handbag, satchel or backpack?

When I was a child, a doctor decided that the scoliosis in my spine was not severe enough to be treated. I am always grateful for that decision, the thought of back operations or some form of iron corset support fills me with horror. But I had always been aware that the bendy backbone might lead to a problem as I got older. What I hadn’t thought about was how my choice of work bags might contribute to the problem.

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As headteacher I routinely carried a satchel of stuff home each night. This often included some marking from the one class I managed to teach, as well as most of the day’s correspondence, official documents I had to read and so on. The satchel was usually functional rather than stylish. Roomy. And generally hefty and heavy. With a strap as well as a handle. I always had a handbag – definitely more stylish than the big bag.

My usual practice was to sling both satchel and handbag over my left shoulder leaving my right arm and hand free to manage greetings and doors in between me and my destination – another meeting in another part of the school, the school car park, the regional office car park. This bags-on-left-shoulder habit meant that I had to lean from the waist to the right side to counter balance the weight.

Well you can see where this is going. The result is permanent damage to a somewhat vulnerable back.

These days, as an academic, I still carry a load of stuff to and from work. I now also have a re-usable cup, re-usable shopping bag and a re-usable water bottle to add to the books and correspondence.  But now I have only a backpack which, particularly when it’s very heavy, holds my back straight and – bonus – generally gets rid of any back ache that has been caused by too much sitting down or too much standing on one spot when teaching.

Why didn’t I just use a backpack then?

Well, in my defence I was a headteacher a long time ago, and backpacks were far less common than they are now. Most of them were designed for walkers and travellers and they were all a bit earnest.

But even if there had been the equivalent of my current sleek Scandi leather backpack available, I’m not entirely sure I would have opted for it. I do wonder whether I would actually have chosen something that looked more ‘casual’ than the (standard at the time) headteacher handbag and satchel. I like to think that if I really knew that bag-carrying would contribute to the bad back I now have that I would have chosen the backpack. Sense would have prevailed.

But there’s something rather informal about the backpack. Something a bit student-y. Something that perhaps doesn’t entirely fit with the jacket and professional dress code expected of the boss?

Amanda and I haven’t asked headteachers about their bags. But I think we will. I do wonder if it’s another one of those areas where how we think we are seen by others, what we think the unspoken norms and expectations are, actually influence our wardrobe choices.

Do any heads use a backpack and not a handbag and satchel I wonder?

 

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

Heels: practicality, comfort, and style…

When you’re researching wardrobes, you start to really notice the number of news articles and conversations about clothing, appearance, identity, and careers.

You also start to notice what people wear. This is partly because people now often comment to me about their clothing / outfits (and I love the conversations that come after that) but I find that I’m also more observant just in the day to day of things. I was in Sydney earlier this week and walking from the city to the university and, for whatever reason, I was paying attention to people’s shoes.

There were so many people in sky-high heels who appeared to be uncomfortable, or who were walking slowly in the steady flow of foot traffic. Of course, there were others who were striding down the footpath like Naomi Campbell stomping down the runway – just so you know I’m not skewing the anec-data here! It did make me think about our survey data, though, and the split comments from women about their shoes and what they represented.

When participants spoke about the times they wore heels, for example, it was often to look more professional (we’ve written about this in the past). Leaders reported wearing heels when they were ‘on show’ – meeting with governors, speaking on assemblies, or for ‘high stakes’ occasions, in one participant’s words. Participants described expectations to wear heels, and some people noted that even when they like wearing them they do find them to be uncomfortable.  There were comments about wearing them to be taller (an issue I’ve never had to think about at 5’9”, admittedly) to offset power dynamics.

Some of the participants questioned the need to wear heels. Their explicit resistance was about comfort (“as I have got older, I have begun to wear flat boots”), about the expectations placed on women (“would you ask a male leader about his footwear?”) and about practicality.

