Inspired by: Women of the future

Back in 1986, when Whitney Houston sang about children being our future, I paid little attention. It was the year I turned 17 and I was busy casting off the shackles of childhood. As far as I was concerned, the future was all about me and what I was going to be in it.

It took thirty years and the words of another powerhouse woman, Miriam González Durántez, before I got the point: I may be the ‘now’ but the future is in the hands of those much younger and specifically those who inhabit our education system. Whilst I’m not interested in being a school teacher, Miriam’s words made me see that there was another way to contribute.

In the weeks that followed, I signed up for Inspiring the Future, an initiative connecting schools with the world of work and before long I was involved as a business volunteer with the Barnet Business and Education Partnership. For the last year, I’ve been in secondary schools supporting programs like presentation skills, interview skills and how to make the most of work experience that help students prepare for life ‘beyond school’. Participating in this way has been really motivating. It’s also got me thinking about how we prepare young adults to tackle life’s challenges outside their academic curriculum.

What other things can we do to help them to be resilient, resourceful and responsible in their adult life?

Earlier this year, I returned to the Inspiring the Future website to tick an additional box flagging my interest in being a school governor. I didn’t know that this would be the right thing for me but I knew I felt passionately about the contribution to be made and wanted to explore this further. In the words of change leadership guru Deborah Rowland (who I met in March)…

” …having set up these initial conditions for emergence, you have to let the change come towards you, not go chasing it.”

Still Moving: How to Lead Mindful Change by Deborah Rowland

…so I ticked the box and went on with life, continuing to explore a range of other interesting opportunities that had been emerging.

On June 4th, I attended the TEDx London conference and among the lineup of inspiring speakers was Teach First’s Executive Director of Delivery Ndidi Okezie who spoke about ending educational inequality and creating a world where all children have an “equalising educational experience”. Okezie spoke of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of change required but insisted that “a change must come”. Did you know that the proportion of UK children who go on to attend Oxbridge is roughly 1:20 but in poorer schools that this opportunity falls to 1:1,500? Teach First has over 10,000 ambassadors in schools creating equal educational experiences for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

As I listened to Okezie speak, I was taken back to my school years where a couple of teachers were particularly instrumental in helping me navigate the path to adulthood. Back then I was preparing to take flight into a world that, despite my insistence to the contrary, I didn’t really know much about. I was embarking on a new phase – just as I am now. I jotted a few notes down as the talk came to a close, thinking that they might come in useful at some point. One of the things life has taught me is that you never know which pieces of the puzzle might eventually come together.

And how timely this was. Less than a month later, I joined the Board of Governors for a local secondary school, becoming part of their Educational Standards Committee and also the link-governor for the school’s performing arts curriculum.

Needless to say there’s a lot to learn and a lot of work to be done. But I’m really looking forward to working with this team of passionate and committed governors and teachers. I’m also excited about ensuring that the student community – these women of the future – are equipped and empowered for the adventure ahead.

I’m stunned by how quickly these pieces fell into place.

I once heard it said that when you take responsibility for your own happiness, life shows up as a gift. I drew deeply on my reserves of resilience and resourcefulness as I struggled to build a new life in London over 13 years ago. And after last year’s work changes, I decided to take some time to explore how I wanted the next stage of my life to look. Whilst the full picture is still emerging, I’m feeling happy, fulfilled and excited to be on the brink of new possibilities.

So I feel passionately about encouraging the development of these qualities through my role as a Governor:

  • Resilience – in the face of life’s challenges;
  • Resourcefulness – in spite of what might stand in the way;
  • Responsibility – for stewarding themselves and the world through tumultuous times and inspiring the generations to follow to be the authors of their own success, whatever that may be.

Three more R’s to supplement the three – reading, [w]riting, and [a]rithmetic – that began their education over a dozen years ago.

My life is undeniably the sum of all of the people and experiences that have left their mark on me and it was another speaker from the TEDx London conference in June – a bloke from the world of policing and forensics no less – that captured this perfectly:

“Every contact leaves a trace.” John Sutherland

Here’s to leaving a positive and worthwhile mark on the generations to follow.

Think Fantastic Try Hope

Inspiration forms part of the window display of the Fendi store in New Bond Street, London (June 2017)

Inspired by: Girl power

Last week I attended Ancient Worlds, a conversation-slash-debate between historians Bettany Hughes and and Michael Scott at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. It was an hour and a half of expert perspectives and audience questions on the state of politics and its relationship with the ‘truths’ about history that we think we know.

One of the things that particularly piqued my interest was Dr Scott’s mention of OECD’s PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. This is designed to sit outside the boundaries of school curricula to determine how well the world is preparing the next generation of 15-year-olds for global citizenship. Whilst I’m not a fan of the current levels of academic testing particularly in early school years, I do think that something that takes a global view – both a omnipresent look and a cross-cultural sampling – is important. I was also encouraged by the website’s claim that the tests are

“designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a similarly forward-looking approach at a local secondary school. Presentation Matters! was a half day programme for more than 200 Year 9 students designed to help them articulate their ideas and present themselves in life – from addressing larger groups and performing well in job interviews right through to talking with friends and peers.

In groups of 4-5 , the students were asked to come up with a two minute presentation aimed at Year 6 students and their parents to inspire them to attend the school. There were a couple of formal talks on presentation structure, content and delivery but in between, the girls were despatched to compile, practice and present their story – in a Semi-Final round – in their form groups. The best group – voted by their peers – went into the Final which meant presenting to all of the Year 9 students, teachers…and us.

I was one of 21 business volunteers who worked with the form groups coaching, encouraging and keeping things to time. I’ve worked with adults in this capacity before but never teenagers and I found the prospect of working with the 27 teenage girls in the form, let alone the 200-odd in the wider group, just a little terrifying. (Seriously, my props to teachers!) And whilst I wouldn’t say that I felt entirely comfortable at any point, our little team of three muddled our way through the morning and managed to conduct a Semi-Final with a) everyone in the form presenting and b) to a pretty good standard. (Boast Note: We worked with the form group that produced the winning team presentation in the Final. Not that I’m at all competitive…)

Back in the hall, in watching the seven finalists, I was struck by what an amazing opportunity this was for these young women. And they responded in kind – showing both great courage in presenting in front of such a large group and commitment to doing it well – with some pretty impressive presentations. It seems that despite the absence of political leadership over the last few weeks, the willingness to step forward, to give your best and to represent others lives on.

Girlpower past and present

London’s nod to girl power past and present: (left) Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – leader of the suffragette movement – at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament and (right) the Memorial to Amy Winehouse –  a unique female voice in modern times – at Camden Lock Market

I was also struck by the generous (and rather raucous) encouragement from all of the girls – there was a real sense of camaraderie, even girl power, in the room and I just loved the fact that I’d gotten the opportunity to play a small part in it all.

So on an historic morning in June – when, through democratic process, the nation charged government with the task of leaving the European Union – I felt inspired. Perhaps we need to give the next generation some credit as a pretty capable set of hands in which to place the future, whatever it may hold.