Revisiting old posts: breaking the mould


Disclosure: this is an honest blog.  I’m not sure everyone will like that.

Over the wall, I see my future standing tall.

Over the wall, I can’t believe I could have it all

So I’ll keep climbing and climbing and climbing.

(The Wall, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie)

I’ve broken the mould. This year, I’ve done something I don’t think many people thought I would. I’ve walked away from a school that I have loved and sacrificed my life for, for the past 5 years.

Despite suffering a lack of confidence, I put in an application to a truly outstanding school with an experienced English department and incredible outcomes. I chose a school with my own development in mind. Honestly, I didn’t think I stood a chance. And, then – quite unbelievably – they chose me to come and join them.

Today’s WomenEd event has been all about Breaking the Mould and as someone who is going through a transition process, this day could not have come at a better time.

It’s been a terrible year. This year I’ve been Director of Learning, Director of English, KS4 lead for some of it, literacy lead, mentor to three new entrants to the profession, tutor and taught 20/30 lessons every week. The job has been too big for one person and I’ve felt like a constant failure.  My inner voice has been telling me I’m a rubbish teacher, a rubbish leader of ‘learning’, a rubbish Director of English, a rubbish lead on literacy, a rubbish mentor and a rubbish tutor.

It has left me sad.

It has left me depressed.

It has left me incredibly unhappy.

But something magical happens the minute you hand your notice in. You alleviate yourself of the pressure. You stand back. You take stock. You realise that it isn’t you that has failed but that, rather, other people or systems have failed you. And whilst that isn’t ok, it is something you can get over and be at peace about.

I’ve been fairly poorly recently and slightly burnt out (as many of us are when y11 leave) but this has given me time to stop, stand still and strip back.  I’ve also had some people say some quite profound things to me and, coupled with yesterday’s event, I’ve been considering what I have learnt recently and the key pledges I want to make to myself, moving forward.  Here they are.

No job.  No job title. No promotion. No responsibility is more important than being happy. If you are not happy, something must change.

Alison Kriel talking about fit made me realise that I just don’t ‘fit’ my school anymore. It’s a shame to think like that because once upon a time I did but it’s ok.  But the great thing about having a job is that you are under no pressure to take a job and finding the right job is so very vitally important. I knew I wanted to work in a school that’s research informed, where I will be nurtured and that has high challenge but low threat. I’ve found that school. It’s a superb school and I know it will be the right school for me.

Let your inner voice be healthy. A year filled with doubt has meant my inner voice has been quite destructive to my confidence. And when you couple that with a world made up of egotists and a high level of accountability, it can be hard to shift this.   However, over the past two weeks I have been unwell and very tired and this has given me time to re-evaluate. I am a brilliant teacher. The reason I am a brilliant teacher is because I don’t claim to know it all. I read. I research. I then consider before adapting my practice. But I adapt my practice. I am flexible because I want to learn and I want to grow. Now if you put this teacher in a brilliant environment, amazing things will happen. I know it. My inner voice is going to be healthy now. I am going to let it champion myself. Not to the egotistical state that I have come to loathe but enough so that I can hold my head high and talk myself up, rather than be quick to talk myself down.

Letting it go. Amazing things happen when you also let stuff go. Over the past two weeks, I’ve stepped back from my role and from Twitter. I’ve stepped back and I’ve watched. It’s been fascinating. People are very, very uptight. Very uptight. People are also full of ego. Power battles are happening everywhere within education (both offline and on). Once upon a time, I’d find myself thinking about that more than I should. Over the past two weeks, I’ve observed this. I haven’t acted. I’ve just sat back and watched. (If you know me, you will have known this has taken some strength ha ha). And then I’ve walked away and I can’t tell you how much lighter and happier I feel. Blocking out the negativity. Blocking out the egos. Blocking out the confrontations can do wonders for your well-being. If people want to be uptight, let them. If people want to be seen to be doing far more than you, let them. If people want their voice to be the loudest, let them. If people want to be the font of all knowledge, let them. If people want to be spiky with others for the sake of being spiky, let them. If people want to be the most popular, let them. Because let me tell you, something amazing happens when you let go of the control of trying to manage it all and the accompanying sensitivity. Amazing things happen when you stop thinking about others and just focus on yourself. There is a lightness. A happiness. A freedom.

