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.


Get new posts directly to your email -

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.



Get new posts directly to your email -

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 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? 


New posts directly to you

Photo by Alessandra Caretto 


Around the corner of the building ran Brian.

“Mr Zee, Mr Zee!” he yelled in a frantic tone. Each “Mr Zee” sounding more and more urgent and concerning.

Me, being the Mr Zee in question, well I couldn’t avoid these cries.

It was the end of the day, well, the end of the school day. It was that grey area of the day between 3:00pm and 3:30pm when kids make their way home. It’s that time when nine times out of ten everyone goes home and makes it home just like they’re meant to. Actually, it’s more like 99 times out of 100. With a school of 386 kids, over a week that’s 1,930 incidences of children getting home, so it’s likely to be a miniscule possibility that something goes wrong. The times when someone runs off with someone else’s scooter, or someone else kicks someone in the shins, or somebody yells an obscenity at a passing car are very infrequent at my place, at my school. But yet they do happen, sometimes. And they’re those sort of times that like to mess with the rest of my day, because, let’s face it, they’re hard to fix quickly and often involve a phone call or two and a revisit or review the following day. Sometimes a kid goes missing for a little while and then tensions and concerns really begin to spike. Sometimes, but not ever in my own personal experience, those kids go missing and something really bad happens.

But these times are so infrequent that I’ve really got to wonder why I even bother to worry at all. Still, here I am worrying at every “Mr Zee!” that I hear. When I see Brian, his face is all flustered. He’s been running. He’s puffed and he’s concerned. 

I can see my planned afternoon disappearing in front of my eyes.

“Mr Zee, Mr Zee! Have you seen Barry?”

Oh no, Barry. It could be anyone, but Barry is a bit of a dude and he does have a tendency to find his way into awkward situations from time to time. You’ve probably got one or two or three of these in your school too. They’re characters.

As Brian gets closer more words become clearer.

“Have you seen Barry’s ….”

I’m thinking about Barry’s face. Have I seen Barry’s face? Has he been smacked in the head by somebody? It’s highly unlikely, but it has happened at some point in my 32 year long career. I’m picturing a cut to the head, some blood maybe, or a lost tooth. 

Brian is in my face now. I can’t avoid him. I’m going to have to deal with this. This is going to be big.

“Mr Zee, Mr Zee, have you seen Barry’s …” he repeats again. He’s struggling to control his breath. He mumbles something else and then adds a “I can’t find it anywhere.”

Can’t find what anywhere? What is Brian talking about? Has Barry gone missing?

I’ve always wondered if it’s true when scientists say that there’s nothing faster than the speed of light. I know Star Trek and Star Wars always have spacecraft running at speeds in excess of this, but that’s only in Hollywood.

The only thing that I can think of that is faster than light is the way that my brain has clicked into gear. A series of very important messages has instantly been relayed to the deepest echelons of my grey matter. All without me even having to consciously send them. It’s just happened.

Somewhere in my mind my emotion regulator has taken control. I’m not exactly sure how this thing works, or what it’s actually called, (I mean I’m not a psychologist, I’m a Principal), but with a little bit of imagination I wonder if my emotion regulator is a bit like a librarian in an old fashioned library, who flicks through thousands of dewey decimal like cards looking for stuff – but at warp speed – multiple times faster than the speed of light.

What stuff is my emotion regulator librarian looking for? Anything that can make even a little bit of sense out of what Brian and his huffing and puffing vocalisations is going on about.

My emotion regulator librarian (let’s just call it an ERL for short) is flinging through countless cards of experiences, looking for information that will help me sort out this Brian thing like experience in front of me. 

On every card is a description of an event; a smell; a sound; and a feeling.Maybe even an image. It doesn’t matter when this event has happened in my life. They’re all there, from the moment I’m born, and I’m hoping in some sort of chronological order (but it’s unlikely given the state of my office desk in the real world). 

To make things just a little bit easier, my ERL has carefully categorised things as they happen, not in terms of when they happened, but more in terms of how they made me feel. The older cards, you know the ones written on when I was three or four, are written so faintly that it’s hard to even know what they say. It doesn’t matter though, my ERL has thoughtfully assigned them a feeling; an emotion in some sort of magical “forever” ink so that he/she/they can find really quickly. At a speed faster than light. 

So in real time I can get some sort of emotion that will help me work out what to do with Brian.

Although it works at breathtaking speed, my ERL does have its faults.

For a start the situation I’m currently in. You know, the one with Brian in front of me, saying “Mr Zee, Mr Zee have you seen Barry’s …..”. Well I’ve never, ever, ever actually been in that exact situation ever, ever before. So my ERL is looking for experiences that I have that might just be similar – even those ones from way back in 1972. My ERL is looking for any information in my past that can help me get through the next period of time. Alive.

On the face of it, it’s majorly helpful and incredibly fast. Especially if Brian happens to be talking about a sabre toothed tiger or something – and my ERL also has the ability to access information from time before my time. That is magical.

But as I said, my ERL does have some faults. For a start the information it’s feeding me back isn’t full proof. My ERL has jumped to some conclusions. Some pretty large jumps at that.