The issue of practicality of wardrobe choices was not limited to shoes, though it did come up a lot with shoes. Wardrobe choices were determined by the day’s tasks (playground duty, teaching classes – “Again full time teaching a young class where I am up and down from the floor and on my feet most of the day demands comfortable non restrictive clothes and no heels”), the weather (heat, rain, snow – our diversity of participants are well represented in their climates!), and safety concerns (“I have to be involved in the positive handling of students. Unconsciously I have stopped wearing any jewellery other than my watch and wedding rings so I don’t scratch them or my selves.”).

Of interest was the participant who described her wardrobe as changing when taking on a leadership role, becoming “less practical, more ‘professional’” in nature. One standout response was the Deputy Head / Deputy Principal in a primary school who described her job & her subsequent wardrobe choices in terms that were familiar to both of us: “Practical for the environment I work in.  Able to work on the floor, clean up stuff, plunger toilets, move quickly in an emergency. Brightly coloured for the kids.”.

The practicality of shoes are a recurring theme – women in our study have expressed an expectation (sometimes explicit through dress codes) to wear heels. When considering practicality of shoes, issues of distance walked throughout classroom visits during the day, stairs, being ‘on the go’ (“I am never a high heels person and prefer flat shoes or boots so I can run if needed!”), and wanting to be able to move freely (“I hate wearing heels but can’t break the habit – being taller also makes me feel more in control but I often take my heels off to teach. I want to look adult and be taken seriously but I also want to be able to prance around teaching Shakespeare.”).

We’ve written about shoes in our blog before. Pat has reflected on her heels that were both a ‘don’t f**k with me’ armour, and a little bit of an uncomfortable match. Our guest blogger, Lacey Austin, wrote about balancing on the tightrope of expectations for image and what it means to look like a teacher. This is clearly a rich area of thinking – partly because of the images and discourses/connotations associated with heels, but also because they are quite literally debilitating. You can’t easily run, jump, dodge or weave, and we know that heels cause permanent and painful damage to our feet. (More here‘This is what wearing heels all day does to your body’.) When women are still required to wear heels as part of either explicit expectations (dress codes), or implicit expectations, we need to better understand their effects.

I write all of this as an academic who, many days, manages to get away with wearing jeans and sneakers to work. But – like all of the data – on days when I have to teach, or when I have important meetings, the dresses and ‘nice’ shoes come out. I always get comments (maybe because of this project, maybe because of the mismatch in image) and I inevitably refer to it as having to look ‘like a grown up’ that day. Then I kick myself – ‘what am I saying!?’. I’m still thinking through how those ‘off the cuff’ responses influence our thinking and our rules about wardrobe. And, check out my cool and comfortable shoes today while I do that thinking.

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We’d love to hear your thoughts, either on our survey if you haven’t yet taken it, or on twitter – Amanda – @chalkhands and Pat @ThomsonPat

great expectations

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There was outrage recently about the report of an executive development programme at Ernst and Young. According to the Huff Post, women executives were told to dress and act nicely around their male colleagues. This meant, according the a 55 page document given to the HP reporter, that women were to have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type”. Executive women were also told “don’t flaunt your body – sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).”

Now, while this kind of professional development really does sound as if it comes straight from the ark, it did make me think about the benefits of having norms made explicit. When something is put into writing or said out loud, it can be dealt with. What’s said can be rejected, refuted, resisted.

What’s harder however is when these expectations and attitudes don’t disappear but just go underground. They become a kind of hidden curriculum that can be ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ only in actions or in patterns of outcomes.

I vividly remember an incident from my last headship. I was talking with one young man about his unacceptable behaviour. At one point he told me that “Everyone would take you more seriously if you wore a suit everyday like Mr (name of the head of a neighbouring school)”. I laughed – I am sure this wasn’t the response he expected. But while this was just another variation on his teenage-challenges-to-school-authority, his comment did make me wonder what kinds of conversations went on between the students about how I and other senior women on the staff dressed. What kind of expectations and norms were hidden from me/us?

