My Daughter’s Summer of Memories – 2017

Two days ago Niamh sent her family an email summarising her Camp America summer. She had shared most of these experiences with me throughout our brief exchanges throughout the summer but reading her words was something else. I asked her if she wanted to guest on my blog site and she agreed. Names have been protected.

Here is the email:

“So, my time at camp Hidden Valley has come to an end today and I can’t tell you how much of an amazing experience it has been.

When they said summer camp would be one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do, they definitely weren’t wrong. It’s been very hard work due to being deprived of sleep constantly and dealing with sassy 11 year olds. It has been the greatest thing I have ever done despite that. The challenges have been so tough but I made it out and it really does give you a better outlook on life.

The kids from my camp were all underprivileged children from NYC, most of them had never left the city before. Coming to camp in the middle of nowhere was a big adjustment for some of them. As well as that, a lot of kids had disabilities and medical conditions as well as behavioural problems which made it even more difficult. But I made it through and really impacted some of my girls lives.

One girl from session two, ‘Brenda’, screamed my name and refused to get on the bus because I wasn’t on it when she left camp. It took the director half an hour to convince her to get on. She said I was the closest thing to a mum she had ever had because her mum had died when she was very young and grew up moving around various family members. She had a lot of behavioural problems and created a lot of problems in the cabin by winding other girls up but when someone screams your name whilst sobbing it really hit home how much I’d impacted that child.

Another girl, ‘Karen’, from the last session was one of my favourites out of all the campers. She was incredibly homesick for the entire 12 days and acted out because of it. She had a physical fight with one of the girls in the cabin where 3 of us counsellors couldn’t break them apart. It was terrifying and resulted in a hair braid being pulled out and the other girl being sent home!! I thought I’d broken my toe too!! She finally managed to open up to me and told me lots of stories about her life, once I’d shared some of mine. She told me that her best friend had died in her arms less than two months ago. She said it was something she had never told anybody else but she felt like she could trust me.  The fact she felt comfortable to tell me felt amazing!!!

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My greatest achievement of the summer was a little girl called ‘Melissa’. In the first few days of camp she was very quiet and we just thought she was ignoring us. We finally got her to talk and it was clear that she had some sort of hearing loss as her speech was very limited. On a night we have to ask the girls questions about their days and write them down for a record. When I did hers one night I asked her if she was deaf and she said yes. Her parents hadn’t told camp so nobody knew. She told me that her mum was also deaf, she went to New York school for the deaf and could sign and lip read.

After my conversation with her she went to write a note for the rest of the cabin because she now had the confidence to do so. After the note was handed around the cabin, ‘Melissa’s’ confidence grew instantly and it was all because I’d given her the confidence to tell people. I shared Isobel’s (my little sister) story with her and I think this helped. For our camp chant off I sat and wrote out all the lyrics with her so she knew exactly what we were singing, as before she didn’t have a clue what was being sung. We also changed one of our chants to include sign language which she stood up on a bench and taught to 35 other girls. This was amazing as two days before she wouldn’t even talk to the others.

The best part of this story was when my entire cabin of 12 girls had a sign language lesson with the director who can also sign. ‘Melissa’ gave us all sign names. The one she gave me meant ‘endearing’. I completely changed that girls camp experience and in that moment I was the proudest I have ever been of myself. I cried like a baby!!!!

Camp has been incredible and it’s very clear how easily we’ve affected the lives of the children. Something that they will remember forever and so will I. I’ve also learnt to never roll my eyes at mum again because I now know how irritating it is!!!!!

Travelling so far has been incredible. We’ve been to Washington, Miami, Orlando, Boston and now I’m back in NYC before I fly to Calgary, Canada tomorrow to see the Canadian side of the Donnachie family. I said goodbye to my best friend Caitlin today which was incredibly sad as we’ve been together constantly for the last two months. I have never been so close to someone before but I know she will be a friend for life! I’ll be having plenty of trips to Edinburgh to visit her.

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See you all very soon, I can’t wait to come home!!!

Lots of love,
Niamh”

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It goes without saying that I am one incredibly proud mum.

 

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Tough Decision Made with Love

On 28 October 2017 it will be 11 years since my husband and I made the decision to turn off all the machines that were keeping our beautiful baby boy Jack alive.

