#OneWord2021: Freedom

I always find it interesting to reflect on which of my blogs resonate the most. In 2020 my stats show a clear favourite from my 100 blogs written during the global pandemic for the #DailyWritingChallenge on the theme of Freedom.

For the header I chose an image from one of my favourite writers and favourite books, is ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou. I studied it for my A Levels and changed my university and degree choice as a consequence. It also inspired me to become an English teacher.

Writing this blog on April 11th we were less than month into our lockdown as I reflected on the freedom I had experienced in my 41 years and the freedom I was craving. As I continued to write as part of my coping strategies for processing the world around me and as we moved from the Daily to the #MonthlyWritingChallenge, to my surprise, my stats for that post kept creeping up. Some days 100 more people would read it – it was clearly being shared far and wide, and it kept snowballing as the year progressed. On the final day in 2020, nearly 4,000 people have read my musings which makes it my 2nd most read blog ever. (My most read blog ever at 14,000+ was my blog reflecting on the leadership resilience I needed when I found myself in the tabloids due to my commitment to diversity).

So why am I telling you this?

Each year for the last 7 years I have chosen a word to frame my year ahead. I can’t remember who ignited this in me, I think it might have been Dr Carol Campbell, but I have done it religiously each year. I can trace back decisions I have made based on this focus word.

My #OneWord2015 was Courage:

I re-joined Twitter, I started blogging and going to grassroots events.

My #OneWord2016 was Connect:

I co-founded #WomenEd, I grew my network and started organising/ hosting events.

My #OneWord2017 was Change:

I relocated to a new region, for a new role – my pace of life and my perspective changed.

My #OneWord2018 was Thrive:

I was determined to get work-life balance as a school leader and create a school where the whole community could flourish.

My #OneWord2019 was Joy:

I turned 40, I bought a house, I lost my mojo and needed to remind myself of my vision, my mission and what made me light up. As Marie Kondo says: Does it bring you Joy?

My #OneWord2020 was Purpose:

I lost my way a little as I left the system and looked for my next step as I didn’t have a map for my new journey, so I returned to my Ikigai and reminded myself of what drives me.

I always shortlist before I decide on my one word – so for 2021, I was reflecting on Passion, Adventure, Impact, Influence and Freedom. I went back and forth in my mind as I walked along beaches and drove along motorways during my Christmas break, on the kind of year I might have if I chose each to frame my decisions and actions. But one word kept popping up in things I read, things I was discussing and the pattern appeared to be symbolic.

So my #OneWord2021 is Freedom:

I am looking forward to seeing how this frames my year and shapes my decision-making and action-taking. These 3 quotes resonated with me on this theme and I am hopeful what I will reflecting on this time next year:

“Freedom is the oxygen of the soul”.

Moshe Dryan

“Freedom lies in being bold”.

Robert Frost

“The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage”.

Thucydides

This year I want:

  • to embrace the freedoms of working independently
  • to appreciate that I have the freedom to choose who I work with/ what work I do
  • to have the freedom to leave my house more than I could in 2020, without a mask
  • to enjoy the freedom of being spontaneous once again
  • to be grateful for the freedom to socialise with friends and family once again
  • to take advantage of the freedom to spend the winter somewhere warm
  • to support others in making the choices to liberate them from situations that do not serve them

If Freedom, is having the ability to act or change without constraint, then I look forward to feeling freer and lighter than I have in years.

If something is “free” if it can change easily and it is not constrained in its present state, then I look forward to singing as I fly into the new year.

Regaining Your Mojo

noun. a magic charm, talisman, or spell; influence, especially magic power.

I hear this phrase a lot: “I’ve lost my mojo”.

When we lose our mojo we can often lack energy, lack enthusiasm, lack self-belief, lack self-confidence or lack direction. We could say that losing our mojo is when we feel less successful. I would say it is also when we feel less in control.

We then make a concerted effort to hunt for our mojo. We track it down, we find it (again) and we grab it with both hands so that we do not lose it again.

But we know the cycle will be repeated at a later stage…  

I have lost my mojo several times over the years. I have lost my mojo for a number of different reasons. But when I reflect on the conditions and variables that have led to me losing my mojo there are some trends that begin to appear…

I lost my mojo in 2004, when I had just finished my NQT year. I had come into the sector full of hope and optimism, but had taken a role in a school that was not the right fit for me. I had also lived in Kent for longer than I had planned and needed a change in scene. So I resigned.

I lost my mojo in 2007, when I realised the school I was working at was complacent. I was slogging my guts out to raise standards in my subject areas, but the leadership was not strong enough across the school and the school was not improving. I cruised on TES one day and applied for a sideways move just before the deadline closed. Less than 7 days later I had a new role and was resigning.

I lost my mojo in 2010, when male leaders without moral compasses, kept getting promoted around me. I could not get my head around the fact that they were cheating on their partners but being rewarded with pay rises and bigger roles. I became frustrated and lost my sense of belonging. So I resigned. The Headteacher talked me around and made me an offer to stay, which I did. I was promoted quite soon after this and joined SLT for the first time.

I lost my mojo in 2013, when I went through a nasty break up with an ex. I survived by throwing myself into my new role/ promotion. My personal failure became my professional success. But a few years in to the role I came up for air and resented how much time I was spending working. I had healed and was ready to find personal success again. As my focus swung back to my love life, I started dating again, and I began to scrutinise my professional sphere.

I lost my mojo in 2016, as cracks began to appear in my professional sphere. More accurately, I could see the cracks that had been there, but as I had been so head down for so long I had not seen them appear. I realised it was no longer a good fit. So I resigned. I also broke up with the guy I had been seeing, so I applied for a promotion out of region and planned to relocate.

