Today we have a guest post from Saira Boyle. Saira has wide experience in leading schools and  is currently the principal of Mt Hobson Academy based in Auckland. She shares some confronting reality about our job, but also offers solutions that just might be what you need.


What’s your real insurance policy?

Over the last two to three years I have observed, with a mixture of sadness and delight, the steady trickle of principals stepping away from the job. Sadness, as the sector once more takes a punch to the gut, and delight as our colleagues, our people choose LIFE!

Throughout 2021 it was reported that there was a global pattern of people in executive and CEO roles stepping away from the corporate high pressure and choosing jobs with less hours, less pressure, less stress and consequently less remuneration. It was even given a name – The Great Resignation. The two-year plus, COVID roller-coaster saw many people in such high-power roles take stock of what was important in their lives, down-tools, down-size and down-stress in order to gain some sort of balance and satisfaction in living life.

In my first year of Principalship there were many things which jumped up and shocked me, but one of the most memorable was listening to Phil Riley, who had completed some comprehensive research across Australia and New Zealand, talk about Principal wellbeing. I heard him speak twice over a short period of time. First was at the Catholic Schools conference in Wellington and then a few months later, which was my second year of Principalship, at the Beginning Principal conference. I remember the story he told was hard, bleak, and in fact stark, for the future and health of our Principal sector. The first time I heard him speak, I was 43 years old, fit, strong, healthy, a non-drinker, non-smoker, active and indestructible, or so I thought. I grumbled to other ‘young’ colleagues about the doom and gloom he presented and had the all-too-common attitude of ‘not me’.

One line that stuck with me, from his presentations, was that young principals were likely to be impacted hardest. His findings showed that the levels of stress, workhours and general pressure experienced by Principals would see ‘young’ principals work, work, work and then drop. Dead. He discussed that because of the ‘job’, (our sedentary lifestyles and high-pressure experiences), work related, silent killers would creep up on us and without warning, claim us in significant numbers.By the time I heard Phil speak the second time, a few months into my second year, at 44 years old, my attitude had adjusted. I’d had a warning and a serious one at that!

In January of 2018, I woke one morning to a pain in my leg and was diagnosed with a non-provoked blood clot. Watching the doctor snap into action as he worried it could break off and go to my lungs or brain, causing irreversible damage or death, was fairly loud as a wake-up call. I was expected to self-inject blood thinners twice a day, increase my daily activity and drink over 2L of water. The silent killer, of which Phil spoke, had decided to make an appearance and the only thing which could account for it, was stress, ongoing, daily dress. You all know about this, right?

Fast-forward and in 2020, in the middle of lockdown I noticed my right arm was experiencing pain, and my shoulder eventually locked up, unable to move the arm more than a few cm in any direction and in constant pain. I was told it was a frozen shoulder. I started to feel ‘old’ and like the decline was on its way. You may be thinking, we all have pain, we all have illness, why is she telling us this. Well, that is the point! We don’t need to at all.

On reflection, I look back and realise, even with these two health alarm bells, it was only when I experienced a huge and traumatic loss at the end of 2021, did I truly wake up and take action. So often, we miss the small signals, or we don’t stop and take them seriously. But I can assure you, they are there; in the twinge of a muscle, or the ache in your joint, in the upset stomach or the chest tightness, the small signs are there. Our bodies are performing a multitude of actions to keep us alive and well every day, connecting with our minds and inner voice and vice versa. I’ve come to believe we can do one of three things;

  1. Brush the little messages and signs away, explaining them as ‘old age’ (it doesn’t have to be this way)
  2. Numb the signs and signals with pain relief, wine, food and other indulgences (the body will win eventually – and I don’t mean in a good way)
  3. PAUSE and listen; then create a space where you can take time to reflect on the way in which you live your life and decide the small habits you can build every day to TAKE YOURSELF BACK – this is the path to FLOURISHING

I decided to learn more about my body, embark on a course of study and make it something that meant a) I was an absolute novice and b) I could eventually help others to find their own strengths. In the last year I have trained and become a certified personal trainer as well as studying towards the Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing. It was hard being the least experienced after years of being the ‘expert’. It was challenging being the least strong and oldest in the class. But it has been exhilarating studying in an area which has become a passion, and being able to combine my Growth Coaching accreditation, the PT course and education background to help people flourish is amazing!

It does not matter how long you have been in the job it is CRITICAL to prevent yourself from becoming the job. Top tips for the term break:

    • Unhook yourself from the identity of the job, you are not your job, and your school can live without you
    • Engage with a coach or take time to self-reflect to discover your true purpose and passion
    • Make a plan to climb your second mountain before it is too late

Trust me, it is the most re-vitalising thing you can do for yourself. The magic that happens while you do this is in the hearts and minds of those around you. Your children, your partner, your family, your staff, and community. When they see you being a model of wellness, they will notice, and your influence will be tangible. This is leadership.

Hearing my youngest daughter tell me, “Mum, you are thriving now” was the biggest reward I could reap from my actions of daily self-care!

In order to take the leap to discover your purpose and passion, perhaps these simple activities can help:

    • Vitality – focus on clean, nutrient dense food, drinking 2L water daily, increasing the quality and quantity of your sleep, daily movement (building muscle is the best insurance policy of all) and your energy will begin to thrive
    • Simplicity – declutter your life, from your wardrobe to your garage, your friendships to your responsibilities; if it doesn’t serve you, say goodbye
    • Curiosity – spend time getting to know YOU; listen to your body, quiet the mind; self-discovery is the most exciting part of self-care (this is the LEAST selfish thing you can do)
    • Courage – make a list of the things you have always wanted to do and then make a plan and do at least one of them, who cares what people think, it’s your life, live it in love (with yourself)
    • Wisdom – read daily – learn a new skill, learn about being human and use your experience to build upon and write your path forward; don’t leave it to chance
    • Peace – leave the ego based identity at the door, and come home; home to yourself, the real and true you because you are all powerful, perfect, whole and able to climb your second mountain of purpose and passion!

My hope is that by sharing a snippet from my story, of how I’ve gone from Principal to Personal Trainer and Mindset Growth Coach, and thus from perfectionism to peace, you will take away at least one small self-care action to apply to your life during the term break and nurture your wellbeing!

300,000 people die each day around the world and most of them wake up each day, unaware it will be their last. Principals are disproportionate in that number. We are not guaranteed another breath. If there is something you want to do with your life, go do it.

No more waiting.

Be bold.

Love deeply.

Live with purpose, passion and peace.



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What would make your principal role better?

