Why I don’t want women to become ‘equal to men’

This is concise and challenging and quite brilliant.

Written by Jessica Eaton

04 August 2018

We need to stop saying that women want to be equal to men – or that we are striving for women to be seen as the ‘same as men in society’.

After many a frustrating conversation with people who have somehow managed to mix up egalitarianism, equalism and feminism, this blog feels timely.

There’s only so many times we should have to explain that feminism is NOT a movement to make women equal to men. Feminism undoubtedly means different things to different people, but can we stop watering it down now? The dumbing down of feminism has gone too far in the third wave. I have heard feminism defined as everything from ‘the belief that all people are equal’ to ‘feminists believe that women should be the same as men in society.’ What? Nah.

Feminism is not ‘for the equality of all people’…

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A Coaching Journey

Some time ago (I had thought it was about 18 months, but no – where does time go!?) I read this blog about coaching rather than judgement as a part of Performance Management. I was convinced it was the way forward, for many reasons, but especially in reclaiming teacher empowerment and dignity and I wanted to give it a go. Initially, mainly because I didn’t do my research beforehand, our HT felt it wouldn’t, at the time, work in our context and, in in some respects (which I won’t go into here), I could see where he was coming from! So the matter was dropped for a while because we were busy trying to create a new assessment framework for our students (SEN) – and there were challenges enough with that! However, once we had created our bespoke framework , after we had put it together and ironed it all out, a few things happened that made me want to return to the coaching model for PM.

Firstly, I was given the T&L lead role and was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the tick box method of staff evaluation. I began to think that we had shown real initiative with our assessment model and I thought that if we had been able to do this for our students then why couldn’t we also create a bespoke assessment system for our staff. Why couldn’t we just ditch the PM model of judgemental observations once a year, and create something worthwhile – investing in our staff as much as we invest in our students. This was obviously made much easier once Ofsted dropped their grading system, giving us the freedom then to move away and develop something that we, as teachers, felt we needed.

Secondly, the coaching model was becoming ‘a thing’ * and there was suddenly lots being written about how this could work. We had already explored the possibility of creating a 360º Performance Management system whereby line managers could be assessed on their performance by those they managed, creating a feedback loop that would be supportive and inclusive, whilst still being robust (we are not hierarchical at all at my school and this enables us to be more reflective and supportive of each other). We had also discussed the benefits of confidential ‘Skip-Level Meetings’ so that staff would always feel listened to by SLT – and would be able to express concerns about the way they were being managed. This led me to think that the time was right to introduce the coaching model again – and this time (probably because I explained it more coherently) our HT and SLT were able to see how the model could work for us.

The first step was to get staff on-side and so I sent out a questionnaire which was mainly designed to get them to naturally outline the problems with judgemental observations and lead them to the conclusion that they didn’t work – which they did. Questions and summary answers here. They could then see how their responses led us to the expected next step of a coaching model of observations and PM. From there I thought about which staff to try and entice onto the programme as ‘test cases’. I didn’t want the process to be seen as applying only to staff who might need ‘help’ and I was fortunate enough to gain the confidence of three members of our team who were very different teachers and who were perceived as having very different strengths and from different subject areas. One of them has always been thought of as an outstanding practitioner and together we made it known that all teachers should be expected to make improvements as part of their own professional development – no one is ever at the stage of knowing it all! This seemed to work well and staff were then curious as to how the coaching model would develop over time.

The next step was to ask for volunteers to be a part of a core coaching group who would work with me to assess the work I’d done and offer suggestions and critique of how we would ensure this worked well for all of us. I had already been on a two day coaching development course and a colleague and I then attended a session with @RossMcGill in Manchester. This showed us how the model could translate and it also gave me reassurance that I was on the right lines in beginning slowly in the first year and then rolling it out fully in Years 2 and 3. I’d definitely recommend the course to anyone who is trying to develop the model – Ross provides all kinds of information to enable you to persuade your SLT! The only thing I felt Ross’ training needed was a 2 day session – we enjoyed it so much and it was chock-full of information! My initial development plan is here. This has changed substantially as we have moved forward and I’ll outline that in the second blog in this series.

In the meantime, we have been working on the robustness of our model and I’m including our Coaching Journal here – our focus at the moment is student voice and how we conduct work scrutiny and walk through – how we ensure that the model is workable and staff are still accountable, so some of this will change. I now see the development process as here [initial draft] and again, this is an on-going discussion, but I think it offers a better structure than the initial development plan.

The good news is that all our managers have agreed to be initiated into the coaching model during term 3 and they will be trained, for the most part, by young teachers, relatively newly trained teachers and even one TA. I truly want this to be a holistic model that works with our non-hierarchical structure. After a core group coaching session this past Friday, I (being coached as a volunteer) realised that the main flaw in the plan was how we continue to develop the core group – this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, so it’s important that they continue to develop this model and develop their own skills to support the roll out at the end of this academic year – I’m pretty sure our ‘youngsters’ feel a bit intimidated by having to ‘develop’ their senior leaders. But they’re up for it – and up to it!

