Eating frogs

by Geraldine O’Connor  @goconnor816

10 years as Principal and I'm definitely braver and indeed wiser than I was when I naively embarked on the winding and colourful journey that is school leadership.Blessed with a healthy physical constitution, an accomplished, academic profile, the reputation as an excellent early-years teacher, a strong work ethic, a transformational leadership style, and the long held belief that an excellent education is a right to be afforded to every child, I believed that I had a firm foundation upon which to scaffold and execute a strategic plan to achieve educational excellence, in all its guises.

That said, very early on, I was quick to discover that I needed so much more. My early years as Principal were certainly a baptism of fire, in which I was tortured by self-doubt, self-limiting beliefs and a relentless quest for perfection in school policy and pedagogical practice, which often forced me into 70 hour working weeks. All of the aforementioned, I now know to be the defining characteristics of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, a restrictive perception suffered by significant numbers of highly-proficient women in leadership roles.

Thankfully however, I have managed to overcome this ‘Imposter Syndrome’ by accepting that I deserve to be where I am, I am where I am meant to be and I am doing a very good job – like so many of the amazingly, talented women I know and have the absolute privilege of working with on a daily basis.

And so, to the greatest challenge in my leadership journey, the absolute fear of ‘difficult’ conversations. It is fair to say that this caused me immense anxiety, over the years, until one random day during a fraught situation, the underlying reason for this anxiety came as a flashback to the face of a very overbearing and arrogant adult I had known and suffered during adolescence. This epiphany was the greatest game changer in my professional practice. It prompted me to participate in a Head Space Programme with INSPIRE Wellbeing and avail myself of a mentor through EA in Northern Ireland. This support network, coupled with the advice of trusted colleagues and friends, enabled me to challenge myself to improve my skills and confidence at managing ‘difficult’ people. Now, instead of worrying, I tell myself that these are ‘courageous conversations’ and even though I am still no Mufasa I have definitely improved by 10% or maybe even slightly more!

One of the books I read during this period was ‘Eat that frog’ by Brian Tracy. It is a very short and easy read, packed with practical advice on tackling the most challenging tasks of the day. A golden nugget I took from this particular book was the recommendation that you should immediately deal with people/tasks that are taking up headspace rather than procrastinate the whole day long about them. My favourite part of the book advised that if you have two ugly frogs to deal with eat the ugliest first, and I now do! In all honesty, I do not believe that ‘courageous’ conversations will ever come naturally to me, but I am getting better. Every day I remind myself that I am here to make a difference to the lives of the children and the adults I meet. Hence the reason why, in Rita Pierson’s words, I will continually strive to be the ‘adult who will never give up ……, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be’. With adults, this of course comes with the caveat that there is self-awareness there in the first place, and, of course, a growth mind-set and the belief that we can all be 10% braver when we stop and reflect on the personal and professional journey thus far.

Geraldine

Geraldine is Principal at St John’s Primary School, Bligh’s Lane, Derry BT48 9PJ

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