Kirsty Mackenzie

Head Teacher, Darlington

Sector: Education

Kirsty Mackenzie was inspired by her college teachers and wanted to follow in their footsteps. After feeling like she wouldn’t perform as well as other students from more prestigious schools, today she is head teacher of a local independent school.  

Where do you call home? 

Darlington, County Durham. 

Tell us about your role?  

I am a head teacher at a local independent school. 

How did you get to where you are today? 

I attended a comprehensive school before going to QE sixth form college in Darlington to study maths, physics and chemistry, because they sounded like a good match. 

At college I was inspired by my physics and chemistry teachers and decided that I wanted to be a teacher. Following A-Levels, I attended Leeds University and received my physics degree before going to Durham University to complete my PGCE in secondary teaching. 

What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way? 

The first challenge came in sixth form, where students from my school were in a significant minority. Our secondary school had very small numbers of students progressing on to study A-Level and the inference that we would not be able to keep up or perform as well as students from more prestigious schools, I think, made me more determined to succeed. It released a competitive streak within me that made me want to show them what this girl was capable of.  

At university, I was one of 10 girls on the physics degree course. There would be hundreds of students in the lecture halls, all boys. Again, we tended to stick together, but could more than hold our own if needed. 

Describe the moment you first got a feel for success? 

My first “I’ve made it” moment was when I received the letter headed paper, where I was listed as the head at my school. It was incredible to realise I had achieved that goal. I felt proud, awestruck and a little nervous at the huge responsibility.  

Do you have any advice for aspiring young females? 

My job is incredible! The diversity involved in managing a school is vast, from staff management and HR, running the grounds and site, health and safety, dealing with children of all ages and managing their exciting and awe-inspiring learning environment! Every day is different, and every day is a learning day. You never truly “make it”. You are constantly evolving processes and your personal response to issues. My advice would be “go for it”. Have faith in your ability, but be humble; we all make mistakes, don’t be too proud to reflect on your own practice and see how to better yourself.  

What advice would you give to your younger self?  

You are better than you think you are! I think many women suffer from self-doubt and a lack of confidence. As a perfectionist, it has taken me a long time to realise we don’t always get the perfect routine the first time. An idea isn’t always well thought out and without any issues at its first inception. Learning that all good things take time to be absorbed and accepted as normal practice has taken me some time to accept, rather than seeing it failing on my part.  

Also, you can’t win them all. It is hard not to take criticism personally and while I’m not 100 per cent sure I have mastered this yet, I would tell my younger self to try and take you, the person, out of the role. The criticism and complaints are not at you as a person but often the situation or restrictions and problems in place within a business. Yes, you have to be sympathetic and empathise to try and find a solution, but you are not provided with a magic wand and a lottery win. Sometimes it’s OK to agree to disagree.  

What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?  

Why? When you are trying to remain true to your ideals and reasons for following the path you are forging. Ask ultimately WHY are you doing this? Are you remaining true to your basic beliefs? 

Successes. Every evening, think about what you have achieved that day or week. Don’t look at the to-do list but focus on what has been done. I find this is much kinder to you as a person and you leave work feeling like you have achieved something.  

Brave. Sometimes you just have to take a breath and go for it, grasp the nettle. To steer and direct a business, difficult decisions have to be made. They are often not popular at first and your own personal beliefs and resilience will be tested often, so sometimes we just have to get stuck in and pick off the difficult tasks one by one. 

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