I lost my mojo in 2019, when I had poured my heart and my soul into my headship. My sense of belonging was not stable in the trust I had moved to. My values were not being mirrored in the wider culture. I had given more than I had left in my reserves and did not feel supported… so I resigned.

Looking for patterns and connections, I can see that my mojo comes and goes in surges, in 3 year cycles. I can also see that my mojo is linked to my sense of personal and professional self. I seem to swing from having personal mojo to professional mojo, and back again.

I have had a successful career and I have a happy life. I rarely lack energy, enthusiasm, self-belief, self-confidence or direction but my mojo coming and going seems to be a regular ebb and flow of my life. My mojo is also very much wrapped up in my sense of belonging, my sense of identity and my sense of worth.

How do I feel when I lose my mojo?

I can feel depleted, overwhelmed, stressed-out, tired, bored or lethargic at times. Once I lose my mojo, it can be hard to find the motivation to reclaim it. But I can’t remain in that mojo-less place for too long, because that is when my mental health and wellbeing will begin to suffer.

Losing my mojo is a bit like treading water, I need to do it for a while to rebalance, but I then need to push on and through. I need to keep my head above the water and keep momentum going in the direction of travel.

How do I regain my mojo?

When I lose my mojo I need to decompress by recalibrating, rebalancing and reframing. I then need to anchor what I can control and make values-based decisions to take action.

I need to turn the volume up on my internal voice and the volume down on the external ones to drown them out so that my intuition guides me.

Do I lose my mojo or do I let it go as I know it will come back to me?

As someone who likes to control things, as someone who throws themselves into things wholeheartedly, as someone who can manage change well, my mojo appears to be a boomerang that returns to me quite quickly when I make the right decisions.

My mojo is ultimately fuelled by the choices I make. My mojo is reset and reenergised when I ask for what I need or when I walk away from things that do not serve me.

How do I help others regain their mojos?

I have been coached and have coached others for several years now and a series of themes always come up in these conversations which I will use the RLE language to explain:

Clarity of direction – individuals who have lost their map so they are lost on their journeys and they need to reminded about who they are, the values that guide them and the impact they are having/ have had. We work on encouraging them to be a bit bolder in their goal setting.

Awareness – individuals who are allowing others to define them, or who are feeling trapped in an environment which is not enabling them to flourish. We work on their self-awareness to rediscover their motivations, to realign their passion and their purpose.

Presence – individuals who are feeling invisible, who are not being listened to or who are feel like they puppets and that someone else is pulling their strings. We work on their sense of self and remove the blockers that are compromising their authenticity.

Resilient decision-making – individuals who are feeling disempowered, who are lacking the courage and the confidence to make the choices that will change their situations. We work on their ability to think outside of the box and review their options by creating solutions to the problems we have identified.

I also often encourage others to reflect on their Ikigai, as I have done a lot in the last few years, as a means of returning to that sense of passion and purpose which fuels them.

When our Ikigai is in alignment, we are successful. When we are successful we are energetic and enthusiastic. When we have mojo we reap the benefits of staying true to our values and of making good choices.

Earlier this year I was accredited as a RLE consultant and I use this framework in my coaching to help people peel back the layers and rediscover who they are. I have become a RLE evangelist and I have shared this coaching accreditation opportunity with my network for others to train to use.

Mandy and I have just completed the train the trainer together for the RLE ‘Regaining Your Mojo’ programme which we are piloting as co-facilitators in January.

You can find out more/ book to join us on this 5 week programme with a bonus taster session here.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Visibility – a blog by Elizabeth Walsh-Iheoma

I am five years old. I am standing there. Bewildered. Confused. What are they saying? Why do they look so angry? Why are they shouting at me with such hate? My five-year-old mind could not comprehend what has going on.  I was experiencing my first racist attack. A traumatic experience.

I had been in the country a few months. Freshly arrived from my native country of Zambia, where I hadn’t gone to school but had spent carefree days playing with my friends. My family had struck up a friendship with the neighbours across the road, who were expatriates from the UK. Their son was around my age and we would often be seen playing together. What an interesting sight. This native black girl running around with this blond-haired white boy. He was visibly different. An ethnic minority. I accepted him. He accepted me. My experience of visible difference had been one of kindness, acceptance and playfulness.

And here I was on this cold, wet, dark playground in the UK surrounded by hostile faces, shouting collocations of the word ‘black’ at me for being visibly different. I am confused. Disoriented.

A few months ago I was in Zambia standing on the veranda, watching the sunrise, gazing at the majestic mountains in the distance and enjoying the activity of shouting ‘Muli bwanji’ (How are you? in Nanja) and enjoying hearing the echo of my warm greeting.

But now I am not hearing warm greetings. Instead, I am facing a mountain of rejection and hostility. All because I am visibly different.

This was character forming for me as a five-year-old. It is here I learnt the consequences of being visible. I was in a country where being black was being visible. You attract attention. A lot of the time unwanted attention. I wanted to be invisible again. To be back in Zambia. And so, as I grew, I saw that being invisible was safe. I copied accepted mannerisms. I copied the way invisible people smiled and laughed. I even copied the way they spoke and the way they dressed. I did all this just to be invisible. When I would hear comments such as ,’You’re one of us’ or ‘I don’t see colour, I just see people’ this made me believe that I was succeeding in being invisible. Not true.

As an adult, I had had to recalibrate my brain. Visibility is good. It gets you promoted. Your opinions get heard. But it is scary. I have learnt to overcome this fear of being visible by realising many things. The importance of cultivating resilience, compassion and curiosity. And most importantly, having the courage to be visible. To be me. To have my own signature laugh. To have my own smile. To be comfortable with my visibility. Being visible is to rise to where I want to be. I can only rise if I am visible. To conclude, I will end with the last two stanzas of Maya Angelou’s poem Still I Rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops

Weakened by my soulful cries

You may shoot me with your words

You may cut me with your eyes

You may kill me with your hatefulness

But still like air, I’ll rise.

