Name: Charmaine Roche
Phase: Secondary Trained, Cross Phase Consultancy and Coaching
Role: Executive Coaching Consultant, Company Director
Sector: Education, Training and Development
Region: East Midlands
Years Served in Education: 29
I believe that it is important to see leadership as a set of life skills and personal dispositions, not just a role one is paid to fulfill in the work environment. On this premise my leadership journey started in the primary playground. If nick names are anything to go by then I was recognised as a thought leader by my primary school peers when they designated me as ‘the philosopher’. In secondary school it was downgraded to ‘the mouth’. In primary school, I adopted the role of protector of others like myself who were bullied or victimised because they were different. I clearly remember the diminutive white twins I defended against the same bullies who picked on me because I was one of the very few black pupils in my primary school. It was a tremendous weight to carry as a child. My parents loved and encouraged me, preaching the value of a good education, but they had no idea of my daily battles and that is the way I wanted it. I was determined not to be bullied at secondary school and during my phase as ‘the mouth’ I remember the moment of shame when I realised that to secure that aim I had become an active member of a ‘gang’ who terrorised and bullied others.
At home I was always a quiet introvert who loved to read. I felt deeply about injustice and was the dissident voice in a religious family. My private self was at odds with my public persona. Throughout most of my schooling I was miserable because I was not allowed to just be myself. At some point during my secondary school career I shucked off the ‘gang’ identity and became the ‘bookish intellectual’ in public as well as private. Someone who loved to read, write and discourse, stood up for what she felt was right, when circumstances called upon me to do so, even if this caused discomfort. Thus, I attained the authenticity that has served me all my life.
Good, committed, progressive, values-led teachers have always served as my inspiration. It was such a teacher who enabled me to realise the potential that systematic low expectations and institutional discrimination (driven by class and race prejudice) failed to nurture. I left school with no examination passes. I had been put into what was then called the CSE stream and even failed to achieve pass grades there. Only my English teacher saw who I was and recognised my potential. In his classroom I felt safe, seen and valued. He had given me a reading list that introduced me to DH Lawrence, Graham Greene, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austin etc. Devouring these works created a hunger in me for learning that has never ceased, he provided the means for me to enter a dazzling world of thinking, feeling and action I had never before dreamed I could be part of. During my final year at school he asked what I intended to do after I left school. I was clueless. He encouraged me to apply to college and told me he would provide a reference. The rest, as they say, is history. Three years later, with a more than respectable clutch of O and A levels I became the first person in my family to go to university. So, I pay tribute to the nameless army of teachers who inspire the young to greatness. His influence was one of the key reasons I became a teacher.
Twitter Handle: @lifeflowbalance
Why do you lead?
This question I will answer in relation to role; I lead for the same reason that I went into teaching- that is to make a palpable, felt difference to the lives of other human beings, especially the young. As a teacher and school leader, I wanted to change the world. And I say that without pomposity or a self-aggrandisement. I remember with extreme clarity the event that put me on the road to a teaching career. The Brixton Riots of 1981 shocked me into a decision to try and play a role in leading young people to find constructive ways of creating change. For me the riots were a sign of despair and powerlessness. Education is a form of empowerment. I wanted to be a role model, not only for black students but for white students too. To be able to show, by example, that if I can do it, they could do it too. This is why I dedicated my career to working in challenging schools. I have always been, and remain a champion of young people who have to struggle against the odds to find their place in the world. This sense of vocation has now carried over into my second career as an Education Consultant and Coach.
Why do you coach?
When I left my role as headteacher I was suffering from burnout. My recovery process was facilitated by the Coaching Diploma I took at Warwick University, it reminded me that my key strength was in developing people and this led me to setting up my current business. My passion now is to try and influence the education system through building leadership capacity based on informed authenticity and courageous, progressive values-led, transformational leadership. I want to help bring greater diversity into the profession and strengthen those forces for good that challenge the status quo in productive and energising ways.
Where I can I want to help individuals and teams keep their work aligned to their values, keep them connected to their authentic selves, and support and grow transformational leadership across the system. In my view the toxic level of stress within the system and across society reflects a sublimated struggle for meaning and purpose. I know the personal cost; part of what caused my burnout was the pressure to implement strategies that I did not believe in and the personal costs of saying No.
