Checking in with Catherine Carden
We recently had the chance to chat with Catherine Carden. Catherine’s an educational academic, specialising in people centred leadership, teacher education and development. She’s spent the last 14 years of her career in the areas of learning and teaching and teacher education at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent and is currently working part time for the Open University alongside working as an education consultant specialising in leadership, well-being and people development. She is also co-founder of Bowden Education which offers online teacher, governor, leadership and TA development.
What does well-being mean to you?
I think it’s the obvious of having both physical and mental wellness but you can’t achieve well-being until all your basic needs are met, so there’s a definite link to Maslow’s hierarchy. For me well-being doesn’t just mean working less, as work can provide a place to be creative and provide a sense of purpose, which both contribute to well-being. It’s a fine balance though between contributing to well-being and work becoming overwhelming and stressful, which in education particularly can be a real knife edge. Social interaction is also really important to me alongside being creative and purposeful.
What’s one habit that improves your life?
This one started for me back in lockdown when we were only allowed out for one walk a day. Since then I’ve tried to make sure that every day I go out and do something active, even if only walking with the dogs. I’ve always gone out but lockdown really kickstarted the routine of ensuring that I get out every single day for some fresh air. I log it on Strava, not for any competitive reasons but to give me that extra nudge to head out particularly when the weather’s not so great.
What one thing makes you the happiest?
Firstly of course being with family and friends, in case any of them read this! But if we’re talking beyond that then skiing in the mountains is where I’m happiest. I’m usually quite chaotic and don’t tend to sit down to relax but when you’re skiing you can’t think about anything else so it’s an incredibly mindful activity.
How did you get into what you do now?
I never consciously made the decision to map my career. I actually started in the travel industry having done a degree in Tourism and Business Management. I’d never considered teaching as both my parents were teachers and didn’t encourage me into it. However I then felt I had a bit of a calling within me towards education so switched to a job in Further Education teaching tourism. Since that it’s been a series of right place right time with getting roles. It’s not been mapped out at all but I’ve learned that by not being too blinkered I’ve been open to spotting a whole range of opportunities.
What are the most interesting challenges you need to solve in your role?
I work with people to change cultures and ways of doing things, particularly in relation to the way they lead, well-being, workload and recruitment/retention of staff. The biggest challenge with this is getting that culture change, especially coming out of the pandemic where people’s priorities have changed. It’s a different world now and organisations need to think more broadly on how they can keep staff beyond just pay incentives. This is a particularly interesting challenge in education as to whether flexible working could be applied to schools and if so how they might do it.
How do you deal with pressure and expectations?
I see pressure and expectations as two different things. With a job there are always expectations linked to that but I think you need honesty and authenticity around expectations so you can show up and be who you are. If someone’s recruited the authentic you to a role and you show up as yourself then that’s all that can be asked of you.
When it comes to pressure, firstly I think you need to stay healthy, and this includes sleep. This is especially applicable to leadership roles. I’ve seen leaders tell their staff to look after themselves but then not model this themselves. I think you can only look after your staff if you’re looking after yourself. Secondly, being really organised helps me a lot. While I can sometimes be a bit chaotic and often have many plates spinning, so long as I get organised then I’m not wasting energy on the stress and hassle that comes with being disorganised. Thirdly, developing skills to work with people is so important. You can get people to do most things if you bring them with you but if you can’t work well with people you’re forever dragging them along and they won’t want to go over and above. I think investing in people and getting to know the people you work with helps massively to build that sense of team and reduce the pressure on individuals.
What role do books play in your life?
I hated reading as a teenager, which is maybe not too uncommon for teenagers but I now read a lot. It’s partly an expectation of my job as an academic but I read a wide variety of things, both work related as well as more for leisure. I do have far too many books at the moment though! I’m currently on a book buying ban as I have a shelf full of unread books, so won’t be buying any more until I’ve read those!
What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I can’t remember where I actually got this from but it’s something I’ve since used and will share with people I work with. It’s based on this drive for perfectionism that we can all have and someone once said to me “Good enough is good enough.” I use this a lot with teachers I work with who strive to be outstanding because none of us can be outstanding all the time. Hopefully we all have those moments where we’re outstanding but day to day, good enough is good enough, so it’s important to cut ourselves a bit of slack.
Can you recommend a Twitter account we should check out?
Adrian Bethune does some really great things around well-being and his work’s well worth looking at beyond just on Twitter.
Nicola Owen posts some lovely stuff each day and does some amazing work with schools.
Jo and Tom Brassington and their book’s Twitter handle Bottled Book, are all good to follow as they’re very positive people and share great things on creating emotional honesty and how to work with children to help them share emotions.
How about a book?
I love Thrive by Arianna Huffingdon. It’s a very sensible book and good for people who think their well-being’s not where they want it to be.
In terms of people leadership which is where my main interests are, there’s a book called ‘Lead from the Heart’ by Mark Crowley, which is really simple and accessible but very people centred, even if it is getting a bit dated now.
And a podcast?
A Bit of Optimism by Simon Sinek who’s a great speaker on leadership. I also listen to Happy Place by Fearne Cotton. Though I haven’t always been a big fan of her previous broadcasting work she gets some great, interesting guests and it’s a really joyful podcast that’s easy to listen to. And of course I’ve got to include Bowden Education podcasts in there as well!
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The Check-In is put together by the team at Mindfuel. Mindfuel produce fun, engaging well-being programmes for KS1 & KS2, providing teachers with everything they need to confidently teach well-being skills for positive mental health.