This was a decision we made with the support and guidance from medical professionals that we trusted. Jack had suffered a pulmonary bleed and he was becoming acidotic. We were called down to the neonatal unit 2 days after Jack and his twin sister Isobel had been born at 24 weeks and 5 days.

I was still on the ward recovering from a caesarean section and Ian had stayed with me at the hospital since I’d been admitted. We had a pull out bed in (thankfully) our own room.

The nurse asked us to go down to the unit as soon as possible. We anticipated a problem with Isobel as they had suspected that she might have meningitis and she had undergone a lumber puncture the day before.

Ian wheeled me down and we were asked to go into ‘the room’. Our fabulous consultant came to us to tell us the news about Jack. Words can’t describe the emotions one might feel being told your baby won’t survive but I remember him being very calm and explaining everything to us. I asked him if Jack was suffering and his response was ‘not yet’. No parent wants their baby to die, neither do they want their baby to suffer.

We asked our consultant what we should do. One of us asked ‘is he going to die?’. We got the response we didn’t want to hear. We were told that it was quite distressing to see a baby have a pulmonary bleed whilst on a ventilator. We knew what we needed to do. We didn’t want Jack to suffer and we trusted our consultant. We didn’t possess the medical knowledge ourselves so we had to rely on the experts who were with us.

We were asked if we wanted to be there when the ventilator was turned off or whether we wanted Jack to be brought to us without tubes to die in our arms. We went for the second option. I wanted to know if he would still be alive when they brought him to us, the answer was yes.

Jack was brought to us. He was without tubes and wires and we held him and loved him whilst he died in our arms. We knew the exact moment when he died, we just knew.

The recent coverage of the Charlie Gard case has stirred lots of emotions within me. Nobody wants their child to die. I agree; we would have given anything to take our 2 babies home. Neither did we want our baby to suffer and that’s why we made the decision we did. Is it better for our baby to die without suffering than to die whilst suffering? Crude as this question is, it was the one we were faced with and only us, as his parents could make that decision.

We didn’t have time to google or take alternative medical advice, we couldn’t risk the chance that Jack would suffer, be in distress or pain. We wanted to cherish the time we did have left with him to love him and hold him and to create some memories that would stay with us forever.

Doctors and nurses do an incredible job every single day but they also have to deal with life and death. They are not to blame. They don’t go to work every day to make wrong decisions. They are trained to provide expert medical care and advice and sometimes the words of advice we might receive aren’t the ones we want to hear.

I know that Jack didn’t suffer. I know that he died peacefully in the loving arms of his parents in private. He will never be forgotten and will always be loved. Time was short but we did make precious memories.

RIP Jack Slater
RIP Charlie Gard

Results Day – but not as I know it!

It’s over a year ago since I started my blog. I banged out my first blog post to vent my spleen after an appointment with my GP regarding Isobel.

I had asked for a referral to a neurologist as we suspected she had some memory issues that were affecting her progress in school. The doctor told me that maybe I should accept that Isobel would never be able to do some things.

We eventually got our referral to the neurologist & we were very much listened to at this appointment which resulted in a referral to a neuro psychologist for more testing.

Isobel was tested to the hilt during 3 appointments spanning a couple of months.

We were invited to an appointment to receive the results of the tests on GCSE results day 2016. This was the first time in my teaching career that I wasn’t in a school for results day. It felt quite strange but I knew that we would be receiving our own set of results today. Results that would inform Isobel’s future.

The psychologist had assigned an hour and a half to feedback the results to us. She had asked that Isobel wasn’t present at the appointment.

What we discovered was fascinating; some things we were surprised at, some things we weren’t.

We were incredibly impressed by the absolute professionalism of the psychologist. She was incredibly clever, very experienced & possessed excellent communication skills. She explained complex tests simply & drew us lots of charts & graphs to explain her findings.

Isobel was born at 24 weeks. Many people thought she had no chance of survival so what would the future hold for Isobel?

After several surgeries (bowel x 2, heart, eyes) over 24 blood transfusions & 5 months in the neonatal unit, Isobel came home to a loving family & a future we couldn’t be sure of until she did or didn’t reach certain developmental milestones.

