Talking Heads Blog #14: Nadine Bernard

Leadership Biography

Name: Nadine Bernard

Phase: Primary

Sector: Academy

Region: London

Years Served in Education: 11 years

Years Served as a Headteacher: Substantive HT 11 Months (Acting Head 3 months before!)

Leadership Journey:

2005 Teacher 9 years – 2014 Assistant Head 2 terms – 2015 Deputy Head 2 terms – 2016 Headteacher

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration: Liz Robinson

Twitter Handle: @Nadineolivia32

Blog: N/A

Leadership Reflections

Why did you become a Headteacher?

From a very young age I wanted to be a teacher. I dreamt about it, acted it out and spoke about it, but it wasn’t until I went to a leadership conference at the age of 18 that I decided not to limit myself to a teacher but rather aspire further and strive for Headship! I have always been passionate about working with children and had a solid belief that every child should be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential. As I progressed in education, it became more and more apparent that many children were being failed by the education system because of poor leadership and the never ending pressure put on leaders to deliver strong results. I saw how this often compromised leader’s tendency to meet the holistic needs of individual pupils who often tended to be the ones who put a ‘strain’ on lessons and results because they were not ‘easy’ to teach. I was passionate about becoming a Head who didn’t label pupils, who believed in a child even when it was not easy to do. I wanted to inspire pupils, motivate them, and forgive them when they made mistakes and help train and build positive characteristics. I wanted to ensure the most disadvantaged pupils were not forgotten about and their families and communities were supported to overcome barriers and thrive.

Why did your role/ school appeal to you?

I said I would never work for an Academy as I had the perception that Academies were all about rapid improvement which often resulted in all the bad pupils being excluded! Yes, I know this is a very strong view and must admit that it was actually based on very little knowledge but was certainly the common view around the table. During my process of looking for Headship, I noticed an advert in the TES for STEP Academy Trust. It captured me straight away as its mission statement stated that they are committed to improving the life chances of all children which totally reflected what I wanted to do. I was emotionally connected to what they said they wanted to do. ALL children, not just some or even only the majority. Meeting with the Deputy CEO and CEO, it seemed clear that this was not a mission statement just said but was actually lived. I wanted to be part of this. I wanted to join what they called ‘The STEP Family’. Unity is power and having shared values I knew was key for me. I have now been working for the STEP Trust for almost 2 years.

How would you like to affect change in the system?

Since starting my profession in education, in every school I have worked in, I seem to have witnessed a high number of black boys being in trouble. Even within my own class, it always seemed to be the black boys who struggled to follow the school rules. They seemed to reject education and very quickly achieved a negative label. I can tell you many success stories of black boys in my class once I was able to build positive relationships with them but I am all too aware of the many black boys who have been sent out of class for the entire day for the sheer fact that the teacher had enough, the black boys who were always sitting at the Headteachers door every playtime and the many times the black boys were saying that they hate their teacher. Now I must make it clear that I don’t believe this is only a black boy issue but boys in general, as visiting PRU’s has shown me that boys of all races are present within them. It saddens me to know that so many boys are failing within the education system. Can they all be so bad? When do we stop and question the educational practices that are obviously not working for many boys? Starting with my ‘Why’, I would like to challenge this common thread in education and most importantly take active steps to affect change where the underachievement of boys is no longer accepted.

How would you like to change the perception of Headteachers?

I would love everyone to know… A Headteacher is not a source of all knowledge. They are not people who are made of iron. They have feelings. Headteachers need support and reassurance. They need to feel appreciated and acknowledged for their efforts. They cannot answer every question and they certainly do not have the right answer for every question. Headteachers need time with their families and deserve to maintain good health. They need to be able to admit when they have made mistakes and not be demonised when school improvement does not go to plan. They need to be recognised for the many sacrifices they make and not be expected to work harder than they already do. It is a sad reality that many Headteachers will choose not to stay in the profession unless there is a massive shift in culture, however, I am pleased that there are leaders committed and courageous enough to challenge the system. Thank you!

What barriers have you had to overcome in your career/role?

Every day I feel like I am overcoming barriers. I am a young black woman faced with the reality that there are not many other leaders who ‘look like me’. Walking into rooms with white elder men often means I won’t get a handshake unless I demand it. Sharing my views with governors will mean I need to provide more evidence because what I say is not enough. Going to conferences often involves having to say I am a Headteacher before people show a genuine interest in me. People knowing that I am dyslexic will often lead people to think I am not capable of achieving certain things. My life feels consumed with barriers but I feel proud that I have overcome many and am still overcoming! I believe barriers can only remain if you allow it to remain and I am passionate about ‘breaking moulds’ and not allowing stereotypes and other people’s perceptions to create the formation of my life. The role of Headteacher is now not the limit for me and I look forward to achieving more than I originally planned.

What are the values that shape you as a leader?

Honesty and Humility.

I think it is very important to be a honest leader. Honest about pupils achievements and outcomes, honest about the standards of the school, honest about one’s challenges, honest about one’s fears, honest about one’s limitations and so on. Honesty is a signpost to mental freedom. I have heard a few stories of Headteachers lying to others and themselves from pretending outcomes of pupils are higher than they actually are to trying to convince their mind that they are coping with their role when they actually are not. A Headteacher once said to me ‘just lie’, ‘just say what you need to say to get by in this role’. It completely broke my heart as this individual had succumbed to such low standards of thoughts and lying was now their only coping and survival mechanism.

Humility is also important to me. I believe that leadership is an act of service and when you serve others you cannot place yourself as the most important person. I love to help and support people. Many times as leaders we can delegate the role of clearing out a cupboard to the teacher assistants and picking up rubbish we can happily leave to the cleaners, but I think it is important for leaders to show that they will do that too. I also think it is important to be able to admit to your staff when you have made a mistake and be open to apologise.

Honesty and Humility will always shape me as a leader.

Leadership Advice

 “The richest place on earth is the grave yard because there are many people who have died without fulfilling their potential.” (Myles Munroe)

When I heard this talk, it immediately steered a strong passion within to achieve my potential. The speaker used treasure as a metaphor for potential and explained that if we do not use our treasures, we would only carry them to the grave. It helped me to remember that we have all been born for a purpose and everyone has a gift to share to make this world a better place. I was able to recognise that I was unique and also learn to embrace my uniqueness. This helped to give me the courage to ‘step out’ and achieve the desires of my heart. It focused my energy so that I used time wisely and appreciated that every day is another day to share my treasures within. I currently keep an artefact of treasures in a jar in my office to constantly remind myself.

Leadership Inspiration

I am reading everything that educates, motivates and inspires me. I always look for opportunities to learn. When you learn you grow!

Leadership Mantra

Removing barriers to learning – every child deserves to have their learning needs met.

One thought on “Talking Heads Blog #14: Nadine Bernard

  1. Wow, this has been very impactful. It is inspiring to hear you talk so frankly and honestly about your motivations, barriers and experiences. I am currently on the path to leadership and your words has just refuelled that burning desire in me to achieve my goals and make a difference in the learning lives and journeys of learners. I am currently working in the adult education sector and looking to make a move to the secondary sector. Like Nadine, I too have this negative perception of academies but maybe this is one avenue to explore further. Thank you very much for your post.


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