Now I am quite sure that I wouldn’t have changed the way I dressed if I knew the answer to this question. But I would have done something to address it.

We are interested in the idea of a gendered hidden curriculum of appearances and behaviour. We see the traces of its existence in our other research in schools, and in some of the answers to our survey.

We know from professional experience and research that any kind of hidden curriculum matters. And it may matter quite a bit in relation to leaders. After all, it may be a hidden curriculum which frames relationships within and without the school rather than any  written code. And a hidden curriculum may also be a serious issue in employment, promotion and performance related judgments.

Surfacing the hidden curriculum of gender and leadership, seeing and hearing it, is a much more difficult task than that faced by the Huff Post reporter who had it all laid out for her in a 55 page text. But equally important.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The politics and the costs of looking ‘right’ for women leaders

We’re getting a little bit political in this blog today – but never fear, reader, it does all relate to school leaders.

Some of you might have seen the recent reporting and public commentary surrounding an article about the estimated cost of American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) haircut, which a writer estimated to be around $300 (with a tip included). This number didn’t surprise me in the slightest, nor (I imagine) would it have surprised many women. If you aren’t familiar with the story, you can read more about this here, here, and here.

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American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently been the face of a heated discussion about the costs associated with having the right ‘look’ as a leader.

The article written about AOC’s haircut was written with a point of comparison included, which contrasted AOC’s hair with a prominent American male politician who would spend $20 on his own haircut – this is comparing apples and oranges at best.

The cost of looking ‘right’ is something we’ve talked about in the past and it’s something that keeps coming up as being a really significant issue for women leaders – clearly, regardless of their field.

This is also not the first time AOC has been put under intense scrutiny for her style – she’s a young, powerful, progressive politician who has certainly ruffled a few feathers in the political landscape. Indeed, her political achievements are incredible – she is the youngest woman ever elected to congress and as a leader, she has become one of the faces of the progressive political movement in the United States (and watched closely by people worldwide).

There are ongoing comments from the media, the public, and other politicians about her clothing and appearance. Previous efforts to stir up outrage have included complaints about a specific blazer of hers, as well as a cover story where she wore clothing from the magazine’s stylist (as would happen in the majority of cover stories).

Attacks often include the notion that she is supposed to be progressive and fighting for progressive causes, which she does while still meeting the standards of appearance that she’s held to. (Examples also abound of other political women being attacked and criticised for not meeting these standards as much as for meeting them.)

Ocasio-Cortez is deliberate about her wardrobe and styling choices, and uses her clothing to convey parts of her identity, and to convey messages. For example, she comments on why she wears what she wears or how her hair is styled when it’s interwoven with meaning.

So why does this matter for school leaders?

Well.

The good thing to come out of this is that it has really sparked a more open conversation about the standards of appearance, wardrobe, and dress that women leaders are held to. It has also reinforced the inequity faced by women in these positions in terms of financial cost and the time it takes – I myself am often overdue for a haircut because I can’t find 4 hours to sit in the chair at once. Some great articles have been written that highlight these issues, and they do reflect comments from our participants as well that spoke to the frustration they felt in relation to these issues, and the ways women are held to certain expectations about their appearance (and the associated financial implications of those expectations).

Finally, another issue has been addressed in some of these ongoing articles, when the cost of hair and beauty treatments are criticised (let’s not forget that these are highly feminised professions). Hairdressers are trained and highly skilled professionals and, as I have already mentioned, I’m rarely in the chair for less than 4 hours when I have to get my hair done. They deserve to be paid fairly for their work.

I’ve been really pleased to see the articles that are arguing for recognition of this as an important part of the cost of living – we need to shift the conversation away from these costs, towards a discussion about WHY people feel the need to meet these costs if they don’t actually want to. The implicit and explicit expectations to have the RIGHT hair, to look RIGHT, continue to have financial implications for women.

