“Half (51%) of employers agree that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.” (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018)
I (shamefully) admit to previously having jealous thoughts towards staff who left work on time, arrived on time, didn’t participate in evening events, confidently declined summer school classes, and received a year off work. What I failed to recognise was that I was also able to leave work on time; I had the option not to work evenings and weekends, and I didn’t have to sign up for additional activities. However, I chose to do these things. Work was my baby.
Many years ago, medical experts informed my husband and I that there was little hope for a natural conception. This was not particularly problematic as having children had never been one of our life goals. This was just the way things were and we were happy living for our holidays and experiencing new cultures abroad. After 16 years of teaching, I did dream of being able to take leave to travel, recuperate and refuel my love of education. The government are currently trialling a sabbatical pilot for established teachers (DfE, 2019) although, sadly, I have yet to see any evidence of this excellent idea transfer into the workplace, let alone for a senior leader. This initiative has the potential to improve staff retention and reinvigorate teachers and I hope to support others take up this type of opportunity in the future. For me, the world had a different plan.
My journey drew parallels with Jurassic Park, as life found a way. It was a traumatic lockdown pregnancy with pelvic girdle pain from 16 weeks, a c-section birth, and a total of 18 months of physiotherapy. However, I am totally overwhelmed with the love that I have for our baby, who smiles, dances, is healthy and (currently) sleeps well.
The purpose of this short blog is to explore the transition from Vice Principal to Mum and back again. I aim to pose the questions that some may fear to discuss publicly or even admit to thinking. Here are the questions that I have considered, acknowledged, and will share my thoughts on in another addition.
- Can I do my role anymore?
- Is it possible for me to do my job in the allotted working hours?
- Will I be able to switch off and be present with my baby and husband when I return home?
- Everything has changed since the pandemic. How can I successfully lead when I haven’t been with the staff throughout such an event?
- What happens to the ambitious individuals who have successfully stepped up in my absence? Should I compare myself to them?
- Will the staff and students have the same, less, or more respect for me?
- Will I remember or learn quickly again how to teach?
- Will I be judged for returning to work full time?
- What if my baby is ill and I must leave work during the school day?
To all those people returning to work after a period of maternity/paternity leave, let’s admit it, it is scary. At our most vulnerable time we lose our protected characteristic (The Equality Act, 2010) and are thrust back into our job roles. As a senior leader, I previously recognised, respected and empathised with staff in this situation. To live it is very different. The time off work feels so much longer; more things seem to have changed than have stayed the same and the practical elements can be overwhelming.
Actions that have enabled me to feel more prepared for a smooth return are:
- Starting nursery a month before my return to work, even for 1 day a week.
- Like a good theatre production, rehearsing. Practice is a fantastic tool to improve our teaching and it works to refine my morning routines, nursery drop offs etc.
- Using all 10 of my Keeping in Touch (KIT) days, evenly spread throughout the last 5 months leave. This was essential in beginning to grasp those key elements and changes.
- Arranging meetings with my line manager, team members and colleagues on each KIT Day. Leadership is about relationships.
- Staying in touch and socialising with work colleagues/friends (after lockdown lifted).
- Listening to advice and other people’s stories.
Good luck to everyone returning to work and I will see you on the other side.
DfE, 2019. Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy Strategy. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786856/DFE_Teacher_Retention_Strategy_Report.pdf Accessed on 01 July 2021.
Equality Act, 2010. Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents Accessed on 01 July 2021.
Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018. Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination Research Findings. Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/managing-pregnancy-and-maternity-workplace/pregnancy-and-maternity-discrimination-research-findings Accessed on 01 July 2021.