The Trolls Under the Bridge: Leadership Resilience

As we opened our new secondary school in September 2017, we made some philosophical and some ideological decisions which we do not consider to be bold, innovative and radical, but common sense. To others it seems we are quite extreme.

No homework. No setting. No detentions. No shouting. No bells. No packed lunches.

We made a list of our non-negotiables and have stuck to them.

As a values-led school with a team who are committed to nurturing hearts and minds through an inclusive, holistic approach to education we have focused a lot on creating our culture and ethos right.

Our 12 core values shape our inner curriculum, our global citizenship and our approaches to rewards, sanctions and assemblies. Our values are developing into an ethical vocabulary for our community.

 

aureus-values-wheel-v2

Like at most schools, at the end of each assembly we have a reflection. I wrote our Homily to bring together our values into a tangible commitment to ourselves and our community:

“We strive for excellence by embodying the Aureus community values. We respect one another, ourselves and our environment. We strive to treat everyone equally. We champion diverse voices and different ideas. We are kind and we show empathy for others. We are courageous in the face of adversity. We show resilience when it is needed. We reflect on our wellbeing so that we may all be healthy and happy. We act with integrity; our actions are our values. Our hearts are full of love, for ourselves, for each other and for life. We act responsibly at all times. We encourage each other to be 10% braver and build our confidence. We live our values, every day”.

Our students speak articulately and confidently about what our values mean and how we should live them. Our students and our staff strive to embody our values in our decisions, our actions and our behaviours. We do not always all get it right, but our rewards and our sanctions speak to the value shown or contravened so that real learning takes places.

In the last few days our values of courage, resilience and integrity have been tested. But most of this has been directed at me as the figurehead of the school. I have received a lot of adversity, both professionally and personally. My resilience has really been tested as my eyes have bled reading the personal attacks. Despite this, my integrity remains in tact. I have not cried, I have not sworn, I have not lashed back at the vilification of my character, at the body shaming  nor the hashtag to have me sacked.

My roots are working really hard to hold me upright, I am bending but I am not breaking.

bend or break

It has clearly been a quiet week at the newsdesk of our National Tabloid Press that they have felt compelled to run a piece about us in every outlet. Is this really ‘hot news’ when our policy has been in place for 9 months? One anonymous parent has created quite a stir.

I have been called a “Dictator” for being an assertive lead with a clear vision. I have been called “Draconian” for not budging on our expectations. I have been called a”lefty sandal wearer”, which would be more accurate if it was changed to “liberal pump wearer” but perhaps would not be as catchy. I have been called “fat” and my “bingo wings” have been commented on – for the record I started Couch to 5k 6 weeks ago to get in shape, and have lost a few pounds, but this will spur me on to run harder and faster.

To counter the hashtag and calls to have me sacked, surely a catchy future Headline for the Mail, the Mirror, the Star, the Express, the Metro to run could be:

Headteacher sacked for serving water.

Headteacher Dismissed for banning packed lunches. 

Headteacher removed for insisting on family dining.  

How ridiculous would that be? The masses are calling for a Headteacher to be sacked because a school has principles around their food education.

It is not that I do not have feelings, that I am not taking it personally, that words do not hurt me. It is not that I am not taking this seriously, because I am, but I will not allow the loud shouty voices nor the hateful insults sink in. My values are my shield.

Moreover, I have spent every day of the last 15 years investigating, challenging and sanctioning prejudice. I have spent considerable hours challenging bullying, on and offline.

We wonder why our children in our schools need this input from their teachers, until we see how adults act on line. In the words of one of my supporters who messaged me they are “vicious vultures”.

The 1000s of comments about us, about me, are mainly very misinformed. They are hateful. They have twisted what we are doing and why we are doing it.

If you are interested in finding out more about our Food Education you can read my article in TeachWire. There is also an article in their catalogue about our pledge to truly lean into Diversity. Moreover, our website is informative and transparent about everything we stand for. If you read our Google reviews we are complimented regularly on our inclusive culture and ethos, on our happy students, on our delicious family dining experience. If you are going to point your finger and blame or judge, please do it from an informed place.

We have an expression in the #WomenEd Steering Group to starve the trolls of their oxygen. This is what I have been doing the last few days. I have held my head up high, I have shielded myself with my values. I have drawn strength from the positive and supportive messages I have received from our school’s parents, from my friends and family. I have not been drawn in. I have kept my emotions in check. I have sat on my hands and I have bitten my tongue. We learnt the hard way when #WomenEd started that it is more powerful to say nothing. The silence is more infuriating for the aggressors than responding to their angry, loud, noisy monologues.