If you wave a magic wand and remove the ‘but’ that floats alongside any honest conversation regarding the desirability of the principalship role, what changes?

.   .   .

Right now we are pushing for improvements to our employment contracts. Money and conditions (workload/sustainability). These things are outside of our direct control and we rely on our employer to improve them or not. Let’s briefly look at this.

Money – everyone in every job wants more money. It’s a given in employment negotiations that the workers will ask for more. Though after a certain point, this negotiation is always about relativity. (There was an excellent post about this written recently on the NZ Principals’ Facebook page by Callan Goodall. Callan draws a line between a person on the new minimum wage, a beginning teacher, an experienced teacher, and a principal – read it if you have access.)

Relativity shows how roles are valued and is where ‘the rubber hits the road’ when all the nice and affirming words are over. And in New Zealand, the relativity between a principal role and other education roles has become a joke. Based on money, it makes no logical sense to keep doing, or aspire to, principalship. This is particularly true if considering a U1 or U2 role (these are small schools in NZ) where an experienced teacher is often paid more outright.

Workload – various groups have been collecting data on this somewhat subjective metric and regardless of what the total workload is (and it’s huge), the bit that worries me is that it is increasing (see The New Zealand Primary Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2021, Deakin University). This latest data set, which has been repeated annually since 2016, shows that both the sheer quantity of work, and the pace that it needs to be done, are at the highest levels reported. Which leads us to sustainability.

Sustainability (yours!) – this is reflected in the number of people aspiring to do the job and then choosing to stay in it. Well . . . a statistic that is being shared currently, is that 60% of Auckland principals are in their first 5 years in the role. Sixty percent!! More than half of school leaders being inexperienced in our largest city does not reflect a job that the majority find sustainable. It means people are voting with their feet and it would be something that worried me deeply if I was the Minister of Education. When local principal jobs are advertised (and that’s frequently at the moment), schools are struggling to attract applicants – sometimes they have to advertise multiple times. Anecdotally, the situation is similar across the country.

I think it is fair to say that improvements to each of these areas is needed urgently.

The question is, will the Government and Ministry of Education, do anything?

.   .   .

I apologise for painting a fairly grim picture above, but the current contract negotiations are on my mind and while we wait with bated breath for Government intervention, history shows that the cavalry are still very unlikely to be coming, so the way forward, the positive response, is to put our thinking into the ‘how’ of what we do each day.

How many hours do you choose to work daily?

How much exercise do you prioritise weekly?

How much time do you allocate to a passion hobby/whanau/friends each month?


I know that you can’t simply choose to work 5 hours per day, or go for a walk every lunchtime, but you absolutely can change the parameters of these type of ‘how’ factors to make the job you value (because you’re still in it), better.

And if you do choose to make some healthy changes, don’t neglect to take others at your school with you. Alone you’re a rebel, together you’re building the new status quo.



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Photo by Brett Jordan

As you’ll know by now with my writing, much of it is happenstance.

That is, there is a lot of time when I have no idea what to write, only to happen upon something that catches my eye. Maybe I’m the magpie of writers? There’s a simplicity about this which is intoxicating. And there’s always a certain amount of faith that an idea will turn up, will happen, and will actually make sense! This week’s blog is a great example of this.

Well, we’ve made it to the end of the first week and I’ve been amazed at how complicated our lives have become in the matter of those few days. Already I’m somewhat yearning for those times, maybe a couple of weeks ago, when all I had to do was get up out of bed, brush my teeth, find my favourite board shorts, slap on a tee shirt and a pair of jandals and head to my next destination; the couch, or the beach, of the back yard …. You get the idea. 

Life was simple. Life was uncomplicated, and I felt much better for it.

Fast forward and here we are in the midst of it all again; the complicated world of our schools. And for all the bustle and excitement and energy that this complicated place brings, there is also a rush, a building pressure and the stress of trying to keep it all afloat.

Just remember you are an amazing group of super-professionals, highly tuned to existing in this complicated environment. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily that good for you. Especially over a long period of time like a term, or semester, or strategic plan timeframe.

You really need to understand, as the super-professional that you are, how to play the long game.

Which brings me back to that word simplicity. At this time of year, you may find yourself with some renewed energy after a holiday break; or you may find yourself with that crushing pressure of “having” to get “everything” done, with all your ducks in a row. Either way you may find yourself persuading yourself; egging yourself on; that it’s time to run with the complicated and take on anything and everything that comes your way. 

This is not sustainable. You can’t do this week in week out and hope to be efficient, or anywhere close to healthy; in mind, spirit and body.

My happenstance moments arrived this morning, just as I was beginning a new round of procrastination. 

All within a short period these arrived. They all encourage simplicity.

Brene Brown – and her excellent book “The Gifts of Imperfection”. I was reading a passage that led to her laying out the question; “What is sufficient?” She unravels it way better than I ever could, but for you and me the key understanding is, be clear about what is really sufficient. This leads naturally to simplifying what you do in your super-professional role. Further on in her book she talks about cultivating calm and stillness. Again, you can’t do this in a complicated world. Think about what is sufficient. Do that.

Email – Mmmm I thought, let’s check my email before I start. Two separate messages were in my email inbox. Both were Stoic based. I find that they help very much in taking a pragmatic approach to stuff (which in turn helps to simplify things):


Epictetus said, “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters – don’t wish to seem knowledgeable. And if some regard you as important, distrust yourself”

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future” – Seneca

Both quotes scream out to me to keep things simple. Don’t over complicate things by thinking too far ahead or by needing to appear that you know it all. You don’t. And that is just fine.

Facebook – that old chestnut! After my email trawl I found myself complicating my life by taking time, that I didn’t have, to deep dive into my Facebook feed. Normally a big mistake.

But this was here. I found on the DisruptED page a post by educator Derek Weymouth. He was suggesting a good read was to be had in going to Know Your Students. I found his introduction just as enlightening. This is what he said:

As we start the school year it’s easy to become distracted by curriculum reviews, changes in assessment practices, requirements for teacher accreditation or new approaches for teaching literacy and numeracy – all of which are important in our work – but if we take our eyes off the fact that we are primarily about growing, nurturing and supporting the people we work with all of that will be time wasted.”

Again (and I’m not speaking on Derek’s behalf here, this may well be out of context!) this is helping to simplify our understanding about what our schools are essentially all about. And that in turn is sufficient (thanks Brene Brown) and a great direction towards enjoying the present (thanks Seneca).

