It is a year since the conception of The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project – an easy birthday to remember as it coincides with a sunny May half term and precedes my son’s first birthday.  Like him, the project has developed from a seed to a very real entity, with its own character and aspirations; and like him, we have a lifetime of evolution and impact stretching out in front of us.

Sitting in almost exactly the same position as twelve months ago, it is humbling to reflect on how far away I now feel from the initial sentiments I expressed in my original blog.  I am having my cake, eating it, and have additional slices to freeze until I have the fridge and stomach capacity to manage them.

But where have these developed sentiments come from?  The wisdom and perspective naturally gained from surviving the ‘journey’ of the first year of parenthood, including returning to work full time?  The understanding of multiple ‘bigger pictures’ that have been gained from networking and researching the issues surrounding the project both digitally and in person?  Have these discussions always existed and did maternity leave and my new circumstances as a parent simply give me the opportunity to explore them and their relevance to me?  Or has The MTPT Project really been at the centre of provoking and raising a discussion around parenting, teaching, CPD, parental leave, teacher retention, identity and gender equality in education?  

Whatever the case may be, there have been some significant MTPT achievements that have occurred simultaneously with my son’s baby steps and first babbles, which – in case you’re not registered and therefore don’t receive our termly newsletter – are worth marking on the occasion of our first birthday:

  • We have inspired, empowered and connected teachers on parental leave choosing to complete CPD and use their ‘career gap’ as a ‘career gain’.  How do we know?  Because they tell us on Twitter, through our website and in person, and we know that there are many more quietly taking inspiration from our digital presence to pursue their own goals in their own ways (Google Analytics tells us so!)
  • We have launched a pilot to formally accredit the ‘uncertificable’ CPD completed by so many teachers whilst on leave, with three MaternityTeachers across the country.  (Contact us if you would like to be involved with this.)
  • We have a team of four volunteers who ensure the continued evolution of the project through Tweeting, blogging and representing The MTPT Project in their region – and we have more volunteers eagerly awaiting the start of their parental leave who want to join us!
  • We have raised awareness around choice and family-friendly practices through forum conversations, workshops, Lead Meet presentations and (some quite heated!) debates on Twitter.  Now – in a way that I, for one, was not privy to before – parents feel confident voicing their career decisions and the importance of choice without shame or fear of being judged ‘bad parents’.
  • We have inspired, empowered and connected parents who have returned to the classroom to influence their schools to adopt more family-friendly approaches that improve wellbeing for all staff.
  • We have begun to tap into the PaternityTeacher voice, to hear from fathers completing CPD whilst on extended paternity leave and requesting family friendly practices from their schools that enable them to fulfil the parenting and professional roles they envision for themselves.
  • We have appeared in print in Schools Week and the Teach First Ambassador magazine and have created a Facebook page to reach a wider audience.
  • We have networked and received support from a range of ‘big name’ organisations including Teach First, Ambition Schools Leadership, WomenEd, the Chartered College of Teaching, ResearchEd, Harris Federation and the Teacher Development Trust.
  • We have begun to explore the potential for the project to act as a research community, collating primary data to better understand the link between parental leave, teacher retention and gender equality in leadership.

Personally, it has also been satisfying to see a number of my maternity leave CPD pursuits come to fruition, most notably my subject development around 19th century Literature; the increased empathy with students as human beings that many teachers cite as naturally accompanying the experience of becoming a parent, and the network with which The MTPT Project has provided me, which has coached me towards my own leadership goals and understanding of career progression.

During this year’s exam season, for example – the first time in many, many years, that our students have had to face the demands of a 100% exam system – the profound realisation that my students are genuine human beings, has really helped me to calmly steer a group of highly anxious, vulnerable students through the turbulent waters of mock and actual GCSE exams, by keeping their wellbeing at the forefront of my mind.  If this were my son, I think to myself, what would I want for him?  Having experienced the crippling effects of sleep deprivation on mental and emotional capacity, am I going to insist my students put in an extra hour of revision, or sleep, eat and relax the night before their exam?  Will it really hurt my finances to spend £10 on a ‘gourmet’ breakfast to ensure that my Pupil Premium students have some fuel in their bellies for their morning exams?  How do I demand the high expectations I will have of my own child, without breaking and shaming them?

This isn’t just mumsy soft-heartedness, though, this is a very strategic, pedagogical approach informed, in part by my own experience of watching a tiny human being grow and develop, in part by the EYFS reading I completed whilst on maternity leave.  For my son and I to get along, and for me to maintain my sanity, I have to understand him and his needs and adapt to them – trying to enforce ‘my’ way has always been entirely futile and backfired magnificently, involving a great deal of horrible, horrible crying and a very unhappy mother and baby.  In a similar way, these students and the grade sets they are going to produce are my professional accountability.  In order to prove my worth as a practitioner, I need to work with them, responding and adapting to their needs: if they are so tightly strung that they panic and write nothing in their exams – crumbling into the equivalent of my son’s witching hour – we will both suffer.  Like a tiny baby, what a 16 year old needs to function is food, sleep and lots of metaphorical cuddles and love from their primary caregiver (me!).

Equally, however, Piaget taught me very early on that what is best for mother (or primary care giver – whoever this is) is best for baby.  My key learning over the last year and the development of The MTPT Project?  Like putting the oxygen mask on first in a plane crash (an appropriate metaphor for the exam season?!), in order to provide the best for my family and my students, I need to put myself first, and I don’t need to feel the slightest shred of shame for doing so.  Whether this means sacking off planning or marking for an early night, paying over the odds for quality childcare, completing CPD (or not) whilst on parental leave, or booking in a half termly massage at a salon I probably can’t afford, the more effective I am as my own caregiver, the more effective I will be as a parent and a teacher.