Do you think this is comparable (perhaps not quite on the same public scale!) for women leaders in education? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

not just any brooch

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Many of us who follow the dismal story that is British politics will have noticed the commentary on Lady Hale’s spider brooch. Headlines included – it draws the eye but repels; a perfect icon for our times; say it with a brooch.

And of course the inevitable merchandising followed – tote bags and T-shirts first off the merch mark – some of it worthy fundraising.

Nothing I read about the brooch quite got into the obvious cultural reference –  Spiderwoman with superpowers taking on the Evil Establishment. No-one negatively referred to those 1930s devilish movie heroines dressed in sequinned Black Widow web frocks, or to the elegant de-fanging of this stereotype by Morticia from the Addams Family. Opportunity lost.

The Guardian predictably noted the fusion of fashion and politics:

Hale is a brooch trailblazer. She has a particular fondness for creepy crawlies – frogs, beetles and the like. On her profile on the supreme court website, she wears a brooch of a caterpillar – like the spider, it’s an animal that hardly has the cute factor on its side. Madeleine Albright, as secretary of state under Bill Clinton, was open about her use of brooches – or “pins” to Americans. After being called an “unparalleled serpent” by Iraqi state media, she wore a snake brooch to her next meeting with the country’s officials and her brooch-as-statement career began. Albright published a book called Read My Pins in 2009 and has continued to allow her pins to say it all. The smashed glass ceiling design, worn to watch Hillary Clinton make her nominee speech in 2016, broke the internet. 

US Vogue similarly commented

Hale’s ability to take on Boris Johnson while maintaining her signature sense of style has done the impossible and made brooches politically relevant for the first time since Madeleine Albright used them to subtly convey her feelings; perhaps they’ll go the way of Senator Wendy Davis’s pink filibuster sneakers and turn into bona fide resistance symbols.

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We wished they’d said more. We are very interested in jewellery as more than ornamentation. As nosy researchers with an interest in wardrobe, we want to know what went through Hale’ s head as she chose the brooch to wear that day. It sure wasn’t an accident.

What exactly did Hale hope to communicate through the spider?

Some of our women and wardrobe survey respondents told us that they use jewellery to individualise their work-wear and to send messages – arty, boho, bold were three adjectives used.

We wonder if any  women leaders out there select individual jewellery pieces to send very specific messages? Do any of us do a Lady Hale?

Do any of us wear a women’s symbol to work on particular days? Everyday?

Do we wear pins with messages?

Do we opt for something slightly oblique but nevertheless communicative, like Lady Hale’s spider?

Please do tell us via the comments or on social media if you use any of your jewellery in very particular ways. We’d love to know. (And pictures, yes please, pictures).

The many costs of changing wardrobes: Might rented or shared wardrobes might be a solution to multiple challenges?

We have written a lot about women who are making the shift in role and identity from teacher to leader, and what that means in practice.

We have found that women are buying new wardrobes (or wardrobe items) to ‘update’ their clothing to reflect their new roles.

We have found that these new wardrobe items are not cheap – and are often accompanied by expensive image upkeep regimens (hair, cosmetics, etc.).

We have found that there is a sense of frustration for many of our participants in relation to these issues. We have seen the effects of feedback, of ‘advice’ and of official and unofficial dress codes.

We have written about the intense scrutiny women leaders face in this area – often in public arenas. 

We have discussed the cost of looking like a leader for many of our participants. They have described significant financial costs. They have described significant amounts of time and energy being spent on these issues. And, in the case of some participants, they have decided to simply not do that anymore. Instead, those women described abandoning their morning hair and makeup rituals to reclaim that time to spend on reading, on leisurely breakfasts, or on morning meditation.

We have also discussed the costs of fashion, and consumerism writ large, on the environment. We’ve discussed the climate crisis and the role fashion is playing in creating more and more waste.