Instead focus on your positives. Tell them to yourself. Be proud of your successes. This time of year is the most perfect time for this as we reflect upon 2017/2018. Here goes

  1. I’ve led a dept from Inadequate to Good. My goodness trawling back through the emails from the past 5 years, I can’t tell you the work that has gone on to this. I’ve set a very good foundation for things to move forward.
  2. My year 11 classes this year were incredible. Hoping for great things.
  3. I have made our dept research informed. Blimey oh riley – knowledge organisers, memory platforms, weekly knowledge testing and other quizzing, interleaving, green penning, quizlet for quotation retention, booklets that are becoming more knowledge rich, whole class feedback.
  4. I see the spark of research beginning to fire off in others. I sent a colleague to Pixl English last week and she came back buzzing. I used to get laughed at for going to Sat CPD. Genuinely, I was laughed at for reading Dickens’ biography before planning a unit on A Christmas Carol. Next Sat, however, I have half the team coming with me to Team Eng National Conference. The tide has turned.
  5. I spoke out about the frequency of assessment and the unnecessariness of it all. I got told a blank no. I spoke out again. And again. When I disagree with something (mainly because I have staff wellbeing at the forefront of my mind), I have been vocal. Now, it seems as though there will be less summative assessments next year. This is really positive.
  6. Whole class marking feedback that I introduced within my faculty has gone whole school. English came out top in the book ‘scrutiny’.
  7. The whole school is adopting the approach in English of having a notebook/booklets and an assessment only book.
  8. I wrote the faculty review (something I am proud and not proud of in equal measure).
  9. I led to quote ‘the two best CPD sessions this year’ – a session on our ‘Why’ and a teachmeet.
  10. I’ve recruited amazing staff and watched them sparkle.
  11. I’ve attended CPD after CPD after CPD after CPD. I’ve learnt so much.

And last but not least, I’ve kept my integrity.

Debra Kidd spoke about not fitting in. I think a lot of that sometimes is because ‘mavericks’ are so called because they aren’t necessarily yes people. I’m not a yes person. I’m a yes person if it will benefit the pupils and has staff wellbeing at the heart of it. Otherwise, I will speak out. I’m incredibly honest. You can see it on my face, you can see it on my body and you can hear it coming from my tongue. At my age, selfishness, dishonesty and egos are things I despise. There needs to be more candour as Katharine B would say. Sometimes, often – in fact, I’ve found people don’t like the truth. Instead, they will surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear.  And often, I’ve realised this is because of a deep-rooted insecurity or fear.  Instead, we must encourage honesty with ourselves (without the destructive inner voice taking over) and honesty with each other, especially if we genuinely want to move forward.

So…what now?

  1. Move to my new school. A school with an excellent reputation and amazing outcomes and an incredibly experienced English department who I can learn from.
  2. Soak this environment up. Learn from it. Enjoy being within it. High challenge, low threat.
  3. Read more, learn more, adapt more. Continue to be research informed.
  4. Enjoy the coaching programme. Soak up the support. Soak up the feedback. Soak up the advice.
  5. Use all of the above to rebuild my self-esteem and my confidence.
  6. WomenEd Italy. WomenEd is such an empowering and supportive network. So many of the women in WomenEd have been there for me recently and I’ve come to realise the power of the network. I can’t wait to be part of WomenEd Italy.

Someone took me to one side last week and told me how lovely it was to see the old Freya coming back. That despite being really poorly, I looked as though a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and the sparkle was returning.

I am ready for that sparkle to shimmer. I saw the musical ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ this week. One of the numbers is called Spotlight and includes the line ‘Out of the Darkness, Into the Spotlight.’  I don’t want to be in the spotlight but I’m definitely heading towards a brighter period of my life.  Next year is going to be my year. Bring it on.


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