Around two years ago, I made the decision to hand in my notice to leave my teaching career and take the leap into the unknown.
The decision to leave wasn’t easy. I loved teaching. I had been in the world of education all of my life. I left school to train as a teacher at university, and then spent 9 years as a primary school teacher. I truly believed that it was the best job in the world!
But I also felt there was something else for me, and I didn’t have the support I needed to continue in my role having the impact I wanted to have. The balance was completely off and I wasn’t prepared to settle for a life I wasn’t happy with.
When I officially finished my teaching career a couple of months later, I was completely burnt out, disempowered and unsure of my next steps. Striving to have my greatest impact had taken it’s toll and I really was at a low point. It definitely wasn’t the high I had planned to go out on!
But still, there was a glimmer of hope and excitement about my future.
Within a few months, I had found coaching and knew that this was going to be an important part of my future. The more I experienced coaching to support me on my journey, the clearer it became that I wanted to be on both sides of the coaching relationship. I trained as a coach and have continued to be coached since that initial spark that drew me to it. Learning about the importance of mindset has been so powerful and something I wish I had had support with earlier. I have developed resilience, confidence and an understanding of myself that would most definitely have had a positive influence on my teaching.
As I started my coach training, I clearly remember having a conversation where I said, 'I'm not the sort of person to create their own business - that's a different breed of person that could do that.' But as I’ve grown and as I’ve seen the impact of my coaching on others, I have been able to challenge that belief.
I now choose to believe, ‘I can - and I will – make a huge difference to teachers and the young people they teach.’
I am proud and excited to provide support for teachers who are feeling disempowered, unbalanced and overloaded - just like I was a few years ago. I know that confident, calm and empowered teachers will have a much greater impact on the young people they teach.
I am so happy to be back in education, supporting and empowering teachers and creating better outcomes for young people whilst doing something that I love and am passionate about.
When a pupil in your class makes a mistake, what do you do?
I know as a teacher I would have said something along the lines of, ‘That's great! The fact you’ve made a mistake shows your taking risks. What can you learn from it?’
What I definitely would not have said is, ‘You're stupid for making a mistake. You should have known better. Everybody else has done this without making any mistakes. You've made a mistake so you're a failure.’
I would never have said that to a child - and hopefully you agree - but if you read the statements back, I wonder if you’ve said any of those things to yourself when you've made mistakes before?
I've definitely called myself stupid for making mistakes. I've definitely felt I should've been better. I've definitely judged myself against everybody else who isn't making mistakes. I've definitely taken one mistake and multiplied it out to prove to myself I must be a failure.
I would never say that to a child – or anyone else for that matter.
In fact, as a teacher, I would actively encourage mistakes.
Some examples that spring to mind…
I’d punch the air if my year four class used words such as ‘colossal’, ‘monumental’ or ‘herculean’ spelt incorrectly.
Of course, they could spell and use the word ‘big’ without making a mistake.
But were they challenging themselves?
Were they being creative?
Were they trying something new and learning from it?
Or was using the word ‘big’ a way of picking the easiest thing that sprang to mind? Were they scared that they would make a mistake if they try to pick a more challenging word to spell? Did they doubt their understanding, and therefore shy away from potential failure?
Sometimes pupils would ask me if they could have a rubber to erase all their mistakes and workings so they could just put the right answer.
And I’d say, ‘But what about all the hard work you did to get to the right answer?’
We’d have interesting discussions about whether mathematicians are people who get things right all the time, or if they are people who plays with numbers and problems. People who don’t have all the answers. In fact, they actively look for answers to problems that they don't have.
Often pupils would ask me, ‘What will happen if…?’
And I’d say, ‘I don't know. How are you going to find out?’
I'd encourage them to try something. And it wouldn't always work the way that they wanted it to. But whatever happened was an opportunity to learn.
So, when I think then to how I was as a teacher, I question why I didn’t afford myself the same reactions.
Why I said to myself: ‘You've made a mistake you must be stupid.’ ‘You've made a mistake people won't think you're good enough.’ ‘You've made a mistake, you're not a good teacher.’
In the classroom, I'd show that mistakes lead to learning. But when it came to paperwork, meetings, performance management, and anything to do with my teaching that wasn’t directly in front of the children, I didn't always do the same.
One of the first steps that teachers could do to help themselves is be kind and think about how they would respond to a child in the same situation.
Because I promise you it will make you a better teacher.
Whether or not it changes your approach in the classroom, which may already be fantastic, it will change the way that you talk to yourself and the way that you feel about yourself.
And if you feel empowered, your pupils will feel empowered.
So when you make your next mistake, will it be an opportunity to learn? Or a reason to berate yourself?
I'd love to know how this resonates with you and what other examples you can think of that highlight this issue of the gap between what we say to children, and what we say to ourselves.