A Shift in Mindset

Sondos Bowker (@MrsB_NE), Head of English and mother of twins explains how reframing her understanding of CPD allowed her to feel professionally fulfilled on maternity leave, and take valuable wellbeing lessons back to school when she returned.

Teaching standard 1 states that a teacher must set “high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils.” This is a brilliant message for classroom practice and is entirely deserving of its top spot on the DFE list. However, the stratospherically high expectations that many teacher mums set for themselves can often do more harm than good, furthering the all too familiar sensation of guilt that our personal and professional lives often bring.

It’s a reason why I was initially reluctant to pen a few words on my own experiences balancing CPD and caring for my twin babies, during my own leave. The last thing I want to do in writing this is feed the ‘supermum’ beast and perpetuate the unrealistic (and frankly, unhealthy) expectations that cause many of us to question whether we’re good enough.  If there’s one thing that forces you to lower your expectations, it’s caring for two equally demanding, entirely gorgeous and totally exhausting tiny humans.  

The first few months after birth are a total blur – survival mode and little more. Once we’d established a pattern and routine, I found myself really missing work and wanting to reconnect but not really knowing how. At the time, my perception of CPD was quite limited – CPD was a course or a webinar where you put in a cover request, completed it, took notes and maybe even got a certificate for your troubles. The prospect of any of this whilst juggling two babies was frankly laughable.

After a while though, I thought about taking the meaning of CPD back to basics – development, growth and learning. Maternity presented an opportunity here – I could finally read all my liked tweets that I’d ‘saved for later’ and spend time thinking about how these linked to our curriculum at school. As an English lead in a middle school, I also had the time, normally during night feeds, to connect with other teachers and contribute discussions on social media by exploring hashtags.

With twins, you never really have your hands free but I worked out a nifty way to feed one baby on a beanbag, lean the other across my lap, supporting his bottle with my chin giving me at least half a ‘scrolling’ hand to keep reading. It sounds nuts when you write it down but devising these shortcuts and reframing my expectations has helped my professional growth enormously. I also had the time (with my trusty wireless earphones) to listen to teacher radio and even contributed to an episode on middle leadership when I’d normally be on break duty at school.

I’m lucky in that my twins sleep well at night but the downside of that is that one is pretty much always awake during the day as they tag team naps. I can’t just put them in a sling and take them out – our buggy feels like it’s the size of a truck sometimes. My twins wake each other up and hit each other in the face, baby classes with two can often be more exhausting than enjoyable and then there’s the constant bootcamp of the nappy changes. In all of this, I’ve had to remind myself that ‘my best’ is good enough, that comparing myself to other mums is damaging and unproductive.

So, I haven’t written a book this leave or completed a Masters (huge respect to those who have and do). However, the single best thing I have done for my professional development is learning to reframe my perspective on work and high expectations. As English lead, this has meant not replying to work emails at midnight on a Saturday – even if I’m awake. It’s been not agreeing to meetings on my days off even if I technically could make it. All these things, which I used to do, create an unspoken and unhealthy expectation that others should do the same. For me, maternity CPD has been a shift in mindset rather than a checklist, which has been one of the best lessons I’ve learnt in a very long time.