Short official bio
Iesha Small is an experienced school leader, researcher and writer who is passionate about social change, equality and helping people to use their uniqueness to add value to their work. She is also frequently asked to speak on the subjects of education, leadership and challenging the status quo. After suffering a nervous breakdown in 2011, Iesha started using photography to improve her mental health and to explore people’s stories. This journey ultimately led to her becoming an author. Her forthcoming book, The Unexpected Leader, looks at leadership from a very human perspective
Longer, juicier bio
Just before I started this blog I thought my career was over. I had been a successful Head of Maths in a school in North London then I’d had a breakdown due to a cocktail of poor working practices, the stresses associated with becoming a first time parent and a natural predisposition towards depression which has been part of my life since I was a teenager.
Oddly that breakdown turned out to be a major turning point and possibly one of the best things to ever happen to me professionally. As an interesting side effect I took up photography and any photographs on blog posts from May 2017 onwards are taken by me unless otherwise stated. Any small children featured in them are generally also mine.
Once I was healthy again I took a new job, again as a Head of Maths, but this time in a school where I was much healthier and happier.
I wondered what was so different. I worked as hard and was as accountable – possibly more so- but felt much better. It was here that my real interest in leadership and bringing your whole self to work began. I wanted to get the best out of my team so that we could help our students achieve but I didn’t want to ever be the cause of the type of poor working conditions that caused my burnout only a few months before.
This blog started as a place for me to explore my thoughts about leadership and education. I still write about those things but I increasingly write about introversion, how leaders can build mental resilience, and how to live and lead authentically.
My own journey to authenticity has been slow but ultimately rewarding and liberating. It was in my second Head of Maths role that I was truly honest about my occasional struggles with depression. It didn’t kill my career as I’d feared. I was successful in the role, my department thrived and a year after joining I became a member of the Senior Leadership Team at the same school.
In my next job, as an Assistant Headteacher at another school, I came out about my sexuality at interview. This was a big deal for me, considering that when I was a young graduate engineer I’d spent a whole year not mentioning my female partner to my work colleagues. I’d decided that if I was going to do my best work I couldn’t waste energy hiding major parts of who I was.
After about 8 years in middle and senior leadership positions and 12 years in schools in total I realised I needed a break. I had strong views about education and was still passionate about it but it was time to do something else.
I found it hard to maintain this blog as Assistant Headteacher for many reasons but as a result of it I’ve been asked to speak, consult, coach and write and I’m currently a monthly columnist for Schools Week.
Right now, I think I have what the trendy kids call a portfolio career. In addition to my personal work above I split my working week between being am a Senior Associate at a think tank and teaching maths part time. The maths teaching bit does what it says on the tin but the think tank bit often leaves people looking a bit blank and confused so here goes… I spend my time researching and communicating about topics that we hope will improve the lives of all young people in England, especially the most disadvantaged.
The research that I lead and am part of is used to influence policy makers, those who work with young people and the wider public. I have the added bonus of being able to work flexibly and from home for a proportion of my week which allows our mini dog Fifi to have a very warm lap to sleep on for decent stretches of time.
On this blog and in my other personal work via speaking, writing and working with organisations and individuals I hope to influence and support you to lead effectively, bring your whole self to work and have the tools to be mentally resilient in your leadership and wider life.
If you’d like to keep in touch subscribe to receive weekly blog updates and a free copy of my 9 Lessons for unexpected leaders pdf.
The Unexpected Leader: Lessons from school leaders who don’t fit the mould, Crown, (forthcoming) Sept 2018
The Talent Challenge: The looming teacher recruitment crisis in England’s state schools and what to do about it, LKMco, (2017)
Mindshackles: Personal stories of reclaiming life from mental ill health, (2013-2016)
Don’t change the light bulbs: A compendium of expertise from the UKs most switched-on educators (contributing author), Crown House, (2014)