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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. So 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 in 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 mindset and support other woman, 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 was 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.

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

However, in term three of my PGCE, I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was so very lucky that my head teacher 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 still begin and join as soon as I could.  However, the news was less well taken by my mentor and staff at university, being told that I had ruined my career and I would never be taken seriously. 

After a complicated and almost fatal pregnancy, I had 3 months off before beginning my teaching career properly.  In the background my husband had just begun a new career as well. He has always been a co-parent with me, 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 main 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 in over my lunch breaks to give me 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 true 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 which show us how privileged we are to come from loving homes and backgrounds.  They needed me more than I needed sleep.   

Within 2 years I was given the opportunity to run my own 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 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 supplies in food technology to be able 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 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 bigger department?

So I decided to try and have another baby, as clearly, my life goals were laughable.  I had 6 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 the 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 to be 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 be able to give 101 reasons why that was a bad 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, We don’t even tell parents to come 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 attainment in his STEAM school if he didn’t care himself. 

It was at that point that I decided I wanted to be a head teacher.  When I left, I was made to have a meeting with him and one of the governors, to check I wasn’t leaving due to the incident at the open evening. To which 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, surely 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 incredible 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, 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 own digital skills 
  • Training departments 1:1 
  • Rolled out annually 1:1 devices 
  • Developed policies, integrating pastoral care
  • Worked with Safeguarding & SEN on 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 4 vertical learning experiences for the whole school
  • Writing blogs
  • Marketing the school and introducing twitter to staff for CPD as well 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 that 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 next year at the Apple Distinguished Educators conference, I made a decision, 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, I wanted to be able to keep progressing. 

However I get told a lot the following:

  • Your 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 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 for the next level. A new challenge which would give me official leadership, because although I know I worked with the whole school, there is an 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 different personalities and leadership qualities is vast in such a large school. 

The resilience which I have built over the years is so important, 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, 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 students vision

I am a Teacher, a mother, a wife.  

I am experienced.

I am resilient 

I have passion

I have vision

I am a leader. 

I am a Woman in Education.  Do not label me. 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 to 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 an insecurity within themselves. 
  • If you are passionate and driven, embrace it, but always follow through.  You can be passionate and driven in an interview but if you do not follow it up it is worthless. I have been criticised so many times 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 and 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 any one should due to the amount we had to try, some babies just will not bottle feed!

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