When was the last time?

We’re half way through the term and so I thought it might be a good idea just to give you a quick list of things to ponder!

Ten things to ask:

  1. When was the last time you had a school related meeting in school time in a cafe downtown?
  2. When was the last time you took your lunch break offsite?
  3. Have you ever thought about having your  lunchtime at a time that is different to everyone else?
  4. When was the last time you went for a walk to clear your head when things got too much at work?
  5. When was the last time you said to someone, “although you want me too, I’m not going to do that right now.“
  6. When was the last time you felt not guilty for procrastinating? *
  7. When was the last time you said to someone, “this is my decision to make and I’ll make it in my own time when I have everything I need to make a considered decision”?
  8. When was the last time you actively protected your flow of work/thought/process? **
  9. When was the last time you showed in your actions that you fully understand that although it may all be about people, people and people, but that you are also one of the people?
  10. When was the last time you got through a list like this and felt like you were already nailing everything on the list? 


Extra for experts:

  • * The Ancient Greeks actually placed a lot of value on procrastination, and it wasn’t until many centuries later that it acquired its negative connotation. The kind of breaks that you have, that are often labeled as procrastination, have been widely proven to be vital creative thought and problem solving. So don’t fight it! Understand that it is a healthy cognitive function which allows your subconscious time and space to its’ thing!
  • **In your role you no doubt find that you are constantly running from one “need to do now” to another “need to do now” to yet another one. All of this takes time away from the task that you were originally in “flow like mode” doing and it takes you more time to get back into that flow like mode, if you even are able to. Studies show that it can take around 23 minutes to re focus after an interruption . So what are you doing to protect those flow mode times?



Things are pretty fraught at the moment. There’s the new restraint requirements, the new curriculum developments, the on-going contract negotiations with the government (are they even negotiations? They feel a bit like dis-negotiations). And there’s the constant wave of Covid sickness. Oh and as we head into the winter months there’s a new round of flus and nasty bugs. 

Nothing really seems to change, just the depth of the rubbish or crap that you find yourself in. 

And among all this “stuff” are these things called humans who keep running into your schools and demanding to be, well, demanding. Have things got worse? Are people angrier, more disagreeable, less patient and altogether less sympathetic, empathetic and just a little bit more pathetic?

It might be a relief to hear that yes, they are. Tempers are shorter these days. And it’s not just you wearing it, but people across the country

A recent Spinoff article called “Tempers seem shorter than ever these days. Is it always going to be like this?” gives a good account of this in places other than schools

One person working in a service industry lamented the daily abuse she receives wondering “if customers weren’t really concerned about the products, or her service, at all. It was more that there was other stuff going on in their lives and this was the final straw”.

No doubt we see similar behaviours in our schools. And this isn’t confined to students, but to adults as well, who should really know better.

The Spinoff article goes on to ask a crucial question; “Have we escalated to the point of no return, pushing New Zealand into an age of intolerance, where petty personal beefs escalate into incidents far greater than the sum of their parts?”

If so then this brings yet another dimension to our workplaces, and it’s not a pretty dimension at that. 

Clinical psychologist Kirsty Ross likens the human brain to an iPhone battery, in that when it’s low in power, it begins shutting down functionality. “That ability to think things through thoroughly and evaluate – ‘Is this a threat or am I just tired?’ – becomes a little bit more compromised,” she says. “So you perceive things as being bigger and more difficult and more challenging than you might have otherwise done if you were in a more rested state, physically and emotionally.”

Wow! Does this sound like something you may have witnessed in your school?

These behavioural impulses are called micro-aggressions.

Well known Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel argues that mental health and relationship health are inseparable. Social connection is essential for surviving and thriving.

What does this mean for the mental health of the people working in our schools?

Back to the Spinoff article, and we hear Dr Claudia Wyss suggesting that things will get better. “Things are cyclical [but] we’re humans. I believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

She believes that doing simple things when you find yourself in certain confronting situations can really help. Like just taking time to pause and breathe. And not taking it too personally. This too will pass.

I’d like to offer three more words –

Yet and As If

Yet, is a great word. It works perfectly on the end of a negative sentence:

Things aren’t wonderful in my life, yet.

Things haven’t improved for me, yet.

I don’t seem to be experiencing what I thought I would be experiencing, yet.

Yet gives you the immediate sense that it won’t always be like this; that there is a future and things will be different.

As if, is a great phrase, but it comes with a warning.

As if works in any situation where you find yourself wondering how to navigate your way through:

Feel as if things are going to work out

Act as if you would if you want the situation you find yourself in finishing calmly.

Speak as if the words you are saying are given in a tone that you yourself would feel comfortable hearing.

Support as if you were the one getting the support that you needed.

Ok, so the warning with these as if statements is that you will undeniably be called upon to use these in challenging times that will involve you hiding your emotions. That is tough. No doubt about it.

But if you head into these situations with the understanding that this isn’t really about you at all, but instead it’s about you being a conduit for something else, then that can often be really useful.

Claudia Wyss seems optimistic. In the Spinoff article she believes things will change, that people will be nice again, and that she will be able to stop issuing body cams to her staff sometime soon. That sounds positive!

So maybe it’s not me, or you, but it’s us, and it’s just a matter of time.



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It’s that time of the cycle again – yup, the beginning of a new term.

The winter terms are usually fraught with all sorts of mischief – but then again which term isn’t?

So with this in mind, what sort of systems do you have in place that are simple enough to use when times get dark and tough?

Well-being is definitely an individual thing. There are things that you can do for yourself to keep your head above water. But it doesn’t stop there. Well-being as a collective can be even more useful in a workplace or home environment. Anywhere that people find themselves in stressful situations.

