#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Legacy

noun. an amount of money or property left to someone in a will.

Personally, I find this definition problematic, as to me a legacy is more than what is just left in a will to family members. It is instead what is passed from one generation to the next and is a gift. A gift that is greater than money or property. A gift of ideas, of relationships, of community, of stories and of a way forward.

Moreover, leaving a personal legacy means to me that we are putting a stamp on the future, and making a contribution to future generations. We are leaving a footprint. We want to leave a legacy because we want to feel that our life mattered. A legacy is thus a lasting impact on the world.

Leaving a legacy means dreaming big and changing the world for the better.

As a Headteacher one of my favourite interview questions was about the candidate’s legacy building:

  • If successful in this interview, what legacy will you leave at your current school/ in your current role?
  • And fast-forwarding to the future, when it is time to move on from our school, what legacy would you want to create and leave behind here?

The answers we received were always fascinating. We discovered the impact individuals had had and wanted to have in their schools. The last one always flabbergasted them (not yet got the job but asking about when I am going to leave?!) but it also showed who had big ideas, a plan and a vision.

To leave a legacy is to create and to leave a gift. A legacy is something that is inherited from our predecessors and our ancestors, something of value that is bestowed on us to nurture and treasure as the successors/ the new keepers of that gift.

As a school leader I remember reading James Kerr’s Legacy and the impact it had me. The success of a world-class team based on their shared vision and values, their collective agency and responsibility. The All Blacks are consistently high-performing because they are a team, and they respect that they are a sum of parts.

When I reflect on the legacy I have created and left I am proud of my career. Some of the highlights of my legacy:

I was an AHT in a RI secondary school, and I was on the SLT that took the school to Outstanding, specifically increasing the GCSE English pass rate from the mid 50s to the low 80s. I also built the Performing Arts team up and recruited an amazing team who brought the school to life, reigniting the community passion for shows and events.

I was then moved across as DHT to our sibling school, an inadequate secondary school, and I was responsible for T&L and CPD. In 3 years we moved to Good with Outstanding features, but more importantly after I left, the school was reinspected and achieved Outstanding – reading the report I could see my work, the seeds I had sown, being praised. Even though I was no longer in the building, I could see my impact.

Alongside my DHT role, I co-founded #WomenEd and I am proud to see everything the community has achieved 7 years later. Two books and a global network later, but the logo I co-designed and the values I co-wrote are still living on. Every time I see them on line I am proud of my contributions.

Being the founding Headteacher of a start-up secondary school and then a year later of a start-up primary school, is also something I am immensely proud of. The founding teams poured their hearts and souls into engaging hearts and minds to build a community and a culture from scratch. It is a very special journey being a start-up team as there are few opportunities to start from scratch and build, instead of add or fix.

Alongside my HT role, I co-founded #DiverseEd and 4 years later I could not have predicted how far we would have come as a community. The thriving Mighty Network and the buzz about our book published last month are our legacy. With 125 authors in our collective voice publication, we embody the quote:

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Parts.

Aristotle

If you want to do some more reading about Legacy then this article and resource from Tony Robbins is also worth a read:

Tony Robbins

7 Steps to Leaving a Legacy:

1. Discover your purpose: Why are you in this world and what is your calling?

2. Reveal your natural skills and abilities: What do you have in your toolkit and are you fulfilling your potential?

3. Unlock your passion: What brings you joy and makes your heart sing?

4. Determine your X Factor: How clear are you of your Unique Selling Point and the value you add?

5. Create a business/ road map: How are you planning for the future?

6. Inspire the next generation: How are you engaging with your prospective successors?

7. Give back: How are you paying it forward or gifting your time, energy and inner resources?

Let me know what resonates and what your legacy is, or will be.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Choices

noun. an act of choosing between two or more possibilities.

Following my 3 day weekend being trained to coach my clients for Fulfillment in early January, we spent another intense 3 days exploring how to coach for Balance. This is where the theme of Choices emerged from.

A lot of people say they want more balance in their lives. What we usually want is to feel that we are choosing our lives, not just reacting to them. Balance coaching is a way to guide people into making powerful life choices and actively manifesting the experiences they want most. Balance coaching makes us active participants in how we experience our lives.

