#DailyWritingChallenge Day 4: Guilt – an anonymous blog

I’m 6 years old.  It’s Sunday morning.  For weeks now I’ve been feeling I’m not that keen on church – all the other children know each other because they all go to a Christian school.  Dolphin School it’s called.  I always wonder why.  Doesn’t sound like a Christian school.  I feel left out. 

That morning I decide to try out something my friend Zara always does because she doesn’t like school.  She says she doesn’t feel well.  She says she has a headache.  I can’t bring myself to lie so blatently as all that so I persuade myself that I really do have a headache and a sore throat and feel tired.  For once my parents listen and my big sister stays at home with me. 

So my parents and other sister head off in the car and we stay behind.  My big sister says we can go outside.  Shouldn’t I stay in if I’m ill? I ask.  Why? she says.  I’ll wrap you up in a rug.  I’ll wrap you up so tight.  I’ll make you snug as a bug in a rug.  The joy of rhyming swings it.  So we go outside and she wraps me up in a blanket like a big sausage roll on the grass.  I take off my jumper and hang it over the climbing frame and we play for a while in the blanket.  She rolls me over and over.  I laugh and laugh.  Snug as a bug in a rug! I chime, Snug as a bug in a rug. 

Let’s go inside before the others get back so they don’t find out, I suggest.  Still worried at the back of my mind.  Niggling guilt.  We go inside and remember the blanket but forget the jumper.  It’s still outside swinging over the climbing frame right in front of the back door for everyone to see.  Mum and Dad get back.  You don’t seem too ill, they say.  And you’ve been outside! says my middle sister.  She’s jealous.  She wishes she didn’t go to church too. Why were you outside if you were ill?  More guilt.  They know.  They KNOW. 

I lied.  Guilt.  Overpowering guilt.  Not just any lie.  A lie to my parents.  A lie to get out of going to church.  A lie so that I didn’t have to worship God. 

They didn’t tell me off.  A sigh from my mum was enough.  I never did that again.  Instead I went to church every week.  Went to Sunday school with the children who all went to school together.  Did the colouring in and listened to the stories and sang songs and did the actions.

After that I was a good girl.

No more lying.

Ever.

Leadership Presence

Leadership presence is made up of several facets. Presence is the ability to take command of a room, assume a leadership role amongst various audiences, share our thinking and opinion with confidence, and strike a balance between talking and listening such that our communication style is both persuasive and impactful.

Leadership presence is a perception that is deeply rooted in organisational and cultural biases:

  • Perceived confidence through words
  • Perceived confidence through body language
  • Ability to ask clear, meaningful questions
  • Ability to craft and defend a clear point of view
  • Being able to hold steady and participate effectively in debate
  • Being able to stand one’s ground
  • Expressed passion
  • Asking questions at the right “level”

A leader with impressive presence is accomplished at:

  • Adapting to an audience’s energy level, cadence, and needs. For example, for a less engaged group, we as leaders need to be able to rev up the energy, talk more than listen, and lead the conversation; whereas a more engaged, energised group requires more observation and facilitation.
  • Having a certain level of situational awareness and be able to read the room quickly.
  • Tracking with the conversation to determine the right approach toward influence. This requires thinking quickly on our feet, and reading both verbal and nonverbal cues.

Leadership presence is rooted in our basic values – and the “inner work” of knowing our strengths, weaknesses, talents and biases is crucial to aligning people’s impression of us with our best authentic self.

I am currently training with Resilient Leaders Elements to be a consultant coach. The coaching programme, platform and resources are based on 15 years worth of practice-led research from leaders across the world in different sectors. It is distilled down into 4 Elements, and each element is informed by 3 facets.

Leadership Presence is defined by RLE as:

“Being true to yourself, your values and your ethical code, being in service to others and bringing a focus and a bias for achievement to your organisation and to others around you”. 

The impact of this element on us as leaders:

“You have presence even when you’re not in the room. The best person takes the lead and is fully supported by all around them, leading to greater effectiveness and better results. People know each other well enough to anticipate other’s actions and to act accordingly”.   

As leaders we need to have presence and be aware of our presence. Our presence is shaped by how we show up, how we connect and how we commit:

  • Authenticity: demonstrating integrity and conviction, operating to your values and your ethics, being true to yourself.
  • Serving: the needs of others are the priority; you are committed to the development of people. 
  • Intentional: remaining focused on the purpose of the organisation, to be positive and appreciative rather than criticising; having personal energy and a bias for achievement.   

Leadership Presence 5Leadership presence can also be referred to as gravitas. I am often asked by people  who I coach to help them build their gravitas.

Gravitas is a quality that a leader exudes because she chooses to say and do only what is important. Others grant her respect and pay particular attention to what she says and does because she knows that she adds weight or value to any situation in which she speaks.

Gravitas is confidence and expertise. It gives weight to our thoughts, words and actions, causing others to gravitate towards us. It is knowing our stuff, which gives us a credible, influential voice. To develop it, we first need to give value to ourselves, our thoughts and knowledge. We then need to become a subject matter expert in our area and show that we are able to answer any question thrown at us in a calm and collected way.

“I gravitate towards gravitas”.

Morgan Freeman

There is a lot of advice out there about how we as leader can develop our presence and expand our gravitas. I have summarised some of the articles I have read below.

Firstly, we need to establish our leadership presence – here are 10 tips to consider (especially useful if you are new to leadership, new to role or new to an organisation):

  1. Show up as a whole person
  2. Lead with what we care about
  3. Begin a conversation that others want to continue
  4. Focus through your body
  5. Cultivate sustainable curiosity
  6. Start by standing still
  7. Find the story in everything
  8. Hold something back
  9. Investigate your impact
  10. Build our “muscle memory”

If you are established as a leader but want to improve your presence then consider these tips to further enhance how you are seen:

  1. Boost your self-confidence and manage your self-doubt. To boost your confidence, adjust your physical posture so you are standing up straight – channel Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose.
  2. Remind yourself: “What’s on their face is not about me.” Confident leaders maintain their composure at all times – staying calm is key to improving your leadership presence.
  3. Stay credible. Credibility revolves around body language and communication. However, certain words — like “because” — automatically increase one’s credibility as it adds weight to what you  are saying.
  4. Invest in social capital. Your connections with others and your social relationships add value. Connect in a more powerful way with others – instead of focusing on how you can promote yourself, think about how you can help them.
  5. Send two sets of body language signals. Showing confident body language will highlight your power and status, while open body language accentuates warmth and inclusiveness. By sending a perfect mixture of both, you will improve your leadership presence.

If you do not yet have the leadership presence you want, keep working through these 12 elements until you have discovered the influence that belongs to you and they have become positive habits.

