In her game-changing book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg explores the phenomenon of women in all sectors of the workforce ‘leaving before they leave’. Sandburg presents research showing that women choose certain subjects at university; go on to take on certain professional positions, or refuse to apply for promotions or more responsibilities in their twenties and thirties to ensure that their working lives are compatible with their as-of-yet non-existent families. Many women make these – often unconscious – decisions before they even have a boyfriend or know whether they are able to have children, but apparently men do not subject themselves to the same career and family planning.
Following a recent Teach First ambassador roundtable event focusing on the barriers to headship, The MTPT Project have a suspicion that this tendency to ‘leave before they leave’ is the reason that many female teachers do not pursue school leadership positions.
However, there are lots of women out there who not only balance and thrive in headship positions with young families, they also held these roles before and during pregnancy and maternity leave.
There’s nothing like a role model to get you feeling inspired, so over the next few months, we are going to try to source these mother head teachers and find out the practical and attitudinal steps that have allowed them to have their babies, and eat their leadership cakes, too.
Continuing on from Rebecca Cramer’s fantastic starting interview, we now hear from Angela Browne, Principal at The Castle School near Bristol. Angela became pregnant with her second child whilst in post as a head teacher and applied for her second headship whilst pregnant. She negotiated a six month delay on the start date when she was offered the job so that she could spend five months on maternity leave. Her son is now four, and Angela is in her third headship role.
Angela is a member of WomenEd and is so vocal about sharing her headship experiences that she has turned to vlogging to inspire the educational community, but how did she build up the courage to be (a little bit more than) 10% braver to apply for new headships amidst the usual pressures of pregnancy?
“Not really….! I was lucky enough to gain my second Headship in a school that we were building from the ground up. The governors were really wanting the school to be a place that people with lives outside of school could work and that helped hugely.
Part of my vision has always been to work in a school in which all aspects of my life and work were able to intermingle, grown and flourish. The job that was advertised was my dream job and something I had been working towards for years. It felt like all the stars were aligned and I couldn’t not apply for it. I knew that what would be would be fine and that spirit of adventure helped.”
“The interview was in two parts over a few weeks. I wasn’t visibly pregnant but I was suffering with horrendous morning sickness and the utter exhaustion of the first trimester. I hadn’t mentioned my pregnancy at interview stage but after the first round of interviews and before I was offered an invite to the next step of the selection process, I emailed the governors and told them that I was pregnant and that I wouldn’t be able to start for 6 months beyond the advertised start date (if I were successful). They were amazing, they thanked me for my honesty and then they invited me to the next stage of the interview. (I guess in some ways they couldn’t not – it might have looked as though they were being discriminatory?)”
“My maternity leave and the early stages of my job were intertwined and I wouldn’t do that again. In hindsight, I massively underestimated the need to really rest and nourish myself post childbirth and I underestimated the huge amount of energy that needed to be poured into the new role. At the time I just cracked on and took Arthur with me for endless rounds of interviews, meetings and pre-opening governor sessions. He was with me for the pre-opening Ofsted and I spent a huge amount of my maternity leave preparing for the new role – essentially the whole five months.”
“It was never forthcoming I am sad to say but that is probably a story for another day!”
“It has not been really balanced until this year, I would say, but that is more to do with the lack of a solid network: my parents live abroad and my partner and I split up in the early stages of my headship / motherhood. I have put one foot in front of the other and done the best that I could.
I have had a dreamy child and some dreamy moments n my job but it has also been incredibly hard to lead through sleep deprivation and mental exhaustion. I think pregnancy created the necessary hubris to get me through the early stages and I learned a greater degree of balance thereafter.“
“GET A NETWORK! It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village, a powerful network of engaged and supportive others to build a Headteacher! With the right networks (that I absolutely have now) it is enjoyable, wonderful, enlivening to walk the way you talk and lead and parent well. My leadership role feels supercharged by my experience of trying to bring up a small person; my parenting feels supercharged through knowing that I am creating a life for us that has meaning and value in the world.”