Sunday, 3 November 2013

Leadership - When Opportunity Knocks

One rainy evening I sat at my desk surrounded (as usual) by exercise books, sheets of stickers, sticky back plastic, scissors, glue sticks and a selection of red pens.  My classroom was very much like my second home. I had organised the furniture and decorated just how I liked it. I was on the third floor and my window looked out into two huge beautiful trees that were the oldest on the school site.  In the summer they were full and all the shades of green you can imagine; you felt as if you were in the midst of the jungle.  When the wind was strong, the rustling leaves sounded like the sea.  In the winter the branches were bare and maze-like.  From the right angle you could see all the way to the Gherkin - a glimpse of the 'real world'.   I loved that room and was really sad when I had to leave it behind as they knocked the old down to replace it with the new a couple of years later. The cold winter air blew in to my always overheated classroom, making me feel feverishly freezing and clammy all at once.  My mind drifted as I tried to focus on the pile of marking before me, letting the echoes of the day's classes filled the room.  Suddenly, a knock at the door startled me. That knock changed it all. 

As a young teacher I was so focused on surviving and keeping my head above the water that I never really thought about leadership.  My concerns were very much directed towards getting through the day and keeping up with the rigorous routines, planning and marking systems that were a no-questions-asked requirement in my school. I loved those kids but boy, they were no joke let me tell you! The routines and systems needed to be tight and that meant ALL of us doing our bit - and we did.  Lesson plans were expected to be printed off and available for every lesson taught. Books needed to be marked on time and as specified as there were weekly extensive random book checks that were taken along to SLT meetings and poured over in great detail. The school was no walk in the park but the best training I could have had to become the best I could be. I am grateful to them but I felt the strain as a new teacher.  I was not perfect by any means but cared a lot about what I did.  I tried my best to take any advice and instruction given to me in those early years. I was, and still am, good to line manage. I want to please my line manager and show my worth. I don't always get that right but I keep going until I do. So leadership was the last thing on my mind until that knock.  I was asked to apply for a junior leadership post in my school - "No guarantees. Interviews have to be held but you would be great. Why don't you apply?"  It took me completely by surprise.

I sat silently, in shock, for quite some time after my boss dropped that bomb shell of a suggestion on me.  I would never have dreamed that they would WANT me to step up to a position of responsibility.  I am a perfectionist.  I was very demanding of myself as a young teacher and did not see the potential that my boss clearly did.  (note to self - I have never been perfect at anything and that is ok.  I need to get over that.) I was really unsure about whether I should go for the post. I was scared I might not be successful and have to live with the shame of failure; everyone knowing that I was no good and silly to have thought I might ever have been.  My lovely boyfriend, now husband, talked me out of that very abruptly once I got home.  He had seen how much hard work I had put in over the few years I had been a teacher.  He had witnessed the tears at the end of holidays in my first year, weekends and nights spent planning and marking, whole holidays spent working tirelessly, the countless mornings waking up having had another dream I was in school and all the rest of the rubbish.  He had to remind me of the the slow progression towards gaining my personal time back by keeping most of my work in school, the ever-increasing evening stories full of laughter and smiles about how much I had enjoyed this lesson or that, the growing confidence I had in dealing with challenging children and the passion I clearly had for the job.  Truth be told,  I was my own worst enemy - I didn't think I was good enough.  He basically told me not to be stupid and go for it. He was right... so I did.

I spent the following week slavishly preparing for the interview. My evenings were spent researching interview questions, putting together work I was proud of, quizzing people in similar roles about their jobs and practising possible questions. That week a number of well-meaning colleagues said things like "what are you worrying about? You are confident and you work hard. You will be fine."  I am confident, but I am also a very nervous person - full of contradictions me. These nerves always kick in full force when I really care about something.  Their comments drifted around me but nothing sunk in.  The week was a haze. I kept myself very busy freaking out about the fact that those pesky nerves might be my downfall in the interview. So I practised the possible interview questions over and over in my head and attempted to sleep a few times in the lead up to the interview. You can practise all you want but when the door closes and you are on one side of the table and they are on the other all bets are off - it is anyone's game.

I was well prepared but very nervous in the interview. I remember the sun shining through the window blinding me but making me feel alive at the same time. I remember them asking me questions and me answering but not want was actually said. I remember showing the portfolio of projects I had worked on but not their reaction. I remember thanking them for their time but not whether their response was positive or negative. I remember sitting in my empty classroom after the interview feeling exciting and exhausted but not which I felt more of. I remember answering the the phone and being told they were very happy to let me know that I had been selected to be KS3 Coordinator of English.  I remember them saying that they had chosen me because "I was the best person for the job." I remember the floor falling away from beneath me, the room spinning and a voice that sounded like mine saying "WHAT? ME? REALLY? Thank you so much! I won't let you down, I promise!" And I meant it from the bottom of my heart.  

Truth be told, I didn't think I was good enough. 

Guess what... I was wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Great leaders always work at becoming better. They read about strategies, other great leaders, techniques, and evalution of themselves. Not so great leaders don't think they need to work at self improvement. That is because they are so self-absorbed and look at others faults they can't see their own. 
    Leadership Development