  1. Develop your character: Your character should never be silent. It needs to have a voice that reflects your heart and soul. When you lead with character, you give the essence of your identity.
  2. Mind your attitude: Your attitude as a leader influences those around you, whether it is negative or positive. It will be felt by those around you more quickly than your actions. A great leadership presence is practised not so much in words as in attitudes and in actions.
  3. Everything you wear has an expression: How you look and how you dress are important. Appearances make the first impression, so make sure your outward appearance reflects who you are inwardly – represent yourself authentically and appropriately.
  4. Respect is the presence of everything: Great leaders build presence by practising respect in three ways: respect for self, respect for others, and responsibility for actions. Without respect and responsibility true leadership presence is impossible.
  5. Master competency: Great leaders do not tell people what they know but show others how it is done. You have to be proficient in your field and an expert with your skills to have a presence in your leadership.
  6. Cultivate communication: You need the skills to inform others, engage with others, and advise others in a clear and concise way that can be implemented and followed. The art of communication is the language of leadership.
  7. Pay attention, your body is speaking: People may not always tell you how they feel, but they will always show you what they are thinking—you just have to pay attention to their presence. Body language sends clear message, even when people are not speaking. Make sure your own body language is consistent with what you say; do not contradict yourself.
  8. Emotional intelligence: Intelligence is important, but emotional intelligence matters more. It gives you the ability to understand yourself and others, a critical component of creating presence.
  9. Accountability is your responsibility: To have presence is to accept responsibility for your actions and be accountable for your results. Without accountability there is no presence in leadership. Hold yourself to account and be responsible for everything you say and do, moreover for the impact it has on others.
  10. Motivation comes from within: A true leadership presence motivates and inspires others – to share a vision, to take initiative, to work towards a common purpose, to work together to accomplish tasks and to achieve goals. Be close enough to relate but be far enough to keep people moving forward.
  11. Integrity is always the purpose: Some people think leadership is all about power, but actually it is all about having integrity. Having integrity means choosing your thoughts and actions based on your values and not on your personal gain.
  12. Reputation builds perception: When you have a leadership presence, it becomes a central part of your reputation. When your reputation is built on your character, it is who you really are that defines how others see you.

Presence is much more than just being there, it is about adding value and making a difference for yourself and those around you. Leadership presence is seen externally but needs working on internally. Leading from within, leading ourselves stems from having a strong core.

Imagine your gravitas as an internal light bulb, the more confident, the more energy and the more authentic you become, the brighter that light shines. This light then emits from your body, through everything you say and do to create a powerful presence.

We thus need to focus on the inner work, before we can focus on the outer work. Through coaching and training you can break down and flex each of the individual components that together create a powerful whole. Hold on to your power and do not give it away. Fill the space – both physically and vocally, do not shrink and hide. Communicate confidently – reframe apologetic language, do not diminish yourself and avoid self-deprecation.

Be authentic. Be in service. Be intentional.

Leadership Presence Quotes. QuotesGram

 

 

Being successful or becoming successful?

noun. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
Being successful. Becoming successful. Accomplishing goals. Achieving success.
We are surrounded by the language of success, but does it need to be a binary opposition of winning v losing or being successful v unsuccessful?
Success isn’t about luck. Success is about being driven to succeed. Success is about fulfilling our potential.
Successful people share certain traits – they are open and curious; they are in control of themselves and their actions; they are conscientious and vigilant; they are driven and hardworking.
Success is our mindset. Having a growth mindset (the belief that we are in control of our own ability, and can learn and improve) is the key to success. Hard work, effort, and persistence are all important, but they are not as important as having that underlying belief that we are in control of our own destiny. A success mindset allows us flexibility to see the different possibilities and steps needed to get the job done.
Success is psychological as it is the accomplishment of our self-defined goals. A goal is simply a dream with a deadline. Once we feel that we have accomplished the goal we set ourselves, we have succeeded.
success 3

Some Steps to Success:

  1. Identify your goal.
  2. Set  your deadline.
  3. Make a plan to get you there.
  4. Take action – do something every day to move toward your goal.
  5. Evaluate how you are doing.
  6. Resolve in advance that you will persist until you succeed and that you will not give up.
  7. Reflect on what you achieve.
  8. Celebrate successfully fulfilling your goal.

Carol S. Dweck Quotes (33 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

 

In Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset: The Psychology of Success’ there are 10 big ideas that she outlines:

  1. Adopt a growth mindset and focus on learning over achievement;
  2. Change your mindset by thinking and reacting in different ways;
  3. Become a growth-mindset thinker in the moment;
  4. Love what you are doing by embracing the process and the growth;
  5. Reward the journey, regardless of the outcome;
  6. See your relationships from a growth mindset;
  7. Appreciate that artistic ability can be developed through training;
  8. Understand that physical skills can be developed through training;
  9. Shape mindsets through the gift of growth mindset actions and words.
  10. Accept that we all have interests that can blossom into abilities.

Carol S. Dweck Quotes (33 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

So let’s focus on becoming successful, in whatever we are doing, rather than being successful. Success is not a destination but the journey we are on. The growth is in the struggle, the learning is in the endeavour. Let’s also remember that we set our own goals and determine our own success criteria.
Success requires a growth mindset.

“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”

Steve Maraboli

Success requires imagination.
“Make your life a masterpiece; imagine no limitations on what you can be,
have or do”. 
Brian Tracy 
Success requires self-motivation.
“Your success and happiness lie in you”.
Helen Keller

Success requires determination.

“Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts.
This is the secret of success”.
Swami Sivananda
Success requires intentional activity.
“Success is never accidental”.
Jack Dorsey

Success requires commitment.

“Success does not lie in results, but in efforts, being the best is not so important, doing the best is all that matters”. Unknown 
Success requires effort over time.
“Success is a journey not a destination”.
Unknown
Success requires embracing opportunities and the fear of the unknown.
“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on”.
Sheryl Sandberg
success 2

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 3: Honesty – an anonymous blog

This is a story about living in two bizarrely different worlds, and gradually learning to be honest about who I am, ‘fitting in’ in neither space but belonging wherever I am accepted as myself.

I grew up on Brixton hill, where prostitutes stood on the corner, and I could see the corner shop getting robbed from my window.  In the holidays, we stayed with my Mum’s extended family, who were upper class and wealthy.  Conservative MPs.  ‘sir this’ ‘lord that’ ‘lady this’.  They lived in huge mansions surrounded by ornate gardens and fields.

It was a bizarre double life.  No-one at my primary school could even imagine it: sitting up at long, wooden dining tables; playing croquet on the lawn; making cucumber sandwiches and laying out the cutlery correctly; watering the kitchen garden; boating on the lake; racing barefoot to the end of the bowling green.  Likewise, none of my great aunts or uncles could possibly have envisioned my school life.  Cussing each other and each other’s mums.  Standing on the wall singing Spice Girls.  Singing gospel music at full volume every morning in assembly.  My defensiveness that at times bordered aggression.

