@FKAEnglish discusses how International Women’s Day has inspired her CPD choices this month.

Last week I settled down to watch a new BBC drama ‘The Replacement.’ This, as it turned out, was not the best idea considering I am currently on maternity leave.

Far fetched as the story was, it did give rare air time to the concerns and anxieties some women feel when they depart for maternity leave.

The idea of someone at your desk, doing your work.

Maternity leave challenges us to step away from the job and let someone else take over. In the same way as leaving your child in someone else’s care can make us feel a gamut of emotions, maternity leave can give rise to anxiety. Will things be different when I return? Will people see me differently? Will I be lured to a building site in the middle of the night by my replacement? (unlikely, granted)

The MTPT Project has provided me with a focus during my Mat Leave which is helping me maintain a link to my role despite the physical distance. And this month, motivated by my involvement in International Women’s Day Collaboration on Twitter, my focus has been on gender.

When my eldest daughter was born, several friends sent messages welcoming me to ‘a world of pink,’ and the resplendent display of floral cards and gifts that followed her arrival certainly created the impression that our lives were now distinctly rose tinted. But what does this mean? Well meaning I’m sure, but is there a sinister undertone to a magenta hued world?

I plan to bring up my daughters in a gender neutral home, without preconception and expectation, but I’d be being dangerously naive if I didn’t acknowledge that their gender comes with implications in education, relationships and the workplace.

I have two daughters and I work in a girls state school so it isn’t surprising that several of my maternity CPD projects centre around girls in education. Both things I am working on at the moment are accessible and easy to fit into a busy day at home with the girls. But they are also directly relevant to my school, helping me feel like these endeavours will have impact both personally and professionally.

1. Gender and Identity Reading 

In between indulging in some much loved fiction reading, I am also using some of my time to read two highly recommended books about gender. The first ‘Untangled’ by Lisa Damour is currently being read and discussed by my SLT as part of their strategic meetings. Although I am not there to enter into discussions, I’m aware that the book may well be a key influencer in months to come and by reading it, I am ensuring that I am not a step behind when I return. But more importantly, it is fascinating. In my day job I am faced on an hourly basis by up to 30 young girls at different stages of their adolescent journey. Sometimes the decisions they make and their behaviour can seem incomprehensible and random. Damour, a clinical psychologist, explains that there are predictable stages in the ‘transition to adulthood’ and I certainly feel like it could help increase professional empathy and help improve lines of communication. In years to come, as my own daughters march into adolescence, I’m sure I’ll return to it for much needed guidance!

The second book ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine was recommended to me by one of my colleagues. Over the past couple of years we have shared an interest in raising our children without enforced gender stereotypes and this fascinating book explores what Fine calls ‘neurosexism’ and all our preconceived ideas about differences between the sexes. It really has made me question even the most universally accepted ideas about gender difference and also reveals how ingrained these ideas are in our everyday language and attitudes.

2. FutureLearn Course

When I return to work, I’m hoping to pick back up where I left off. But I’m also hopeful I might return to the table wiser, with something to offer. When @MaternityCPD tweeted about @futurelearn courses I headed to their website to see what they had to offer.  A vast range of free, flexible and expert led courses awaited me and there was real choice. I was tempted by several (Anatomy of the Abdomen anyone?) but when I came across one titled ‘Girls Education: teaching strategies that develop confidence, resilience and collaboration,’ I signed up immediately. Reading the description of the course, I’m hopeful that this flexible way of learning will give me some exciting new ideas for my own teaching and to take back to my school when I return.

With International Women’s Day tomorrow, it feels timely to focus on issues relating to gender and education for young girls. And using my Maternity CPD time to do this is proving to be very rewarding indeed.