Photo by Liam Martens
I once spent a week in Wellington as part of an initiative only the ‘senior’ members of principalship will remember. It was called the Principals’ Planning Development Centre. An experienced leader could apply after a minimum 5 years in the role and if selected, had access to an intensive, immersive course where 3 – 5 principals were put through their paces by an equal number of trainers/assessors.
The experience included simulations using actors to create scenarios, for example, a difficult conversation with a staff member or developing a strategic plan for a Board. Out of sight, a group of observers watched everything you did and wrote a report on your performance. At the end of each day, you were debriefed by one of the facilitators and given feedback. At the end of the week, you received a report that included a marking schedule across all of the activities and tasks.
I’ve still got my report. It grades me on every aspect assessed, as either a ‘strength’, proficient’, or ‘development opportunity’. (Anecdotally, post the course, a number of principals decided that the job wasn’t for them – it was an emotional and all-encompassing experience.)
Looking back now, it seems incredible that the Government was willing to invest this amount of resource in us. It was the first, and so far for me, only time that the system invested so much in an attempt to make me better in my complex role. It was a true unicorn event.
. . .
The reason I mention the PDPC in this post, is because of an accidental ‘by-product’ of the experience – it highlighted a job/role that I could never do, and in comparison, how great my current job often is. This thought has regularly helped me keep perspective when principalship has been challenging.
For the week I was in the capital, I stayed at a hotel close to the Centre, (just off Lambton Quay for those who know Wellington). The course started on the dot at 8am every day, and so I found myself walking through the central city in the early morning while it was half dark. As I walked, the office blocks around me slowly came to life. Those myriad individual windows towering up above me randomly blinked alive as the lights turned on, one by one.
I could see right into many of them, and what seemed to be the norm, was that there was some sort of cubicle setup with a desk, a filing cabinet, a partition of some sort and sometimes a plant sitting hopefully by the window. The person occupying them was effectively in a small box for the day. And of course, the vast majority of people working in those buildings didn’t have a window at all. Their boxes were deeper inside the building, where the fluorescent lights hummed and flickered with no natural light to assist. I wondered at the time whether they even had plants.
I’ve never forgotten this. In fact, the very thought of heading day after day, into a small, enclosed space to make phone calls, process paper and generally stay there for an 8 – 9 hour shift makes me feel slightly ill.
And the upside is that it reminds me that my days are the complete opposite. They are filled with noise, activity, unpredictable excitements and an ever-changing variety of tasks, places, and people. Yesterday, I finished my day checking a go-kart our kids are going to race this weekend. Today, I’m starting with a class trip to a local Eco Centre.
Yes, there will be paperwork today. Yes, there’s a very difficult conversation coming up with a parent, and yes, I will spend more time at my desk than I want to, but my days are never boring and for that I am ever grateful.