Know we are enough

22 Oct 2019 | by Julie Ricketts

The beginning of October saw my three-year anniversary working as a School Business Leader - an anniversary I never thought would arrive. Not because I don’t love what I do, but more that I had made a decision some years ago that my school-based career days were over, and it was time to try something new. At the time of that decision, I had just left a school where my core values and beliefs were tested on an almost daily basis.  This was a place where it didn’t feel safe to have a voice, to be heard, and to just be yourself.  Recognition was not based upon hard work or commitment, and the environment felt stifling and lacked honest human connection.

So, a work reboot was needed. The following 3 years were spent working in a large multi academy trust as part of the central team and then I spent a really enjoyable year at a local university. So why did I return to work in a school? An opportunity came about to work for someone whose values matched my own. Someone who had a reputation for being fair and consistent, and who could create a culture that allowed innovation and growth to flourish in a safe environment where staff weren’t afraid to not succeed every time. This was a culture which would allow me to learn and develop, to try different and innovative ideas and encourage a mutual respect between myself and my peers. As part of this team, I work closely alongside her as Headteacher and the other Deputy Heads as a colleague with just as much to give and offer for the benefit of our students.  It is therefore with great interest that I have read the recent debates on Twitter around the status and pay of SBLs.  Why does my position seem so different to most? I believe it starts by working in an environment that allows and encourages human connection, where trust is a verb, not a noun, and where colleagues have confidence, and are encouraged, to be vulnerable. 

At the start of our SLT meeting this week, our Headteacher shared an article with a quotation from a book that I had read in the summer by Brene Brown - ‘Dare to Lead’. Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent her career studying human connection, courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of not one but five number one New York Times best sellers. I first discovered her work when delving in to the far reaches of Brown's TED talk* – The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 44 million views! Brene talks about how the thoughts of ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, not clever enough, not worthy of equal status, equal pay’ are underpinned by vulnerability. We have to allow ourselves to really be seen in order to make a real human connection and to be vulnerable. If we don’t work in an environment that feels safe enough to be vulnerable, we will continue to feel ‘not good enough’ and ‘not worthy’. Brene Brown talks about how having a sense of worthiness brings belonging, the courage to be imperfect and a sense of ‘wholehearted living’ that I’ve always called ‘both feet in’! When I interviewed for my current role 3 years ago, as part of the day long process, I was asked to give a presentation on how I would live the core values of the school through my role. This one task alone summed up for me all the reasons in the world for working at this school and to know that it would be the environment for me to be ‘both feet in’.

We should all avidly support and promote, what is rapidly becoming, a national campaign to ensure that all school business leaders are recognised with the status and pay that their roles dictate. For that change to happen we need to instil confidence (and the belief) in our SBL community that ‘we are good enough, we are worthy’ of the status and pay that our roles demand. We should be encouraging school business leaders to interview their future employers, headteacher and senior teams and to ask ‘What drives them? How do they demonstrate trust and vulnerability with their colleagues? What do they value?’ If their values match your own, and they value what you bring to the table, then the status and pay should follow. We should be looking for support from within our own schools and from our SLT colleagues - because when you work within a team that truly values what you do and recognises your worth, that team will go into bat on your behalf. Changes can come from within, as well as being driven by the national voice. Embracing vulnerability means having the willingness to ask the question first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees of success. The change won’t be simple, and it will involve a collective shift of historical perceptions which will require us to step up and be brave. With this bravery, I urge us all as school business professionals to seek and ask for a review of status and pay in our individual settings and collectively as a community of school business leaders embrace our vulnerability, knowing we are enough.

*A TED talk is a video created from a presentation at the main TED (technology, entertainment, design) conference or one of its many satellite events around the world. TED talks are limited to a maximum length of 18 minutes but can be on any topic.