Here’s my last line, I rise because I am visible and have the courage to be visible.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Appreciation

noun. recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something; a full understanding of a situation.

It’s our final #MonthlyWritingChallenge of 2020 and our theme is Appreciation.

Reflecting on who and what have we appreciated this year, a year like no other, seemed like an apt way to wrap up the emotional rollercoaster through positively affirming who and what has kept us going, individually and collectively.

“If you stop showing appreciation to those that deserve it, they’ll learn to stop doing the things you appreciate”.

The things I appreciate that I have had as a constant this year include: my home, my car, my income and my health. I have perhaps taken some of them for granted in the past and this year has made me realise how lucky I am to have financial security and emotional safety. I know it has been a really stressful year for many people due to the lack of certainty in their lives, and I appreciate that this has not been my experience. There have been low points but on the whole it has been a good year.

The people I appreciate that I have had as a constant this year have been a mixture of who I expected and who have surprised me. My parents have struggled in lockdown so I have spoken to them lots, similar to my best friend in Canada, as she always struggles when she feels helpless and miles away. I have lots of different girly friendship groups and we have got in the routine of having regularly zoom catch ups which I thank lockdown for. I relocated from London to Oxfordshire 4 years ago, so we grew apart for a while as our physical catch ups were less frequent, but some of them have since followed suit in relocating so we are now more geographically spread out and we have ironically spoken more this year than we have in a while which we have all appreciated and it has re-cemented our bond as friends.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance”. Eckhart Tolle

The things I have discovered that I appreciate through lockdown are: the pause and the slowness, the peace and quiet, the garden, the simple things in life such as a delicious homecooked meal, the walks with friends. I love sending cards to others and I have been touched by the cards and gifts I have received through the post this year.

The people I have discovered that I appreciate through lockdown are: my coaching community who I have trained with, my coachees who I have grown very fond of, my new clients who I enjoy working with, my new colleagues from some of the bigger projects I work on. Moreover, my network of champions and critical friends who support and challenge me. A shout out needs to go to the support team I am building around me, my brand designer, my web developer and my VA who I appreciate as they have kept me organised this year.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough”. Aesop

The things that I will appreciate even more once they return are: my freedom to move around, my independence to travel, my love of the arts, my enjoyment of eating out, my curiosity in people watching. Most of all I think I will appreciate the hugs, and I will hold on that little bit longer once we are allowed to embrace each other again.

The people that I will appreciate even more once we are allowed out are: the people who have checked in with me regularly as they know I am single and live alone, the people who have created opportunities for me and who have recommended me for work this year as it has made my transition to working independently easier than I had anticipated. I appreciate the people who have had their own stresses and pressures this year who have continued to support and check in on me and others regardless of the burden they were carrying.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom”. Marcel Proust

Yes it is has been a tough year. Yes there have been lows. But there has also been a lot to appreciate in what we have gained, what we have learned, what we have become more grateful for.

We should all be grateful for those people who have kept the country going by being on the frontline. As a former teacher and headteacher I appreciate the stress and pressure that my friends and former colleagues have been put under this year in keeping schools and hospitals open. I also appreciate more than ever the people working in my local shops, my local post office and the delivery people who come to my house to keep me in supplies.

Is it enough to be thinking and writing about the appreciation or should we be verbalising our appreciation to others too?

Feeling Frustrated?

noun. the feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something; the prevention of the progress, success, or fulfilment of something.

I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been the most frustrating year we have ever experienced. At times, nothing has felt easy. The frustrations have ranged from the micro to the macro as every aspect of our lives have been disrupted and have become uncertain. We have been frustrated on every level – physically, emotionally and mentally repeatedly.

I have been frustrated by things that do not normally bother me, as due to the change of context around us, small things can quite easily be blown out of proportion. Whilst bigger things may feel insurmountable.

I have felt myself pulling back from social media, from some of my network, from some spaces I exist in as I could feel certain things were beginning to trigger me. I began to observe the patterns of what was happening and how it was making me feel.

On reflection, my biggest source of frustration is often other people. My ticks have become amplified through lock down: people who are late to meetings or who pay an invoice late, people who miss meetings, people who do not reply to messages, people who do not respect me and my boundaries, people who are unsupportive, uncollaborative, judgemental and critical frustrate me.

Yet, I also know that I frustrate others too. I am self-aware enough to know that some of my personality traits are equally a source of frustration for people who are programmed differently to me. My ways of working, of communicating, of interacting serve me, but might jar others.

When we get frustrated we all react in different ways.

Some of my friends, family and colleagues have internalised their frustration. They have become withdrawn, their mood has become low, they have gone quiet. A few have recently imploded and I have scooped a few of my nearest and dearest up in the last few weeks as they have hit the stage of emotional exhaustion and they have spiralled into meltdowns.

Other people I am close to have externalised their frustration. They have lashed out, they have become erratic in their behaviour, they have become negative in their language and they have become hyper critical. A few have exploded which has led to conflicts with others.

In the first lockdown I reflected a lot on emotional regulation. It became apparent quite quickly who the self-regulators and the co-regulators in my circles were. I am a self-regulator, apparently this is common for people who were thumb suckers as children as we self-sooth. I am someone who co-regulates others, a skill I have developed as a teacher, a leader, a coach and a mental health first aider.

We become acutely aware of how everyone is coping, or not coping, but we also need to reflect on ourselves and how we are feeling. By identifying and recognising the feeling of frustration we can then process and address it.

When I am coaching similar threads come up when we discuss the feeling of frustration as it is often associated with: feeling a lack of control, feeling a sense of uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed. I encourage my coachees to reframe and to focus on what they can control, what is certain and what they can anchor. This approach helps them to centre themselves.