Finally I looked up at the wall behind my laptop screen. Four letters, three fullstops … as simple as simple can be … K.I.S.S …… Keep it simple, stupid

Interestingly, the word SIMPLIFY turns up in many different places. For example the well known New Zealand Well Being/Mentoring company, The Solution Spring, uses the word in their value statement; “SIMPLIFY TO STRENGTHEN”. They just might be onto something!

Let’s not over complicate anything. It is that,which will get us all through a busy term ahead of us.

As usual David and I would love to hear your thoughts.




On the way to work, when I’m feeling particularly naughty, I do the adult equivalent of a kid dawdling to school. I take the long way.

In Timaru there is never a long way to anywhere, so I have to be a little creative

Maybe this is a form of procrastination, but it does give me time to think and recently it’s also begun to symbolise a kind of new hope.

The route I take takes me down into a scenic valley, known imaginatively by us locals in Timaru as “the scenic”, and up through Centennial park. In Autumn the colours of the trees are amazing, but as the days grow shorter the route is often in near darkness, with only hints of a new day in the clouds. 

As you climb out of “the scenic” you also climb out of the dark. Up on the rise the new day is always dawning, often with a beautiful sunrise (I’m ignoring the red sky in the morning, shepherds warning saying here) and there is, if you look for it, (and I do) a sense of hope. Even on the crappiest days the climb up to the rise is brighter than the dark of the trip up through the valley.

I’m writing like this because I’m trying to convey a couple of things that we often forget.

One; like the day, we also get to start again, each and every day.

And secondly we get to choose how our new day will start, irrespective of what has occurred before (unless of course you have a car accident on the way to work, and then, well, the choices do, admittedly begin to diminish rather quickly!).

This should give us all a sense of hope.

I’m beginning to use this euphemism a bit more widely, not only in the simplicity of the new day, new start mantra, but also in the way that things are handled around the school.

David expertly talked about the use of time last week. He showed how we all have the same amount of time in any given week, even Elon Musk. Obviously Elon has a few more choices as to how he uses his time and how many people he pays to make his time better for him, but the reality is the same. Time is time, no one is getting any more or any less out of a day.

The choices come in our priorities as David pointed out. 

However a couple of weeks ago I was at a local conference and felt swamped by the keynote that the Ministry gave about the Curriculum refresh. I began to wonder what my priorities were going to be. The words of the keynote came bashing like waves across the bow of my Covid swamped waka. Timelines, expectations, new terms, new acronyms but little in details about the support that would come to lessen the load. It was a bit like Covid had never happened, and although I love the idea of the curriculum refresh and the terms Understand, Know and Do, it also felt like back to the future where great ideas come and go, quashed by other great ideas, surpassed by even other ideas, and with no full-on support to, well, give us hope.

If Covid has taught us anything, people are the key to anything and everything in our schools. It’s as simple as that. 

Load them up with more and more, and they fall over. It’s as simple as that. If you’re serious about people not falling over then you have to manage the load. By managing the load you need to find a balance. By balancing things well you then also build a sense of hope that everything is going to be fine. It’s the light at the top of the rise.

In our schools we have very little control over the wave that comes from the Ministry of Education. And it’s not the only wave that continues to come our way. There are all sorts of societal waves that continue to crash over our bow. If you don’t have a sense of hope then this relentless bashing is more than overwhelming. It becomes crushing.

Sadly, at this very moment  it feels like the country has woken up from a two year slumber and suddenly realised that we’re all gonna be late for some important date. Everyone who is anyone is clambering to get their new thing done, preferably by yesterday. Our professional social media pages seem to be awash with new ideas and opportunities. That’s great, but the cacophony of noise that this is generating is giving me more than an uneasy dose of tinnitus.

We’re most certainly still in the middle of the dark valley of our journey, as winter still bites. And no one really knows how long this valley is going to go on for.

The work around is that we look to make our own hope. We pick and choose carefully what we want to do and we purposefully, deliberately and legitimately ignore the anxiety that might arise from the FOMO of not doing some of these things. 

Here are some examples of how we’ve looked at making our own hope in our kura.

Last night at our Board meeting we began with a very small thing. We took something out of the board report that we’ve been reporting on for years and replaced it with nothing. It was a “nice to have” aspect of our report that had begun to get in the way of the quality of the “need to haves” in our meetings. It was an easy decision.

Our Learning Assistants recently offered to help out more with playground and road safety duties. They didn’t have to, they weren’t asked to, but their support has made a lot of teachers very happy by providing a bit more balance to their own loads.

We made certain that all the Teachers attending the fourteen week Te Ahu O Te Reo Maori course would have the school participation money passed directly into their own pockets as koha for the time and effort that they had put into attending the course.

Sure, these aren’t huge things, it’s not rocket science, and many of you will be doing these, but they’re examples of how we can change our own environments and cultures to build that sense of balance and hope.

Maybe it’s time that we take a leaf out of the curriculum refresh and adopt those three key words in everything we do and as a positive by -product creating a sense of hope in our schools.

Understand – that we are human and that we recognise our individual capabilities and capacities

Know – that there is a limit to our capabilities and that a sense of balance increases our capacities

Do – stuff that promotes hope and balance for everyone

And maybe we also advocate for all of our colleagues throughout the land to follow the same simple model of hope. We should be looking for ways to cut back and slow down so that everyone feels that the real needs are not only manageable, but doable. 

We should also have the courage to say thanks, but no thanks as all these new initiatives come knocking. And we should embrace the ones that are going to give us the biggest hope.

That way we may all be able to climb out of the valley and into that new light of the day, giving us the courage to give it a go with a fresh start everyday. That’s where we’ll find our hope.



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 Today we have a guest post from Danny Nicholls of Te Matauru School in Canterbury. Some of you might know him for the awesome mahi he does helping administer the NZ Principals’ Facebook page. This week Danny is offering up some very inciteful and timely suggestions for how to move past the present inertia that is gripping many of us. (If you would rather listen to this post, jump to the end and hit the link.)

“What can you do today to shift from reaction mode to action mode?”

If you’re of a similar vintage to me, you’ll be aware of The Cure. Your impression might be of a very dour goth band, and yes there’s some of that, but for a band whose biggest hit is called “Friday I’m in Love”, there’s more than one shade to their songwriting palette.

Stick with me here.

Our current circumstances as Principals – managing our way through Red level, assimilating SPOC and CTUT and other four letter words into our vocabulary, basing our professional decision making around our next Zoom, or the latest Facebook share from another Principal – is leading us away from empowered decision making and context based leadership, into reliance, dependency and a waiting game, as we scour the stats and opinions to try and decide what we should do next for our communities.

We’re getting stuck in it too.

