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.
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 calledWork 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.”
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.
With the adventure of 2019 nearly behind us and the possibility of 2020 still to be considered, Steve and I are clocking out until later in January.
The 40 Hour Principal project has taken on a life of its own, and we will be back in the New Year to share ideas and provocations that just might lead to positive change in the world of school leadership.
Thanks for your interest and support up to this point – we are going to need your input when we kick-off again. Take it easy, be really kind to yourselves and enjoy the opportunity to freely do the stuff that makes you well and happy. Merry Christmas to you all.
Dave and Steve
Just for your interest, here are our top ten posts from 2019:
This week we’d like to introduce another perspective. The following piece is written by a teacher, Sarah Spittal. Sarah is one of those amazing teachers who appear to have super woman like capabilities. You’ll know the ones I mean; relentlessly passionate about their teaching career, a fabulous asset to your school both in and out of the classroom and at the same time balancing a home life of four kids (one who is still a pre-schooler) and a dedicated husband on shift work. Somewhere in between she fits in her own well-being … somewhere. People look up to Sarah as an inspiration! Hell – I look up to her as an inspiration! But I did wonder how this was all sustainable for her.
So it was with great surprise (and relief) to hear from Sarah when I returned from my sabbatical, that she had decided to make some changes. I came back to school with a whole heap of new thinking as to how I was going to make my job more sustainable. Sarah had been doing her thinking as well, and so I asked her to write down her journey to share with you. Her journey is well worth sharing because her words are relevant to teachers and principals alike.
. . .
“I’ve been a teacher for many years, and fully understand the demands of the non-contact side of the job – admin, paperwork, student profiles and assessments by the truckload! On the daily! Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, so thank goodness for the late hours, when the kids are all in bed. The only thing THAT impinges upon is sleep – and 6 hours is the same as 8, right? I also work in an amazing school where everyone is as hard-working as me. Everyone takes up extra responsibilities to provide opportunities for the children we teach, everyone goes the extra mile. So great!
So you can imagine my surprise when I heard from a couple of hard-working colleagues that they …..DON’T TAKE WORK HOME. But how?…..seriously, HOW?? With all that needs done?! I’m embarrassed to admit that I wondered whether they were doing everything they should, to the high standard required in a hard-working school such as ours.
I decided to question them about this further and my only revelation was that they had some sort of separation between home-life and work-life, and the latter was not (to the best of their ability) to infiltrate the former.
So very idealistic, but achievable? I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that for me, the latter was very definitely infiltrating, invading, affecting and intruding on the former. And I needed to change this, for my own mental health and well-being. I had officially been diagnosed with ‘anxiety’ and I did not wonder why.
I needed to give it a go. With no tools, just an ideal. I made a few key decisions. 1) I would try, to the best of my ability, not to bring work home after school, 2) It would be OK and I’d still be a good teacher, 3) I would still do all my work to a high standard 4 ) I needed an out – I could go back to the way I was doing things if it didn’t work out.
I started at the beginning of Term 2. I didn’t bring my usual teacher basket home on the first day. I had a lovely evening with my family and slept well…but knew it was only day one. Then I was three days in, and the basket stayed behind my desk for the night. Before I knew it, I was a week in and wondering how long I could keep it up. All the paperwork was done and the meetings attended. And I was leaving work feeling free each day, rather than wondering when I was going to squeeze in my work between the demands of my 4 kids and the domestic stuff. I even picked up a sport! Something that would tick another box in the well-being department, and something I would never have thought I could possibly have time for previously.
So what did I change? Small things really – I work through a big chunk of my lunchbreaks, stay focused before and after school, use CRT’s more efficiently, prioritise work etc. I still work for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to help me focus and direct the week. I believe I work smarter, not harder…
But the biggest thing, the ‘secret’ to maintaining this, for me, was to shift my mindset – from believing that longer hours mean I’m hard-working, that bringing work home daily means I’m hard-working, that telling my colleagues how hard I worked the night before is hard-working. That in fact, the only thing about hard-working by that definition, is that it’s HARD. And I seriously wondered how long I could keep it up, and whether it was worth it!
It is now part-way through Term 3, and I’m keeping it up! I’m proud of myself and would happily challenge anyone who thinks I’m not doing my job well. It’s taken the test of time to be sure. With teachers chucking in the job regularly, due to workload and stress, I am hopeful that the ‘hard-working’ culture shifts soon, that more people make that separation and get their lives and mental health back.”
We are now eight weeks post sabbaticals and that time has simply disappeared! Both of us have current change goals that we are working on, and for your entertainment, we’ve written a short update on how it’s all going. Does the theory work in the “real” world?
It’s Week 8. There’s two and a half weeks to go until the holidays. I’m sure that I’ll make it, but I’m beginning to get pangs of “too many mountains to move” and it really does seem a long way off. Of course I will get there, and these feelings will be gone sooner than later, even if it is two weeks.
Time then to review the plan that I had in place to help me get through the term.