I remind myself of this often too when I can feel the frustration bubbling up inside of me. The only person who can let others frustrate us, is ourselves. We are in charge of our own emotional state. It is our choice how we respond to frustrations.

When we get frustrated we each process our emotions in different ways.

Some rant… some vent… some withdraw… some melt down…

When I am frustrated I know I can become standoffish, direct, harsh, and quite intolerant. My decision-making becomes very decisive and reactive. I put my head down and get on with it. I rise to the challenge to confront the frustration. I push away help, support and advice, to problem solve independently.

There are a range of coping skills that we recommend to our learners, to others, but we need to reflect on what helps us to rebalance, to recalibrate and to reframe the frustration.

Here are some of my coping strategies for when I am feeling stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated:

1.Pausing… sometimes the best thing we can do when we are frustrated, is nothing. The ability to stop, to pull back, to hold off helps us to regain our composure and our clarity.

2. Breathing… some deep breaths will help us to slow down our heart rate, to lower the stress in our bodies, to send a message to our brains to calm down.

3. Reflecting… taking a moment to think things through helps us to process how we are feeling to be able to articulate precisely what is frustrating us.

4. Bathing… I often draw a long, hot bubble bath when I am feeling frustrated as I find soaking is restorative. There is also a feeling of feeling very secure and safe when we are enveloped in hot water.

5. Sleeping… I sometimes just go back to bed. When we are feeling frustrated there is often a sense of fatigue kicking in, we can feel our emotions bubbling closer and closer to the surface. Crawling under the duvet, retreating from the world, can help us decompress.

6. Talking… some people will need to process how they are feeling verbally. So finding someone to listen to us as we do an emotional vomit can also really help. Feeling heard can relieve the sense of frustration. A problem shared is a problem halved after all.

7. Hugging... sharing how we are feeling with others in person, will often to lead to some reassuring physical contact. A hug, a hand hold, a stroke is often all I need. As a tactile person I definitely offer this to others when they need it and this year has been a source of frustration for me that I have not been able to gift nor receive that extension of physical contact to those who have needed it.

8. Crying… I am not a crier by nature, but sometimes letting ourselves feel the emotion deeply and externalise it is one of the most cathartic things we can do.

9. Exercising… when I was a teacher, we used to have free staff boxing sessions, channeling our frustrations through our bodies really helped us decompress.

10. Walking… when I am frustrated with someone else, where possible I try to go for a walk with them and talk it out, whilst we are outside and being active. There is something very calming about processing our frustrations whilst being outside. Especially when you are walking along a long, empty, window beach and you can see sun, sea and sand for miles.

11. Pinning… I love acupuncture, I respond really well to have pins in me stimulating my nervous system. The chemical release I get from it helps me relax and recalibrate. During lockdown I have not been able to see my acupuncturist so I bought myself a Shakti mat which I highly recommend.

12. Asking… I know I am not very good at always asking for help, but seeking support and advice can help as the contrasting perspective on a situation can help us step back from what is frustrating us, and appreciate another side of the frustration.

13. Affirming… we can easily get bogged down with the negative, with what is not working, what what is frustrating, and forget about everything that is positive, that is working and that is fulfilling us. An affirmation of who we are and a celebration of what we have achieved or what we are grateful for can help to dissolve the feelings of frustration.

14. Reframing… a powerful exercise to go through is a reframe, listing the frustrations and breaking down where the feelings are coming from, then countering each with a reframe, a positive or a solution can reduce the frustration from growing.

15. Listening… as people are reading and commenting on the blog, which has resonated with lots who have read it I have been reminded about the restorative nature of music. I have an Alexa on each floor of my house and have a constant soundscape of chilled out, soothing music in my house to help moderate my emotions too.

16. Ejecting… I am not really a screamer nor a shouter, but when I was in the Ghanaian rainforest back in 1999 (half a lifetime ago now) someone introduced me to screaming therapy. There is something quite therapeutic about emptying your emotions out and screaming them/ shouting them out in to the wilderness. As they echo through the trees it is like they are slowly breaking down – I would recommend trying it!

17. Driving… I always had a long drive back from my university and my early career to my parents, along with a decent commute to work and back. I didn’t realise how therapeutic I find driving for processing my thoughts and emotions until lockdown and I started working from home. Getting out for a drive regularly helps me clear my head.

18. Writing… my number one strategy is always to write to process how I am feeling. I started this blog this morning as a few things came to a head and my day started off with me feeling really frustrated. I am a contradiction as I thrive on change and uncertainty in some ways, but I like to be in control of it, so I needed to process which bits of the latest frustration I could anchor this morning.

When things happen to us which are out of out of our control we go through the emotional cycle of: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance.

I have moved through these emotional stages quite quickly this morning and I have now got to the state of acceptance and can move on.

So if you are feeling frustrated right now, in any area of your life, personal or professional, it is to be expected. 2020 has been frustrating. Our government have been frustrating. But instead of letting the frustration eat you up from the inside out, I would give yourself permission to acknowledge that feeling, reflect on what you can do to process your feelings and focus on what you can do as we have a lot to celebrate and appreciate, individually and collectively, from 2020 too.

How we decide to react to what is thrown at us is what determines our level or happiness or frustration”. Folorunsho Mejabo

“Learn how to turn frustration into fascination. You will learn more being fascinate by life than you will be frustrated by it”. Jim Rohn

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Visibility

noun. the state of being able to see or be seen; the distance one can see as determined by light and weather conditions; the degree to which something has attracted general attention; prominence.

I haven’t written in over a month, which is a long time for me, and I have missed it. Coming up with the themes each month for the #MonthlyWritingChallenge is part of my commitment to write at least once a month as I find it really cathartic.

Tweeting, blogging and being active on social media has increased by visibility as a leader over time, but I have been busy this month speaking at events and delivering training to different groups of stakeholders.

