I teach, therefore I am.
On Saturday 16th January 2016, a group of educators gathered in the almost deserted offices of Microsoft HQ to talk about women leaders in education: the ones already there and those in the making. It was freezing cold (a fact I tried hard not to embellish with metaphorical symbolism about the frosty reactions to feminist movements) but we blustered on despite the chill because we had something important to discuss: the creation of Regional Networks of WomenEd.
For those unaware of WomenEd, it is a movement to empower and inspire women as leaders in education. Formed by a team of fantastic women last year as a response to a collection of experiences from women in or on the way to leadership and in regards to these statistics:
The WomenEd movement has its critics; many will argue that this is unnecessary and that to really change things women just have to apply to lead, or we have to accept that maybe women just don’t want to be leaders. Yet the stories which have unfolded suggest a different narrative: the continuing domination of old boys networks in senior leadership teams; difficulties with negotiating pay/working conditions; lack of flexible working hours; being ignored in the presence of male voices; being patronised or called emotional, or (unsurprisingly considering this context) feeling a lack of self-confidence.
These are just some of the anecdotes surfacing on the blogs, Twitter or Yammer network and at the first Unconference held in October last year. Yet at the same time, the WomenEd team and the men and women who support it, have begun to write a new narrative for leadership.
So in gathering together to discuss the regional networks, we were determining how we might enable others to begin to write their own parts – to fulfil the mission of WomenEd throughout the UK: inspiring and empowering women as leaders in education.
In our discussion, as Regional Leads, we first agreed on some shared principles, which included the need and desire for the WomenEd community to be an inclusive one and for it to appeal across the education and political spectrum. This is a difficult ask – by supporting a movement you always run the risk of making some people feel that they are ‘outsiders’ but the discussion and engagement with a range of voices is to try to work this out.
As a group we already have diverse backgrounds, interests and roles; this made our decisions and our path to agreement all the richer. Feminism is a broad church; we shouldn’t expect that we will all agree or that we will all be the same, but that doesn’t have to mean we can’t be united.
We considered what we were taking on as Regional Leads – including the intended outcomes. This isn’t a group for sitting around talking about changing the world, it’s one with people who are determined to do it. As Annemarie Williams (Head Teacher, Humberstone Academy) said on the day: if gender balance in businesses makes for better results for companies than surely the same would work for our schools and consequently, our pupils. Therefore there’s a moral imperative to take action: Equality is Better for Everyone.
After a fortifying lunch, we split into our regional groups to plan our action steps which included looking at ways to open up our community and share ideas; reaching out to existing great male and female leaders; exploring the idea of mentoring and coaching programmes and planning a TeachMeet event (details to follow). Hannah Wilson and Vivienne Porritt (two of the WomenEd founders) did a sterling job of ensuring dreams were not taking the place of action – steering us back to dates, times, realities. The whole day, but that afternoon in particular, had a buzz about it; the same one you get when a class just suddenly grasps onto an idea you’ve been teaching and you feel the world shift, just a little, just enough for you to notice that this moment matters.
Now we want to share these moments, to build that buzz in schools and groups of educators around the UK and beyond. If you want to be a part of this, then join our Yammer community to find out more: https://www.yammer.com/womened/ and follow WomenEd on Twitter.
We are also hosting our second event on 12th-13th February, with a selection of speakers and workshops based around helping you take the next step in your career. More information and tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/womened-the-residential-tickets-19794388549
Working with this group of leaders is empowering, but this can’t be something we do alone – it has to involve a wide range of voices. For this isn’t a movement to get one or two women heard, to raise a few pioneers to power; it is to change the culture so that women as leaders in education becomes a normality. Let’s write a new narrative.