Balance coaching is thus designed to create flow, restore alignment, and regain control of life. When conversations focus on what we have control over and what choices are possible, we help people gain new perspectives. This training weekend gave us the tools to empower our clients to define and pursue the experiences they want most, resulting in action that is alive, effective, and empowered.

Some of the coaching tools we developed and experimented with included: making resonant choices, building new perspectives, forwarding the action, being in flow, creating self-affirmations.

Ultimately, we are our choices. Below are a few of the quotes that remind me this:

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you”.

John Maxwell

“No matter what the situation, remind yourself, ‘ I have a choice’ “.

Deepak Chopra.

“The 3 Cs of life: Choices, Chances and Changes. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change”.

Zig Ziglar

As we unpacked the power of choice I began to make links between my CTI coaching training and some coaching training I had completed a few years ago, when I first left headship and transitioned into working independently, to become a Resilient Leaders Element consultant coach.

The RLE coaching framework which the Co-Founders Dr Jeremy Mead and Rachel McGill have co-created and shaped over a decade of people development really resonated with me when my friend Julie Rees introduced me to it. The self-assessment you do before you start your coaching relationship gives you a visual representation of how you see yourself across the 4 elements (Clarity of Direction, Awareness, Leadership Presence and Resilient Decision-Making) which are each underpinned by 3 facets. Later in the journey you also seek peer feedback and you can then compare how you see yourself to how you are seen by others.

In RLE resilient decision-making is broken down into our ability to make different decisions, in different ways, at different times:

  • Creative decision-makingthe ability to work outside of the usual frame of reference and take a valuable idea from concept to reality.
  • Robust decision-makingcombining intellectual rigour, evaluation and awareness, giving solid foundations and contingency planning.
  • Versatile decision-makingcreating options, responding to the needs and urgency of the situation, thinking and operating at the appropriate level.

The Impact:

“Great decisions are made at the right time, with the right people, in the right place. Contingency options are always available so that the unexpected can be dealt with effectively and confidently”.

Completing my RLE accreditation during lockdown and at such a pivotal transition point in both my career and in my life, helped me anchor who I am and what I do, but it also helped me to forward the action as it gave me a framework to apply to myself and my emerging business:

  • I had to be creative in my decision-making as I had to unlearn how institutionalised I was after 20 years of working in the system, I was also creating a new business from scratch and going through a rebranding process as a Leadership Development Consultant, Coach and Trainer.
  • I had to be robust in my decision-making as I needed to make a living. It is scary going from financial security and job stability, when you venture into the unknown. I made the decision to take in a lodger for 6 months, just in case I did not make enough in my first few months to cover my mortgage.
  • I had to be versatile in my decision-making as we unexpectedly found ourselves in a global pandemic and were thrown into working remotely. For many of my peers this was a major challenge as they had to flip their offer into a virtual one, I started my business at this time so embraced this new way of working and established it as the norm.

I spent a focused 6 months building my business and crafting my training and coaching offer for my network. I didn’t expect, nor intend, to be repeating this process 6 months later. But in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the social justice activism my network made requests of me around formalising Diverse Educators and increasing our support/ training offer for schools.

My creative decision-making kicked in as we created a second website, my versatile decision-making was activated as I flexed my offer, and my robust decision-making grounded me as I sought partners to fund some of this collective project as I had invested what savings I had in the earlier process. So I made a choice to have two websites, two newsletters and two sides to my offer. Although my work in leadership, coaching and training is clearly aligned and crosses over to the diversity, equity and inclusion community I am growing, I needed to separate the individual versus the collective offer.

Throughout this career and life transition, I was coached and supported by those around me. We regularly talked out the power of saying Yes and the power of saying No. I reflected on who and what I was saying Yes and No to as I realigned my purpose and streamlined my passion into working independently. This quote by Paulo Coelho is one of my favourites and one I regularly use in coaching and training sessions.

