The Importance Of Following Your Vision

Teaching is what the women do in my family. As a child I decided I wanted to be different but there’s something about the calling that comes from deep within and my passion and respect for the profession has never wavered.
Over the time, I have been in education – I have been inspired by some wonderful leaders that have believed in me and who had a deep belief in their own vision and did what was necessary to see it through.

From the outset I loved inner city teaching – the diversity and the challenge. I started off my career as a Year 2 teacher in Hackney. Our Head at the time was working towards a vision of an outward looking, inclusive and supportive school. While I was there, all the staff and myself felt valued and everyone felt welcome. However, there was a couple of occasions that really stood out to me and have inspired me in becoming the leader I am today.

One morning whilst doing the register a pupil responded to me by saying, “Good morning Blackie”. As soon as I mentioned it to the Headteacher, she gave up the rest of her day to lead an impromptu art lesson with me and my class, doing self-portraits, showing the children how to mix skin colours and talking about her experiences of growing up as a child in France during the Nazi occupation.

It was a mastery lesson in how to help children have an informed perspective of the world, one that I have carried with me throughout my career. She could have simply asked me to deal with it as I saw fit. But she recognised the importance of tackling and fighting for what mattered most. By dropping everything, she showed to me and all the staff, the importance of pursuing those things you truly believe in as a leader, your vision and values. On a personal level, it brought me great reassurance and joy to see my Headteacher supporting me like this and made me feel even more at home and motivated at the school.

Later on in the same year, which was around mid-way through my first year, she asked me what I thought most needed to be developed in the school. Many Heads may not think to ask a first year teacher what they thought was a budget priority. But she did and when I said music, she then gave me a budget and persuaded me to organise an international music week.

It was a huge risk on her part to trust a 1st year teacher with a budget like that but I relished the opportunity. I liaised with local musicians and secondary schools and we had a week of workshops and performances.

My Headteacher recognised the potential in me, saw that I had a different perspective on how the curriculum could be delivered and trusted me to deliver it. It was also my first taste of leadership and showed me how the best outcomes often come through collaboration. It also highlighted the importance of not just spotting potential within your team but empowering your staff by trusting in them and giving them the opportunity to shine.
As an NQT, I was also fortunate enough to have a wonderful mentor. She was formidable – sharp, to the point but I always knew that she believed in me and I quickly recognised that all of her feedback was my opportunity to grow.

During my fourth year of teaching, when she took on her first headship – I decided to join her initially as a Maths Coordinator and then as her Deputy Headteacher. Growing into our respective leadership roles was an enormous learning curve – always challenging, sometimes painful, but the school quickly became successful and popular.

She provided all the staff opportunities to lead and we could do so safe in the knowledge that she was fiercely loyal and always had our backs. I learned the importance of aiming to get a good balance of leading from behind as well as the front when the need arose. She had no fear in standing up for what she believed in as a leader, challenging anyone especially when it came to inclusion, equality and employment rights. Everyone knew what she stood for and always had the courage to remained true to that, an example which inspires me to this very day as a leader.

As she believed in my potential, she also often discussed me moving on to take up Headship but at that time, I had no desire to do so. I felt I still had so much learning to do. It also felt like every year had fresh challenges and I was waiting for a period of professional stability. Learning to be a Headteacher in that period of change seemed like madness. Although, eventually she persuaded me to apply for the headship of a new school.

It was widely believed that the local authority wanted to appoint a man in a suit. I was assured that I was not appointable. An outspoken black woman with mad hair did not fit the bill. Throughout the first day of interview I felt completely removed from my reality and when I was invited back for the second day of interview I was convinced that it was purely to make up numbers and to keep the local union groups quiet.

I had nothing to lose, took a risk and like my previous Heads had done in their own way, I shared my vision. I went as me and spoke as me. I was staggered to receive a call later that afternoon offering me the post. My school community went into huge celebrations. My success was their success.

I’d got the post but I was in pure terror. I wasn’t ready, I didn’t expect to be appointed, and I was full of self-doubt. One day I couldn’t contain my terror any longer and I found myself sobbing in my office, unusual for me.

