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Teaching: Why I want to inspire leaders of the future

Clemmie Stewart, 36, is senior head of preps at Surbiton High School.

I took a year out, some of which I spent teaching.

I was due to read Music at Bristol but got the place at Winchester before I started but teaching made me realise that I was not cut out to read music, but my destiny was to be in a classroom instead.

I went to Winchester University to study English and Education Studies degree course, and the rest is history!


I have taught in all types of schools: boarding, a state school in special measures and most recently, a London day school that is part of a multi-academy trust (MAT).

I progressed up the career ladder and now find myself as senior head across two schools and supporting four academy schools.

I am also a vice-chair of governors across two primary academies.

Read more: Why I decided to become a primary school teacher

Confident and impactful leaders

Young people are already leaders: they might be thought leaders; influencers in their form rooms; captains on the sports field; on the student council. They already have the power to make the greatest impact on others.

By becoming thoughtful, considered and confident leaders, they can maximise their impact for good. You needn’t look far for young people with voices who impact on a local, national and even global scale. They drive movements, narrating their stories along the way. This needs to be amplified.

How I empower young people

By providing opportunity and also the tools with which to be successful. It is no good giving a person a role unless you are willing to invest the time in helping them to do the role successfully.

Mentorship is another really important aspect. If someone has a mentor, they can really maximise opportunities afforded to them. I also think you need to surround young people with a broad and diverse pool of role models to explore and unpick in depth. You are what you see.

My advice to young women about being confident

I would say that confidence comes in all guises. You might not be the loudest, the most able, or the most popular, but a quiet and innate confidence will still burn deeply.

I also think that real confidence comes from knowing yourself: your strengths which you can celebrate and the bits you are still working on. When you have clarity about that, you are more able to work on those areas and the confidence comes from the progress you make along the way.

My final piece of advice would be to keep checking you are in the zone of growth. Stay in your comfort zone and you’ll never unleash your potential; overstretch into the zone of stress and you won’t develop. However, bask in the growth zone, taking little steps each day and you will amaze yourself with what you can do.

What stops women from becoming confident leaders

A complete lack of self-belief. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome can be tough to face but once you are aware of them, you can acknowledge them and then get past them. If you aren’t convinced that you can do it, you’ll struggle to take others along with you.

Women also need to have that genuine sense of equality. They have every right to be at that table and should never be apologetic in the presence of others. They are there because they bring something that is needed – not because they have to be. This is improving all the time but needs to be better and this needs to be a real priority until equity and equality are a genuine given. We need to keep calling for that until we get it, for ourselves and for our young people.

I also think having a committed team of cheerleaders is really important. Those who will give you constructive feedback, but also hoist you on their shoulders and celebrate each success. I come from the most supportive (and wonderfully challenging) family and we do this for each other all the time. I can tell you, if you can survive interview practice with my dad (journalist Alastair Stewart) who has taken on most politicians in his time, you can survive most recruitment processes!

My advice to my younger self

Some amazing advice I was given by a previous boss and a very dear friend. When I said that I was too young to apply for a headship, she asked why. I said that others would think that I wasn’t ready. Her response was ‘what others think of you is none of your business.’ I love this. If you worry too much about how others perceive your ‘failings’ you will never get anywhere.

I will always strive to lead with compassion, kindness and humility and hope that others see that in me – beyond that, I will show with my actions what I can achieve. Actions speak louder than words!

The difference I would like to see in the world

Women genuinely championing each other. No one else is going to do it for us (apart from male allies – who are growing in numbers).

It is an outdated concept that to get to the top, you need to tread on others. Rather than tread, boost. Rather than out-do, collaborate. Rather than snatch opportunities, highlight everyone who can be successful. I saw a great quote the other day. Surround yourself with women who would mention your name in a room full of opportunities.

Be those women, speak those names and lift others as you may want to be lifted.

And finally

Get a mentor! Anyone who will invest a little time in you, to help you to dream big, achieve your goals and be the very best version of yourself.

I have had a handful of incredible mentors in my time who have genuinely helped me to shape the leader I am today. I will always willingly pass that on.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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