I am a Woman in Education #Wii_Edu

My name is Philippa Wraithmell; I am 34 years old. I live in the UAE and have a husband and two children, 10 and 6 years old. Why am I beginning this blog as though I am 5 years old writing my biography in a literacy class? 

Because education is one of the few professional sectors where this can truly define who you are. It can limit opportunities and allows people to make judgment upon you without knowing the whole story. 

To profile me as an educator, you would know this: 

Teacher with 12 + years experience as a middle and senior leader, Apple Distinguished Educator, BETT MEA Board Member, Innovation in Education Award winner. Qualified Safeguarding level 3.

This is my story.

This summer, I was reached out to by an incredible educator, Linda Parsons, who wanted my support to create a culture where we could change the mindset and support other women, no matter their leadership goals or background.

We are Women who Innovate, Integrate and Educate.

We are Wii_Edu, and this is my story. 

Twelve years ago, I left my career in the buying industry to follow a passion for education and become a teacher.  I had recently found out that due to several operations over the years that it was unlikely I would be able to have children, and I wanted to be in a position that if I were ever lucky enough to have them, I would be able to have time to spend and share with them.  I had made the right decision. The moment I stood in front of a class, I knew I was in the right place.  

I began my PGCE in Design and Technology in Nottingham, where I then successfully gained my NQT position at a school at an inner-city school.

Curious, questioning, driven, passionate and excited, I was raring to go. 

However, in term three of my PGCE, I was pregnant with my first child. I was so fortunate that my headteacher understood my position, and I had been able to build strong relationships with staff having done my PGCE there. They were happy for me to begin still and join as soon as I could.  However, the news was less well taken by my university, who told me that I had ruined my career. I would never be taken seriously. 

After a complicated and almost fatal pregnancy, I had three months off before beginning my teaching career properly.  In the background, my husband had just started a new job as well. He has always been a co-parent with me, and we look after each other, our children and our family as a team, my job at that time put food on the table and clothes on our backs. It was tough, leaving my new baby, one which I never thought I would have the opportunity to have, but I had to go back to work as the primary earner that was and is my role. 

My first months back were hard. I had a female colleague who refused to leave the room I had been given to express my milk over my lunch breaks to provide me with privacy; due to her long-standing role, the school sided with her, and I found myself expressing in the cleaners cupboard so that I could still feed my newborn baby.  In those first few months, I found myself faced with emotions which were high and a lack of support. I was a young teacher, back at work, night feeding as her baby refused a bottle and wouldn’t drink the gallons of milk expressed*1. 

If anything, this position drove me to make a stand.  Although scared, I made a formal complaint.  The woman retired at the end of the year.  No genuine support was given to me, but this made me want to do more to make sure no one was ever in my position.  

By the end of that academic year, I was promoted to second in department, I cannot say I remember a lot of that year, but I know that I got up every day, and I knew I could do more, do better and teach those children who needed me to show up.  It is schools like this one that show us how privileged we are to come from loving homes and backgrounds.  They needed me more than I needed sleep.   

Within two years, I was running a department in a failing school which we had taken over as part of an academy. I took this on with excitement and vision. Over the years, which I was, there was able to:

  • Build a department with 5+ confident staff 
  • Mentor staff deemed to be “failing” (awful word) to deliver outstanding results
  • AQA Assessor for GCSE DT 
  • Write relevant, innovative schemes of work
  • Recreate the assessment for the subject to allow for progress
  • Introduced a policy that ALL students, regardless of background, be given food technology supplies to teach them how to cook healthy meals. *2 
  • Delivered parents cooking sessions for low budget meals
  • Created an Annual careers day for design and technology industries 3*
  • Highest opted for the subject in the school
  • Second highest grades for GCSE in the school (maths being No.1)

It is when you write it down that you can realise what you have achieved. My goal was to show them how important design and technology is as a subject, especially to that community, to share tangible links between school and their futures. 

