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 (https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2017/12/29/staffrm-transfer-13-womened-scotland-proud-love-is-the-answer-wellbeing-on-acting-like-adults-jane-eyre/)and 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 :
Jaz Ampaw Farr
Patrick Ottley Connor
Maria Alexander O Neill
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;
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 (https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/goliath/)
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.