LEADING LIGHTS     Issue 1 | 2021



What is the emphasis for you in your school/centre this year as a result of the experiences of 2020?

Article by Educational Leaders   

Andrew King
ChristineH 150x150 Circle
Paul Johnson
Lynlee Smith
Sylvia Robertson

We asked leaders across the country and across all sectors 'What is the emphasis for you in your school or centre this year as a result of the experiences of 2020?'

Andrew King, Principal at Oropi School in the Bay of Plenty, writes

As a school leader in a full primary rural school, 2020 has provided clarity about the importance of schools connecting with one another in networks to give confidence, support, guidance, and mentoring. As we were all working out ways to fulfil ongoing requirements in response to a pandemic, we needed one another in a mutually beneficial way. We were not competing. It was not about one school putting its hand up as ‘the expert’ and claiming to have all the answers. In many ways, it has given a starting point for our new chapter in education that is reflected in the NELP, formed as a natural progression from the Tomorrow’s Schools Review.

This has given me a lightbulb moment, in that prior to the lock down, there was a knowledge of many issues relating to isolation and inequity for rural school leaders. This part of the sector has been challenged for a long time. So, the concept of establishing a network for these school leaders has been born.

A small committee is in the process of establishing a Rural Schools Leadership Association that will provide an online and face-to-face platform for leaders to connect. It will be for rural leaders, by rural leaders. The goals are to support the issues of isolation and lack of network capability, enable time efficiencies, give professional learning opportunities that uniquely address rural school needs, and help principals in rural settings deal with day-to-day matters.

The Association will provide the platform for keeping rural leaders up to date without having to ‘trawl’ through the hundreds of emails, mail and notices that come their way while trying to juggle a teaching component in their role. It will be a platform for forums and discussions; an opportunity for action research that we can all contribute to, and give timely and responsive mentoring, support & guidance. This will take a variety of forms, being online forums and discussions, and face-to-face meetings regionally and nationally on topics of need that arise. What an opportunity!

Ngā mihi nui

Christine Harris -Tumuaki Principal -Te Kura o Huriawa Thorrington in Canterbury writes

Purposefully planning for wellbeing as a Post Covid response

Coming out of lockdown gave us a new appreciation of belonging to our school community. When we were eventually able to meet together there was a definite sense of joy as people reconnected face to face. The need to belong is an important aspect of being human and studies suggest that we are driven to form social relationships to meet this need. Furthermore having a sense of belonging to a community is associated with health and wellbeing, as belonging plays a role in connecting our sense of self with the social.

At the end of last year we wanted to gather these notions of belonging and wellbeing as a way of going forward in our practice. We wanted our strategic plan to reflect this focus and we have adopted the Māori word whakapuāwai which means to flourish, to thrive and to prosper as a focus for our annual plan this year. Some of the initiatives that we have put in place to support this strategic goal are situated in the framework of Te Whare Tapu Whā (the four-walled house) - a model developed by Mason Durie. Te Whare Tapu Whā is supported by the four walls of wellbeing:

  • Taha tinana – physical health
  • Taha wairua – belonging and self-belief
  • Taha whānau – family and social
  • Taha hinengaro – mental health

The strength and integrity of these walls depends upon connections to the land (whenua), and connections to the present and the past, both of which foster a sense of belonging. Understanding these walls as lenses for our school community wellbeing (children, teachers and parents) helps to empower all members to understand, recognise and plan for their wellbeing.

Some examples of initiatives that support this strategic focus have been:

  • Implementing regular circle solutions sessions across the whole school for children to foster empathy, mindfulness and gratitude.
  • Implementing circle solutions sessions in staff meetings for teachers to build relational connections, and better support each other.
  • Regular music, yoga and mindfulness as part of learning contexts.
  • Staff purposefully creating their own personal wellbeing plans using the Quinlan & Hone (2020) model.
  • Release time for teachers to have wellbeing check-ins with middle, and senior leadership as well as wellbeing coaching sessions with the Principal.
  • All staff have individual and team strength based coaching sessions utilising the Gallup Strength Finders programme.
  • Approaching learning through the lens of creativity.
  • Developing more place based learning to build sense of belonging for children and community.

‘What gets focused on flourishes’ (Michael Absolum, Clarity in the Classroom). Focusing on whakapuāwai for all and purposefully planning for it, encourages a more agentic response to whole school wellbeing in everyday practice.

