How can you progress your career on maternity or paternity leave?
Career progression can be tough. As teachers we can often feel that taking on lots of additional (unpaid and unrecognised) responsibilities is the only way to ensure we will get that promotion or Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) when it comes along.
If you then take a period of parental leave it can make the whole situation seem worse and that dream role can seem even further away.
Even when you return to work it can seem like an impossible task to put in the time you feel you need to in order to progress when you have a family that you want and need to spend that time with.
I recently attended a Women in Leadership conference. Many women there spoke about feeling lost with their careers when they returned from maternity leave – I imagine this may well be similar for men who take shared parental leave.
I have two young children and have had different experiences of the return to work with each child. With my first child I took maternity leave during my NQT year, and with my second I relocated from London to Devon so had to change jobs completely.
5 career development ideas for parental leave
Having reflected on my own experiences and listened to those of others, I’ve compiled a list of things you should bear in mind before you start your paternal leave.
1. Discuss flexible working and career progression with SLT
Firstly, when discussing your return to work you have the right to request flexible working (if you have been employed for 26 weeks or more). When you have this conversation it is an ideal time to tell SLT what your long term plans and aims are.
If you are still considering a particular route of career progression then let them know. They will be able to bear this in mind when considering staffing, recruitment and CPD opportunities. Leaders at your school can’t support you effectively unless they know what you are aiming for.
2. Find CPD you can do whilst on leave
I found a Live Online CPD programme that I could do while on maternity leave. I also took the opportunity to catch up with all those educational blogs and books I didn’t have time for when at work. Don’t get me wrong, being on maternity leave is busy – but in the very early days there was a lot of time spent trapped under an asleep baby – I made sure I had a book nearby to read.
Keep a list of any CPD completed while on leave (or the rest of the time) to remind yourself for when you next apply for promotion. If there is a particular course or conference that you would have attended, had you not been on leave, talk to SLT about whether you could still attend and count this towards one of your Keep In Touch days.
3. Value your time (work more effectively not for longer)
Don’t try to do more hours just to get yourself in a position for promotion. Whether or not you meet the requirements of a role is about the skills you develop and the experience you have and not about the extra unpaid hours you have done. Make sure that you prioritise well.
Demonstrating your ability to manage your time effectively is likely to be a skill that impresses SLT and increases your prospects of progression. Progressing your career should not be a choice that means less time with your family. If you value and protect that important family time you will be much more positive about the time you are at work and will be likely to be a lot more productive as a result.
4. Still apply for opportunities
Finally, The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on Managing Pregnancy and Maternity in the Workplace emphasised that “…there is no reason why you should not apply for promotion when you are on maternity leave. If you are discouraged from applying for promotion, or refused promotion, because you are on maternity leave, this would be maternity discrimination.”
There is no reason why being on leave or being about to go on leave should change your chances of obtaining a particular post – if you have the skills to do the job that is all that matters. At the very least you are making your future intentions clear.
5. Have faith in yourself and others
Finally, remember that having a child does not undo the knowledge and experience you have gained. It does not diminish your ability to do your job. You may even find it improves your practice.
I certainly found that my behaviour management improved after having children – I became a lot more patient and took poor behaviour less personally (a chatty class is really nothing compared to a full on toddler tantrum).
Many people will not be concerned with career development while on parental leave, but many will. If career development is still a priority then take some time to be clear with yourself about how you want to progress and in what time frame. Once you know what you want, have a frank discussion with SLT, and whatever the outcome of that discussion, make sure you are looking for your own opportunities for quality CPD.