by Leann Swaine

Over a week after the London #WomedEd Unconference, I have only just sat down to start reading my copy of the 10% braver book.  Like many others, I have seen comment on twitter, I have been hooked!  A few chapters in and it feels like a memoir, a handbook and a source of inspiration.  Reading the book reminded me of the palatable excitement, buzz and motivation that was felt around the building that day. A momentous occasion kicked off by the Global Teacher Prize Winner Andria Zafirakou, who set the tone for the day by reminding us that ‘teachers change lives’ and rounded off by a book launch. The women who stood before us had managed to, among a multitude of many incredible things, start a grassroots movement which has captured the hearts of over 24,000 people, and, written a book all whilst doing their day jobs, proving to us that with some hard work and a sprinkling of kindness – anything really is possible!

I attended a WomenEd session last year and in the spirit of the organisation I was encouraged to speak at an event.  It is one of many things about the community that I respect and admire, ‘the pay it forward mindset’, which allows others to gain the confidence to ‘step up and lead’.   I felt honoured and humbled to stand beside some of the most influential female educators of our time and was proud to be able to tell my story.

Throughout the book, I note the recognition of role models, the commitment to being 10% braver by ‘acknowledging your dreams’, taking small steps towards them, and realising that ‘none of our experiences are worthless, even if we don’t fulfil the specific dream we were aiming for’.  Without realising, my session was based on exactly that and it was as if the authors had read my mind!  Yet on reflection I realise that the contributors and I share the same values.  I recognise that the support and challenge of the WomenEd community, virtually and in reality, has helped to shape the way I think.  So, I suppose, it is no surprise that much of what I have read so far seems to form part of my narrative too.

I based my session on very own my role model, my Nan.  A woman who had the purest, kindest heart and deep understanding of people. She tempered this with a determination and drive that continues to inspire me long after her passing.  ‘Rest if you must’, she would tell me, ‘but just don’t quit’. She was a story-teller and told me of the times that her dreams and aspirations had been questioned or ever laughed at, but she always found a way to make things happen and was the first person who helped me to see that our path doesn’t have to linear but a more a series of comebacks or re-routes.  She was a true leader who didn’t need a title or an office to motivate, empower and inspire others – she just did it because it was the right thing to do.

The  WomedEd movement does the right thing, challenging inequalities, inspiring others to develop their personal and professional confidence and being the change we all know we want to see. As well as leading my own session, I heard from some amazing women (@AyoAwotona_ and @ViviennePorritt) who gave me practical strategies to empower the students in my care and to help me ensure that my school is committed to genuine equality for all. I left the event feeling a responsibility to search out any gender inequalities in my institution, as well as a commitment to do all that I can to make things better.


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