Name: Anna Ambrose
Role: Associate Director, School Leadership (Midlands & South West), Ambition School Leadership
Sector: Education charity
Region: My role at Ambition School Leadership covers the East and West Mids and South West. For #WomenEd, I’m a Regional Leader in the East Mids.
Years Served in Education: 5
After a degree in music, my career started in arts management, working for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in a range of roles including Marketing Manager and Audience Engagement Manager. The latter brought me towards working more closely with our education and outreach team, which led me into the education world, and here I am! I was School Partnerships Manager and then Associate Director with national education charity Teaching Leaders from September 2012, taking on the role with Ambition School Leadership following our merger with The Future Leaders Trust in November 2016. In that time, the department has grown from being just me, to a team of 12.
Twitter Handle: @AnnaAmbrose
Why do you volunteer to contribute to the WomenEd community?
As well as addressing such a crucial issue in education and society – equality benefits us all, full stop – the #WomenEd community has a unique way of drawing you in! It is more open, authentic and nurturing than anything I’ve experienced before, in a range of sectors. As someone who doesn’t work in a school, I don’t always feel I belong in education networks, but #WomenEd has welcomed me with open arms and genuine interest. It’s clear that everyone has a voice and something valid to say. I came to my first event in Coventry at a low point personally, and my experience was a genuine turning point in my self-belief, sense of perspective and leadership mojo. So, I had to get involved – if I can help anyone else in education to find their path back from a rough time and feel happier being themselves, that’s a great thing to do.
Why do you lead?
I lead because people are my driving force.
I lead to enable Ambition School Leadership to support school leaders to make the most possible difference to the life chances of disadvantaged children and young people through their own leadership. I know I got a long way in life because of the advantages my own education and upbringing gave me, which is an uncomfortable realisation. And I feel… well, guilty that so many children don’t get that. I want a more equal society, so this drives me to lead. I also see daily that working in schools is demanding and challenging in myriad ways, so I lead to support school leaders to flourish in their roles, as professionals and as people.
Closer to home, I lead to help my team to be the best they can possibly be: unique, fab and quirky individuals and a powerful group of people.
And honestly, I lead because it gives me the challenge and satisfaction I need in my professional life.
How do you lead?
I’ve always led by example, and by modelling, for two reasons. I believe that everyone is a leader, and I noticed early on in office life that you don’t need a fancy job title to have a positive or negative influence on those around you, so I made a conscious decision use that power with care. And when I first had line management responsibility, it was by far the most comfy way to do things for me – that was what came naturally so that’s what I did. However, I definitely avoided some challenging conversations along the way, and shouldered too much workload myself to protect others…
As I’ve grown, reflected, had some great advice and support, and progressed in my career, I’ve learned to lead in different ways – being what you want to see is important, but it turns out it’s not all that’s needed! I’m definitely still working on my toolkit, and I think continuous learning is vital.
I do my best to nurture and support others to flourish, to create space for ideas and for mistakes. And I definitely trust others’ intentions and abilities as much as possible. Less buzz-wordy perhaps, but pragmatism is also key to the way I work, and something often forgotten in my experience!
I think (hope?!) I lead with integrity, honesty, and – in my own quiet way – with conviction and passion.
How do you maintain a work life balance?
My work and my career are incredibly important to me, so at every point I’ve gone well above and beyond – and not always kept the balance. Shortly after I came back from maternity leave, I caught myself thinking “But I don’t have time to play and do bedtime, I just need to work” on my way to pick my son up from nursery. In that instant, I realised that I needed to make more conscious choices. I’ve learned that more isn’t necessarily better – it’s what you do with your time that matters.
There’s something about a toddler’s energy that’s pretty impossible to ignore or resist, which helps me to be fully in the moment with him when I’m not working. That, and the fact that he says “Mummy, no, put it away” when he sees my laptop or work phone – I think his dad might have taught him that! There’s nothing quite like being guilt tripped by a two year old to make you think about your priorities.
What is your vision for education?
A fantastic profession buzzing with positivity, focused on pupils as people, with space for leaders who want to do things differently, and where there is space for individuals to challenge, experiment and develop. Not too much to ask for, right?
What barriers have you had to overcome in your leadership/ career/role?
The assumptions some make that because I’m an introvert, I’m not as ambitious and don’t have the impact of others. Sure, I don’t shout about it; I get on with it – but that can mean that only those closest to me notice. I’d say: don’t just listen to what I say and compare that with anyone else, watch me and let me show you.
Recently someone helped me to see that the things I perceived as holding me back are actually positives if I choose to deploy them rather than hide them. Reframing things helped me work with authentic self rather than against myself.
I constantly go back to Quiet by Susan Cain.
It’s a question:
“How can we be even better next week?”