I teach, therefore I am.
One holiday during my childhood, we stayed in a old English country cottage. I had, if memory serves me right, just reached the age where I could be trusted to have my own room; probably about seven or eight years old. Exploring the new room I found an old wooden wardrobe which entranced me – it was large and cavernous, with some woollen coats hanging inside. What if…I thought…just what if Narnia is back there. Snowflakes began to form in front of my eyes, I could feel them land on my nose and my breath began to quicken at the thought of my hand being grasped by Lucy to be taken on her adventures. It couldn’t harm me to look, I reasoned, as I clambered in. Within seconds, the wardrobe fell to the floor trapping me inside it. Magic quickly cut short by a harsh reality.
This tendency to chase magic is one that has lasted into adulthood. I no longer scramble around looking for portals in furniture but I do enjoy escaping into imagined worlds, or a more idealised version of the world we already live in and spending time trying to capture, often with the use of writing, the moments of magic I experience in the real world before the wardrobe falls.
Working with WomenEd often bring such moments of magic; yet I often let the real world fall back over me before I’ve had to the chance to fully express what I’ve experienced. At these events I feel cherished but also challenged, as a teacher, a leader and as a woman. You are being asked to expect more of yourself and in turn you are offered the generosity and support of the WomenEd community. A year ago, I spoke at the WomenEd Unconference about imposter syndrome and the act of having been asked to do this, to share my experience and knowledge with other women, emboldened me too.
In the year that followed, I found myself being asked to speak at more events but I also asked to speak; I asked to be heard. In that time I also wrote and published a book – a feat only possible because of the strength of the heterogeneous communities I’ve become a part of in the education world. They don’t always agree and I don’t always agree: but I listen, I think and I speak out.
In the political turmoil of 2016, I’ve found myself taking stock – speaking less about the issues of politics and society – including gender. I’ve found solace back in the creative and idealistic world of writing about curriculum and assessment: seeking out the best of what has been thought and said to share with teachers and pupils alike. I did break this briefly when I attended the London WomenEd LeadMeet earlier this year and I listened to the knowledge, views and ideas of a stellar set of leaders. In that evening I was transported into a world more sensitive, thoughtful, and powerfully honest than the one I felt currently trapped within. Magic. A magic that I sadly didn’t manage to capture in time to blog about before the wardrobe fell. Yet it remained with me, like the memory of the snowflakes on my nose in that country cottage, reminding me that the world can offer more.
So a few months later, the WomenEd Unconference has arrived like Lucy to take my hand and lead me on an adventure. It seems fitting that a year on, I have graduated from speaking on imposter syndrome to speaking about asking: you cannot ask if you don’t think you deserve. In ‘If you don’t ask’ I hope to break down the complexities of why women might not ask (whether it be for help, for a pay rise or a promotion) and what Amanda Palmer calls ‘the art of asking’ itself – both in terms of the gritty real world negotiations of the work place and in the very human terms of connection and collaboration. For after all, it’s in these connections, in these groundswell movements of collaboration, that I so often find the magic I’m chasing.