With that in mind, here’s a simple five step plan that you may find useful to run through when you notice that things might be getting tough for those around you.

It is based on a model that is used within the Ministry of Health here in New Zealand (the five R’s of recognise, reflect, raise, refer and reconnect), but we’ve made it a little easier to remember using our favourite NZ word for love; AROHA.

A is for AWARENESS. Be aware of the people around you. Take notice and care of them. Behaviours change when people are under stress, even for those who are really, really, really adept at hiding their stress and pain. So keep an eye out on the people around you. Check in on them, and in a non-snooping sort of way (!) show an interest in what they’re up to.

R is for REFLECT. Reflect on the information that you are noticing. Is the behaviour you’re seeing out of the norm? Are things happening for this person that are trying and challenging?

O is for OH! as in “oh heck” I’ve got to do something with this information. If you’ve noticed it then don’t ignore it. Think of the best way to deal with this “thing” that you have seen or noticed about a colleague, friend or sibling. It’s a tough step for you to take, because potentially you can hurt the feelings of the person involved, and or make their situation even worse. Yes, you might well think that it’s none of your business. But if you are doing this from a position of having an open heart (e.g. you’re not being a mean spirited pain in the arse wanting to get as much mileage as you can out of the mis-fortune of your colleague, friend or sibling) then there’s not a lot that you can lose in going ahead with the next step. If you’re not too sure, then maybe you can talk to a colleague or a trusted leader in your organisation about possible next steps.

H is for Help. Help comes in all sorts of ways. But the best place to start is just by having a conversation with the person. And if you’re not the best person to have this conversation, then find someone who is. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them how they’re finding things at the moment. Don’t go in thinking or presuming that you’re going to be able to fix this. That’s not necessarily your role. Instead go into the conversation with an open mind, in the knowledge that you just might be the first person that this person has spoken to about what is going on in their world, and they’ll be mighty relieved and thankful for that. 

It’s quite likely that they will say everything is fine. People are great at initially minimising their pain. Feel free to share what observations you might have, but in a gentle and caring way. Again, if you’re not the right person to do this, then find out who is.

From this conversation you can then help your colleague take the next step – and that is finding some sort of support mechanism to help them get through. The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provider can provide specialised support

A is for Ask. Ask them if it’s ok if you check back in with them at some stage. If you’re not sure if they want you to check in again, ask them. What would be the best way to reconnect with them?

Letting them know that you’re here and you care about them; well that’s something that can go a very long way in the minds of people under pressure.

It’s a great idea to have a plan that you can go to when things turn rough for those around you. And it’s way better than doing nothing.

A     R     O     H     A


Photo by Chimene Gaspar 

It’s the end of the term and so I’ve decided to make this week’s post particularly short.

We constantly get bombarded with things that use up our time, our energy and quite often make us anxious. So here is a list of ideas that you can do in the following contexts:

Instead of saying YES, especially if you’re snowed under and you don’t really want to take on any extra work or obligations, try these:

  1. I’ll think about it
  2. I’ll get back to you (but don’t feel you need to give a timeframe, depending on circumstance)
  3. I’ll get back to you in ……….(a particular timeframe)
  4. I wish I could, but I know someone better who can help
  5. I’ll need some help for that to happen
  6. I’ll need some more time for that to happen in your timeframe that I currently don’t have, so you’re better asking someone else until I become available
  7. Don’t say anything  …. Just pause and wait
  8. No, that’s above my pay scale
  9. No, that’s below my pay scale
  10. No
  11. Try some humour
  12. Yes

A really short list to ask if you are feeling particularly anxious: 

  1. What am I terrified of?
  2. What am I REALLY terrified of?

A slightly longer list to ask if you are feeling particularly vulnerable:

  1. I need help …. (notice it’s not, DO I need help? … that’s a subtle difference)
  2. I’m not feeling too good do you have a moment to talk?
  3. I need to leave now for another appointment
  4. I need some more time to understand that, so if you need to, come back to me





Hi everyone, there are some of you who will be aware of this, and some of you who won’t, but after 28 years of principalship, I’m having a break. While no longer in the role as a principal, I feel as though I still have plenty to add. So I’m really happy to continue writing the Forty Hour Principal blog with my great friend David. I’ll be writing once a fortnight as normal, but I guess the perspective I bring will be  different than in the past. David of course will continue to write from the most important perspective … that of a principal. Steve




Mind the gap – finding common ground to play in

Chances are that the thing that stresses you out the most are the relationships you have with other people. (Usually this stress is found solely in our heads, but that’s a blog for another day.)

Think of a single stress element of your job and I’m sure you can identify those stress points as coming from a part of a relationship.

For example, you find yourself stressed out over an up-coming staff meeting. Maybe you feel you have to prove yourself in front of your team or you feel that you don’t want to waste anyone’s time or you’re worried your damn presentation won’t link to the internet and this will fluster you, and as a result you’ll look disorganised in front of the group. 

These are all to do with how you perceive your relationship with the people in front of you. And there are times when you are justified in feeling stressed over these. There are people in that crowd who will judge you negatively for sure.

Or you find yourself stressed about a lack of finances in a property upgrade. It’s not the lack of finances that is the real stressor here, it’s how you see yourself relating to others around you. How do you convey a cut back here and there to the team when you had promised a flash new dream classroom.

If you look, and it’s worth looking, you’ll see that it’s the relationships you have with everyone involved in whatever project or event in your life that causes the stress.

That newsletter to you’re writing about upcoming strike action. It’s not the physical action of writing the words on the paper that is stressing you out, it’s the worry about how the strike action might be seen and the ripples across the community that is really worrying you. And if it isn’t worrying you, then it isn’t stressing you. 