I use it whenever I fall into the dilemma of wanting to choose to say Yes to every opportunity that comes to me as so much is resonant and vision/ mission/ values-aligned, but I need to remind myself that each choice is active and each time I say Yes to someone else I am saying No to myself. I need to consistently make choices about Who I Am, alongside the What I Do.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Fulfillment

noun: fulfillment; the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted; the meeting of a requirement, condition, or need.

The irony of having ‘Fulfillment’ as our December theme for the #MonthlyWritingChallenge was that I had Covid and was feeling very unwell, fatigued and generally very unfulfilled from mid-November to the end of December.

The theme this month came from my ongoing coaching accreditation with the Coactive Training Institute (CTI). I am on a 15 day intense training programme with a group of fellow international coaches, and we spend 3 days virtually together over a long weekend once a month learning and practising coaching techniques.

Fulfillment coaching is about supporting our coaching clients to find and experience a life of purpose. Fulfillment, according to CTI, is about being wholly alive. It is the state of fully expressing who we are and doing what is right for us, in every situation.

As part of our training we developed skills to help clients discover their unique values, identify self-defeating influences, and create their personalised vision for a compelling future. We explored how to facilitate opportunities for others to create lives that are centered in what makes them feel most alive.

The 3 days made me go back to my Ikigai – I revisited my sense of being and reflected on my alignment of my passion, my mission, my vocation and my profession.

Some questions to reflect on around your fulfillment that we explored:

  • What are your values?
  • What is your life purpose?
  • What is your vision for your live?
  • Who is your leader within?
  • Who are your saboteurs?
  • What allies do you need to slay your saboteurs?
  • What makes you feel alive?

Some of the techniques we used included physical embodiment, visualisation, metaphor, powerful questions and life purpose statements to increase self-awareness and amplify resonance.

I struggled with embodiment the most, but have been practising how to bring physicality into my coaching to help people become unstuck and to change perspective. The lovely Amy Ferguson agreed to let me practise on her that weekend.

Here are some of my personal reflections from my learning…

My core values are captured in my About Me section of my website here.

My life purpose statement is:

I am a powerful light bearer – I energise, illuminate, awaken and activate.

My leader within is called ‘Standing Strong’:

I am a tree, standing strong, bending not breaking, in the wind.

I am a lighthouse, standing strong, guiding others through storms.

I bring strength, support, stability and security to others.

My saboteurs:

One of my saboteurs is my bias for action and my compulsion to be productive and busy, another is that I am a fixer, an organiser and a planner – so I restrict myself through my efficient diary management.

I reflected lots on the difference between being and doing during this 3 day course and what I could do differently moving forwards. On a different coaching course a peer shared a technique where she keeps a half day a week free in her schedule/ she creates that space in her desk for exciting projects, new ideas and unexpected opportunities to take shape.

My inner allies:

My allies to slay some of those saboteurs encompass flexibility and spontaneity – Bamboo to bring some flexibility into my life and a Balloon to bring fun and lightness.

Feeling alive:

My happy place is up a mountain or on a beach – I am outside, I am in all weathers, I feel alive and energised by my environment. I am reflecting lots on where I want to live longer term, I have a vision of being able to walk on the beach, dip in the pool, lie in the sun whilst reading a book and eating al fresco in my future.

Post Covid, starting the new year feeling like myself again, has made me realise just how lucky I am to be truly living my Ikigai. I get paid to do what I care about all day, I have passion and purpose in my work. I just need to continue to focus on being over doing and creating space in the schedule for creativity, reflection and flow.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Criticism

Noun. the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes; the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.

I am a natural-born critic. I am someone who asks a lot of questions, who brings a lot of challenge and who strives to perform well. I am not a perfectionist, but I have high standards.

My MBTI profile is an ENTJ (only 1.8% of the world have this Myers Briggs personality type):

ENTJs are planners. Making decisions and having a schedule or course of action planned out gives them a sense of predictability and control. They are highly rational, good at spotting problems, and excel at taking charge. These tendencies make them natural leaders who are focused on efficiently solving problems.

In the Positive Intelligence Saboteurs Assessment I come out high on the Controller, the Hyper-Achiever, the Stickler and the Hyper-Rational personality styles revealing how we can self-sabotage.

