#WomenEd, Karen and me.

by Rachel Stone @SBMCoventry   #BirthdayCelebration

Well, here I am writing a blog for the first time.

Why now? Well, probably because I have always been encouraged behind the scenes by Hilary Goldsmith, aka @SBL365, since I joined #SBLtwitter but politely ignored the challenge, until now. It has always been on my tah-dah list to write a blog post, but I have just never really had the confidence to do so. My fears? Would others find me interesting? What could I say to make a difference to someone else? Am I gifted enough to be a writer? I have read so many great things that have made me punch the air in delight for the genuine achievements of some School Business Managers. How could I possibly compete and make a difference?


But after attending a #WomenEd London unconference I realised it is not about competing. It is about having a voice and making yourself heard. It is about having the honesty and courage to have a say and in doing so, helping another find their voice. That is empowering. That is leadership. That is what #WomenEd means to me.

I admit having a bad experience with a previous boss has had more of an effect on me than I had first realised. The working relationship was fantastic at first and I was very successful in my job. I cannot pinpoint when or why the negativity happened, but slowly events and conversations between us turned sour. Late discussions on a Friday resulting in tears before home time slowly chipped away my confidence. I realised, for my own sanity and career, I needed to move on. Luckily for me I did move on, but the self-doubt moved with me too.

A visit to my first #WomenEd unconference in London, one Saturday back in March this year, helped me to realise that I am capable and do want more. Travelling to London alone to get to the unconference panicked me at first, which may seem funny to some but to me, I could have been travelling to the moon! I was lost before I had even started my journey. Self-doubt reared its ugly head and made me feel powerless against it. The anxiety slightly dampened my day but luckily the lovely @SpecialSBM (aka Tina Button) met me and helped guide me from the train platform to the venue and back again in one piece. I was not sure what to expect at my first #WomenEd event. It was massively popular on twitter amongst educationalists but what was it all about? Well, standing in a school foyer with over 200 women, I was about to find out!

We were led into the school auditorium and it kicked off with an introduction led by Vivienne Porritt. There was a presentation on the negative language used to describe strong female leadership traits. People could stand and share their leadership stories with the audience and whether the story was positive or negative, everyone clapped with encouragement and it was an overwhelming positive experience.

This was empowering. I needed this reassurance and positivity. I deserved to be here and to be part of this. This was something big and I was fascinated to find out more.


I watched a session presented by two School Business Leaders: Sarah Jones (@AccidentalSBM) and Hilary Goldsmith (@SBL365) on School Business Leadership. I sat quietly in awe at how a) they had the courage to present their presentation to the room in the first place and b) described the pathway of many School Business Managers so poignantly. The character they chose to debate was called Karen. 

Karen was used to describe the typical female working in a school office. There was nothing wrong with Karen. Karen was a mother. She had started a job in the school office to fit around her children’s school hours. Now her children were young adults, Karen realised she wanted more progression but just didn’t know how to get it. There were lots of pathways and fancy qualifications around, but which ones were right for her? Who was out there to offer support and encouragement? It had been a long time since she visited the so-called Careers Advisor during her own secondary school days.  Karen had had many years admin experience and oversaw a small team but through circumstances beyond her control had slowly lost her voice and felt stuck in a rut. She had become invisible to her School Leadership Team.

The #WomenEd unconference left a lasting impression, especially Sarah (@AccidentalSBM) and Hilary’s (@SBL365) presentation. It really made me think how I could help empower Karen. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I didn’t feel sorry for her. Instead, I wanted to give Karen strength. I wanted to hear her voice.

It was a fabulous day and I just wish it could have lasted longer with dinner and drinks with friends afterwards but then I do wonder if I would have found the right train home later at night! Self-doubt is a bugger,eh, Karen?

What I have learned is you can give negativity from your past far more time than it deserves. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have rubbish days filled with difficult conversations. No one knows everything and if they claim they do, they’re bloody lying! What matters is how you dust yourself off and get back up to try again the very next day. What matters most is recognising a toxic relationship and leaving it.

I aspire to be the opposite of the boss I experienced years ago. There comes a time to get a baseball bat and batter the heck out of that self-doubt. It is time to stop looking back on what did and did not happen. Once you can grasp it was them and not you, you empower yourself to move forward.

I feel #10%braver to share my voice with other School Business Managers. It is time to help, support and empower Karen. That is how I can make a difference. #SBLtwitter has made such a difference to me. I am inspired by the knowledge, kindness and positivity of others; they are willing to encourage at any time. Other SBMs motivate me to look out for CPD opportunities. It doesn’t always have to be the big expensive courses; it can be sourcing a quick online course or reading more. Anything that can help harvest self-positivity and crush the self-doubt.
I would encourage more School Business Managers to attend a #WomenEd event and get involved with their local SBM network. There are many others out there willing and waiting to connect. Help Karen find her strength and realise her potential. Share your voice and join #SBLtwitter.

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