Of course bigger relationship conflicts have wide ranging consequences that in turn provide many new stressors. The biggest, end in physical fights or even worse, wars such as we see in the Ukraine. 

If we look closer at the causes of these stresses we can see they occur when there is a difference of opinion or a gap in the understanding of what the differences are and why they’re important to the other side.

I’m sure if you look, that you’ll see this everywhere. Two opposing sides and a huge gap between them.

Bridging that gap in itself is a stressful endeavour. It means a lot of work to not only listen to the other side, but also build some sort of understanding. Not to mention energy, time, and dare I say it, love for the other person.

For many the easiest thing to do is to build some sort of metaphorical fence in that place where the gap is. It says loud and clear that this is a boundary and it is there to protect you from them and them from you. 

Some schools are rife with metaphorical fences. You can see them in the staffroom; you can see them between learning teams; you can see them between staff and students. All of these fences also stop people from gaining a better understanding of the life they are living. It’s way easier just to hide behind the fence, and occasionally lop crap over to the other side just to remind them that you, and they, still have a difference. No one is actually making a difference in these situations.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a compelling tale that highlights these fences. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, see it if you can. It’s about a beautiful friendship between two boys who have no idea, or even a care, about the terrible relationships raging around them. They find a way to be together and to play. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t turn out well. But this isn’t a reflection on the relationship between the two boys; it’s a telling and damning reflection on the relationship gap between others. There is a lot to learn. Are the gaps in the relationships you have in your school affect others?

I like to look at the gap as being a beautiful unused field in between two strong stands of trees. In the field is the problem and the solution. What do we do with this gap? Do we build a large fence to keep the two stands of trees apart, napalming the field so there is nothing left to grow? Or do we build a garden in the field so that there’s a place for the animals of the forest to come and play?

Building fences adds to the stress in your institution, it doesn’t eliminate it. There are gaps everywhere. But what would these gaps look like from a stress point if they were places for people to come and play in?




Ok I’m going a bit OTT here, a bit Off The Topic, a bit off the reservation so to speak. But I’ve got to get this off my chest, and well, that’s gotta be a good thing for my well being and my ability to function as a human being.

When I was a little younger than I am today I was an early adopter. Well, as early as I could depending on the cash circumstances at the time. When Casio came out with a new digital watch that had a calculator on it; well I definitely wanted one, but the finances weren’t there, and anyway I wanted a Healing Ten Speed bike (green preferably) more instead.

When the Sony walkman came along, yup I wanted one. And did some extra shifts on the milk run pushing the trolleys (remember those?) to get one.

Took me a while longer to get my first CD player as it meant replacing everything, and I mean everything, of meaning and worth to me. But I got there.

I remember a time when I had three typewriters in my classroom, and in the corner sat an old bathtub full of cushions; a reading well if you like, instead of a couch. It was cool. The bathtub itself as a reading implement wasn’t necessarily an example of “early adoption”, maybe just some early craziness.

Fast forward and I remember asking my Board to fork out extra money for a colour printer. “What do kids need colour for?”, asked the Board Chair.

And a while later I asked for a digital camera that could take 8 photos before you had to change the data card. “Won’t that just encourage the kids to use the coloured printer more?”, asked my Board Chair.

So as I said, I’ve always liked being a bit of an early adopter. Heck, even when interactive whiteboards were all the rage, fellow 40HPer Dave Armstrong and I were trying to figure out ways of getting them into our classes without spending gazillions of dollars.

All of it seemed to make sense and appeared to add to the experiences that we were supporting our students through. It all helped in making them see some sort of sense in their world. With the operative being THEIR.

I now find myself in “Green Eggs and Ham” territory when it comes to a thing called AI. Well, a little is an understatement …. It’s more like a lot. I feel totally in the “Would you, could you, in the rain?” part of the story when I’m talking about AI. 

“I would not, could not, in the rain. Not in the dark, Not on a train. Not in a car. Not in a tree. I do not like them Sam, you see”.

AI is short for Artificial Intelligence and it’s everywhere already, just not particularly smart, and entrenched in our way of life so much that sometimes we don’t even know it’s there. Up until this point it’s been useful, and supportive of the way we now think we should be living our lives.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen AI in a number of different ways;

Here’s the lead singer from the Darkness (I believe in a thing called love), Justin Hawkins attempting to work out what is a human produced song and what is an AI driven song Can You Tell The Difference Between AI & “Real” Music?!. If he can’t get it right, (and often he doesn’t) then what does that say about how far AI has now traveled? Need a song in a jazz frame … don’t worry about an actual musician, just get an AI to produce it for you.

Similarly we see Art pieces now being produced by AI in the genre of anything you want. Picasso anyone?

And then there’s ChatGPT, a chatbot that lets you converse like a real human. It has real flaws, makes mistakes sometimes, corrects itself and carries on. So much like a human, but without the emotional flaws that we bring to our own conversations.

Apparently AI is now at the stage where it is likely to take over sport journalism in the near future. Nothing to worry about that, but if all you need to do is type in the school, and give the AI access to some video feed – well, where does that stop?

In Australia, and no doubt other places around the world, questions are now being asked about the relevance of written assessment and exams at school. The ability of AI now to act, and respond in a way that is beyond human “perfection” is just a little scary. 

There’s something unnervingly unhuman about AI. But it begs the age old question; What is the point of being human?

I don’t know the answer to that. I’m supposing it has something to do with finding some sort of meaning in our lives. And that search for meaning is a lifelong search. What happens when you find it’s actually a 30 second  job for an AI bot? 

Is this going to be the great social leveler that we’ve all hoped for. You know that thing that provides us all with an equitable and equal 100% chance of being a success? That sounds a little intoxicating. We can all be Elon Musk.

