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.

Steve

 

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 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?

Steve

 

.

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? 

Steve

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!

Steve

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.

Steve

.

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. 

Steve

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.

And

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.

Steve

 

.

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.

Steve

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.

Steve

 

New posts directly to you

Now

.

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

Steve

 

·

 

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

.

Now that our lives seem so dependent on wearing a mask every day and in almost every location, it got me thinking about the many masks, metaphorically, that we wear in our role.

A mask is something that is there to protect and hide. Covid N95 masks protect us from the dreaded lurgy and masks such as Batman’s black pointed ear thing, hides him from being identified as his actual self, Bruce Wayne.

In America, and no doubt around the world, there are now people who have become so accustomed to wearing their physical Covid mask that when mask mandates were lifted, they felt naked, and grew anxiety like health issues feeling exposed to the world.

Bizarre, I know.

My Covid masks have been very useful in hiding a number of daily facial issues that I’ve had recently. A pimple here, or a razor cut there. I’m yet to resort to going a day unshaved though. How practical! And useful. Maybe next week.

Conversations with colleagues have also taken a change. Wearing a mask during a conversation is really quite fraught.

Masks hide certain tones in the voice that may have helped you show subtle emphasis in your conversation – suggesting that you were actually joking. Or that you were actually serious!

Masks hide the shape of your mouth and the lines of your face – the useful points of expression that the listener can use to interpret your meaning.

Above your eyebrows are your worry lines, and they’re pretty hard to disguise. I’ve considered concrete, but it tends to chip off when I laugh. They seldom change though. I’ve got a habit of looking worried even when I’m calm and happy. “Why the worried face Steve?!” “Arrh, I’m not, this is my happy look”

Your eyes are left to be the only thing for listeners to be hundred percent sure, in their opinion anyway, of your intentions.

Do a quick google search for “quotes about eye contact” and you get a myriad of responses: 

“It was one of those unexplainable moments of eye contact that is immediately overanalyzed and inevitably misread”

and

“Eye contact is a  dangerous, dangerous thing. But lovely. Oh so lovely”

and

“Eye contact; how souls catch on fire”

You get the drift.

Reading eyes is an art in itself. No surprises that it’s one of the most mis-interpreted.

Was that a cold eyed stare?, a second too long flirtatious hold?, or a squint in the sun?

If we’ve ever been more vulnerable to mis-interpretation it is now when we wear our masks.

For some people coming into our schools, the newbies who we have never met before, all we see are these “windows to their soul”. Somebody took their mask off the other day, a person who I had never seen without a mask, and I was shocked to see they were totally different to what I thought they looked like. No doubt you’ve had these sorts of experiences too.

The bigger issue of course is that as leaders we’ve always been wearing masks of some sort or another. Today’s world has just brought the mask out from behind our skin and bones and into the physical world.

Every day Mantra’s such as “Fake it till ya make it” are classic mask comments. They encourage us to mask up, metaphorically.

“Put on your game face” is another classic.

At the other end of the scale we’re encouraged to, “Be our authentic self”. This suggests that it’s better not to wear a mask at all (metaphorically speaking of course).

We hide stuff all the time. We do this to protect ourselves and to protect others. 

Hiding our emotions in our school settings is one of the number one “go to’s” that we use just to get through every single day. 

Hiding behind this sort of mask has its costs. We pay in pent up frustration, anger, regret, exhaustion, anxiousness, irritation, infuriation, resententfulness and guilt. Just to name a few.

The alternative isn’t that great either. Taking off our masks and saying exactly what we feel can also lead to all of those feelings if we’re not measured and careful.

Some of us wear a different type of mask altogether. Batman masks! Some Principal/Leaders wear these all day, every day in their schools.

Batman mask wearers like to solve this problem and work through that problem. They work to keep the streets clean of all the vernim (RATs anyone!), they like to get there (wherever that is) just in the nick of time, and they drive the coolest fastest, blackest car in the staff carpark. At night, when the credits roll for another day, they go back to their other lives as moral (and sometimes immoral) abiding citizens of Gotham city. The difference is that Bruce Wayne never really seems to worry when he is Bruce Wayne – I’m thinking 1960’s/70’s era Batman – he is calm and measured and enjoys spending his countless thousands on many toys. This is quite unlike any Principal/Leader that I know.

