Two years ago a newly appointed Headteacher told me I wouldn’t fit his SLT but should be his Head of Science because I was excellent at that and it would give him the opportunity to train me. I agree with the first part. I would not fit. A fit in education reinforces historical imagery of what a leader looks like. I am too female to fit, too black to fit, too Caribbean to fit. Being a leader in education was not for the likes of me.
This moment is the second turning point in my career. I went through a cycle of grief. Shock that I was being discarded; anger that I had invested with no mutual investment, detachment from the school life. Then I rang my coach and had a dialogue. Not a rant or moan or talk … a real dialogue. He had one question “Does the narrative of someone else define you?”
I was stumped. By being a UK teacher from a foreign background I had always sought the approval of seniors to know that I was ‘doing the job right’. As I progressed, I introduced more ideas but had always relied on feedback to determine how well that had gone. I allowed my seniors to define me, what I could do and where I go next.
Changing that mindset required thinking deeply and honestly. It takes accepting risk and the fear associated. You have to be bold.
I decided at that point that the narrative of someone else does not define me. I accept that some people choose not to see what I am capable of. I accept that some people have defined ideas of what a leader should be. It is not their job to make me better, or support me or champion my potential. It is mine.
I accepted my next job in the primary sector. I faced up to colleagues who said I was stepping down, taking an easy option, was inflicting a pay cut on my family and other unsupportive ideas. However, I moved. Having seen primary students in transition I wanted to spend time with those practitioners. I moved. I loved it so much I have spent another year.
I joined the WomenEd network. I volunteered as a London leader, helped to organise events, spoke at other events and became a coach to encourage more women to aspire to leadership.
I co-founded BAMEed network and started working to bring change. I speak out and write on shared experiences. I speak on behalf of people who I never met to bring attention to discrimination in education careers. I work with all colleagues to change it.
I balance a life of home, work, networks and sometimes get the balance completely wrong. Each time I reflect, adjust and learn. Being bold is the ability to have faith that the person you know best can do all what you challenge her to. Define your narrative. Hear the voices of dissent without making it your voice.