The article that went live a few days ago stems from one parent who complained. I am going to emphasise that one discontented parent has created this storm in a tea cup. See the original post in the Oxford Mail.

storm in a tea cup

We have met with a few of our parents this year who were not fully behind our vision. We are a start up school and it is a difficult journey to align the parents and the staff when the school is being built, ideas are forming and plans are evolving in parallel to the admissions and transition process. We have worked hard to work with our parents and carers. We have made who we are very explicit to our prospective parents – all 850 of them who came to our open event for 240 student places.

With our food education policy, we have worked with our community to get them to buy into our vision and commitment. We have  listened to our parents and to our children, we have responded and our catering offer has evolved.  We have invited our parents in to experience it first hand for themselves.

The majority of our parents are very happy with our offer and understand how important our family dining is to our culture and ethos.

This parent did not get the response they wanted, they started a conversation on Facebook, they went to our Governors and they went to our MP. At each step we have communicated and explained our stance. We introduced sandwich bags as an option as they wanted packed lunches, we have subsidised their lunches for most of the year to work with them.

We appreciate they are frustrated, but do they appreciate the potential damage they have done by going to the press? Do they appreciate the distress they have caused to my team? Do they appreciate the stress they have created for me/us during my well-earned half-term? Do they appreciate the ripple effect this could have on our school community and on our students?

I don’t think they realised when they went to the Oxford Mail that it would go viral. I don’t think they intended to make me/us a Headline in every National tabloid. I don’t think they meant to make me the victim of online abuse for the last 72 hours. I don’t think they meant to incite racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, sexist, misogynist and bigotted or to put me at the centre of this storm.

I have blocked at least 50 twitter trolls who have been hateful to me online. I have tried not to read the thousands of abusive comments from facebook trolls and keyboard warriors, what I have done is reflected about the bigger picture:

  • Most of the comments and criticisms are not from our school community.
  • Most of the comments and criticisms are not about education and do not mention children.

I care about our school. I care about our children. If this had happened to one of our community, staff, student or parent alike I would support and protect them. I hope the parent who started this, who was not prepared to put their name it, has also reflected. As if this happened to their child, our student, we would do our utmost to support and protect them, to keep them emotionally safe, because that is what a values-led school does.

So until this storm passes, my anchor is in. These quotes have never been more pertinent than they are right now:

Ships were not built to stay in the harbour.

Rough seas make the best sailor.

anchor

And on a #WomenEd note, I do wonder if the tabloid readership would have been as hateful had I been born a man? In a time when we have a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, and not enough people willing to step up to be a Headteacher online hate campaigns like this do not help!

This educational leader is converting criticism to praise, is going high instead of low and will continue to rise above the hate. The haters will make me stronger and even more committed to what I believe in.

still i rise

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our young people – they are becoming the Values Ambassadors to shape our future society.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The 100s of DMs, emails, tweets and texts of support and love I have received from my PLN.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Having a brilliant staff team who are unshaken by this storm.
  • The love from my PLN – each message has helped.
  • The kindness of strangers – some people have reached out to me who I do not even know.
  • The following words of wisdom sent to me to keep me resilient and strong!

From Summer Turner:

low high

From Carol Campbell:

aristotle

From Ruthie Golding:

gandhi quote

From Claire Cuthbert:

difficult people 3

31 thoughts on “The Trolls Under the Bridge: Leadership Resilience

  1. I had no idea this happened to you. I’m greatly saddened. This was a bad week in edutwitter- here in the US, too, things were flying. I’m with you. I’ve seen what this can do and I hope you keep going.

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  2. Oh my goodness, Hannah – I must be in a bubble but I had missed this completely. So sorry you have had to go through it – and I’m aware it can happen to any of us. It actually ISN’T personal, but it certainly feels as if it is when it’s happening. You are doing all the right things – reaffirming your values, sticking to your principles, showing courage, deciding how much to say (I’m really pleased that you wrote this post) and when to keep your counsel and rise above it. The important thing is to have the support of your governors, staff and the vast majority of your parents and students.

    There was an interesting piece in last week’s Schools Week about vexatious parental complaints – did you see it? Link here, if not: https://schoolsweek.co.uk/schools-need-more-protection-against-vexatious-complaints/

    Am hoping to see you, with Shirley, in August, but, in the meantime, if we don’t coincide at an event next half term, I’m sending you virtual hugs.

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  3. I think the comments I read demonstrate the need for you to stick to your guns Hannah – the sheer level of ignorance is breathtaking. Hopefully your legacy will be that children are less racist, judgmental and cruel than some of their parents and grandparents are.

