Is it a man’s world?

So many influential educators have been writing about women in education recently.   I’ve loved reading the articles which have challenged me to reflect on my own journey in what some regard as a man’s world.

Without wishing to, I became aware of the gender split in my first teaching post.  I worked in a ‘nice’ all girls’ school.  It was such a brilliant school in so many ways but I was very conscious of the staff being predominately female and the strong head did have qualities traditionally associated with men.   As I rapidly plough towards my 20th year in education I think back to how aware I was of it all without ever talking about it – it was just the way it was.

Then, I moved to an all boys’ school.  Wow, the difference!  This school was mainly staffed by male teachers.  Without thinking about it – I fully accepted and almost expected men to be leading this school (middle and senior posts).  The men did lead the school and the  ‘stronger women’ exhibited more masculine traits.   In my time there it was accepted that it would always be men that are in charge and the next line of men were waiting to take up posts that became available.   It was just the way it was.

Over the years I have had the priviledge of working with so many inspirational leaders.  Since my formative years I always believed that the ‘leader’ was a certain ‘type’.  If I had to draw the leader, I am sure I would be drawing a man.  If I had to guess the leaders name, I am sure I would guess it to be Michael, Tom or some other male name.  Thinking like this really did have an effect on how I thought.  Based on this I had set the celling for myself.  At the same time, I was proud of myself because I had hit my celling fairly early on in my career.  I had thought that was it.  It was just the way it was.    Or, so I thought!

I’ve had two pivotal moments that have changed my thinking / raised my celling.  My first one was fourteen years later when I was returning to the all boys school (mentioned above).  For personal reasons I was doing a sideways move and was not aware of any personal ambitious drive in terms of this move UNTIL someone asked me what did I want to gain in making the move and the thought of becoming the first female Deputy Headteacher just shot into my head.  I didn’t know where it came from.  It was not the way things were there and I knew that!  From that day onwards I had raised my ambition but I was never really sure it could happen because it was just so different to the longstanding tradition of the school.

My second pivotal moment was totally unexpected as well!  I was listening to some headteachers giving a talk about their journey to headship.  They shared a variety of stories, each with an interesting angle.  HOWEVER, one of them totally gripped me.  This particular headteacher spoke with a gentle voice about an evening she stayed up late in her deputy role to prepare paperwork for an inspection.  She talked about how tired she was and how she was aware the men in her team would have been asleep.  It seemed that she had ‘a moment’ that night because she decided if she was doing all this work she may as well head up her own school.   She also talked about how she was quiet.  That was also very clear.  She didn’t exhibit any male qualities during her very open session.  She is an incredible headteacher with an amazing track record.  During this inspirational session I realised it is not a mans’ world at all unless we all step back and let it be.   It does not always have to be a certain way.  It does not have to be the way it has always been.   Posts should go to the best candidate, regardless of gender.   I do feel strongly about this as being in the business of making a difference to the lives of young people is what we need to focus on.  The right person, whether male or female needs to simply get on with this very important task.  In my current role as a female deputy I really do not think about gender, but I am conscious that others do as I hear comments like ‘it’s all changing around here’ ‘women are taking over’.    Things have changed.  It is not the way it was anymore.


Ofsted Inspection… by @ASTSupportAAli



Here is my presentation I delivered at Optimus Educations 13th Annual SENCO Conference on the 5th of May 2015.

Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th of January 2015. Two important days in my Senior Leadership career. These two days saw my school receive a full Section 5 Ofsted Inspection. In this short blog I would like to share some tips/observations and reflections about the inspection and its process both as a school and a member of SLT.

The call:

Tuesday, around 13.30pm, I was summoned by a frantic looking member of support staff to go to meet other SLT in our meeting room.

‘Where were you? I have been looking everywhere for you!’