With these conclusions my ERL, still going at crazy breakneck speed, also lets other parts of my body know that it’s time to kick into action. My heart starts to pound a little faster, my muscles become alert, the pupils in my eyes let more light in, and my ears are on high alert. 

My ERL has instructed me to get ready.

To get ready for what exactly?

We all do this in times of uncertainty. We all have some sort of ERL type thing getting us ready for the unknown during these times. We are preparing to fight or flight and our emotions are giving us the extra kick to get us moving. I mean, if we’re not angry, or frightened, or concerned, or scared, or anxious, or in love, then what is there that makes us do anything?

My ERL is just a little bit useless sometimes. On the way to work the other day, it began to rain. It was gloomy and getting dark. I felt myself getting gloomy and dark too. Even though I had never, ever been in this exact situation ever before. “It’s going to be a shit day,” my ERL was able to inform me. “Look here,” my ERL told me, “back in time, god knows when, when the light was just like this and the clouds looked like rain, you felt like this – so this is how you should feel again.”

It was automatic. And not particularly helpful.

Weirdly I caught myself thinking like this. And so I told myself, hang on, this is a new situation. Let’s give it some time, and observe what’s going on for just a little bit longer before I revert to letting my ERL tell me how to respond. Strangely the gloom lifted, just for a little while, and I had to work at it. But it was a great feeling, until my mind found other things to observe and my ERL was back in action again. So it takes a little bit of work.

I know that this is an over simplistic way of looking at things. Nothing is as clear cut as this. Sometimes my so-called ERL is incredibly useful – especially those times when I get a “gut feeling” about something. My gut instincts, like yours, are often right on the money.

But there are times when letting your so-called ERL take over is just not helpful at all.

Especially those times when you’re trying to work out the actions of other people. 

Let’s face it, our chosen vocation is full of actions by other people. Because we think a certain way, we expect that others will also think the way we do. It’s an easy assumption to make.

And when we’re surprised that they don’t, or they act in a way that is different to what we expected them to, then it causes us difficulties – normally little ones admittedly, but sometimes massive ones too.

I’d like to say that I was thinking all of this at the time that Brian yelled his first “Mr Zee, Mr Zee”.

But I wasn’t. My heart started pounding and I was in action mode. My ERL was in play before I even had time to say, pause and observe. Clever bloody librarian that he /she/they is!

“Mr Zee, Mr Zee, have you seen Barry’s red ……”

The words were falling out now. Brian was looking more and more concerned. His own ERL was in flight.

And finally the last part of the sentence was given…….

“Mr Zee, Mr Zee, have you seen Barry’s red umbrella? He had it a minute ago. But then he had to go get his bag from the cloakroom, and it’s not there anymore. I told him I’d look after it, and now I feel a little bit bad”.

Brian still looked flustered. But my observation of him was becoming clearer now. He was only flustered because he’d been running everywhere looking for this damn red umbrella. No-one was in serious danger. This wasn’t one of those after school events that would stuff up the rest of my day. My ERL was wrong. All at warp speed factor nine.

Of course if I had time to sit down with my ERL and let him/her/they know the sort of pressure they put me under then things might be better. But finding time for a coffee date with my busy, busy ERL is a bit like pushing the proverbial up a hill.

If we did find the time no doubt my ERL would tell me that they’re just doing it all in my best interests. That they have experience on their side and that it’s important for me to be ready for any situation at any time.

The trouble is that my ERL has a default setting. For situations where there are no exact matches in all the catalogue cards available, he/she/they will find an array of all possible fits. I’m given a whole host of possible responses, and because the situation is new, the response on top of the pile is likely to be quite extreme. 

“I do it because I just care about you,” my ERL tells me. That’s lovely.

Heading into the new term though, there will no doubt be a heap of challenges. Some new, some old, some familiar, some foreign. Take a breath, take a pause, take some control over your ERL – don’t believe everything that it says you have to feel. Be open and take time to observe.

You’ve got this – not your ERL!


New posts directly to you


In Arthur’s Pass you’ll find a number of amazing walks. Some take you further into the mountains, up the mountains, over the mountains and down into the valleys on the other side. These walks in New Zealand are called tramps.

One of my favourites is up a very steep mountain side called Avalanche Peak. For a long time you climb up through a beautiful natural native beech forest and you can pretend, without a lot of effort, that you’re back in time, somewhere maybe in the Jurassic. As you climb, the forest begins to shorten in height and thin out and then, almost by magic, you come to the bush line and in front of you on your climb is nothing but tussock and rock. You get a sense that you’ve made it. There’s a feeling that you’re at the top. And in fact you can see the ridge line climb up ahead of you and you can make out the summit.

It’s about fifty metres away.

So I always think, I’ll do the last hard yards and stop there. At the summit. Fifty metres away.

But when I climb further I find that the knob of rock that I thought was the summit, is actually just hiding another peak, further up the ridge. Still, it’s manageable. It’s maybe twenty metres away.

So I don’t stop. I don’t pause and take a looksie at where I’ve been. I miss the last sounds of the bush birds; I miss the gecko bathing in the sun; I miss the view of the valley below and how I can see the people in the car park below mingling around like little dots worrying about their packets of crisps and remembering to blow on their hot pies.

I carry on.

