than me doing more of the work.

My #OneWord2021 is freedom and I have read a few articles about boundaries enabling us to feel free (when it may be interpreted they do the opposite) as they draw that line in the sand meaning:

“We have the freedom to fully feel the innate beauty of our innermost selves – the freedom to be who we truly are”. 

Some tips I have extracted from various articles on maintaining healthy boundaries include:

  • Increasing our self-awareness: noticing and observing our boundaries
  • Owning our responsibility: choosing the energy that flows in and out of our bodies/ our lives
  • Establishing our non-negotiables: communicating them to others so they are aware of them
  • Showing respect: speaking up when boundaries are tested and saying no when boundaries are ignored
  • Trusting ourselves: closely listening to our intuition
  • Safeguarding ourselves: putting ourselves first by creating balance and harmony in our lives
  • Asserting ourselves: recognising that boundaries are not fixed and evolve, so they need to be constantly revised and recommunicated

Some of the benefits of establishing better boundaries in my life:

  • Creating more space and time for me to prioritise what I need
  • Improving my self-esteem and increasing my sense of self
  • Conserving my personal energy and maximising my inner resources
  • Increasing my independence and creating a sense of personal agency

“Set your boundaries loud and clear, so that the world knows how to treat you”. Indrani Mukherjee

Valuing education has nothing to do with race – an Anonymous post

Despite all the effort and work around DEI, there are still far too many educators who are still not aware of their privilege and the pain their words can inflict on black students. Over the years I witnessed teachers,  white teachers, destroy the confidence of young black and brown children under the disguise of real talk.

I recently witnessed a grown man towering over young children, belting at the top of his voice that these young children, black and brown children, should be grateful for the education they have as if they’re the only ones who received this free education. This really triggered  me.

Why are some teachers too quick to remind  BAME children that they should be grateful for the education that they are receiving? As if this is not a privilege that is afforded to all children. This remembrance often comes after a black or brown child shows a lack an interest in education or the efforts of their teachers.

I wonder why it is easy for some teachers to forget irrespective of race or creed, children are children and they will always be children. This means they might feel lazy, they might disengage, become rebellious and challenge a system especially when they are not interested in being in a classroom. We know some of the young people we teach are disfranchised and find education boring and pointless.

However, BAME students are subjected to a barrage of belligerence, indifference and harshness simply because they are black  and brown. It they were white, they wouldn’t need to be reminded of the value of education in such a way that is so intertwined with their race. Valuing education has nothing to do with race.

I am no longer going to hold my tongue. I am tired of seeing a privileged person, who is in a position of power and authority, belittling a child and using the trauma and injustices they face as a black child to shame their behaviour. You are not going to victim blame and shame black and brown children in front of me. Their disengagement cannot be used to justify the actions of those in our society who other and dehumanise them. Stop deflecting blame, why don’t you shame the institutionally racist systems that you benefit from instead.

What really worries me is that most students will not share their experiences of being victims of racism with their parents. I often wonder why?

Is it because they know that their parents will complain and rock the boat? Or is it because they believe it is not even worth it because the system will not hold one of their own accountable?

So who is responsible for holding racist teachers accountable?

Their peers? Yes….but  they are probably like them.

Their colleagues? Yes……but this is halted by the perception of colleagues have of them. I hate it when you share a discriminatory experience with a colleague and they say “awwww not him/her but he/she is such a nice person” and then continue to make excuses for them.

Their line managers? Yes ……but  racist teachers probably won’t  show that side of themselves to their superiors.

The school? Yes…..but evidence is always needed and that burden often falls on a BAME teacher who might already be dealing  with unconscious or conscious bias, glass ceiling or a flawed and unrelenting institutionally racist system that is built to hold them hostage.

The truth is we are all responsible for holding racist teachers accountable.

I am tired of the performance social justice in education. 

I am tired of the pointless statement of solidarity with the plight of Black people.

I am tired of the hollow pledges, the reactionary and tick box CPD.

My message to some of our well intended school leaders is… please clean up your  house and get things in order! We are way past the time for lip service. DEI is too important, it is not a fad, it is a social responsibility that is essential in creating schools that are truly inclusive and fit for all.