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Alison Kriel

Leadership - Equity, Diversity and Inclusion - Well-being

At a time when it seemed like 'a man in a suit' was what every school needed to lead it, Alison Kriel proved she could succeed by doing things her way. In doing so, she is living proof that we can all can succeed on our own terms without compromising.

That's the message that Alison shares in her work with schools and school leaders and in her highly sought-after speaking engagements. It's a message that resonates strongly with us all at Independent Thinking.

Born into South Africa's apartheid regime to teenage parents, Alison was labelled 'Cape Coloured' - 'not black enough to be black or white enough to be white'. From a young age, she knew what it was like to be an outsider, something that helped her navigate an education system that seems to not only be wary of difference but to suppress it.

She also knows the importance of finding out who you really are and being true to that.

It is this mindset that was behind her extraordinary successes in inner-city London, creating schools out of nothing and turning failed and failing schools into award-winning institutions that were held up as national examples of what ambitious, creative, child-centred schools could look like.

It is why she is in demand working with schools on what she calls 'conscious leadership', showing how school communities prosper when they embrace diversity in culture and thinking.

And it is this approach that exemplifies what school leaders are capable of when they are courageous enough to choose not to simply fit in, play by the rules and follow whatever the latest central government drive might be.

Recent titles include:

  • Developing a Culture of Belonging So Everyone Can Achieve
  • Conscious Leadership - Holding On To Self
  • Cultural Capital in a Multicultural Society

Of course, Alison's success in school leadership was not an overnight happening and nor was her entry into teaching.

With most of the women in her family working in education, her first thought was not to follow such a well-trodden path. However what she refers to as 'the calling from deep within' would not be silenced and, having settled in the UK at the age of 15 and pursuing her university education here, she made the decision to teach in Hackney, at the time one of the most challenging boroughs in one of the most challenging cities.

As anyone will know who has taught in such environments, there are always make-or-break moments. One such moment for Alison was taking the register in her Year Two class when a child responded with, 'Good morning Blackie'. It was what happened next, not the comment, that helped shape the leader that Alison became. After learning about this incident, her headteacher took the afternoon off to lead an Art lesson on self portraits and to share her experience growing up in France under Nazi occupation.

Apart from learning how to help children develop a more informed and tolerant view of a diverse world, her headteacher's actions helped Alison understand what true leadership was all about:

'By dropping everything, she showed us all the importance of pursuing those things you truly believe in as a leader - your vision and values.'

And now Alison is the one sharing with colleagues around the world the importance of such genuine, authentic and effective leadership.

Very much in demand for her perspectives and experience when it comes to effective school leadership and whole-school improvement with well-being at its heart, Alison is also passionate about helping schools be the diverse and inclusive places they should - and need - to be.

With a marked lack of diversity in the teaching profession - something that is even more pronounced in school leadership - Alison is well placed to support schools and the wider system address issues round equity and inclusion regardless of colour, ethnicity, gender or class.

In her own words:

'It is very easy to lose our way in our education system, to follow a pattern, and eventually realise that we are surviving, and feel like we are barely making a difference rather than following our own visions. What is your passion? Are you following your aims and ideals? Are you teaching from the soul?'

What do you think? Are you teaching or leading, 'from the soul?'

"You’re a woman who is able to achieve what others may believe to be unattainable"

"Alison Kriel is giving a masterclass in educational wellbeing & Positive Psychology. Wisdom in abundance!"

"Alison is a highly effective, motivational and inspirational leader"

"Learning from Alison Kriel about positive education - the session is packed with wisdom and practical ideas"

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