We are interested in the ways people are working to reduce some of these burdens. More and more, we are seeing options for more sustainable wardrobes.

 

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For example, this article from a couple of weeks ago reported on a company who is renting work wardrobes. They speak about sustainability and affordability, but they do highlight another issue that is clear in our data, which is that they cater mostly to smaller sizes (this is something that arose in our survey, which we intend to write about more in the future – who ‘fits’ in to the image of leadership).

A similar project is being undertaken at Monash University, where ‘The Rack’ is offering wardrobe pieces to pre-service student teachers for a gold coin donation. Students will be able to rent clothing to wear on professional experience practicums, job interviews, internships, etc. Wardrobe items are donated from the Monash community (and beyond, I’d imagine), and I’ve seen students browsing the selection for a few weeks now and heard really positive feedback. You can read more about The Rack here.

We think sustainability, affordability, and accessibility are a great and important starting point for thinking about key requirements for solutions to some of the wardrobe barriers we’ve seen thrown up.

Do you have knowledge of any similar programs? Have you made use of any? What do you think about the premise? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you on twitter or on our survey.

 

 

not looking enough like a leader

Leaders are always under scrutiny. They can be critiqued not only for what they say, but the way they say it. And the way they look is also often up for comment.

Women leaders seem to come in for much more critical public commentary than their male counterparts. Think of the mainstream media on Thatcher’s bouffant hair, Julia Gillard’s blazers and buttocks and Hilary Clinton’s hair and pantsuits. Angela Merkel recently commented that “It’s no problem at all for a man to wear a dark blue suit for a hundred days in a row, but if I wear the same blazer four times in two weeks, that leads to letter-writing from citizens”. This was, she suggested, a double-standard.

Social media heightens the focus on women in leadership positions. The comments made by the public are often abusive and misogynist. Sometimes they even include rape and death threats.

The latest target of sexist derogatory remarks is Derbyshire’s Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann. Appearing on national television to explain emergency actions taken to prevent a dam collapsing, at least some people thought her hair more worthy of comment than the multi-service rescue response she was very effectively coordinating.

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Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann’s hair was called scruffy, a toilet brush and a sign of lapsed standards.

While school leaders are always conscious of the fact that students, staff and parents may be scrutinising their appearance, most do avoid appearance-based trolling. The risk is always there, of course, that some kind of sudden media attention might bring unwanted and unwarranted comments. It’s too too hard to imagine a Rachel Swann style troll attack happening to a headteacher/principal.

Writing about the way in which media chooses to comment on women leader’s appearance, Amanda Hess from Slate Magazine said

In the United States, male politicians are set up with a pretty uniform dress code—dark suit, necktie, nondescript dress shoes—and it is never news. This is a code that evolved at a time when women did not run companies, states, or government agencies. By the time they migrated out of the kitchen and the secretary pool, women had no default uniform that would help them blend seamlessly into these male-dominated worlds. How every powerful woman chose to navigate that sartorial minefield became a reflection of her individual decision-making skills and thus code for her worth, her politics, and her feminism. Even seemingly mundane choices were seen as statements: Minnesota state Sen. Ellen Anderson was the first woman to wear pants on the Senate floor—in 1993. Hillary Clinton’s uniform of pantsuits (you know, a suit like a man wears, but for a woman) spawned endless think pieces. These wardrobes became the subject of political fascination not because the clothes gave any actual insight into these leaders as individuals, but because they reinforced the fact that they were women first and people second.

Hess’s argument might equally apply to women other than politicians. Her text might also speak to some of the hidden work that women leaders do – we must make ongoing choices about how we will represent ourselves to our communities, potentially critically communities. We are judged on the basis of those choices and they become code for how well we do our jobs.

How can we present ourselves as leaders first and foremost? What kind of wardrobe becomes over-masculine or too girly or too young or too dowdy or too unchanging or too fashionable or too boring or too much like my mother or too sexy or too tasteless or or or  – and therefore draws attention to gender rather than the job we are doing?