Paul Johnson, Tumuaki/Principal at Central School Te Kura Waenga o Ngāmotu in Taranaki, writes

We were very happy to put a full stop at the end of 2020. Mentally it was a powerful full stop too, it provided us with some certainty, some semblance of control in an uncontrollable time. This year our mindset has been to get back to normal, whatever that looks like, and park the niggling threat of Covid-19 to one side. We know we can deal with lockdown learning, we don’t have to worry about any negative eventualities so let’s do this (aye Jacinda). 2020 reminded us of the deeply relational aspect to education. Relationships within a school, within a class, within a community. Along with getting back to ‘business as normal’ we now have a much clearer focus on looking after our relationships, looking after our people. Potentially, 2020 was the reset we needed to finally throw off the shroud of quantitative slavery that national standards wrongly embedded in our education system and return to a more holistic system… hopefully in our opinion. So our focus for 2021 is relationships, people, and looking after all of us. If we ensure the importance of our people ahead of all else then we believe we will get things right. This is said no better than in te reo Māori with the whakataukī…'he aha te mea nui o te ao? He tanagata, he tangata, he tangata.

Lynlee Smith, Fiordland College Principal, writes


What is the most important thing in the world?

He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata


Our emphasis for 2021 is on ensuring the wellbeing of our kaiako and of our akonga.

2020 was a difficult year. Coping with alert levels and lockdown was challenging for everyone. We continue to face the fallout Covid-19 is wreaking on the world. I have no doubt there will be other challenges that present themselves over the course of this year. The pandemic won’t last forever, but currently, things are tough. Even though New Zealand is in the really enviable position of being ranked among the best places in the world to be right now, life as we knew it pre-Covid-19, is a long way off. The financial and social ramifications of the pandemic are definitely being felt here in our community. But when I think about this reality I also think of the lines from the poem – “The Hill We Climb” – written and recited by Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

…there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it

Our challenge for 2021 here in this school is to be the light: to ensure that we are brave enough to see the good and the opportunity that can come from this trial: brave enough to be an example to others. Brave enough to keep growing, even in the face of Covid-19. Brave enough to look after one another in our community so that we come out of this period in history stronger and better than we were before it. Brave enough to be flexible, reliable and responsible and back up our goals with action. Brave enough to support and respect others and allow others to support us when we need it too.

Paraphrasing Gorman’s words from one of her other works let’s: … ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain: That we do not ignore the pain, but that we instead give it purpose. That we use it. (The Miracle of Morning).

In 2021 we are giving purpose to the pain we have endured by focusing on teacher and student wellbeing so that we grow our resilience and become “the light”.

Dr Sylvia Robertson, Centre of Educational Leadership and Administration, University of Otago, writes

Kia ora koutou

Well, what an uncertain world we live in! As I write this, I am preparing to put almost 400 students online (if needed). My heart goes out to all schools affected by COVID uncertainty. My thoughts are also with tertiary students and their families beginning university for the first time, hoping this important transition phase can go ahead without too many issues. My various connections with members of our international community through our Center for Educational Leadership (CELA) at Otago University have highlighted the extreme nature of response needed to navigate the high level of disruption occurring in countries such as the US, UK, and our near neighbours in Victoria, Australia. We are fortunate indeed to have experienced a summer of relative calm.

Michael Fullan talks about how a period of significant disruption is often followed by a transition period, and then new learnings begin to emerge. So, for us, will it be a return to the old ‘normal’ or a willingness to embrace change? I think this is our challenge for 2021. Even with COVID, there are some silver linings. From school leaders, I am hearing about the importance of clear, calm communication; a need for transparency; a deepening of relationships and partnerships with community; and a heightened focus on wellbeing and care for each other. During lockdown at the University, pastoral care was paramount, and the spotlight was shone on the inequities within our education system. Not new knowledge but perhaps now an increased sense of urgency to tackle these issues for the future of our young people. At CELA, where we offer various opportunities for school leaders to come together to explore leadership, the focus this year will be on managing ourselves through processes of change. How do leaders ‘pivot’ to meet the needs of a community of learners in times of upheaval, and what new learnings can we take forward to address some of the issues so deeply embedded in our society?

I wish you well as you continue to lead in these times of uncertainty.

Noho ora mai ra

Kia kaha