My legs are heavier now, but I’m still enjoying the climb and because the summit is just up there I get a pinch of adrenalin that flows through to my legs helping me put in extra effort.

As I climb the final twenty metres it becomes more and more obvious that this isn’t going to be the summit after all. For a couple of metres I wonder if my eyes are playing tricks on me. Yes, it is the summit, yes I’m sure it is, I tell myself. 

But then I realise it isn’t.

It’s just another rocky outcrop.

I’ve climbed Avalanche Peak many times. And I should know what to expect. This is a climb of multiple false summits. Sometimes when the weather is fine you can see them climbing up into the sky in front of you. But other times if it’s raining or the clouds surround you like a mist, then you have no idea where you’re actually at.

Once you do finally reach the top. It is amazing. It is so worth it. But often the wind is howling up there and it’s freezing cold, and the sweat on your back quickly changes from the godsend of cooling you down in your exercise generated frenzy, to being just another freezing temperature for you to endure. I’d like to spend all day on the summit, but I never do. I’d like to take my time and take a really long look at what I’ve achieved, but I never do.

I now need to get back down, before I freeze!

On my climb there have been so many missed opportunities to enjoy what I’ve achieved. The summit has been so worth it, but there has been so much that I’ve failed to see, that I’ve missed out on the way.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Although my story is true, it’s also a great parable for our Principal/Leadership journey. It seems a timely one to tell it as we head into the school break.

Take the break away to take time to pause. You have summited, even though there are more summits to climb. You have done enough this term, even though you might feel that there was more to do. Take time to look at where you have been and be more than satisfied – be in awe.

And if none of this story hits the mark for you, then at the very least have an amazing break and use this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon as your inspiration for the next two weeks.



A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece that said when I get sad I get awesome. 

Well, I try to at least. 

And in the article I encouraged leaders to go out and find their “awesome trigger” – that thing that fires the belly!

For me, my awesome trigger is finding something that will get my creative juices flowing. This means finding those things, even in the most mundane during our professional lives that can be turned into something a little bit more interesting. 

There is a caveat to this though. And a risk or two. 

Firstly, the caveat.

Your awesome trigger can’t and shouldn’t be overbearing for others. 

One thing that is vital about being a Principal or any leader really, is your ability to be humble. 

If you’ve got an awesome trigger that suddenly, and unexpectedly takes away from the shine of something already happening in your school, well you’re looking for trouble. Use your trigger to add to the experiences of your school for sure – but the crucial point is to add, or enhance what is already there. Not to build work load or expectations.

Conference Syndrome is a classic example of this. I know of some instances where staff had dreaded the return of their Principal from a conference – packed full of new ideas and “exciting” initiatives that just simply had to be done right here and right now! A conference can certainly be an awesome trigger. What’s better than hanging out with colleagues knee deep in the same stuff you are, but getting to hear face to face how these situations have played out and have been overcome. I love conference time!

But your particular awesome trigger shouldn’t add to anyone else’s work load. Yes it can be used to inspire others and it can be used to promote ideas, but be wary that there will be some on your staff who see your trigger as something different altogether. And that will worry them, especially so if it is out of the blue!

Knowing your staff and having your finger on the pulse of the energy level of your team is therefore not only vital, it’s a no brainer. Running with your latest awesome trigger, jumping around like the Principal Loon that you are, yes it’s mighty fun and often infectious, but there are times when it’s not advised.

During these times find another awesome trigger.

It’s these sort of doubts that tend to plague us all the time. What’s good for me? Is it good for you? Is this the right time? When is the right time? 

And then Covid rears its’ ugly head as well.

Covid has had an impact on us all. No doubt about that. And it’s this on-going unknown impact that is, well…. unknown. We all have teachers and staff heading back from their “Covid Duty” at varying levels of readiness. Many come back too early. They feel pressured to come back to school and to bring some normality back to the children in their class and to support the staffing of the school. Much of this pressure is self initiated. It doesn’t help though when their Covid App bings on their phones and tells them that the isolation time is up and it’s safe to return. 

Covid Crush is a term I’m using at the moment to describe a steady, but nevertheless unrelenting build up of pressure in our schools. Staff head away on Covid Duty, come back, as others depart – the cycle of coming and going is constant. But those who come back always seem willing, but they’re not always able. They are tired, really tired. And they join a group at school who are already tired, really tired.

And yet we expect everyone to carry on, pick up where they left off. Because let’s face it, our new normal is pretending that the old normal (pre-Covid) is the new normal. It’s not.

Managing this takes a new level of Awesome Trigger from the Principal and Professional Leader. Especially so when you’re also a victim of Covid Crush. You’re in a unique position in your school though. You are both a recipient of the crush and also a potential cause. You have the power to slow it all down, irrespective of the external pressures from the Ministry of Education, or the Auditors or the Education Review Office or the ….. The list of external agencies is extensive. Creating these pressures is no doubt exasperated by their own internal Covid Crush. It’s a nasty cycle. I wish that someone would just put a halt to it all.

In a perfect world everyone would say let’s just stop for a cup of tea. Let’s stop fussing about economic growth; let’s stop fussing about margins; let’s stop fussing about finding those gaps and then plugging them with resources we don’t have; let’s stop worrying about the goals in our strategic plan. Let’s just stop and have a breather. 

