Hannah Wilson is the executive headteacher of Aureus School and Aureus Primary School, part of the GLF Schools Trust. She co-founded the grassroots gender equality movement for women in education – #WomenEd – and she is a one of their national leaders. Hannah is also a coach for the Department for Education’s Women Leading in Education initiative, as well as having recently become a trustee for the GEMs Primary Academies in Didcot and Twickenham.
Hannah is a passionate advocate for gender balance and recently pledged her support for Womanthology’s #IDidItAnyway themed crowdfunding campaign.
Becoming a teacher
I did a degree in post-colonial literature and thought I would end up in publishing, journalism, marketing or event management. I tried a few different things but a PGCE [postgraduate certificate of education] opportunity to train to teach English, drama and media came to my attention so I thought I would do that and teach abroad as an option for the future.
My career has somewhat happened to me as I was promoted quite quickly and have progressed up the leadership ladder every year for the last 13 years. I am hardworking and ambitious – I have found the personal leadership development and opportunities to train others through our teaching school really fulfilling.
I am naturally a collaborator and outward-facing so when I joined Twitter a whole new world opened up to me and I started attending, then presenting at, then organising grassroots education events. From tweeting I moved to blogging and writing for different education publications. So, all of the careers I was interested in as a graduate have been wrapped up in one?!
From full on but fulfilling in the city to setting up two schools from scratch
I taught in London for 12 years, moving from middle leadership to senior leadership in three schools. I held various responsibilities, leading teams of subject leaders, pastoral leaders, being responsible for school marketing and staff training. I spent the last ten years working for the Harris Federation, a large multiple academy trust who turn around under-performing schools in socially deprived parts of London. It was full on but fulfilling.
As a Devon girl, who was hitting her late 30s, I was looking for an opportunity to change my lifestyle, leave the big smoke and be a bit closer to my family. I started looking for sideways moves to the West Country but then saw the opportunity to be the founding headteacher of a brand-new school being built in Oxfordshire.
The opportunity to grow a team and start a school from scratch really appealed, so I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and made the leap – changing roles, trusts and regions! It has been a full on six months project managing a building site but we are ready to open in September with our first cohort of students!
#WomenEd is a grassroots community of women in education who lead or who aspire to lead. The irony of the teaching profession is that we are female heavy with two thirds of teachers being female, but we have a glass ceiling / blockage in the leadership pipeline as our senior leader roles are male heavy.
Furthermore, with the new educational landscape of academies and multiple academy groups the executive leadership roles are monopolised by men too. In April 2015, there were some articles about the glass ceiling which started a Twitter conversation and spawned a series of blogs of women like myself who were leading and getting frustrated / feeling disempowered and uninspired by the lack of role models.
Seven of us met to discuss the barriers and the solutions face-to-face, we started a Twitter handle and a hashtag. It snowballed out of control from there! Microsoft offered to host us for an event and 200 of us came together – it was a fantastic day having all of those like-minded kindred spirits in one room at one time, the atmosphere was buoyant with hope for change.
Two and a half years on we have nearly 13,000 followers, we have 60 volunteer regional leaders running local networks to grow our community, working in conjunction with our five national leaders who drive the strategy. We are also excited by the global interest – I flew to Canada at Easter to launch our network there and we have the launch of UAE and Australia on the horizon!
Being part of the community has inspired and empowered a lot of women in education to step up and lead. We have crowd-sourced solutions to the barriers we face, we have advocated for change in things like more flexible working opportunities and co-leadership roles, we have engaged #HeForShe advocates and challenged policymakers.
Pledging to support our #IDidItAnyway campaign
The Imposter Syndrome and The Glass Ceiling are part of the #WomenEd rhetoric. Lean In is a book that we have all read and that resonates with us. We can choose to let things stop us and / or slow us down or we can choose to success despite the challenges and the adversities we experience. Our community mantra is to be #10%braver and to push out of our comfort zone so there is some synergy there.