This isn’t our reality. In fact it’s no one’s reality. It reminds me of that often remarked saying about Social Media being the highlight reel of everyone else’s lives. We see this on Facebook and we wonder why our lives aren’t so magnificent. No ones are. 

And yet, everyones, including yours are. Magnificent that is!

So what’s the work around?

Well, for a start, you’re not batman. So take that out of the equation. Leave being Batman to dress up days and book weeks. You are pretty damn amazing though, but there’s a reason why there aren’t any Batman’s around in the real world – it’s because they’re fictional. They’re made up. And so don’t look at your role from a fictional point of view. You’ve got reality in front of you day in and day out, so be easy on yourself. Unlike Batman you don’t get to read your script before you get to deliver it.

The work around is all about Communication. This means being absolutely clear of your intention and absolutely clear of your message. 

And a word about intention – intention can be a double edged sword, on the one edge you need to be clear in your mind about your own intention, but on the other edge, don’t let your intention get in the way of gathering a better understanding of what is going on. 

The work around this of course is to have a universal intention to always seek to understand first.

Communication comes with a myriad of fish hooks:

  • What to say
  • When to say it
  • How to say it
  • Who to say it too
  • Who else to say it too
  • Where to say it
  • Where to park it once it’s said

You’re a way better Principal/Leader than me if you can work through all this in the split second of sorting out an issue or a fight. Mary is about to smack Johnny with a chair at the start of a staff meeting, and you’re standing there yelling … wait! I need to get through my check list of fish hooks before I respond! You get my drift. 

So back to the mask. We’ve got it extra hard at the moment having to wear a mask whether it’s in front of our tauira or kaiako. Make yourself clear, and remember to go easy on yourself. If you don’t then your eyes will give you away anyway.

Steve

 

·

New posts directly to you

.

Save your eyes – instead, try listening to this post at the bottom of this page.

Mmmm, so the other day, as I worked through my Business Continuity Plan for the seventeenth time: adding more, making things clearer for the reader/readers, colouring in the blank spaces left by the Ministry’s faint lines …. Trying to cover the bases of each and every scenario that my simple mind could imagine, I came across a random thought. 

Had I become the ultimate over thinker?

I mean, I’m pretty notorious for being an over thinker already. I’ve done this in what I like to call my “think more, react less” mode of operandum. It works well for the kids that I work with too …. Your reaction shouldn’t be longer than the thinking you put into your reaction. It’s a peach of an idea really, well, sort of, until it’s not.

For a kid who is has just thrown a chair, or a fist, and has taken off down to the end of the field with a colourful array of expletives flying from his, or her, tongue – the energy taken to diffusing this reaction is, to put it mildly, sapping. Better if the “thinking” part had taken longer than the reaction part on their behalf.

However for planning in a pandemic we seem to be stuck in a perpetual loop of thinking and writing up plans.

David was spot on last week when he quoted Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, – “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”

And yet here we are. Planning, planning, planning. Thinking, thinking, thinking. And yes, we do need to do this. I’m not arguing for throwing your BCPs out the window and instead heading off to your local coffee shop or pub and whiling the afternoon in the sun with your feet up.

Planning is intrinsic in ensuring that we all get through this alive – metaphorically speaking I hope.

But the issue arises when we find ourselves starting to overthink the overthinkers who are going to be reacting to our plan.

And here I’m beginning to wonder if I’m becoming the King of the Overthinkers – those who feel a need to keep ahead of the overthinkers. Maybe I’m in a whole new class altogether – the Uberthinkers!

It’s a miserable place to be.

If the ‘Rona experience has taught us anything, it’s that the scenarios, the forever list of blah blah blah blah, blahs are so big and expansive that it’s virtually impossible to have all that information stuffed into the little brains that sit in our heads. Therefore keeping one step ahead of the overthinkers in your community surely has to be a bridge too far.

Don’t do it. Don’t even try.

Why do we do this? 

Maybe we do it as a form of competition? But your leadership is not a competition. It’s a reality.

So thinking that you’ll get extra points for keeping ahead of a fellow overthinker is a lost cause. Reality is that things change. They change fast, and you get taken down paths that you need to follow, not because it was on the plan written last Monday, or even because it was on your to-do-list written in the weekend, but because the new reality has dictated it. Trying to keep ahead of your fellow over thinkers is a recipe for disaster.

