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 2018 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 we created our Motherhood and Headship blog series to share the practical and attitudinal steps that have allowed the mother-head teachers in The MTPT Project community to have their babies, and eat their leadership cakes, too.

The fifth in our series, we now hear from Nadine Bernard, Head of School at Van Gogh Primary in South West London.  Nadine has balanced headship with her role as mother to three young sons and regularly connects her values as a parent to her passion for school leadership when presenting and speaking as a Head Teacher.

Nadine is a member of WomenEd, and has worked with Ambition School Leadership and Teach First to develop future school leaders.  Recently, Nadine has founded “I am Here, We See You” to raise the profile of successful BAME role models in all sectors through powerful audio-visual resources and if that wasn’t enough, she has now launched Aspiring Heads, a leadership programme addressing the racial imbalance in school leadership.  So how does Nadine balance being such a public figure in education with her responsibilities as a parent?

I knew very early on that I wanted to be a headteacher and that I also wanted to be a mother. Never did I relate the two to be a problem for me. Working towards headship was one path I had and having a family was another. I was possibly totally naive to not think both would come at a cost or perhaps, by not forming them both together in my mind, helped to not create a visual barrier in my mind. My desire for children did not hinder my focus and passion for headship.”

Not being able to share many of those special moments with my children; first days at school, class assemblies, sports days. There have been times when I have had to bury my upset and disappointment. I have also had many conversations with myself to remind me that I am not a bad mother. Over the years I have realised that my children do not hold grudges against me but rather feel proud to know that their ‘mummy’ is a headteacher.

Some of their best childhood moments includes being able to come to work with me when their school has an INSET Day or when uneven term dates appear. Also, being in leadership has enabled me to create parent friendly cultures where capacity is created for staff and myself to attend special events relating to own children. There was even a stage in my leadership career where I was able to collect my children from school once a week. This was bliss!”

I am a mother with a very supportive husband and father. Together we have found ways to ensure we are able to gain the necessary balance. For example, I leave very early for work and my husband wakes up our sons, gets them ready for school and completes the morning school run before he goes onto work.

My mother is also another huge factor in making things work as she is able to pick my boys up from school. Prior to my boys attending school, my mum would care for my sons during the day. It was also an added bonus that my mum was a registered childminder!”

Stepping into leadership as a person of colour in itself is a challenge. Being a mother with dependent children can then add an additional barrier as it can be assumed by some that it is impossible to effectively lead with these additional commitments. It continues to frustrate me that there are still many people, mainly men in leadership, who fail to realise that there are many ways to lead which can generate the same successful results. Staying at work till 6pm does not make you a better leader! I can leave work at 4pm on selected days, spend time with my children and then set a couple of hours after my children are tucked in bed to attend to more work should it be required.”

Go for headship! Don’t hold yourself back. Pregnancy and motherhood is a beautiful experience and should not need to be calculated to meet expectations of others or satisfy perceptions of others. Executive Heads, CEO’s, Governors and Trust Boards cannot hold motherhood against you. I secured a new Headship role and one month before I started, I found out I was pregnant! Yes, it was not an ideal time, but 12 months later, I have my third gorgeous little baby boy who brings me so much joy and a headship role to step back into.

Lastly, and most importantly, whatever you decide, it has to be right for you and your family.”