And take that crush of pressure out of the Covid Crush.

It’s about now that I can hear John Lennon’s “Imagine” playing in the background! I’m trying to be funny here.

So maybe the work around is to redesign your awesome trigger. Maybe your awesome trigger is actually to say, stop, it’s cup of tea time. Those parent interviews and reports scheduled for the end of term? Maybe they’d be better half way into next term. Those strategic goal targets? Maybe it’s time to park them for a term and to rewrite the timeframe. That review of localised curriculum design? Would it matter if it was postponed until summer? That constant drive for perfection and accountability? Mmmmm, what would really happen if we took the foot off the pedal and avoided words such as “accelerating progress”, just for a little while.

The best place to start is to watch and listen to your people. Their collective wellbeing during Covid Crush is your new awesome trigger. Slow things down, take time to take the pulse, and then do something about the pulse!. And I’m not talking about writing up screeds of reports and strategising your new approach. You don’t need to run a 360 or a wellbeing survey to measure the feeling in your staff. This shouldn’t be something that we plot on a graph to look back in 6 months time in order to say bravo! Well done! (or to gnash your teeth at).

Listen, talk, watch, listen, talk, watch.  Give people time to recover. Put your time into things that will help the recovery.

There will be times when you are adversely judged for such an approach. I find that people who judge seldom do so from exactly the same point of time and place that you’re in. More often than not they do so from the exalted heights of God. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Your awesome trigger is to break the Covid Crush. And if you can do that, then I imagine you’ll be doing pretty darn well in anyone’s book because that’ll be good not only for you, but also for them. 


New posts directly to you


Someone said at the end of last week … “Man, it’s been a long term!”. Yes at that stage we were only two weeks into the Term, and yes, that someone was me, but yup, it had been a long term already.

Three weeks in and I’m already looking for my awesome trigger.

Awesome trigger? Yes, I’ve just made that term up. If you google that you’re not likely to get anything to help you define what I’m talking about. 

So let me explain.

As I’ve already said, it already feels like it’s been a long Term.

I’m not necessarily in the totally fried camp, but I can feel the pressure amping up. I’m hoping that there are others out there just like me.

There’s the uncertainty of Covid that has been lingering now for far too long, and it’s mixing with all the usual culprits – people, finances, relationships, property. In the mix now is the NZ Curriculum Review, Aotearoa NZ Histories, Literacy and Mathematics short comings, Learning Support changes …. Basically all the system change things that I talked about in my last blog piece called Epic that we have little control over but are still expected to grin and bear it. 

I’m not helping things because when I find myself in this sort of situation,  I tend to make it worse by overthinking it. For me, this results in two key things:

Procrastination and Castrophization 

These link very well together, as they naturally like to feed off each other. They really are two evil like twins.

Catastrophizing is over thinking on steroids. Even the word catastrophe sounds catastrophic! How can your thoughts be catastrophic? The sinking of the Titanic – that is catastrophic. The Christchurch Mosque shootings – that is catastrophic. Thinking surely can’t be catastrophic, yet it can feel that way at times.

For me, Catastrophizing doesn’t result in a call to arms, “let’s get this done!” sort of mentality, instead it leads to procrastination. I find myself avoiding and putting off things – even things that should be really quick. Which in turn leads to more catastrophizing because I’m very effectively NOT doing what I should be doing.

Essentially when I do this I’m in Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve, Didn’t mode. There are times in your professional life when the Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve, Didn’t mode is a useful and practical way of doing things. There’s certainly times when it’s advantageous to push the pause and wait. But when it’s linked to the two evil twins of Procrastination and Catastrophization – well, it’s not going to end well.

There are several reasons why we catastrophise (yes it is a we, I’m not alone in this I’m sure!). We just do it on different levels.

For me these basically fall into three main categories:

Ambiguity: When there’s a little confusion or uncertainty and vagueness about a message. For example, “Mrs Brown is on the phone and wants to talk with you”. Or you receive a text; “we need to talk”. Or the Ministry of Education rings. This can open a can of worms in your mind.

Value: Relationships and situations that we hold in high value can result in a tendency to catastrophise. When something is particularly significant to us, the concept of loss or difficulty can be harder to deal with. If a long serving staff member leaves, it’s the sense of uncertainty regarding how you’ll replace that person that leads to the catastrophizing. Especially if you have valued that person intensely!

Fear: Especially any irrational fear. I’m often scared of going to the dentist. I always start to think about all the bad things that could happen to me in the dentist chair … and, how much it is going to cost me! Fear also affects people in school settings. Being “sent” to the Principal’s Office for example!

Scarily, Procrastination also can fall into these three categories

Ambiguity: I’m really vague and unsure about what I should be doing. What is the purpose of this?; Who am I doing it for?; Where is it all going to lead?; Do I really have the skill to give this justice? This leads me to putting things off.

Value: Maybe you value the work so highly that you don’t want to stuff it up. So you put it off. Or maybe it’s the opposite; you don’t see the value of the work at all. Either way it has an effect on your procrastination.

Fear: I certainly have put things off because I have feared the outcome. There is no ambiguity here, it’s definite! I know exactly what is going to happen, and it scares the hell out of me. So I avoid the pain by putting it off. It’s not a great place to be. It feeds beautifully into catastrophizing as well.

