WomenEd Blogs

Why helping others can be the help you need yourself


by Nicola Mooney @nicksnook


This is a short reflective blog on why standing together is important.


One year ago today I received this message:


Nicola Mooney message

For the previous year I had been helping another lady who was doing a PhD on women leading in education. I had been a case study, and had volunteered to do a series of hour long interviews over a period of a year. I had/have never met the researcher. I volunteer for things that I would want other people to volunteer for if I was in their shoes. What I mean is, if I was doing a PhD, then I would like people to give their time to help me, so I did. I volunteer to do lots of things on this basis; my involvement in, eg,  #WomenEd, the #MTPTproject. I always thought I was doing it altruistically, but I have found that I have benefited from my involvement in these organisations in ways beyond my hopes and in totally unexpected ways.

2016-2019 were very difficult years for me professionally. I had 2 very young children (plus 2 secondary aged) and was a classroom teacher trying to move back into school leadership. On reflection now, if I could go back in time, I would tell myself to keep believing and keep working towards that goal, but by 2019 I had been so lost in limbo land that I had reached the end of the line.

Over the summer holidays I had spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how I could move and survive outside of teaching. I had spoken to a couple of people about how to get into writing educational resources and had various other thoughts on what I could do. In September 2019 I had spoken to a trusted colleague at work and had told him that I was at this point. I wanted advice, but he made me realise that only I could decide what happened next. He suggested I seek independent coaching. I then did my last interview for the PhD research.

The last question was about where I saw myself in 5 years. I didn’t know, I had no idea, probably not in education. I said so. It was not the answer that I expected to say, or that the researcher had expected to hear because I am normally a very ambitious and driven person, but I was lost.

There was no light at the end of the tunnel, I had been lost for too long, and had been frustrated on a daily basis, and had found this exhausting. Well meaning advice about how to get back to middle leadership first only served to add to my frustration and disappointment.

I was now years behind my life plans, with extra years now being added in front of me, and I just wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted.

I woke up a couple of days later with this message in my email inbox. I was glad that I had helped the researcher, but hadn’t considered the help it would be to me. I clicked the link to Jill Berry’s blog and from this point, slowly, things started to change.

I started to realise that opportunities for career advancement were largely luck dependent. I have always taken rejection very personally. If I haven’t been appointed I am very critical on my self that it is because I’m not good enough. Jill Berry’s work has made me see this entirely differently. Months later I blogged on Knowing when it’s time to move on (and the reality of making it happen).

When I started to accept this idea, in October 2019, I then wrote my first educational blog. This blog was a game changer: as well as being viewed by 1000’s of people it then contributed to the #WomenEd ‘Pledge for change 20’ blogs published on the #WomenEd website. The comments I had as feedback for this blog started to change how I was feeling about my career. I realised I had a voice. The 10%braver push by #WomenEd helped. I could have just accepted my quiet exit from education, but I realised I had nothing to lose by giving it one last try. So I did.

A combination of stubborn pigheadedness and a dose of arrogance that I could do the job, made me apply for an AHT post. It has been a constant source of great annoyance to me that over the years people had been judging me (and in some cases overtly telling me) that being pregnant, or having a few week old baby, or having 4 children meant it was not the right time for me to be considering progressing my career. My involvement with #MTPTproject helped me to realise this. This is where unconscious bias enters. My husband has never had this, so why should I? Having children impacts no more on my ability to do the job as it does his. Again though, my help to members of the #MTPTproject helped me more than I had considered ever possible. On applying for the job (which I subsequently got) I was able to call out ridiculous comments by ‘well meaning’ people that might otherwise have sidelined my ambition. It is a challenge having two school senior leaders with 4 children (especially if you have a crazy toddler like our youngest) in the same house, but it’s absolutely a workable possibility if it’s what you want.

By luck, and I assure you, it was luck, I got a job as an Assistant Headteacher in January 2020. I am grateful for this because it must have taken a leap of faith for my school to appoint someone who wasn’t even a middle leader to a senior leadership post. I didn’t have much right sitting in that group of people on interview that day, and as the candidates went around all stating their names and current roles, I could see that they seriously outclassed me (and there were about 8 or 9 of them). I had a sinking feeling that I was wasting my time, but I was grateful for having been given the chance to interview because I knew that colleagues at my school had not expected me to get that far. I know this because some of them even told me!! My former Head, before my second AHT interview (which I ultimately didn’t get) told me that she was surprised I got an interview, but she assumed I must have written ‘a really good letter’ to get my foot in the door!

WHEN (not if) I am a Headteacher, I pledge that I will never do this to any staff in my team. It was really no wonder that I came so close to leaving education with the cumulative effect of these micro aggressions.

So right now, one year on, I am sitting here in a role I never expected to get, with ambitions I never thought would be possible, all thanks to the support of networks and people that I thought I was helping. It wasn’t what I expected, thought, hoped to receive, but it is a lovely side effect, and thus I extend my gratitude to them all. I thoroughly advocate that you participate in networks to give and get support, and will leave this here as a reminder to you all that you CAN achieve your goals.

Nicola Mooney 3 rules

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Wednesday, 07 December 2022

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