#WomenEd 2015-2017

#1 Being Authentic
I choose me!
This blog post is a prelude to the learning conversation I am facilitating this weekend at the @WomenEd Unconference 2015. The aim of my blog is to encourage reflective thought and dialogue among attendees, as well as those looking in.
Authenticity is defined in the dictionary as ‘real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate’. Words such as trust, truthful, authoritative & integrity are often used to describe how authenticity is observed or recognised in daily life.
I like to think of ‘being authentic’ as ‘being intentional’ i.e. values-based and with heart. This implies a deeper awareness of personal agendas. Adopting a very simplified model, personal agendas can operate at two levels: technical and operational.
The specialist knowledge of who we are i.e. our values, strengths, talents, experience, aspirations, joys, hurts, inhibitions, desires etc. We are the only person to have lived with ourselves from birth. Someone once said to me “We are three people – the one we think we are, the one others think we are and the one we really are”. Interesting perspective. Individuals with whom we share an intimacy and frequency of communication often do have a greater insight into us through their objective outsider and empathetic perspective. Equally, often our perceptions of who we think we are and who others think we are do not always align with potential. The early days of The Beatles is a good example of this. As a young band, they enjoyed performing together and they believed they had something to offer to be famous. Several record labels initially turned them down for being too distinctive or without musical gravitas. No-one then knew the legendary phenomena they would turn out to be influencing generations across the world even beyond the life of the band and the life of individual members. The opposite can also be true. We can hold ourselves in higher esteem than we really are. You only need to watch a few shows of the X-Factor or BGT to see this. I guess it’s about accurate personal calibration.
This is the way we communicate who we are to ourselves and others. This is about the synergy of head (our thoughts, decisions and reasoning), heart (our beliefs, feelings and emotions) and behaviour (our actions). I am not implying that we need to share everything we think and feel with everyone. No, there needs to be a discerning filtering process depending on the relationships we have and the roles we are in. We all have vulnerabilities that we need to process in aligning our past, with the present as well as building for a future. This occurs against the continual backdrop of ‘life happens’ (unexpected eventualities). Each relationship carries with it a different level of intimacy and influence that also determines the extent to which we feel comfortable sharing, at what time and in what way. Our personalities also play a part. As an INFJ, I am all too aware of the environment I need to really open up. In addition, I would like to propose that in developing an increasing synergy between our head, heart and behaviour we need to be aware of masks or barriers.
There are times in my life when I have thought something in my head (e.g. I want to forgive X for hurting me), but I haven’t really felt it in my heart or even possibly shown it in my behaviour. We forgive for our own healing; therefore, it doesn’t always involve a behaviour to the other person. We may choose never to speak to them again, but we can still forgive. Awareness of this mismatch/masking behaviour has enabled me to pursue ‘authenticity’ at a deeper level. What I noticed is my behaviour changed, when my heart changed. Memory (real and perceived or active and subdued) also has a part to play. Masking can exist when we pretend to be someone we are not. This simply implies we haven’t sorted the technical or operational stuff out (often unintentionally) or we haven’t connected the technical with the operational. Human beings are complex.
Recently, I tried an experiment. I declared in my head “I choose not to be offended. I choose not to partner disappointment”. I didn’t feel it in my heart (misalignment), but I embraced it in my thoughts. In the weeks that followed, what I noticed was when challenges came my way – these two declarations became my rock for blocking out negativity in my heart and thereby changing my response/reaction. Affirmations (positive and/or boundary-based like my example) often start off in our heads as repeated statements, but as they seep into the heart, behaviours change. Well that’s my experience anyway.
By no means, do I have the answers and writing this blog to explain intrinsic processes hasn’t been easy. But I hope it makes us all think and think differently. If you disagree with what I have said – great … I hope you feel free to tell me how and why. If you can relate to what I have shared again, do please get in touch.
The @WomenEd Unconference has given me the opportunity to articulate some of these issues, but it is an on-going journey. I look forward to meeting some of you at the event and others … may our paths cross at the appropriate juncture in time, experience and life!

