Leaders – in action
Stories from ‘being in leadership’
The voice of leaders (members)
Samantha Mortimer; Garth Powell; Jen Rodgers; Marcus Freke; Natalie King; Karyn Gray
Tēnā koutou katoa
Ko Mortimer toku whānau
Ko Samantha toku ingoa
I am Samantha Mortimer, a first-time principal at Greymouth High School, and I've been a member of NZEALS for a number of years. In this short article I am going to outline the process of applying for my principal position, the interview process and my first term.
In 2020 when both of our daughters were planning to leave home, one to university and one on Rotary Exchange, I began to seriously look for a principal position outside of our area in the Waikato. I wanted to go to a school which aligned with my values; somewhere who welcomed and was successful for all rangatahi in the community and where equity and excellence went hand in hand. This school was Greymouth High School. The ad in the Gazette called to me as I believed that I could match what the school was looking for. I was impressed in the advert by their honesty about Greymouth having had challenges in the past, the support they offered for the principal and their humour. I also liked the kaupapa Māori class, the exciting Trades opportunities, the Military Service Academy, the large, assisted learning department and that we led the AE. This school was putting its money where its mouth was and was supporting all students to be successful.
I was fortunate enough to be offered an interview and even though there were some challenges getting down there I can honestly say that I enjoyed the whole day. I was fortunate to meet some parents who showed me around the town, the senior leadership team, the current principal who gave me a tour of the school and obviously the board. During the interview, although there were some very tricky questions, I laughed a lot which is a good sign for me!
I was offered the position that evening and accepted it!
I’ve now completed a term and in general it has been great! There have been, of course, some “day to day challenges” pretty much the same as the ones as at previous schools including students not behaving in the ways we want them to, HR issues, Covid level changes, a tsunami warning where of course our students were at the beach, and more significantly a student dying in a car accident. However, for all of the tough times we (our students, staff and myself) have had to deal with there have been lots and lots more positives for me. And one of the positives has been growing supportive teams around me and I really appreciate and thank the staff who have been part of these teams.
Our rangatahi are down to earth, funny and respectful people who come from all walks of life. Obviously, we all have our days, but this is how I see them.
Our staff want the best for all of our students, and I believe that our job is to work with our young people and their whānau to support each person to succeed in their own way. They have been welcoming to me and are very dedicated, passionate and hard working. In the last week of term during our staff meeting the hour was up and they were all still busy talking and yes talking about the topic! I see my role as growing the good and working at those learning edges we all need to develop.
Having a supportive board has been fantastic and this included being asked to go to the NZSTA conference with 5 of them. This was a great experience not only because of all the learning I did but also because of the opportunity to continue to build positive, respectful relationships with our board members.
Of course there are areas that I already know we need to work on. However, this term, for the most part, I have spent listening and learning. I met with all of our teachers one on one to start to get to know them and their journey to Greymouth. I also wanted to find out what they were working on to make themselves more effective for our rangatahi learning and if they could change one thing about Grey High what would it be. These were confidential meetings to start to (hopefully) build positive, professional, trusting relationships. I also put on morning teas for our teacher aides (we have lots and lots of them) and the rest of our admin staff, again for them to get to know me and me, them. There have also been numerous meetings with community members, the Ministry, other local schools and so on.
The final two points I’d like to make if people are thinking about leadership in any form are one, take all of the opportunities you are offered as you never know where they will take you. Two, and most importantly, remember that relationships are the key. I have spent my career fostering them as I truly believe that when you need to have those difficult conversations, and I have already had a number this term, you can do so in a respectful manner which still allows you to keep the relationship going. Continuing to build these relationships with our staff, students and local community will allow us to all work together to be effective for all of rangatahi in Māwhera.
He aroha whakato
He aroha puta mai
If kindness is sown, then kindness you shall receive.
Garth Powell, Middle School Dean East Taieri School Mosgiel Otago
2020 was an incredibly disruptive year for many of us. We had to adapt to many firsts and new ways of doing things. For our young learners they had to learn how to learn online, find ways to virtually connect and engage with their teachers and peers, and parents had to find ways to support their children's learning the best they could while balancing many other demands and stresses. Our school was very conscious when we created our online learning guidelines for our whānau, families, learners, and staff - collective well being and whanaungatanga underpinned all of our decisions, as did our school vision of "Empower" "Inspire" and "Care". This paid dividends for our school community as our children and whānau returned to school connected, engaged, and ready to adapt to the many changes caused by our response to the pandemic.
Fast forward to 2021 and we are still living in very uncertain times, with our learners, whānau, and staff still adapting and coping with the many changes that continue to occur. To ensure that my well being and whanaungatanga with my learners, whānau, and colleagues is flourishing I have created an environment where children are taught about social and emotional regulation, and are coached about how to deal with challenges as they arise, and how to regulate themselves and support the needs of others. How does this help me to flourish? When children are regulated they can focus on learning, and positively engaging and collaborating with others, thus enabling the children to thrive. I live by the idea - "If a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower."
Jen Rodgers, Principal/Tumuaki, St.Clair School, Dunedin
The ways I am flourishing in the current climate is through the continued support, passion and camaraderie that is shown to me by my fellow principals. Having had the luxury of a five-week study break (wrapped around the holidays) I have been travelling around the country to visit schools, and I am constantly impressed with the willingness of principals and teachers to share their practice and help others with learning, understanding and growth. We truly are a sector that genuinely wants to help others.