Maybe we do this through fear. Fear of being caught out; the ultimate unmasking of the fake Principal! But fear is something that you can control, and in this case it comes down to an element of confidence, and some good old fashioned bluff. Knowing that everyone you work with is also in fear of the ultimate unmasking helps a lot too.

When I’m overthinking I commonly do the following things:

I double my efforts to please others

I become overly self-critical

I get angry and resentful because I’m wasting my time thinking about things when I could be playing my guitar, mowing my lawn or talking with my beautiful wife.

And because of this I fail to master normal useful things like having a great relationship with my loved ones, and sleeping properly.

When I’m trying to overthink the overthinkers this list is multiplied by a figure that shouldn’t be underestimated.

What you do as a result of your own overthinking may be different to my list (ironically I’ve tried not to overthink this list!), but the end effect I’m sure is the same – a complete depletion of energy. And when you have no energy, well, you’re stuffed really.

Occasionally my overthinking will pay dividends. It’s like a massive pay day! Especially if my overthinking had over thought some other overthinkers. It’s this gambling like approach that quite possibly has me coming back for more.

So maybe we do this overthinking because we get some perverse adrenalin like buzz when the gamble pays off

But at what cost?

If overthinking the overthinkers is a gamble then, let’s be honest, you actually don’t have time to do it. It’s just a habit after all. Get your adrenalin buzz elsewhere.

Instead back yourself that you do have the power to “find out more” about any given scenario you are met with. Don’t give into that desire to have everything on your lips, ready to go, if someone comes calling. Sometimes you will of course. And other times you won’t. End of story.

Back yourself that you can and will make decisions based on the information you have today and that these decisions can and will change. Yes changing your mind can be viewed as a weakness by some – but that’s their problem not yours. Changing your mind should be seen as a positive, that you’re open, that you listen and that you are adaptable and flexible.

Avoid social media sites that will promote overthinking – the major one I know is the Teacher Facebook page. Yes, by following it you are forewarned – but forewarned of what? How do you know that whatever is the flavour of the month will become “something” in your own context. 

Finally, be open. There’s a lot written about leaders being vulnerable. I get that. But the overthinker in me leads to me thinking I’m just opening up myself to be judged. Well welcome to the job Steve!. That’s what we get paid the big bucks for. So be open to anything, to it all. 

You can help yourself by following the wonderful Maya Angelou quote: “Do the best you know until you know better. Then when you know better do better.”

And it’s that quote that I think we should all face the next few weeks with. Be prepared to get it right, and be prepared to get it wrong. But give up on the overthinking, and definitely don’t get involved in the Uber Thinking class. 

It’s simply not worth thinking about.

Steve

 

 

New posts directly to you

.

Welcome back everyone!

(And before you read another word, you can scroll to the bottom and listen to the post if you prefer.)

By the time you read this you will (if you’re reading this in New Zealand) have just about navigated your way through the first week of term.

Congratulations! Well done! You’ve done it! Again! Against the odds even!

The holiday break now seems like a distant memory, but if you’re like us on the Forty Hour Principal team, you might still be enjoying the afterglow positive energy that flows from your break away and into the early part of the term. 

The key is to keep this afterglow well and truly shining for as long as possible.

So just for a moment I need you to stop thinking about your Red Level Covid Plans, your BCP’s (thanks Iona for this lovely new acronym), your Audit trail, Analysis of Variance and first Board report of the year. Oh! And also forget about answering those annoying emails about facemasks and exemptions.

Park it, and take a little time to plan for yourself a survival plan.

This plan, written when you’re relatively fit, healthy, energetic and “with it” will help you manage those times when you’re relatively flabby, sick, downright tired and despondent. This Survival Plan is for you to access during those times when looking after yourself has become just a little bit too hard.

For me, I’m going to write it as a ten point plan. The number doesn’t really matter, but for artistic purposes ten always has a nice ring to it.

I’m going to make this plan look pretty and official looking and then I’m going to print it off in colour and stick it somewhere bold, so that I can refer to it really easily. Who knows, I might even stick it to the lid of my laptop.

These points are going to be a hotchpotch of ideas that I know, when I apply them to myself, that I get enjoyment and energy from. Your points will be a lot different to mine, but you get my drift I am sure. These are for you to dive in at any time that you need a “pick me up” to get you going again.