I’m like you – I read the Facebook and Twitter posts, I parse through Iona’s bulletin at a time of day that I should be practicing football skills with my daughter (which is her SMART goal this term – well done to her school for giving their children something personal to focus on at the moment rather than worry about the global situation!), I read and think and overthink and uberthink and read and think, and then I plan and I plan… and then I adapt my plan and tweak it again and again… and then I hope that I am giving my community and staff the right advice…and then I repeat it all the next day.

Talking with a couple of Principal colleagues recently, we reflected that the independence, innovation and creativity touchstones of Kiwi school leadership (remember that doc?) might be getting squeezed out at the moment. Leaders who have built up systems over many years are now having to throw them out and become more flexible and vulnerable than ever. It’s hard for any of us to change, and it’s hard not to feel in control of everything. As leaders we are in the deep waters, and while some of us are waving to the shore, some might be drowning. 

Anecdotally these patterns that are developing seem to be enabling a lack of confidence and action from us as leaders. We are waiting for others to tell us what to do, or to adapt a template that someone else designs for us, rather than thinking for ourselves. (PS – nothing wrong with sharing – that’s in our DNA – it’s dependency that’s a worry)

We are getting stuck.

The loudest voices on social media are becoming our yardstick for what we “should be doing”, and scaremongering about what might happen tomorrow, and why someone else is to blame for it. We find ourselves taking advice and direction from people we’ve never met simply because they are the most vocal or have the most edgy perspective. We worry that we don’t have the most up to date information, and then when it arrives, we rush with questions, rather than taking the time to read and reflect. We are reducing our kanohi ki te kanohi with our most trusted colleagues and voices in the interests of physical health, possibly at the cost of mental health. We are hunkering down, hoping our plans and spreadsheets are the magic fix, and that this will pass.

Planning is no substitute for action. A plan without action is a waste of time. And a lack of action is leaving us feeling tired, overwhelmed, stuck and powerless.   

Back to The Cure.

On the same album as that Friday song, there’s another tune that us older folk would call a “deep cut”, called, Doing the Unstuck. It talks about shifting our mental model from paralysis to action – the importance of getting up out of our comfy desk chairs and doing something, anything – and to appreciate the positives that we do have, and the power to change our circumstances. So taking a cue from the song – let’s think about what we can control and do to get us unstuck.

  We all know the best anecdote from mind numbing spreadsheets and bulletins is getting out into our schools and spending time with our littlest people. I’m limiting my classroom contact at the moment, but I’m trying very hard to be out in the playground during breaks and spending time with our children – laughing with them, answering their questions both big and small, and showing an interest in them. It reassures them that things are OK in our corner of the world. It reassures me too.  

  It already seems like a very long time ago, but do you remember your new year’s resolutions? Gretchen Rubin (check out her Four Tendencies book if you haven’t already – seemingly designed to unlock those staffroom culture elephants!) – recently posted about the concept of a Determination Day – a reset, a chance to start over, to find again the resolve you had on January 1st. We need now more than ever to take that walk, to log off Twitter for the night, to spend time talking with people, and to experience those personal wins.

  Manage your time and your commitments. You don’t have to attend every Zoom. You don’t need to know the opinion of a Principal who is posting all the time on Facebook. Your community will forgive you getting your comms out later than the school down the road if they know you are busy caring for their children and keeping them safe. Because really – that’s our number one job at the moment. 

  Connect empathetically. Check in on your Principal colleagues that are quiet at the moment – you might be the only person doing so, and they might really need it. Do the same for the adults in your school community. 

  Connect strategically. Iron sharpens iron – who are the colleagues you need to connect with who will lift you up? Who makes you feel better after you talk with them? You need to talk to them now. Give them a call. You don’t need a reason.

  Put down the device. We aren’t made to sit in front of a screen all day. We need fresh air, communication and connection. Make it a daily non-negotiable. Go for a walk by yourself or with a friend. Listen to a podcast, do some baking or turn up the stereo and sing along – whatever fills your bucket.

 –   And finally, a time management recommendation – read Oliver Burkeman. Four Thousand Weeks is a very different take on time management, but it will resonate with you for a long time. His latest post is worth reading also and not a million miles away from the thrust of this post right here.

You could even listen to The Cure (or not). But you might need to Do the Unstuck. 

What can you do today to shift from reacting mode to action mode?



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We offer something a little different this week – a link to a discussion we had with Justin Baeder from the Principal Center. Justin is based in Seattle on the Pacific Northwest coast of the U.S.A. where he is the Director of the Principal Center, an organisation that aims to help senior leaders build their capacity as instructional leaders.

One of the channels he uses to share information is the Principal Center Radio which is a podcast that has featured a wide variety of educational leaders. This episode it was our turn for a chat and you can click the image below to hear it.



Dave and Steve

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This week we have a guest post from Stephanie Thompson who is the principal of Beach Haven School in sunny Auckland New Zealand. Stephanie has a wealth of leadership experience in many educational settings and graciously agreed to share some thinking about life in the swivelly chair. 

I found the above meme when I was doing one of those mindless scrolling sessions one does when one has a few minutes to check their Facebook feed.  It gave me pause for thought, and it resonated. It resonated hard.

Here in the beautiful Aotearoa, we are heading back into our third term after a two week ‘non contact’ (code for holiday) break.  Term Two found itself to be long (ridiculous when you know that logically, it was a standard issue term, no longer than any other), a little fractious, and most certainly, tiring. Initially I thought it was just me, but after numerous conversations with colleagues, it appears I am not alone!  The need for some down time, to refresh and to recharge, was most welcome.

The discovery of this meme was timely.  

It arrived at a time where leaders, myself included, felt like one of those hamsters on a treadmill – going flat out, but not feeling like you were getting anywhere.  It served as a gentle reminder to take pause and consider this notion of ‘best’. It speaks to the very essence of leadership, and our need to ‘do our best’ and run flat out on that treadmill at an unsustainable pace.  More often than not, what we consider to be ‘our best’ is set at such a high level of self imposed expectation, that is, in reality, hard (if not impossible) to achieve at the same level, every day.

The thing about driving the leadership swivelly chair is that it is not predictable, or static. No two days are the same, and our context can change quickly and often without warning. What looks like our version of ‘best’ today could look quite different tomorrow, because the conditions will not be the same. The variables you are working with today are unlikely to be the same tomorrow. 

For me, this means the best leadership mode I can employ to navigate the unpredictable is to be agile.  An agile leader is one who is adaptable, thinks strategically, works from a place of resilience and can quickly move across the shifting sands of context in a consistent, dynamic way.  Perhaps, this requires us to think about the expectation we place on ourselves in regards to what we think ‘best’ is. 

