Wonder Woman 2020: My obsession with comic books and WomenEd

By Sean Harris @SeanHarris_NE   #HeForShe

Two key events happen for me at the end of 2020. Another comic-book super sheroe gets a big screen release in Wonder Women 1984 in December and I return to the classroom after working at Ambition Institute. We read regularly about our profession haemorrhaging good teachers. Since the first lockdown, I’ve struggled to sit on the side-lines. The work of WomenEd, and several inspirational female school leaders are further drivers for me returning into the classroom.

As Wonder Woman dons her lasso of truth again for the big-screen, here are the drivers that have inspired me to don my facemask of protection, and head back to the chalk face alongside the WomenEd network.

'You are many to many.' (Wonder Woman; Quotes from #Issue 1 – Rebirth)

Any comic-book fan obsessed individual like me knows the real superpowered characters work more effectively in a team. The network of support, resource and resilience that is WomenEd is equally super charged. Highlights for me include the connections through the #TenPerCentBraver and #HeForShe hashtags. Katie Ridgway is Lead Practitioner in English and Early Career Teacher mentor at St Joseph’s Catholic Academy as well as one of the Regional Network Leaders of @WomenEdNE. Katie ran an event to support mentors and ECTs at the start of a surreal Autumn term. ‘I was passionate about running a WomenEd event aimed specifically at new teachers because now, more than ever, they are critical to our classrooms’ says Katie. ‘The recruitment and retention crisis in addition to the pandemic shows how important it is that they hear a range of stories to inspire and motivate them to continue in a profession which is unique to others’.

Delegates heard a range of motivational speakers and research-informed approaches to classroom practice alongside practical ways to enhance support for new teachers in schools. You can watch the recording yourself or use it with your own ECTs. One of the key take-aways of the event was the value of being true to yourself and your vision for teaching. Alex Fairlamb, Assistant Headteacher and Lead Practitoner of History, facilitated ‘Maintaining Your Compass’ and challenged early career colleagues to consider why they chose teaching, what ambitions they have for their pupils and practical steps to celebrate successes and gains in classroom learning. Katie adds, ‘the event was a helpful reminder that teaching is a profession that takes time to learn. We must learn our craft and how to be effective as a practitioner. This doesn’t come quickly – I am still learning and want new teachers to adopt this mindset too. Delegates were encouraged to join the WomenEd network to forge further links with other NQTs and mentors.

‘Find like-minded people in WomenEd to support and motivate you as a learner’ says Katie, “everyone at WomenEd has a strong foundation in coaching and mentoring and would be happy to chat about support or further advice”.

'If it means interfering in an ensconced, outdated system, to help just one woman, man or child…I’m willing to accept the consequences.' (Wonder Woman - #Issue 170)

Wonder Woman speaks this truth when, with Lois Lane, they meet the President and arch nemesis of Superman, Lex Luthor. There’s something deeply sheroic about Wonder Woman’s stand against oppressive villains. Similarly impressive is the growing number of male system leaders, teachers and educators using the #HeForShe hashtag. My friend and fellow #HeForShe champion Patrick Ottley O’Connor tweets and speaks openly about gender inequality. In Educate Magazine, Patrick talked about his commitment to tackling gender and racial inequality. Only 3% of school leaders are of an ethnic heritage in the UK and a disproportionate number of men lead education.

Executive Headteachers like Patrick, who are part of the WomenEd network remind me to hold myself to account and take actionable steps so my own practice and impact as a leader empowers others within underrepresented groups.

I’ve been challenged via my Edutwitter #HeForShe champions on the use of language such as that of the need to “man up”. According to Wiktionary, the verb to ‘man up’ means to do things how a man is traditionally expected to do it. I haven’t got the word-count to talk about the sexism of said language fully but– it isn’t accurate, it’s outmoded and adds to a culture where being a man is seen as being important. It’s fair to say such language is b*****ks (but including this word would be an equal injustice of language!) Tweets we send, our language and the images we conjure tell a story that enhance this cause or create more barriers to those already under represented. The WomenEd and #HeForShe movements remind me I have an important role to play and, if I can play this back in a school myself, then I should.

'Because no matter how small an act of kindness or generosity or simple positivity you put out into the world, it will make a difference.' (Wonder Woman #Episode 85)

One thing I struggled with as a former senior leader in schools was whether the long days, countless interventions and daily battles had any impact. Was it worth it? According to Wonder Woman, and more importantly the #WomenEd network, it does matter, and it is worth it. Serena Williams who has won more tennis singles titles than any other man or woman, stated, ‘the success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re courageous: be strong, be extremely kind and above all be humble’. The teaching profession, and sadly at times social media outlets, are sources of fiery arrows, high accountability and political debate. All educators need to be the source of hope and optimism alongside being ambassadors of great practice and beacons of courage to each other – especially at the end of a bad day, busy term and a year filled with COVID-19 disruption.

'My life hasn’t been what you probably think it has. We all have our struggles'. Wonder Woman – from the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984.

wonderwoman 2

We are all fighting personal doubts, frustrations and lived experiences at times. For me, I will turn my own lived experience of poverty and observing the complex problem of poverty in schools to something that demands my careful attention. It isn’t a problem I’ll be able to solve in isolation, if at all. I had the pleasure of working with WomenEd champion and brilliant female inspiration Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch at Teesside University when I worked as a school leader a few years back. My ongoing interest in Dorothy’s research, and her passion to see more educators take up research opportunities, led me to pursue a doctorate investigating school poverty and how we can better tackle it. You can read more about my personal challenges and learning here via Teesside University. Poverty was around long before COVID-19 and I’m convinced it is an ever bigger threat to our schools in 2020 (Read my personal take ). Working with Dorothy was a fantastic experience and showed me what’s possible when we work alongside inspirational female leaders from other fields to engage schools, system leaders and children in research. I encourage all educators to do it!

You may not feel like a super sheroe or hero at the end of this academic term. But, as Wonder Woman says, ‘so long as there is hope, there can be victory’ (Wonder Woman #Isssue 6). In the WomenEd network, I am regularly reminded that these ambassadors of hope exist.

There are so many ways in which you can be actively involved to better support your own wellbeing and support others.

• Find an event by visiting the WomenEd website

• Celebrate your own strengths and successes – contribute to our blogs

• Read the two WomenEd books

These may just be small actionable steps; but they ‘will make a difference’.

 

Sean Harris is a WomenEd advocate, a doctoral researcher, educator, author, tweeting type. He lives in the North East of England with his Wonder Women wife and two daughters. Sean is proud to play an active role in @WomenEdNE and encourages others to get in touch with him

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