So what is the work around? To be honest, I wish I knew the one thing that would fix this for good. I’m yet to discover this though.

I do believe however, that this catastrophizing/procrastination cycle is a habit. It’s something that I’ve led myself into. Why? Well, I’m not a hundred percent sure. But I’ve got to admit that catastrophizing a situation never actually helps anyway.

The Straight Talk Wellness website suggests a solution:

“Next time you have a what-if thought, remember to tell yourself that you can handle anything that comes your way. Try to think about the worst-case scenario and whether you could handle it. Be realistic. In all honesty, there is no doubt that you could. Then ask yourself whether you truly believe this what-if thought will actually come true. The answer is, probably not.”

Another crucial point here is to understand what your own thought patterns and habits are. It means being ultra aware of when you are in that negative mindset of jumping to the worst conclusion, and then finding the switch to turn it off. One way of switching this off is by using what I like to call my Awesome Trigger.

One of my favourite quotes goes “When I’m sad I stop being sad and I be awesome instead”. It really is a lovely one liner. Apparently a fictional character called Barney Stinson said it on the sitcom “How I met your mother”. 

For me I use my Awesome Trigger a bit like a personal electro-shock treatment, without the electricity or the shock! Being awesome instead of sad is, of course, an oversimplification of what has to happen when you’re knee deep in serious crap. However for me, this quote sits above my laptop on the wall in my office, and it is a call to arms for me to start being creative. I’m happiest when I am creating.

Your “awesome” might be something entirely different. It might have nothing to do with being creative. The point here is that when the job is getting you down, and you find yourself in some sort of nasty twin evil catastrophizing/procrastination negative whirlpool like cycle, then trigger the recovery by going to the thing that makes you feel awesome. That’s not a can of beer or a bottle of whiskey. Those sorts of things aren’t recommended, especially in a school setting!

Here are a couple of examples recently of what I did when I found myself in that negative loop:

1. One of my Principal Appraisal comments says I should think about adding a risk management component to my Board reports that takes in personnel and finance risks.

Procrastination level on this idea – HIGH! That sounds like a bore! 

Catastrophizing level on this idea – MEDIUM – what if I don’t do this, how will it look to my Board? 

My Awesome trigger? – take the boring template I’ve been given as an example and “punk/pimp” it up a little using CANVA, the computer app that I love. Yes it’s still boring, but I get to put a little bit of Steve into it.

2. Teacher comment says I never get out of my office to be with the kids. Apparently it’s like I’ve been stuck there since COVID. 

Procrastination level on this statement – LOW. I do want to get out of the office and be with the kids. The office sucks! 

Catastrophizing level on this statement – MEDIUM to HIGH – there’s so much other crap that needs to be going on in the office – and I’ve got to run the online assembly, and there’s the COVID stuff and, and, and …. If I don’t do that the place will fall apart.  

My Awesome trigger? – get out of the office! Take my camera and microphone, and go and interview some kids doing Rippa Rugby so that I can present it at the online assembly. I’m creating and I’m enjoying being with the kids, and they get to see themselves being the stars they are. As for the COVID stuff? Well I got inspiration from a fellow Principal who told me she still hasn’t written up a flash Covid plan that the Ministry was asking to be written late February.


3. Sometimes you find yourself in the negative loop for too long and all you hear in your head is a song by Joy Division called “Love will tear us apart”. That song starts off with the very hopeful (irony!) line of “When routine bites hard and ambitions are low”. This is a time when you need an intervention from a colleague, mentor, buddy to help you find your Awesome Trigger. Sometimes this is a conversation (always done best face to face, over a coffee or a beer) that is a kick up the butt sort of conversation. They’re fine. But because it’s from someone you respect then the conversation will always give some sort of clarity – and that’s a circuit breaker in terms of ambiguity shifting with the evil twins.

Finally ask yourself two questions;

1. What is truly bothering you? What is the root of the problem? This can help you to slow your thoughts down and get back into reality. 

2. What is it at school that truly excites you? This is your Awesome Trigger. Use it to show off your awesomeness!

And remember, we are not the sum of our thoughts. We have control over our thoughts and that very few, if any, of our negative ones ever  come to pass.




Have we been looking at this all wrong?

I’ve been sitting at my keyboard for quite a while now. Waiting for inspiration to hit and for the words to begin to fly from my fingers. I’ve got this feeling that I want to write something epic! That I need to write something epic. Something sensational; something that’ll make a mark and light a fire for anyone who reads it.

It’s the beginning of a new term after all. Of course it’s not quite the same feeling as the beginning of a new year where there is that sense of a new, yet to be formed year ahead – almost like a new page, without a smudge on; waiting to be moulded or transformed into something meaningful.

A new term isn’t like that. There’s a lingering unfinished business smell to the air. That once new page is scribbled over, intents mapped out and then re-written. Stuff highlighted and then disregarded and then re-imaged. A smudge here, and a coffee cup mark there. There’s that bruise from that encounter that is still to heal; there’s that idea that once felt so brilliant but has now lost its lustre; and there’s those things that the Ministry of Education still wants even though you know it is all just a waste of your time, and if they were honest, theirs.