I applied for other leadership roles within the school. Others were promoted. My line manager of 2014 asked me what my future goals were when I told her; she laughed at me. She told me it wasn’t a thing to improve schools and departments. Had I thought about just maybe leading a more significant department?

So I decided to try and have another baby, as clearly, my life goals were laughable.  I had six months this time.  I was raring to get back; aside from everything, I was saddened to hear that standards had been allowed to drop. 

And then in January of 2015, as I came in from break duty, also to note having broken up a fight, a male member of the SLT walked past sniggering when questioned, I asked what it was. 

“Have they not told you yet? They are cutting your subject from GCSE…” 

And he walked away. 

Furious, I spoke to my line manager, an incredible woman, who had no idea, checked and found it true.  

No one had told me because “they didn’t have time”—the lack of respect at that moment in time. 

  • Because I led DT?
  • Because I am a woman?
  • Because I am young?

Or actually, because they know me and they knew I would give 101 reasons why that was a wrong decision for the school and the pupils of that school specifically.  They took the easy way and hoped I wouldn’t notice or mind. 

I did mind; I quit. I left that August. 

I moved to another school in September, Head of DT again. I love my subject.

Within weeks, I found myself having similar conversations with the SLT.  

  • The staff are failing
  • The department is rubbish
  • No one will visit on open evening

I found it astonishing, I rallied around the students and staff, showcased work, had GCSE pupils cooking live, and the head of school walked in and said, 

“ 3D printer… seen that before. I don’t know why you’re bothering, and We don’t even tell parents to come to the DT on the open evening. They don’t care about it.” 

Wow… 

I had a meeting with him the next day about the following:

  • Why did he have such low expectations of his staff and a department?
  • Did he not think that his low expectations perhaps caused the “poor teaching” as SLT saw it?
  • How did he expect me to raise his STEAM school attainment if he didn’t care for himself? 

It was at that point that I decided I wanted to be a headteacher.  When I left, I was made to have a meeting with him and one of the governors to check I wasn’t going due to the open evening incident. I said yes, that is part of it, but overall I cannot work for a person who has such low expectations.

Rule #1 of teaching: Have high expectations of students and young people. 

To achieve this, indeed, you should also be setting high standards for yourself and your staff?

At this point, it felt like my only option was to leave teaching. But I love teaching.

So we moved to the UAE.  A land of promise and innovation.

I have been so fortunate to work in two excellent schools here, my first which I will talk about I found, driven by the need that being here, I had to work in the best school to ensure my children had the best education possible.  When I started, I was asked to be head of computing, and I decided I had to be a yes person. So I said yes!  

Over the next few months and years, I built my skills;

  • Delivering school-wide training 
  • Learning the primary curriculum
  • Data analysis and tracking curriculums
  • Developing my digital skills 
  • Training departments 1:1 
  • Rolled out annually 1:1 devices 
  • Developed policies, integrating pastoral care
  • Worked with Safeguarding & SEN on the provision
  • Creating learning experiences
  • Building my leadership skills 
  • Working with Governors, SLT and Marketing on whole school projects
  • Writing a book on behalf of the school
  • Leading two teacher conferences
  • Delivering four vertical learning experiences for the whole school
  • Writing blogs
  • Marketing the school and introducing twitter to staff for CPD as well as building the schools image.
  • Created curriculum for computer science
  • Gained the school Apple Distinguished Schools Status renewal
  • Awarded Apple Distinguished Educator and Apple Professional Learning specialist

Interestingly, after all of this, I found myself in my principal’s office, wanting to know why he thought I should speak at a conference? 

Imposter syndrome

He laughed at me and said, you still see yourself as a teacher. Look at all you have accomplished. He was empowering.

The following year at the Apple Distinguished Educators conference, I decided that no one knew me; if I failed, it wouldn’t matter. Everything I have done to this point had failure within it.  I am now far more resilient than I have ever been.  I signed up for everything, I felt fear, and I did it anyway. 