To pretend I belonged to either life felt dishonest.  Like my classmates, we had no money.  Unlike them, we had a house full of paintings that my Dad had inherited; a fall back to sell if times got hard enough.  Like my classmates, I dropped my ‘t’s, kissed my teeth and ‘cut my eye’ at people, but my voice always retained a posh, even plumy edge.  The swagger never looked quite right on me.  I had neither black people’s hair nor the acceptable version of white people’s hair – it wasn’t sleek, it was knotty and curly and unmanageable.  I never had Nike trainers or Adidas tracksuits.  I had to be honest: I didn’t fit in.

After going to my local primary school, I was sent to a private secondary school because a great aunt left money for school fees in her will.

I’d never heard of netball – at my school we only played basketball, but apparently now that was considered a boys’ sport.  I was grade 5 on the recorder, but now I was told that the recorder was not a real instrument and I was put into the beginners’ music class, being taught musical terminology I’d known since year 2.  At lunchtime, people actually queued for their lunch!  I took full advantage, every day pushing my way past all the other students straight to the front.  If no-one was going to push back or tell on me, why would I bother waiting?  Attempting to fit in, I left behind my primary school friends, stopped kissing my teeth and learned instead to swear in a posh voice.  I took up playing the oboe (paid for by my aunt and uncle) and joined the choir.

Like my classmates, I had relatives who lived in the countryside, but while my classmates talked about their exotic holidays in Australia, I didn’t even know where Australia was.  I’d never been out of the UK.  They talked about their ‘allowance’, with most of them receiving around £70 a month from their parents.  I didn’t even get pocket money!  I didn’t shop in Jane Norman or have a Pineapple tracksuit.  I had to be honest:  I didn’t fit in.

It’s taken me years to realise that fitting in is not the goal.  Honesty is more important than fitting in.  Tempting as it is for me to reject one world or the other, honesty with myself requires me to be who I am – this in-between-worlds person.  Honesty with myself offers other people the opportunity to accept me as I am, and offers me the opportunity to accept others as they are, no matter what worlds they come from.  Honesty with myself creates a space for belonging, that is, acceptance that includes difference.  This belonging is something I am both learning to find for myself and in turn to offer to all those around me.

honesty 4

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 2: Courage – an anonymous blog

A memory:  I’m 9 years old and by now I’ve spent years dreaming of being able to sail a boat (I blame reading Swallows and Amazons), so my mum has sent me on a course.  We’ll be sleeping in bunks on a ship that is moored by the side of a harbour.  The night before, I am so excited I barely sleep.  Finally, the morning arrives, and I haul an enormous suitcase onto the deck.  The other children all live locally and arrive with friends, but being from London, I don’t know anyone else who is interested in boats so I am alone.  I’m desperate to sleep on the top bunk, so I lay out my sleeping bag as soon as I arrive.  When the others get there, they don’t mind.  They all agree that they would be too scared to sleep on the top bunk.  “What if I fall out?”, they ask me.

That night, as we’re all getting into bed, there’s some creaking and a a clunk, and a screw falls out of the bedframe.  My room-mates are terrified.  What if the bed collapses?  I offer to go and find one of the adults to ask them about it.  “Wow, you’re so brave” the other girls all tell me.

This strikes me as odd.  What could possibly be scary about going to find an adult?  But they are afraid of the dark.  They are afraid of being told off.  They are afraid of ghosts.  They are afraid of the bed collapsing.  I am afraid too, but I’d never admit it.  So with heart beating in my chest, I traipse off into the darkness of the cabin to sort out the situation.

With hindsight, there were some fundamental differences in our upbringings – and especially our schooling up until that point.  I was used to standing up for myself.  I went to a primary school where if you didn’t learn to push, you would be last.  If you didn’t learn to cuss, you would be ground down.  I was never a Rude Girl, but I made sure I carried out my share of “your mum” insults during arguments, and I never let anyone intimidate me.  When I was scared, I definitely never let it show.

With hindsight, my school was quite rough.  I remember watching Jordan grabbing the headteacher’s jacket and kicking him in the shins before vaulting over the school gate and running off down the road.  I remember seeing the girls trying to wind up Sellom, knowing that if he was violent one more time he’d be expelled; when he finally punched Rochelle in the nose, blood poured down her face.  I remember Jared and Nicholas ranking the girls in the class from fit to ugly, telling some they were too fat – telling me I looked anorexic.  I remember Rachel leaving suddenly – rumour was she’d stolen money off her mum and been chucked out the house.  I remember being smacked round the face by Kadisha in year 5 and by Howard in year 6.  I never let the shock of it show though – like most of my class I believed that showing emotion was weakness.

Most of us were hit or beaten by our parents if we did something wrong.  I was lucky my Dad only occasionally hit me used his hand – my classmates had everything from wooden spoons to belt buckles.  Sometimes they had the bruises to show for it.

The next day, we were pushed out into little sailing boats and taught how to use them.  While other children bickered and fought about who was better at sailing, I came with no prior experience.  I knew I was privileged to be there; I knew my parents had paid for it, even though they didn’t have much money, and that most of my classmates could only dream of such experiences.  I threw everything at it – and I loved it.  Best of all was the capsize practice, where we had to turn over a boat in the middle of the harbour, then use our bodies to try and lever it up again before hauling ourselves into the boat.

Some aspects of my primary education have had to be un-learnt: I had to learn that showing emotion wasn’t weakness, and that it’s not ok for others to hurt me.  I had to learn that it’s ok to feel afraid, and that it’s alright to be shy.  I had to learn that I wasn’t as ugly as I had been told.  I had to learn to ask for help.

Nevertheless, I credit my early schooling with the development of certain aspects of my character.  Something about learning to grab hold of opportunities when they come and throw your whole self into them; learning not to give up when the going gets tough; understanding the extent of my privilege; learning to push myself forwards and be determined; learning when necessary to not give a shit; being determined to do things my own way and not simply submit to the status quo;

Learning walk out into the darkness despite my own fear.

Grit.  Perseverance.  Courage.

courage 5

#DailyWritingChallenge Day 1: Kindness – an anonymous blog

March: Being a Lodger (London)

Their business was going under, the daughter had university exams coming up, they were anxious about the people they support.  None of us anticipated what lodging would be like during lockdown.  Things began to unravel.  I am a straight talker – they are skirters-round.  I get enthusiastic – they are more reasoned.  I am a one – they are a family.  More and more of my comments were greeted by awkward silences.  I was accused of being blunt and bossy, of bossing them around in their own home.  I was told they were glad I wasn’t their teacher.  I started to avoid them as much as I could.  I spent most of my time at the allotment or wandering around the streets talking on the phone.  When I told them I was leaving, their relief was palpable.  It didn’t matter that I was being picked up by a man that I had only recently started dating who would take me to a cottage in the middle of the countryside to stay for an indefinite time period with no transport of my own.