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Nine years later we sat across the table from a highly regarded health professional to be told that our daughter was ‘exceptional’. The psychologist had shared Isobel’s test results with other colleagues who were all amazed with the results. She was within the normal range for most tests which is pretty amazing for a 24 weeker (apparently).

To be told that your child is ‘exceptional’ was one of the proudest moments in my life. I am so proud of her but also so proud of us and our family who have dedicated so much to ensure she gets the best experiences possible.

I was so right to push for a referral because we now have access to information that will help us even more to help Isobel, especially at school. She has some memory issues and she displays several autistic traits (which we have suspected for a while), she will always struggle with maths but she also has many strengths.

We are waiting for our autism assessment but in the meantime we have introduced new things to help and support her.

The psychologist we felt was a bit surprised by our reaction to her diagnosis until we explained that on many occasions we had been told Isobel might not make it through the next hour or day. When you have faced the imminent death of your child several times, a potential diagnosis of autism is just another piece of information that we can use to make her life the best it can be.

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A big thank you to Sheffield Children’s Hospital Neurology Team.

The Glass Floor

There has been quite a bit in the news over the summer holiday about the ‘glass floor’ which mainly relates to less academic children from middle class homes doing better than brighter children from more deprived backgrounds. See BBC article:

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-33655791

This got me thinking as we have recently had an appointment with a neurologist regarding Isobel. My first blog was written after being gob smacked with the comments made to me from a GP regarding Isobel’s academic progress and her disbelief when I asked for a referral to a neurologist so that we could maybe find out more information that might help us to do the best we can to support Isobel.

We waited a few months for the appointment to come through and we went to the hospital the day before we finished for the summer holidays. We didn’t just see 1 but 2 pediatric neurologists and it was a sheer delight being in their company for the 11/2 hr consultation.

We had taken a print out of her medical history as it always saves quite a lot of time and this organisation obviously has the neurologist form an immediate impression of us. It was great to be able to converse with professionals who instantly understood our issues and also understood that we were intelligent enough to understand what the specialists had to say.

We were asked what we wanted to get from the consultation and we explained that we simply wanted to gather information to help us to support Isobel in the best way that we could to ensure that she was able to reach her potential physically.socially and academically.

Our biggest concern was that we had started to observe some memory issues with Isobel and we wanted to explore stategies to support her. We already know that she has part of her brain that was damaged as a result of her prematurity (PVL) and we wondered if this was impacting on her in some way.

The neurologist then surprised us by telling us that we had to park everything that had happened in the past and to deal with the now. She told us that as intelligent parents, we were trying to make links and to find answers on our own. She told us to stop!

I must admit that she sorted me out and I had a huge amount of respect for her in doing so. She was right. We needed to simply deal with the current.

She then gave Isobel a very thorough physical examination and she immediately ruled out ADHD and autism (although she did say that everyone could be on the spectrum at any point in their lives!). She then proceeded to tell us that Isobel was doing very well, in fact, much better than you would have expected. This is very pleasing to hear but we also craved more information and guidance on how we could continue to support her.

She told us that Isobel had done so well because of us. Because we had pushed her and pushed for support and help and that we weren’t prepared to just sit back and just see what happened. We had elevated our daughter to a higher place than maybe one would expect.

Can you now see the link to the glass floor?

Of course, you would expect that all parents would do the same for their child. In reality, this does not happen. We are fortunate that we can afford to pay for 1:1 riding lessons via Riding for the Disabled which from the age of 2 she had as it helped her tremendously in developing her core muscles, balance and coordination. But we also took her on walks where she would have to navigate uneven surfaces; this is free and accessible to all.

As well educated parents we did our research and we weren’t prepared to settle for second best. More importantly, we were prepared to ask and at times demand support. We were not going to be fobbed off by professionals who simply told us ‘ you’re lucky’. There is nothing ‘lucky’ about your babies being born at 24 weeks; there is nothing ‘lucky’ about holding your beautiful; son in your arms whilst he died and there is nothing ‘lucky’ about your daughter spending 5 months in hospital and undergoing countless life saving operations whilst your eldest daughter is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes!

So I’m done with ‘lucky’. We have worked so hard to maintain as normal a family life as we can despite what we have gone through. Ian gave up work so that we could invest in the care that both Isobel and Niamh needed. We love our children and simply want the best for them irrespective of their starting points.