As an agile leader, maybe we need to readjust and adapt this understanding of ‘best’ to better meet the challenges of the day, rather than try to adhere to a ‘one size of best, fits all’ expectation.  If we refocus our mindset from this agile perspective, then we can recognize and understand that it is ok for our best to look different each day.

This new understanding gives me hope, and helps take the pressure off of my own self-imposed expectations. The biggest lesson for me is that it is time to be kinder to self! Time to tell the nagging voice in my head to quiet, and to rejoice in the day-to-day achievements, big and small – irrespective of which level of ‘best’ they are at. 

It is important to remember that we are not a machine. We are sentient beings, capable of operating at multiple levels of ‘best’!

I couldn’t help but wonder about my own leadership expectations around ‘doing my best’. I know I set high expectations for myself and for others, and it gave me pause to consider if those expectations are realistic for every context and situation I face. 

I put myself into the role of coachee and I imagined what questions I would ask of myself, if I was self coaching. 

  • Are my expectations realistic and fit for purpose?
  • Are they helpful or harmful and can you tell the difference?
  • What does your internal dialogue say? Are you thinking in the present (what can I do, what will I do) or are you thinking more in the future (what should I be doing) or are you thinking in the past (what should I have done)?
  • Which thought process, the past, the future or the present, helps you with the context you are currently facing? Which are unhelpful and why?
  • What small wins did you make in this situation and how might you celebrate them?
  • Am I playing to my strengths?
  • I am I being respectful of the amount of time I need to accomplish something? What does that look like?
  • Am I protecting, and valuing MY time , so that I can be a more present family member, friend, leader? (this is my favourite)

As we move into the second half of the year, I would urge you all to consider the expectations you place on yourself. To remember that it is perfectly ok for your ‘best’ to look different, to be agile in an ever changing landscape, and finally, that reframing how you see your ‘best’ is about looking after you!

You are worth it, and you are not a machine!


If you have any feedback for Stephanie, you can leave a comment below, or head over to the 40HP  Facebook page. And as always, by adding your email address below our weekly posts will be sent directly to you.


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This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow principal in New Zealand, Saira Boyle from Willowbank School. As an experienced principal, Saira has been become increasingly conscious of the demands that our leadership roles make on us, and has generously shared some thinking and tactics that are worth considering.

In our work as principals we’re bombarded on a daily, if not hourly basis, with a diverse range of challenges, each one creating a stimulus inside of us; some physical, some emotional and others a combination. At the start of 2018 I developed a life threatening unprovoked blood clot in my leg; the cause – layer upon layer of work related unreleased stress stimulus as a direct result of ‘the job’ (which don’t get me wrong I LOVE, and am slightly addicted to!)

On and off for the last three years I’ve unsuccessfully dabbled with a range of different things to help deal with impact of the work stress; healthy food, drinking water, walking, gym memberships, early nights, leaving work before 6pm, leaving the laptop at work, taking email off my phone, and so the list goes on! When I say unsuccessfully I mean I started different tactics and strategies, usually at the beginning of a new term and as the pace and mahi picked up or the winter months kicked in, each one fell by the wayside. I mean, after a vexatious parent, a playground fight, an overwhelmed staff member and a pile of non NZ trained applications to read for a teacher vacancy, toilets to clean, grumpy neighbours, a teacher in tears due to the pressures of an under resourced child with non-typical needs, a board report to write and a late night PTA meeting to attend (in one day!) who can resist a sausage roll or two, binge watching Netflix until the early hours and an extra hour in bed in place of a morning walk, right? Snapback into old and trusted habits was strong and fierce, time and time again. Sound familiar?

Believe it or not it doesn’t need to be this way.  A couple of weeks ago Steve’s blog made reference to a Stoic quote about responding to pressured situations by, “firstly not getting worked up and then by doing the right thing; being a good human being and speaking with kindness, modesty, and sincerity”. A fabulous outcome of living by this mantra is personal growth and wellbeing – the ever illusive holy grail. When I posted in the comments of Steve’s blog and he invited me to share with you, I have to say I put my new learning into practice, silenced the mind and responded with gratitude for the opportunity. So, here I am, and here goes. 

.   .   .   .   .

I’ve been practicing something for around two months now, on a daily basis, which helps immensely to make that space between stimulus and response a space where one can manage the emotion to ensure reaction doesn’t occur, keep the brain out of the red zone reaction and develop stress mastery. It’s simple, effective and takes only one hour each morning. It breaks down the stronghold of mental models which lead to our ‘reactions’ (becoming worked up) to certain situations and in this space the ability to respond as a good human being – our purpose!

The brain is programmed from birth to around 7 years old and those programmes, (or cages) shape and set the stage for our five life categories ~ health, finance, spirituality, relationships and career. Our subconscious is strong and in many of us it is the boulder blocking the light to shifting habits which prevent our growth and stress mastery. This daily practice gently chips away at the boulder and develops in its place new pathways in the brain, which result in the ability to take perspective, remain calm, manage our emotions and respond in kind ways. It is AMAZING!

When you wake in the early hours, instead of spending time aimlessly ‘scrollaxing’ try this and watch the results. Set the day the right way with the Green Focused Power Hour (*Bill Cortright);

  • Ten minutes of reading ~ something for yourself; self growth input. If you want to master stress then daily commitment to self development is essential!
  • Ten minutes journaling ~ if you are taking in new information, then you also need to journal to make sense of and release the old thought patterns
  • Ten minutes affirmation ~ decide what you want to achieve and repeat out loud for ten minutes eg I am healthy, I am strong, I am inclusive, I am present, I am joyful
  • Ten minutes of visualisation ~ think of your ideal day in 3 years time and imagine it in detail
  • Ten minutes of meditation ~ to centre the mind and build new brain pathways
  • Ten minutes of physical movement ~ stretches, walking, yoga, running, putting the brain in the green zone

In the evenings I sign off the day with around 15 minutes of reflection on;

  • Daily gratitude
  • Triumph of the day
  • Challenge of the day
  • Idea to explore
  • Feeling of the day
  • Memory of the day

Within two to three days I noticed a difference! Joy, ease and lightness entered my life from all angles, it was remarkable! My teenagers started smiling at me, my husband made me laugh and danced with me when I arrived home from work, a vexatious interaction was greeted with calm and generosity and my team began to feel less bombarded! When a meeting became volatile, I was able to remain calm and respond effectively. When a child decided to slam his head into the window my presence was able to calm his anger. When an employment issue resulted in ugly action, rather than allow the what ifs and overwhelming thought patterns to invade my mind late into the evening and weekend, I watched my thinking and put it to one side, later responding with kindness. When I would usually be exhausted and counting down to the break, I am more energised than ever! 

