BELMAS Blog

WhatsAppening with you? Using peer coaching to find our way through COVID:19

19.03.21

Message from the Editor:

In this blog, Kerry and Lacey share their experiences of coaching each other through Covid-19. Both women leaders in the final stages of their education doctorates, Kerry and Lacey share with us here a taste of how they have navigated their way through the pandemic. We can read their Reflective Piece as part of MIE's Online First initiative. They have clearly found their own kind of safe space in which to share their “juggles and struggles” and I am sure that many readers of this blog will recognise and relate to the challenges they’ve faced. I’m very grateful to Kerry and Lacey for sharing this blog with our BELMAS community. If you’re interested in the work of our Gender and Leadership Research Interest Group (RIG) then follow this link. Do share your thoughts and comments about this blog on Twitter using #BELMASblog

 - Suzanne


 

Authors: Kerry Jordan-Daus, Lacey Austin

Carving out space to explore our leadership, parenting and writing has required us to acknowledge struggles, conflicting priorities, and our vulnerabilities. Peer coaching has been our compass, giving each of us a space to explore different pathways and providing a helping hand when we felt lost.  We would argue that reaching out is both a source and a sign of strength in our determination to navigate our leadership worlds. In our Reflective Piece in Management in Education, "Not on our own: peer coaching our way through COVID:19", we invite you into that space as we seek to navigate our leadership journey through these times of unprecedented isolation and challenge.    

The quick SOS message, the sharing of an article reference, the motivational GIF: our WhatsApp conversations have been a lifeline over the course of our Doctorate. However, they became even more important as we found ourselves at home and facing the March 2020 lockdown with so much uncertainty. They are a space for our peer coaching. This blog article invites you into our peer coaching conversation, our sense making through an honest and reflexive process enabled by trust and a sense of share lived experiences. We believe that these stories of juggling and struggling are shared by many women and the pandemic has revealed a number of ugly truths about inequality in our leadership worlds. 

Navigating your leadership journey can be hard at the best of times. We were both well versed in the theory and the practice of women’s exclusion from, and isolation within education leadership spaces. We have studied this as part of our Doctorate, and we have lived it in our leadership lives; the raised eyebrows when we had to leave a meeting (which had overrun) to pick up children. We have felt lost about where to go, how to get there or who to go to at the best of times; and these are not the best or the easiest of times.   It was only going to get harder. Who hasn’t had a Zoom Meeting interrupted by a family member needing us? 

We, like women across the globe, found ourselves juggling both professional and personal life commitments in ways we have never done before. We will not pretend; life is very difficult and much of the caring and adjusting has fallen on us; as mothers and carers in our COVID:19 context (Crook, 2020, Power, 2020).  But this does not make us less as women leaders. Speaking up and making a stand for women leaders in education is even more important now. We will not allow the burden of home schooling and caring to make us invisible or marginalised.  In fact, we are more determined to expose the deeply embedded practices which make leadership and management a malestream domain (Fitzgerald, 2014, Porritt and Featherstone, 2019).  We want to disrupt and disturb, to destabilise the system that predicates on binary constructions of how men and women should act, manage and lead.  

Through our peer coaching we have created a space for honest and at times painful conversations: dialogue that enables us to dig deeper inside ourselves, to find our inner strength, the strength to challenge systemic barriers to women’s leadership. In our leadership journeys we have experienced the normalisation of contexts where emotion and vulnerability are all too often side-lined, in favour of a ‘never show you can’t cope’ culture (Sachs and Blackmore, 1998 p.265).  We both acknowledge how this has been part of our lived experience. We did not question it.  Peer coaching during the COVID:19 pandemic has proven to be a space to grow stronger as disruptive voices; to resist the socially prescribed expectations of how men and women should lead: empowering us to be something different, an alternative which challenges dominant constructs.

Through this strength and commitment, we can build a new normal post COVID:19. We do not have to return to old ways of working. What have we learnt about ourselves, our familiar commitments, the emotional toil, and sacrifice? Peer coaching has meant we have not been left isolated whilst in national lockdowns.  We both find ourselves in new leadership roles, perhaps empowered by the mutual support and strength from our peer coaching relationship? But also determined to use these positions to champion change.

We do natter, we do chatter, but this is not waffle and witter (Lochhead, 1987).  This is not an expert and novice relationship, we are peers, both doctoral students, women, mothers, and leaders in education. We are also change agents; so watch this space.

Kerry Jordan-Daus

Kerry is Assistant Head of School of Humanities and Educational Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University. She is currently in the Thesis Stage of her Education Doctorate.

Lacey Austin

Lacey is a Senior Leader for a Multi Academy Trust. She is currently in the Thesis Stage of her Education Doctorate.

References

Crook, S.  (2020) Parenting during the COVID:19 pandemic of 2020: academia, labour and care work. Women's History Review. 29:7, 1226-1238, DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2020.1807690

Fitzgerald, T (2014) Women Leaders in Higher Education. London: Routledge

Porritt, V.  and Featherstone, K. (2019) 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education. London: Sage

Lochhead, L. (1987) True Confessions and New Cliches. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 

Power, K.  (2020) The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the care burden of women and families, Sustainability. Science, Practice and Policy. 16:1, 67-73, DOI: 10.1080/15487733.2020.1776561

Sachs, J and Blackmore, J. (1998) You Never Show You Can't Cope: Women in school leadership roles managing their emotions, Gender and Education, 10:3, 265-279

Industry Twitter