Mythbusting #Digimeet - Women are better nurturers than behaviour managers?


I am now in my seventeenth year of teaching. I’ve worked in many schools, the vast majority of them inner city, challenging, hugely rewarding schools. As well as the schools where I have been solely a classroom teacher or leader (four, in all), when I was an Advanced Skills Teacher I also worked across a group of ten inner city Birmingham schools. So I have direct experience of teaching and leading in fourteen schools. Bizarrely, in all these schools I’ve worked in, only two of them had female senior leaders in whole school pastoral positions, with a focus on behaviour.

I’ve never understood this, but it is a myth that, perhaps not overtly, has been perpetuated over the years: that women are better at nurturing than managing behaviour. There are, indeed, female teachers in middle leadership pastoral positions, perhaps leading year groups or houses. But, in my experience, there are few, and even fewer in whole school pastoral positions. I want to pause for thought to consider why this might be the case. I don’t claim to base this in any research; this is my own experience over the years. You may empathise, you may not, but hopefully it will stimulate some thinking.

When I was a young teacher, many of the deputies or assistant heads that were in a whole pastoral school role were overtly very masculine: testosterone-fuelled, chest-thumping, shouty. They were often seen as the go-tos for dealing with behaviour – problems were passed to them and they sorted it. Done. Sometimes with a little football or rugby anecdote thrown in for effect (regardless of whether the children involved even knew anything about rugby or football). It was, you know, just what was done. No one questioned it. Female leaders and teachers were, on the other hand, often the ones who were automatically sent the child who was upset: they were the tissue-fetchers, the tear-wipers, the there-there-ers. I could see this happening around me, and again, didn’t really question it. I just accepted it as one of those school Universal Truths.

It’s only over the past ten years or so that I’ve questioned this more. I have seen brilliantly nurturing male teachers, and fantastically focused female teachers, superlative at managing behaviour. I’ve seen male teachers who can comfort and support, and female teachers with a great pair of lungs on them, commanding the attention of a whole hall of boisterous Year 10 and Year 11 with aplomb. And I’ve seen the opposite. This male/female divide really is a false dichotomy. Let’s value teachers and leaders, female and male, for all they have to offer: for all their skills and knowledge and intelligence. Let’s create opportunities for these talents to thrive. Because really, whether you’re female or male, it doesn’t matter. Let’s get the best people in the right positions for our kids. I’m just not convinced that only two female pastoral leaders in seventeen years, over fourteen schools, is OK. Women and men can be great nurturers and great at managing behaviour; the two are not mutually exclusive.

Women are better nurturers than behaviour managers? Come on. Let’s move past this now, and leave it in the past, where it belongs.

Author Profile

Claire  Stoneman

Claire Stoneman

Deputy headteacher, English teacher and writer in Brum. Equality, language, teaching etc.

1 story


A Alexander A Alexander @andream656 2 months ago
Claire a fantastic blog. I remember my own school experience it was largely the Boys PE staff that were heads of year as they were perceived to be better at managing poor behaviour. However, at lunch time you'd always find the schools most wanted, the hard nuts in the Art room with Mrs Hurley catching up with work and sharing their woes. The most terrifying teacher was a young female called Miss Wright who took no prisoners.
Annemarie  Williams Annemarie Williams @awilliams 2 months ago
Totally agree with this. I also think that by staffing our schools in a more inclusive way that reflects approaches from men and women, we help children to see that there are many different ways to be masculine and feminine.
A Alexander A Alexander @andream656 2 months ago
Well said Annemarie I also think it's interesting that we have these stereotypes and we name the biggest force of nature we've ever experienced after a woman..Hurricane Irma
Hannah Tyreman Hannah Tyreman @hannahtyremancpd 2 months ago
You're so right. As with many of the blogs today, there are assumptions and labels that just need to be left behind. When I first began teaching, I was sent to teach the groups of boys studying engineering and welding. One class in particular had 'got rid of' two of their teachers before me and I was told that in no uncertain terms, I would be eaten alive. I wasn't... As many of us will have learned over the years, managing behaviour is about far more than gender.
Kiran S Kiran S @kiran 2 months ago
Love this part @clairestoneman

This male/female divide really is a false dichotomy. Let’s value teachers and leaders, female and male, for all they have to offer: for all their skills and knowledge and intelligence. Let’s create opportunities for these talents to thrive.
Hannah Wilson Hannah Wilson @misswilsey 2 months ago
Fab post @clairestoneman - @sarahhardy ran a brilliant session on women leading whole school behaviour with Ellie Dix in Reading last year. When I was a HOY - we were all women in our 20s in a challenging all boys school and it worked - we wore both hats. I have heard from a lot of senior leaders who have been asked the oddest questions at interviews for all boy schools about how they will manage themselves and cope with the behaviour, like these boys don't have a mum or female relatives who manage them at home? Our DHT for 'behaviour' is @mshmfl but we have renamed it 'culture and wellbeing', by changing the label we can hopefully shift the systems and stereotypes that are carried with it. We are also using the language of behaviour for learning rather than behaviour management. We spent a lot of time agreeing our glossary before we opened so we had a shared language.
Claire  Stoneman Claire Stoneman @clairestoneman 2 months ago
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Sorry for the slow reply - am just getting used to this platform! Thanks, Hannah. I am quite a pedant re language as you know (!), but interestingly enough, I don't mind the language of 'behaviour management'; sometimes, it does have to be 'managed'. I understand the thinking behind what you're trying to create, though. And I definitely agree it's about building a culture. For me that's a culture of support, with clear expectations, routines, structures, and consequences. Am currently planning a blog, but a longer one, so it will be from my birminghamteacher wordpress account. Behaviour management will be part of it, I think, but not really a gender focus with this one. Just rolling around in my head currently. Have a great week everyone!
Naznin Choudhury Naznin Choudhury @naz08 2 months ago
Wonderful blog Claire. Thank you for sharing this xx
Claire  Stoneman Claire Stoneman @clairestoneman 2 months ago
Thanks Jill - will take a look.
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