My response’s tone couldn’t have been more opposite,

‘Hi, I have been running an annual review, as per my calendar. Why what’s the…

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What is accountability? We all have ostrich moments…

Accountability is answerability, the expectation of account giving. As teachers we hear the phrase accountability frequently.   We are accountable for the progress of the classes we teach, the departments that we head up and the school that we lead. There is accountability at all levels. This goes right up to governance level. The expectation to be able to give an account is standard nowadays.   It applies to all whether you are new to teaching, early years or like myself – in the double figures when it comes to service.  @KristianStill reminds us that being responsible and accountable are useful comparisons to make.  This is so true and useful to do!

Being able to give an account requires you to be prepared. It requires you to have systems in place throughout the academic year. For the classroom teacher, this means keeping your teacher records up to date. Record the progress your students are making in assessments. Record how you have used rewards such as the merit system, recommendations for awards, communication home…. Do also keep records of sanctions employed such as detentions and so on…. For the Head of Department, this means keeping records of department meeting, line management meetings with post holders and your own RAGging of your departmental action plan as you work your way through the year. As a Senior Leader, this means having regular line management meetings with those you should be supporting and ensuring that records are kept outlining where you are and what everyone concerned is doing. For both the Middle and Senior leader it may mean having difficult conversations at times. This should also be recorded and followed up. There is nothing wrong with this as it is ultimately supporting the individual(s) in providing the best for the students, the reason we are all there in the first place. For the Governor, it does mean being prepared to give the time to visit your link departments and ask questions. Walk away knowing what is going well, what is being currently being worked on and what is planed for the future. Most importantly, be clear on reasons why for each. Governors are also accountable for the whole school so does the same with the senior leaders. Hold them to account, but remember you are also there to be supportive so offer what you can to help. Even a listening ear / sounding board makes such a difference!

Some think of accountability as blameworthiness. It is not.  It is ‘we-ness’ – not them against us.  I love this from @AtillatheNan We are all in this together.  However, many have experienced colleagues who are defensive / difficult when being asked to give an account. This is when alarm bells being to raise. It is frequently a sign of something not being right and the colleague knowing it, but unwilling to share. When drilling down you will find that for some it is an ostrich moment they are going through. They have put their head deep into the sand. They are ignoring ‘it’ hoping ‘it’ will just go away. The moment might be going on for weeks but once helped they are back on track. If all the right systems are in place this can be picked up on, quickly. We all need a little pick-me-up at times.  We all have our ostrich moments! Helping those that ‘cannot’ get back on track is such a rewarding aspect of our roles, at all levels. Identifying those that ‘will not’ and acting on it is also essential to our roles. This is a whole other blog post, for another time!

New term, starting a new school?

Starting a new school mid year is so difficult!   Every term brings its challenges but walking into the exam preparation season in any school is bound to be a challenge.  Teachers are all so busy preparing their lessons, intervention sessions and maintaining focus of their students at this crucial time. The agenda is: busy, busy and busy. Teachers are not hanging around the staffroom. Teachers are not hanging around anywhere. They are simply so busy.   So, how does a new teacher settle in? It is difficult. The best thing is to offer help / support where possible.   If you have picked up a year 11 or 13 group, you too will be busy and you can offer to take part in joint planning sessions / share resources and so on…. If you have not picked up an exam class, you could offer support to others? You might have some shiny resources that others would find useful? You could offer to take a session / part session? You could bring in some sustenance in the form of cake to keep the team going? Any offer of anything is so well received at this time.   If you are a new teacher at this time, don’t look on this as challenging. It is an opportunity for you to get totally immersed into your team.

If you are a school leader joining at this time you will also face the same issues that teachers are facing. Do not forget that your role is teacher first! However, your leadership role is also very important to you and to your school. DO NOT DIVE IN. Take your time. It is important to get to know your school. See the positives. See the areas that could be better. Get to know your colleagues. Get to know the students.   Let them all get to know you too.   As you do this you will become very clear on what is going to work best for you in your role at the school – is it launching something through a meeting, briefing, e mail or other? Every school is so different and you need to fully know where you are before you truly start moving forward.  Having adopted this approach and the ‘launch in’ approach, I can absolutely confirm that taking your time is by far the best thing you can do. To some, I have recommended ‘take it easy’ and ‘chill out’.   The role is too important to not get right. Clawing back from a mistake is not fun!   That is a whole other blog post 😉