So what does visibility mean to me?

It means so much it is hard to know where to start as it has spawned so many ideas for me to unpack…

Visibility:

The questions running through my mind include: What do I see? Who do I see? How am I seen? How do I help others to be seen? How do I raise awareness about the things I care about?

I have blogged previously about being an inclusive ally and how I have committed to sharing my mic with others moving forwards to amplify the voices of others.

In #IamRemarkable we talk about the correlation between self-promotion and promotion, we relate our ability to self-promote to our self-confidence and our self-esteem, but we also consider the integrity and the authenticity of those who are visible and whether they are ‘walking the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.

High-visibility:

Reminds me of working in schools, being on duty, going on school trips and of working with the project management team on opening a brand new school. For a while I spent quite a lot of time in a hard hat and a high-vis vest!

If a high-vis vest is a metaphor for our commitment to safety, I wonder who should be wearing them in our schools right now, to not only feel physically but also psychologically safe.

Visible role models:

A few years ago I co-founded #WomenEd due to the lack of visible role models in my professional network. I joined Twitter to find my tribe, to connect with women in leadership who shared my vision and values, my hopes and my dreams.

There is much talk around the theme of “you got to see it, to be it”, but we also need to become the role models we wish we had. With the increased focus on representation we need to continue to work hard to ensure that in both our schools and in our society that we are amplifying diverse voices and that we are including different lived experiences.

Being visible:

Having a presence and being visible has its pros and cons. Lots of people have commented recently that I appear to be very busy, it is articulated as a criticism rather than a compliment. Having left a full time salaried, school-based role, to work independently, my passion projects have become my purpose. I have a social media presence and I am visible in what I do as I like to connect, collaborate and engage with the community around me. I have the best work-life balance I have ever had, but some people in my network are not seeing that, perhaps they do not understand that I used to run #WomenEd and #DiverseEd around being a full time leader, I am now running #DiverseEd full time.

When you are working independently, if you are not visible, if you do not self-promote, you don’t get work and you don’t get paid! So being visible on social media is part of my business strategy. The cons of this is that the boundaries get blurred, and I have had to reinforce that my working hours are Mon-Fri 9-5. I don’t stop caring about mental health and wellbeing, diversity, equity and inclusion, leadership and coaching in the evenings and at the weekends but I need a break, so I encourage people to email me.

Clarity of direction:

Since the Spring, when I went independent, I have gone through an accreditation process to become a consultant coach for Resilient Leadership. One of the elements in our coaching framework is Clarity of Direction, which is underpinned by the facets of: Strategic Direction, Unifying Purpose and Determination.

Knowing where we are going is underpinned by our passion and our purpose, our Ikigai. Through coaching we process our goals to create a vision; we need to be able to clearly articulate that vision to take people with us and we need to be determined to keep going, despite setbacks, to reach our goal.

I coach a lot of people and one thing I often bring as a challenge is what is going on internally rather than externally, what we do implicitly which we need to make more explicit. Making something explicit through our behaviour and our actions, externalising our thinking, is how we make something more visible. We need to remember the iceberg analogy and make visible what is hidden below the water line.

“When the fog clears”:

Is an expression that gets used a lot. A passive interpretation is that we wait for the weather conditions to settle for us to be able to see again – we have patience that the fog will clear itself, in time. An active interpretation is that we need to change the conditions to accelerate the clearance.

I fear that many people are waiting for 2020 to be over, and are hopeful that the fog will suddenly clear on 1st January 2021 as we start a new year and a new decade.

Are we going to sit and wait for clarity to come to us, or are we going to work on finding that clarity ourselves?

Are we going to sit and wait for someone to see us, or are we going to work to make ourselves more visible?

To conclude, to go back to the dictionary definition and leave you with a few questions to muse over:

The state of being able to see or be seen.

We have 5 senses and sight is one we rely on heavily. Have you considered what your life would be like if you could not see? How inclusive are you of people with a visual impairment?

The opposite of visibility is invisibility. Who or what is hidden and needs to be brought into the light to be made more visible?

The distance one can see as determined by light and weather conditions.

We have had a cold, wet mist hanging over us for a few days now. Mist is a phenomenon where water is suspended in the air, caught between two temperatures. Visibility right now is poor.

Who or what needs a light shining on it right now? Who can you be a beacon of hope for?

For some that mist has become fog and they are feeling disorientated and confused. How can we enhance our clarity of direction and help them find theirs too?

The degree to which something has attracted general attention.

2020 has been an odd year and different things have attracted our attention. The number itself makes me think of visibility as 20:20 vision is our ability to see clearly at 20ft.

Have you considered who or what is getting the most attention in your life right now?

In your professional life, your personal life and your public life different themes will have emerged this year. Have you reflected on what has resonated with you in the local, regional, national and global news?

Prominence.

Visibility is a theme that comes up a lot in my #IamRemarkable sessions and leadership masterclasses. A lot of women are seeking to increase their prominence, to build their gravitas and to have more presence as a leader.

Have you considered how visible you are? Do you shine a light on others to increase their prominence too?

Visibility will mean different things to different people, which is the beauty of the #MonthlyWritingChallenge as we explore a theme from multiple perspectives.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Strength

noun. the quality or state of being physically strong; the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.

What does being strong mean to you?

Being strong, to me, means having the resources ie the mental skills, and the physical capabilities to overcome difficulties. When I am strong, I have enough in my tank to face a challenge. My strength, underpinned by my energy and my stamina, enables me to act as I have reserves of physical energy and inner strength to draw from.

What do I associate with strength?

As a former English teacher, I love words. Words we associate with strength include: clout, courage, durability, energy, power, stability, toughness and vigor. These are all traits I admire in others, but that I know I also possess.

I reflect often on my formative years and what life experiences have made me a strong individual. My parents gave me a character education in how they brought my sister and I up, grit was part of our daily diet so it made us resilient individuals.

