A Time to Say ‘Yes’!

Nikki Cunningham (@_MrsC_S) is an Assistant Headteacher and trained SENCO, currently developing an outreach strategy to support the reduction of permanent exclusions within Gloucestershire. As well as having one daughter, Nikki is a TES online and magazine writer, former Head of T&L and Head of School and contributor to BAMEed and BSA contributor.  She is working on her first book on behaviour for Bloomsbury Education.

A whistle stop tour of my progression as a teacher is exactly that, because it really has gone at a blinding pace.  I got my first promotion during my NQT year to a Head of House and then momentum kept gaining from there, completing my post graduate SEN qualification to become a SENCO and progressing from extended SLT to Assistant Head and Head of School in a PRU all within six years of completing my PGCE and before my 30th birthday.

Whilst I was completely focused on my career , somewhere in the background I got married and became pregnant.  I found it strange how much I agonised over starting a family, as although I was desperate to become a Mom, my career in teaching was all I knew, and a real stabiliser for me.  I’d heard all the

stories of becoming side-lined for opportunities after having children, and the difficulty of finding a work-life balance, but mainly, when I returned to work, I anticipated having to work like I had no children, and mother like I had no job.

All of my busy brain syndrome stopped the second that I held my daughter in my arms, and I enjoyed every second.  One day, however, I was breastfeeding, looking out the window, enveloped in the calm that I had gotton used to in my new baby bliss, and suddenly, I was craving a bit more of the chaos that school life had given me.

Just like that, my maternity leave became a time to say ‘yes’ to all opportunities and to open me up to the idea of networking via social media.  I contributed regularly to a lovely lady’s doctoral research on teaching mothers; I meticulously planned my KIT days so that they involved writing whole school schemes of work; completed DSL and OFSTED training; attended SMT meetings and visited other schools to bring research back to my current setting.

The most exciting time of my maternity leave was being able to contribute as a speaker at the BAMEed annual conference and continuing to write for the TES online blog and magazine.  Writing a piece whilst I was on day 3 of my labour on the expectations of a senior leader who is pregnant, was somewhat appropriate, albeit surreal, and I think the gas and air aided my productivity!  I also had the time and head space to write a book proposal which I am now working on during my tiny human’s nap time on my “day off”.

Maternity leave gave me the time to realise that although I was off for my baby, my brain still needed and wanted engaging, and Twitter became my cyber workspace, where opportunities arose, conversations and interactions were had, and my brain cells were allowed to keep ticking over.   Following @maternityCPD and the #MTPTproject opened me up to others in similar scenarios, providing automatically supportive, collaborative and constructive ears.

Now that I have returned from maternity leave, I work 0.8 as an Assistant Headteacher and although that 0.2 might be seen as a “day off” it has become a day that I write my TES blogs, my new book, and speak at educational events as well as get to hang out with my incredible tiny human.

I can’t wait for my next maternity leave (not any time soon mind) because I honestly feel like my opportunities in the teaching world opened up once I had a chance to pause amidst the constant ‘go’ of the teaching world.  There’s also something incredibly empowering about having a new baby that makes you think: if I can function on this little sleep on a daily basis, then I must be capable of absolutely anything!