This is me – I am Kathleen

1. What’s my job title and where do I work?

I am a Deputy Headteacher responsible for Teaching and Learning. I work in an all boys school in North London. I joined my school three years ago as an Assistant Headteacher. I did have a dream (which I kept a secret – because I thought it was a wild one) to become the first ever female deputy in the school. I feel really chuffed that this became reality and (even better) I also have a female partner in crime! I am not sexist. It was just a personal challenge I had set myself – a historic moment? I totally love my school and the work that I do. I am very lucky!

2. What am I currently working on?

My school was judged as requiring improvement and the main focus of my work is raising standards in teaching and learning. This journey began last January and there have been so many successes along the way including us celebrating our best ever results on record last summer. The quality of teaching has gone from strength to strength as teachers become more confident in experimenting in the classroom. The most rewarding part is seeing so many happy classes (and happy teachers) as they are engaged in their daily learning. It’s priceless really and the journey goes on!

3. Where have I come from?

I come from a beautiful island off the west coast of Ireland. I moved over here just before joining secondary school. I was a fluent Gaelic speaker with hardly any English. I went to school in Hackney. I struggled, but worked hard. My Irish mother wouldn’t have it any other way! Things got easier as the years went on and I decided I wanted to be a teacher like all those who helped me. I went to St Mary’s and qualified as Catholic RE teacher. I worked my way up to being a second in dept, head of dept and then extended leader for 6 years. To widen my experience I decided to leave the Catholic sector and worked for United Learning as an Assistant Principal. I gained so much from this experience before returning to where my heart lies, in the Catholic sector.

4. What gets me up in the morning?

Although I don’t like the piercing sound of my alarm, I actually do not mind getting up in the morning. I love my job. I am really passionate about whole school improvement and I get such a buzz out of making a difference and helping others to make a difference.

5. What keeps me awake at night?

I used to lie awake worrying about my lists of things to do. Over the years I’ve got a little better at prioritising and planning my time. I’m a real fan of outlook 🙂 I have focussed hard on trying to strike a balance between work and home so ‘lists’ only keep me awake at times.

I definitely cannot sleep well if I have had or have to have a difficult conversation. I’ve read Fierce Conversations (which has helped) but I can’t get away from the fact that I am talking to / will be talking to someone with feelings. It’s got easier over the years, but I do always give it lots of thought.

6. Who inspires me?

So many people inspire me! My top two are Karren Brady and David Beckham. Both have worked so hard to be successful. They have made the absolute most of their gifts and talents. Karren Brady has had a number of battles to fight over the years and I just respect her so much for her determination, drive and grit. She also looks classy 🙂

GRIT it – how to prepare for that dream job!

As a follow on from 2015: take responsibility for your own CPD, I have been reflecting on how to prepare for your dream job. It takes GRIT! GRIT is defined as the perseverance and passion for long-term goals.   In order to be successful I totally believe that lots of GRIT is required.  I tend to think in terms of taking control, GRITting it!

Grounded – It is important to have a well thought out plan. It is important to be well grounded.  Where do you want to be in 1, 3 and 5 years time? How will you get there? Who will help you? How will you help yourself?   How often will you pause to check where you are with your plan and if you need to revise things?   Life in and out of school can be so exciting and full of different and unforeseen opportunities – are you harnessing these???

Resilience – Being able to bounce back from difficult situations is essential.  We all have set backs. There are times when you might want to go on a course and it is not possible. Don’t get disgruntled. Bounce back. Think about a creative way around this. How can you still learn about X? Think creatively. You can visit other schools, liaise through e mail, network on twitter… There are also times when situations we face at work can hold us back if we simply don’t get the time to stick to the plan. Again, that is normal life and you are learning valuable skills from this experience anyway! Go back to the plan when you are able to.

Integrity – Integrity is so important and for this you really do need to know yourself well – what makes you tick? What are your moral principles? What is important to you? What drives you? Why? How far are you prepared to go? Where is the line for you? This can be quite deep!

