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My Leadership Journey

Being a leader needs resilience, persistence, self-confidence and support. Being a leader and a woman adds significant gender bias challenges. But these barriers can be a spur to skills development, career excellence and advancement. Here Christalla Jamil, Chief Executive Officer of London Diocesan Board for Schools Academies Trust, explains what she has learnt in her journey from estate agent to boss of an organisation offering ‘Excellence and equity for all children in a Christian context’.

I became a teacher rather late in life (see ‘My leadership journey summary’) having focused on my family for the first few years of married life. I worked as an estate agent and contributed to a variety of charities, which I still do. I have always wanted to be a leader, though.

Initially, I became the leader of my class. A variety of opportunities fell in my path and I scooped up every single one!

‘When opportunities present themselves, seize the moment’ be #strong #10%Braver #BecomeTheQueenofOpportunity!

I have always been passionate about teaching and inspiring young people to discover the world and their place in it. At its best, high-quality teaching empowers children to achieve their full potential and results in citizens with a positive contribution for our global future. All of this can be achieved through high expectations, the development of a growth mindset and creating a culture of responsibility and justice for the entire school community.

My goal as both teacher and leader is to foster an environment where learning for all pupils, regardless of their needs, ethnicity, culture, religion or background, is a daily adventure to be delighted in, and where the relationship with self, peers, the school community and wider society are held in high regard. This is what has led me ultimately to becoming a CEO: to make the biggest impact, and to transform education, helping children achieve what they want to achieve and inspiring them to do things they never thought they could do.

‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’

Mahatma Ghandi

Top tips for successful leadership

In order to recruit and retain I have learnt how to create a culture of wellbeing; this has taken time. I have made mistakes along the way and hope that now I have finally got it right. Relationships, and getting them right, are pivotal in leadership (I think!).

I love to work with people who share and understand my vision for our schools; people whose performance defines ability and expertise. It is a parameter I keep in mind to identify a leader while looking beyond performance. I also look for aptitude, the desire to grow and overall potential. I look for people who make things happen, who are decision-makers, who have an identity. I identify those who are accountable, even when mistakes happen. Particularly important for teachers is that they are in a ‘safe place’ where they won’t be made accountable for taking risks to innovate if they don’t pay off. They must be able to empathise and have emotional intelligence too. Communication is key, so are articulation and courage.

I strongly believe that values must be reflected in the way we do things. Living them out is as applicable to all staff as it is to all the children. Mine are about the principles or moral standards which I feel are important in life: compassion, perseverance, forgiveness, courage, friendship and … having a sense of humour! I strive to create equitable communities where excellence is a collective goal and everyone works hard to eradicate bias.

‘Be authentic!’

As a leader, it is vital to love out both individual values and the collective values of the school consistently. To do so requires self-control, resilience and self-regulation. Additionally, leaders have to recognise that we can no longer be all things to all people. Instead, we need to focus on ever-present challenges and priorities, recognising when transformational thinking is required then thinking more about how we can do things differently and more intelligently. For instance:

· the emphasis on developing the whole child

· ensuring consistently high-quality teaching and learning

· ensuring all pupils make good or better progress

· closing the gap

· striving to build capacity and sustainability

· building a culture of teamwork and collective accountability

· ensuring high levels of staff satisfaction and fulfilment

· strengthening partnerships.

‘Less is more. Focus on a few things and do them well.’


From my own experience I am able to see that women frequently show empathy as a strength, demonstrate strong ability in conflict management, show skills in influence, and have a sense of self-awareness, which is important for excellent leadership.

Improving self-awareness requires getting some source of credible feedback, and being open to that feedback.

Developing self-awareness also takes reflection. It is important to set aside time every week to reflect on what went well, what did not, and how we can react differently in the future.

Self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. A leader must know herself – her abilities, her shortcomings, and her opportunities for growth in order to be able to provide direction, guidance and inspiration to others.

Leadership demands strong interpersonal skills. We need to gain experiences so that we grow in courage. One way of achieving this is to share your story, share our experiences to empower and support others.

‘You cannot do it alone. You need a team.’

Reaching your potential

‘Am I reaching my potential?’ This is not the same as asking, ‘How do I rise to the top?’ or ‘How can I be successful in my career?’ Rather, it’s about taking a very personal look at how you define success in your heart of hearts, and then finding your path to get there.

