The Kiss


This a post I have been pondering for a while.

“Baby, say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah
And let me kiss you”
From Kiss Me by One Direction.

Let me say up front that I will say things that some may not like. I have said many of the things before in other places and sometimes caused a little controversy.

A while back I was on a mini break with my lovely 14 year old daughter. We had booked into a hotel in a large city and I was delighted to see that the hotel was also hosting a conference for children with learning difficulties and their parents, although my daughter wryly noted that even on holiday I seem to find things that remind me of work. Inclusion is one of my favourite topics:

At one point during our stay, we found ourselves in the queue for the lift with a father and teenage son who were there for the conference.
Immediately I saw a twinkle in the son’s eye as he saw my beautiful girl and soon he began to talk to her, asking her name. Immediately I saw her tense and flush, in the way that she does when spoken to by any stranger, before replying in a quiet and forcedly cheerful voice.

I stepped in, asking the boy his name and making chit-chat, sensing that his dad appreciated that.
The lift journey was short but why happened next took us by surprise. The boy put his arm around my girl. I saw her tense, look at me in a panic and I heard his dad ask the boy to let go.
For a moment we all stood, me keeping eye contact with my girl but above all, keeping calm.
In the dad’s voice I sensed that underlying tone of desperate hope that his child would make the right choices but also fear that he might not, that the control he was trying to exert as an adult might not serve its purpose.

Have you been that parent of the toddler in the supermarket who has suddenly turned from biddable and smiley to resistant and angry? Do you remember that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you know that you aren’t in charge any more and no end of cajoling is going to stop those bottles/loaves/sweets (delete as appropriate) coming off that shelf and onto the floor?

Have you been that teacher of the pupil with anger issues who has suddenly turned from biddable and smiley to resistant and angry? Do you remember that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you know that you aren’t in charge any more and no end of cajoling is going to stop those swear-words/punches/roars (delete as appropriate) from being released?

I could see that the boy’s dad was experiencing that sinking feeling.

A moment later and the boy had planted a kiss on the flushed, panicky cheek of my girl.

Something more was said by the dad and at that moment the lift reached our floor. I took my girl’s hand, said a bright “nice to meet you, enjoy the rest of your day” and we left the lift.

“I’m sorry” I said, as we walked the hotel corridor. “I can see that that was really uncomfortable for you. But I really don’t think he wanted to make you feel like that.”

“But mum, it’s not ok! I don’t understand why his dad didn’t do more to stop him!”

I tried to explain. I tried to explain that maybe the dad knew that any more of an attempt to stop his boy could have led to an outburst in a small enclosed space that he would have wanted to avoid at all costs.

And I explained that I was 100% certain that the dad would have spoken to his son after we had gone.

I imagine that the conversation would have gone something like this:
“Hey, remember how we have talked about not touching and kissing people unless they have said we can?”
“Yeah dad. But she told me her name and her mum talked to me.”
“Yes but that didn’t make it ok for you to hug and kiss her.”

Boy thinks: “but why wouldn’t she want me to hug and kiss her? I look like Harry today… cool and with my best jeans and t-shirt. “Baby, say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah
And let me kiss you.””

Boy says: “ok dad”.

I know that my girl will take a long time to forget what happened in that lift. I know that she feels let down by the adults. But I also know that by having talked about what happened and having acknowledged her feelings, we have mitigated against it causing her ongoing worry and distress.

Some will see this as a story of assault.
Others will see it as a story of helping children to learn about situationally appropriate behaviours.

I am not sure how I see it.

“Education is everything. We can’t and shouldn’t simplify it and talk in terms of it being the job of either teachers or parents. We need to accept that our job, as adults, is to be honest with children and to help them negotiate the complexity ahead. It is our job to develop in each child the skill to know and understand himself, the tools to express herself and the strategies to meet challenges along the way. And it is our job to talk openly and honestly so that, if and when bad things happen, children know to talk about them so that they do not become a source of guilt, a life-stealing force, a legacy of hidden pain and shame.” Nell Flowers. The Story of My Self.

I share this story with my lovely girl’s permission.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Book Review. The Ten Traits of Resilience by James Hilton. Published by Bloomsbury.



Those who read my blog regularly will know that I think and write a lot about school leadership. I also read a great deal about leadership and am particularly intrigued by the idea of sustainable leadership. Last month, I spoke at a Pedagoo event about how to stay, survive and thrive in teaching and leadership by drawing on instruments of personal power:

I also did a condensed version of this talk in a Leadmeet at the #womened Unconference this Saturday.

But I will confess that I am personally still in need of a little help in ensuring that I can keep going in leadership into my fifties…..which start next August the 13th. More of that later.

I have noticed some well-being warning signs of late and as I approached the Scottish October holidays which started this week, I knew that I would need to take some time to stop and reflect.

One of the instruments of power mentioned in my talk and post above was James Hilton’s brilliant book “Leading From the Edge” which I reviewed back in August:

Imagine my delight, then, when, a couple of weeks ago, I received my copy of James’ latest book “Ten Traits of Resilience”.

