Talking Heads Blog #28: Nicole Fowles

Leadership Biography

Name: Nicole Fowles

Phase: Primary

Sector: Maintained School

Region: West Midlands

Years Served in Education: 15 years

Years Served as a Headteacher: Almost 3 years

Leadership Journey:

  • As a pupil myself, various leadership opportunities including ‘Youth Leadership’ development course in Y10. Went on to organise and lead extra-curricular provision for Y7 pupils during lunchtime. School librarian and editor of school newspaper
  • Subject leader (ICT) from second year in teaching.
  • Subject leader (art and DT) then led foundation subject curriculum development across Y5 and Y6.
  • English, Maths and Science TLR1 (Y4, 5 and 6)
  • AHT for English, Maths and Science (Y1, 2 and 3)
  • DHT led for 3 years – Teaching, Learning and Assessment
  • Worked across three local authorities (Birmingham, Coventry and Solihull).
  • NPQH (extended placement in all male prison to transform assessment including learning to learn skills)
  • Strategic lead for school improvement across a collaborative 19 schools (Primary, secondary and special)

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

Various coaches and mentors including Sarah Vogel, Penny Heater, Alison Delaney and Simon Feasey.

Twitter Handle: @nfowles5

Leadership Reflections

Why did you become a leader?

I became a leader to be in service and help others realise their individual and collective power. Although many talk a great deal about servant leadership, it would be a lie to say this is a selfless act. There is something deeply fulfilling about being in service and it is my view that through servant leadership you are also serving yourself by challenging who you are and constantly checking your motives and intent about the work you do. Having a mindset of service does perpetually force you to grow because this sort of leadership starts with ‘self’ and how well you accomplish the leadership of ‘self. That takes honesty and resilience.

Why did your role/school appeal to you?

My school appealed to me because I knew there was much good work to be done and my belief was that the team and I could make an impact if we were brave enough to work in new and different ways. The children and community were also a huge factor because I could relate to some of the circumstances our children and families face because of my own childhood context.

How do you talent spot/nurture aspiring leaders?

Talent is identified and nurtured through the vehicle of opportunity. Unless you provide the platforms, experiences and tools for others to grow and give them licence to do that, many never will. It is important to also run with ideas from ‘the ground up’ and across the organisation. Others often notice talent in others that you may be missing or may be hidden from you in some way so listening to them is invaluable.

How would you like to affect change in the system?

I would like to affect change in the system through living values. Many leaders talk about values-driven leadership but it is not as simple as just having a set of values or behaviours. It is not as simple as just giving your opinions on what others should be doing or how they might operate because you have noticed they are out of alignment with what they might say. My question would be ‘how are you course correcting and modelling those behaviours yourself?’ I am not talking about constantly beating yourself up but just the subtle consideration of the impact you have or don’t have when you talk a good talk but never live it. I find that a great deal of people who seem to have opinions about headteachers have either never been one or have left headship. Opinions are rightly owned by every individual on the planet but when I talk about having less judgement then I need to ask myself ‘am I being overly judgemental?’ Affecting change is about being the sort of leader who affects change just because of who they are as a human. That is the work.

What myths would you like to debunk about being a Headteacher?

That we are know-all super humans who are meant to have the answers. Even colleagues who I  worked with literally bombarded me for answers in my first couple of years when it was blatantly clear that the school was in a difficult place and I was open about working my way through it. There was never going to be a quick fix to that sort of challenge but people wanted me to fix it all ‘now, now, NOW’.

Drawing on all of my previous experience was helpful but nothing prepares you to take on a school in such a situation and especially for a first headship. The myth that Headteachers somehow are miracle workers and can solve every problem that comes their way is just slightly strange in my view. What human on the planet does that? Headteachers are people not robots.

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

Practical challenges of being a single mum when my son was young but this made me even more determined. My son was not the barrier, just how the system didn’t support my circumstances at the time. I chose to work full time so it is was responsibility to consider how to manage this.

The perceptions of others (including female friends and family members) who had their opinion on my career and what I should and should not be doing. I suppose what I am describing is the weight of judgement and expectation from others and I believe this is very different for men and women. This did, in hindsight, stand me in good stead for the level of judgement and scrutiny I have faced since taking up Headship.

Leadership Advice

‘Know your strengths well and believe in them. Remember it is your talents and strengths that have got you this far, not your weaknesses’.

This advice has helped me when I have needed to focus on my emotional resilience. When I have felt very low and doubted myself then I recalled this advice and asked myself ‘Is this the biggest or hardest challenge you have ever had? No. Well then, this too shall pass when you use your strengths to help yourself move forward.

Leadership Inspiration

Currently reading Parker J Palmer ‘Courage to Teach’. No idea how it will shape me yet. Often, with my reading, it is not until I come across a situation that I can apply in context that I find it most useful. At this point, I re-read and revisit.

Leadership Mantra

Keep the Faith

Leadership questions:

How will you make a difference today? How do you know you made a difference today?


2 thoughts on “Talking Heads Blog #28: Nicole Fowles

  1. This is so refreshingly honest and, in some respects, hard hitting, Nicole. It is so telling that you talk of serving as being both of others and of self. If we can anchor our values and aspirations in a cause that meets both, everyone wins. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the way you seek meaning and motivation in something far far deeper than easy words and mantra. Our noble profession is crying out for grounded and honest leaders such as yourself. I dream of a system that recognises leaders like you and cares for and protects them because good and great things will come of that.


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