My plan is called the Lime Thickshake Plan and involves the following:

  1. Leave school at 3:30pm with no guilt allowed two days during a given week 
  2. Buy something unhealthy but delicious like a Lime Super Thickshake from a Night and Day. Yes that does sound particularly lame, I agree. But they’re amazing and my wife has banned me from having them … ever! 
  3. Listen to my Uplift playlist on Spotify – one that I’ve already prepared just for these occasions. This playlist has songs that I find emotionally uplifting and positive. A bit of fun … songs that connect me with brighter times.
  4. Go for a walk in my favourite place looking for piwakawaka. For me it’s a bit seasonal here in Timaru where I go walking. Autumn time is lovely in the Scenic Reserve, Winter/Spring down on Caroline Bay. Somewhere serene.
  5. Ring Murray. He is probably my oldest friend and lives 2,000kms away. Sadly to say I speak with him far too rarely, but when we do it’s like nothing has ever changed. The key here is to have a real conversation. As in a spoken conversation. A connection.
  6. Go for coffee with Davo. 
  7. Write a Journal … take some time to write it all out e.g. write what’s going on and then write three scenarios – worst thing that could happen, best thing that could happen, and most likely thing to happen
  8. Get away – get out of town during the next available weekend. A mini break does wonders. Put a safety net of cash aside each week so that when you need to go, it’s not going to be the lack of cash that will stop you.
  9. Delve into my list of favourite sayings and re-introduce myself to the concept that nothing is forever, both good times and bad times come and go.
  10. Indulge in my hobby. Give myself the freedom just to immerse myself in that and to block out everything else. For me it’s the band I’m in. When I grow up I want to be a rock star …. And I’m still striving towards this.

It doesn’t matter how long your list is, or even if it actually is a list. What matters is that you have a plan in place all ready to go when you hit those difficult times where you’re finding it hard to keep your head above water.

And because we’ve all written so many darn plans over the last three years, you’ll find this one is a breeze!

Steve

 

New posts directly to you

 

.

Eight things that you should read during the holidays:

1. Everything is F@#ked by Mark Manson …. This is the follow up to his much easier to read, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@#K. It’s a bit of a gruesome read from time to time and there’ll be times when you might wonder where is he going with this. The good news is that Everything is NOT F@#ked as the title suggests. It’s a ploy! But it is a bit in the way you hold your tongue when you’re looking at it. Insightful quotes include: “We see that our beautiful visions for a perfect future are not so perfect, that our dreams and aspirations are themselves riddled with unexpected flaws and unforeseen sacrifices. Because the only thing that can ever truly destroy a dream is to have it come true”. On the face of it; ouch! But when you look at it from a Principal or Leadership role then it really does make a lot of sense. We have imperfect schools full of imperfect people and we should celebrate that. Yes, aspire to whatever you want, do everything you can to get there, but do so in the knowledge that you are doing this with a lot of humans – and that it may not quite look as you planned once you’ve finished. And that is fine.

2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni …. This is advertised as a “leadership fable” but in reality it is this and much, much more. It’s really useful, and at the back it outlines some seriously good advice about how to work with your team to break down the dysfunctions. So what are those dysfunctions? 

Take your teams through these when you get a chance. The Fear of Conflict can be a real road block in work places – not just schools. I know I fear it. But if you have an environment of trust, and a really good understanding of what that thing called “trust” is (and a commitment to it from everyone), then conflict can happen without the sting. This book feels very American, but it’s more than worth it.

3. Green Eggs and Ham  by Dr Seuss. If you haven’t read this for a long time, then take time to read it again sometime this summer. Take turns in putting yourself into each of the characters’ shoes. There are people in your schools who don’t like change and will fight and scrap along the way. And you, yourself, will also be in places where you don’t want to be on the change spectrum. Me? I hate the taste of kumara, but I have been known to like it when it’s been dressed up in something – just don’t tell my wife!

4. CrossRoads by Mark Radcliffe – Ok so this isn’t technically about wellbeing, being a principal/leader or anything to do with Education. Instead it’s a musical journey. It is a collection of essays in the search of moments that changed music. If you love the history of popular music from the 1950s onwards then there will something here for you. The leadership lesson from this book however is a gentle reminder that we all need to find something that is our personal passion. And we need to make time for it. So this holiday, replace this book with a title about a passion of yours, and sit back and enjoy the sense of energy that it gives you.

5. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – yes you read that surname correctly but did you pronounce it right? Me-high-cheek-sent-me-high is how you say it. This was first published in 1990 and the words on each page look like they’re printed in size 7 font, but wow, what a great book. It’ll take some brainpower to get through it though, but each page is guaranteed to have at least one sentence that’ll make you go “wow”. As the title suggests, it’s all about “Flow”. That’s that elusive place where we find ourselves sometimes where everything comes together as it should and you achieve things at a startling rate, just as you imagined them! There have been little times of “flow” during 2021. Some of those times have been so fleeting that you could have easily been mistaken for them not happening at all. But look harder. You have done an incredible job this year, in an incredibly challenging space. Your places of real “flow” might feel intermittent – but on reflection you might be surprised.

Also there is a great piece in this book that describes the amount of thought processing power you have. Now remember, this book was written in 1990, so brain science has come a long way, and the measurement of the amounts of “data” that any one person can deal with at any one time is up for grabs. But, whatever that number is, it is finite. It’s not an infinite number, and so don’t ever beat yourself because you haven’t been able to process everything at any one time. You can’t. It’s impossible. 

6. 4 Things Every Leader Should Know About Making Decisions (But Most Don’t) … a blog …. 

If you don’t read anything on this list then at least make sure you read this. It’s quick and it’s easy. I wish I’d read this way back in the 1990’s when I first became a principal. It would’ve saved me a lot of anguish when making decisions. The first one is a goodie indeed; “ Your Job Is To Make Tough Decisions, With Incomplete Information, In A Compressed Time Frame”. Wow! That about sums up dealing with COVID. Decisions have had to be made, usually without anywhere near the amount of information you really wanted. But you still did it. Leadership!

Pure Gold!

7. Fade Away – Harlan Coben – Alright, so stick with me on this one. This is a novel. It’s not anywhere related to education or leadership and it fits in a bit with number 4 on this list. I picked this book up in a second hand store in Queenstown. I’d watched some Harlan Coben Netflix shows and enjoyed the twist of his stories. What was great about this story is that it was written originally in 1992. And it’s set at the same time. What’s so great about that? Well, the way that it is written feels like it’s at the cutting edge of technology. The hero runs around with a 1.44mb floppy disc of data in his pocket as though it is the best thing ever invented. This cutting edge technology helps solve the crime. There are many other examples littered throughout the story. The tone of the writing emphasises it even more, because it’s not just set at the time, it’s written at the time – before the internet, before the information explosion. It is funny. Why do I recommend you read this? Well, maybe I don’t actually recommend this one, but read something that was written a long time ago. It’ll give you a sense that things change, that everything changes in some way or form. Those things that were once seen as the most important and cutting edge things to worry about will also fade. However, we are still all human and even though there is this constant change, you will still be you. No matter what.

8. It’s Finally Time to Retire ‘Good to Great’ From the Leadership Canon

This is another blog that is worth reading. To be honest I’ve never read “Good to Great” but I’ve heard the term used a plenty, and I’ve even seen it turn up in vision statements and strategic plans from time to time. This blog paints an interesting picture in which it argues that even when this book was originally written in 2001 that the “measurement of success” it used to describe what “great” was, was fraught. It turns out (according to this blog) that to be successful you almost had to be one of 11 businesses in the Fortune 500. Mmmmm, I don’t think so! Success is a fickle thing. How we measure it, even more so. How others then get to see the success in our schools is another thing on top of that. We communicate our successes to the wider sector in an almost Facebook Highlights package sort of way. Our neighbouring schools and the sector as a whole get to see the amazing innovation, creativity, passion et al occurring in our schools. In turn that conjures up an image of success that also becomes a reputation. I wonder therefore that given that all schools have their skeletons, that the journey from “Good to Great” should always be viewed in the context of their own journey. 

.   .   .

Of course, this list is pretty irrelevant. There are many, many good pieces of writing out there that can inspire you. These all helped for me, but you’ll have your own. 

The important thing is to find something to read during your break. It doesn’t have to be education orientated. Take a break, breathe, read.

Steve

 

New posts directly to you

.

Woah! I don’t know about you, but recently it has been a bit of a challenge. Ok, so I’m underselling that – it’s been a nightmare.