Kindness of the Month:

I made friends with the woman on the allotment next-door and told her everything.  She listened and shared in turn.  Although she was a total stranger, her kindness made that time possible.  She let me sit in her greenhouse when it was raining.  I don’t even know her name.

April: Being a Girlfriend (Kent)

Week 1 at his mum’s “spare cottage” was glorious.  Week 2 the arguments started.  He hated it if I was anything but happy – but not too happy!  Week 3 was bad – we stayed away from each other, and I refused to put on a show for his mother.  He told me that sex with his previous girlfriend had been better than with me – and other similar comments.  When I accidentally broke his mum’s candle holder, he got furious.  When I told him I wanted to leave, he said he wasn’t going to drive me anywhere – I’d have to make my own way – despite being miles from the nearest bus or train station.  I felt trapped.  I’m not ok with being shamed.  I’m not ok with having someone shouting in my face for making a mistake.  I messaged round, and eventually got through to a friend who said he’d love to have me stay and would pick me up.

Kindness of the Month:

I was put into an email group with four women from church of all different ages and stages of life.  Although they were strangers, they sent me the kindest messages, sharing their own experiences, empathising and making suggestions.  I can’t wait to meet them all in person.

May: Being a Friend (Surrey)

My friend picked me up the next day.  As I arrived, I was told, “Make yourself at home and help yourself to anything!”  “Phew!”, I thought, “Finally I can relax!”  It only took a few days before I realised how wrong I was.  My heart sank.  If I spoke on the phone, I was too noisy.  I wasn’t allowed to shower after 8pm or before 9am and I wasn’t allowed downstairs after 10pm.  I was allowed to use one glass and one mug per day and it had to be the short glass and it had to be left on the right of the sink when not in use.  I had to ask before I ate anything, watched anything or listened to music.  I had to eat what I was given – all of it, no excuses.  I was told I was closed-minded, always negative, inflexible and rigid.  I was told off many times a day for every infraction.  After confronting my friend, I was accused of being unkind to him.  This was my lowest ebb, as by now I started to believe the things said.  I started staying in bed all morning and couldn’t sleep at night.  I dreaded the day.  Every minute turned into a battle to distract myself from the desire to self-harm.  After a while, I realised I needed some transport of my own.  I spent days on Autotrader, looking for a sale within walking distance so that I was able to pick it up.  I had saved up for a Masters course which I had just heard had to be postponed a year.  I spent it all on a car so that I could get away.

Kindness of the Month:

I discovered the Daily Writing Challenge – a community of people online who knew nothing of my circumstances but were continually kind and encouraging in their comments and responses.  This community of kind people who I had never met gave me something positive to think about at a time when I needed it most.

June: Being a Sister (Bristol)

I drove to my sister’s house where her 2 month old son, my first nephew who I hadn’t yet met, was waiting for me.  I hadn’t lived with my sister since I was 10, so I didn’t know what to expect, but she and her partner were relentlessly kind to me.  I spent my days there rocking the baby to sleep or wheeling him round and round the garden.  It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know them all better.  I left when I was needed back at school for the end of term.  My sister and I both cried as we said goodbye.

July: Being a Colleague (London)

Coming back to London, I didn’t want to go back to the house where I’d been lodging, so one of my colleagues agreed to put me up in return for some pet-sitting while I sorted out my accommodation.  Other colleagues have provided tea and cake and socially distanced picnics.  Gradually, all their little kindnesses are putting me back together again.

kindness 6

 

NourishEd: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Woman

Four labels, four identities, four experiences. How does the intersectionality of these roles shape me into being the person who I am and who I have become?

I am Hannah. I am a woman who is a daughter and a sister. I am not a mother, but I am a god mother, I am also an aunt. I am a human being who is sisterly.

mother daughter sister woman

Motherhood

A mother is a woman in relation to her child or children –  I always wanted to have kids and thought I would be a mother one day. I am now 41 and single, and I have accepted the fact that that ship has probably sailed. I am not sad but am at peace with that reality. I am not a religious person, but ironically, Hannah is the name of the wife of Elkanah in the Old Testament. Her rival was fertile Peninnah, whilst Hannah was barren. After a blessing from Eli she did become pregnant with Samuel. If I am meant to be a mother, it will happen, and I am open to what that may look like. I have always dated men who have children and I have often considered becoming a foster parent. My own Mum got married at 18, she had me at 20 and my sister at 21. She was a young mum as I grew up, a lot younger than most of my peers’ mothers. Her own mother had passed when I was 3 or 4 years’ old, so she navigated being a young mum without the support of her own mum. My Mum owned and ran a large successful nursery school, so I was already around kids growing up, Gran was also a primary school teacher, so it is probably why I ended up teaching. Mum throws herself headfirst into being a Grandmother, I wonder if it is because she is subconsciously making up for us growing up with that figure in our lives.

To mother is to give birth to but also to bring up (a child) with care and affection. As a teacher, I have been a maternal figure in every school I have worked at. As a Head of Year, a Faculty Leader, the only female in a school as Vice Principal and as the founding Headteacher of 2 schools, I have always mothered my students, my staff. I am nurturing and a matriarch, and I was very much a tiger mum with my team.  So I may not have given birth to lots of the children who I have nurtured over the years, but I have been a maternal presence for them and often get called ‘Mum’ by students in error.

“It is not about how much you do, but how much love

you put into what you do that counts”.

Mother Theresa

Godmotherhood

In the traditional sense, a god mother is a woman who presents a child at baptism and promises to take responsibility for their religious education. I am the God mother for 3 families, 3 of my close girl friends have bestowed the gift of choosing me to play an active role in their children’s lives. To be a god mother these days is to be an additional adult, a role model. I treat all of the children in each family as my god children –  I am an aunt to all of them. Godmother can also be defined as a woman who is influential or pioneering in a movement or organisation. I was not aware of this significance and love this use, I am thus the Godmother of #WomenEd too, a 30,000 strong community of women.

Daughterhood

Daughterhood is the state of being someone’s daughter – I am the eldest daughter or our small family, both my parents are also the eldest. We have all experienced being the firsts in our families. As a teenager my relationship with my Mum was tumultuous, we argued a lot. We are both of a fiery disposition, we are strong willed, opinionated and we are not afraid to articulate our thoughts and feelings. This led to regular fireworks. As I left home to go travelling and then to University, my relationship with my parents changed. They enabled my independence, they encouraged my adventurous outlook, and they supported my career aspirations.  I know they are very proud of everything I have achieved. As I have got older, my Mum and I have found a peace and an ease to our relationship where we seldom argue anymore.