So if this means that they both have a glass floor then so be it. I am proud of what we have achieved as a family (& I include our extended family in this as without their support well …).

What does concern me is the missed potential of those children like Isobel who don’t have parents who will push and demand as much as we do. If we can achieve what we have then so can others – that is the challenge!

Flying Solo : Independence Day

My 17 year old daughter (Niamh) was feeling a little left out with my blog writing as most of it so far has focused on her little sister. So I told her that my next blog would make reference to her. This seemed to hit the button as long as I didn’t post any photos, well, without approval from her first.

Several people have already wished me good luck – writing about a 17 yr old could prove very interesting!

Here we go ….

At 5am this morning, Niamh and Ian left the apartment in Spain to travel to Gerona airport. Niamh had endured 10 days with her family (which is quite good going for a 17 yr old) and was flying home on her own. If I am being absolutely truthful, she should have flown home on Thursday but for some bizarre reason we all had Saturday in our heads and as a result of this family error, it wasn’t until Friday that we realised our mistake. (Note how I use the word ‘our’ – no blame has been directed at any one person).

NIamh was devastated until she realised that we had already secured another flight for Saturday morning. Panic over, she could fly home to be with her friends after all.

On Saturday morning she woke up at 4.30am, showered and was ready to go at 5am as planned. Ian woke at 4.55am and was ready to go at 5am. I hadn’t slept so I was already awake!

I carried out all the checks like a good mother would – passport, boarding pass, money, phone, insulin, doctors letter, instructions on when to text us etc. All of this was greeted with a good level of tolerance.

Niamh was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 8 and is insulin dependent. Her insulin is delivered into her body by an insulin pump via a canula which is located either on her stomach or bottom. Her blood glucose monitor is connected to her pump via blue tooth. Neither of these devises can go through an x ray machine so we sometimes have a small delay going through security. This coupled with the fact that she carries needles and insulin can at times be quite entertaining.

I get fiercely protective at airport security and this really does irritate Niamh. Now, imagine all of this and add to the mix that your first born child is travelling on her own. This probably starts to explain why I couldn’t sleep.

So at the age of 17, my daughter with Type 1 diabetes who is carrying liquids and syringes is flying solo and is very chilled about it. She agreed to text me once she had gone through security as she knows that will help me in some way! This is the text she sent:

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I was initially relieved that she hadn’t encountered any issues but then I started to think how incredibly impressed and proud I am of her. She had communicated in Spanish to explain what her devices were (she is studying A level Spanish), and then the realisation hit me.

She is no longer a child but a young woman who is fiercely independent and is far more confident than I give her credit for. In 9 months time she will be 18. My first born is no longer a child who depends on her mum but an adult who is keen to get out there and explore the world. She aspires to study Biomedical Sciences at University and wishes to spend a year abroad, she has a part time job in Boots, a great group of friends and is learning to drive. She studies hard and has been a model child from birth really (apart from the odd mood now and then and an untidy bedroom), and is more than happy to fly independently! How many adults have done this I began to ask myself? My 70 yr old mum can’t comprehend it as she has never done it herself and she thinks it’s a really brave thing to do.

So, where does this blog go now?

I have realised that I have to come to terms with the fact that my first born has grown up and she doesn’t need me as much as she used to because she is an independent young woman who knows her own mind and has proved what a wonderful person she is.

She has coped with being diagnosed with a life time medical condition which can be life threatening; she has coped with the divorce of her parents at the age of 2 and all that brings with it; she has coped with the premature birth of her twin brother & sister; she has coped with the death of her much longed for brother; she has coped with her sister spending 5 months in hospital and the havoc this impacted on all our lives; she has coped with forming a loving relationship with Ian who has brought her up since the age of 3; she has coped with studying extra GCSEs just for the challenge and she has coped with the transition to A levels and has already worked out what income she needs at university.

In 2 weeks time she will get her AS results and she is coping with that. I am not allowed to go with her but she knows that one of the first things she will do is to ring me because irrespective of how independent she is; I am and always will be her very proud mum who loves her ‘this much, this much and a little bit more’.

