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.