A colleague found me, actively listened and made it ok for me not be ok. The next day she bought in a copy of “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. The book, the words my colleague had said to me and the fact that my Headteacher and those who had appointed me had seen something in me, proved a huge reassurance in the months that followed.

All these experiences proved vital, several later I was invited by the LEA to support a local school that was in trouble.

Everyone wanted the school to change but improvement was slow as no one wanted to change the way in which they worked and tensions were beginning to reach boiling point. I was just putting out fires, making the cosmetic changes that my Local Authority wanted to see as I was under heavy pressure to turn around the school. I found myself really implementing their vision rather than my own. Leadership was also at its most stressful and difficult, as I had allowed myself to doubt what I believed needed to be done rather than trusting in myself.

One day, I decided things needed to change. I remembered the examples of my Heads who had inspired me, how they had had the courage to lead authentically. Like them, I needed to take up my authority and put my own vision in place and what I believed in.

As soon as I started doing that, things became much easier. I was a better leader for the staff as I was able to share my vision with them and there was greater transparency. I made changes to bring community cohesion and developed practice for the good of all. From that point onwards, the school quickly became much more collaborative and we gained school stability. It had taken all of my courage to stand up against local policy but it worked and quickly the school rose to success.

The whole experience had brought home to me that headship can be managed and success can only be achieved by being authentic, believing in yourself and remaining true to your vision, like my former Heads had done when I was a teacher.

I had learned the hard way that following the vision of others does not bring the success I enjoy. It takes courage and we have to give ourselves permission to lead authentically. However, when we are true to our vision it brings happiness and joy in what we do and it brings security to those around us.

To Love Oneself Is The Beginning Of A Lifelong Romance

The menopause is a rite of passage that happens to every women yet it is a taboo subject! My grandmother definitely did not speak about it and my mum’s generation spoke with their eyes and mouthed it ‘the change’. Slowly, it’s becoming easier to talk about our menopause among groups of women ‘of a certain age’ but it remains a stubbornly taboo subject in wider circles.

To be honest I didn’t really think about menopause until I had to think about it. I didn’t realise that it was a gradual shift in pattern and that it came in 3 stages – perimenopause, menopause and post menopause and that it could last for anything between 5 to 15 years for the first two stages, plus post menopause! That’s a lot of years to be unclear about what’s happening to my own body!

I have to say getting clarity of understanding and getting the right support and advice is shockingly poor. We laugh about it and Baroness Van Sketch capture our confusion wonderfully well:

So why is menopause becoming such a hot topic of conversation? Well about 100 years ago the average woman did not live beyond her fertile age and it is thought that few lived long enough to experience menopause. Our grandmothers and mothers went through menopause but were at home, probably enduring it in shame. The average life expectancy of women has increased significantly which means that many of us could live to 30+ more years in post-menopause. Many of us go through perimenopause and menopause whilst holding down demanding full time work outside the home and some of the menopausal symptoms can leave us feeling that we are going through a certain kind of madness. In an age where maintaining a youthful outlook is highly valued, menopause is anticipated with anxiety. It is good to see that we are now at a stage where we want to be informed and we want to know what to expect. We are getting better at putting ourselves in charge of our own bodies so that we can make informed choices. There are some excellent medical practitioners in the field, but there is also some dire practice. It is not uncommon for menopause to be misdiagnosed as depression or for the same HRT treatment to be prescribed for every female patient even though we know that every woman is different. Being educated about your own body, noting the changes, seeking the best medical guidance from a practitioner who has the right level of expertise and making a plan which is right for you will make your menopause easier, less stressful and not frightening at all. You’ll hold on to your sense of humour, your self worth and your independence – things that you’ve spent your whole life building up and expecting to have. Being informed is all part of self love.