Will it make us any happier? 

Or will it just make us all the same?

I don’t know any of these answers. But for once I don’t feel like being an early adopter here. I don’t even know if I want to be a late adopter.

Perhaps I’m worrying just like my parents did before me, when I told them I needed a calculator they said, “You don’t need a calculator, son, you just need to learn your tables”. 

I wonder where you sit with all this? Or maybe I should just ask ChatGPT.


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Ralph Waldo Emerson has a way with words and sentences. Especially with the inspirational type. He has this wonderful knack of saying the most sensible things when it comes to that thing that we all do every single day; living.

Even more amazing he does so through the mist of time. He wrote his words over 150 years ago, but somehow they still strike a chord.

Mmmm, maybe he knew all this stuff because he was taught initially by his Aunty, Mary Emerson. And her middle name was Moody. Maybe this helped him see the world for what it is and what it should be?

His quote that sang to me this week is this one:

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”.

It seems to me to be a particularly pertinent quote in a vocation like ours, principalship/educational leadership. 

We wear many hats, and are meant to be so much to so many different people, that it’s often hard to lose sight of who we really are as a person. You know, as a living being.

The world that we get paid to be in, as Emerson so rightly says, is constantly trying to make us something else.

How many times did you find yourself stressing out in the last 2-3 weeks when you found yourself in situations that weren’t at all comfortable? But because you were the boss, you were expected to just live with it. How many times did you find yourself taking a concrete pill, or putting on your big boy/girl pants and doing it anyway – often at the expense of your own personal stress levels and comfort zone. 

Your role is essentially to be everything and anything to everyone else. And you get paid for it – how lucky are you! That’s sarcasm, that last bit, but it’s true. We think because we get numeration for this “masking” that that’s all ok. We are our own worst enemy.

If we go back to Emerson though, he makes a fabulous point. Being yourself is the greatest accomplishment.

And as the saying goes; “There’s not many of YOU around – you are unique”, so you might as well make the most of it in your esteemed positions.

Chances are when you were first employed in the role, that those at the interview also saw you as a person, with a thing called a personality. No doubt they sat around the table during the decision making process wondering, and often dreaming, about how your personality would transform their school. That’s YOU that they wanted and so it’s YOU that they chose.

So next time you find yourself in one of those tricky situations ask yourself one simple question:

“What would YOU do?” and more importantly; “What WILL you do?:


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Photo by Hal Gatewood 

There’s something about holidays and the freedom it gives to clear out the clutter in your mind and just sit down, or lie down in my case, with a beer in hand (or your favourite beverage), and chew the fat with one of your besties.

Holidays give you this freedom, and magic can happen in that space between your ears. You know that place that gets very little room to flex during non holiday times because it’s forever in fight or flight mode.

Murray and I were talking. He’s a nurse. He works in the mental health realm, and even when he is talking crap (which is often  – that’s the best part about a bestie), he’s worth listening to. Everyone needs a Murray, or two. I’m sure you’ve got one.

Anyway, where am I going with this? As always, when Murray and I begin to talk over the BBQ and that already mentioned beverage, the crap and the truth has an interesting way of intermingling and as a result a sense of clarity is achieved. It really is amazing what just talking crap can achieve!

This one sunny night on holiday Murray was talking about rubbish as usual, but I kept my ear to the ground just in case there was something of use and value.

Suddenly, responding to one of my pieces of rubbish, he exclaimed; “mmmmm sounds very much as though you’re using one or two (or maybe more) of the ten cognitive distortions there Steve”.

The what?

As I’ve said a few times before, I’m getting more and more weary about these life coach-like number lists that are meant to solve the world in three easy steps.

Before I could stop him, Murray started talking about them.

He had a point. I’d just begun a good natured waffle about the state of the government and the opposition parties and the way they all  ALWAYS stuff things up in the name of some sort of ideology.

“That’s classic overgeneralization there bro!”, he said. “It’s number 2 on the list”.

He was right, and so he helped me unpack what the other 9 were all about.

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
  2. Overgeneralization
  3. Mental Filters
  4. Discounting the Positive
  5. Jumping to Conclusions (including mind reading and fortune telling)
  6. Magnification
  7. Emotional Reasoning
  8. “Should” Statements
  9. Labeling
  10. Personalization and Blame

It really is worth clicking on this link and finding out a bit more about these distortions that we all use every day. These thinking distortions are not particularly useful in your thinking, but I imagine, if you are anything like me, they all play a key role. Wouldn’t things be easier if they didn’t?

As the link describes; “Cognitive distortions can contribute to poor decision making, but they can also play a significant role in the onset and maintenance of mental illness and other issues. Such distortions are associated with the following”:

Heading into the new school year, having an understanding of these particular cognitive distortions could be very useful to share with your staff. Maybe the start of the year is an excellent time to begin the process of helping people identify for themselves, those times that negatively colour their thinking. 

Start by taking time to challenge your own thinking, it’ll certainly help you minimise the negative impact of the daily grind that you often put yourself through.

If you have a particularly fun atmosphere/culture in your staff room, maybe you could even play Cognitive Distortion Bingo at your next staff meeting! Now that could be entertaining.

All the best for the start to the new year everyone. You’ve got this!


Photo by Markus Winkler


Congratulations everyone, you’ve just about done it. You’ve just about made it through to the end of another school year. And, except for a few brain cells or so, you’ve largely got through intact.

I’ve got a feeling that I said something similar at the end of last year, or at the end of a busy term. But it’s true, we always seem to find a way of “getting through.”