Sisterhood

I have a younger sister, Philippa,  who is 18 months younger than me. In some ways we are chalk and cheese, in other ways, we have a lot in common. At secondary school we often fought, but when I went to University and she moved in with her partner Jon, my now brother-in-law, we became closer. Despite this, I was fiercely protective of her and would always fight her corner – no one was allowed to be unkind to my sister or they would receive the ‘Wilson Wrath’. She is one of my best mates and I would choose to have her in my life, even if we were not related. I know I am lucky to have her as a constant source of emotional support. She is the kinder, gentler, more thoughtful and more free-spirited version of me! She is also a fantastic mother. She married and had kids young, like our own Mum, so it often feels like she is my big sister as she is much more settled and more responsible than I have been.

Sisterhood is not just those who are blood related though. I am lucky to have a lot of sisters in my life, friends where the connection is really and truly deep. My best-friend Zoe emigrated to Canada 10 years ago, but we are as close today as we were then, in some ways we are closer as we make the effort to talk once a week. We make a concerted effort to stay in contact and updated with one another’s lives. I am the god parent of her eldest and visit them each year or we meet on a holiday somewhere in the Americas. I have other ‘sisters’ who are fellow kindred spirits, they are soul sisters and they are my wing women. I am fiercely principled in sisterly conduct and I just do not understand women who are not sisterly in their attitudes and actions. Unsisterly behaviour is a non-negotiable for me in my friendships and working relationships.

Aunt

I have added Aunt as this is a facet of my identity that is really important to me. I am a proud aunt to Flinn and Etta, my sister’s kids. I was there straight after their births and I have been very involved in their early childhoods and a constant presence as they have grown up. I love spending time with them and am proud of the lovely characters they both have. I take my responsibility as their legal guardian very seriously, should anything happen to my sister and my brother-in-law, they have bestowed their trust in me to bring them up with their values. I am also close to my own Aunt – Bec is my Mum’s younger sister and I lived with her for a period when I first became a teacher in London.

Womanhood

I am proud to be a woman and I love the different facets of my identity. My relationships with other women make me the woman I am today. I consider myself very lucky to have so many strong, phenomenal women in my life looking out for me. Founding #WomenEd five years ago opened a flood gate and I have met so many inspiring women: women who have smashed glass ceilings; women who have smashed concrete ceilings; women who have survived tragedy; women who advocate for other women; women who nurture and empower others; women who are pioneers and who trailblaze a different way of being, a different way of leading.

Thank you to all of the phenomenal women I know, you inspire me, you empower me, you challenge me and you nurture me. This poem by my favourite writer is for you all:

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

NourishEd: This is How We Look When We Lead

I have always been tall. Well above average in height shall we say. I come from ‘good stock’ it has been said by family friends who are farmers – Dad is 6ft 1 and my Mum’s aunt is also 6ft too, so we have height on both sides of the family. But I am not just tall for a human – I am really tall for a woman. I tower over my female friends and some of my male friends too.

I can remember having friends who were taller than me at primary school and in Key Stage 3. I think I stopped growing around Year 9. My body hit pause, I was tall, but not exceptionally tall at this stage. Then something happened in Year 10. I shot up a few more inches. I became huge. A giant.

Being 6ft 1 when you are 14/15 and growing up in the 1990s in North Devon was hard when it came to clothes. I can remember the pain of clothes shopping as a teenager. My younger sister, by 18 months, is a couple of inches shorter than me, and we have very different body shapes. I have always been curvy, carried a few extra pounds and am all leg (36 inches is my inside leg measurement!) whereas Pip is sportier in her physique and has a long back/ shorter legs. It meant that sharing clothes couldn’t really happen either.  Saturday shopping trips for jeans or black trousers would often lead to arguments and tears.

My Mum is above average height at 5ft6 but she looks like a midget standing next to Dad, my sister and I. We often get comments when we are all together about how she gave birth to such giants.  The human body is an amazing thing! My sister married someone taller than Dad so her family are all very leggy too and her teenager kids will soon tower over all of us. We definitely make an impact when we are all together, as you can’t really miss us as a family unit!

My height has helped me in my sports teams, I played netball, hockey and tennis for various teams at school, college, locally and then for university, often playing up a year due to my physical size. No, I don’t play basketball – a question I get asked a lot… So, my relationship with my height has been very much part of my relationship with myself, my friends, my partners and my career.  After all I don’t know any different, there are some characteristics about our identity which we cannot change and whilst my weight has fluctuated, my hair colour has changed and my dress sense has evolved, my height has been a constant!

But how has my height shaped me as a leader?

I think I have probably taken my height for granted in many ways. Physically I know that I am very present. I am always visible – you can’t really hide when you are this height! I trained in tricky single sex boys’ schools and have always handled myself in busy corridors, playgrounds and have been known to separate many a fight. To be fair I just need to stand up as one of my behaviour management strategies. I know I have not had to work as hard as some of my smaller peers to establish myself, although I have also seen very tall men who are gentle giants who I have had to train and coach to be more present physically, to own their space so it is not always a given that if you are taller behaviour management is easier.

I was promoted early on in my career to Head of Year and I then became a Pastoral Middle Leader (the only female). I moved quickly onto SLT (I have served as the sole female on several male heavy leadership teams). I know my physique and my height, along with my loud voice and my confidence, have empowered me to hold my own. They have been an advantage in my career and perhaps, on reflection, I have experienced less bias than my petiter female friends, as a consequence. I think sometimes my male colleagues forget I am a woman in fact, as I can hold my own with the banter and handle myself with the jostling.

Being tall, leads to different choices about dress code too. I own heels, but I don’t need to wear heels. I used to wear them, and as my corridor stomp is well-known – colleagues and children would hear me before they could see me! But as I have been promoted, my work uniform has evolved and usually consists of a smartish dress with flat daps/ ballet shoes so I don’t suffer with sore feet,  and so I can run around schools all day –  as a school leader I was usually seen chasing a runaway down a corridor or up a stair case! When I worked under men who were shorter than me, I consciously wore flat shoes so as not to overpower them. They didn’t know this, but it was out of respect as I knew they had an invisible chip on their shoulders about their height. However, if they pissed me off, the next day I would come in wearing heels as symbolic gesture!  I can remember at my second school I had a friend who had the same stature as me, our Headteacher was a small irritating man. The two of us were a tag team and would walk a corridor either side of him, hemming him in, if we needed to challenge anything.

So, my height has served me well as a leader, it has empowered me to be visible, to be present and to manage behaviour. Moreover, it has enabled me to hold my own as a woman in a male heavy space.  Being tall has served my professional life well as it makes teaching and leading easier, whereas in my personal life it has been more problematic, but that’s a different story!