It always surprises me how many of my friends and the people who I coach do not recognise how strong and resilient they are. We all overcome battles, personally and professionally, but some people do have more challenges thrown at them. We often downplay what we have been through and how we have survived, coming out the other sides as stronger individuals.

What are the different types of strength?

Physically, I am healthy and I have a strong frame. I am not as fit as I would like to be, which would make me even stronger, but I have physical strength.

Mentally, I am strong as I am determined and tenacious. My strength of character enables me to stand up for myself.

Emotionally, I have strength as I am resilient and courageous. My values and ethics drive my emotional strength.

How can we develop our inner strength?

Knowing our strengths helps us to be aware of and to harness them. Through my training as a Resilient Leaders Elements consultant coach, I have spent the last 6 months reflecting on my strengths and areas for development. As part of the process you self-assess to identify your strengths across 4 elements (Clarity of Direction, Awareness, Leadership Presence and Resilient Decision-Making) and 12 facets (Strategic Intent, Unifying Purpose, Determination, Self, Others, Environment, Authentic, Serving, Intentional, Creative, Robust, Versatile).

Following the self-assessment you reflect on your strengths and identify your areas for development. You then work through a series of challenges to build strength across the other facets. Alongside this you can see feedback from others which then gives you a visual of how you are seen to compare to how you see yourself.

This process has really enabled me to hone in on where I have impact and where I can optimise my influence.

How have I developed my inner strength over time?

I read a really good article this morning which gives 9 tips on developing your inner strength. I will reflect on each point they made in the article here.

  1. Start with Why – since reading and watching Simon Sinek I have had a heightened clarity of what I do, how I do it and why I do it. This has also made my communication clearer.
  2. Put Yourself First – as a teacher, a Middle Leader and a Senior Leader I was not very good at self-care. As I left the system I am prioritising self-care and reinforcing my boundaries.
  3. Train Your Mental and Emotional Body – coaching has really helped me realise how strong I am.
  4. Decide, Commit and Act – having conviction in my steps to be active and not passive enables me to bring to life what I believe in.
  5. Don’t Let Fear Dictate Your Decisions – having the courage to do what is right drives me, and reframing the things that might hold be back, ensures I keep moving forwards.
  6. Embrace What Scares You – not much scares me, but there are things that make me uncomfortable. I have consciously embraced getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  7. De-clutter Your Mind – making lists has always been a way for me to organise my thoughts but reflective writing has become an outlet for me in processing what I am thinking and feeling.
  8. Become Your Own Best Friend – practising what I preach is a way to hold myself to account. I often say to people, talk to yourself as you would a friend. Showing myself the kindness, empathy and compassion I show to others has become an intentional act of self-love.
  9. Practise Calm in Adversity – being a swan, is something I have grown into. As someone who is a high energy, I can often be on high alert, thus reacting and responding with energy. Practising the power of the pause, and working on my filters – facially and verbally – are strengths I have developed over time.

Why do we need more strong leaders?

I admire leaders who are strong. For me, strong leaders are compassionate and empathetic – their strength comes through the courage of their convictions. One of my sheroes is Jacinda Ardern who embodies this style of leadership for me. I wish more of our politicians in the UK could be the strong leaders that our country needs – leaders with integrity, humility, compassion and courage to do the right thing.

I think the greatest weakness of leaders who are strong in the wrong way, is their inability to be vulnerable and authentic.

Reflections:

We are all strong. We just don’t all know it.

We have all overcome things. We just don’t all reflect on it.

We all have strengths. We just don’t all lead with them.

Some questions to encourage some personal reflection

  • How often do you celebrate your strengths rather than critique your areas for growth?
  • How often do you reflect on what has made you strong (er)?
  • What are your greatest personal strengths?
  • How can you harness your inner strengths?

#DiverseEd

Yesterday, Bennie Kara and I, the co-founders of #DiverseEd hosted our latest virtual event. Bennie is a Deputy Headteacher in the Midlands, and soon to be published author. I am a former Headteacher – we founded a values-based school with Diversity as a core value.

If you missed the event you can view the broadcast via Twitter here or Youtube here.

Panel 1: Diverse Children

Amanda Jane Carter-Philpott – a campaigner for inclusivity – shared her work with refugee children – encouraging us to consider the labels we use and the approaches we need to take to be both inclusive and trauma-informed.

Anton Chisholm – a Maths teacher – reflected on his experience as a black student and now black male teacher, sharing some of the stark workforce statistics. He shared a letter sent by a group of students asking their high-performing school to become actively anti-racist.

David Hermitt – a MAT CEO – shared his trust-wide approach to responding to the impact of COVID-19 on the children with protected characteristics his schools serve. He also suggested how trusts can deploy their diverse staff to enable more children to see visible role models.

Lisa Stephenson – the Founder of the Storymakers Company, one of our partners – encouraged us to consider how we can diversify storytelling to amplify pupil voices. Sharing the pupils’ feedback on their experience of co-creating their own stories emphasised the powerful impact the process had had on them.

Nic Ponsford – the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of our latest partner, GEC, challenged us to think about representation and how our biases are formed. The GEC app and #SmashingStereotypes campaign are some of the practical steps schools can take.

The threads, for me, from part 1 were the need for visibility of diversity, how we can increase and amplify diverse role models and who has voice in our school system.

Part 2: Diverse Curriculum

Amardeep Panesar – a Headteacher – shared her leadership of cultural competency in her school to develop her pupils’ ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures by being aware of one’s own world view.

Christopher Richards – an international teacher in Spain – addressed the lack of diversity in textbooks and encouraged us to identify the gaps of who is invisible. He urged us to consider the voices being silenced through their absence.