Many of the respondents to our survey referred to the need to dress to meet a public ‘gaze’ and we are very interested in this. We wonder what more when can find out when we finally get to have actual conversations!

Er…. thanks for the feedback?

One of the points that was made in the recent #AussieEd chat was in relation to anonymous feedback was that principals are given (extremely) unsolicited feedback on their wardrobe and appearance in anonymous surveys.

This made me think about anonymous student feedback which we receive a lot as academics – each semester, students are asked to provide anonymous teaching evaluations and research evidence is mounting – overwhelmingly so – that these surveys are discriminatory. They have been found to be racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, and the list goes on (for example, this open access paper by Meera E. Deo proves to be sobering reading). The comments can be brutal – academics have reported personal attacks, even threats, and there is little recourse. This study, for example, generated data through such evaluations, as well as through anonymous rating websites. They found that women were more likely to be rated on personality and appearance than men were. Similar issues were reported in the mainstream media (such as the Financial Times). You might be wondering, though, why I’m talking about academic labour conditions (because that’s what this issue is part of, really…) in a study about school leaders.

Well, here’s the thing. It isn’t just academics who experience this. School leaders are often encouraged to undertake anonymous 360-degree feedback surveys and this story highlights some of the particular ways anonymous feedback can be delivered cruelly and have implications for careers. They’re usually taken at key points of a leader’s career development – when people seek promotions, are appointed to new jobs, and so on. So this is naturally going to have some significant implications for the ways that feedback is read, understood, and taken up.

We wonder – have any other school leaders received anonymous comments that reflect the comments made in the tweet from last week’s chat?

We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts and experiences here in our survey.

you don’t look like a leader

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Many years ago Jill Blackmore and I did some research looking at principal “supply” – issues in recruitment, employment and retention. At the time there was already a notable problem for some schools in getting people to apply for the top job. We were able to research in South Australia and Victoria – another Australian state refused to be involved.

One of the things that we looked at was the way in which interview panels worked. We talked with people who had been interviewed for principal positions, and also with some people who had been on interview panels.

We came to the conclusion that interviews were often ‘homo-sociable’ – that is, panels tended to employ people just like themselves (Blackmore, Thomson and Barty, 2006).

Gender was a major marker of same-ness and difference in interviews. Sometimes all male or male-dominated interview panels just couldn’t see “merit” in many of the women who applied, nor in a minority of the men.

We didn’t ask people about clothes at the time. We probably should have. But what we were told was enough already. Here is a tiny taste of our findings:

Many research participants believed that women, in general, still faced an element of disadvantage as leadership positions continued to be perceived, by conservative panels, as belonging to men. There was a enduring association between masculinity and strong leadership (disciplinary and directive).

‘I would say’, one male principal said, ‘that my female colleagues have had to apply more widely’ though many were competent and highly talented. Although prejudice against women had fallen away considerably at an organisational level, that is, that is, within the Department and in most schools, he believed, it continued to exist in some localities as ‘… some communities have some old- fashioned, deep-seated attitudes towards appointing women to leadership positions’.

 

Still going on? 

In response to our last two posts on bare legs and tattoos, we have heard that this kind of discrimination may not have entirely disappeared. It seems that some people are still being told that they need to be – and to dress – a certain way in order to get a job.  We were told of interview panels where being bare-legged would have been seen by panellists as meaning unfit-for-the-role. One women told us that she had been told she wouldn’t be taken seriously for leadership until she put her hair up – long hair worn loose equated to not-leadership-material. We also heard from some women that they cover their tattoos in particular situations – such as interview panels –  in order not to elicit a prejudicial opinion.

We are interested to hear from any aspiring, serving or former school leader who has had experience of wardrobe-related employment troubles. We are particularly keen to hear whether clothes have been read as a non-verbal signal of either leader readiness/suitability or not.