Getting over imposter syndrome was hard; it is made harder by then others putting you down.  Making you feel like you shouldn’t be trying to better yourself.  People expect of you what they expect of themselves. Don’t drop your standards because others are not high enough. 

As time went on, I applied for further leadership, wanting to broaden my horizons. I have skills in all academic and pastoral areas, and I wanted to keep progressing. 

However, I get told a lot the following:

  • You are so young
  • Don’t try and do it all at once
  • Your children are so young be a mum spend time with them

The latter, I agree, but I do. I spend far more time with my children than many do. I always will because I like my children. But it is important to me is that they see their mum, who works hard to achieve her goals. 

I read 10% braver #WomenEd – A great and empowering book if you haven’t read it. 

It made me decide to want to reach the next level. A new challenge would give me official leadership because although I know I worked with the whole school, there is importance to recognise leadership in people, even sometimes if it is just the title.  

Since joining my new school, I have been able to strengthen my leadership skills.  Being part of vertical groups across the school, the array of personalities and leadership qualities is vast in such a large school. 

The resilience I have built over the years is essential, although I am still a person, and we all still have feelings.  I worked a lot on my emotions with the female principal at the previous school, and I now don’t cry when in difficult situations that I thank her for. 

In the last six months, I have lead a vision across a school:

  • Created a strategy, vision and goal for the whole school
  • Developed a digital safeguarding system (supported by the safeguarding lead)
  • Rolled out 1:1 iPad devices to YR 2-6 
  • Written Responsible usage policies for parents, students and staff
  • Put measures in place to safeguard staff using digital technology
  • Brought in systems to support digital literacy and wellbeing 
  • Created a digital literacy curriculum for prep school
  • Gained National Online Safety and GoBubble school status 
  • SMT roles, so now Digital Learning is recognised within Pre-prep, Prep and Senior areas of the school. 
  • Developing the Student Digital Leaders to be able to drive the student’s vision

I am a Teacher, a mother, a wife.  

I am experienced.

I am resilient 

I have passion

I have a vision

I am a leader. 

I am a Woman in Education.  Please do not label me. Please do not put me in a box. 

I am a Woman who Innovates, Integrates, and Educates gives a voice to all.  

Does my age matter? Does my gender matter? Does my choice have a family matter?

So what have I learnt, and what advice would I share? 

  • No one has the right to belittle you or your goals.  This is insecurity within themselves. 
  • If you are passionate and driven, embrace it, but always follow through.  You can be dynamic and driven in an interview, but if you do not follow it up, it is worthless. I have been criticised so often for being too passionate or excited, but I know even if it doesn’t seem realistic to some, it doesn’t mean you cannot achieve it. 
  • It was once noted that “even though Philippa is leaving, she is still driven and passionate about the school and her job”.  Never lower your expectations, raise people to your standards. 
  • If where you are and what you do does not make you happy, you have the power to change it. 

Wii_Edu supports Women in Education. Our vision is: To Collectively provide a forum that empowers women to pursue equitable leadership roles in their chosen specialisms for the benefit of their school and the people within it. 

*1- to add context, I had to keep expressing otherwise I couldn’t feed at the weekends, and I now know more about bottles, teats and feeding than anyone should due to the amount we had to try. Some babies will not bottle feed!

*2 – Before this, even those on free school meals had to bring in their food to cook, this caused issues for those who couldn’t afford it. To ensure that every child could take part and complete the curriculum, I developed a policy that saw every child have ingredients provided

*3 – We invited female STEAM leads from universities to deliver Q&A sessions and reached out to large and small local companies to inspire students to see opportunities for their future. Once even having someone who looked at the PH of soil.  

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Philippa Wraithmell

Educator K-12, Co-founder if Wii_Edu, BETT MEA Advisory Board Member, Apple Distinguished Educator, Apple Professional Learning Specialist. Education Technology Specialist. Working in the UAE.

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