I hadn’t been intending to blog about this comment that was made to me yesterday but I feel it may be cathartic to get it off my chest!
On my absolutely brilliant middle leaders course yesterday (I do have positive things to blog about which I will do later), we were instructed to work in a triad with colleagues who we had not spoken to yet. I found myself working with two older colleagues, one from a secondary and one from a primary. The aim of the task was to coach one another to solve a current problem that we were facing. I was prepared to listen carefully and take the opportunity to work on my coaching skills by asking questions when needed.
My first surprise was that on being given the ‘go’ signal, they both turned straight to me and waited to hear my problem. At the time, I didn’t think much of it as someone would have to start, but in hindsight, did they turn to me first because they had assumed that I would have a problem, as I am young? Nevertheless, I stated my problem and eagerly awaited the challenging coaching questions, so that I could solve my problem. Instead, I was given lots and lots of advice which started with ‘in my experience,’ ‘if I was in your situation,’ and so on. I fully appreciate that these colleagues have had more experience than myself and I always tap into knowledge from my older colleagues at school, but I had been looking forward to finding out the answers for myself! I chalked that session down to our inexperience with coaching and vowed to perform better for my next colleague.
Over the next two triads, I was surprised to find myself almost blocked out of the conversation as my colleagues had conversations between themselves. I had to fight to make myself heard and give an opinion, so all thoughts of good coaching went right out of the window! Any opinions that I did manage to give were either a) talked over the end of or b) dismissed. I found myself repeating the same things (and I know they were valid because they had worked in my setting) only to then have my idea rephrased and eagerly lapped up! I cannot bear it when things like this happen and I always try to give credit where it’s due if I am in a similar situation.
Finally, there were two more incidents that really topped it off! One of the colleagues’ problem involved supporting a new colleague in her setting. Within the conversation it transpired that this colleague was young. The other colleague then assumed ‘oh I bet he’s one of those who has gone straight from school to college to university and back to school – no wonder he’s not very good’. This is the exact route I had taken and I wish I had challenged her thought process behind that comment. I was shocked that she seemed to believe that this route into teaching would make you a poor teacher and that his lack of ‘life experience’ contributed to that. I have always wanted to be a teacher – why would I have spent money on a degree and 5-10 years in a career I was not interested in, just to gain life experience so that I could become a ‘better’ teacher?
Anyway, it actually turned out that he had had a previous career so unfortunately his ‘lack of life experience’ could not be the reason that he was struggling. We continued to discuss ideas that the colleague could use to support him and along the way, a comment just popped out, as a reply to one of my contributions.
‘But you are young though…’
Does this make my opinion any less valid? Does this make my ideas any less imaginative? Does this make me any less successful? I could not believe that I was battling against this kind of response on a professional course.
Admittedly, I probably was one of the youngest people in the room. But I don’t feel that that makes me any less of a leader. If I was not demonstrating the qualities needed to be a leader, my head teacher would not have allowed me to attend the course. If I was not demonstrating the qualities needed to be a leader, I would not be entrusted with leadership tasks.
As a fellow ‘young’ leader said to me – ‘you make your own fast track.’ and I firmly believe that. I push myself because I want to achieve my best and learn more. There might be times in the future where I will consider my next move and wonder ‘am I experienced enough for this?’ and if the answer is no then I will take the steps needed to make myself more experienced in the areas I am lacking. But at this moment in my career, I do not feel that this applies. So to have others dismiss me through age….well let’s say it riled me!
However, my inner optimist has turned this into a valuable experience. This experience has taught me that there will always be colleagues who frown upon the ambitious young upstarts. My job is to prove to them that I am capable of leading and will get positive results through my leadership. My job is to remain professional and treat everyone with respect regardless of their treatment of me. My job is to continue to identify areas of expertise from all my colleagues (old or young) and create a fantastic team where everyone is equally supported.
This experience has also re-identified my main area of weakness; confrontation. Why did I not stop the triad activity at the point that I started feeling uncomfortable and reassert myself/question their behaviour? Why did I not challenge the thought processes behind poor teaching and lack of life experience being linked? I don’t do this because I don’t enjoy the awkward moments that will follow – but as a leader, I must overcome this! Lots of practice is needed in this area and, in a way, it is actually the part that I am most looking forward to!
Next time I come across these prehistoric ideas, I will be prepared and ready to show that I am more than capable of being a good leader, regardless of my ‘youth’! There will be more positive blogs to follow, I promise!