I’ve been inspired for over a year now watching UK women support each another along their personal journeys into educational leadership through a grassroots effort called #WomenEd. They’ve connected through twitter, digimeets, blog sharing, unconferences, and meetups. They’ve launched a website and now an app. They’ve influenced education policy in their nation. And best of all, they’ve created a positive network of professional, supportive leaders.
#WomenEd is poised to expand beyond the UK. They’ve built the foundation and cultivated expertise. It’s time to build on their efforts by spreading #WomenEd to the US.
There are, of course, numbers to show why we need a grassroots effort seeking gender equity in US educational leadership: Women make up 76% of the teaching force in the United States, but only 52% of principals and 14% of superintendents.
Beyond the stats, though, my intuition tells me we need a new approach to improving American education and that empowering more experienced female teachers into leadership roles is the key to a sustainable solution.
American education is slammed as “failing” on all fronts, and a cavalcade of men, including a puzzling number of non-educators, have stepped forward to lead the call to reform. Most of the first wave of reforms had limited success, and even reformers like Bill Gates have acknowledged that most efforts have suffered, at least in part, because they didn’t engage teachers. Engaging teachers means involving women on a substantive level. So, I took hope when I saw visible efforts to seek teacher voice in the new push for reform. I saw women on the advisory panels and fellowships established to improve standards and update policy. I thought that with women on the panels, the frontline voice would have a more feminine tone.
But the conversation, particularly surrounding innovation, continues to be dominated by men. Education still places leadership and innovation securely within male territory. Watch this trailer for the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. I haven’t seen the film. I’m sure it’s amazing and might even change the way I think of the future of education. But all I notice is the stunning lack of female voice. Will there be no place for women in the schools of tomorrow? Or will women simply be expected to follow the male lead presented in this vision? I know and read so many smart, innovative, and visionary female educators. I’m ready to follow them.
There it is. My imposter syndrome. Sure, I’m ready to follow female leadership, but who am I to think I can lead? So, I’ve been an educator for more than 25 years, received a few teaching awards, started and led some innovative programs, published articles, and served on advisory boards. But I’m the sort of person who chooses to spend my days alongside teenagers. What do I know about empowering my fellow women to take the leap into leadership? I’m not even sure I’m ready myself. Then I think of Sue Cowley’s words: “Be 10% braver.” 10% doesn’t seem too much. 10% seems doable. Right?
So, well, here goes…
We’ve set the date for our first #USWomenEd twitter chat: November 2, from 7-8 pm Eastern time.
Our first chat will focus on what leadership means to women in US education. Join us and help shape the conversation.
Follow @WomenEd and #WomenEd on Twitter