Recently I found myself working with a boy who needed a hand. He had two “go-to” emotions that underpinned all of his own challenges. He was either angry; white heat angry, or he just didn’t care about anything and would shut down.

I chanced upon the old Cherokee Two Wolves proverb that goes like this (thanks Michael Fletcher)

“There is a battle of two wolves inside of us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.

The wolf that wins? 

The one you feed”

And I wondered if this might be a good thing to work on with my new pupil. The emotion that he was willing to feed the most was the one that became the strongest. In this case it was anger, and that was what he went to most often when times got challenging.

I began to wonder what this proverb might look like if it was transported into a New Zealand perspective. I wondered what this could look like from a Maori perspective and so I wrote Hinemoa’s Kurī.

Recently I was reading Hinemoa’s Kurī again and it struck me how it could be used as a tool in helping principals and leaders. Times are incredibly challenging at the moment. They are likely to be for a while yet longer. Maybe, just maybe it’s worth taking time to consider which kurī (or wolf) that you are feeding. It might make a difference in how you get through this time.

Steve

.   .   .

The coconut trees in Hawai-iki swayed gently in the breeze. Some of the villagers had come down from the kumara plantation to see the fleet off. They lay quietly in the shade of the trees swatting little flies, many bemused at what they saw in front of them.

Why would anyone want to leave this paradise?

Hinemoa looked over her crew. She hadn’t hand picked this group, that job was for the great Ranginui in the Sky, but she felt confident that he had chosen wisely, because that was what he did. Day in and day out.

“We should’ve left yesterday,” mumbled Wiremu, as he threw a bone to his dog.

Hinemoa laughed to herself, “Aie! Wiremu is always feeding his kurī with something.”

The waka was resplendent in its finery. It might be a cliche’, but it was true. It was the best that could be afforded; a mighty sea vessel that could cut through the currents, and climb the highest of waves  – well, for a time anyway, because there was no knowing how long this journey would take. On the calm waters of the lagoon it looked like it could and would take anyone to the edges of the world and back again, all in safety.

Across to the horizon one could see glimpses of waka who had already left. On the beach some remained behind, maybe to leave tomorrow, or the day after.

“If we don’t get going now, then we’ll have to wait for tomorrow,” said Wiremu, throwing another morsel to his dog.

It was about now that Hinemoa noticed the second dog behind Wiremu. A sleek, beautiful and charming beast she was. Her eyes glistened like the sparkle on the ocean. Sadly it didn’t look as though she ever got much to eat. The bigger dog took everything that was thrown in the air, snarling and snapping in an agitated fashion. His eyes were dark, and deep, like the darkest deepest thing that could be imagined. 

Hinemoa tried not to look any deeper, however at the bottom of that depth lay a glimmer of fire.

Most of the ship crew had kurī. The majority of them had two. Invariably one always appeared to be doing slightly better than the other one.

Towards the far end of the waka, Hinemoa could see Ataahua. Ataahua was moving a small group of tamariki into position near the bow of the boat. Beside her sat the most beautiful kurī that she had ever seen. Her coat gleamed even from far away. And as the crew moved food and parcels around her, not once did she growl or move out of position. This dog was exceptional.

Soon it was time to leave. The people waved their goodbyes, and promises to be back before too soon, were made by all. They walked back up to their villages in the knowledge that they would never see them again. This was paradise, so what did they really care? Hawaiki was their home and a stable population meant good times for all.

The waka pushed off into the lagoon and made its way out from the safety of the reef and into the wide open ocean. A favourable wind picked up and for a while or so the waka crew didn’t have to do a lot of mahi to move the boat along.

Spread out amongst the crew, Hinemoa eyed her Kaitiaki. These were her lieutenants who had spread themselves carefully throughout the length of the waka. Beside each one they fed their kurī and made sure that their part of the waka was all comfortable.

Hinemoa could also see some of the others who easily could be Kaitiaki themselves. They too were strong and wise and she could see the passion of the journey in the palms of their hands. Up the front Ataahua stood, the breeze and spray of the ocean washing over her face. Her kurī sitting obediently beside her. Hinemoa couldn’t help but wonder what the secret was to keeping such a fine looking beast.

Hinemoa took control of the rudder, turning the boat towards the south west. She couldn’t be sure but she thought she caught a whisper in the wind that said; “It’s far too early to turn south west now, we should wait a couple of days..”, and then the sound of a kurī munching on a bone.