On reflection, I tend to navigate external criticism instead of internal criticism. I have high self-esteem so I tend to be self-compassionate to myself. But as a confident and a candid person I often feel like I receive more criticism than others, because there is a sense that I can handle it as I am resilient. This unsolicited criticism can also often be unfiltered.

As someone who has built a network and created a visible profile, I have also opened myself up to more critique, and to more public critique.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received from a line manager was on being a natural disrupter. Andy the AHT who line managed me when I was a Middle Leader said to be that I had a choice: fly under the radar and go unseen/ be left alone, or put my head above the parapet, challenge the equilibrium and be prepared to be shot at.

This is an anecdote I share in the #IamRemarkable workshops I run on self-advocacy.

So, when I give critique I strive to make it constructive and objective, instead of subjective. I critique the problem, the process and the behaviour instead of the person. Reading and reflecting on Fierce Conversations and Radical Candor I have built the gift of feedback into my leadership repertoire, but I strive to give feedback that nurtures and helps people to grow instead of destroying them and tearing them down.

The thing about feedback and criticism is that needs to be welcomed, it needs to be helpful and supportive, it needs to be well-timed and well-framed. When I think back to all of the lesson observations, line management and appraisal meetings that I have done, I have made mistakes but I have always tried to be authentic and humane in my approach. I have also reflected on the bad feedback and criticism that I have received and used that to guide me.

Working in organisations where criticism was often a one way process has been an interesting part of the journey I have taken in my career. I have often got people inadvertently offside by being the natural critic on a team. I bring my questions, my challenge and my determination to be high-performing and impactful to any project I work on, but this is not always well-received.

I always try to be of value and to add value, but this is not always appreciated. Yet, working independently I now position myself as a critical friend to my clients, and the irony is that clients pay me to bring constructive criticism to help them improve and they really appreciate my criticality and thank me for it!

For me the thing with criticism is that it needs to be contracted. It also needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – we choose how to listen and to respond to criticism, we use it to learn and grow from, but we can also choose to ignore it if it is unhelpful and unsupportive.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Pace

Noun. a single step taken when walking or running; speed in walking, running, or moving.

Verb. walk at a steady speed, especially without a particular destination and as an expression of anxiety or annoyance; move or develop (something) at a particular rate or speed.

I do things quickly – I always have. We were brought up in a busy household of self-employed and action-oriented parents.

Thus I am a quick thinker, a quick speaker and a quick doer. I make decisions quickly based on my instincts and experience. I also have long legs so I walk quickly too. (But as for running…!)

As a teacher I had to do everything quickly including eating, drinking and peeing! I worked in fast-paced schools for most of my career, turn around schools that needed urgent action.

This all means that others around me often feel under pressure to keep up with me. I am usually the pace-setter in a team and have had to develop my ability to be patient and work slower to accommodate the speed of others.

Since leaving working in schools I have consciously slowed down and tried to be less rushed as I go about things. I now set my own pace and work around my clients’ pace.

My pace has been perceived as both a strength and as a weakness by others. What people don’t see is that I am reflective, I read and I research behind the scenes, which underpins my confidence and my competence. I don’t make quick and decisive decisions on things I do not understand and am not sure about. There is a lot happening under the waterline, a lot of strategic thinking and planning that goes unseen and often unrecognised.

Pace as a strength means that I am a highly-productive person, but the fall out is that I have a high capacity for holding a lot in my head and I often end up doing more than my fair share of the workload on any given task or project. I can thus get burned out quite quickly. Working in schools for 20 years means that I have followed the peaks and the troughs of the school year and often crash each school holiday.

My work life is busy, but my social life has always been very full too. But as with many of us lockdown forced me to slow down, to stop, to pause and to be still, and I really enjoyed the change in pace. It was also quite hard to then resume the pace of life pre-Covid.

I have pace but I am not someone who paces. I have a clarity of direction and tend to need to be still if I am mulling things over – in the bath, on my Shakti mat or on a sun lounger are my preferred spots instead of pacing it out.

Since leaving teaching, I have consciously tried to establish more boundaries on my time and my energy so that I can enjoy the change of pace and the freedom that comes from being my own boss. When I am busy now, the only person I can blame and hold to account is myself!

#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.