East Midlands Regional Leader: Annemarie Williams

Leadership Biography:

Name: Annemarie Williams

Phase: primary

Role: CEO of Odyssey educational trust and serving Executive Head

Sector: Public

Region: East Mids

Years Served in Education: 20!!!

Leadership Journey:

Unconventional, promoted early on to leader of teaching and learning in challenging schools, then to the LA as a consultant including supporting schools in challenging circumstances before heading off to Vietnam as a Deputy Head and then taking up my first headship 8 years ago.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

Often outside of education. I love the work of Brene Brown on vulnerability and have done some great personal development work with life coach Nikki Armytage.

Twitter Handle: @OdysseyTrust

Blog: staffrm.io/@awilliams

Leadership Reflections:

Why do we need WomenEd?

Despite the progress steps that have been made with equality and diversity in terms of pay, representation politics and education, it still seems that there is a very long way to go. The world economic forum recently estimated that gender quality will happen in these key areas, but not until 2095. That’s not in my life time or even in my daughter’s life time. It is simply not acceptable. WomenEd provides a platform to campaign, share information and build communities which challenge lack of equality. WomenEd is providing more and more women with opportunities to grow as leaders, to share their experiences, to learn from each other and to support each other. I believe that one of our greatest assets as women is ourselves and that a strong community of women championing other women, can and will change the world.

Why do you think we need more equality in the education system?

This is a fundamental part of the reason why I joined WomenEd. Having worked in primary for 20 years, I have witnessed first-hand the effects of gender stereotypes, lack of leadership confidence and the increasing media pressure on girls and young women. All the research suggests that girl’s attitudes to themselves as people and as leaders begin to form at such an early age. If we don’t educate our young people on the ways that gender stereotypes do everyone a disservice, then we really are missing an opportunity to improve society as a whole. It really is that simple. I believe that change begins with education.

How do you lead?

I think my style is quite informal as I believe that a hierarchical system can reduce creativity and stifle relationships. That’s not to say that there aren’t firm boundaries and expectations, because there definitely are, but there is also humour, fun, open mindedness and shared learning. One thing I have learned over the years is that the most difficult conversations are often the ones that if not tackled directly, cause the most damage to relationships and to the organisation. I am blessed with a truly HeforShe Head of School and we often remind each other to “lean in” in times of challenge. I also think that it’s essential that people can see an avenue for personal and professional growth and I try to provide as many leadership opportunities for staff as possible, even if they aren’t sure that they are ready!

How do you advocate equality and diversity in your school?

This is an area that has provoked much discussion and challenge in my organisation. We are lucky in that BAME is reasonably well represented in school but an area that we have struggled with is the recruitment of men to the primary sector in order to present children with more diverse role models.

I run a Girls Leadership Group which grew out of a women’s leadership program that I have run in school for the last few years. The question from women taking part in their own leadership development continually came back to “How do we change things for the next generation?”  and so the girl’s leadership project was born. As a result, the girls have led on whole school research into attitudes to learning which have changed the way we teach and they have sought out and challenged inequality wherever in school they see it. What has been really inspiring to watch has been the way that the older girls have grown in confidence and are now mentoring and supporting the younger girls.

What are the values that your shape you as a leader?

I’m a big believer in fairness and openness. I practise gratitude every day and encourage staff to thank each other for the little things as well as the big things. Everything we do in school is based on the belief that all children CAN achieve and my staff work incredible hard to ensure that this happens. We have a very well defined identity as a trust based on a unique view of teaching and learning and providing values led education for all out children. Team is everything at school and there is genuine care, support and appreciation for each other.

What has helped you progress in your leadership career?

Having my own clearly defined sense of who I am as a leader and as a woman. Taking time to develop and grow as a person as well as a leader so that I can lead as my best and most authentic self. Not being afraid to take unusual pathways has led to some of the best professional experiences of my career.

Leadership Advice:

Walk to the beat of your own drum

Follow your intuition, it is almost never wrong

Leadership Inspiration:

Currently re-reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I love her work on vulnerability and its role in creativity, growth, relationships and organisations. She challenges us to show up and do what we feel is right, not easy, fun or fast, basically to lead with honesty no matter how challenging.

Leadership Mantra:

Keep the energy high

Lean in

Begin every day with gratitude


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