Some days I do feel like Gulliver in Lilliput. Travelling to Singapore in my 20s with a university friend, I felt like I was in a circus freak show. And, really, I should be rich for the number of times I have been asked “what’s the weather like up there?” Most of the time I can laugh it off, and after a few drinks in a bar if I get a “big lass” comment they usually get a retort along the lines of “rude git”. It is in those moments where you catch your reflection when you are standing next to a smaller colleague or you see a group picture and you are towering above everyone else that remind you that you stand out. It could make me self-conscious, and perhaps it did when I was younger, but I have worked through that and accepted myself for who I am.

I would say that my relationship with my weight has been less positive. Being tall and carrying weight is a double whammy. At school as a child I was bullied by a group of bitchy girls who called me BFG (“Big F***ing Ginger”) and the worse thing I have been called by a kid is a “Fat Bitch”. Although I think my retort at the time was: “whilst I might be fat, I am far from a bitch!” It has taken me longer to find peace with my body shape, my curves, and my weight. I don’t think my weight has impacted my leadership though. It is just who I am, I am comfortable in my skin and I have a strong sense of self. As a teacher and as a leader I have supported a lot of students struggling with their self-identity and their body image. I know I was lucky to have a strong family support network, so my self-esteem and self-confidence have always been high.

As for my hair colour, we were ginger when we growing up, so my sister and I were on the receiving end of all of the schoolyard taunts. My sister fared it worse than me as she has curly hair too. The jibes cut her a lot deeper than they did me. I have always had thicker skin than her, and in defending her, I learnt to accept myself, I think. When I went to university, I started to dye my hair and lost the ginger hues, and as I have aged, my hair has become naturally darker. Women don’t tend to comment on other women’s hair colour but some of the male leaders I have worked with, especially those who were threatened by me, did make comments about me being a feisty redhead, so I guess I have had to navigate some of the stereotypes that come with that too. I can remember watching an episode of Graham Norton and he had a couch of stunning redheads on it, and Julianne Moore shared her fascination with the British slurs for being a ‘ginga’ whereas in the US redheads are seen as being exotic. An interesting change in lens on what we value about difference in how we look.

Personal identity is interwoven with professional identity. Our leadership self is a fusion of how we look and how we behave, with what we know and what we create. Being myself, being authentic – being a tall, curvy, ginger – is who I am. I accept that, I own that, I am proud of that.

CollectivEd: Mentoring Matters

How can we align our Early Career Teachers offers across groups of schools?

Crossing the boundary from being a school leader to working in teacher training in a Higher Education Institution has challenged my perspective on many things including how we train our teachers and who trains them.

Throughout my career I have volunteered to mentor and coach others, for free. Throughout my career I have invested time, energy and resource into the development of others, for free.  It’s what we do isn’t it? We give ourselves, our skills our experience to others to help them on their paths.

When I moved into a system leadership role in a MAT to lead on our Teaching Schools’ activity and align it with our SCITT I scrutinised the consistency of our offer to staff. When you join a family of schools you expect there to be some equity in experience and opportunity across the schools. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because people talk! People share and compare their context, their contract to others.

We had 200+ trainee teachers each year, and the same again as NQTs and then as RQTs. Across our 42 schools we had at least 500 Early Career Teachers each academic year. Working with my colleagues who led each part of our professional learning provision we summarised our offer:

  • The ITT Entitlement
  • The NQT Entitlement
  • The RQT Entitlement

Each were a simple one page overview of the consistent offer each group of trainees would receive, ranging from contact time, to mentoring time, to lesson observations and peer observations, CPD opportunities. Alongside this we set out the support on other such as technological devices, socials and welfare packages. It all existed, it just needed writing down, tweaking and a few inconsistencies ironing. Each document then went to the Headteachers’ Board for approval and all of our schools committed to the agreement.

When I moved from one large MAT to a medium size one, also with a Teaching School and a SCITT, I repeated the process again. It made sense to make things coherent, cohesive and consistent across a group of schools with shared values and practices.

On reflection, on both occasions I neglected to initiate the same parity, the same attention, for the mentors. I had hundreds of early career teachers on my mind, as my focus. I was forgetting that this number doubles when you take into consideration the needs of the mentors who are the ones nurturing them.

It wasn’t until I co-led the mentoring training for our PGCE and fielded questions from the floor about how much time they, the mentors, needed a week to support our trainee teachers through our distance learning course that I realised my mistake. I had 200 pairs of eyes on me. I had 200 sets of ears listening to me. They had come to the training, some willingly, some begrudgingly. They knew what was expected of them and their trainees. But what about them? What did they get for their efforts? Who was going to inform their Headteachers and SLTs of what their needs were?

I put out a series of tweets that night as I reflected on this to explore the common experience to probe further:

  • How many mentors are given extra time to mentor?
  • How many mentors are given extra money to mentor?
  • How many mentors are given extra training to mentor?
  • How many mentors volunteer to mentor?
  • How many mentors are told they have to mentor?

The responses were quite stark. The school system is not looking after our mentors.

In my role as Head of Secondary Teacher Training I am often invited to speak at educational events. A recurring theme is to talk about how schools can support the mental health and wellbeing of our early career teachers. I can talk passionately about this, but I have started to flip how I frame it to amplify the message that:

If we look after our mentors, then they will look after our trainees.

Schools should not have a focus on our early career teachers at the expenses of our mentors, who are often juggling leadership positions and remits, team management and their own families too.

So, as we plan for the next academic year, I invite you to consider the following question:

What is the incentive to be a mentor in your school?

I would propose you need to consider the following as part of your Mentoring Entitlement:

