Saturday, 17 August 2013

Blogging dichotomies

Audience and purpose

As an English teacher I've noticed the concept of audience and purpose in regards to written text change dramatically over recent years. Existing notions of public vs. private, functional vs. creative have blended together in a post-modern flurry of online social media communication. The fact that GCSE English Language papers are increasingly asking pupils to write a blog entry is a sign of the times: blogging has become a part of functional English.

Rather than snub this development, I embrace it: it's an exciting evolution of language in which millions of people are publishing their ruminations, expertise and rants live for the world to read, engage with and respond to. However, while I've been happy to digest others' blogs and encourage my pupils to write their own entries with zeal, humour and interest, it's been a field that I have been cautious to enter. As with other forms of social media, I'm happier tracing others' activities and thoughts rather than deigning to clutter cyber space with my own news feed.

Online narcissism 

For me, the whole process of blogging feels rather indulgent. 

As a mum of two small children with a demanding day job (and with a teething baby, night job too) carving out time to craft my musings seems like a wasted opportunity. The time could be better spent attacking my to-do list or the washing up, catching up on sleep or talking to my husband. Do all of those bloggers out there have the same commitments, responsibilities and sense of guilt? Does my attitude reveal a short-term ism that I encourage colleagues to resist? 

I'm also acutely aware of the risk of appearing self-absorbed and arrogant, assuming that the rest of the world wide web would somehow be interested in my ruminations and social commentary; concerned that faceless readers may judge my posts to be vacuous, cliched or unsubstantiated. What has made me so bothered about others' views?

Guilt versus confidence

While I like to believe that I am a strong-minded and confident leader, the art of blogging feels somehow too brash and assertive. The blogs that I follow are littered with bold opinions and unequivocal stances on education policy and practice. My colleagues would vouch that I am far from shy when expressing my views at work, I've also published books and journal articles packed with personal opinion, so I'm curious as to why the act of blogging makes me feel so vulnerable. 

I'm sure that my position as a woman and my role as a full-time working parent has influenced my hesitation. The current tussle between whether to postpone this entry in favour of tidying the toys strewn around me; the ongoing inner conflict around investing time and energy into better educating other peoples' children instead of spending more time with my own; the day to day balancing act, at home and at work, between humility and conviction, discipline and compassion. 

Ultimately, the contradictions and challenges are what have encouraged me to embark, albeit tentatively, on my own blog. Not because I'm cocky enough to presume that other educational leaders will necessarily enjoy or benefit from my potentially anodyne posts, but because the reasons that I find it hard to blog are the ones that mean that I should give it a go. 

Shaping leadership

Blogging gives the time and space to digest, formulate and make sense of thoughts and ideas. This time is precious but essential for educational leaders. With the tirade of strategies and directives and an abundance of fabulous ideas and networking opportunities it's easily to become saturated by others' views and opinions. To lose sight of what you think and stand for. Yes, this could be a private pursuit but who knows, my humble contributions could be of some interest to others... 

My own leadership style has been enriched by the differing views and experiences that I have been exposed to and benefited from during my career to date; strong men and women have shaped me as a leader. 

The title of my blog is inspired by recent influences and comments that have helped me to reflect on the kind of school leader I am, and aspire to be, and the values that I hold dear. To me, 'Hearts and Minds' sums up the substance of education. In context, this phrase was recently used by a colleague to justify the importance of staff buying into a whole school initiative. To me, the idiom goes beyond rhetoric. Education is about inspiring, enriching and caring for the whole school community - staff and pupils. Tapping into motivations, thoughts and feelings and nurturing intellect is an essential quality for all successful leaders. 

Fusing contradictory leadership styles

Fluffy and formidable are adjectives that colleagues at my current school have used to describe my leadership style. While 'fluffy' would be seen as a pejorative term by the Margaret Thatcher and Hilary Devey school of leadership, it's a label that I'm proud of. With a male heavy senior leadership team, my relentless focus on staff morale, collegiality and well being has earned me the affectionate epithet. 

I was allegedly described as 'formidable' by a highly regarded and much-respected colleague. I'm hoping that she used it in reference to my power and rigour; in the 'inspiring awe, admiration and wonder' sense, rather than in reference to my ability to arouse fear, dread or alarm. Either way, the choice of description and the chosen title of my blog indicates opposing yet complementary aspects of my role as a senior leader, and the potential tension in attempting to achieve my ambition. 

While others out there may dispute the existence of emotional intelligence, I would argue that it forms that basis of what good leaders do. The ability to to perceive, understand, harness and manage emotions while driving forward a relentless vision for improvement. This is likely to be a theme of my blog. With responsibility for professional development and a passion for high quality collaborative CPD, hearts, minds and a bit of 'fluff' will no doubt feature. 

So there... my first blog entry is complete (and longer than anticipated). The wife and mother in me regrets the time that could have been spent clearing small-child-debris; the leader in me is proud for having the confidence to dip my toe into the world of educational blogging.


  1. Excellent article. Thanks for this kind of article.
    Hearts and Minds

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