I promised not to add any photos without permission but she asked me to send her this picture which was taken on her last night in Spain before she flew solo, so I am assuming that she likes it!

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I am now going to text her to let her know that the blog has been published. I will update the blog if she requires any changes to be made.

“Mummy I heard every word!”

Isobel has a bilateral hearing loss and as a result she wears hearing aids in both ears. Her hearing loss is classed as severe to moderate but fluctuates significantly throughout the day, week, year!

As you can imagine, if you suffer from any type of hearing loss you miss things and can feel quite isolated or excluded from everyday occurrences such as group conversations etc.

Imagine, therefore, how much learning is lost in any one day; then scale that up to 8 years worth!

Isobel’s hearing loss was diagnosed at the age of 4. We did wonder whether she had some kind of loss but she had passed her hearing test as a baby (she failed the newborn test but they put this down to the fact that she was on oxygen!). We did all the tests that parents do; talking to her from another room; hand covering mouth etc to test her hearing but were told by specialists that her speech was developing nicely so no need to worry.

When Isobel started nursery the staff were concerned that she didn’t interact with children as much as she did with adults. They quickly observed that when Isobel was playing alongside children she didn’t join in the conversations and suspected a hearing loss. Her interactions with adults were not a cause for concern because adults talk to children face to face. Isobel had learnt to lip read!

We arranged a hearing test which she failed and was also diagnosed with glue ear. Another diagnosis for us to digest and add to the pages of medical conditions that our daughter had.

We moved quickly to have her glue ear operated on and she had grommets fitted in both ears. On our way home from the hospital she was sat in the back of the car and asked ‘What is that noise?’ Ian and I tried to work out what ‘noise’ she was referring to. By a process of elimination and playing around with volume controls etc we realised she was referring to the heating fan. It was only set at a low level but she had heard it. We all laughed and were amazed how quickly her hearing had improved.

Whilst her hearing improved immediately after the op, it still wasn’t at an adequate level so she had her hearing aids fitted and has worn them ever since. She does continue to have issues with certain sounds which leads me onto the recent developments.

We asked if Isobel would benefit from a radio mic in school as we know that she misses a considerable amount of ‘talk’ that occurs in any situation. When she sings in the school choir she stands sideways so that she can lip read the children next to her. It enables her to keep up if and check she is in the right place (this is a strategy that she has developed herself and is quite interesting to see).

Back to the radio mic. Our new teacher of the deaf (let’s call him Ivan) is great and has got things moving quickly. A quick email to me asking permission to visit Isobel in school and start the trial. Two days later Isobel was more than happy with the impact.

When I got in from work one evening she greeted me in an excited way (no, this does not happen every evening, especially if food is involved or something exciting is on the TV. On these occasions I may get a quick wave and ‘hello’).

“Mummy. mummy, we had assembly today, it was a special one because Father Tim is leaving and Mr Willis (headteacher) did a special assembly and mummy I heard every word.”

I was delighted with the success and delighted because she was delighted and delighted that Father Tim had had such a special assembly. What I wasn’t delighted about was the fact that my daughter is 8 years old and hasn’t previously heard every word. I wasn’t delighted that she has got to Year 3 without ever having trialed a radio mike before and I wasn’t delighted that she has missed out on so much so far.

However, I am an optimist and now that we know it works for Isobel then things can only improve for her.

On Thursday evening we were invited to a performance by the choir. Isobel loves singing and she sings from the moment she wakes up until she goes to sleep. For a child with a hearing impairment, she has a very tuneful voice!

In between songs the teacher asked the children to comment on what they enjoyed about choir. They were invited to stand up and share their thoughts with the audience. Several of the older children spoke first and talked about their favourite songs and winning competitions. We saw Isobel’s hand go up and immediately thought ‘oh my goodness what will she say’ (she frequently complains that the choir lady shouts too much).

Isobel stood up to address her audience and said in a big, loud voice:

“I sing because it makes me happy”.

Isobel makes us very happy!

My next blog will feature my 17 year old daughter Niamh as she is feeling a bit left out of the blogs! No photos though and she has to QA everything before it goes live. Watch this space!

