Still hiding in the shadows!


It was at the end of the summer term that the amazing Keziah Fetherstone made the call for people to come forward to volunteer to be part of the WomensEd unconference’  that would take place in October. Me, being me, thought “oh I’ll help out” they’ll get me handing out lanyards, or showing people where the toilets are, I’ll get to go to this amazing event, listen to the likes of Jill Berry, Sue Cowley, Jules Daulby, Sameena Choudry, and the many others who would be presenting throughout the day. Never in a million years did I put myself in that category.

Yet during the summer, I received an email, asking if I’d like to lead a session on Confident Leaders, well ‘ blow me down with a feather’ as Popeye would say. I emailed back somewhat stunned, just to check that Jules Daulby and Hannah Wilson had asked the right person to present, they were adamant that they would like me to do something. So that being said, I picked myself up off the floor and thought about my role as a ‘Confident Leader’

How did I fit this title? What had I done in the short time in my career that gave me the credibility to talk to others about be a ‘Confident Leader’ when so many times I felt less than confident and started many conversations with others both above and on the same level with the words “What do I know I’m only just a teacher…..”

But out of conversations with Hannah and Rachel Jones an idea took shape and on Saturday 3rd October, a delayed train ride and a run down Victoria Street, London, I arrived at Microsoft Offices, all shiny chrome and clean, and here I was all shiny with sweat and sticky hands, oh well off to a great start, no time for nerves I guess.

My session was called Leading from the Shadows and as per usual I was convinced that no one would attend as who would want to hear me speak about something so vague but to my surprise and terror I had a full house and more due to another cancelled session including several heads (no pressure then)!

I started with recounting something some one said to me a couple of days early that struck a chord with how easy it is to destroy someones confidence with a passing comment and not even realise the impact that might have on another.

I was discussing my plans for the weekend in the photocopying room when another colleague was there and she said ” Why are you going to a conference to talk about leadership when you aren’t even in a position of leadership?….”

I think many teachers think that they aren’t in roles of leadership but we all are in someway or another hence we are IN THE SHADOWS, sometimes not being noticed, or not noticing ourselves how we maybe taking on different leadership roles. Because we aren’t following a traditional route, or don’t have a traditional title to go with the role we play on a daily basis.

We had a fabulous discussion about what leadership looked like in the shadows and why it often isn’t recognised by either ourselves or our middle or senior leaders.

The questions I’d like you to think about are:-

  • If they don’t and are happy to stay where they are how can you support them in what they are doing to ensure they don’t fee under valued or burn out or over burdened?
  • What are you doing to nurture them if they want to move up?
  • How do you recognise them?
  • Who are your shadow leaders?
  • Where is leadership in the shadows happening in your school in the classroom, department, wider community of the school?
  • Nancy Gedge  @nancygedge has written a lovely blog on this very thing Never Ending Laundry.

We then discussed how does it feel when you step up to cover a temporary position like long term cover, maternity, sickness and then you return to your normal position,

  • How do you manage that transition?
  • How do you lead the hand over of classes, responsibility,
  • How do you deal with the change in the status quo especially if they appoint someone into the role that you were doing?

With finally the last two aspects of the session,

  • How do you confidently manage up leadership, which sometimes we need to do? Often a tricky one and can put us in a difficult position.

Then if we are looking for promotion or a move-

  • How do we demonstrate our confidence in the light and out of the shadows in interview and on our applications when it hasn’t been a traditional situation? This is where we have to keep journals and notes of what we do and the impact it has, be it qualitative or quantitative data all is equally valid.

My session ended well, with some great feedback and it lead beautifully in to Summer Turners session on impostor syndrome which is exactly what I felt while delivering my session.

I attended some amazing sessions, listened, absorbed and all the while the overwhelming feeling I constantly got was that I was not JUST a teacher, I was more than that.

I do know things, I read, I understand, I question. I have a right to be heard when I feel I have something to say. I should question policy when I think it affects the learning of the pupils in my class. I should be confident in my ability to stand up for what I see is the right. I will be a role model for not just the young women in my class but the young men who need to see that it is OK to be a strong and opinionated but with a clear and sound basis to your argument, that is articulate and based on knowledge not just media hype.

I will push to be heard when all around me are shouting me down. But still no one listens. I am a lone voice.

Yet I sit here still worried, will I come up to the mark on Monday when I have SLT into to observe me for my performance management with their clip board and tick list.  I comply when they issue the list of things they want us to do to meet the OFSTED criteria because they think its what is right for the school.

So once again, I shrink back into the shadows, close my door and lead from my classroom, hoping to influence from the sphere I know I can, in the hope that the lives I touch will be improved and will see that they can be more confident and that they don’t have to hide in the shadows, that they have a voice and that they can be heard.

Thank you #WomensED.

I AM CONFIDENT LEADER, just not quite out of the shadows yet.

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One comment

  1. Sounds like a wonderful session Karen. I am really pleased that you are realising that you are more than just a teacher and have a lot to give!

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