Laila El-Metoui – Equality Advocate and Trainer – shared her vision for a compassionate, bias-aware and trauma-informed curriculum. She reminded us that visibility and representation are needed every day, all year long. Moreover, that ESOL funding + provision of digital devices are important to ensure all children are supported to access the curriculum.

Sufian Sadiq – a Teaching School Director – emphasised that inclusivity needs to be part of the ethos and culture of the school, not just another box to tick, and it needs to be done in a way that adds value. He urged us to reflect on the micro and macro pictures of diversity and inclusion in the local context and to use the dominant characteristic in your setting as a catalyst for exploring other ones.

Penny Rabiger – our partner speaker for Lyfta – spoke poetically about the power of human storytelling. Read the Lyfta blog here. She invited us to get curious about each other and ask us to share our stories with each other. She is also introduced us to a new word: ‘Firgun (פירגון)’ an informal modern Hebrew term & concept in Israeli culture: genuine, unselfish delight or pride in the accomplishment of the other person.

The threads, for me, from part 2 were for us to consider our perspective, to explore human storytelling and to create opportunities for all stakeholder groups to be catalysts for change.

Part 3: Diverse Staff

Abena Akuffo-Kelly – a Head of Computing/ ICT and Councillor – unpacked her intersectional identity. As she peeled back each layer, she shared the challenges and conflicts of each circle she sits in.

Javay Jeff Welter – a MFL teacher – addressed the lack of diverse males in teaching and asked us to challenge the lack of visible role models. Reflecting on the lack of representation at every layer of the education system he challenged us to consider how we can meaningfully diversify the school workforce.

Lily Bande – a PSHE lead teacher and Councillor – encouraged us all to challenge inequality and discrimination as we see and hear it, by being upstanders and not bystanders, by being consistent in our commitment to making a difference.

Yamina Bibi – an Assistant Headteacher – shared the analogy of diversity not being a handbag that we pick and choose. She spoke passionately about inclusive allyship and how we each need to consider our power and our privilege to address inequities in our workplaces to give voice to those who are marginalised.

Tasha Fletcher – an international teacher – was our partner speaker for Teaglo. Joining us from Uzbekistan, she shared a A-Ha moment during lockdown. Tash was a central voice in the #DailyWritingChallenge and joined me at an #IamRemarkable workshop where we unpack our relationship with self-promotion. Her call to action was there is no better time than now for us to stand up and be counted.

The threads, for me, from part 3 provoked reflections on authenticity, allyship and the call to be upstanders.

Part 4: Diverse Schools

Andrew Moffat – a trust Personal Development Lead and the founder of the ‘No Outsiders’ campaign – reminded us that diversity is not a single issue (one protected characteristic) work but the need for true equality in context – the desired outcome of everyone being equal, everyone being welcome in our schools.

Ebanie Xavier-Cope – a Year 6 teacher and KS2 lead – shared her sobering story of dealing with racism as a teacher. Her distressing experience highlights the need for systemic change – she emphasised that schools need to address these incidents, not the individual who is the victim. The racism she has experienced has galvanised her passion for change and she is leading on projects to re-educate her school community.

Jared Cawley – an international teacher in The Netherlands – talked about the importance of feeling safe in your school, how diverse people can be celebrated not just tolerated. Being given opportunities to thrive, include creating cultures where diverse people can bring their whole selves to work.

Sajid Gulzar – a MAT CEO and OBE recipient – shared his thoughts on talent management and how we need to create open cultures and transparent conversations to have the difficult conversations. From recruitment, to retention to talent-spotting he shared some of the thinking and conversations his team have been having about how to commit to a system wide strategy.

Professor Vini Lander – our partner speaker from the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality, encouraged us to create a safe space for all of our children as racism is a safeguarding issue. Race and racism has to matter to all educational leaders because our CYP are demanding that their teachers are conversant in and cognisant of all matters related to race. Her call to arms was for “courageous leadership” to move beyond the status quo and to commit to being ”Racially literate”.

The threads, for me, from part 4 centred around safety and the need to create safe spaces where everyone in our schools can be themselves, where our commitment to inclusion is for our staff as well as our children, and the call for us to be courageous leaders in our commitment to this work.

A massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the event, your contributions were phenomenal. Thank you also to our partners for supporting the event, to my co-host Bennie and wingman (behind the scenes) Richard and to the audience for joining us – your engagement, reflections and questions brought the virtual event to life.

At the end of the event we invited everyone to revisit their #MyDiverseEdPledge from June and to make a new one – please do make a commitment for something you can actively make happen in our collective responsibility to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in schools.

If you have not yet visited our #DiverseEd website the quick link is here.

You can sign up for our monthly #DiverseEd newsletter here.

You can submit a blog for us to publish here.

We will let you know the details for how you can contribute to the Diverse Educators book and will update on the Diversity in Governance series once they are live.

Finally, Bennie and I are hosting Diversity Masterclasses during half-term on October 29th for Teachers, Leaders and Governors if you would like to join us.

The Academy of Women’s Leadership: The Launch 03/10/20

5 years ago today we launched #WomenEd. The energy and excitement in the room as 200 women in education came together at Microsoft HQ in Victoria, London, was palpable and it gives me goose bumps even thinking about it.

5 years on and today Diana Osagie, CEO of Courageous Leadership, launched the Academy of Women’s Leadership, via zoom. The butterflies were the same – anticipation for the impact this initiative will have, the power this community will generate.

How things have changed in the last 5 years in how we connect and collaborate?

How things have changed for me in the last 5 years, both personally and professionally?

I entered the zoom room, buzzing with excitement, to meet the 50 women in leadership, from a range of different sectors, from around the world, who we will work with this year. I am one of the 13 women in leadership veterans working with Diana to bring the AWL programme to life. I felt privileged to be there as a curriculum designer, session facilitator and coach for the inaugural AWL cohort.

