Co-Founder National Leader: Hannah Wilson

Leadership Biography:

Name: Hannah Wilson

Phase: Secondary

Role: Headteacher & Regional Director

Sector: State, Academy Trust: GLF Schools

Region: South Central – Oxfordshire

Years Served in Education: 13 years

Leadership Journey:

I trained to teach in Canterbury as an English with Media/ Drama Teacher; I relocated to London in my RQT year to work in a challenging boys’ high school in Kingston. Over 3 years I picked up responsibility for Literacy Leader, 2ic English, Leading Edge Lead, PR/ Marketing team and Head of Media/ Head of Year. I then moved sideways to become Head of Performing & Expressive Arts (PEA) at a Harris academy in Merton. I was promoted within a term to Coordinator of English and PEA (5 subjects and a team of 12), I had whole school responsibility for G&T and federation responsibility for leading Media. Within 3 years I was promoted to Assistant Principal/ Faculty Director and line managed the PE team too (6 subjects and 18 people). I was also asked to be the Federation lead for G&T.

As an SLE, I was deployed to support middle leaders at an academy we were converting in Merton. This positioned me to be best-placed to become the Vice Principal there as they had no female senior leaders and  they needed an English, Literacy and EAL specialist. As CPD and T&L leader I became the facilitator for the Teaching School for the NPQML and NPQSL. I also set up the Federation’s R&D network. Last academic year I was seconded to Head Office at the Harris Federation to lead Professional Learning across 42 academies and drive the strategy for our 2 Teaching Schools. This outward-facing role gave me the opportunity to establish lots of brilliant collaborative partnerships. It also gave me the headspace to decide I was a) ready to be a Headteacher and b) what kind of school I wanted to lead. Ironically I also met my new CEO whilst networking.

So, in January I started my first Headship with GLF Schools – I will be opening Aureus School in September 2017 as founding Headteacher. Subsequently I have also been invited to become a Trustee of a local primary MAT which is another fantastic opportunity to shape the local community and affect real change.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

Co-founding #WomenEd has connected me with an inspiring and empowering #PLN. I could wax lyrical about all of the fantastic leaders I have connected and collaborated with over the last 2 years. The ones of who have shaped and supported me the most in the last year are: Viv Grant, Carol Jones, Eve Warren, Jill Berry, Mary Myatt.

Twitter Handle: @TheHopefulHT

Blog: I have found my voice in the last few years and have a number of blogs for different audiences!

Leadership Reflections:

Why do we need WomenEd?

For me it is a no brainer – we need WomenEd because we don’t have gender equality in the education system. I have a strong sense of social justice, it is the 21st century and it just isn’t good enough that we have so many barriers in the education system that are holding women back, pushing them back or pushing them out of our schools. Until we have pay parity, equal representation and more flexibility we will continue to challenge the system. There are numerous  metaphors that are used to describe the systemic, societal and structural barriers that we need to challenge and change: ‘the glass ceiling’, ‘the concrete ceiling’, ‘the glass cliff’, the ‘leaky pipeline’, ‘the glass closet’. Together we are stronger and our collective voice is powerful – our community encourage each other to be #10%braver and #beboldforchange.  I am constanlty inspired by the passionate people I meet through the #womened community: I wrote this blog after meeting Pasi Sahlberg at #uLead17 as he shared some data with 1200 people which mobilised them to lean in to @WomenEdCanada: The State of the World’s Mothers

Why do you volunteer to contribute to the WomenEd community?

