My Unconference

By Kaley Riley @MrsRileyEng

It’s the Monday in the week before #WomenEd, and already I am beginning to question whether I should really be giving up a precious Saturday with my daughter and husband (who works every other weekend). The guilt is already setting in. I’m feeling run down; I could really do with the whole weekend not doing much; it’s my Nana’s birthday and I really shouldn’t be going out and not seeing her (even though she 100% already has plans); I won’t get back until just before bedtime…

‘You only get two days a week with her, in term time. You cannot really be serious when you say you want to go to a work event on one of those days!’, the gremlins whisper. ‘I cannot believe you want to sacrifice time with your daughter, Kaley’ I hear them say, shaking their heads disapprovingly. The same old stuff that they always mumble when I have something booked in for me, when my parents offer to have her for the night, or when my role as a leader means I need to stay at school past bedtime for a school event.

The Mum Guilt is real, but (with the help of my husband and two of my very best friends) I was 10% braver and ignored it. Am I glad? Hell yes.

Walking into a lecture hall filled with women, determined to make a change in education: to challenge adversity for themselves and for our future generations, I cannot tell you how positively overwhelming that was. Not to mention how great it felt to be in a university setting, learning all over again (but this time doing it properly and not just longing for a pint in the union- more like a glass or three of Pinot Noir in Picollino’s; how far I have come!).

These women were all in one place, as educators of some sort, to stand up in the face of oppression and to change the future. As one of those women, that was already moving, but as a mother of a little girl who will – one day (sob!)- be an adult in a world changed by the dedication of women like these, I can honestly say that it moved me to tears. As Emma Turner said ‘becoming a parent, and therefore a consumer of the education industry, you start to see these things in a whole new light’. And she was so right.

Three years ago, if I had attended #WomenEd Unconference, I would have been inspired beyond belief. Now, as a mother? Even more so.

I went to #WomenEd thinking that my return to work was, perhaps, selfish and unfair on my daughter, that being a mum made me a bad teacher at times, that being a teacher made me a bad mum at times.

I came away knowing that being a Mum makes me the most compassionate teacher that I can be, that being a Head of Department who constantly strives for progression makes me an incredible role model to my wonderful little girl, and that returning to work full time was by far the best decision for my family.

I have been so incredibly lucky to have always had a role model in my mother: the most hard-working, resilient woman on this planet. And in those rooms at Sheffield Hallam University on Saturday the 5th of October, were hundreds of her kind. Role models to their students, to their children and other dependants, to their grandchildren.

Leaders. Leaders who would not allow ‘patriarchal patterns’ and the ‘dialogue of impossibility’ to taint their success nor ambition. Leaders who would not allow judgements or barriers put before them by society to make them stumble. But not just for themselves, for all.

After Saturday, I am honestly less fearful- and somewhat excited- for what the future holds for my little girl and so many other girls just like her. If Saturday is anything to go by, her world will be one in which part time work is celebrated and encouraged, where her career progression will not be frowned upon, and where her decisions as a working parent (should that be a choice she makes for her life) are not judged.

She now walks around saying ‘I am powerful’ because I taught her to do so, on my return, after about three and a half glasses of red. And I regularly hear myself repeating, ‘guilt is a wasted emotion’ (a la Helena Marsh) as my mental tool when those gremlins start to creep back in. Back in your cages, pests.

Imposter syndrome has eaten away at me for too long, and now it’s time I believed in myself and let others do the same. My age is not a barrier, the fact that I am a mother is not a barrier, and ambition is not a dirty word.

So here’s my 10% braver: my blog post! Maybe one day I’ll even write a book?

This is the difference that the #WomenEd movement has made on me, and on my daughter as a result. Now imagine the difference that all those powerful women in that one room are currently making in schools around the country. What a time to be alive!

#10%braver #WomenEd #ImetJillBerryandcried #TimeforChange #cagethegremlins

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