Diana dived straight in!

Anyone who has met Diana will know that once you have met her, you cannot un-meet her. Anyone who has met Diana will know she puts the rocket up your backside. There is no hiding. She challenges you in every way to make the changes you need to make. She lives her brand of courageous leadership to her very core.

Diana Osagie

Her opening wisdom was advice to all as we step into this journey about an affirmation to our current selves:

“Whilst I am making upgrades, I will not criticise the current version of myself…”

Diana had asked me in the late summer who I thought would be an inspiring and empowering keynote for the launch – I realised I knew the perfect person! During the summer when I was in Devon catching up with my sister she had introduced me to Michelle Robinson. Her words to us both individually had been “you must meet, you have so much in common, you will get on like a house on fire”. When we did meet our world’s collided as we realised we shared the same vision, values and passions about people, leadership, authenticity and representation. We even had some mutual contacts in common and we later realised she had come to a school where I was AHT to present awards for sports day!

So Michelle agreed to share her journey as an Olympian, as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter with the cohort. AWL is about us showing up as our whole selves, of us stepping in our truth, about us sharing what makes us vulnerable, about us owning our authenticity and she did not disappoint.

Michelle Griffiths-Robinson OLY

Michelle shared her story of going to therapy to process her journey and to become as strong internally as she was externally:

You need to commit to investing in you… I am still a work in progress… I am more confident now at 48 than ever… because I know who I am!”

Some of the pearls of wisdom she shared:

“Say No Early!”

Don’t compromise who you are, what you need and what you want for others.

“Rise and Leave!”

Don’t hang around to be disrespected. Rise above the negativity.

“Find who is in your corner.”

Know who has your back and who is championing you.

“YOU know where to find me. Go and find YOU! Own YOUR journey. Own YOUR truth!”

Self-awareness and authenticity of the way forward for everyone to have a happier, more confident and more fulfilled live, and a healthier relationship with ourselves.

The 60 minutes flew by as we listened, we reflected and we discussed our journeys as women in leadership. Diana chaired the Q&A superbly, and held the safe space we had created, for some of the community to share some deeply personally stories about their personal and professional journeys.

There are so many takeaways from this first hour of the year long programme, but my reflections are on the collective vision and responsibility of this group of women in leadership.

We all know our ‘why’ for being a leader. We all know ‘what’ our goal is. But often we are not confident in the ‘How’. The Academy of Women’s Leadership fills that space, the workshops, the reading, the coaching are all tools and resources to empower everyone to be, to become, to own the leader inside of them in an authentic and courageous way.

Cohort 1 of AWL

Are you ready to join us for a journey of self-discovery and growth?

To find out more:

Check out the website, the videos and take the Influence and Confidence test.

Follow the #AcademyWomensLeadership posts on social media to see the feedback from the 1st cohort.

Join a Discovery Call with Diana to find out more about the programme and how to join cohort 2 launching in January 2021.

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Disruption

noun. disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process; an act or instance of the order of things being disturbed.

2020: the year the world stopped. The year everything we knew changed. The year our lives were disrupted. The year the ‘order of things’ was disturbed. The year that everything that was certain became uncertain overnight.

Synonyms for disruption include: disturbance… disorder… interference… upset… interruption… unsettling… confusion…disintegration… discord… breaking up… separation… alienation… hostility…

Antonyms for disruption: union… amalgamation… reconciliation…appease… organise… order… compose… sooth…calm…

As someone who loves change, is disruption always a bad thing? Is disruption a negative or a welcome occurrence? Is a disruption always a ‘problem’ or can it be a catalyst? The word seems to be very loaded.

I have decided to embrace and own my disruptive nature. I am a positive disruptor as my friend Jaz would call it. I challenge the status quo through my disruptive thinking, my disruptive questioning, my disruptive conversations. I am a disruptive leader. I don’t cause chaos, although I have been compared to a whirlwind at times…

For me disruption is about challenging what we know to affect change, positive change. It is about innovating and challenging systems and processes to transform things as we know them. Disruption brings a cycle of change, it encourages things to evolve and iterate.

Thus a positive disruption is when the equilibrium, when what we know or think we know, is disrupted intentionally and deliberately.

A good example of positive disruption is the grassroots movement around diversity, equity and inclusion – educators over the last 5 years have taken things into their own hands. The rise of #WomenEd, #BAMEed, #LGBTed, #DisabilityEd and #DiverseEd is an act of disruption. The systems and structures have been challenged to affect change.

So what are we intentionally and deliberately disrupting through our work with the #DiverseEd community?

  • We are intentionally disrupting the lack of diversity in governance and trust boards.
  • We are intentionally disrupting the lack of diversity in ITTE.
  • We are intentionally disrupting the lack of diverse representation in the sector.
  • We are intentionally disrupting the lack of diversity in thought leadership.

As a leader I am quite comfortable being disruptive. I am bold as I am values-led and have the conviction of my actions. I am confident in breaking the rules and in remaking the rules. I don’t really have a comfort zone, and I don’t really stay in the safe zone of equilibrium and I don’t maintain the status quo.

For me a disruptive leader is someone who is outward-facing, someone who has a growth mindset, someone who focuses on the positives of change. A disruptive leader has a vision and is strategic in working towards that bigger picture. A disruptive leader influences and inspires others to go bigger and to go further. A disruptive leader breaks through barriers and shows a different journey.

So if you want to cultivate a disruptive mindset here are some tips:

  1. Be curious – constantly ask why questions and open doors to possibilities.
  2. Be courageous – get visible, stand up and be counted.
  3. Be agile – create new opportunities and bring others with you.
  4. Be influential – exchange knowledge and understanding with others.
  5. Be reflective – reflect on how diverse your circles are and how you can cross-fertilise your connections and skills.
  6. Be innovative – get creative and see the solutions not the problems.