Moving from Surviving to Thriving

Moving from Surviving to Thriving

Hannah Wilson writes:

Reflections on my values-led leadership journey – the things I wish I had known earlier in my career, the insights I have gained through my tumultuous leadership journey over the last few years:

Where on the continuum of surviving to thriving are you?

I hit the wall a few years ago. Having a panic attack in my office at work one day. Realising that something needed to change. There is a relief to acknowledge that we all go through this at some point in our career, we all feel overwhelmed, we question whether we have the resilience and the tenacity to continue. I want to share some hope, that you do come through it, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to find the strength to make the change, and to weather the storm.

I lost myself in my role. By losing sight of Hannah the person, I had become soley Hannah the educator. I had become a chess piece on someone else’s chess set and this frustrated me. I recalibrated, realigned, reframed myself and my career through coaching. I encourage everyone to go and find a coach and to share the free DFE coaching pledge for women leading in education with their colleagues. The coaching model I have personally got the most from is the Graydin approach of coaching the person, not the problem, and starting with the heart not the head. The Heart, Head, Step model is a 3-part strategy to finding solutions.

We need to reflect on our Why for being an educator, I recommended using the Simon Sinek ‘Golden Circle’ model to consider your core values. I challenged you to truly consider if your core values are present in your current school. I know that as I ask that shoulders will slump and there will be a ripple of sighs. I encourage you to drill down to your non-negotiables as a frame for the culture and ethos you need to be able to thrive.  I can hear a penny dropping. For those seeking new roles and new contexts I suggest that this should be fundamental to how you as a candidate select whether a school is the right ethos for you or not. I challenge you to prioritise that over the status and salary to find the right fit.

Returning to my journey –my values had not been my beacon to guide me through a storm a few years ago because I had never really considered them before. Coaching has subsequently helped me to make sense of my why, to be able to articulate my values and to reflect on why I was frustrated. This epiphany helped me to get myself back on course and heading in the right direction. I regularly pay homage to the strength I have drawn from the #womened community. With so many educators feeling disempowered, disenfranchised, it is the sense of community that our network has created that truly nourishes the soul.

Remember that our values are our moral compass, our vision is our beacon steering us through a storm. Our mission as educators is to survive the storm and make the journey. As Dr Jill Berry has spoken about on several occasions at our #womened events: “Rough seas make the best sailors…. Ships were not built to stay in the harbour”. As an English teacher I love this extended metaphor.

Having survived the rough seas and refined my craft as  a sailor / as an educational leader, I compel you to learn from my insight of researching and selecting the culture and ethos I needed for my next move to move from surviving to thriving. As educators we need to remember that in a profession that is under-recruiting and under-retaining, that there are more jobs than educators, so therefore the power is with those applying and being interviewed. We need to hold on to this power and get what we need from a new role.

I recruited my whole team through sharing my vision and values. I have blogged previously about how I designed a values-led application process. Skills and experience are important, but I wanted to get the right people on the bus. I needed to recruit a team of Ambassadors for the values we wanted to embody in our new school.

Moreover, in a time when everyone is talking about values and plastering them on their marketing/ painting them on their walls, we need to be careful to interrogate how the values are being lived. Mary Myatt (in Hopeful Schools) talks about “values lived not laminated”and James Kerr (in Legacy) talks about “living your values out loud”. These 2 phrases resonate with me.

The values in our school are palpable. You can cut through the stick of Aureus rock anywhere in our community and you will experience a consistency in our shared vision and values.

We have invested a lot of time, energy and focus in scoping and embedding our values. Our values have been co-created, we all own them and drive them. Our children have an ethical vocabulary, our staff have a shared language.  Sue Webb, from VBE, led our values scoping day, I had to reconcile that not all of my values would resonate with my whole team, but my 3 non-negotiables: Diversity, Equality and Wellbeing would be integral to our vision and culture. Pen Mendonca captured our values scoping today and created the metaphor of our values being our DNA at our STEAM school.

When my team first formed, we agreed what we would and would not do at Aureus. We made some bold decisions early on about some fundamentals that underpin our culture and ethos. We have a very strong sense of who we are as a school and what we will and won’t do. With a shared vision, shared values and shared language, it makes strategic decision making easier.

Our school is wholeheartedly child-centred, we are committed to nurturing hearts and minds. We educate the whole child, holistically. We do not shy away from the Fierce Conversations. Our homily embodies everything that we are and I am excited to see my Drama Club deliver it in my ‘Love Without Labels’ assembly this week to introduce our new value of Love for February, and frame the LGBT+ month of activities.  They have learnt it off my heart and have created an action for each of our 12 values so that all of our students can visually see  what each value means to them.

So that is my whistle stop distillation of my learning from 2 years. I hope that it resonates with you. Keeps those flames burning and remember, if you have hit the wall and find yourself barely surviving, change your school not your profession. Too many educators are leaving the system rather than trying a different context. Just be careful to select the culture and ethos that you need to ensure the conditions for your own personal and professional growth are present.

Hannah Wilson

Executive Headteacher at Aureus School. Co-founder of WomenEd. 'HopefulHeadteacher'

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