I started the term, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “…serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense”. It’s a good way to start any term, and, let’s face it, any day. But this term was special because this was the term that I’d come back with a super power – a whole term of sabbatical behind me. I was more ready than I’d ever been.
So how has it gone?
As I’ve written in our other posts, I decided to focus on three things.
Firstly, I wanted to leave each day and be done with it. I didn’t want to take the niggling, creeping insecurities of a job not finished home with me each night. Instead I wanted to look at each day from three points and base my own judgement of success on these.
And for 6 weeks it basically was. I kept a record each day of how I was doing, simply highlighting (literally with a highlighter) three icons that represented my focus, which I called my constants.
As the term moved on I began to notice that of the three constants the one that began to fade away was my own well-being at school. It makes sense, engaging with the kids and keeping up relationships with everyone else saps the life out of you. These always come first in a school, and unfortunately the “looking after myself” component of my constants was the first to slip.
Ironically though, my well-being at school is the key thing that should fuel my drive to take on an energetic engagement with our tamariki, and to foster these great relationships that I so value!
Secondly I wanted to work on my mindset. Mantras such as “I am here because I want to be here”, “I come here every day because I want to help people” and “I get excited by the daily buzz of the place” were placed strategically as reminders around my office. Little label reminders for me and for me only.
As I found my school well-being plan diminishing I also found my mantra heading south. Recently old mindsets have made themselves comfortable again. And that’s not good.
The good thing is that it’s week 8, and I’ve taken the time to review where I am. I haven’t let this run for too long. So I’m going to refocus on my school well-being. I’m going to promote this to my staff and I am going to make a key differentiation.
There is a difference between your home well-being and your school well-being. Up until now I have confused them. They are equally important, but too often we talk about well-being for a principal as being those things we do when we leave the school grounds. That is well-being that we do for our whanau and for our private selves.
But what about re-thinking how we look after ourselves when we are at school? So I’m heading back to the Five ways of Being. I’m going to look at this as the major priority for the next two and half weeks. This I believe will see me make it to the end of the term, with energy to spare.
Thirdly, I cut out coffee. Prior to sabbatical I could easily clock up 6 coffees before interval. Don’t ask me how many more by the time I left school in the late afternoon. I now have only one at breakfast and a couple of teas throughout the day. The big difference I’ve made is the addition of a wonder fluid. You might have heard of it. It’s called water.
Plain old tap water at that. I’ve found that whereas coffee sped me up and my day ran at a million miles an hour that ended in a fitful sleep, water tends to slow me down. As a result I’m finding personally that my days aren’t nearly as manic and my sleep is much deeper. Yes toilet stops are more frequent with the increased water consumption but it does get me out of my office more regularly!
In a future post I’ll be back to review how things got on.
My current goals are all aimed at picking some “low hanging fruit” that have the potential to help me spend more time on what we are calling the “important” work and have more energy to do it.
Firstly – The way I handle email
I chose this one because email is like a time sucking monster that stretches my working day at both ends, diverts me from the important work, and just never stops coming. My solution, let go of the FOMO¹ and put some boundaries around the stuff!
The first thing I did was make all my email come to one place so when I did check it, I had a single stop to make. I’ve got three addresses that I check. My solution was to use Microsoft Outlook for all three (one’s a Gmail account) and add each of them to the favourites so they were super easy to check. This move has been brilliant – wish I’d done it years ago. 10/10 so far.
The second thing I did was set three times daily when I will check mail; 9:00am, 11:30am and around 2:30pm. To avoid temptation, I had to turn off all alerts and close the email window. I chose these times because each works around other predictable daily school events – this limits the time available. Can give this a solid 8/10 currently.
Secondly – How I get to the important work (or not get to it!)
My plan here was to use the “batching” strategy that we explained in The Forty Hour Principal. In a nutshell, it involves creating a regular block of time, with no interruptions, where you work on important tasks. You need your team on board with the plan so they help you protect the time.
There have been a few ups and downs with this part of the plan. Some days are simply impossible from the very start, and some look like it’s going to work right up until the time you close your door, then bang, a mini crisis pops up or something time critical takes over. When I manage to use the time as planned it is brilliant – I feel purposeful and productive and there’s a real sense of calm that comes from it. Definitely there are some tweaks to make, but over the eight weeks, I think a 6/10 – maybe nudging a 7/10 since today’s Friday.
Thirdly – Fitting regular personal fitness into each week.
Sketchy is how I would describe progress on this one.
In my defense, I did create what looked like a pretty solid plan at the start. I looked at the ebbs and flows of a ‘normal’ week and targeted forms of exercise into the times that looked like they fitted. For example, on Mondays I’m going to be home in the evenings so scheduled either some time on the spin bike or some stretching. On Wednesdays there a bit more freedom so either a run or a bike ride. Etc.
But . . . the fluid nature of life has meant that my scheduled plan has regularly taken a hit. It takes real discipline to prioritise fitness in the face of many competing demands for time. However, I know that this is an area that can’t be ignored and my intention is to re-tweak the plan in the holidays and toughen up on where I set my personal priority bar. Can’t afford not too! 6/10 as at today.