How do you lead?
I lead mainly by being of service to another’s development from a strong place of clarity about my own ethical framework. As a coach I lead, from a place of trust and mutual respect, by holding up to those who work with me, an image of their best self, as it is and as it is in a state of becoming. This process involves asking challenging questions and giving feedback that reveals what is hidden or getting in the way of change and development. Coaching is not a mirror in the sense that it reflects what is visible to the naked eye. Instead it opens perception to what is currently unseen or hidden from consciousness.
I support my own self-leadership by engaging my own coach in the form of a supervisor who helps me to grow in relation to my own self-limiting assumptions and blind spots. I believe that leading change requires openness to change in yourself as a prerequisite and ongoing disposition.
How do you maintain a work life balance?
This is a difficult one for me, and a work in progress. Running your own business from home means that it is often difficult to stop working. However, my mindfulness practice, self-discipline and desire to practise what I preach has led me to institute certain routines:
- My husband and I, who is also self-employed, stop work at a prearranged time to cook and eat a meal together every day.
- I have a vegetable garden which requires constant TLC and I make time for that as required.
- I nurture my family connections and friendships by planning face to face meet-ups. I have banned material gifts as presents for birthdays etc. and insist on a ‘gift’ that involves a meaningful experience that my family or friend/s can enjoy together.
- I live in the countryside so try not to take this for granted- Sunday walks to the pub are a highlight of the week.
- I love writing and reading so I try to exercise balance so that not all my writing and reading is to do with work. I run a local book group. An excuse to indulge in two of my favourite things; reading and talking!
- I practise yoga and meditation.
What is your vision for education?
My vision is for an education system that can develop free from political interference and imperatives, liberated from the short termism of political party politics and general election. Where socio-economic factors are removed as the main predictor of educational outcomes for young people.
What change would you like to see in the system?
It may not be popular to reference the PISA tables because they are used every four years to beat the English education system around the head. Our poor standing, relative to other European nations, has been used to justify the education policies of a succession of governments regardless of ideology. Policies that have taken us away from the principles I believe should underpin any progressive evidence based system. Finland, which has remained consistently in the top 4 EU countries as ranked by PISA. I cannot help but be inspired by what they have achieved and by the values that underpin their approach.
Here are the top 8 features of the system that I would like us to emulate:
- Educational policy and teaching is heavily research-based.
- Teachers are highly educated, well respected, trusted and given the time to do their jobs with autonomy over how to teach
- Equality of access to education, lifelong learning, enjoyment and wellbeing are at the heart of planning and reform
- Education system is entirely state funded
- There are no grammar schools or selection
- There is no Ofsted-style inspection of schools and teachers, but a system of self-assessment.
- Educational outcomes between children from different backgrounds and different schools is very small.
- When there is reform it is guided by the underlying principles on which the system was founded so there is continuity; worried that a recent slide in their PISA ranking might reflect complacency, the Fins have introduced reforms that put MORE emphasis on the arts and the joy of learning.
No wonder pupils and teachers alike enjoy greater wellbeing, there is no recruitment and retention crisis even while budgets are having to be cut due to tough economic times.
I have worked with different people at different times over the years who have shown me either what I could be or what I did not want to be. One person, a fellow senior leader during my period as an Assistant Head Teacher head pointed out to me that I worked very hard and very quietly, but had very little visibility, so much so that others were able to take credit for things I had initiated and been responsible for leading and managing. He showed me how to own my work and not be afraid to celebrate my achievements. This was a powerful gift.
I always have a number of books on the go at any one time but I will mention only one of them here, Stephan R Covey’s The 8th Habit. I was attracted to, having read The 7 Habits of highly effective people’ due to my current interest in leading change from the inside out. There are two sides to the 8th Habit, expressing your voice and Inspiring others to find their voice. In Chapter six he makes an interesting distinction between leadership and management. He says you Lead people and manage things. When people are treated as if they are ‘things’ to be moved around and managed, then there can be no fundamental and sustainable change and development. People stagnate and fail to flourish. He defines leadership as:
“communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”
“When seeking to lead changes in others first seek to lead change in yourself.”