The catch though is at what cost. You may well not know for a while. Some unhealthy like habits or consequences may now seem so embedded in your day to day system of being that you won’t recognise them as being a negative. You know; that nightly interrupted sleep pattern (that you’ve had for so long you now consider it just a part of the family) or; those missed opportunities to actually stop what you’re doing when you’re meant to be having lunch, and take time to enjoy what you’re eating (again, you’ve gotten so used to this at work, that you now do it at home during the weekend).

I could go on and on and list all the things that I’ve done for my own (un)well-being during my time as a Principal just to “get through’. And yet I write about this sort of stuff all the time!

I’ve firmly come to believe though, that when it comes to well-being we’ve all bought into something that is almost akin to a conspiracy. I’m not sure if it’s been done on purpose.

But it’s on the type of conspiracy level that the big fossil fuel companies got away with letting us believe that we have individual ability to make a difference in the fight against Climate Change. Ok, so the word ‘conspiracy’ might be a bit far fetched, but stick with me on this one!

Like the big petrol companies who said it was the individual user who could make the biggest difference in curbing C02 emissions, we’ve also been led to believe that it is up to the individual user to make the biggest difference in our well-being stakes.

The truth is, like our addiction to cars, we’re also addicted to not following through with our own individual well-being plans. The reasons are varied, but more often than not our addiction to our (un)well-being is belief in that there is no tomorrow, and that everything has to happen now. The pressures of the job dictate how (un)well or how well we are. This is a lot like the tail wagging the dog.

The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to the realisation that well-being isn’t best fought on the individual level. It needs to be done on a collective level. It needs to be an expectation that comes from high up in all of our institutions and that the policies and work load flowing from these institutions also reflect this expectation.

Yes we have an individual responsibility to look after our individual well-being, as we do with cutting down our CO2 emissions, but the real difference is made when it’s viewed as something we all do, and we all do together….a true collective.

So congratulations again on getting through. Awesome work! But before you head away on your break do one last thing. On the agenda for your first staff meeting in 2023 put Collective Well-being at the top of the list. And start thinking about how collective well-being measures in your school can really make that difference.

Happy Christmas everyone!



A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog piece about the reset buttons on a computer, Ctrl Alt Del. I thought they were a useful way of looking at your own reset when finding yourself in troubled waters in your school.

Term Four is the term where everything comes towards you at mindboggling speed and often you find yourself letting go of any hope at all of looking after your own well-being. David captured it brilliantly in last week’s piece Tempting Fate … if there’s any hope of getting through it all from a healthy well-being point of view, then you really do need to take a good look at doing what you can (e.g. you’re not a super being), in the knowledge that this will be good enough.

Today’s piece looks at what happens when you push Ctrl Alt Del together on your computer keyboard, and how the options that come up on your screen are very useful in helping you do “just what’s enough” in order to get through the Term in one piece.

.   .   .

When you hit the keys Ctrl, Alt, and Del together, you get a blue or black screen with five options:


Switch user

Sign out

Change a password

Task Manager

These can be very useful if you look at these in terms of how you approach your work during your principalship/leadership.

For example:

LOCK: You can look at the word lock from a number of different ways. Here goes three interpretations though that might help.

(a)    LOCK: Lock the door – close your office door and tackle a task without interruption.

(b)   LOCK: Come to a decision and lock it in. Go with it. You’ve made the decision based on the best intentions and all the information that you had at the time. Lock it in, and move on.

(c)    LOCK: Lock the door part two: When you leave school, lock the door and with it all the stress and pressure of the day behind that door. See that door as a physical boundary between your professional life and your personal life and don’t go back to the professional side until you unlock the door again the next day.


(a)    SWITCH USER: Is there another person who can do this task? Do you really need to do this job? Look to delegate it to someone who has more time and more skill to do the job justice.

(b)   SWITCH USER: Give yourself a break. Get up from your desk and switch your own personal user mode from “stuck in a mental rut” principal mode to “take a break and get some fresh air” principal mode. There are times when forcing yourself to push on through some really hard stuff just isn’t going to cut the mustard. Give yourself a break. Even ten minutes can do wonders. Then get back to it. Switching User mode just might be the thing that helps you push on through.


(a)    SIGN OUT: Very much like LOCK the door option. Sign out is literally that. Get up, leave, sign out and give yourself some space. You’ve done enough for the day. You’re not giving in, it hasn’t beaten you, you just need some ME TIME. 

CHANGE A PASSWORD (Also known as Change the record):

(a)    CHANGE A PASSWORD: Think of this like changing a way of looking at something. Maybe you’ve spent a morning on a problem on your laptop, and you find yourself hitting your head on the desk in frustration. Take a different approach to the problem.

        1. Go talk to someone else and get a different perspective.
        2. Brain storm some creative ways of looking at the task in a different way
        3. Change the environment that you are working in – work from home for example.
        4. Get pen and paper out. You’ll be amazed how a big piece of A3 paper, some coloured pencils, and some fancy black ink pens will help you nut out a problem after wasting a few hours looking blankly into your computer screen.


(a)    TASK MANAGER: Enlist your most trusted colleague to be a task manager for you. Sit them down and outline what you want to achieve in the next hour, or next day. Put it down on paper. Leave the paper with them. Give them the authority to pop in every now and again to see how you’re doing with the task. Give them the authority to be slightly annoying to you in pursuit of getting the job finished. Being a Principal or Leader doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the advantages of some good old fashioned micro management sometimes.

(b)   TASK MANAGER: Set up a group of people to take on the task together. You’ll co-ordinate the roles of the group as the Task manager to take on the problem together.

(c)    TASK MANAGER: Be your own Task manager by writing out a series of steps to work through to help you achieve your goal. Imagine that you’ve finished the job, and you’ve done brilliantly. Write down the steps that you took to get that brilliant job completed. Now imagine just completing the job to “it’s good enough” level. Do the same with the step writing. Use the brilliant steps to help you eliminate the candy floss extras that don’t really need to be there.