We would love to hear from you – anonymously if you’d prefer – about any troublesome wardrobe incidents that have affected you.

Please use the comments below, social media or email us at patricia.thomson@nottingham.ac.uk or amanda.heffernan@monash.edu.

Reference

Blackmore, Jill, Thomson, Pat and Barty, Karin (2006) Principal Selection, Homosociability, the Search for Security and the Production of Normalized Principal Identities. Educational Management, Administration and Leadership 34(3) 297-317

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

The tattooed leader?

Some of our initial survey findings uncovered a fairly common theme that leaders felt pressure or expectations to look ‘professional’, alongside some fairly consistent ideas of what ‘professional’ actually looks like. We have started to explore this in previous blog posts (e.g., looking ‘professional’) but a recent TES article doing the rounds on twitter made me think about different elements of appearance – in particular, the issue of tattoos.

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Photo by Elle Hughes

 

The TES article asked ‘Why is how you look still an issue in teaching?’

The author of the article, Haili Hughes, was making the argument that:

“My results and relationships with pupils mean I am a consummate professional – not my outfits or body art”.  Ms Hughes raises the important question – if teachers are expected to look ‘professional’, who makes that judgment? Who decides what professional looks like?

This seems like a completely reasonable line of argument and subsequent question to this tattooed educator, and it also aligns with some of the comments made by head teachers regarding inked teachers in England in a Guardian piece – interestingly, some of the teachers and leaders quoted in the Guardian article discussed their own tattoos, which they then said that they covered up when in a school setting.

Teacher tattoos are certainly more commonly discussed or reported on than leaders with tattoos. We found a number of codes of conduct for religious schools (in particular) that specifically forbid visible tattoos.

But what does the empirical research say?

There’s research about the prevalence and significance of tattoos, their increase in number, their effects on employer perspectives, and on general perceptions. There’s not an enormous amount out there specifically about teachers and tattoos. It does appear in some studies, though, such as this psychology thesis by Melanie Lynn Simons, who explored children’s perceptions of the personal attributes of female teachers with tattoos.

Simons wrote:

Results from this study indicated that, in general, students did not perceive the female teacher with a tattoo differently than the female teacher without the tattoo, nor was their performance on a measure of achievement significantly impacted by the presence of the tattoo. Additionally, exposure to parental tattoos did not result in more positive ratings of the teacher with a tattoo by students.   

Find the thesis here. 

Another empirical study, by Latish C Reed, examined ‘The intersection of race and gender in school leadership for three Black female principals’. This is a study Pat and I have engaged with and referenced in our own research, because we wanted to articulate and further explore the way intersections of race, gender, class, age (and so on) influenced the experiences of participants in our study.

Dr Reed described a participant, Ms Cox, an early-career principal:

As a result of her age, Ms. Cox expressed additional levels of personal scrutiny. Ms. Cox cited challenges related to her appearance and behavior. She described a personal attack on her sense of fashion. She recalled:

They talked to me about the way I dress. I always look professional. They talked to me about the way I wore my hair. They didn’t like that I had a long pony tail. I had a tattoo. I need to cover that up or wear pants. I was required to have laser surgery and they offered to pay for it. I got reimbursed. That [surgery] wasn’t very successful.

When I visited, Ms. Cox had on a conservative business suit with a skirt. She described her dress that day as typical. 

In contrast, some principals have been able to embrace their tattooed selves, and one principal, Hamish Brewer, seems to have made a name for himself as an alternative principal. This story emphasised his unexpected path to school leadership, and emphasised his descriptions as ‘tattooed, skateboarding principal’.

This all makes me wonder – there’s often discussion in popular media about tattooed school teachers, but somewhat less so about tattooed school leaders. Are you a school leader with tattoos? Do you have them on display, or do you cover them up when you’re at school?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Our survey is still open for business!