West Midlands Regional Leader: Andrea Stephens

Leadership Biography:

Name: Andrea Stephens

Phase: Secondary

Role: Assistant Principal

Sector: State

Region: West Midlands

Years Served in Education: 22

Leadership Journey: 19

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration: Ghandi

Twitter Handle: @andream656

Leadership Reflections:

Why do we need WomenEd?

I love being a woman and have great female friends who are dynamic, creative, funny, warm, and amongst the kindest souls, I know. Sadly, because of gender women are subject to unequal pay and fewer opportunities at leadership level than men. None the less we are still further ahead of other countries where being a woman means being a sex slave, or worse being jailed for having being raped and worse being seen as undeserving of an education.

Suffragettes marched in the streets for equal rights, yet a hundred years later women’s voices are still not being heard equally. It’s for these reasons that why we need organisations like WomenEd. Raising awareness of gender inequality will help to break down the barriers. Women need to stop compromising their career goals for their partners and children. It is critical to our future societies that women aspire to senior positions especially since young girls need female role models not only to help break down the institutional barriers but also to support them in dealing with any internal fears and insecurities they may have themselves.

Why do you volunteer to contribute to the WomenEd community?

I contribute to the WomenEd community as I am passionate about equality and promoting opportunities and success for everyone regardless of culture, background or gender. I hope to inspire both women and men with the incredible work I see and do. The more barriers that come down, the better. I want to encourage the idea of female leadership from the earliest years in education; girls need to know it’s ok to be ambitious and to raise a family. Boys need to know the importance of partnership in the home, sharing the domestic chores as well as earning a living. I believe these values need to be taught and encouraged in schools and families now. Educating boys as well as girls will be necessary for breaking down these types of barriers to equality.

How do you lead?

Through my studies and the facilitation of the NPQML and NPQSL, I have become fascinated by the different styles of leadership and have found distributed leadership to have the biggest impact on student outcomes. I have helped to empower aspiring leaders and equipped them to be able to take ownership of their areas of responsibility. I like to think I encourage subject leaders to build teams, where staff are held to account, but within a climate that fosters an ethos of a high challenge but little threat. Teams uphold decent, blameless, social behaviours, and professional learning thrives.Leadership for me is about empowering others to be successful so that they can bring about positive change. Being a leader means constantly learning and evolving and role modelling day in day out 99.9% of the time. All in an attempt to inspire and influence others. Like Gandhi said, “become the change that you want to see in the world.”

How would you like to affect change in the system?

Weed Killer Damage: I would seek to remove the ‘fear-base’ from educational organisations which seems rife at present. Leaders need to realise that fear is not a sound basis for growth and success. There are far too many lazy leaders (I call them lazy as they clearly don’t want to educate themselves) with archaic belief systems, who see teachers as disposable resources. Fear within educational organisations is like treating a beautiful garden with weed killer. The problem with weed killer is that it kills the desirable as well as the undesirable plants and there is no remedy. Removing staff using so-called performance improvement plans or action plans after one or two failed observations is like spraying weed killer, it infects the culture, demotivates staff and sends a clear message to staff about taking risks in their lessons. With students, we work to find the cause of the problem. However, when some leaders are unhappy with a teacher, it seems as though they are not interested in finding out what the root problem is. The truth is, if we dug too deep or told the truth about how the teacher ended up failing we might find the cause. We might find that the teacher had a poorly led performance management process, or we might see ineffective systems and structures set up by visionless leaders or poor recruitment and induction processes or even just bad leaders who shouldn’t be in those positions. Liz Ryan an HR specialist and Forbes contributor says “Organisations that lead with a human voice do not put their staff on performance plans, ..they lead with trust.”

Here’s how, instead of discussing the teacher behind their back, speak to them directly. Recognise the reasons you employed them in the first place, for their strong teaching capability and enthusiasm. Admit as their line manager that there is probably something that’s been miscommunicated or not understood and sit and talk with the member of staff openly and honestly about what the issues are. Great leaders possess qualities that promote growth they take responsibility for their teams and cultivate success, they instil confidence and through

Nurture and encouragement they propagate new leaders and teachers, superior and improved versions of themselves, who continue do the same. Leaders need to accept responsibility for their mistakes; great leaders are successful as they are devoted developing the success in others, and they support the greater good. This is what real leaders do, wake up and smell the coffee, welcome to the 21st century, everyone!

What is your vision for education?

My philosophy for education development in the new age of Progress 8 is inclusivity and collaboration, allowing both teachers and students to have shared ownership and accountability. Excellence is achieved through a culture of inclusion, where roles and expectations are clear and where there is a constant thirst for learning.  I aim to cultivate a culture where students are listened to, where nothing is seen as too much trouble for them, and students are clear that the same is expected in return, student voice would be recognised as vital and necessary. Partnerships are critical to really personalising programmes and achieving excellence through shared expertise. I would seek to build partnerships with feeder schools, local businesses and universities. Having being raised in Bradford and coming from West Indian parentage, I am acutely aware of the challenges that stem from living in mixed urban communities. Therefore I strive for equality and seek to drive inter-community cohesion through the work I do.

Schools are about widening horizons and creating high aspirations. I would want all of the students I work with to be excited about the future and to know that they have both the foundations and springboard to take them there. I would hope that they leave school with integrity and a moral compass. Understanding that education isn’t about what they can get for themselves, but more about how their learning can bring about change and build better communities both at home and globally.

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

Equality and Diversity: Research tells us that the most successful organisations have diverse teams, at all levels of the organisation. These companies are far more innovative, forward thinking and successful than companies with less diversity. As leaders I strive for equality and to create situations where everyone can be successful regardless of their starting point or background, this is the same for staff as students. I am alarmed that people seem shocked by the growing disillusionment of black British and Asian British students and their inability to gain a sense of belonging in the UK. Just take a look at any inner London or Birmingham school and observe the dynamic. The schools can be 99.9% Asian and black, and there will be 99.9% of the time a fully white leadership team- how disillusioning is that? I intend to tip the balance on that one a little.

Integrity- my most valued possession. I have had the painful experience of having been asked to compromise this, but never again- it hurts. Values are the most important thing in your life. For me, my integrity is everything, being trusted to do my job and being held to account is something I relish. As a leader trusting others is critical without it, an organisation cannot survive.

Leadership Advice:

No one ever sets out to do a bad job. People don’t spend hours writing applications and put themselves through a gruelling interview process to plan to let themselves or the organisation down. No matter what, treat people with respect and kindness even when you are genuinely annoyed by what they are doing.

Leadership Inspiration:

I am currently reading Leadership Guide Ten notable leaders and their extraordinary qualities. I’m reading this to understand more around leadership traits, but my top 3 books that have supported my leadership journey so far have been:

Leadership Mantra:

“Become the change you want to see in the world.”

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing that is and the source of our happiness. We need not to wait to see what others do”.

Mahatma Gandhi

Schools are like practice grounds for real life and students should have the opportunity to learn about, debate and discuss real life issues outside of their progress 8 curriculum. As well as drawing their attention to the atrocities, struggle and setbacks of others, we need to support them in managing their own inner voice and internal anxieties.

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