Still I wait for the words to come. But even as I write, and the ideas haven’t yet quite formed, I feel a need to give it a crack.

Term 1 was a cluster #$%# of plans and risk mitigation. It followed at least seven terms of exactly the same thing. The horizon constantly changed, and yet each new day arose with a new challenge and a quickly diminishing amount of energy in the tank to take it all on. 

At the end of last term our Secretary of Education here in New Zealand, Iona Holstead,  thoughtfully added into her last newsletter, Thank you again for your mahi throughout what has been another challenging term. I deeply appreciate your resilience and leadership.

Kia pai ngā hararei, have a great break“.  

Then she proceeded to outline everything new that needed to happen before the new term began. Where was this “great break” thing that she talked of? This came across, to me anyway,  as being kind of thoughtless, and took all her initial thoughtfulness away. It was a shame.

I don’t want this to be a political type of post, and it certainly isn’t designed to be, instead I hope to highlight the challenges ahead of us should we really be serious about this thing called well-being. And let’s face it, we really should be serious about it. 

As I’ve said, Term One 2022 was a roller coaster ride of writing plans, re-writing plans, adjusting plans, deleting plans, and ultimately flying by the seats of our collective pants because none of the plans nailed it all. It was challenging, mind-bending, mind-numbing, and overall suffocating. 

By the end we all felt swamped. But we prevailed. And here we are again, a new term and the swamping feeling returns.

Two key readings got me thinking during the “holiday break” (yes I call it a holiday – it’s important that we take a break).

Firstly, Dr. Justin D. Henderson’s “Self Care is not the solution for Burnout” and secondly Carolyn Stuart’s “It’s habits, not goals that change our lives”.

Henderson starts off describing the likes of many staff meetings that I have led. There I am, talking from the front, painting a vivid picture of the “shit show” that we had found ourselves in. Listing the things that needed to happen, and that were going to happen; piling on the pressure with equal dollops of uncertainty on the side. And then, just as Iona did in the Bulletin, I finish with a “Look after yourself”, or a “Kia pai ngā hararei, have a great break”.

There’s this unsaid insinuation during times that are grim, that you can make it all better by looking after yourself. Do some more yoga, go for a longer run, find some time for yourself, throw in some extra meTime. The pressure is placed back on you, and if you don’t find these times to “look after yourself”; if you do burn out, drop the ball, do something stupid – then it’s not the system that’s put you in this situation, it’s your inability to deal with your self care. Ouch.

Henderson’s piece isn’t rocket science, but it is a bit of a revelation. Yes it’s fine to promote well-being as a way to talk about self help, and a way to deal with personal stress, but it’s the wider systems that need to be looked at where the real changes can be made that will actually help. You really should read his piece. It is epic!

When Iona, our Secretary of Education writes to us, she writes from an embattled, extreme position of leading us through a pandemic. Her words therefore are appropriate in these times. Times are tough, look after yourself.

The problem is though, as we head out of our current pandemic predicament this kind of rhetoric won’t change. It’ll just be a different flavour; here’s the curriculum review, here’s the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories, here’s the literacy and mathematics failings, here’s the …. Well, you know what I mean for sure. Oh! And by the way, don’t forget to look after yourself. Because we value you (and let’s face it we can’t do it without you), but not quite enough for us (The Ministry of Education, or the decision makers and shakers in those buildings far away) to change our systems so that maybe, just maybe you won’t have to look after yourself so much and you’ll actually be able to get on with the job!

Although not instantly related to Henderson’s, Stuart’s piece, “It’s habits, not goals that change our lives” is connected.

In our roles we’re expected to write plans, set goals; be a living, breathing strategic being. Both measured and measurable, accounted for and accountable.

But it’s not the goals that we write that make the difference in the end. It’s the habits that we make during the journey towards these goals that make the real change.

Habits are tricky things. They’re not one offs or one solution fits all pieces of fluff. They’re not, do this once and you’ll forever get success sorts of scenarios. Instead they are persistent, consistent acts of many “some-things” and “small-things”. The best are built on, and built on, and built on again until they become not just a way of thinking, but a natural way of acting. 

Science suggests that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make an action a habit. With the average time being 66 days. There is nothing exact about this. But it helps to have this figure in your head so that you understand real change comes from habit, and that habit comes from perseverance.

That’s why self help in terms of dealing with stress or burnout isn’t just a “times are getting tough, make sure you’re looking after yourself” type of deal. It’s not a “go on, do some more yoga thing” and it’s all gonna be fixed, sort of thing. It’s destined to fail if you think it is.

So, yeah, I guess as I write this, I’m still  looking for something epic. And that epic-ness has to come in the form of change

I used to be a proponent of the “Be the change you want the world to come” – or if you’re waiting for the cavalry to come to save you, then you’ll be waiting for a very long time, because the cavalry is you.

And you know what? I’m still a proponent of both of those. But that’s no longer going to be enough.

We see the same in the shift of thinking in regards to dealing with Climate Change. In the past the pressure has been on the individual to make all the necessary changes, but as time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the big changes need to come from big business, the corporations and the governments.

And that’s the same here with well being. Governments and “Systems” (even those of our own doing in our schools) have to make those changes. And they have to make those changes a habit – a habit of will based on real societal concern and care.

