At most of our conferences, we celebrate NZEALS awards which have been announced during the previous two years. At the 2020 conference, we would have acclaimed the work of two long-standing members and congratulated them as Fellows. We will certainly do this in 2021, but are also taking the opportunity to do so here, through Leading Lights.
It is a true honour to be recognised by my peers as a Fellow of NZEALS. When I look at the roll call of esteemed educators and servants of New Zealand educational leadership to have been conferred this honour I am completely humbled.
When I joined NZEALS 15 years ago I had just become the deputy principal of an urban secondary school in Hamilton, and begun my Masters of Educational Leadership at Waikato (with two children under 3!) I immediately found my turangawaewae among the academics and fellow students at the Education Leadership Centre, and began to flourish in the two worlds of the academic-practitioner. As for so many of us who have found our way to NZEALS, it was Jay Kedian who brought me into the fold, not taking ‘no’ for an answer! This was the beginning of my part in a network that has enhanced my career and formed special relationships at local, national and international levels.
Since then, as I moved through senior leadership to Principal and now systems leadership, I have taken the opportunity to serve NZEALS where I can. I have held the posts of Branch President, Vice President, National President, Immediate Past President, co-opted Executive member, Branch secretary, and now National Vice President again. I have had responsibilities for Visiting Scholar, Leading Lights, the Research and Publications committee, Awards committee, and the current 2020 (2021) conference organising committee. As is the case for all busy school leaders, finding the time to attend meetings (as a rural principal I had over an hour’s travel to attend Branch meetings) and to add responsibility for a national organisation to my workload has been a challenge. But the personal and professional benefits of membership have far outweighed the costs.
I have gained so much from being part of NZEALS. I have been privileged to receive both the Dame Jean Herbison and the Presidents’ Awards for research and travel. I have been mentored by Emeritus Professor Ann Briggs to publish in the NZEALS academic journal (JELPP). I have presented at international conferences and represented the organisation abroad (leading a merry little band of Kiwis singing ‘Te Aroha’ at the opening of the ACEL conference in Sydney in front of 2000 delegates and the Australian Governor General!)
I think of the calibre of NZEALS Visiting Scholars we have brought here, not travelling abroad at great expense, but right in our backyards. Anne Milne (NZ), Andy Hargreaves (USA), Chris Day (UK), Rachel McNae (NZ), Lynn Sharratt (Canada) and so many more. Not only are Visiting Scholar presentations themselves intimate, interactive and challenging for all attendees, but for me the added privilege of sharing manaakitanga with such esteemed colleagues over a dinner and drinks has formed wonderful relationships and memories.
Through the NZEALS network I have been able to draw on international connections to enhance opportunities for further learning. Attending ACEL (Australia) and BELMAS (England) conferences I heard and met some of today’s great thinkers in educational leadership, and some inspiring practitioners from all around the world. Doors opened through these networks for visiting schools and understanding multiple perspectives on education systems and leadership.
Nothing compares to our own conferences, however. Because NZEALS values relationships above all else, the biennial conferences always include ‘white spaces’, the time to connect and korero, reflect and enjoy. Because they are held in the regions, there is always a precious local flavour (who can forget dinner at Mills Reef winery, Larnach’s Castle, or the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron!) where we can showcase to our national and international guests our place and our people. Some of my favourite connections have been made at NZEALS conferences.
It has been with great sadness and frustration that we have seen membership of NZEALS decline, and to have had to defer out conference. To think that todays’ leaders in education have lost the time and autonomy (surely not the motivation and will) to connect, in many different contexts, with a cross-sector network of academics and practitioners who can challenge our thinking, push our practice, and have a huge laugh with, is a sad indication of our times. Yes, NZEALS needs to move with the times too, and ensure its relevance. Our recent round of empathy conversations affirmed the desire from leaders for a space to do this. My own experience of NZEALS membership and active participation has opened up so many opportunities, brought me into contact with some incredible people, and greatly enhanced my satisfaction as a leader. I hope we can pass the baton to those to come so that others can continue to flourish in this space as well.