Today I had a chance to be part of a presentation on Scotland’s approach to developing awareness of trauma in Scotland. Deputy First Minister John Swinney was due to be there, along with Clare Haughey, Minister for Mental Health.
It turned out to be what I refer to as a Mike Wazawlski moment.
I didn’t quite make it into Mr Swinney’s or Ms Haughey’s field of vision as they had to leave the meeting before I was on.
Nevertheless, I got to talk to a group of wonderful people about my take on courageous leadership, as part of sharing what we have been doing in our authority over the past year.
Here’s pretty much what I said:
I am absolutely delighted to have been asked to join Mark today to add a little bit about my own experience of courageous leadership in relation to our trauma work.
As you may know, I am a respected teacher and education leader with many years of experience. I have worked in a number of countries and schools throughout my career and I have a reputation for speaking and writing on a number of educational issues including leadership, inclusion, curriculum design and pedagogy.
When we had both the Head Teacher conference and the trauma project launch conference back almost a year ago, many of my colleagues knew me as those things. But they didn’t necessarily know some of the other reasons that I feel so passionate about this project and this work. But as part of modelling courageous and trauma-sensitive practice, I decided to tell them.
When I was 7 years old (and yes, I both love and hate that Lukas Graham song), I was abused by someone whom my parents had entrusted to look after me.
I told no one.
I lived for years with the absolute sense that it had been my fault and that I was bad.
I embodied shame.
And I developed coping strategies and behaviours to help me survive in a world that I saw as unsafe, scary and sad.
At that time, none of the adults in my life looked at those behaviours and saw them for what they were. No one was curious because we didn’t have the science, the knowledge and the language that we have today to see that the behaviours of some children are telling us things about which we need to be curious. I don’t blame them because I know that they were doing the best with the knowledge they had at the time.
I know first hand that, as adults working with children we need to take time to read the things that people and children can’t or don’t verbalise but show in other ways.
I can say without doubt that if the adults in my life had had the science and knowledge to read my behaviours better and to help me understand my feelings, then I wouldn’t have gone on to develop anorexia or to spend years trying to unlearn my unhelpful defencemechanisms. Without being overdramatic, I’m lucky to be alive, as anorexia is the mental health condition in which death is most prevalent, either due to starvation or to suicide.
I had written about these experiences in a book. I first wrote that book four years ago under a pen name but have gradually been sharing it as me over the last year because I have a strong belief that my authenticity as a leader is what might help change things for others.
I know I have taken a big risk in doing this. I know my bosses and my colleagues will never see me in the same way again. Maybe that will have negative consequences for my career but I feel strongly that it was necessary for me to take that risk.
I know that, on the whole, people are “either” an “education professional” or an “inspirational speaker on trauma with lived experience” but what I have tried to show that it is possible to be a hybrid, a professional human and simultaneously outstanding and flawed.
It’s not “me over here in my comfortable world as a leader” and “you over there In your family with your trauma and mess”. It’s us, in the middle.