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Working as an educator can be relentless, without a moment to pause and remember what matters. You know there’s something more for you, but it feels unclear and out of reach. Working with me means slowing down. In this quiet space, you listen to yourself again. With renewed wisdom, you have the courage to take a stand for something that matters, something that you know needs to change. You find the allies you need who will walk with you as you create your own path.
As a child, finding the space to read and have quiet space is important
There’s magic in being able to create new worlds in my imagination. Over time, I discover film and am transported again and start a life-long love of cinema and storytelling. A daughter of doctors, I listen squeamishly to the conversation over dinner, but it’s not for me. I fill my hours with sport, music, drawing and reading. I’ll avoid the strange unbounded spaces of the playground in secondary school; I’m happier with one or two close friends or alone with a book.
I take a leap of faith to become a teacher. Having worked in marketing for a few years, I want a deeper connection with people. I take a break to learn Spanish in Granada. In a small classroom in Spain, I remember the richness of learning with others. I want to teach.
I have 14 rich years in education. When I sink into what makes them special, two themes arise. Firstly, the magic that occurs when there’s a collective shift in how we see the world, perhaps through the lens of a poem or a play. It’s that feeling I know in the cinema when we share a powerful moment through inhabiting a universal story, where we recognise our shared humanity and feel like we belong together.
The second theme is the teachers I worked with. I adore them. I have learnt so much from them. And remember the times when they supported me unconditionally.
Becoming a new mum shines a light on my unsustainable working habits. Still marking and planning in the evenings, I’m tired. The doubts creep in. Now a leader of a significant and complex department, I sit in front of my screen, paralysed by an insurmountable to-do list and difficult conversations that I have no resilience to confront.
Why didn’t I ask for help? For some reason, my stubborn resolve tells me that motherhood simply isn’t going to get in the way of my status and career. I say yes to everything.
Facing exhaustion and my internal sense of failure. I choose to leave. At my exit interview, my line manager says, we’ve been so lucky to have you; look at everything you’ve done. I wish he’d told me before or that I had been able to see it for myself.
I take a step down and focus on classroom teaching. I’ve landed in a school that looks good, but beneath the surface is a blame culture that causes suffering. One teacher has panic attacks in his car. Another is dealing with depression, but there’s no question of talking about mental health here. It’s discouraged. I don’t want to be a part of this. I leave again.
While leaving felt like freedom for a short while, there’s an ensuing sense of loss. Being a teacher is my identity. If I’m not a teacher, who am I?
Through working with my own coach, I come back to myself. And I choose to let go of the conditioned tendencies to please, to be praised, to compare, to fit in. I recognise my value, my purpose, my gifts, my passions.
Through listening to the stories of the educators I work with, I am able to attune to their purpose and what they are longing for. They move from a sense of knowing there is more for them, yet feeling trapped, to finding the courage to create what they are longing for.
The teachers I work with are making waves. We are becoming a global community that is leading a purpose revolution. I am thinking big and creating magic again.
Having been through this journey, I know that we must do better in creating working cultures where educators feel valued, seen and heard. I know that teachers are extraordinary human beings. And they are there for a reason. It’s their business and the business of the organisational cultures where they work to know exactly what that reason is.
And then to give that purpose oxygen, space, support, encouragement until those innovative projects, collaborations and magical learning experiences are created.
It is a source of sorrow that this flame that draws people into teaching turns to black smoke when it could ignite something wonderful if only given the right conditions.
To stay connected to my purpose is to stay connected to my community. When I think, ‘this isn’t working,’ ‘going alone is tough,’ ‘do people get this?’ I go back to the people I’ve worked with, remember their voices and ask for their help.
Reading is important too; that’s when I’m at my most creative – I get excited when I connect the dots between ideas and feel inspired to write. I have the luxury now of time, which I never had as a teacher, and I am grateful to be able to think!
Your purpose, my purpose, has been there all along. It doesn’t change that much. It’s a golden thread that I’ve had since the beginning, creating quiet spaces where I could read and travel wherever I wanted when I was a child. Now I create magical spaces with others so that we can imagine something new. I’m the same person.
My object is a book, The Heart Aroused by David Whyte.
‘Poetry is the language against which we have no defences.’ This book is almost too hot to touch. It tells the truth, which can feel confronting on some days.
Through the lens of poetry, David Whyte tells the truth about what has gone wrong in the world of work, what needs to change and how we must take responsibility for ourselves. Handle with care.
In this poem by Pablo Neruda, Whyte illustrates what happens ‘when we find work that fulfils longing at a deeper level than material security.’ Imagine the young poet, writing his ‘first bare line’ and committing to his vocation:
I did not know what to say, my mouth
Could not speak,
My eyes could not see
And something ignited in my soul,
Fever or unremembered wings
And I went my own way,
Deciphering that burning fire
And I wrote the first bare line
Bare, without substance, pure
Of one who knows nothing,
And suddenly I saw
Unfastened and open.
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