International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
Student President Zainab Nadeem sat down with Education Partnership North East Chief Executive Ellen Thinnesen to look back on her career, the challenges she has faced, who inspired her, and her goals for the Partnership.
I left school at 16 and went to a college to study qualifications and get work experience. I graduated in 1988 and specialised in coronary care nursing working in several places such as London and Hull, working in Intensive Care Units, within cardiothoracic surgery and was a nurse on a hospital ‘Crash Team’ which responded to cardiac arrests.
I then moved to America but in order to work there I had to retake my exams and professional qualifications.
Returning to England I studied a BA (Hons) in Social Sciences, gained my PGCE from the University of Huddersfield and an MSc in Leadership and Management from Sheffield Hallam University.
After working full-time within the NHS, I then worked in a local college as a teacher before progressing to my first senior leader post in 2011. I became CEO of Sunderland College (now Education Partnership North East) in 2016.
It was a long path!
That’s easy: my mum. She continues to inspire me every day. She has always stayed true to herself and her values and over the years I’ve had the privilege of watching her make an incredible difference to the lives of those less fortunate.
She is an amazing role model.
Being a single parent whilst studying to change my career. I was studying at university during the day while working nights as a nurse.
I have experienced sexism during my professional career which made me even more determined to push through the barriers to get where I am today.
I fell in love with the college straight away, the people and the culture. I could see the college had huge potential and capability and felt it was the right time to progress my career.
Our vision is to place excellence at the heart of everything, so our goal is for all colleges within Education Partnership North East to be the very best for students and the community.
We want all colleges to be high performing, our students to achieve the best possible progress, our partners to receive the best customer service and be a great place to work for our colleagues.
Our colleges should also be active place shapers for our communities.
Our students should have the right attitude to learning, to work hard and stretch themselves but, at the same time, enjoy learning and their studies. We expect them to live and breath our College Values: be respectful, authentic, innovative and ambitious within all they do.
They should be true to themselves and not be afraid to ask for help when they need it.
I was raised by parents who led by example through their work within disadvantaged communities. They are huge role models to me – especially my mum – in terms of diversity and inclusion. I am the person I am today because of my parents.
Having a career first in nursing and a second career in education, working to embed inclusion, to respect diversity and to nurture a sense of belonging is extremely important.
We should all try our best to be active models as a means to combat prejudice and to unite people through collaboration and positive communication, particularly on social media. Regardless of our attitudes and emotions, we are all human.
When I first came in to education as a teacher, it was a male dominated sector. Now, it is 50-52%. Whilst it is becoming equal in senior leadership levels, there is still a lot of work to be done in the middle tier to progress females into senior positions.
I love playing the piano and being with my extended family on a weekend. I also enjoy reading – my favourite book is 1984 by George Orwell.
I never thought I would become a leader within education. Many years ago, I wanted to pursue a leadership position within the health sector, but life took me on a different path.
I believe in working with a team approach, focusing on valuing and developing a united leadership team. The development of authentic and professional behaviours is vital.
It is important to focus on what matters, such as putting our students’ needs at the heart of everything we do and ensuring we adopt a mentoring culture at the college as a priority.
No, never. It is all about perspective. After working as a nurse with patients who are fighting for their lives, there is nothing that makes me feel afraid within education.
Always work hard at being authentic; in other words, be yourself. Push yourself forward, as a leader speak up, and use your voice for positive change.
Use role models and female leaders to coach and empower you and then expert your leadership skills knowing that you are supported.
Again, be true to yourself and authentic. Find a coach or mentor to support you and take well thought out risks when appropriate.
Speak up and use your voice, believe in yourself, have a can-do attitude and work to overachieve.
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