OK, so that’s about it. When you find yourself in a tough situation hit the Ctrl, Alt, Del buttons in your mind and take a looksie at the options in front of you. Some of these will help you get through.

Remember though, you are a human being. Allow yourself to be slacker if that means you getting through to another day. Sometimes it is as simple as that. No one else in your school really knows or understands the pressures that you are under.  Be Slacker Better, press Ctrl Alt Del. 



Ok, so it’s been a few weeks now. And to be honest I was hoping that maybe over time the feeling would’ve seeped away and that maybe, just maybe, I’d have pulled on my big boy’s pants and just gotten over it.

But I haven’t. Gotten over it I mean.

I’m talking about the New Zealand Principal Federation Conference in Christchurch during September. In particular I’m talking about the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkin’s, speech.

He’d spent the front end of his speech congratulating us all (principals) on a stellar job that we’d all done during the pandemic. I felt a sense of pride. I looked around the auditorium and thought; wow, we did it! We’re all stars.

I wish Chris had stopped there. That was the best place to stop. And we would’ve all headed away to morning tea slightly earlier and with a spring in our step. 

But he didn’t.

It was about this time that I’d wished I’d looked down at my computer keyboard and saw the real significance of three special buttons; Ctrl Alt Del

Maybe, just maybe, if I’d seen those three simple buttons it would’ve put my mind into a completely different gear. Instead what Chris said next just left me in a tsunami of dread. Am I exaggerating? Ummm, no I’m sure that’s how I felt.

Chris went on to tell us about all the new stuff that was coming down the pipe. It seemed like an endless tirade of, well, stuff. And it just kept coming. This review, that review, the other review, and the review that has to happen because if it doesn’t then God only knows what will happen.

Basically all the work that had been backed up in the sink for two years was about to be let go. The plug was about to be removed and all the “goodies” were about to be swept down the pipe to us; the gatekeepers or filters for our real world – our schools.

I felt overwhelmed, swamped, cynical and slightly nauseous.

These feelings would go away, I told myself. But they haven’t.

I’m still feeling this way weeks later.

So what is this about; this Ctrl Alt Del thing? And how does it relate to Chris Hipkins and all the stuff heading down the pipe?

Well, on the computer keyboard Ctrl Alt and Del are the three buttons that you push, together at the same time, when you’re in the crap. 

Pushing these buttons , together at the same time,  gives you an opportunity to reset and reframe what you’re doing, and just as importantly what you are all  about. You know, you. The human at the other end of the pipe.

Pushing these buttons, together at the same time, gives you the choices:


Switch User

Sign Out

Change a Password

Task Manager



You can’t choose all six at once. That’s far too complicated, and to be honest if you’re in a broken state, like the state I found myself in after listening to Chris, having too many choices was just a bridge too far. So I’ll leave those six choices for next time and concentrate just on the Ctrl Alt Del.

Well, they’re not full words for a start. The keyboard doesn’t allow it. They’re too big to fit on the buttons.

But they’re words for me;

Ctrl –  Control – to take charge of something, but only of those things that you actually have control over. Taking charge of those things that you have control over is paramount. Anything that you don’t have control over is not even worth considering. It does take a little thinking though to work out what it is you do have control over. But once you figure it out you’ll see things a lot clearer.

Alt – Alternative – a choice to consider; a path to ponder over; a different rainbow to climb up one side and slide down the other.

Knowing the things that you can control gives you the ability to look at what the choices are and to plan your world around those choices and only those choices. 

Del – Delete – cleansing, purging, reframing or prioritising the messages in the pipe. And most importantly, deliberately deleting the guilty parts in your conscience that like to turn up at 3am in the morning regarding those things in the pipe that you’ve strategically decided to ignore, avoid, and not give two cahoots about. The Del button is about letting things go.

After pushing Ctrl Alt Del on the things flowing down the pipe at you, the next difficulty is communicating with your people in your school your reasoning. That’s a completely different story but I’d also argue that pushing Ctrl Alt Del will help you here too.

I wish I’d thought of Ctrl Alt Del when Chris was speaking. Maybe I would’ve decided to take an early morning tea break straight after he’d told us about our fantastic Covid job. I would’ve controlled my time knowing that that was all I needed to hear from him at that time.

Maybe I would’ve considered the alternatives and decided that the muffin choices on offer at morning break were always better and more varied if you were at the front of the queue. A muffin or a pipe? What a choice!

Maybe I would’ve deleted my guilt of not staying for the whole of Chris’ message, knowing that my well being was at stake if I remained.

Who knows?

Next time I write I’ll discuss the six choices that arise when you do push Ctrl Alt Del on the computer keyboard and how these too can help you in your principalship/leadership.


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Photo by Ridwan Meah 

You’ve made it through the first couple of weeks of term. Some of you are beginning Surplus Staffing processes, some of you are fending off complaints, some of you are walking along the appointment tightwire, some of you are arguing dollars in the budget cycle, and some are just finding it hard to find time to breathe!  All of us are trying to look like the swan on the water, majestic on top, but frantic under the surface!

But nonetheless, congratulations, you’ve got through a couple of weeks – alive!

During the holidays I got to thinking. We’re often hard on ourselves. This is because we have huge expectations. Some would say we care too much. And because of this we’re either as hard as steel or we beat ourselves up, or some gooey substance in the middle. So I wondered if it would be useful to write a letter to myself, and put it in my top draw, to be opened on the last day of school 2022. What would it say?

.   .   .

This is what I’ve written.

Dear Steve,

I write this to you, to be read at the end of the term. I want you to know that by the time you read this you will have made it.