Catching the Habit!

I think the reason I am able to make this a habit is down to a few things, the first being my why. During lockdown in 2020 I noticed a dull ache in my right arm, which over the months resulted in my shoulder seizing up, permanent pain and limited use of the arm. Around the same time my Apple watch started telling me my heart rate would occasionally flutter it’s way up to 170bpm for no apparent reason. Then there were the usual female gripes for women of a particular age and then the big one, a beautiful member of staff in her forties was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer. Just like that, her life changed forever! She decided to eat clean and her surgeons explained to her the importance of daily exercise. I bought a book for her on food and read parts of it myself and that coupled with the podcast mentioned below made me realise we need to start with inside out. Suddenly my why was no longer about looking good, maintaining my youth and hanging onto the past. 


My why was about being strong, in body and mind for me! Find your why.


I engaged a spiritual counsellor and then a personal trainer (only one or the other now!) and because I was investing in me and paying for this, it was also a motivator to stick to the plan! Having someone to hold you to account is essential! You invest in others every single day. Invest in you! You’re worth it. A coach of some sort is essential. If you want it you may need to give up something so the budget fits, but it is worthwhile! 


Understanding how the mind works; getting through the first thirty days is the crunch, and then the next thirty, then the six month milestone and then the year! (I’ll let you know when I get there!) Make a plan and chip away, a little each day. When you wake in the morning your brain is in theta state; the most receptive state to change. So, if you can, set that alarm an hour earlier (go to bed an hour earlier – what’s going on at 10pm that’s so important?), let’s face it, many of us are awake and mindlessly running through the day before we begin the day anyway!

My crazy hormones and busy mind were waking me around 4.30am-5.30am and I would lie there trying to force myself back to sleep, or start ‘scrollaxing’ through mindless FB or Instagram feeds until it felt like an acceptable time to rise. So I decided to reframe my perspective and put this time to good use and now I wake excited to enjoy the process.

If you aren’t a natural morning person, why not just pick twenty minutes to start with and try the reading (self growth material) and journaling to start with? Maybe the affirmations could be said during your shower? Your visualisation during your commute and your mediation during a morning tea break? The other day I opened my curtains and watched the sunrise as I yoga stretched – what a way to put the brain into green and what a blessing to start the day in the green zone!

If you miss a day, don’t panic, just keep going. Consistency is key! 

As part of living into our Mindfulness –  Pause, Breathe, Smile programme (which is now funded in all schools) we meditate at the start of all meetings – our Catholic colleagues out there are blessed to begin with prayer. Whatever the name, it’s about stilling the mind, the endless stream of thought, throughout the day. This sets the foundation to create your new habit.


Love the process and notice the little things each day that change – this, in short is what keeps me motivated!  It works. It works because it’s chipping away at the subconscious mind and changing the pathways to support new habit formation. It works because it’s little and often. It’s neuroscience. It works because it brings joy and emotion is contagious! Make sure you get hooked on the right one! Oh, and by the way, my arm is now moving again, my palpitations under control, my migraines less offensive and relationships deepened at home and work due to a new found headspace. Accepting the process as the goal is more important than an ‘end goal’ for me. The process is bringing daily joy in incremental measures. Starting the day with a daily reading from The Daily Stoic is a great reminder of the action we should take each day to bring us closer to ‘home’.

“Well-being is realised by small steps, but is truly no small thing” – Zeno, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 7.1.26

I have learnt the importance of;

  • Watching my thoughts and when a negative thought arises, reframing to the positive
  • Sitting with and feeling the emotions which arise from the daily challenges, excited that they give me an opportunity to explore where the emotion is coming from, in turn breaking the boulder
  • Observing the reactions and being still in my thinking mind, enough to create space to plan a calm and good response

If you are ready for human centred leadership in all areas of your life then give it a go! Remember growth is a continual process and when challenges come our way, it’s an exciting opportunity to practice smashing up that boulder, creating new habits and allowing the light to shine in and through our subconscious! 

I’m sure so many of you have your own amazing ways to grow and lead the right way, this is simply something that works for me! If you’d like to know more about this and share experiences if you embark on the ride, be welcome to be in touch. Having a champion is always a bonus! Meanwhile remember, what you think you become, what you feel you attract and what you imagine you create!

“You could enjoy in this very moment all the things you are praying to reach by taking the long way around – if you’d stop depriving yourself of them.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.1

  • Freedom – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
  • Happiness – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
  • Respect of your peers? That too, in the choices you make.

All of that is right there in front of you. No need to take the long way to get there. (Holiday and Hanslem, 2016, The Daily Stoic) 

Fabulous readings to get you started:

  • The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
  • Grit – Angela Duckworth
  • The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
  • What Happened to You? – Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey
  • Stress Mastery – Living Right with Bill Cortright (podcast)

Saira Boyle


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Recently I’ve been walking around thinking, “thank God it’s Week ten already.”

The problem with this thought is that it’s simply not true. We are just about to complete Week 4, and it already feels as though a full term has been completed.

It certainly didn’t help to have a very un-Forty Hour Principal like 14 hour day recently, where I was able to catch a 20 minute break somewhere around 4:30pm. I gave up counting how many unfinished coffees I left lying about.

The result of this big day has been a string of shorter, but yet really tiring ones. I’ve got no idea how some of our principal colleagues routinely pull out 70-80 hour weeks. More importantly I’ve got no idea why they would want to. I feel crap as a result of just one of these weeks. And when I say crap, I mean physically and mentally rubbish.

I’ve got to thinking that I still have to crawl my way through another six weeks, and so my approach needs to be different. I’ve been placing my money on a hunch that much of the tiredness and stress that I’m going through is self-inflicted and I’ve decided not to wait for the cavalry to arrive but to deal with it for myself. Parts of it I can’t control – for example a one off, busy busy, long long day – but a lot of it I can control.

I’m going to start with my thought processes. 

Recently I read an interesting study published in 2005 by the National Science Foundation. They found that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. 

An even more recent study (2020) suggested that we have on average 6,200 thought worms. How they measure these things I have no idea, but isn’t it fascinating?

Of these thoughts they were able to estimate that 80% were likely to be negative ….and a whopping 95% of them were repetitive thoughts from the days before.

My worries have a significant impact on the way that I see things and the way that I approach things. As a result I’m either trying to lock the world away, or I’m faking my emotions. Locking the world away is a diversion, faking it is an innovation. Both are exhausting strategies.

