Summer Turner

I teach, therefore I am.

Changing the Leadership Narrative

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:

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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: 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:

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.

5 comments on “Changing the Leadership Narrative

  1. teachingbattleground
    January 24, 2016

    I think the main criticism people have of WomenED *is* the statistics. 65% of heads are women. You can break that down to see it’s not evenly distributed across the system or doesn’t match the even greater over representation of women in other roles, but it still means that ultimately this is a campaign for greater gender imbalance. Yet the rhetoric reported from these conferences still seems to be based on thr idea women are marginalised in school leadership.

    • ragazzainglese
      January 24, 2016

      I think it’s about proportion – the fact that there are many more women in teaching, means that there should be many more women in leadership. Particularly a problem in secondary and at the level of Executive Heads. The argument about more gender balance in teaching generally – why there are less men in teaching, especially primary – is an important argument too but a different one. Although I presume that there is probably a link in terms of gender stereotypes around teaching, which means the discussion around representation is useful.
      As many women still do experience male dominated leadership and barriers to becoming leaders based on gender, I think it means we still have important work to do here.

      • teachingbattleground
        January 25, 2016

        I don’t see why an extreme gender imbalance in teaching means there should be an equally extreme balance in school leadership. Do you really think that 87% of primary heads should be women and that anything less is evidence of male domination?

      • ragazzainglese
        January 25, 2016

        Not every teacher wants to be a leader. I accept that and the impact this might have on the stats. But I don’t think that accounts for the size of the gap between women who teach and women who lead. The stories from women also suggest that this isn’t the reason. I don’t see why fewer women should be primary leaders simply because there are fewer men in primary teaching. Again, if you or anyone else wants to fight for more balance in terms of male teachers in primary, then great I’m all over that. But it shouldn’t be a barrier to women.
        Also the extremity of those stats is unique to primary – it is a different case when it comes to women leaders in secondary and at Executive Head position, where women are severely underrepresented in proportion to the amount of women in teaching.

  2. jillberry102
    February 7, 2016

    Thought this was a really powerful post, Summer – sorry I’ve only just caught up with it/RTed it (as I know tickets for the residential are no longer available). Hope it still helps re: promoting the regional events.

    Look forward to seeing you at the end of the week.

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2016 by in Education (general), Feminism.
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