I spoke about menopause at The #WomenEd Unconference 5. It was in response to a number of women who have been treated very poorly in the workplace. A high number find themselves facing redundancy at a time when they are feeling at their most vulnerable. Workplace adjustments are uncommon, many choosing to ignoring guidance. Menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010 and the first court cases in relation to menopause have been won. Others are on the radar and could be age, gender or even disability discrimination related. As awareness is growing thus increasing awareness around menopause as well as the Supreme Court’s decision to abolish tribunal fees for claimants, it is likely that the number of cases will increase.

We need help to end stigma around the menopause by encouraging an understanding of it within our families, social circles and in the workplace. It is ok to ask for reasonable adjustments. Dr Louise Newson, is a highly respected expert on the menopause provides good guidance here:

So, in closing, irrespective of whether you’re perimenopausal, menopausal, post menopausal or waiting for it all to happen, let’s break the stigma and normalise this rite of passage by talking about it. Take care of you and make a plan to embrace yourself fully and enjoy each day

This How We Look When We Lead

When I made my decision to leave headship and become an Independent Consultant, I worked with Marianne Hartley, on how best to brand myself. Her response amazed me. “I can design something for you but you already have your own brand, your look. Your hair.” How could the one thing that’s been the source of so much negativity in my life be my ‘brand’?

My birth certificate labels me as ‘Cape Coloured’, a label invented by colonialists during the pre-apartheid regime. We were a group who were not white enough to be white and not black enough to be black, in a culture where whiteness guaranteed a life of privilege. As a child, growing up in a violent and toxic culture of apartheid, where everyone strived for a better life, having skin that was not too dark and hair that was not ‘too naughty’ impacted on the type of life you lived. Looking ‘almost white’ could open doors to opportunity, education, work, as opposed to a life of poverty and oppression. It was also an external reflection – the elephant in the room – of the ultimate taboo – interracial relationships. As a child I wore my hair mainly long in two tidy plaits and as a young adult I kept it short as way of controlling it’s unruliness. And then I had a ‘my hair doesn’t define me’ moment. I hated the time and what felt like an eternal battle to blow dry it into something it wasn’t. So I let it be. And opened the door to what often felt like judgement, disappointment and commentary.

One of my most vivid moments of my hair and my leadership came when I went for an interview for my first headship. I was advised to blow dry my hair and tie it up in a bun so that I could look more professional. And I did it. I arrived in a suit, straightened hair, scared as hell. I was the only woman out of 7 candidates, the only candidate who had not had headship experience, and only black person in the whole process. I felt utterly displaced, emotionally and physically uncomfortable. I did not feel like me and I asked myself over and over what the hell I was doing there. I did not belong. Each time I caught sight of myself I felt like I did not belong to me. We were told that 3 candidates would be asked back for Day 2 of interviews and when I was invited to report back the next day to do an unseen presentation and panel interview, I convinced myself that I was included for tokenistic reasons.

I spent that evening in floods of tears of rage and fear and rang my inner circle for support. I was being used, they knew who they wanted. And once I sobbed myself to the point of exhaustion I had another ‘I don’t give a damn moment’. If I was to go back there the next day then I needed to go as me and share my vision of what a school should look like. I went in the next day. No suit and I left my hair in it’s natural style. I knew I wouldn’t get the job, I had nothing to lose by going as me. But…. I got the job, my defining moment for making a promise to myself to always show up as me.

Throughout my leadership journey I became used to comments being made about my hair. I was brave, untidy, unruly, unconventional, sassy. I recall a TA telling me, after I’d lost some weight, that I looked great and if I just sorted out my mop, I’d look amazing. I rarely engaged, after all I had a promise to keep to me. To embrace and accept myself for all that I am. I understood that we become what we think.
Self-acceptance is a principle of leadership and of being human. It means accepting our imperfections and building on our strength. It means less time devoted to self doubt and changing how we look and how we lead to what others think leadership looks like and more time getting on with the job with the confidence and conviction that we look right, we do right.