Of these 80% of our negative thoughts, 85% of them never amounted to anything. That’s 85% of the time worrying about something that didn’t eventuate. And, of the 15% of worries that did happen, a huge 79% of the study  discovered that either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.

The conclusion is that 97% of our worries are baseless and result from an unfounded pessimistic perception!!

Lightbulb moment!

They say that our thoughts are rehearsals for our actions. That’s a powerful line to consider. Our thoughts become what we do. So if our thoughts are largely pessimistic then our resulting actions are going to be fashioned on this pessimism. Ouch. No wonder people think I’m often in a bad mood!

Much of what we think is our way of predicting the future. This is what naturally makes us worry, because we are anxious about what might happen. In reality we have no idea what will happen.

“That kid in Room 10 – he’s going to explode and hurt someone very soon. I’m heading out of school for the next three days. I bet he explodes while I’m away. How will they cope, how will I cope!”

“My Banked Staffing account  – if anyone else is sick this term it’s going to blow the budget – will my BOT understand that?”

“That teacher taking the kids down to the mountain bike course. Last time she was ill prepared and there was an accident. He’s going again tomorrow … “

These are all little snippets of worries that we might have in our professional lives. Worrying won’t help with any of these. A good plan will help. Put the plan in place. And then don’t worry about it. Trust that your plan is a good plan and that you have done all that you can.

Learning to control these worry thoughts is yet another important key that will help you get through. Understand that the vast majority of what you worry about is just fluff. And it’s that fluff that is getting in the way of you not just doing your job – but surviving and thriving in your job.

With this in mind I can get back to the process of enjoying the fact that I still have another six weeks of this term to work through.


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We know you’re probably thinking, “is it Friday already?”  But not this time . . . the Forty Hour team are heading to New Plymouth to share some thinking at the NZEI Rural Principals’ Conference and thought we’d drop the second in our 5 Minute Roadie series to celebrate.

This time Steve explains a phrase that can be provocative – Be Slacker Better.


Dave and Steve


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This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow New Zealand principal, Michael Fletcher.

Michael has worked in education for nearly 30 years, half of that in leadership positions. As the Principal of Chaucer School for the last 7 years he shared;

“There are days when I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this job . . . and there are other days when you couldn’t pay me enough to do this job!”

.   .   .

“My doctor has 28 principals on his books…”, I was told recently by an experienced principal. “Of those, 25 are on blood pressure medicine.”

Now, I’m not up to speed with the national statistics when it comes to what percentage of the general population has high blood pressure. However, I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s lower than 89%.

Sustainability. Our own. How can we prioritise this? For ourselves? I’m a believer in ‘put your own oxygen mask on first and ‘be kind to yourself. These sayings , mantras, reminders are all well and good. But what about tangible measures that we, as principals, can implement now to help make our roles manageable, realistic and sustainable? And what can Boards do in this space?

A key first step is to ‘get in on the table’. Principal health and wellbeing as a separate item on the BOT annual work plan. Then, listed on meeting agendas. For example Kahui Ako Principal meetings, Principal PLG’s, First time Principal hui, NZEI Principal network meetings.

Secondly, I’ve started canvassing colleagues to collate examples of measures they’ve put in place to directly support their own health and wellbeing. There have included: A period of discretionary leave, granted by the Board for the Principal to use to support their wellbeing; an annual subscription to a meditation app; 1-1 sessions with a counsellor/executive coach / professional supervisor; working a day per fortnight offsite; going in later one day a week; going in later on the day after a BOT meeting / late event.

Do you have other examples?

My next step is to ask colleagues if there is one new measure that they would like to see implemented this year to support their health and wellbeing.

Board of Trustee elections are coming up next year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, at the NZSTA ‘Governance 101’ workshops, new Board members received a list of tangible ways that schools have supported their principal’s wellbeing? This would help to normalise the fact that principal health and wellbeing is its ‘own thing’, it deserves and needs to be discussed, supported and resourced.

At the recent NZSTA conference a principal colleague shared this thought with me, “Imagine if people thought of a principal as a taonga …”.

That stopped me in my tracks. Now let’s get that on the table and talk about it.

I can feel a clip coming on . . .


*Taonga means “treasure” in te reo Māori. 

Check out Michael’s latest video clip here.


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This week’s post is a little different – it’s a short video.

Steve and I had a chat about the difference between ‘a vocation’ and ‘a job’ while driving to Methven last week to share some provocations with the Canterbury and Westland Secondary Principals. 

One take, done live – what could possibly go wrong?  Anyway, let us know what you think. 🙂



Steve and Dave


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You’ve found the Forty Hour Principal blog page and that is a good thing! We’re glad you are here.

Our aim is to create conversation about school leadership in an attempt to make the role more sustainable, healthier, and even more fun.

We’re positive about our jobs and know that we are privileged to be doing work that matters. However, many leaders in schools who echo this sentiment, also pause and add a “but” onto the end. It’s the ‘but’ part that we believe needs our collective wisdom.

The bits of school leadership that stop it being the perfect job are remarkably consistent from person to person – that is, they are not a reflection on any one individual, rather conditions that have developed over time. While there are no magic bullets, there are plenty of ways to re-frame what we do into a better reality.

Our intention is to trial the suggestions shared in the Forty Hour Principal and to keep the conversation going through this blog. We will post new ideas as time allows and invite you to follow us so that you get new posts directly.

We are also looking for comments on posts and suggestions for topics that need to be covered. Don’t be shy, new thinking is what is needed.

It’s time to write some new rules!

Steve and David

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Photo by Jess Bailey


Simon Sinek, in his 2017 video clip called “Empathy“, makes an important point (among a host of other great thinking) that should resonate with many principals.

Firstly; “You’re not in charge, you’re responsible for those who are in your charge.” He likes this point so much that he says it again; “Great leaders aren’t responsible for the job, they’re responsible for the people responsible for the job.”


As a principal, the easiest way to look after the children in our charge (especially if you have a large school with a huge roll), is to look after the teachers responsible for the face to face mahi at the chalk face. One important way to achieve this is to have a very clear understanding of what our teachers are going through. It’s vital to be empathetic about their role.

Primary School Teacher and Kahui Collaborator, Sarah Spittal, wrote a great piece for us called Work Smarter Not Harder – a teacher’s perspective way back in October 2019. So we thought it a good idea to catch up with her and hear how things have been going in her classroom.

.  .  .

“More than six months on from my previous guest post, and it’s time to take a look at how time has affected the ways that I work and live. But more than just the passing of time really, the affect Covid-19 and a forced break away from the classroom has made for me.

