Book Review: 4 things I’ve learnt from “10% Braver” (edited by Vivienne Porritt and Keziah Featherstone)

Maya Angelou famously wrote that “every woman who stands up for themselves stands up for all women”. The simplicity and logic of this statement reverberates through the pages of 10% Braver, which is an inspirational and challenging collection of essays on the topic of gender issues in educational leadership. In some ways, the collection is a practical guide to how to apply Angelou’s words in an educational context, and this provides my key takeaways from the book.

  1. A daily question

What would you do today if you were 10% braver? Whilst some people have the confidence to step out of their comfort zone on a regular basis, I definitely need to make use of this question. I have written it on a post-it note and stuck it to my computer screen to read each morning when I get into work. The beauty of the question is that it goes some way to neutralising fear: instead of committing to an action that feels risky, it prompts me to think about the possibilities that I might choose to take if the situation feels right. This might be something incredibly simple (such as speaking up in a meeting), or accepting a challenge that initially appears to be insurmountable (for example, when I agreed to organise a T&L conference in school, or starting this blog).

2. Embrace “diversity of thought” and be consciously inclusive

The essays by Claire Nicholls and Chris Hildrew drew my attention to the difference between a superficial level of diversity and true inclusivity. As Chris points out, it is easy to look round a team and trick oneself into thinking it is diverse, but if some members of the group remain silent while others speak up, then it is a far cry from genuine, meaningful diversity. One straightforward way of developing a truly inclusive team is to acknowledge and showcase women’s contributions. For example, in a meeting, simply changing the wording from “as we have decided…” to “as [insert name] suggested” creates a greater level of transparency about the contributions that women are making.

3. Looking for the right post

As I scroll through my social media feeds, every day I see a post about someone who has been successful in an interview, or gained a promotion. We should celebrate these outstanding achievements, whilst also acknowledging that one of the most important things is for people to find the right post for them. In Jill Berry’s chapter, there are a number of really helpful questions which can guide us as we navigate the often murky waters of career progression. The most useful questions are perhaps: “will the role enable you to fulfil your professional potential?” and “will the role allow you to be true to who you are?” Whilst the emphasis here is on a seeking a profound sense of personal and professional satisfaction, this is not in conflict with the discussion of challenging the gender pay gap in Vivienne Porritt’s chapter, which prompts women to have the confidence to negotiate pay and to place the right value on their work and expertise.

4. Model healthy working practices

This is definitely something which I have not always been good at doing in the past, but which I have committed myself to at the start of this academic year. Schools are not easy places to work in if you are looking for a healthy work-life balance, and as a classroom teacher or a middle-leader, it can be hard to reduce the number of tasks which need to be completed (my school is excellent at doing this already, with a “feedback, not marking” policy and no written reports). If you can’t cut out any activities, then perhaps applying the Pareto principle can be a start. This principle states that generally people complete 80% of the work in 20% of the time. For example, when planning a lesson, creating the essential resources might take up 20% of a teacher’s time, whilst the remaining 80% can easily be spent looking for the perfect video on YouTube, the ideal image, or the nicest font. Think about any activity you do on a regular basis – how much time goes into the fundamental tasks that need to be done, and how much time do you spend on perfecting the result? The time split might not be quite 80/20, but it is highly likely that there will be at least a 70/30 ratio.

Recognising and applying the Pareto principle in teaching does not necessarily mean reducing the quality of the work in a noticeable way. Rather, it can involve streamlining and simplifying. For example, for me, this has meant:

  • Simplifying powerpoints and resources – accepting that the perfect image/video/powerpoint doesn’t exist (unless I’ve squirreled it away previously – and if I’ve done this, it is clearly labelled so that I can search for it on my USB drive).
  • Creating templates for regular lesson activities that are clearly labelled and can be quickly accessed on my USB drive.
  • Accepting that model answers don’t need to be perfect (and shouldn’t be perfect?) – I can use the mistakes as a discussion point in lessons.
  • Consolidating routines and using checklists (I have a checklist on my computer screen which tells me what I need to have done each night before going home – no more spending time trying to remember what I have forgotten to do).
  • Keeping displays simple and not worrying about the fact that the corner of the border doesn’t quite meet.

Of course, there are some situations in which a higher level of “finish” is necessary, but I have found it helpful to be able to recognise the difference between these occasions and times when perfectionism doesn’t matter.

In writing this post, I realise that I have only just started to digest the excellent suggestions and reflections in 10% Braver, and it is certainly a book I will return to again.

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