You will have survived.

You will have made it through a really tough term. No doubt there were times when you thought you wouldn’t, and that everything was so insanely intense that your eyeballs were about to explode. 

But they didn’t. 

The sky didn’t fall in, even though it threatened to. 

You dropped the ball during some important plays, but yet you were still there when it was time to catch the next one.

There were too many times when you forgot to smell the roses, and the daffodils, even though there was a lot on offer to smell. They’re your nectar that will get you through when you come back. 

Sometimes you let distractions guide you away from who you are and where you want to go, but then you came back to it all and you should be proud of that.

You made it, alive and kicking, to the end of the term.

You should be proud of that. Ka rawe!

So take time off and have some holidays, time away to learn to breathe again. And every now and again, if those doubts begin to linger during your break, read this story by one of your 7 year olds.

“Once upon a time there was a castle in the middle of a jungle. It was heavily guarded by a dragon. It’s a fierce dragon.

The dragon looked enchanted and he was glowing. The dragon had smooth scales and lime green eyes.

One day a little girl was exploring the jungle. She saw a huge structure.

She walked closer until she saw it was a big castle guarded by a dragon!

She was brave enough to go up to the dragon.

The dragon was friendly.”

And once you’ve finished reading that, tell yourself, “there are a lot of dragons to slay, but make sure you’re not one of them.”

Have a break and then come back sword sharpened.

Be proud of what you’ve achieved, don’t dwell in the shadows. You did it, and that’s something to celebrate!

Love Steve

.   .   .

What would you say in a letter to yourself if you were to write it today, to be opened at the end of the term?



We’re now well and truly into the busyness of Term. We’ve got nine weeks under our belts, and if you haven’t already hit the “rocky times” of the Term, then chances are you’re about to. 

“Rocky times” tend to arrive when people are tired. Patience flows out the door like the outgoing tide, and with it often goes empathy, understanding, and the ability to calm down!

It seems a perfect time then to keep things simple. Instead of speeding things up, we’d advise to slow things down. Don’t look to over complicate things because at this time of Term that often results in creating problems that aren’t even there!

For many, many years I played hockey. I started playing when I was 7 on the back field of Redcliffs school in Christchurch, on what is now the old site. And I stopped playing when I was about 44. That’s a lot of running around a field after a little white ball. There were many times when I tried to over complicate what is essentially a simple game. I did get to play some pretty big games and I represented my province, but I can only remember a couple of times when I had the game just right.

Both of these times were like slow motion; I remember intercepting a pass at half way, dribbling left past a player, and then back right again through another player. Each opposition member came to me eerily in slow motion and I found myself in that zone that you hear the top sportspeople get themselves into. Suddenly I was at the top of the goal circle and with one person to beat I launched into a shot that went high into the right hand corner of the goal. I never scored goals. But here I was scoring. Yay!

I should’ve retired there and then! I tried many times to replicate this, but invariably I’d get too excited as soon as I got the ball and then fudge the ball over the sideline or get tackled by some monster in front of me. I began to over think what I’d done to actually get that goal.

Over time, after I retired from that particular type of game, I began to see my “slow motion” revelation for what it actually was. For some reason, in those twenty seconds of glory, I was able to slow everything down around me and I took one thing at a time. I knew there was the goal in front of me, and that I wanted to score a goal, but I didn’t allow that to get in the way of seeing what was coming up in terms of the next step. (Note I didn’t say next steps plural.) And so I took one tackle at a time, and gave it the skill and patience that it needed for me to get past that particular point before moving onto the next.

I do that now in the band that I play in when we’re performing. Just one chord at a time, without getting too far ahead of myself – because if I do, then invariably I end up hitting an A instead of a C. 

And because I’m doing this, sometimes (just sometimes) I get to float into a place in the band where it’s like I’m actually listening to another band, and not playing in one. Spooky!

So this is what we suggest for this time of Term. Slow things down. Don’t over complicate what you’re doing or what you’re hoping to achieve. Yes, there is an end goal, but your method of getting there could well change depending on what you are doing now, so spend time on that. Take one tackle at a time.

I used to think I was a master of multi-tasking and that speed and stealth was the answer to everything. And to be honest, sometimes, it is. But at this time of Term, when everyone is tired, slow it all down, don’t over complicate, or over think it. Take one tackle at a time, and keep things simple.



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Last week I found myself getting ready to write my blog. I was on school camp, at the base of Mt Hutt. I’d snuck away from the energy and locomotion of the 32 Yr 7 and 8’s and set up my laptop outside on a deck overlooking the Canterbury plains. The evening had an early spring warmth about it and the sky was like a shepherd’s delight. There was peace. 

I got out my laptop ready to write.

And then I stopped, and thought, nah.

At the time I didn’t really have anything to write, but it was my 40 Hour Principal turn and I couldn’t let David, my 40 HP partner down. Davo and I don’t really adhere to any strict rules about what we write about, but right from the start we’ve always stipulated that if it’s your week to write, then write you must!

At the time I didn’t really know what I was going to write about, so when the word “nah” crept into my little brain there was little incentive to continue, and so I packed up my laptop, and went back inside and joined the noisy crowd of excited kids. And I’m really glad I did.

A week later, and here I am ready to write again.

I’ve come across an interesting article on a website called Psychology Today.com by a guy called Gary Drevitch. It’s called; To Flourish, Humans are motivated by Four Universal Needs – are you satisfying these needs at work? Could you?

I’ve become a bit wary about any article that has a number in it. There are billions of them around – you know; “Four ways to improve your life”, “Seven necessary steps for cleaning out your nasal spaces” – you know the type.