They say that breaking a habit can take at least 21 days. Addictions of course take even longer. The systems we run in our schools are also often habits – we’ve always done it this way – often written or designed way before your time. You’ll be surprised to see how quickly these can be dismantled and new habits begun if there is a collective will. 

From a school leader point of view this is where you can make a difference. Start those conversations about well being in your schools, but not from a personal point of view, instead focus on your systems. What is it that is putting people under pressure most? How can the school as a living, flexible institution meet these pressures without burning everyone out?

As for the Ministry of Education or any Government institutions, their habits take a lot longer to change. Some of them are buried in legislation. But the small changes, those ones that could make a difference tomorrow, next week, or next term – they can still be made, and should be made. And so when Iona says “have a great break”, you’ll know she really means it, because the policies and systems around her will show that she actually means it.

Big stuff (and little stuff) indeed – but entirely epic for sure.


New posts directly to you


The other day I found myself daydreaming. Or maybe it was procrastinating. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to tell. I was about to pick up the phone and have a difficult conversation with a parent. They’d already rung and told me they weren’t happy with something, and I’d told them “calmly” that I’d be back to them as soon as I had a better understanding of the situation. What I had been told by the parent, adamantly correct, was a little bit different to what actually had occurred. You’ll know these conversations. They’re a dime a dozen!

Here I was though, daydreaming. Phone in hand, yet to dial. 

A couple of weeks ago I had found myself a million miles away from principalship. I was so removed from my “day in and day out” during that time that there were frequent times during that day that I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was alive. It was great!

I was in a recording studio, in Dunedin, recording some of the songs of a band that I’m in. The last time I did this was 30 years ago. It was epic

Although I was enjoying myself almost beyond comprehension, I was struggling with some notes and technique. I’m no Adele, and last time I played like Jimi Hendrix was in a dream, so there was a level of frustration building.

To make things even cooler though, Luis, our sound engineer, was from Venezuela. All I could hear in my cans (headphones!) was his Latin, Spanish tones of encouragement. His accent made it feel as though we could’ve been anywhere in the world! He joked with us that he was from Gore. 

“Steve, the first sentence is always the hardest”, he said in a Julio Iglesias like drawl. “But keep at it, you’ll get it”

He was referring to the song that we were singing. One of those sorts of songs, where I lead off, and I hope like hell that the first note that pops up out of my mouth is somewhere close to the note that it’s meant to be.

It struck me how often we find ourselves in this exact position on any given day of principalship. 

Think about it, we’re forever looking to hit the right note in all that we do in our professional roles. And that first sentence is crucial. It’s what sets the scene, draws people in, builds the intent, and lays the groundwork for the rest of your message.

When you write the first sentence in your weekly newsletter, you know that it has the power to either switch people on or off. Some may never get past your first sentence if you get it wrong.

When you’re having that awkward, tricky conversation with one of your teachers (you know, the type, when the door has to be closed) your first sentence is the “set up”. It lets the teacher know in tone and depth where this conversation is heading. Again, get it wrong and you cross that thin line between colleague and arsehole. 

And when we make that phone call home to tell a parent that Brian has just purposefully thrown a stone from the playground through a glass window because he didn’t like Mr Jones telling him to walk in line with the rest of the class down to the library. That first sentence is a minefield. You can’t see the parent on the other end of the line, you have no idea what is going through their head or what’s going on in that particular time when they pick up the phone … dot dot dot.

All of these situations begin with a starting sentence.

That sounds pretty grim on the face of it. That’s a lot of pressure to take on.

But yet we do it day in and day out, every day. 

Often the first sentence is a bit of bluster, and for me is often almost a blubber. The words fall out of your mouth as if it’s a third language that you’ve just picked up. That’s how it is with me on the phone, or in a tricky “door closed” conversation.

On paper I have more time to formulate it, but I want to hold the reader for as long as I can. Maybe every sentence should just begin with, “Giving millions away, but you have to get to the bottom of the page before I tell you how!”

I’ve tried preparing for difficult conversations, whether they’re spoken or written, by writing down and drafting up what I want to say. It certainly helps to a point, but you still can’t control each individual’s interpretation of what you want to say. Spoken is fraught with the tone of your voice, the use of your individual humour (is it sarcasm or is it really the funniest thing ever uttered? Or is it a subtle dig?), and anything that can possibly be mis-heard is mis-heard.

Writing isn’t much better. Readers flash their eyes over the written word, interpreting how they want. They add bits into the sentences that haven’t been written. They look for what you haven’t said as much as what you have.

The conversations that we have with our most trusted are the easiest. The first line doesn’t carry so much baggage. This is because they know, and you know, that whatever your message is, it’ll be coming from a place of good intention. This in itself is a powerful way of describing trust at its very core. 

Many believe that trust is based on what you last did, or what you did last week, or what you did last year. It’s a terrible place to place your understanding of trust in though. But you’re not in any sort of position ever to control what the other person thinks and understands what trust is, so you’ve got to let that go.

The second part of what Luis, the sound engineer, had to say is also crucial; “Keep at it, you’ll get it”.

And you will. You’ll get it, even if it’s not quite what you hoped it to be. And there’s an even chance that it might be even better.