In the book, James says that he is not superstitious, having lived in a number 13 house for many years. I have to confess that, having been born on the 13th, I’m also unfazed by that number, but that I do believe in serendipity and the power of the universe to give us things when we are in need.

The arrival of this book through the letterbox exemplifies the meeting of such a need.

James has skilfully identified the 10 balloons with which we keep our basket comfortably aloft as we navigate the terrain of school leadership and avoid either spiralling off into the ether, or crashing to the ground: A sense of purpose ; Optimism; Trust; Courage; Decisiveness; Asking for help ; A sense of fun; Curiosity; Taking care of yourself and Turning adversity into opportunity. 

The book is a brilliant mix of advice based on James’ own extensive experience as a school leader, as well as ideas and guidance offered by other accomplished leaders such as Patrick Ottley-Connor, Viv Grant, Ross Morrison-McGill and Kim Johnson. In another serendipitous piece of timing, I met Pat in real life at the Unconference on Saturday (having known him virtually for some time) and so have been able to “hear” his voice while reading his words in the book over the last few days. If you can manage to find a way of meeting him at some point, I would strongly recommend it. He completely lives up to his fabulous reputation!

The huge power in this book comes from the fact that it does not just offer advice but it also makes you work and think around the ideas offered through practical activities and tasks that have to be completed as part of your engagement with the book. James has clearly put a lot of time and effort into devising these exercises and I would insist that, unless you commit to completing them, you will not gain the full benefit from the book. I would also suggest that you do them in pencil so that you can go back and update them as needed.

James has also selected quotes and pieces of wisdom from experts in leadership beyond education and these are peppered throughout the book to add seasoning and spice that activate our reflective tastebuds.

My two favourites are these:

“If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you will see obstacles” from Dr Wayne Dyer


“A sense of humour is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done” from Dwight D Eisenhower.

I have discovered over the years that I am a somewhat unusual combination of Eeyore and Tigger but that I am a better leader and human when I let myself laugh, bounce and use humour to combat some of my black dog (or grey donkey) ruminations.  My lovely and hugely perceptive daughter recently pointed out to me that she has not seen as much of the relaxed and funny side of me lately and I know that I have some work to do on getting my sense of humour back.

The thing I love most about this book is that James writes in a style that is hugely readable yet backed up with evidence, science and research.

His honesty in relation to his own personal journey and challenges means that the reader instinctively feels a sense of connection and (number three on the list of crucial factors) trust in him and his wisdom.

If you want to stay in leadership and get the most from the best job in the world, read this book.

As James says: “You make a difference. Never forget that! You possess the ten traits of a successful school leader but we all need to give those balloons a little boost of inflation from time to time.”

The Ten Traits of Resilience by James Hilton is published by Bloomsbury.


Yesterday I attended my first #womened #unconference.

I have been involved virtually with Womened for at least two years now and have been working away with others in Scotland to raise the profile and mobilise the movement North of the border. In May 2017 we had a regional networking event ( have been connecting via the @womenedscotland handle since.

This time last year I had planned to go to the Unconference but events conspired against me.

And so this year I was determined to go.

Last week I almost had to pull out as I have been so utterly exhausted in the build up to our October holiday that I thought I’d never make the drive. But then my incredible fourteen year old daughter came to the rescue and suggested that she come with me for moral and navigation support and that we make a start-of-the-holiday mini break out of it….

So yesterday I was in the room, thanks to her support and collaboration.

What a day.

I met (in many cases for the first time) so many amazing people with whom I have formed virtual but very meaningful and supportive connections over the last two years including :

Amy Jeetley

Anoara Mughal

Kiran Satti

Jaz Ampaw Farr

Jill Berry

Patrick Ottley Connor

Pran Patel

Maria Alexander O Neill

Vivienne Porritt

Jules Daulby

Hannah Wilson 

Carly Waterman

Alison Kriel

I had many hugs and shed a few tears.

The days started with snippets of inspiration and authenticity from the regional #womened leaders who talk about their journeys and their why. 

The messages that stuck with me were:

There is incredible power in collaboration;

Womened can help you to be your authentic self;

Enable your self to enable others; be kind;

Promote and support one another;

Be sisterful;

Perfectionism does not serve us;

What you do is enough.

Then onto keynote from the incredible Alison Kriel. I first heard Alison last July at the Oxfordshire regional event and was so excited to hear again. Messages from Alison that resonated with me were:

The further up you go, the lonelier it can become but there is no point in flying high on your own;

Stop seeking the approval of others;

The only person who can give you permission is you;

The power of the collective and of collaboration will take away the isolation;

We must agree collectively to be the change we want to see in the world and we must rise together;

We are all strong, remarkable and amazing.

And so, of course,  is Alison. 

I then volunteered to do a seven minute leadmeet talk to replace someone who had dropped out at the last minute; although it was rushed and perhaps a mistake to try and fit a twenty minute talk into seven, I did my best and got across some of what I’d said at a recent Pedagoo event across (

Above all I tried to say that it is possible to survive and thrive in teaching and leadership, if we find our own personal instruments of power and stick to our values.