‘Am I reaching my potential?’ is not the same as asking, ‘How do I rise to the top?’

To do that, you must step back and assess your career, starting with the recognition that managing it is your responsibility. Too many people feel like victims in their careers, when in fact they have a substantial degree of control. Seizing control requires you to take a fresh look at your behaviour in three main areas:

· knowing yourself

· excelling at critical tasks

· demonstrating character and leadership.

The daily reality

There have definitely been many highs. Working with brilliant children and great staff makes each day a good day. On a daily basis, I feel a sense of achievement when children celebrate their learning and their successes. Being at the heart of two super communities makes me feel not only proud but privileged too. I now serve 10 schools, schools deeply rooted in the Christian faith; schools filled with love, acceptance and respect. Social justice fills the air. Creativity, drama, song, dance and music are embedded in our foundations. It’s cool to enjoy learning. We celebrate with laughter and, metaphorically speaking, embrace diversity with a great big hug. We understand it’s OK not be OK and that being different is our superpower.

‘I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Maya Angelou

Though each day is filled with celebrations and successes, there are of course challenges and sometimes barriers too. Yet, we are a family, where commitment and dedication give us the courage to take risks and tackle whatever comes our way effectively.

My pinned Twitter post has become my mantra. I could not have survived the lows and celebrated the highs without the support of my networks. There are too many individual people to list here but the main networks that have been truly supportive are:

@WomenEd @WomenEdEngland @CharteredCollege @BAMEedNetwork @DisabilityEdUk @LGBTedUK @LondonSouth_TSA

Strong women (and more)

The strong women in my life have given me an energy that has acted like a catalyst to boomerang me to the next exciting stage of my professional journey.

For instance, through Twitter, Alison Peacock, @BeyondLevels, the #LearningFirst Community, borough SIP projects. Then WomenEd @ViviennePorritt (our guru). Then Hannah Wilson introduced me to the Leading Beyond One School (LBOS) course, with the London South Teaching Hub, and Jan Shaddwick, who is now the CEO at Haberdashers’ Academies, Dr Kate Chhatwal, who is the CEO at Challenge Partners. More recently Baroness Estelle Morris.

I vividly remember questioning my place on the LBOS course four years ago and allowing imposter syndrome to set in, and I am a CEO! In my current role, I have drawn on the support of Stephen Chamberlain, CEO of The Active Learning Trust, Rebekah Iiyambo, CEO of The Ek Trust and Emma Nicholls, The CEO at The Leading Learning Trust.

There is no one formula to the successful pursuit of leadership. But as much as triumphing in the world of education sometimes comes down to an unpredictable, alchemical mix of ambition, timing, innovation and an understanding of human nature, there is one element that can truly make all the difference: access.

It’s not just about gaining access to a variety of prospects, like a mentor or a coach but about access to opportunity.

‘If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’

Shirley Chisholm

Through accessing both networks and opportunities, I have gained confidence in my abilities: to lead, to plan, to network. But more than that, my ability to be me and do what I think is right, hold my head up high, admit to my vulnerabilities, take risks and make them work for me. I try to turn my vulnerabilities into strengths – in all honesty using them as a means, not a weapon, but a means to get on, to succeed.

My journey goes beyond promotion, school improvement, reading, meeting effective practitioners and being exposed to real leaders. It has allowed me to grow in a safe #WomenEd environment; an environment that challenges, accepts, makes U-turns, conquers obstacles, and allows me to reveal my true identity. It has enabled me to turn the negative into a positive and come out unscathed, smiling and fighting for equality.

Being a feminist means believing that we work together to make the world a better place by making sure the world works for everybody.

Liz Robinson, Co-Director at The Big Education, believes innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organisation. So let’s get networking – let’s be innovative together and become stronger together!

It’s about building people up

Not breaking them down.

It’s about feeling 10 foot tall

Not being pushed into the ground.

It’s about knowing your purpose

Never giving up the fight.

It’s about getting it wrong

In order to get it right.

It’s about taking risks

Grabbing opportunities that come your way.

It’s about turning the darkness of the night

Into the brightness of the day.

It’s about knowing yourself,

Limitations too.

It’s about breaking barriers

In order to be true.

It’s about holding your head up high

When people knock you down.

It’s about the way you bounce back

And proudly wear your crown…

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