#MonthlyWritingChallenge – Boundaries, by Elizabeth Walsh-Iheoma

When Boundaries are Broken, Speak Up!

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

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

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

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

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

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Impact

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

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

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

Who or what comes to mind when you reflect on:

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

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

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

Firstly we need to be clear on:

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

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

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

As Leaders How Do We Make an Impact?

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

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

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

As Leaders How Do We Increase Our Impact?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Pride – an anonymous post

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

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

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

New King James Version

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

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

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

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

New International Version

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

The Clear Word Bible

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

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

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

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

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I set my boundaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who is responsible for holding racist teachers accountable?

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

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

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

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

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

I am tired of the performance social justice in education. 

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

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

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

#MonthlyWritingChallenge: Pride

noun. feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired; consciousness of one’s own dignity.

verb. be especially proud of (a particular quality or skill).

There are so many angles on how we can unpack ‘pride’ so I have been mulling over how to capture my thinking for this one as I kept going off on tangents.

From 1st February it is UK LGBTQ+ History Month so there is an obvious thread to think about identity, sexual orientation and allyship.

I am keen for us to create workplace cultures where everyone can bring their whole self and where each individual can be visibly proud of their authentic self. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we have amplified the reflection on how physically and psychologically safe people of colour feel in our school system and in our society. But there are increasing concerns about the impact of lockdown on the LGBTQ+ community, especially if school is the safe space for young people to be themselves and their home environment is an unsafe one, or somewhere where they cannot be authentic.

This week it is also Place 2 Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week and the theme this year is ‘Express Yourself’ which also speaks directly to our sense of self, our ability to be authentic, our ability to communicate who we are.

As someone who is passionate about DEI and MHWB, I encourage people to think about the intersect between identity and wellbeing as there is research that shows that you are more likely to suffer from mental health issues if you have lived experience of a protected characteristic. In some cultures disabilities and especially mental health are stigmatised which creates additional barriers to identifying and supporting individuals who are suffering.

So for me when I reflect on pride it also leads me to reflecting on privilege. There are things I am proud of which perhaps have been easier things to achieve or overcome, because of my identity and upbringing.

Pride is sometimes also associated with ego. To be proud can be seen as a character vice rather than a character virtue. We can be proud of others, but to be proud of ourselves can be seen as bordering on arrogance.

I was facilitating an #IamRemarkable session yesterday morning with a group of brilliant women who inspired and empowered each other to consider the correlation between those who self-promote and those who get promoted. The session helps you to explore your relationship with your accomplishments and reflect on the story you tell about yourself or allow others to tell about you.

Many women and people of colour do not show pride in their accomplishments for fear of criticism and judgement, as the message from society to some groups of people is to be humble and modest. One of the key takeaways from the session is that “it is not bragging if it is based on facts”, encouraging us to own and celebrate our achievements, but to anchor them in evidence so that they are concrete.

Then there is the collective noun, for a group of lions. A pride is a female heavy social group, with a matriarchal hierarchy, who bring up their offspring through communal parenting. This social behaviour is unique to the large cat species.

I have travelled quite extensively in Africa as it is one of my favourite continents to visit, and after the elephant, the lion is the creature I most enjoy observing in their natural habitat. A lion pride spends a lot of time in idleness and sleeping, preserving their energy to then hunt for prey. I love watching a large group of cubs gathered as a family unit, lounging around their lionesses, as they sunbath on a large rock. The tight bonds across the pride are visible. There is a sense of safety in the cubs being near their mothers, and of the nomadic males patrolling the perimeters of their pride to ward off enemies.

So my musings on pride make me consider how I can be a better ally for the LGBTQ+ community. It also encourages me to reflect on what I have achieved and how I communicate that sense of pride in myself. Moreover, it makes me want to host more #IamRemarkable sessions to hold the mirror up to my network to help them to see the version of who they are that we see and celebrate. Finally, it makes me think about the people who are around me, protecting me, and in turn who I am a lioness for, in creating that sense of unity and safety for others.

#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”.


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.