Annemarie and I are hoping to run a session at the 3rd WomenEd Unconference about Community Leadership to share how volunteering has shaped us as leaders.  I have volunteereed since I was a teenager. I am an avid traveller but I  like to have purposeful and meaningful life experiences where I can build lasting relationships and connect with a community. From Camp America to a ski season as an Au Pair, from Raleigh International in Ghana to English tutoring in Turkey, from teacher training with LRTT in Tanzania to the Coaching Pledge, from Co-Founding WomenEd to being a National Leader,  from being a Governor to now a Trustee; each of these experiences have shaped me and created the leader I am today. We want to encourage more women to reflect on how the experiences and expertise that these softer leadership skills nurture and develop in them so that they can be brought to the table. The probono work, the softer skills, the volunteering tend to be the things we do because we have conviction that they are the right thing to do but we forget about them at interview – each of these experiences shows the impact I  had and continue to have as a humanbeing, an educator and a leader.

Why do you engage with grassroots and social media?

I have blogged a lot about the Power of my PLN, I have  also run countless training sessions encouraging colleagues from NQTs to Headteachers to Lean In and embrace social media. In the last 2 years I have met the most incredible tribe of people, women and men, educators and leaders. I have grown, I have learned and I have flourished. I want everyone to experience the same magic.

The byproducts of being a tweeter and a blogger were not my why for finding my voice which was to find my pathway and connect with like-minded educators; I am an outward-facing leader and a collaborator, and  I was beginning to feel trapped by the insular bubble I found myself in and wanted to challenge the group think situation which worried me by seeking more diverse thought leaders.

Who knew it would open a whole new world up for me, that I would meet so many people who are going to be lifelong friends? Who knew  I would receive so many inspiring invitations to join steering groups, boards and round tables? Who knew I would be invited to write for and be interviewed by the edu-press? Who knew I would meet my new CEO and find a new trust, a new job and my first headship? Who knew this would lead to me relocating to Oxfordshire? Who knew this would result in me recruiting the most brilliant founding team for Aureus School? The possibilities continue to inspire and empower me, the opportunities appear to be endless.

Why is it important for us to engage #HeForShe advocates?

Women cannot affect real change across the system for gender equality without engaging all stakeholders – men need to be be part of this conversation and part of our solution. I wrote an article here for Leadership MattersWOMEN IN EDUCATION NEED #HEFORSHE ADVOCATES: TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER exploring why we need #HeForShe advocates and how they can support the movement.

How do you maintain a work life balance?

This is a work in progress!

I have recently had a group coaching session from Electric Women as part of the ‘I Was Here’ programme curated by Annemarie. Harriet Minter was our facilitator which was quite surreal as I was a big fan of her weekly Women in Leadership piece for The Guardian.  We each had to address some deep-seated baggage and  remove the chimps from our backs. Balancing my wellbeing is hard when I Lean In to so many opportunities. I know myself, I know my capacity, I listen to my body – I am in bed by 10pm most nights as my sleep is really important to sustain my energy levels. I do not feel any guilt saying No and I do not get #FOMO if I miss out. Baths and couch time restore me, holidays and travel rejuvenate me, reading helps me to escape.

I also sat in the Diverse Leaders session this month with Diana Osagie entitled Courageous Leadership.  In this space she encouraged our cohort of #BAMEed educators and leaders to face our fears. The Quadruple Self model she used to identify and articulate our values cornerstones has helped me to consider that I need to do a personal plan just like I do a professional plan. If I set goals for both it will keep me on track and I can hold myself to account to invest the self-care and self-compassion in myself that I deserve.

How would you like to affect change in the system?

The systemic changes I am currently working on are:

  1. Modelling that flexible roles are viable in a school, and that we should use them for recruitment and not just retention. If we create more job share/ part-time roles throughout the school and create more co-leadership roles at every rung then Co-Headteacher roles would less of a risk for Governors/ Trust when appointing. This will help us address the deficit in Headteachers coming up the pipeline.
  2. Governors’ and Trustee training on Unconscious Bias – most professional sectors have this as a statutory requirement like we have for safeguarding and safer recruitment. We need to address the lack of diversity in our schools to recruit a more diverse workforce for us to develop and promote. We will not increase the % of BAME headteachers unless we increase the % of BAME teachers entering the profession.
  3. Creating a culture of wellbeing for my staff and students where we develop a toolkit for self-care and self-compassion, where we focus on prevention and not reaction.

