by Lyn Lawton
WomenEd in action at Marple Hall School…
Our school’s WomenEd Lead, Niamh Lavelle, interviews Deputy Head Claire Gregory.
As part of our work on WomenEd, I have had a number of conversations with women about their relationship with their own achievements. Sometimes, when we achieve something great, we can feel like we ‘just got lucky’, or things just managed to fall into place. Instead of this, we want to encourage women to acknowledge that their hard work created the achievement, not just mere luck. That being said, it isn’t easy. While we might be able to identify those achievements to ourselves, talking about them to others can sometimes feel like a much harder task. The idea of writing a ‘blurb’ has come from the book 10% braver.
10% Braver suggests that writing a blurb is a useful exercise in building confidence about talking about your achievements. Because a blurb is written in the third person, it is said that taking this step back makes it a lot easier to talk about your achievements in a positive light. Claire has kindly offered (and I annoyed her for quite a while!) to create a blurb about her achievements, which she can use if in need of a boost! In order to do so, Claire answered some questions about her achievements, which she then used to create her blurb. Hopefully, by leading the way, we can encourage others to speak out about their own achievements. What would your blurb say about you?
What would you say was your bravest move as a women in education?
Other than answering these questions for everyone to read you mean?!
I’d say probably going for the Deputy head role in particular a second time. I knew how much I wanted the role and I was clear in my own mind what I had to offer and the difference I believed I could make but I was very aware that some of the decision making people were the same as the previous time. When Joe told me I had got the role, I remember really clearly that rush of emotion and I remember promising him I wouldn’t let him down. I haven’t always got things right and like everyone I make mistakes but I would hope that I’ve kept that promise.
In the short term, it would have been easier to stay as an Assistant head as I enjoyed that role, I just felt strongly that I wanted to contribute more and do more to shape the future of our school. I had to really keep reminding myself that all the emotions I would feel if I didn’t get it would subside and that there was also the option of securing the role. I knew I had to go for it otherwise I would have always regretted it. There is no substitute for experience sometimes and you just have to gain experience, knock backs, feedback etc along the way. Perseverance and resilience are two characteristics I have had to develop but I hope I am a better person and better leader because of this.
- As a women, do you think you faced any different obstacles to men?
If so, what were they? And how did you overcome them?
If not, what obstacles did you have to overcome on your journey to SLT?
It’s really hard to answer this question as I’ve never been a man so it’s difficult to compare! I think that like a lot of women, in the past, I have taken too much time to consider whether I have been right for a job and vice versa/whether I could do it and almost talked myself out of it before I’ve even filled in an application form. At the same time some of the men on interview with me have been absolutely clear in their own minds that they are absolutely right for the role and have let us all know that this is the case! I think there is a happy medium between these two polar opposites– I can very easily talk myself out of something and sometimes just need to have a word with myself, go for it and understand the world won’t end if it doesn’t work out. Likewise, I’d never want to be that person who is full of my own self- importance and come across as someone who thinks I always know best.
There’s also the obvious answer of taking time out to have a family. Whilst some people say doing so “set me back” with regards to a career, maybe that’s true but I wouldn’t change it. Others say that working full time has meant I’ve missed out on things in Ollie’s life. Both or neither of these things may be true, who knows. The question is whether it matters and I have to say no, for me, it doesn’t. Having a child was our choice and I wanted both a family (albeit a very small one!) and a career, despite many people saying I couldn’t have both. Ollie may be many things but he isn’t an obstacle. Some women choose a family, some choose a career and some sadly don’t have the luxury of choice. I do believe though that any of us can only make the decisions we think are right at the time. I don’t believe there is only one path we should take but that we have various options and opportunities and everything always works out one way or the other in the end. My husband works away a lot and it can be hard to juggle work and home but I love my son, I love my school, I love my imperfect life and so somehow we make it work! There are times when I feel guilty; I can be with my family and my head is in work; likewise, sometimes I’m in work and my head is thinking about what I should be doing with Ollie (particularly when his birthday is the same day as Open Evening!). However, at the end of the day, I think for me personally, I’d find it very hard to be a stay at home mum and because of that, I wouldn’t be a very good one. I support any woman who chooses to do this and think women are our own worst enemies sometimes in not supporting each other and instead criticising the choices other women make. I salute the stay at home mums, the part time working mums, the full time working mums and the women who aren’t mums, whether through choice or circumstance.
- What is something about you/ Your career that not many people know?
I didn’t get either the Assistant Headship or the Deputy Headship here at Marple at the first time of trying and had to put myself through both processes twice. I am nothing if not persistent!
- What do you think is your biggest achievement in your career?
That’s a really hard opening question and I wish there was one thing that sprung to mind immediately! It will sound ridiculously cheesy but I am proud to have worked with other colleagues and thousands of young people over the years and I know that together we have changed lives, opened doors and made young people believe in themselves and their abilities. I think that is a huge achievement in itself. My passion for and belief in the potential of young people and my determination to not give up on any of them whilst in our care is something I am proud of.
- Do you have any regrets?
On a professional level, my biggest regret is that we can’t save all the kids. Inevitably, not all make it all the way through and I hate permanently excluding anyone, knowing the effect that will have on their life chances. Even though by the time we get to that stage I am comfortable that it’s the right thing to do, there is always that sense of regret than we couldn’t unlock the potential that I believe is inside every single young person.
On a more personal level, I have spent far too much time in the past comparing myself unfavourably to others and the people who I work the closest with will say that I have a tendency at times to be overly harsh on myself. I have to regularly tell myself that when we are part of team, each one of us has different skills and talents and we all complement each other, that’s the whole point of being a team. There will always be times when other people have better ideas, respond to situations in a better way and lead people better but I am trying to be kind to myself these days and accept that I know what I’m doing as much as the next person!
- Have you written your blurb?
Yes, as suggested by the leaders of the Women’s Ed movement, I wrote a blurb as a personal reminder to myself of what motivates me, what I have achieved in my career so far and what my future dreams are. To have some way of reminding ourselves of our own strengths and motivators, to spur us on when we feel inadequate or are having a bad day can be really helpful. As educators, we are all experts in building up confidence and self- esteem in our young people but self- care and being kind to yourself is also important. Modelling the behaviour we want to see in our students is important and we don’t accept self -deprecation from them, nor do we allow them to dwell on their weaknesses without having a plan to address them and without recognising their strengths so a blurb is one way of reminding ourselves that we are strong committed women with a passion and a purpose!