Tenacity – It is important to keep going until you reach your goal.  Don’t quit.  Even if you feel others around you are not working as hard as you – be determined in your own goals. It is possible that you may end up leaving them behind you?

Your dream job may not be around the corner. You may even need to do a few different jobs before you get to your dream. The bonus is that the journey is going to be super exciting and full of learning moments.  GRIT it!

Internal promotion – go for it or not??

Applying for an internal post can be very stressful. On one hand you’re a known quantity but on the other hand you have to accept you might not be the ‘perfect’ match for the team you are applying to.  Making an internal application is such a public affair because colleagues, students and governors will know as you go through the process. If you are unsuccessful, you can’t just walk away knowing you may never see these people again. That’s a lot to consider before you even begin to complete the form!

How do you decide if you should apply? Considering some of these questions may help…

~ Do you have a vision for the role?
~ What difference can YOU make?
~ Are you really ready for this?
~ Do you have a passion for this or are others suggesting you ought to go for it?
~ Do you share the same expectations as your prospective team leader / line manager?
~ Will you be happy in your work?
~ Imagine you’ve been on interview everyday for the last 6 months. Has that been your top performance? Consider the impressions you have been making in your journey towards the application form.

Finally, if you were appointing…would YOU appoint YOU? I always find this one the real clincher in deciding what to do…

Twittering teachers

Teachers, twitter is just too good for you to miss out on just because you are worried about your students following you! There is no doubt it is the best form of CPD out there – it is on tap and it is free!  Therefore, you MUST have a public account and make the most of it!!!

If you follow these guidelines – your students will be proud to see your profile on twitter as what child would not feel a massive sense of pride that THEIR teacher wants to provide the absolute best for his / her students by keeping totally up to date with best practice.  It’s a no-brainer!   So…….

  • Do always remember your public profile as a teacher so only tweet what you would say in a professional conversation at work.

  • Do use the name you would be happy for students / parents to know – so avoid the embarrassing / endearing nicknames from years ago!

  • Do carefully select your avatar – would you be happy for this to be projected in assembly / staff meeting?  If so, go for it!

  • Do provide a bio.  Think (with caution) about how much detail you are going to reveal about what school you work in.  Are you going to describe the type of school or go ‘full hog’ and give the name / post code??

  • Do not use twitter for chatting or personal conversation – use direct messages instead.

  • Do not follow / retweet or direct message your students.

  • Do not upload pictures of your students / school to your twitter account.

  • Do not express personal views on your school / colleagues or students in the public forum.

Finally, join twitter and get the most from this incredible CPD opportunity.  Get twittering teachers and bring a teacher to twitter @batttuk

I want to glow!

A number of years ago (but only feels like yesterday) I attended a Leadership course run by Dennis Lavelle ‪#memorablemoment Dennis shared great wisdom about many things but what stuck most in my mind (and has remained in it) was when he talked about what ‘glow’ did we have? Initially, this sounded quite bizarre as I thought I would be taking much needed tips on how to be a leader. But, on reflection this is probably one of the most important things we as leaders should consider when we evaluate our performance. Do our colleagues feel a warm glow from us? Is it inviting? It is encouraging? It is supportive? Is it safe/ trustworthy? Or, is it not? It’s definitely worth reflecting in this way from time to time.

For us to have what some may term as a ‘good glow’ it does not mean that we shouldn’t do our jobs and should just go with what’s popular for an easy life (crowd pleasing strategy). We should be leaders that support, promote and hold to account. When we do our jobs properly, we should generate the perfect professional glow!