But this article whetted my appetite. This year has seen so many challenges, and in fact, the last two years have as well. I’m sure all Principals around the world will feel that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the necessary energy to flourish in their chosen vocation. The only good thing about this is that we’re all in the same boat feeling this way.

So when I read this article I was genuinely interested. What are the Four Universal Needs that will help me flourish in my work place?

In his article, Gary Drevitch has helpfully described each of the needs in words beginning with the letter C.

These are the needs that he suggests, based on a number of different research pieces, we all require to get just a little bit more than a sense of satisfaction at work.

There is no particular order. 

  1. “Contribution or Calling. That is, we need to feel as though our life has meaning or purpose. That isn’t to say that it has to be a grandiose sense of importance, but rather that what we do means something to others or to the world generally; that what we do is productive and purposeful.
  2. Choice or Control. Generally we prefer more rather than less choice and more control over what we do and how we do it. In fact, humans tend to actively resist encroachment on their autonomy.
  3. Competence or Capability. That is, it is important to feel as though we do a pretty good   job at what is important to us, and perhaps at least as important is the perception that we are improving or have opportunities to grow more effectively.
  4. Connection or Community. It’s not that we need to be liked by everyone, but it is important to have a set of people who like and respect us; a group we consider our tribe.”

Gary suggests that these four are useful in evaluating your current role. It’s not essential that you have all four at any one time. These aren’t like the list of survival needs, such as food, water, shelter, and safety. But they are useful if you consider the four in your current situation, “with an eye toward proactively making changes to maximize your engagement and life satisfaction.”

As I sat down last week to write my blog during school camp and my mind just said, “Nah”, I wonder if it was subconsciously flowing through the big 4 and making a decision where I would flourish best during the next hour – hanging out with a group of amazing Yr 7 and 8 students!

I certainly had the calling – they were a noisy bunch after all! And I had the choice to either write or not to write. I felt that it was more important to be with the students – this was where my capability was better served. And I wanted to continue the connections of the brilliant day that we’d all just enjoyed.

So on Monday morning make a little time (don’t do it during the weekend) to evaluate your Big 4 at school. What are you missing? What do you need more of? What have you got just right? 

Is this a way to help you flourish more at work?




I’ve never been a big fan of the two words Supervisor and Supervision. 

Whether I look at the official definition or not they still both leave me with an authoritarian overseer feel about things. Like you’re been watched and well, you know, supervised. For me there’s an emotive judgment to the word that suggests you have to be supervised, because, well, let’s face it, you’re kind of crap.

I know for many that supervisor and supervision doesn’t quite have the same connotation, but for me I can’t quite shake it.

But it did get me thinking. Especially around the type of person that you as a professional might need to keep an eye out for you and on you.

A  good friend once said to me “you need to worry less about how you look to others, and concentrate instead on being the best person that you can be.” My friend is right, and it’s a great message for all who find themselves quite a lot in the public eye – like us Principals and School Leaders. We often find ourselves worrying about the optics of the decisions we make, or about the conversations we have had – or, let’s face it, anything to do with relationships at all in our schools.

The truth is you can’t control how you will be looked at or perceived by others. Even your best intentions can be misconstrued or taken out of context. Sometimes a clumsily placed word will change all the goodwill in the world. So I guess you can beat yourself up about this, or you can go back to the second part of my friend’s message – be the best person that you can be. Tear yourself apart on that instead, and I’m sure you’ll find that in actual fact you’re doing just fine.

Which leads me back to where I started. This sort of advice is gold because it’s exactly the sort of thought you should get if you were in supervision. Well, in my new interpretation of the word. Let me explain that a little, because I am beginning to wonder if I’ve been looking at supervision and supervisor all wrong.

So this is my new take. Supervision is made up of two words … SUPER and VISION. When you think of it that way the judgement intent goes away. What I mean is that the person providing you with the Super Vision is doing just that – giving you a way to have SUPER vision over a situation, problem, dilemma or concern that you may be embroiled in. This SUPER vision can come in two main ways:

  1. As a device to help you have super vision over an issue. Essentially helping you look at the issue with different eyes, or from a different angle, or from anywhere else that isn’t your current “vision” of the issue. 
  2. As a device to give you some coaching as to other ways of looking at a situation – especially useful if you’ve found yourself neck deep in it and you can’t see a way out.

The key here is that the person giving this SUPER vision experience is a really trusted and respected individual to you. And it’s essential that you have a positive relationship with them. No trust, no respect and a toxic relationship won’t give you the supervision you need. 

It’s difficult to find a person who can give this to you, but it’s gold if you can. And I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually essential in our professional lives.

That second word; SUPER Visor.

I’ve decided to look at this in a different way as well. This role is more of a protector role; as in a visor that protects your face or eyes. 

Sometimes you need someone who can give advice in a supporting role that protects you from the glare or sunlight that is going to be the cause of an impending car crash! 

However there are times when you don’t need to know all the sh#t that’s going on, especially if it is opinion related to you. You certainly need to know the jist and the reason behind it, and you have to front up and do something about it, but if it’s nasty, offensive and painful then a SUPER Visor is a good person to protect you from that extra static. 

A good Super Visor won’t hide the truth from you, but they’ll help filter out the stuff so that you can see things clearly for what they are.

If you’re really lucky you’ll find someone who is an excellent Super-visor and who is also wonderful at Super-vision. Again, you must have a trust and respect for them that is based on a longer term relationship. These sorts of people, sadly, don’t just fall out of trees. 

This sort of leadership support, if and when you can find it, seems pretty essential in helping you become the best person you can be. It has the advantage too of keeping you just a little bit more grounded and helps clarify healthier professional thinking processes.

I wonder if you have someone close who plays this role for you? 


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