What change would you like to see in the system?

I would like to see a system where teachers are respected and appreciated. A system where we have a positive, celebratory rhetoric which inspires the next generation to aspire to be educators. I want a system where teachers’ wellbeing comes first, their workload is manageable, and they are empowered to present the best version of themselves in their classrooms. I also want to work in a system that has educators who reflect the diverse communities who we serve, and in a system where diverse leaders are promoted. A system where we have more #WomenEd and #BAMEed leaders sitting at the table, speaking at the table and leading change. This was my motivation for doing my #TEDxNorwichEd talk: Diverse Dreams

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

I have spent the last 2 years and my NPQH exploring my values, learning how to articulate them. I am a values-led leader and I believe passionately that we need to “live our values, not laminate them” (Mary Myatt). My core values are centred around: wellbeing, diversity, equality and optimism. They shape me as a leader and will shape the culture and community at Aureus school. I changed my Twitter Handle to @TheHopefulHT and started my Headteacher blog named the same after reading and reviewing Hopeful Schools for Mary. This was my first blog and explores my values further: Start with Why: My Vision and Values

What barriers have you had to overcome in your leadership/ career/role?

I was the only female middle leader in a school with loud proud male leaders. I was the only female senior leader in a school which needed a lot of cultural change. Being 6ft tall has helped me physically hold my own as I don’t need to work on my presence. Being loud and proud, with a voice I am prepared to use, has meant that I have been the agitator for many years. It is hard work constantly fighting for change. It can be exhausting, emotional draining, isolating and at times soul destroying.  The criticism that women receive is always unflattering and very personal, I have had to learn how to navigate the politics of the boardroom! But my core values have maintained my resilience and have kept me going through the tough times. I wish I had my #womened tribe earlier in my career to navigate some of the earlier road bumps.

What has helped you progress in your leadership career?

My resilience. Grit and character development were the family values that under-pinned my childhood. Tough love, picking yourself up, brushing yourself off and bouncing back are engrained in the Wilson fabric. I had nasty ski accident at 16 and car accident at 17, I was lucky to walk away from both – my Dad made me ‘get back on the horse’ straight away of both occasions to face my fears. At the time it seemed harsh, but in retrospect, both occasions made me stronger. I have always been confident. I have always had a voice and known how to use it. I consequently don’t do fear and have not had to combat the imposter syndrome. I am very secure in who I am – I know that I am Marmite but I am strong enough to believe that you don’t need to like me – but you will respect me as I am a credible educator and leader. My friendships, personal and professional, are really important to me and I have a massive support network of those who I have led over the years, do what is right and people will respect you first and like you second. The loyalty and support I have shown to others over the years has been repaid time and time again.

Leadership Advice:

“Don’t take criticism personally: the more you raise your head above the parapet, the more criticism you will received. Be a change maker, make waves, ruffle feathers and challenge the status quo”.

(Andy Ridge, my old line manager and father of Sophy Ridge the Sky News reporter)

Leadership Inspiration:

I used to read a lot of fiction and consume books back to back at a rapid pace. In the last 2 years I have consciously moved my reading repertoire to non-fiction and leadership themed books. I consume them differently and dip in and out of different chapters so have a heap by my bed!

A game changer for me was Start With Why by Simon Sinek. I encourage anyone I am training or coaching to  read it. The same goes for Staying Ahead by Viv Grant, I met her first and she coached me when I was going through a professional crisis, we have since become friends. The coaching tools are brilliant for independently working through issues in your role and leadership journey.

Currently dipping in and out of:

Leadership Mantra

Authenticity is key:

“Be yourself because everyone else is taken”.

I would add to it: ‘Know yourself’ – through coaching connect with your core values and lead with them.

Other mantras that really resonate with me are:

“Names, not numbers”.

“Human first, leader second”.

“Values lived, not laminated”. 

“Say yes, then work out how to do it later”.


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