____

The first few days were uneventful. The waka behaved as it should and the outrigger kept the boat stable and in touch with the ocean. The sail billowed and pushed the waka towards the south west. The fishing was good, and for the most part, people were happy.

“Tell us more about this land, Hinemoa,” cried out some of the crew. “What can we expect when we get there? Is it true that there is more than enough for us all and the other great crews?”

Hinemoa had a vision, but she wasn’t too sure of what it looked like because she’d never been there before. She fed one of her kurī, took a deep breath and proclaimed; “The whenua is long and beautiful. It is full of kai in the ocean and kai in the forests. The birds sing like nothing on earth and there is more than enough for everyone. We will live in peace and we will be happy and safe.”

“How long will it take for us to get there?” yelled someone from the front of the waka.

Hinemoa fed her kurī again and stepped forward, “It will take us as long as it takes. There will be times of uncertainty, and you’ll wonder if you’re on the right waka and on the right course. But before too long you will be there, and you’ll use your hindsight to wonder what you were worried about.”

“Pfffft,”she heard Wiremu grumble, “she obviously has no idea where we are going”. His snarly dog gulped down a morsel.

As time went on Hinemoa noticed that Wiremu had the ear of a good portion of the boat. She also noticed that quite strangely all of their kurī seemed to be being fed the same morsels.

This became more evident the further south they travelled. The waves grew bigger and the winds began to blow the waka all over the ocean. The eye rolling, and mumbling became more noticeable as each day wore on.

At night the crew began to shiver, and everyone huddled in close. There they found comfort but also a conflict. Those who needed to move from the group to do the mahi were forced to move from the warmth.

“Hinemoa! Why is it always me who has to work on the weathered side?” asked a crewman feeding his kurī.

“Hinemoa! I am tired and I can’t see this land that you talk of!” asked another crewman as he too threw a bone to his kurī.

Hinemoa tried to be positive and upbeat, “Keep going everyone, keep going! He waka eke noa! We’re all in this together and the power of our waka is in the fact that we are one and only one!”

She looked over her crew and saw them nodding and she felt a sense of appreciation and support flowing her way. She turned and fed her other kurī who beamed back with much aroha. 

Hinemoa loved her people and all at once she felt at one and at peace with them all.

But to her left she sensed something was amiss. There was a group huddled near the sail. They were talking in hushed but agitated tones. Hinemoa tried hard to hear what was being said, but the force of the wind took the words and flung them across the white tips of the ocean. Their kurī howled in the wind and the onlookers looked in fear.

Suddenly Wiremu was beside her.

“You actually don’t know where you are going do you?”, he hissed. 

“You’ve got us out here in the middle of this damn ocean following some path that none of us can buy into, let alone support. You tell us nothing of worth, but instead feed us with this crap that makes no sense!”

He went on, while throwing bones to his bigger kurī. 

“There is no land out there – we can not see it! All we can see are the waves getting bigger and the steam on our breath as the days get colder,”

“We should turn around, or at least stop this nonsense about heading south.”

And then he walked away. 

Hinemoa gripped the rail tightly.

She fed her kurī well, and worried all night that everything he had said was true. 

Maybe the land was nowhere to be found. Maybe they were best to turn around.

The next morning Wiremu smiled at her, “Morena, tis a fine day for sailing!, take a look over there!”

He pointed to the north east. In the distance a waka shape had emerged on the horizon. A slight hazy like whiff of smoke could be seen in the sky above it. 

“See what I mean, a slight change of course and we will be where we should be. That looks like Manaaki’s waka. She’s always on the right track. Let’s go over there. I’m sure they’ll know how to get where we are going.”

For the briefest of moments Hinemoa thought that Wiremu had fed his smaller kurī. But she couldn’t be sure.

For a day and a half Hinemoa tried to guide her waka towards the other one. However, just when she seemed to be getting closer, it seemed that the other boat would disappear.

For a long time on the third day the waka couldn’t be seen at all. A fog had descended and Hinemoa began to doubt that the smoke had ever been a fire, or that there had even been a waka. She fed her kurī double that night and turned the other way when her smaller dog asked for attention.

Finally on the fourth day Hinemoa caught up with Manaaki’s waka. The fireplace on board no longer smoked, and as Hinemoa got closer they all realised that there was no one on board. Not a soul. It was like they had all stood up and stepped off – into the deep blue of the ocean. Where had they gone?