Losing track of ‘normal’ whatever ‘normal’ is

I have blogged previously about my daughter Isobel who is now 8 years old. Born at 24 weeks meant that we would always be uncertain as to what the future might look like for her. We were told in the neonatal unit that nobody could predict what Isobel could or couldn’t do until she could or couldn’t do it.

At the time, as parents who had already had to cope with the death of her twin brother Jack at 2 days; we were just happy that she was still alive and we just wanted her to live.

We have worked really hard as parents and as a family to ensure that we give Isobel all the support she needs in order to lead a ‘normal’ life and to be accepted and included. This involved her horse riding from the age of 2 years (it’s great for developing core muscles and balance), learning to walk on uneven surfaces, pushing for classes so that she can learn to ride a bike, demanding a statutory assessment from the Local Authority whilst still at nursery.

We listened to and acted on the advice from the medical teams we worked with and we also did our own research. We encourage her to try everything and she has developed into a strong willed, tenacious, lively and energetic child with an incredible sense of humour who loves performing in front of any audience!

So now to the reason for the title of this blog. We were asked by Isobel’s Occupational Therapist (OT) if we would be happy for Isobel to be involved in a training session for physios and OTs at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. They had secured training from a specialist from the Bobath Centre in London that specialises in supporting children with cerebral palsy and they needed patients to demonstrate their techniques and ways of working.

Since Isobel was born we made a decision that whatever we could do to support medical research we would do; it makes us feel as if we are giving something back for all the care she has received.

There were over 20 professionals observing the session. I think we were more surprised than Isobel. She simply said ‘hello’ and proceeded to charm her audience with her confidence. What we saw that afternoon, really made us look at our daughter in a different light.

The Bobath specialist (let’s call her Liz) asked Isobel to do some simple movements like lying on the floor and then asking her to get up again. She asked her to repeat this several times. She then questioned the audience. ‘What did you observe?’ The answer was that Isobel’s movements every time were identical. She got up and lay down in exactly the same way every time. Liz then asked Isobel to get up again but in a different way. Isobel couldn’t do this. Ian and I were amazed and we then started to really observe our daughter’s movements.

It became quickly apparent to us that Isobel’s movements were not natural or ‘normal’ and we started to question why we seemed to be realising this for the first time. Her body had learnt to compensate; she has learnt how to move in certain ways in order to achieve ‘normal’.

We accept Isobel for who she is and what she can do, however, this session that lasted for just over an hour has made us question what more can we do for her and how much more support is out there for her that we don’t yet know about?

We had lost track of what normal movements are. Isobel’s spasticity especially in her legs was much more evident especially when Liz limited the way that Isobel could do things. We learnt that Isobel uses her toes, as claws, to grip the floor so that she doesn’t lose balance and when asked to not apply as much pressure to a balloon that she was holding, she responded by holding it with her finger tips instead.

We know she has issues with her balance but Isobel disguises this on a daily basis because she has developed strategies in order to compensate for it. I was in awe of what the human body can achieve and I was also in awe of the resilience that my 8 year old daughter demonstrates to us on a daily basis. She has to work constantly to keep her body still, she has to learn every new environment that she moves into, especially those with uneven surfaces. In other words, her body works continuously to try and present itself as ‘normal’.

Her conditions are so complicated and some of her difficulties so subtle that even after 8 years we are still learning and discovering new ways to support her. Our frustrations come when other people write her off without even giving her a chance. This is unacceptable and I simply will not tolerate it. So now I question and challenge people more. Whether they be a doctor, a teacher or a member of the public. Isobel has a right to be totally included in society and treated equally.

We have a lot to learn from this extraordinary 8 year old who has trained her own body to appear ‘normal’. She is certainly not normal, she is way beyond normal in every respect and we love her for it. She is so much better than ‘normal’.

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Unlocking Potential – Preventing the Loss of Leaders

On Thursday I delivered my third session to delegates who are on my ‘Unlocking Potential Programme’. This programme is aimed at supporting women into senior leadership positions in schools and I was fortunate to bid for funding from DfE to support the programme.

The cohort is, as you would imagine, all female and 20 in number. These women are strong, resilient, articulate, well organised, committed, passionate, caring, professional, inspiring …. I could go on and on. However, they are incredibly self-critical and by their own admission lack confidence at times and deal with a lot of guilt (mainly related to juggling family & work commitments).