  • Time – mentors need to meet their trainee for 1 hour a week, they need to observe their trainee once a week, they therefore need a timetable reduction.
  • Training – mentoring and coaching is an art, if your provider offers training they need to be released to attend it, or they need to source their own training which the school needs to fund.
  • Meetings – the weekly mentoring meeting needs to be protected so that both the mentor and the mentee know it will happen weekly.
  • Cover – the mentor needs to see the trainee teach in a range of classes, they will need some cover of some of their lessons in order to be released to do this.
  • Observations – the bulk of observations need to be done by the mentor, but other colleagues in that subject, specialists such as EAL/ SENCO and Senior Leaders could and should share this load too.
  • CPD – schools who have centralised professional learning effectively and efficiently align the training needs of early career teachers, a weekly training slot with a rotating facilitator will save time and energy but will also align messages.
  • Devices – don’t assume that everyone has access to a laptop, to be more time and energy efficient if the mentor has a school device they can type observations as they go and draft termly reports on the trainee’s progress from home.
  • Admin – being a mentor is admin heavy, whether the documents are hard copies or virtual they need time to read, type and verify evidence – this takes time!
  • Deadlines – schools are deadline heavy places, be mindful that mentoring incurs additional external deadlines too – add them all on the school calendar so SLT are aware of external deadlines when setting internal ones.
  • Workload – being a mentor is one more thing to juggle, and depending on your trainee’s temperament, performance and progress, the amount of support needed can be significant.
  • Wellbeing – increase in workload, affects the wellbeing of colleagues, no matter how experienced they are, keep oversight of how the role affects the mentor as well as the mentee.
  • Supervision – often the mentor is the first port of call for disclosures when trainees are experiencing personal issues or their mental health deteriorates, who is checking in on their mental health and wellbeing?
  • TLR – most whole school responsibilities have a financial incentive attached to them, some providers pay for school placements, mentors should be recompensed for this important role with a fixed term TLR for the year.
  • HR – as an organisation you need Job Descriptions and Person Specifications to state your expectations of your mentors, this will enable you mentors to have clarity about their role and they can then be held to account.
  • Line Management – when schools have multiple trainees from multiple providers and pathways, it can get really complicated, the mentors need to be a team who come together under a professional learning leader who oversees all activity and who is a conduit to SLT.
  • Network – connecting mentors across a school or across a MAT enables them to peer support and share what is working with each other.
  • Progression – for staff aspiring to become Lead Practitioners, Specialist Leaders of Education or be trained as a coach, mentoring is a great stepping stone. Consider building mentoring opportunities into your progression map for staff progression.

As we move into our summer term and plan staffing for next year, as we review our budgets and confirm our allocation of trainees, as we draft our timetables please also consider the entitlement of our mentors.

As a system we know we have a recruitment issue, moreover we have a retention issue, perhaps we can mend the leaky pipeline of early career teacher attrition if we invest more in our mentors.

Oprah Winfrey Quote: “A mentor is someone who allows you to see ...

 

 

CollectivEd: Virtual Reality Mentoring – co-authored by David Gumbrell and I

The brain doesn’t draw a distinction between the real and the imagined.

Jared Horvath

If the definition of ‘virtual’ is near, and the definition of ‘reality’ is what you experience as a human being, then the experience of ‘virtual reality’ is close to the feelings, senses and emotions of being in that situation. What you see and hear combines to provide an experience that is channelled through your emotional brain. As you appreciate this world and assimilate your sensory inputs, you are tagging experiences to feelings.

If mentoring is empathising, supporting, encouraging and improving performance, then how is that experience in terms of feelings, senses and emotions? The mentor cannot maximise skills and realise potential if the experience, channelled through the emotional brain, is not positive. If the mentee is assimilating negative sensory inputs, they will be tagging those to the event. This can have lasting effects if done inadvertently – or deliberately.

If we are to create a Virtual Reality mentoring experience, what are the feelings that we seek to engender and nurture, and which should we do our best to avoid?  To be effective, there needs to be an emotional connection. Mentoring is a feelings and values-driven process. Mentors need to consider how to start building this relationship, in a virtual way, with their mentees from September.

Actively Listening

As mentors, as we listen deeply, we need to listen to what is being said and how it is being said. We gain clarity by listening to understand, instead of listening to interject. We can tease out answers and help make sense of confusion and uncertainty by listening, mirroring back what is said and building confidence in the speaker. The speaker will be better able to communicate their feelings and articulate their concerns as they become comfortable in this virtual space; the dynamic will be strengthened as their confidence grows in both the listening and the speaking. As mentors, we also listen for what is not being said. We can help make connections and join up the dots. Active listening is supportive, reassuring and emotionally intelligent. By listening carefully and deeply, we seek to alleviate worries, concerns, anxieties and doubt. A virtual mentor is a listening ear attached to a friendly face.

Active listening is tiring because we are not used to doing it. All too often, we listen superficially rather than intently, distracted by other things on our mind or the worry that time is pressing. Listening to someone and sensitively responding to them allows them to feel confident and builds trust that you are there for them. Mentors have to listen hard to pick up nuances, key words, and the way things are being said as well as what is being said. Being skilled at this takes time and dedication; mentors have to overcome the urge to judge, speak, advise and talk at length. There is time for them to do this, but the proportion of the mentee speaking should be greater than that of the mentor. It is a fine balance to strike, but effective mentors can do this. The emotional brain can enjoy the reality of being in this safe space, as they feel that someone is listening carefully. There is no concern that they are there reluctantly, or because they just have a job to do.

Building Trust

As mentors, we are trusted to nurture the trainee teachers by the senior leaders. The mentees equally place trust in us. In any mentoring or coaching relationship, it is important to contract how this relationship is established, maintained and nourished. The more trust you instil, the more secure your mentee will feel. The more confident they are in the mentoring relationship, the more relaxed they will be in sharing what they are thinking and how they are feeling. Moreover, they will become open in disclosing what they are struggling with, both personally and professionally. Trust is the lynchpin of all relationships, but is built over time, and normally through face-to-face experiences. Consider relationships that you have formed virtually and how trust has been established. Meeting as human beings first, establishing rapport as individuals and getting to know each other is an emotional investment in the mentoring process which will enable this relationship to flourish.

Trustful relationships take time to build. Trust in relationships takes no time to break. The skill of a mentor is one who is able to construct that relationship and allow the mentee to relax in their presence. Through reassurance and actions holding true in the future, the integrity of the relationship begins to strengthen. Underpinned by values, the relationship itself is valued. Once attained, it can be developed and nurtured, and can have a significant effect on the effectiveness on that partnership to engage in professional dialogue that is both impactful and empowering. Positively conveyed, a trustful relationship can gain traction more easily and make the changes that are needed to the pedagogy and practice. In this virtual reality, there is little resistance to change, as the mentee feels secure under the guidance of their mentor as their trusted guide. Without trust there is insecurity, doubt and nervousness to proceed. Mistrusting the advice leads to a lack of engagement and thus opportunities to develop can be missed.

Identifying Goals

Goal-setting guides the mentee on their journey, and mentors support in co-creating space and co-constructing goals, thus enabling the mentee to have more ownership over their development. Individuals are empowered and have more agency when they have been involved in the processing of articulating goals and choosing which goals to prioritise. Simon Sinek talks about ‘the Why, the How and the What’ of communication. As a mentor, when goal-setting with your mentee, consider defining the ‘why’, agreeing the ‘what’, but enabling the mentee to choose the ‘how’. The more open the discussion, the more freedom there is to explore and discover the authentic way for the individual to rise to the challenge.  Confidence heightened, they will be able to learn and to grow at their own rate and in their own way. Goals can be big, or they can be small, dependent on their starting point and their context. Some goals will need challenging to be more audacious, and others will need reining in to be more realistic.