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  4. So sad to read this. Integrity. authenticity and holding fast to your values in the face of criticism is what leadership is all about and that is what you are showing here so powerfully

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  5. Absolutely stick to your guns, if people can’t read the fine print then live to the things that they have signed up for then it’s their problem. It’s the problem with today’s generation. I want to live to your values……except when I don’t then you have to change. I’m loving what you’ve done. 👍

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  6. Never have I entered such a wonderful caring school. Your policies are amazing and your strive for a fairer kinder setting for children to learn. Your food which I have had the pleasure of eating on several occasions is wonderful. You strive for a better future for your pupils way above and beyond the norm of any school I have been in and your courses, mental health days etc show how much you care for the children that not only go to your school but those in the wider community too. If I can help your self or your staff to offload all of this awful experience and send it off into space where it belongs I am here for you, Paula x

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  7. Dear Hannah – this was a rousing blog. Every time I meet you I want to give you and your team a standing ovation. The focus of you, your school and your team is a blue print I hope for other schools to follow. Your courage for stepping out and creating something which is truly holistic; values based; addressing the mental wellbeing of all IS the direction we need to be moving in as a society. The xenophobic, twitter attacks were juvenile and myopic – made me realise how much work needs to be done to ensure future generations do not see this as acceptable – I commend you for not lashing out or stooping to their level. Carry on – shine your beacon light – others are following and our numbers are growing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your response is dignified and inspirational to many. As a headteacher, I have been where you are and I am in awe of your dignity in handling the spite and vindictiveness which things like this can cause; I was not as strong as you.
    Take care and take pride in the support you are receiving.

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  9. Packed lunches practically don’t exist in France. Our local primary school has a 2-hour lunch break where they all sit down together and everyone eats EXACTLY the same thing, except for those who have religious or medical reasons to eat otherwise.

    You’d think you’d suggested doing something hideous! As a former headteacher of mine used to say, “Would you like me to get you the number of the school down the road? I’m not sure if they have space, but you can always ask.”

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  10. I also have missed this storm – I don’t read the tabloids so that may be why! I think your response is exactly the right thing to do and I sincerely hope that by being the bigger person, the very small person who started this off, feels even smaller! Keep the faith! Stick to your guns. Best Wishes

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  11. A dignified and inspiring response. This is why I’m still putting Aureus as the first choice school for my son. I have a lot of respect for you and support you and the school 100%.

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  12. My children do not attend your school because i do not have any but when i do i really do hope that the school that they go to has a forward thinking and caring head teacher such as yourself!

    You are doing the right thing, most of the outrage is from people who are miss-informed (as you are aware and point out in this blog post) and unwilling to hear the truth, heads in the sand….

    Anyway kudos and keep fighting for change 🙂

    Andy Daniels

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  13. Dear Hannah, I feel your pain on an almost daily basis. I’m currently going through the same issues that you so articulately and professionally talk about. Your blog has really given me a lot to reflect on, I have cried and I hate to admit it swore. It is so unjust when your only goal in life for your pupils is to make them the best they can be. I’m thankful that my pupils behave so much better than I have seen adults behave in line. When I’m having a bad day, I walk around my school and watch with sheer pride as our pupils grow. That’s why we as head teachers put up with so much unnecessary abuse. For the children, our future.

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  14. You make a difference. Keep believing. I feel your pain and sadly, this will keep on occurring to hundreds of head teachers across the country. We are standing firm behind you – all the way.

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  15. I have no personal connections to your school and my children are way beyond school age, but I am proud to live in Didcot and even more proud to say your school is part of our community. Your values are laudable and dare I say inspirational. Whenever I have seen your pupils out and about in the community they have been a credit to you. I just wanted to say good on you – stick to your values and carry on educating the children of this community to be kind, caring and valuable members of society. Keep up the good work.

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  16. Hannah, my role evolved from persecuted heads, thank you for rising high. We all need support in lives, your school sounds like mine once was. We grew food and herbs too.
    Take care and happy to come coach you and your staff for the price of my train fare .

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  17. You are an inspiration! Keep up the amazing work and know that for every noisy troll there are thousands of quiet people in agreement with you.

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  18. Saddened to hear of such abuse. The key to all great schools is leadership that establishes principles and values the communities of staff, parents, pupils and the locality can commit to every day. You are simply on the right journey.

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  19. Reblogged this on Khorshed Bhote and commented:
    Amazing! I particularly applaud you for stating, “We act with integrity; our actions are our values.” Whereas lofty words that leaders of organisations take hours and a lot of money to formulate, remain just that – words. I wish you and your staff and students good luck.

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  20. I don’t know what happened as I live in Shanghai, however, your words have resonated globally and come as a source of strength to leaders everywhere. You have remained yourself and true to your word, and that is your superpower.

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  21. A dignified and inspirational response. Lift your head high and continue to do what you do well.
    Bernadette Telford. Manchester.

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  22. Well done Hannah. Such a shame that such ignorance has been given so much air time but it sounds like you’re doing a phenomenal job and truly inspiring all your students. Sending hugs xxx

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  23. Hi 👋 inspirational leader, keep building the standards you know the kids can live up to. ie. HIGH! You’re an inspiration for what’s possible. Lots of love, Jeff and Jo

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