Through my acceptance of self, came acceptance of others. It is truly liberating to accept people as they are. I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what a teacher looks like, or sounds like or presents as. I loved recruiting the best teachers who could teach from the soul, irrespective of how different they were to me. I have no preconceived ideas of what a successful pupil looks like, sounds like, presents as. I believe I am the truly lucky one because my self-acceptance gave me the opportunity to lead a truly diverse community of harmonious, successful people, who all had permission to be themselves and to accept each other. I modelled self-acceptance and I modelled what a leader looks like when they lead.

In words of India Arie
“I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations,
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am the soul that lives within”


Be You

I became an inner city teacher because I had dreams of making a difference. I wanted to be the teacher I never had. To be there for the ‘good’ girls, quiet and invisible – overshadowed by the boisterous boys; the naughty boys whose behaviour overshadowed their hidden talents; the children for whom there were limited opportunities.

I was born in South Africa. My birth certificate labelled me as ‘Cape Coloured’. It was there to define what I could and could not be in society, where I could and could not go. It was set to limit my aspirations. I did not belong to the superior group – the whites. We moved from country to country. I recall mimicking the accents of the children so that I didn’t stand out as being too different. More often than not, I was the only black child in the class, sometimes the school. Being quiet, shy and black was not the cool thing to be. I tried to break out of it, to fit in, but that just added to my awkwardness – my sense of not belonging. My parents told me that I must never allow myself to be defined by the labels put on me by others, to fight oppression and to be who I wanted to be. I simply did not want to cause ripples.
I was fortunate throughout my teaching career in having strong leaders who believed in me, valued my opinion and gave me opportunities to grow. As I stepped into leadership, education policy changed and a culture of fear of Ofsted and league tables became the driver in many schools. I had a successful first headship and was asked by my local authority to support a failing school. Everyone wanted the school to change but improvement was slow as no one wanted to change the way in which they worked and tensions were beginning to reach boiling point. I was just putting out fires, making the cosmetic changes that my Local Authority wanted to see as I was under heavy pressure to turn around the school. I found myself really implementing their vision rather than my own. Leadership was also at its most stressful and difficult, as I had allowed myself to doubt what I believed needed to be done rather than trusting in myself. I eventually ‘hit the wall’ and stress stood between me and my dreams of making a difference. I had become a victim of the system. I was reliable, a hard worker, ambitious, I delivered good statistical data. I was a thinker for the state rather than a thinker for myself. I was behaving as that little girl again, fearful of causing ripples.

It is very easy to lose our way in our education system, to follow a pattern, and eventually realise that we are surviving, and feel like we are barely making a difference rather than following our own visions.
What is your passion? Are you following your aims and ideals? Are you teaching from the soul? Is your job taking more from you than it is giving you? Has the fear of missing out become a guiding factor? Imagine how liberating it would feel if you give yourself permission to expect more. What will it do for your sense of self? What will it do for your wellbeing?

I had to learn the hard way to work differently, to find joy in my work. It meant finding the courage to lead authentically and to take up my authority to put my own vision in place. As soon as I started doing that, my wellbeing improved and I found a renewed passion for education. It took all of my courage to stand up against local policy but I became a stronger leader and my school went from strength to strength. I learned that headship can be managed and success can only be achieved by being authentic, believing in yourself and remaining true to your vision. Following the vision of others did not bring the success I enjoy. It takes courage and we have to give ourselves permission to lead authentically. When we are true to our vision it brings happiness and joy in what we do and it brings security to those around us.

“I believe that at the very root of our humanity is a passion to create value with heart, to work alongside others who care, and to make a difference. I believe that each of us has something of value to offer — all 7.5 billion of us. While not everyone will, anyone can.” ― Nilofer Merchant, The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World

This is the very reason why many of us choose to teach. Are you waiting for that perfect moment to put your own vision into place? Now is the perfect time to set your own limits and be the person you really are. Yes it’s scary – but it’s hugely fulfilling and liberating. Do it for you, your peace of mind, and your wellbeing. Dare to be different. Dare to be you.

It’s 1st September, 2020, the start of a new school year ………Begin


‘Don’t prepare. Begin. Our enemy is not lack of preparation. The enemy is resistance, our chattering brain producing excuses. Start before you are ready.’ — Steven Pressfield