Once more I spoke of mine and once more I was reminded of my why:

  • Everyone must be willing to self-reflect and learn.
  • We don’t shout at others.
  • We all get things wrong and need to be able to apologise when we do.
  • We are all human and being in a position of authority does not mean you are better than anyone else.
  • Everyone needs to take time to see the reality of a situation and not fall into making judgements based on half-truths, prejudice or stereotypes.
  • Everyone is worthy of love.

It was such a privilege to hear the other speakers in the leadmeet telling their stories of leadership and I was struck by the resonances and shared messages that we communicated, in spite of our different settings, ages and backgrounds:

Amanda Pearce Burton spoke about how we need to reflect and take time if we are to be the best we can be as educators;

Collette Rowley Clifford spoke about the incredible power of mindfulness to bring calm to our frenetically busy lives;

Bethanie Lord talked about working in a girls’ school and finding ways to empower the pupils to find their voices and address some of the difficult challenges that they face as females;

Nerys Blower spoke about being her self and allowing herself the permission not to put on an act for others ;

Naomi Francis spoke about her campaign to keep languages alive, celebrated and taught in schools so that our children don’t lose vital expressive and, communicative and economically crucial skills.

And the ever-inspiring Jules Daulby finished by showing us why she isn’t in the least bit crap.

Next we went to a session with the wonderful Charmaine Roche on using coaching in a meaningful and authentic way in schools to help people flourish. A woman after my own heart and soul, I could have listened to Charmaine for hours and I would love to get her to come and help me answer her closing question in my setting:

Where are and how can you open up more generative conversations and increase the share of flourishing in your corner of the world?

Lunch saw delicious food and an impromptu coaching session for Daisy and I, with Patrick Ottley Connor using Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations methodology. I have known Patrick online for some time and his generosity of support, positivity and huge expertise have always struck me; his IRL (in real life) self is just the same as his virtual persona. As one of the advocates of #heforshe, he does an incredible job.

After lunch I was filled with emotion and huge admiration as I attended Maria Alexander O Neill’s session on Leading Your Own Way.

Maria and I connected two years ago through WomenEd and a shared commitment to promoting teacher and pupil wellbeing. Suffice to say that we have been through some ups and downs together and provided one another with support but we have also found a connection through shared experiences that (I hope Maria would agree) has resulted in a really special relationship.

To meet Maria IRL for the first time was a bit strange as I already felt as if we were soul sisters but to hear her talking just served to re-enforce this. 

Maria spoke honestly and passionately about the journey she has been on and the experiences that have shaped her as she has come to find personal and professional authenticity, wellbeing and to define her sense of self.

She told us with warmth, humour and love of some of the challenges that had resulted in her becoming lost and losing sight of the role model she needed to be for her children and she shared the practical, science and research based tools that have helped her to create a route – map to her authentic self.

I was in awe and inspired and I know that Maria had a huge impact on everyone who attended her session.

Next up were meetings of regional groups but as I was the only delegate from Scotland at the conference, I simply arranged with Hannah Wilson that we will connect soon and arrange for her to come to Scotland so that we can arrange an WomenEdScotland event in the spring to coincide with International Womens’ Day. Christine, Susan, Caradh, Elizabeth, Linda, Mandy, Joyce, Gillian, Charlaine, Sarah, Lynne, Lynda, and Natalie…get ready!

This freed up a bit of time but serendipity meant that I bumped into Pran at this point and had a fantastic conversation about the work he has been doing and our shared commitment to equalities and diversity education. It was quite funny as we spent a bit of time trying to remember when and how we had connected virtually before remembering that we have a shared experience of living with and writing about mental health challenges. Pran is a very special man and educator and I am determined to get him to come to Scotland and share his passion, experience and values there.

Last up were closing words from Keziah and Vivienne about the soon-to-be- launched Womened Book, annual Gendered Cheese updates from Jules and a final keynote from Christine Quinn. I had never met or heard Christine before but her powerful, intelligent and inspiring words left me in no doubt as to the power of us working together to change the world:

“How and why do we collaborate in a time of ambiguity? Because we need to make sure that the world works for everyone.”


What a day.

Jaz has written and spoken before before about the fact that we can sometimes feel like lone lunatics in the world, disconnected from those around us who maybe don’t share or don’t vocalise the same passions or values.

I have written about sometimes feeling like a wise but old and tired giraffe in the middle of a herd of zebra. 

Yesterday I found my giraffe herd. Some of us were Reticulated and some were Rothschild’s, some Kordofan and some Masai but we all shared the same values, beliefs and passion.

I didn’t feel the need to wear stripes but instead I showed my real self in front of the other delegates and perhaps most importantly in front of my own little giraffe.

I hope I made her just a little bit proud.

Thank you, WomenEd. I hope you know the power of what you do and know how grateful we are. This collaboration REALLY matters.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.