In identifying goals, we are giving a direction of travel to reach a new place – an agreed, desirable destination. All too often, goals can be imposed, delivered or given. Sometimes labelled as aspirational, they can sometimes feel impossible, especially when there are no signposts to help to support the journey to that place. As an effective mentor, you need to be looking to get agreement on the signposting, rather than the destination. Getting to checkpoint one, two and three, rather than getting to the end. In presenting it in this way, you will be striking a balance between realism and guidance – whilst not telling or not imposing. At each checkpoint, you will feel differently about the destination. You can take stock, reflect on how far your mentee has come, and prepare for the next step. In setting the reality, you as the mentor can fix these parameters and yet allow space for the mentee to experiment, experience and discover the route for themselves too. Good mentors pave the path rather than erecting the signposts that guide others on their way.

Being Realistic

As mentors, we bring our experience and our wisdom to the relationship. We help to anchor ideas, centre feelings and locate the abstract in the concrete. Being realistic, the voice of reason and pragmatic will create a sense of calm for your mentee. A sense of realism will enable them to keep perspective and reduce their feeling of overwhelm. They need you to be a calming physical presence whether in school or virtually. Creating a safe space, a calm environment and a regular opportunity to share agitations will enable conversations to explore the subjective and move to the objective. It is a human need to want to belong, and to be seen and heard. The virtual mentoring space does this. Moreover, in lockdown and in bubbles, we know that there is a sense of social isolation where the negative can quickly become amplified; the virtual mentoring space is an outlet for your mentee to diffuse their negative thoughts and feelings, which you can help them reframe.

A sense of realism can evoke a feeling of not being threatened. The most productive emotional state to be working in is when both mentor and mentee feel calm and focused on a positive outcome. Contextualisation can bring this realism and map targets against the backdrop of the school setting for the pupils. It is easier to ‘buy-in’ to the plan if the mentee feels they are being supported to succeed, rather than doomed to fail. Encouragement to be the best they can be is different to trying to achieve perfection; we are all imperfect, vulnerable human beings after all. In this atmosphere, your mentee’s sensory inputs are now reassuring them that they can do this, that is it possible and that it is realistic. No longer agitated, they feel empowered and positive, wanting to get started on this realistic journey to a new place in their teaching.

Empowering Others

Empowering others is one of the primary roles of being a mentor or a coach. Creating the conditions for early career teachers to grow, learn and flourish is a careful balancing act. Mentors need to carefully walk the tightrope between being supportive and providing structure, whilst giving enough freedom and space to experiment. Part of the ‘reflective practice cycle’ is to experiment and explore, to be able to make mistakes in a high challenge, low threat culture. Risk-taking can be inhibited by the fear of failure; opportunities for personal and professional growth can be restricted when we strive for perfectionism. Mentors need to guide their mentees and help them navigate their journey; but the mentee needs to be the one who is firmly in the driving seat. Sitting next to them, like the supportive driving instructor, you empower them to be in control and enable them to learn the ropes. Positive and constructive feedback will keep them stay future-focused and solution-oriented. Your presence is the crucial source of encouragement.

To increase the level of autonomy for your mentee is a desirable aim for all mentors, and yet sometimes this could be given more of a priority. Rather than ‘doing it for them’ we would be much better placed to move to ‘being there for them’. Motivation is key to reaching any goal and autonomy is the greatest motivator of all. The feelings evoked when one is offered control can be empowering, exhilarating and enjoyable. With your mentee intrinsically motivated, you can then guide, support, and regulate that enthusiasm to help them reach their goals. By tapping into this desire, you are both going to maintain a much faster pace of growth, productivity and effectiveness in meeting high standards in the end.

Investing Time

Mentoring is often an expectation that is not recompensed with additional time nor money. It is a ‘going above and beyond’ accolade that brings rewards through the satisfaction of nurturing other people – but it can feel like another pressure to shoe-horn into your busy schedule. To be an effective mentor, you need to project manage both yourself and your mentee. Consider the good habits you want to instil in your mentee and ensure that you model these to them. Valuing the process will require an investment of time and energy. Being highly organised and an effective communicator will ensure that the year goes smoothly. Make Outlook (or your preferred diary system) your friend and schedule everything: every mentor meeting, lesson observation, peer observation, report deadline, training session. Allocate time each week to meet, to reflect, to review and to evaluate. Little and often will ensure that you both stay on top of the process. Alongside the formal meetings, consider how else to show your mentee that you value this relationship and that you are invested in them.

Time is precious and thus a valuable gift to offer someone else. As a mentor, you have to be prepared to give the time. When you feel like wriggling out of the formal mentor meeting, you need to reframe and be enthusiastically in that space. If they need you, you have to be willing to set your own agenda on hold and to be there for them. For them, this will evoke a feeling of being valued. Not in a monetary sense but valued as a human being and valued as a teacher learning the trade. A mentor/mentee relationship needs investment for it to pay out. Lack of investment pays with lack of dividends at the end. Well-placed investment can reap rewards for both parties. Both can learn, benefit and feel better for having this shared time together. Rather than feeling onerous and the mentee feeling unwanted, mentors need to work hard to evoke feelings in their mentor that their time is being spent with them unequivocally. Switching the mindset from ‘having to be there’, to ‘wanting to be there’ is helpful. Time spent effectively is time well spent.

Showing Empathy

Before you engage with your mentee, take some time to reflect on your motivations for joining the profession. Jot down some of your thoughts and feelings about your own experiences as a student teacher, as a newly qualified teacher and as a recently qualified teacher. Identify the highs and the lows as you started your journey; consider who supported you, recognise what had the biggest impact on your progress, your confidence and your fulfilment. Mentoring is a values-driven, feelings-driven and relationship-driven process. To be an effective mentor, there needs to be a strong emotional connection with your mentee. This connection will be established and nurtured through your emotional intelligence and your empathy. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will be able to meet them where they are on their journey. Be mindful that it is likely that the profession has changed, the school system has changed, society has changed since you trained – so be contextually-literate to the current pressures and demands placed on them.

Showing empathy is not doing it for them and it is not aiming to make them emulate you. Rather, it is to guide their thinking and encourage them to be the best teacher they can be. When we have to judge, we need to feed back with sensitivity. When we meet, we acknowledge the time commitment to that meeting and use that time effectively. When we offer advice, it is done with a warmth that is not going to wrangle, but rather produce a positive reaction from the early career teacher. An empathetic mentor will be able to significantly impact on classroom practice because the mentee will feel empowered to action the changes that evolve within your meetings.

In Summary

The experience of ‘virtual reality’ is to be close to the feelings, senses and emotions of being in any situation. This piece aims to identify the key elements that would be needed for any mentor/mentee relationship that seeks to engender these positive proactive emotions with a view to them manifesting in classroom practice. For the relationship to be productive, the suggested actions in this article need to be the priority for you as the mentor. Aim to put them front and foremost at every meeting – and a successful partnership is highly likely, even if created in a virtual reality.

Virtual reality