You may remember that I was aiming to work smarter, not harder. I was achieving this through maximising the use of time, not taking work home with me in the evenings, and most importantly, rejecting the mindset that working longer and harder, ticking off every single thing, every single day made me a better teacher.

While lockdown was undoubtedly physically restful, mentally and emotionally it was exhausting. In my case, caring for and home-schooling my own 4 children, while reaching out to and responding to my class was quite the juggle! The line between work life and home life was well and truly blurred to the point of being invisible. This I found hard.

However, there was definitely extra time available to me. I was determined to use this gift of time to grow my skills in Digital Technology. I thought of ways I could make things easier and more enriching in the classroom and created a heap of resources to suit. I’ll admit, I was a bit obsessed and spent long hours on this, but it was OK – because I was excited and passionate about it. I think if you’re lucky enough to feel passionate about your work, it really doesn’t seem like work!

Then came the announcement that we were all heading back to school.  It was actually quite exciting at first! Without a doubt, it was awesome to see my friendly colleagues again and connect face-to-face. We teachers are certainly social creatures! Spirits were high and nobody seemed stressed – He Waka Eke Noa! 

I feel happy at work. Paperwork feels manageable and I feel blessed with the wonderful children I teach. Our principal decided that not only would we not have to back-track and provide written reports for the time spent in lockdown, but we wouldn’t write reports for the whole of Term 2. I think this has made a huge difference to the workload and pressures of us all and I am grateful for this. The well-being of staff and students has been prioritised and as far as I can tell, student learning won’t suffer as a result.

For the most part I’ve upheld my goal of leaving work at work on weekdays. I’ve re-started my sport (roller derby!) and believe the measure of when I’m doing well is when my life feels balanced and I feel happy. Sleep has been well and truly prioritised and I get lots of early nights – the difference to how I feel in the morning is undeniable, as are my energy levels as the week goes on. 

But it’s Week 10 now and I feel like things are beginning to get a little harder. Twelve weeks in a Term is very long – even if 5 of them were spent teaching from home. People are starting to look a bit weary and we are heading into the ‘getting through’ stage of the Term, where we may need to be more careful that we look after ourselves and one another just the little bit more. 

I really hope that the lessons learned in lockdown don’t fade away. That we continue prioritising our health and well-being. That the parts of our job that don’t contribute to or improve student learning are identified and weeded out. And that we remember that no matter how much we enjoy teaching, it is but one part of who we are.  

The biggest take-away for me is to treat every single day as a gift – even Mondays! With the unpredictability of life, I think every day spent earth-side is a good day! And I will endeavour to remember this when I feel myself getting stressed over things that really don’t matter.”




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This is a guest post by a principal colleague, Mike Hope, from the Rangitikei. 


With the excitement and nerves of starting a new principal role at the beginning of this year, the last thing I needed was to be dealing with a pandemic in my first term. The year started really well, with routines being set up, relationship building in full swing with the staff, children and the community, a successful community barbeque, the best swimming sports I have ever been a part of, student leaders announced and leadership training organised, preparations for this year’s big production etc…

Then bang! In Week 8 we’re notified that Aotearoa is moving to Lockdown Level 4 due to Covid-19. As all principals are now aware, this was a stressful time for children, staff and the community. I felt a huge amount of pressure from all angles, but felt lucky planning had begun a week prior, thanks to the support and wisdom of the leaders in our PLG meeting the week before. A discussion was initiated around planning for a pandemic and each principal shared their thoughts on what their schools would do. This got me thinking about what we as a school would do, and started checking our policies, procedures and begun planning as a staff. We decided to get the ball rolling with both hard copy and digital learning packs. By the time the announcement was made, each class was ready to go.

The following weeks are somewhat of a blur, with the amount of information coming from the MOE, MOH and the media, it made life at home that much harder. I found myself getting caught up in the moment, trying to listen to what everyone was saying, trying to keep our school community, BOT, children and staff all informed and supported. After 2 weeks in Level 4, my mind finally started to clear of the Covid-19 mist. It was my lovely wife that reminded me, that we’re all in this together and to try and keep life entertaining and fun for the children (both at home and at school).

From this point on, I stopped checking the news apps every 10 minutes, I stopped checking the Principal Facebook page every 5 minutes and I stopped checking my work emails continuously, waiting in anticipation for Iona’s bulletin at 7 or 8 o’clock at night. It was here I started spending and enjoying more time with my own young family. This helped me to refocus and formulate a plan, to not only inform the school community, but to boost morale.  This came in the form of the weekly ‘Bluey’, a newsletter basically.

In the Bluey I started winding up the community about their support for the dismal Hurricanes, trying to drum up support for the mighty Highlanders. I tried to use a bit of humour when discussing life at home in lockdown, supported by photos of what I was doing with my family at home. I know, this isn’t an original idea, but the feedback I started getting helped with my own confidence.

As a staff we started having Zoom Meetings (which I had to learn how to use). Here we supported each other with each wave of distance learning packs. It was during these times, I begun to realise what an amazing staff I have. Their drive and commitment to support their children throughout lockdown, was above and beyond. They were in constant touch with the children and parents in their class, provided high quality learning experiences using a range of platforms, all while trying to look after themselves and their own families.

The icing on the cake came when one of my teachers mentioned making a music video for the children. With the staff we have, I knew this was a great idea and we made a very entertaining lip sync music video of ‘We’re not gonna take it!’. This brought not only the staff closer together, but also brought our whole community together. The last time I checked, we had over 3,000 views on our school Facebook page.

The life of being a principal in a new position, went from being full on, very busy and stressful, to being a lot more fun and positive. Through having a little fun and humour, our staff as a team has grown stronger and our community has come together. The staff were more eager to get back to school to be with their class and I know the children were missing being at school too. Not to mention how excited the parents were to send their lovely children off to school.

So yes, it all seems a little cheesy really. But the time in lockdown gave me time to think about what I value most, and for me that was family. I treasured my time with my 2 young children and my wife. It made me reassess where I was in life and what I needed to do. The following questions keep running through my head:

  • Do I want to continue to be overwhelmed by what principals have to contend with each day?
  • Do I want to carry on going home with a full head and not sleeping well?
  • Do I want to enjoy life more with my family?
  • Do I want to enjoy work more?

I need to change the ‘normal’ and start enjoying life more. Now I just need to figure out how.


Mike Hope, Tumuaki, Hunterville School


You can comment on Mike’s post below, or head over to the Forty Hour Principal Facebook page and share your thinking there.