I absolutely get it. I too have experienced all these emotions and feelings and I wish I had some magic answer but I just don’t.

I think and question why women behave in the ways that they do sometimes (I know I am making some generalisations but just go with it for now). Is it a Venus and Mars thing? Are men and women just programmed or wired differently? Do we still have a society that judges working mums or not? Is there a glass ceiling? Why do we talk so much about the need to support and promote women and not men? If you promote equality and diversity issues are you getting on your soap box?

All the above questions have been asked of me at some point or another throughout my career.

The session on Thursday focussed on negotiation. They had been asked to prepare a pitch which they would deliver to their peers and it would be filmed for their own use.

When the delegates starting arriving there was a nervousness in the air and they were talking to each other about how the pitch might go. We recapped the process and split into 3s so that someone could record feedback, another would film and the 3rd would deliver their pitch.

It was a truly amazing session. They were asked to record their immediate reflections once they had finished their pitch and the overwhelming response was ‘relief’. However, we went on to explore how this group of women now feel more empowered and we unpicked some of the issues that they faced before the programme started.

Several delegates didn’t expect us to get to the personal stuff that women face so early on (we covered this in the first session), some were initially put off by the fact that it was an all-female group. Several delegates have already secured promoted posts and some have tackled some issues related to pay that had been niggling them for a while and got a positive result! Many talked about self-belief and they all kept coming back to the word ‘empowered’. One delegate said that she felt she could take on the world in a terrier like fashion. She was animated, excited, passionate, and had been reinvigorated.

How did I feel?

I felt emotional and I filled up several times during the evening. This was absolutely the right thing to do. The programme is successful and I need to do more. If this group of women can change how they feel about their careers or reaffirm how they feel in a couple of months then imagine how much more I can do for more women.

There has certainly been a lot of interest in the programme. Lots of colleagues have said to me that they wished they had signed up and felt a tad disappointed that they are missing out. Male colleagues have been asking what has been going on and some have asked for the same session on negotiation to improve their own skills.

What these women have now formed is a network and they will now become ambassadors for other women in the workplace. This is only the start. We still have a long journey ahead of us but at least we have started.

Maths Hub and advice on x tables

Last week saw the official launch of our Maths Hub. Although we have been very active with the Maths Hub for several months we decided that our ‘official’ launch would be a few months in so that we could share some impact on our projects.

Over 100 delegates attended the event along with colleagues from DfE and NCETM. Never before have I seen so many maths specialists in one room. After the introduction and key notes from Sir Michael Wilkins, Debbie Morgan (NCTEM) and Kathryn Greenhalgh (Specialist maths lead), Diane Heritage facilitated a session with delegates, followed by a workplace event which showcased the work of all our projects from across the region.

I learnt a lot! A lot of what was shared relating to Shanghai style maths seemed a lot like common sense. Why move the learning on if children have not learnt the basics. Apparently in Shanghai, they spend the equivalent of half a year learning their times tables. For those of you who read my first blog – I think I did pretty well there don’t you?

Debbie Morgan shared with us one of the observations she carried out on a Shanghai maths teacher. The lesson started with the teacher showing a map of the world and asking the class if they could point out where Shanghai was. She asked the question – if the world is the whole, what is Shanghai? The answer you say is – if the world is the whole then Shanghai is a part of the world. You can see where this is going now can’t you? Yes, this lesson would eventually progress into fractions. I say eventually because this concept was built up gradually so that all children understood the difference between the whole and the part.

I learnt so many things during the day and when I summed up at the end I shared my story about Isobel and her 2 x table. I shared with the delegates that I was feeling a range of emotions: excitement for what wonderful maths teaching was going on in schools and the impact this would have on children; anger because this should be an entitlement for all children and the children whose schools are not engaging in the Maths Hub work are missing out big time. This includes my own daughter.

I learnt other ways of teaching the x tables that day and I told my audience that my next step was to move onto 3s. At this point a voice from the audience informed me that I needed to do 4s first. When I asked why the response was simple; you can start to make links between 2s and 4s. I was grateful for my specialists pointing me in the right direction.

Isobel is now confident with her 2 x tables and I continue to be delighted with her progress. Even better though is that she is too!