Sunday, 16 October 2016
A few days have passed since the second @WomenEd Unconference and I am sitting on a flight back to Naples, unable to just sit back and snooze before real life starts again. I have had a wonderful trip back ‘home’, seeing friends and family, wandering wistfully around places and cities I adore and catching up on everyone’s news. I never thought that I’d ever say that I found what I thought was my lost mojo in Reading, but I did. Honest.
On an autumnal Friday night, after a packed train journey full of people heading for the excitement of London, I arrived at the hotel and was very quickly greeted by others linked to WomenEd. There was that ‘thing’, which happened over the whole event, where the familiarity gained though communication on social media was suddenly thrown into the reality of not really knowing each other. I described it to a friend as ‘what online dating must feel like when you finally decide to get real’. What happened over the rest of the evening, several large G&Ts (thank you @MissWilsey) and a lot of chat and laughter was what encapsulates the spirit of the network. Egos were not present, everyone was themselves, quiet, loud, tired, hyper, shy, confident… We were all distant cousins who had come together at the annual family reunion, ready to share our stories, support each other and make plans for future get-togethers. Just without the tension or arguments (or maybe that’s just my family).
The day of the conference felt special from the start. I greeted friends old and new, a minibus full of much-missed colleagues from my last school and was approached by people who had read my writing or engaged with me on Twitter. My session, on authentic leadership pathways, was both a catharsis and a passing on of experience, advice and my thinking after what feels like a pretty long time in the profession. (It felt even longer when one of the participants realised that I had been her French teacher 17 years ago). As I was speaking and facilitating thought and discussion in the room, the most enormous sense of calm came over me. I had hit my groove again, I was enjoying every moment, the words came easily and those who shared their stories made my heart sing at what wonderful, interesting souls do this education thing.
Afterwards, some of those in the session took the time to find me and thank me, giving me the most generous feedback. I met people who I have helped with job applications via e-mail, making me beam with joy at their stories of success or increased confidence. I even had a blog post I’d written about job applications recommended by the wise and exceptionally supportive @jillberry and sat inspired hearing how she and @nataliehscott approached their writing, feeling the fear but doing it anyway.
If I could have bounced back to the train station, I would have done. This is what healthy, wholesome networks do for us as professionals and people (all of us, not only women). We share ourselves without pretension, we listen without judgement and we pass on the best of what we know to light up paths and ideas for others. We welcome, we laugh, we support. We find our identity and if we need to, we re-invent ourselves in the afterglow of empowering inspiration and get a steady push out of the starting blocks towards our next adventure through our lives and careers.
So, this woman, who arrived as a tired, anxious mum who had left her son and husband on distant shores, who was stressed after a fortnight of unintentional KS1 teaching (that is a whole other story), who constantly pines for being amongst wonderful educators and colleagues, who misses their particular sense of humour and collegiality, who worries that she has lost her place in the best profession in the world, this woman found her mojo again. In Reading.