Imposter Syndrome in Education

Imposter Syndrome for Teachers and School Leaders

Imposter syndrome is a really common issue for teachers and school leaders in education. I started this website as a reflective blog whilst completing the NPQML leadership course, since then it has evolved into a special education teaching resources and ideas website. Over the last 5 years, over half a million people have visited. I know this is probably what the TES gets in an hour but it amazes me. Each time I write a blog post I worry that it is not good enough, no one will read it, and that I am really not qualified to even be putting my ideas out there. This leads me back to the topic of this post. Imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

There are many definitions of imposter syndrome. They all have common features. It is an internal belief that you are not good enough to be doing the role you have. You have somehow been recruited by mistake, maybe you oversold your skills at the interview. Many of those in school leadership report they feel about to be “found out”, this could be by the Headteacher, governors, or OFSTED. It is a feeling that you will be tested at some point and you will fail to live up to expectations. There are links to anxiety and low confidence. It is more specifically linked to feeling that others are better than you. Often any successes are put down to luck or cheating in some way and failures are taken to heart as proof.

Imposter Syndrome For Teaching Professionals

I meant to write this post last year after reflecting on this Twitter (now X) exchange with Dr Pooky Knightsmith about her podcast. Why do we feel like this? As professionals with training, qualifications and experience surely we have earned the right to feel secure in our ability. I read an article on the incomplete leader which helped me shape my thoughts around imposter syndrome as a school leader a bit more.

Pooky went on to record a video on the subject of teachers and imposter syndrome when returning to the classroom.

Unpredictability and Constant Change

I can only speak for myself. One of the things that those working in education face daily is the unpredictable nature of the job. There is no one way to do things. Every “expert” differs in their opinion of the best way to educate children. The best way to support mental health and how to manage behaviour. If you have ever been observed you will no doubt have received conflicting feedback. One observer wants something, you implement it and at some other point that is picked up as an area to improve.

Every child is unique and requires a nuanced approach. I can honestly say I don’t get it right all the time. I don’t have the answers people want and can only support them through a process. Schools I have worked in feel like they are in a constant state of evolution. No one stands still. There is rightly a quest to improve, even if things are good. When you are surrounded by other professionals it is hard not to compare yourself and your practice. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, or imposter syndrome. An architect may have a fantastic building to show off. A teacher’s successes are less tangible and often captured in the hearts and minds of children.

So what can I do about Imposter Syndrome?

There are plenty of articles and blogs seeking to provide an answer as to what you should do to overcome Imposter Syndrome. Here are the things I try and that sometimes work.

  • Keep your CV and personal statement up to date. This allows you to capture your successes and reflect on what you are achieving. What projects have you completed, and what strategies are you using that have a positive impact? Write these down – they are you implementing effective projects and ideas, building your skyscraper.
  • Keep your head down and teach. I am a big fan of Twitter/social media for CPD and sharing ideas but it is sometimes hard to realise that people are curating their best bits. It can be so difficult not to compare your lessons with their flashy Knowledge organisers and dual-coded fact sheets (Which I do like this is not a dig). Teachers can often try and be all things to all people, a teacher, a counsellor a graphic designer, an artist, a storyteller and a public speaker. Sometimes you just need to step out of the swirling morass and do your own thing.
  • Challenge yourself – set a goal and focus on that. For example, you will aim to be a great mentor to a younger teacher. Not the best you don’t need to be – and that is subjective. Make one small difference and capture it.
  • Say no – It is easy in schools to take on too much and dilute your passions with other people’s interests or priorities. If you are feeling overwhelmed try to cut the extra bits. Do you need to be at that working party or in the school play?
  • Accept other people feel like this. This podcast (below) with Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar is enlightening, he talks about feeling like an outsider.

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