The key part to what Luis was saying is the “keep at it” part. If you don’t keep at it, then you will never get it.

So where is this all leading?

Well in my day dreaming I also marvelled at my Office Managers who both are experts on the phone. They never seem flustered. Their tone is impeccable; friendly, welcoming, but also no BS. They listen, they deliver and then they move on. Neither have had any training, yet they command confidence and respect. I wondered why I just didn’t get either of them to make my phone call?

Recently I read a story on LinkedIN by Jason Gunn, What Now Guru, Entertainer, Entrepreneur. Jason Gunn was talking about congratulating his son for playing his first game of first grade rugby. Jason was describing how the tradition in the club is that the families say something nice to their kids in the dressing room just before they run onto the field. And Jason, being Jason Gunn, thought he’d have something great to say, but couldn’t find the right “DAD” words. Dad words are great in times like this. Instead he resorted to what he tells his business clients. And he made something up on the spot using these four keys that he tells his clients.

Speak (play) from the heart.

Be authentic

Slow down.

Be present.

When I listen to my Office Managers on the phone this is exactly what they do, although I’m taking it that they haven’t been to a Jason Gunn session anytime recently.

They don’t fret about the first sentence, but they do speak from the heart. When they need to be sympathetic or empathetic then they do so with aplomb. Their first sentence is still important, but because they are speaking from the heart they also come across as being authentic. They don’t muck around but speak calmly, slowing things down. And they show that they are present by actively listening to the person on the other end. They have some sort of clever in-built BS detector that helps them see through the fog, but they genuinely care about what the other person has to say. This adds to their authenticity and ability to build trust, based on the intention that they are coming from a good place.

It all goes to show that we don’t have to spend thousands on hearing from the corporate high flyers (although the free drinks are nice!), when we can just take a little time to listen to the high flyers around us, like Luis the sound engineer and my two awesome Office Managers.

No doubt I’ll still fret about that first sentence, and the need to hit the right note, but I’ll know that unless I lean in and make that first sentence, there will never be a second.



New posts directly to you



Anyone who knows me even a little bit will be able to tell you that I love music. And I love lyrics. Both talk to me in a way that most things don’t. And when I grow up I want to be a rock star. I’ve been waiting to grow up for a very long time now, and while I wait I do this thing called Principalship!

Last week David eloquently talked about “A Sense of Waiting”. The phenomenon that we all currently find ourselves in during this time of Covid.  As David wrote; “we are stuck and with that comes a real sense of waiting. Those with major disruption gripping their schools are waiting for it to be over. Those who haven’t reached that stage yet are waiting for it to start.”

This sense of waiting has an adverse affect on us all. It is easy to feel that we are stuck, and it’s not too far a jump to worry that we might be stuck forever. No wonder we feel anxious.

Before David’s piece last week, there was Danny Nichol’s also excellent “Doing the unstuck” . Provocatively Danny asked “What can you do today to shift from reaction mode to action mode?”

If I walk around my school, Covid waves lapping at our shores, I don’t see a lot of evidence from my tamariki that they are in wait mode. Yes things have been canceled or postponed, and everyone’s had their fair share of disappointment, but on the whole our students aren’t moping around waiting for a time when things are different. They are here, and they are now.

As an adult, and as a leader there’s an awful lot to learn from that. 

We can’t avoid the threat of Covid, or the impact and timing of change and the challenges that that brings. But we can avoid the sense of waiting and enjoy the now, right now.

When I was a kid, I spent time looking forward to two key dates a year. My birthday and Christmas day. The night before both were often sleepless nights of anticipation and excitement! I was in full on wait mode. Maybe we can learn from this too – these were great reasons to have sleepless nights! Covid isn’t a great reason to lose sleep over, or to waste our lives by waiting. Life goes on, make the most of what we have, now.

As an aside, possibly the only reason that our kids in our schools are now having sleepless nights is because we (us adults I mean) are projecting our worries onto them. Yes, our children should be up to speed with what Covid all means, but it doesn’t need to be coloured in our own language of anxiety like hues.

After you’ve read this I want you to go out and walk around your school. Walk around it in the now. Watch your kids out in the playground. Watch how they play and how they interact with each other. Enjoy their squeals and laughter. Enjoy their mini triumphs and also their mini setbacks. They are all examples of in the now, and of little human beings, actually being without the weight of anything but their current moment on their hands. There’s beauty there. It’s not hard to find, it’s not hard to see.

We need to do way more of this, because out of these moments you get an appreciation for where you are right now, and suddenly you don’t have to be waiting for anything.

So back to my music. I started this piece talking about music and lyrics. Well, a couple of weeks ago a New Zealand music legend called Don McGlashan (he wrote Dominion Road with the Mutton birds, and There is No Depression in NZ (with Blam Blam Blam) released his latest album.

Don is famous not only for his beautiful music but also his amazing lyrics that somehow make routine always seem incredible.

On his latest album there is a song called “Now’s the Place” and he sings these lyrics. They seem particularly relevant right here and right now:

So this is now?

Well that depends

Cos what is now

Turns into then

And a brand new now

Comes right a long

And then you blink and then it’s gone

But all those nows have brought us here

They could have dropped down from anywhere

But here we are, right where we should be

Now is a place for you and me





Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.