We’ve even got the support team/office on board and by the time September dawns, I’m hoping we have a truly bespoke coaching model that will enable and empower all of our staff in working cohesively as we support and develop each other’s potential.

 

* This ‘thing’ is the work of so many great practitioners whose work I’ve read and am piggy-backing on! Please forgive me if I have over-looked your input I’ve tried to note where I got inspiration from – if inspiration can be a ‘thing’!

 

#MeToo and the curriculum

This week, at about 4am, I had an epiphany (of sorts). This is always a bad idea at 4am because by the time I’m ready to go back to sleep (after I’ve convinced the boss my idea is worthwhile, planned CPD and established a working party), it’s time to get up! Like many teachers, once I’m awake my head is full of work and things to do and I struggle to let go until I’ve thrashed out all kinds of nonsense and long-dead (or should be!) situations and conversations.

For many reasons (best left alone here) I have followed with a kind of detached, unsurprised interest the sexual exposés of a growing number of men in the public eye. The #MeToo campaign on Twitter was of personal interest to me because about ten years ago I found myself in an on-line discussion wherein at least 80% of the women claimed to have been sexually assaulted in some way – from being groped on a train, on a night out to having been raped at some stage in their lives. 80%! I found myself wondering how that would translate in ‘real life’ and so I began broaching the subject, carefully, with ‘real life’ women of my acquaintance – and the numbers were about the same. One of the main surprises was that many women my age had not considered their experiences as sexual assault – it just happened and they often blamed themselves – they were either drunk, or in a dark street late at night, or it was a drunken uncle or step-father and they didn’t want to cause trouble in the family.  At this point I would say – yes I know it happens to men, but this is about women – if you feel you need to say ‘this happens to men as well’ please feel free to write a blog about it. Similarly, yes, I know it’s not all men.

So, moving on from this I should give you some information about my situation. I lead on T&L in an non-maintained, special school for boys, many with high functioning autism – although they present with some other issues as well, such as behaviour, dyspraxia and dyslexia etc. Our boys struggle profoundly with social mores. For the most part they take things very literally and they often misjudge interactions unless discussions are clear and unambiguous. This can all be somewhat annoying/a minefield when these misjudgments are related to women and sometimes, it can be damned scary if you’re the woman receiving unwanted attention (this is obviously not just limited to men with autism, btw!). Boys with autism can find rejection confusing, distressing and they find it very difficult to cope as mainly they lack the depth of perception or the emotional wherewithal necessary to negotiate interactions. Especially with the opposite sex.

One boy had his entire holiday ruined [and that of his family] when a young woman on a plane, who had smiled at him, did not phone him [as he expected her to] after he gave her his phone number. Another, when moving on to college, was unable to cope with the mixed messages he felt he was getting from a female student and he is now having to be taught separately and was accused of stalking. A third student became most upset and anxious when he had to be disabused of the mis-perception that a waitress would appreciate the many Christmas gifts he had bought her, again, seeing an interest that wasn’t there.

But none of this is as simple as being just autism related, the #MeToo and the difficulties with boundaries are also evidenced by ‘normal’ men – if they have problems discriminating between flirting and friendliness, what chance do our boys have!

So, here’s the thing: I have been working with my Y8 students regarding the range of cultural influences brought by immigration to the British Isles over time. They have researched and presented information to the class about how we have most benefited as a nation (Roman roads, sanitation, government etc). I was looking at the next stage of my planning and we will be reading texts which are supposed to epitomise our culture: Keats, Blake, Tennyson, Shakespeare. As I was looking at the list I’d chosen I found myself asking, ‘where are the women in this history of our British Isles – where are the female 19thC poets?’ I then wondered about the curriculum as a whole: How many women are referenced in Science, in History, in Art, in PSHE, in PE, in Computing or DT? What about MFL or Music – and so on. Are they ever noted or highlighted for their contributions? Why not? And, more importantly, if we don’t highlight the fact that there were many discoveries made by female scientists, many of whom had their work dismissed and appropriated by their male bosses, who will highlight it? What message are we sending to our boys when we allow them, albeit subliminally, to see women as merely appendages, or commodities? Or Daily Mail sidebar fodder?

Instead, what about the Hidden Figures at NASA? The female codebreakers at Bletchley Park? The female spies in wartime? The female poets though time whose work was attributed to ‘Anon’? Would this information not give our boys a fuller, richer, healthier image of women?

This is my task now, and it starts with me: how can I make sure I present a fuller history of women’s contributions in my subject and how can I encourage my (mostly male) colleagues to ‘buy in’ to this project.

This is my ‘project’ – I hope it makes sense (that’s how a woman tends to introduce an idea – I hope it’s ok, I hope you don’t mind, does that make sense? As an ex student noted, I’m not a fully fledged FeminNazi – yet! But I may embrace it in time).

Please bear with me – and, having followed so many of you on Twitter for so many years, I would really appreciate your input!