I often think about this key nugget I took from Dennis’s session. I was reminded of this today when I read about ‪@ASTsupportAAli ‪@Actionjackson promoting us having a gratitude jar to fill up with notes of things that make you smile…. (and dipping into it when feeling low). This simply awesome idea in a sense bottles the glow that some radiate towards us. I know that this will work well because I used to print lovely e mails, keep thank you cards and notes… a pack in my desk drawer. I felt so appreciated, valued and treasured whenever I sifted through this pack – lovely reminders of kindness during the incredibly busy and demanding time we spend at school. So, I’m looking forward to having my jar in my office but also increasing the gratitude that I show others. Following my visit to @ASTsupportAAli‘s school last year, I loved postcards staff sent each other when they spotted something they were impressed with and have introduced this into my own school.  Taking a few moments to write a postcard feels really good.  Such recognition can make such a difference to someone – put a spring in their step, make them smile or just know that they are appreciated.  I plan to develop this with our students showing gratitude to staff at the end of this term (postcards are being designed soon).

However, off I go as I need to find a batch of those postcards ready for tomorrow……..I’m thinking about my glow 🙂

2015: take responsibility for your own CPD!

Want to be more successful in your role / secure a promotion this year?   If so, you might find below helpful….

Fairly recently I was in a class with my training buddy and I decided to rant (extensively) about why I struggled to keep up. My rant brought us back nine years to when I had an operation and my GP made what was probably a sweeping statement about taking things easy while I recovered…. I heard him say ditch the trainers that I wore 4 times a week and start eating cakes with my feet up (obviously what I wanted to hear at the time!) Of course he didn’t literally say this, but up until recently I partially blamed him for my lack of fitness! As I ranted on I realised how utterly stupid I sounded. After this, I started reflecting for the first time ever about this situation. Why didn’t I use my own common sense? Why wasn’t I pro-active in finding out more? Why didn’t I go back the next month? Why have I been comfortable to pin the blame for my lack of fitness on this GP? Since this light bulb moment I’ve had a very different attitude believe me! I have a long way to go and could probably do with upgrading to ‪@trowel63’s lovely bright trainers! #jealous

As we get set for the new year, this did get me thinking more about the responsibility we take for our own action / inaction when it comes to our professional development. Do we sometimes blame others around us for not giving / providing opportunities for us … Do we expect the lead on CPD to hunt us down to present us with courses to go on? Do we expect our line manager to tell us what workshop we are attending and so on….? Yes these colleagues and many others have a responsibility for your development but the most important person in all this is YOU! If you want development you also have a responsibility to work at it. I allowed myself to believe that my doctor will look after me, he will let me know when I should be going back to the gym…. He hadn’t said anything in 9 years so I’ve continued to take things very easy! This was obviously silly, naive and wishful thinking on my part!

In order to be successful in your role / secure a promotion there are many things YOU can do to help yourself. Be proactive!! If you wait around, you may become a little rusty and I can confirm that trying to bounce back after 9 years is no easy task!! Fortunately, I didn’t have the same attitude at work so some of the strategies below are ones I used myself.  If you think of any I have left out, please let me know and I’ll add to the list!
~ learn from colleagues on twitter – there are so many AMAZING ones who are willing to share at the drop of a hat! I would also recommend following some chat sessions eg #SLTchat that runs on a Sunday evening

~ visit different schools (not all have same holidays so you could go when you are off / after work…

~ read blogs and brilliant educational books

~ get a coach or become a coach (can be in school or refer to ‪@ASTsupportAAli for more info on #twittercoaching

~ go to teach meets

~ download job descriptions / person specs for your next step and asses your strengths and areas to develop to be application ready and practice interview questions / responses with a friend

~ look at areas of responsibilities your leadership team have and offer to work on a mini project with one of them….

~ work shadow colleagues in post you would like for 12 months time…

~ offer to run a workshop for staff (find out what’s needed in your school – am sure marking and feedback / numeracy across the curriculum would be welcome in most at the moment)

~ network with different schools… If your on a course, make sure you leave your e mail address…

~ be solutions focused. If you cannot have permission to go on a course / equivalent….it is likely you can get the information in a different way eg- making contact with a school that has brilliant practice to share

~ make sure your line manager knows what your interested so they can guide you where possible….

Opportunities do not present themselves on a silver platter for anyone – we all need to make the most of the cards we have been dealt.  2015 might be your year to get pro-active about your own development!