Write Your Own Reference

Blowing your own trumpet...

I’ve got a new job for September. I’m utterly thrilled and geared up, all ready for the new challenge. I signed a couple of Fridays ago, handed my notice in on the next working day and am now working hard to ensure that I leave everything ship shape and as I would wish to pick it up. My plan is to hand over the baton, still running, until my last minute in school. This is a matter of integrity but not the reason for this post.

So, jobs. And references.

So all went peachy and my references were requested. I hadn’t had contact with my 2nd named referee for a few months, so I emailed him, out of courtesy, asking whether he’d mind me putting his name down on the form. He replied saying he ‘would be honoured’, so long as I had no one I’d prefer to use, which was lovely and ridiculous because he knew how highly I had thought of him whilst I had worked for him. And I felt he had thought highly of me too. And references can make or break… It was a no brainer to ask him.

His next email, however, suggested that if I wrote the reference for myself that he would put his name to it if he could, in all honesty.

Of course. Write the reference you would like and I’ll then look at what in good conscience I can affirm.

I was irritated! And annoyed a little too. I worked really hard for him. I really thought he would write quite nice things. It’s rare we read our strengths written down by a boss, it means a lot to see in black and white and I was curious as to what he would say. I wanted to feel like I’d made a difference, in someone else’s eyes.

Besides, I hadn’t got time to faff around writing my own reference, and, as he well knows, I’m my own very worst critic. I’m reflective, to the point of a mirror, and can be a perfectionist to the point of fault! His next response was that to be too self-deprecating was just as bad as being arrogant, yet there wasn’t a word to describe the former. He told me

If you believe in honesty, that means working to be able to be honest about yourself – even when it makes you uncomfortable. One doesn’t really possess a moral quality until their is a price to be paid and it has been earned. So to be too critical is as bad as being too arrogant, thats why the virtue which lies in the middle between the extremes is “humility.” Sadly we only have a word for the “too positive” extreme – “arrogant”. We don’t have a clear and simple word for the other extreme of excessive self deprecation.

He was, of course, right in what he said. He was always right on these matters.. A bit like Yoda. And I do hope he forgives me writing about his ideas and words… But the idea is so wonderfully simple that I felt compelled to share.

I’m always pretty modest when it comes to working at least, but those who can or are willing to sell themselves…are they more likely to get a job? I read the ‘Luck Factor’ by Richard Wiseman- a while back and whatever your personal views on self-help books, it changed my outlook. We make our own luck, I really think we do. (Read it- it is life changing stuff.. and ‘Mindset’ too)

So, after my protests, he wrote the reference eventually, in prose- he disagreed with ticking boxes which could reflect differences in the standards of the employer and therefore be deemed unfair without moderation (a method I will probably follow, with reasons that I will borrow, from this day on)… and wrote me a far more kind and glowing one than I’d have written myself.

We constantly encourage and promote reflection in our profession, it’s a key skill in crafting our practice, yet the thought of being openly positive about oneself just doesn’t sit right. It’s uncomfortable.

I’m reflective and know enough to know anyone who thinks that they teach perfectly will not be top of the game for long. We learn. Trying and practise make us better. Not perfect. But who am I to blow my own trumpet? I’d rather be modest, but am I humble to the point of fault?

If tasked with writing my own reference where would I even begin? I hate being thought of as arrogant. But I am okay at confidence. Where is the line?

So, I’m setting this as a CPD task for myself. Maybe it should be introduced as part of our appraisals, a discussion point, with line managers? A time to compare ideas and views? A way of making staff aware of their worth before they decide to leave? There’s definitely value in it. So much value.

So, here goes- please note that this is just a starting point!

I can be a bit loud and find it hard to hold my tongue when I feel ideas or views (not necessarily my own) deserve recognition, I can be a little bit gobby- you can take the girl out of Watford, but not the Watford out of the girl. I get carried away by exciting plans and like affecting change. I always have a tick list to hand. I do the urgent to do list, before leaving work each day; it is literally scrawled on the back of my hand. I prioritise.

I say it like it is, but usually with a smile and I really really love teaching. I work stupidly hard. It matters. I change lives. I can be a perfectionist. I throw my all into my work, I sometimes get it wrong but I keep trying, I’m resilient; I admit my errors and never make the same mistake twice.

I learn, manage, lead by example. I try new things, sometimes they do work. I keep learning, trying and they work more and more.

I still get really nervous presenting to or meeting big crowds. Despite a confident exterior, I am actually painfully shy to the point I feel so overwhelmed meeting new groups that I tend to stand alone in a corner if no one approaches me… In the past, it has lead people to wrongly, hurtfully, assume I’m a bit aloof or arrogant. So if you see me there, stood on my own, please come over and talk. I will be stood there petrified and looking for a lifeline, a friendly face.

I travel to an island to help kids and teachers. I got an award for it which still surprises me as I was simply doing my job. I’m a pretty good (outstanding is the truth) teacher, an AST and an SLE. As AVP for T&L, I’d never expected the staff I lead to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. I teach English. I know the pressures on core subjects and love taking bottom sets. My door is always open to colleagues. I always keep on top of my marking. It underpins everything else that I do.

I’m honest. I know that sometimes the bridges we burn can light the way, I also know that putting out the flames of colleagues will not make my light glow any brighter. I will do anything in my power to make good staff feel valued. When a colleague or student asks if I have a minute, my reply is always yes. The truth is that I never really have a spare minute but I somehow always find or create one, as if by magic. I was once told, by a great leader, that great leaders always make time for colleagues. I believe they do. I never say no. Unless I am teaching.

I try to smile at people when I pass by, I say hello and thank you. I laugh with colleagues and students. I’m winning over hearts and minds, so I’m told. I model professional behaviour. If students were asked they’d say I was ‘actually really okay’ which means the world to me. I’m also apparently pretty ok at ‘teacher bants’ too. Behaviour management is a strength of mine, as is making learning relevant and fun but understand the need for clear boundaries and rules. I value consistency, high expectations and praise.

I never wear short skirts, low tops or anything see through to work. I do however wear high heels every single day. My current stilettos of choice are red, although the runners-up are a wonderful leopard print pair.

So do I get the job? I have plenty of data to prove my worth. And Certificates. But surely it’s not about numbers and paper? You will know me within 5 minutes. I’m warm. I’m enthusiastic. I’m passionate and conscientious. I’m got a wicked sense of humour. I make a difference to the children I teach.

In the original post, I went on and wrote…

I imagine if my new principal reads this he may feel slight panic

and told him

rest assured the references you received were genuine, written by others (luckily). I simply cannot wait to join your team.

He messaged me the next day; with a great response and made me wonder what he’d write about himself. I’m in awe already. I can’t wait for September.

To any heads out there, would you use this? Would comparing my own reference against those of my referees give you insight into me that you may not pick up on in an interview? Would triangulating them against results, conversations, interview responses and then looking through a set of my books help you to make a more informed appointment than your current system?

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Natalie Scott in 2015 and re-published here with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

You can read further posts from Natalie by clicking here

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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