Last week, at forty years old, I left school.
Yes that’s right I have spent my entire life in a classroom, first as the learner, then as the teacher.
My younger brother learned to read at the age of two, partly because he’s annoyingly bright but also because I insisted on teaching him and I didn’t let him go until he’d got it right (Sorry James!)
Through my teens and then university I worked on holiday play schemes in the UK and abroad, always playing and teaching. As a teenager I worked for Mencap, teaching younger teens how to play with and care for children with learning difficulties.
Seven years ago I attended a leadership course and one of the sessions focused on coaching. After a brief introduction, I found myself coaching another teacher, asking her what she wanted to achieve as a result of the programme. When I finished she and the observer stopped and remarked- Wow Sarah you are SO good at this and though it’s not easy to accept a compliment my first thought was- Yes thanks, I am.
But this wasn’t really surprising: I’d spent my life teaching- asking questions, building confidence and nudging children in the right direction, finding joy in those lightbulb moments when, suddenly, they got it. As my career progressed I coached other teachers, particularly those new to the profession, to set goals, find their strengths and reflect on their developing practice. As an English teacher I had spent years teaching children not just to read and write, but to speak and listen effectively. I hadn’t realised it but I already had the building blocks I needed to become a coach.
On my return from maternity leave, A level was removed from my allocation: then two years later, GCSE was removed. The frustration I felt drove me to spend my evenings and weekends training and coaching; to listen to podcasts on the school run; to form new networks with coaches and business owners further ahead than me and it’s been a thrilling process.
At work, I chose to keep my energy high. I covered my work space with positive affirmations and began to coach and teach coaching skills to students and colleagues.
I got clear on my values: love, growth and contribution. I came to understand that personal growth, a core value, had been inhibited but instead I focused this energy on personal and business growth.
The true test is yet to come. I am leaving behind a wonderful community of staff and students. I am venturing into a new space in which I am solely responsible but I do know that we only get one shot.
Life is too short to stay stuck, to be unhappy or to play small.
•The Big Leap is taken from a brilliant book by Gay Hendricks