by Clare Edmondson @changingbehaviouruk @change_Beh
Public speaking used to petrify me. I was 23 when my first school asked me to deliver CPD on the topic of student observations. It was only a ten minute slot but speaking in front of the WHOLE staff team felt exposing as a young, fresh faced teacher in the school. I spent most of the day panicking about the training and sweating profusely. Getting through the presentation was one thing, but taking questions at the end was another; I was heckled by a member of staff who spent a good two minutes picking apart the concept of my talk. I simply replied, ‘was that a question?’ A wave of laughter lashed through the room towards me – I can still remember that moment; it really was when I started to believe in myself. Something not enough women are encouraged to do. Once I believed in myself more, it didn’t feel like such a feat speaking in front of other teachers and staff.
I now spend my working life presenting to and training practitioners on different aspects of behaviour management, physical intervention and challenging behaviour – every morning, before I speak, I still feel nervous, but I know I can do it. I know I can motivate and I know I’ve got knowledge to share. I am very lucky. There is absolutely no way I could have taken this leap out of the classroom into freelance training, and becoming #10% braver, without having a deep self belief. This change of career got me thinking – does my gender impact my ability to believe in myself?
A male profession?
It has been hard to ascertain how many female teacher trainers there are as it isn’t a regulated profession, however in schools – 84.6 % of nursery/primary school teachers are female and 62.5 % of secondary school.
This data suggests that proportionally there should be a much higher percentage of females becoming teacher trainers/speakers than males . Just having a glance at this article that recommends speakers for your school shows a list dominated by men 8 Vs 2 women. By looking through Twitter or Educational Consultant databases it is easy to conclude that there seems to be a high proportion of males working in this area of education as opposed to women.
Why? Do men just have an innate ability to stand at the front and present? Of course they don’t, but there is an evident self belief and confidence gap between the genders. In fact, we have known about this gap for a long time. Claire Shipman in the Guardian writes about the “imposter syndrome” – a phenomenon in which high-achieving women believe “they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
Is this ‘Imposter Syndrome’ why more women aren’t standing at the front, delivering teacher training?
Furthermore, research from NC state University into the language used in Disney Princess films shows that ‘men tend to speak significantly more than women in Princess films, despite the fact the movies are ‘for girls.’ So, if popular children’s culture is telling our young girls that speaking is for boys – it seems fairly plausible that there will be less women who feel bold enough to go on and be that speaker at the front. This research also brings out interesting aspects on confidence:
‘Men (in Disney Films) are generally praised more for being strong, confident and brave – whilst females are generally praised for meekness and beauty.’ The study does acknowledge that more recent Disney Films have started to buck these trends, but not wholly.
If, through popular culture, we aren’t encouraging our girls to speak, or praising them for being good at something – how can we expect girls to believe wholeheartedly in themselves and their abilities? Which is exactly what you need to be a teacher trainer or a public speaker.
One of the lucky ones
My mother and father, unlike Disney films, encouraged me based on my abilities – they even wrote to my primary school head teacher (in the late eighties) and asked them if I could play football, rather than netball, as I liked it better. I was the only girl in the team and even captained all those boys in my final year. This kind of support and drive from my parents and my head teacher (Mr Knight, I will never forget that amazing man) has given me the confidence and self believe to stand where I stand today; at the front, leading. I’m one of the lucky ones – How are you going to believe in yourself more this year?
Clare Edmondson is the director of ‘Changing Behaviour’ a training company that provides training to schools and other educational settings on managing challenging behaviour, mental health and physical interventions. Her background is teaching and leading in PRU’s, mental health hospitals, ASD units and back in the day, secondary mainstream schools.