#2 Celebrating Uniqueness
So glad I am me
The #WomenEd Unconference (03.10.2015) was more than a historic event or moment in time. It was a catalyst for change – personal, organisational & national.
As I entered the conference what struck me most was the delightful tones of women gathering and chatting. This continued throughout the day – it was purposeful banter! I’m not a great chatterer myself, but I do enjoy listening to others positively and with animated articulation share their perspectives. The opening presentations were both erudite and pertinent. From the first utterance of ‘Good Morning’ on the podium, the supportive and challenging learning process started. We were off to a flying start. This was propelled through laughter, music and a mega emphasis on the Fun Factor!
Women from up and down the country; in all colours, shapes and sizes, with wide ranging backgrounds and experiences led most of the day. This was diversity in action. Sixty odd sessions in total with a breadth and depth of ideas and perspectives. All the sessions I attended were well paced, thought-provoking and led by women being authentic to their experience. There was a dynamic synergy between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary! One presenter prepared her planning notes on a t-shirt … and as participants we were given the opportunity to express our ideas and thoughts on a t-shirt too. This was not a #BTDTGTTS moment … it was a creative step to rewrite the t-shirt & dump the baggage!
I had the privilege of leading a session, entitled “If you’re your authentic self, there is no fear or competition.’ The fluorescent post-it notes were out … and some thought “Oh no! …”, but then there was that magic moment of change & the wow factor took over. These women were on fire and they were sharing in a way that was real and genuine. The focus of the session followed a stream of consciousness from identity to authenticity to fullness of life! Technology was used to engage wider personal networks in the dialogue in the moment … we were sucking up the goodness others see in us and defining our identity at the same time.
By the time we got to the plenary, the pervading thought being where had the day gone? … and yet so much had happened on so many levels! It’s all about relationships – with ourselves and with others.
The final session was not cheesy at all … #genderedcheese is an interesting dialogue. Have a look on Twitter. The notion of #genderedcheese boards makes me chuckle and think about how we change the accepted norm. Sometimes, wisdom presents us with the answers and our challenge is to define the question and then act upon it. The adventure has only just begun …

Each one of us left a different person; celebrating our individual uniqueness as a ‘Women of …. (fill in the blank with a word that best fits you). [If you are male reading this then try ‘I am a Man of (personal positive attribute)’].

We are certainly better for the experience of #WomenEd, the friendships & the start of a journey. Heartfelt thanks to the dynamic #WomenEd Co-ordinating Team, ALL the awesome presenters, the courageous attendees, who took a leap of faith in #WomenEd & our amazing hosts – Microsoft.
Till next time …
#3 What’s your 2016 message?
This is a spontaneous blog! I saw an advert with a bracelet stating, “She believed she could for she did 2016”.

This got me thinking: four months into the year, if I was to design a bracelet message to sum up the year I anticipate (i.e now looking forward) or in the future looking back (i.e. Dec 2016) – what would it say?

Do share your thoughts & ideas … it would be good to look back on these in Dec 2016 & celebrate the joy of the moment!

#4 Be the change you want to see!
Over the years I have lead or facilitated numerous events to support the empowerment of women, in education and the community. These have been organised locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. I have lead regular local professional groups for women, I have taught refugee women basic IT skills on their arrival to the UK and I have supported youth workshops in the villages of Africa. Talking to young women in Africa, our aim was to show them they had a choice before being tied down with early pregnancy at 14. Especially when that early pregnancy came in exchange for a bar of soap!
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldforChange. Boldness is indeed a desirable quality – the application of courage. Boldness, however does not always imply change. Sometimes boldness is about being still and saying no! Change also comes in all shapes and sizes and our response to change or even what needs changing varies. Change is a desire for what could be and sometimes in driving change, we miss out on what is.
The Milton Keynes #WomenEd team decided to BE the change we wanted to see. As a result, our event is a celebration of ‘What’s your joy!’ We believe ‘our playing small does not serve the world’ – quote from Marianne Williamson.