This has been led admirably by the leadership of Perry Rush as the president of NZPF. Through the challenges of Covid, his wise counsel to the principal sector across the motu was caring, supportive, and regularly reminded us to take time out for our own wellbeing (which I think as a sector we are particularly poor at doing of our own volition). Iona Holsted also kept this at the forefront as she worked hard (via a million emails) to provide what we needed professionally, while at the same time, keeping her eye on us as people too.
I have to acknowledge the strength of the people within the Ministry of Education as well. While the MOE itself can be frustrating, limiting and bureaucratic at times, as a principal, through the challenges of the last 12 months, without exception, the people I have worked with in the MOE have all worked very hard to give the very best service they can to support our ākonga to flourish. We are flourishing as a team through the PLD funding the MOE has provided to develop our growth and understandings in the world of strengthening learner agency through the pedagogy of play as a school.
Alert Level 4 reminded me of the importance of taking time to reflect and recharge every day, with the benefit of my residential location enabling regular beach walks and empty golf course walks with my dog. While I always walk my dog every day, the shift for me has been to be really mindful during my walks to take the moment to genuinely enjoy the space around me and what I am present in. This has continued into the following 12 months, as I know that for my team to be in their best space, I need to be in mine. Being genuinely mindful is something I am working on understanding more, as I think it is an area that is not often talked about when we speak of wellbeing, yet in my mind they are inextricably linked.
Marcus Freke, Principal, Endeavour School, Hamilton
Teaching is a very busy profession. I think this is amplified in an ILE context where collaborative teaching happens. Teachers rely on each other to be planned and organised and stick to the programme for the day. There are very limited opportunities to break from the programme and ‘chill’. In the old days we might extend silent reading for an extra 10 minutes to mark a few books or go out for a ‘game’ when you sensed the kids (and you) were over it. With teacher stress and Hauora/Wellbeing being front and center of all leaders' thinking how can we address this?
Doing ‘fluffy random acts of kindness’ or having a ‘Secret Santa’ helps deal to some of the symptoms in the short term but it doesn’t address the cause. We took a ‘systems review approach’. We examined when peak pressure times were for our teachers, backward mapped and looked how we support and manage the causes of the pressure. We looked closely at communications to ensure everyone knew the expectations and timelines for major pieces of work. We thought about how we could position our Accord Teacher Only Days strategically to take the pressure off? We have made sure that we stay true to our strategic goals and made sure they are the focus of our mahi. Vivianne Robinson talked about providing a ‘safe environment’ for teachers, my interpretation of this is explicitly filtering what’s important for our school and what’s a distraction. As a leadership team we think very hard about this. I think some of the anxiety and stress comes from a desire to do the best we can for all the children in our school, and this is a never-ending challenge.
Natalie King, Junior School Dean, East Taieri School, Mosgiel, Otago
A wise man once said “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” The past year in education has, at times been like a very long bike ride, with many hills to climb, magnificent peaks to enjoy and valleys that have seemed endlessly perpetual.
If there is nothing else that we can take away from the impact that COVID 19 has had on the world, countries, communities and families, it is the importance of relationships and how critical they are to everything we do. As educators we play such an important role, in keeping the balance of a bike, to allow it to keep moving forward, whilst ensuring that adults and children are able to still keep pedalling and maintain their balance.
As a school, we made a conscious decision that well-being and relationships were the most important factor for our community. Our ‘bike’ didn’t have flash bells and whistles, but it did have people checking in on one another, pedalling parts of the journey together, building new relationships and maintaining old ones. Many times our bike got speed wobbles and things were put in front of us that tested our ability to keep our balance, but as a team we navigated these hurdles and kept pedalling. We learnt new ways of how to ride our bike, often not the way we thought it would be. We learnt a lot about our riders and how they managed themselves and others during the speed wobbles, and what each one of them needed to feel safe and secure and to remain balanced. All the manuals, data that derives the next step, bells and whistles meant nothing compared to the importance of relationships and human contact, to keep the balance of our bicycle, and to keep moving forward.
A wise man once said “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” - that is what we have done, and our bicycle is upright and moving.
Karyn Gray School Principal at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School, Wellington
I think the last 18 months have taught us a lot about what's important and valuing the ways in which we spend our time.
Taking up a new leadership position in a different sector of the school environment has been refreshing and invigorating for figuring out what's important. Getting to know a new curriculum (Steiner), while still based on NZC has allowed me to see what is possible within our system.
I'm loving working with people in my new school- both in groups and individually to grow their leadership capacity and excitement and understanding of leadership.
In addition I have had the privilege to work with a number of extremely promising young leaders over the last few years and seeing them move into positions of leadership all over the country keeps me going with this really important work. When I see some of those people I know that teaching and education is in good hands going forward. I hope they continue to get support that they need to challenge some of the old and existing bounds in our schooling system.
Finishing a masters in contemporary education with a project in collaborative leadership in 2020 was inspiring and re motivated me to challenge and question what common practice is simply because that's the way we’ve always done it.
I see my job as both a privilege and a joy. It is challenging, ever-changing and a way to continually make a difference in the world going forward.