Skills I’ve Gained: A program participant’s perspective

18 April 2018

Nicola Erne is a 2015 Alumna of the Teach First UK Leadership Development Program. Currently, she is a recruiter for Teach For Australia’s Leadership Development Program. In this blog post, she outlines the key skills she (and other LDP participants) developed over the two year program.

When I look back at my time on the Teach First Leadership Development Program, I almost have to stop my head from spinning. Over those two lightning-fast years, so much happened that I often have trouble remembering distinct moments or the big achievements.

But there are two things I can recall clearly. The first is how much I loved the experience; the people around me, the students I taught, the work and laughing every day – even on the toughest ones. The second is the set of skills I developed and practiced during the two years. For anyone looking to grow their skill-set and embark on a challenge, but unsure of whether the LDP is for them; this list is just a small sample of what I left the program feeling confident in doing.

1. Objective Self-Reflection

When: Around 6 months after writing weekly reflections and discussing them with my Teaching and Leadership Advisor

What: Objectively self-reflecting allows you to take the emotion out of your decisions and/or actions. It’s a key skill in allowing you understand the actions you personally took in a situation and where there may now be areas for improvement. This is harder than you’d think when you’re working hard to prove yourself on top of high-running emotions fuelled by inevitable exhaustion, but it’s so important when improving your practice.

How I use it now: I now reflect objectively on my actions often – at the end of an important day or week I will assess the actions I have taken against my goals and reflect on what went well and what I could improve the next day. It allows me to move on and improve quickly and independently.

2. Resilience

When: Term 3 of Year 1 – The Resilience Workshop

What: Resilience during the LDP for me wasn’t just a case of getting up every morning – as someone who has a pretty strong work ethic this wasn’t always the problem. This was more about learning how to use every bump in the road as an opportunity to be outwardly and inwardly positive. If something wasn’t going how I’d planned or if something went unexpectedly ”wrong” (a common occurrence when working with young adults) – to not simply become frustrated, angry or upset but to smile, breathe, take a step back and try again. On my first day I was given some advice I’ve never forgotten by my in-school mentor; “you can only control the controllables” – the rest is up to you to deal with in an effective and productive way. Remaining cool, calm and collected, and avoiding taking my frustrations out on others enabled me to take big steps in my relationships with students.

How I use it now: Similar to reflecting objectively, my resilience now allows me to acknowledge and move on from situations I haven’t anticipated quickly and positively. I call upon my resilience in times of high stress and busy workloads. I also use it in my personal life; it’s amazing how good everything can feel when you make the decision to see the glass as half full.

3. Planning and Organisation (backwards planning)

When: Year 2 – a work in progress

What: For me backwards planning is a huge life-hack reflected in my wider skills in planning and organisation. Backwards planning does what it says on the tin and enables you to use the end-goal as the first step in your planning and move backwards to your very first action. It means focusing on the goal first and the process second, and makes it difficult to lose sight of your goal. It avoids getting stuck mid-way through planning and avoids the “how” getting in the way of the ”what”.

How I use it now: I backwards plan almost every time I need to do something strategic; every time I set a target or goal, and every time I want to action something and get creative with a project at work.

4. Finding your strength and passion

When: Term 6 of Year One – being offered the role of KS3 Curriculum Lead

What: When you frequently reflect on your actions and progress, it can be easy to focus on what you need to do to improve yourself – but you can also easily forget about your strengths, or neglect to make time for what you enjoy doing in your job. Finding your strengths and passions is integral to keeping motivated in your role and carving your niche. The great thing about the Leadership Development Program is that your role and experiences are so varied that you are bound to find many parts of it that really speak to what you’re good at and what you enjoy. The unending support you receive during the program also means you are encouraged and supported to pursue your interests.

How I use it now: I use this to reflect on the parts of my job that really excite me and which allow me exercise my strengths. This is necessary to being part of a team that works effectively and being able to put yourself forward for tasks you know you’re able to take ownership for.

5. Relationship Manage

When: Year 1 – with students; Year 2 – with staff

What: Learning how to relationship manage means working effectively with a range of personalities and experiences, finding out what motivates others around you and creating an environment which allows the majority of those personalities to thrive. At the beginning of the LDP, we were asked to compile our “Visions” for how we wanted our experience across the two years to look. My Vision, no matter how many times I revised it throughout the program, always revolved around relationships – ensuring that these were built on respect and allowed for a purposeful and enjoyable learning environment.

How I use it now: I relationship manage with every colleague I work with day to day, especially with those colleagues I am working in a team with and/or managing to get the best out of them – a key skill when influencing and leading others.

These skills are important to me because I use them so often, and they weren’t necessarily something I went into the program having. I also asked some of my colleagues who had completed the LDP, as part of Teach For Australia or Teach First, about the skills they really value that they gained during the program…

6. Data Tracking

Danielle Ellis – Recruitment and Advocacy Manager for New South Wales (Cohort 2013, Teach First)

An example of when I used data tracking was when I was responsible for tracking my GCSE Year 11 underachievers and to see which students needed 1:1 support and intervention classes. I became the lead for Year 11 intervention classes in French so it became very important that I could analyse the data across all 200 pupils! Data tracking has been a key part of all of my roles since having done the LDP, so developing this skill was vital: having studied languages at university, I had never learnt excel or data so it was a really great way to transition into the world of work.

7. Challenging Conversations

Liz Cullen – Recruitment and Advocacy Team Manager (Cohort 2012, Teach For Australia)

Challenging conversations is a leadership skill I developed: how to have high expectations of another person or a team which respects their context, their individual circumstances, and their feelings without compromising on the goal or what is possible for them. It’s very important for leaders to drive teams and individuals to be their best and deliver on ambitious goals. From practice, feedback and multiple failures I’ve learnt to have conversations with candour and curiosity.– I seek to understand why something happened, always from a place of trust that others are doing their best, respect for their agency and (for children, explicitly) unconditional love.

7. Stakeholder Management

Lauren Smith – Admissions Manager (Cohort 2011, Teach First)

One of the leadership skills I developed is stakeholder management and being able to tailor a message to suit the audience you have. From students to parents, fellow teachers to the head of the school governing council, you have the opportunity to influence organisational policy and outcomes within your community. In order to do that, you have to understand an audience and why it is important to them. It is also allows you to practice condensing large amounts of data and information into succinct sentences to make your point and present them in an effective and engaging manner.

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