I’m reminded of a fable. The wind and sun decided to play a game: who could remove the man’s coat the fastest. The wind was confident and blew and blew. It just made the man hold on to his coat tighter. Then the sun shone as brightly as she could. The man feeling really warm had no choice but to remove his coat.

Each and every one of us has something special to offer, a unique gift of joy to give and receive. In Milton Keynes, we wanted to celebrate what educators do over and above their professional calling to feed their joy and the joy of others. The contributions reflect a range of generations working in education, cross phase and a variety of subject specialists. We are delighted an MP will be there to support us #HeForShe. In shining brightly, being the best of who we are – we are advancing the NOW generation!
So our #BeBoldforChange – we are living the moment!
We wish you all a joyful International Women’s Day 2017 #WhatsYourJoy
Call for action:
• What is the change you want to see?
• How to make that a reality in the NOW?
• Make a list of all the unique gifts you have to offer education and the NOW generation and then make time to share and celebrate!

#5 Ripples of influence
October 2018
#WomenEd (as a movement) emerged two years ago against the backdrop of accelerated change in educational reform and diminishing local networks.  Ignited through social media, it went on to be far more than just an online dialogue. #WomenEd became a community of diverse individuals (men and women) supporting each other. My initial engagement was through curiosity – what would a gender community in education look like and what difference would it make? My pre-and post-unconference blog 2015 has been shared above.

A year ago, as a Regional Lead, I was privileged to host a 1st anniversary party We played chocolate Jenga and a whole range of other party games! Chris Holmwood (Senior Deputy Head at Shenley Brook End School) kindly ran the creche. Since then we have continued to hold half-termly meetings in Milton Keynes.
So, what does #WomenEd mean to me and what has been the impact?

For me, there is a central theme that runs through the 8 principles of #WomenEd. – ‘People Matter’ #WomenEd provides a space for us to collectively be the unique individuals we were created to be. To live our purposes (our whys) and develop our plans for further growth.
My why is ‘I believe in the JOY of learning’. As such, I love to see people, of all ages, learn and develop into their potential and fulfill their destinies. I do believe, we each have a unique path to follow and these paths cross for a reason – we have something to give and gain. Giving and gaining are interlinked – when you give you gain; when you gain, you have a bigger/wider responsibility to give away … and so the cycle continues.
#IWD2017 in Milton Keynes was a celebration of women under the theme of ’What’s your joy?’ We had woman from different roles in education sharing their passions/ interests … the things they do, outside the day job, that feeds their sense of fulfillment. What a creative and life-affirming 90 minutes!

As giveaways, children with behaviour difficulties made individual coasters for all the speakers and guests! (See photos above)

Feedback …

We have further meetings planned for 2017-18 including participation in ‘Walking in her shoes’ global event (May 2017) and #IWD2018 already has a great speaker line-up. We are also beginning to team up with other #WomenEd networks in different regions / women in other countries.

So, what’s been the impact?

  • Personally, I’ve become more aware of the strengths colleagues have, as well as the challenges they face. I have further clarified my values and boundaries. Boundaries are not the same as barriers or glass ceilings – it is about choice.
  • As a local network, we are seeing women grow in confidence and self-worth. The regular local meetings facilitate follow up and greater support; which is not always possible on social media.
  • Locally, we’ve put #WomenEd on the map. A local MP recently asked a council employee to consult with us on a prospective project proposal they are putting forward nationally.
  • Nationally, local colleagues have attended the national #WomenEd Unconference 2016 and are developing their own networks, based on common interests.
  • Globally, we have linked up with another women’s organisation and our intent is through technology engage in a live chat at one of our future meetings. The ‘Walking in her shoes’ participation will help girls in less developed countries attend school, by providing fresh water. They won’t have to walk 5 miles to fetch it. We need to invest in the next generation now!

So, to conclude #WomenEd is about relational leadership and the ripple effect of influence. It’s about inner and outer connection. At the heart of it is simply: People Matter … that includes you!
Happy 2nd anniversary to the #WomenEd Community!

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