West Midlands Regional Leader: Claire Stoneman

Leadership Biography

Name: Claire Stoneman

Phase: Secondary

Role: Deputy Headteacher

Sector: State

Region: West Midlands – Birmingham

Years Served in Education: 17

Leadership Journey:

  • Trained as an English and Drama teacher at the University of Warwick
  • English teacher
  • Gifted and Talented Coordinator in my second year of teaching
  • Advanced Skills Teacher of English
  • Collegiate Advanced Skills Teacher, working across ten Birmingham inner city schools, including one special school
  • Member of extended leadership team, head of the English faculty and leading on whole school CPD with the deputy headteacher
  • Partnered with Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s dramaturg, Caroline Jester, writing a book on teaching playwriting in schools
  • First full senior leadership team position in 2010 when I moved to Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School, and became assistant headteacher for English, CPD and teaching and learning
  • Promoted to deputy headteacher in 2013, and now lead curriculum, standards, teaching, learning and CPD. I also line manage English, Humanities, a pastoral house, lead practitioners and ITT and NQT development.  I have a keen interest in developing pupils’ awareness and understanding of equality and have led various initiatives on LGBT* inclusion, for which we have won national awards.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

My first headteacher, Elaine Kenney, who taught me that leadership can be quiet, calm and considered.

My line manager of my first whole school role when I was a very young, inexperienced teacher was Guy Shears, now the highly successful headteacher of Arrow Vale School, Redditch.  He nurtured my self-confidence and gave me faith in my ability to lead – and I am fortunate that I can still call on him for advice, 16 years later!

Lastly, my current headteacher, Mike Dunn – without doubt the best, clearest explainer I know, who has helped me develop a meticulous eye for detail whilst keeping a focus on what’s most important: our pupils.

 Twitter Handle: @stoneman_claire

Blog: Currently setting one up…

Leadership Reflections

Why do we need WomenEd?

I am pretty narked, in all honesty, that WomenEd is even needed.  It beggars belief that, in 2017, we live in a world where, still, your gender can determine how well you do.  This is why we need WomenEd: to counter, challenge and change this unfairness and inequality.  I am a strong believer in humankind.  Women and men should be passionate supporters of each other and build each other up.  For me, WomenEd, and other influential grassroots organisations, always come back to our core purpose: to make lives better for the children and communities we serve.

Why do you volunteer to contribute to the WomenEd community?

Again, this is part of a much bigger picture for me.  I want to be a driving force for equality in our schools and communities, and WomenEd’s values chime with mine: giving back to a community that has helped me thrive but, most importantly, helping to shape a world where we create opportunities for all our children, through supporting, developing and nurturing colleagues.

How do you lead?

I have always sought to lead by example: I am not afraid to roll my sleeves up and do, and would never ask those I lead to do something I wouldn’t do or haven’t done myself.  Part of my leadership ‘make up’, that I valued so much being led so well as a younger teacher, is enabling others to see in themselves what they perhaps don’t yet see, nurturing it, and creating opportunities for those skills to develop and bloom.  Even the smallest of things count.  I remember as a very young teacher having to present as Gifted and Talented Coordinator at my first schools’ network meeting which involved lots of members of senior leadership teams from other schools, and some headteachers.  My line manager, who was assistant headteacher at the time, came with me – really as a cheerleader more than anything.  I never forgot his kindness in doing that, and his quiet recognition of me needing a bit of support, despite him being hugely busy.  Just him being there helped, and gave me lots of confidence.

The question as a leader that I always come back to though, more than anything, is ‘What is the best thing to do for our kids?’  I find this makes everything simpler when there’s often a barrage of voices and opinions.

How do you advocate equality and diversity in your school?

Equality and diversity are part of the fabric of our school.  We have done much over the last few years to lead the inclusion and celebration of the LGBT* community in school, also working with Stonewall and the Crown Prosecution Service to write a teachers’ resource pack to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language.  Our pupils are very aware of equality and diversity, and we celebrate this as part of our PSHE programme, and across our curriculum.  We talk with our pupils about the importance of acceptance not ‘tolerance’ – a word which is often bandied about as a ‘British Value’, but implies ‘putting up’ with someone.  We are proud to be associated with both WomenEd and BAMEEd, but we are not complacent, and know there is always more to be done.  A renewed focus this summer and over the coming year will be developing the confidence and self-esteem of our girls.  Look out for the hashtag #DECgirlscan !

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

Doing right by our children: if it’s not good enough for our own families or our own children, it’s not good enough.  Do the very best you can to make life better for them, and the one of the best things for them is a happy, motivated staff who can teach in a calm, orderly, structured environment.  By looking after your staff you are doing the best you can do for the children.

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

I have been fortunate in not having had many barriers to overcome in my career, and a lot of this has, I think, been shaped by my own belligerent determination and self-belief.  I grew up in Birmingham in the 1980s and 90s and we were materially very poor – my Brownies uniform was second hand and clothes were frequently bought from jumble sales – but we were also rich in knowledge: we had plenty of books, also from jumble sales, piles of second hand records and an old out of tune piano we had picked up (from the Salvation Army, I think it was) that I taught myself to play badly by studying an old Associated Board guide to music theory.  I was determined to learn as much as I could about everything, and soaked up knowledge like a sponge, sitting in the front room, cross-legged, listening to crackly old recordings of Holst’s The Planet Suite and marvelling at the beauty of the overture to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which I only knew about because I’d heard it on Inspector Morse!  I was, though, acutely aware of social difference, but I was resolute: I would not let it stop me from achieving, although a keen awareness of feeling I wouldn’t ‘fit in’ stopped me from applying to Oxbridge, so I ended up at Leeds studying English Language and Literature; a wonderful time for me.  My parents were unswerving in their belief in my sister and me – one of my earliest memories is running as fast as I could down the hill at Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens, flapping my arms with gusto, and honestly thinking I was going to take off and sail into the Edgbaston sky, such was the self-belief my parents had instilled.  There was nothing I didn’t think I could do, and I never saw my gender as a barrier.  It was only as I got older, and saw other women facing challenges and difficulties because of their gender, that I became sensitised to this.

Leadership Advice

Think before you act – if you need to take some time, take it.

As a leader you don’t have to have all the answers.

Leadership Inspiration

Gosh – am reading so much currently and am very grateful to all the wonderful colleagues on Twitter who so generously share ideas.  Two books I am currently reading are Urban Myths about Learning and Education by Pedro De Bruyckere, and Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham.  Although I like reading about leadership, I do think there’s a lot of guff and hot air out there.  Leadership without substance is simply rhetoric; just a sparkly, ephemeral meme that pops up on a timeline.  These two books are helping me shape our thinking and development of the curriculum and teaching and learning across school, and reminding me about what false teaching and learning idols we need to weed out.  Our teachers are the ones who are transformational, not us as leaders – leaders should create the environment in which our teachers can flourish.  I agree with Carl Hendrick here:

“…the role of teacher should be privileged over any leadership role […] Let leaders lead, but more importantly, let teachers teach.”

Leadership Mantra

Although this is Shakespeare from Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3, it is something my mum said to me often, and I still have it on the wall of my office:

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”


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