We are sometimes our own worst enemy and the inner critic and the inner glass ceiling are self-imposed. Alternatively, we need to learn to navigate the systemic, societal and structural barriers that can prohibit and inhibit us. #WomenEd helps the community to find their voice, use their voice and amplify the voice of others. We regularly encourage one another to do shout outs on our own success and celebrate the success of others.
Our mission statement emphasises that leadership is a ‘choice’ – not everyone will choose to lead but we seek to remove the barriers that might stop them should they choose to step up. Equally the #IDidItAnyway testimonials will not only inspire others to prove people wrong but to also celebrate and share these successes to empower others.
— Hannah Wilson (@TheHopefulHT) August 5, 2017
Studying #IDidItAnyway stories about teachers
This really interests me. I get asked a lot why I am so confident and self-assured. Why nothing stops me in my tracks. I always talk about my parents rather than my teachers. Teachers and parents are the key influencers in our formative years. They can make us or break us. I am fortunate to have had very supportive parents who instilled confidence, independence, resilience and a sense of adventure in my sister and I.
Yes, I had some poor teachers too, but it was the family ethos that shaped me. I was a good student but I only remember those who inspired me and encouraged me to fly, rather than those who did not. Maybe because I liked school, was a good student, had a family who valued education and encouraged us to read lots I had a more positive experience?
Maybe because of the character-building childhood I was more resilient to the potentially bruising comments from teachers? I can remember poor teachers but cannot really remember ever being put down, dismissed or my ambitions being shut down.
As a teacher and a leader, I have worked with fantastic role models. Times have changed a lot. I don’t think the voice of doubt is as prevalent. A barrier that we need to remove is the lack of role models. We have issues with a lack of diversity in a lot of roles, especially leadership and the STEM industries where we need more women and BAME [black and minority ethnic] representation.
#WomenEd has supported the recent launch of #BAMEed, a grassroots community to connect, inspire and empower BAME teachers and leaders. One of their mantras is a twist on “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it”. They changed it to “If you can’t see it, you need to be it!”. Like the powerful courtroom scene in Hidden Figures, someone has to be the first, someone needs to break through the glass ceiling to show others it is possible. But more importantly, once they break though it they need to open the door and encourage others to follow through it.
The importance of a growth mindset
A growth mindset is important for all of us, no matter what age, gender, background and position. Children need to be brought up to be resilient and to be able to learn from mistakes. I like the language of ‘not yet’ and turning negative diminishing language to conditional and future focused alternatives.
Adults equally need to model that we too fail and we are lifelong learners. Teachers in the classroom and parents in the home model how to learn from mistakes, bounce back and grow stronger. Going back to my upbringing, this is definitely how I was brought up, my parents had a work ethic, a resilience and a confidence that we would make a success of things, that they could learn new skills and make the best out of situations.
As a headteacher, I want to create these conditions for learning in the vision and values of the culture we are creating for our community. Our trust’s mission statement is to grow, learn and flourish – this resonates with my staff as much as it does with our students. Our school mission is to nurture hearts and minds, to educate the whole child, holistically not to succumb to the exam factory culture of our current school climate.
Coming up for me and #WomenEd
I am so excited about the next year I don’t really know where to start! We open our secondary school in September – having my team and children in the building will bring it all to life and make all of the hard work over the last six months be worthwhile!
Our builders then move ten minutes down the road and start our next project, a brand new primary school where I’m also executive headteacher. As a school leader, this is the dream – to create your own school from scratch!
— Aureus School (@AureusSchool) August 4, 2017
Professionally, I will be learning lots. I am excited to be joining the Electric Woman coaching programme to ensure that I am the best leader I can be for my team and my students. On a personal level, I have had some exciting invites to join advisory boards of things I am really passionate about like mental health, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion – being able to drive strategy and shape the future of our schools by changing policies and influencing thinking is exciting
Off the back of our success there is has been a lot of momentum to ensure that there is representation of our diverse society in our schools, so we have supported the launch of #BAMEed, #LGBTEd and #DisabilityEd. I am organising and hosting an event for all of these grassroots communities who are advocates for diversity to come together in Oxford in January to kick start the new year. What a brilliant way to start the new year as we mean to go on?