Wiremu was the first to say it, feeding his aggressive kurī at the same time, “We could’ve been here two days ago if you hadn’t faffed about. We could’ve saved these poor souls.”

Others around him stood largely in silence rolling their eyes and making grunting assurances supporting Wiremus’ words. They all fed their kurī and Hinemoa couldn’t help but notice how big these beasts were all becoming.

Ataahua made her way down from the bow of the waka. Her kurī followed her respectfully, and everyone watched and admired this beautiful couple. It was almost as though they were floating across the waka – like they were reveling in the air between each step instead of worrying about the constant pounding of each step placement.

“Thank you Hinemoa for all that you have done for us,” she said, somehow managing to feed both Hinemoa’s kurī and her own kurī at the same time. “You have gotten this far and we are all safe and we are all sound, and that I applaud.”

“I am so glad that I am in the same waka as you,” and with that she walked back to the front of the boat.

Her kurī stopped for a moment – just a short time, but time enough for Hinemoa to read the name tag around the dog’s neck; Aroha.

“You really should come to the front of the waka sometime. The tamariki would love to see you,” yelled Ataahua so that she could be heard above the sound of the waves.

Well that would indeed be a fine thing, thought Hinemoa. I really must try and get to the kids. I need to make more of an effort.

Hinemoa knew that the gruesome discovery of the soulless waka wasn’t good for anyone’s morale, but she pressed the boat on, heading back to following her star towards the south west. 

For a long time the waka went about her work in silence as the discovery and the implications seeped into the pores of its riders.

“Where did the people go?”

“ Why did they leave?”

“ What drove them to this?”

It wasn’t long before thoughts of Hawai-iki were back on everyone’s minds. There they had been safe. There they could feed their kurī and all was well.

Here on the ocean, they were just a mere full-stop on a page, floating to a destination that was unknown, on the whim of the weather and the reputation of their unproven sailor leader, Hinemoa.

Hinemoa held the tiller and fed her kurī.

The boat slept in fits and starts and from time to time looked to feed their kurī.

In the morning the sun rose and it seemed as they headed further south that Maui had indeed done a fine job with the sun in slowing him down. The days seemed just that bit longer and the nights were just a bit shorter.

What would Maui do if he was here, wondered Hinemoa.

For a couple of days things were fine. The wind picked up and progress was good. Although Hinemoa wondered how progress could be measured when really she had no idea how far she still had to go. Progress towards what? She wished that there was someone else she could ask, someone who might even have a little bit of knowledge.

She knew that there was one way to alleviate her doubts for just a little while, and so that evening she headed to the bow of the waka to talk and connect with her tamariki.

She was met with great excitement!

“Oh Hinemoa! Our great navigator!!”

Hinemoa sat down with the children and listened to their worries and their dreams. She knew that it was important to feed their dreams and not their worries, so she spent the time pinpointing the stars of Matariki in the sky and the wonder of each of Tāwhirimātea’s nine eyes.. 

“That one there is Ururaki,” she pointed, “ She helps blow us towards our destination. She will take us somewhere safe and warm!”

“And over there, well that is Hiwa-I-Te-Raki – she is all about our hopes and dreams. She is what drives us forward!”

Hinemoa spent time talking about how the stars helped her navigate the waka, and how they gave her direction.

And then as the night wore on she told the story of Ranginui and Papatūānuku and how the world was separated from the sky.

As she told the story, the tamariki looked up at her in awe and wonder.

“Out of the chaos of the separation came a beauty and a calm,” she told them, “and from that we can learn that even though there might be hard times, there will eventually be good ones as well.”

“It’s a bit like cutting up a beautiful kumara to make chips!” exclaimed little Tia.

“What do you mean?” pressed Hinemoa.

“Well, you take a kumara, and it’s like this beautiful piece of kai, sitting in your hand. And then you take to it with a knife and you cut and you cut and there is chaos all around! But then once the chaos is over, you have beautiful chips!”

Everyone laughed. And then they laughed some more.

“That’s exactly what it’s like Tia,” said Hinemoa, “what a ka rawe way of putting it.”

Hinemoa made her way toward the back of the waka feeding her smaller kurī and wondering why she didn’t do this more often.

____

The next day she woke to find her Kaitiaki looking at her. 

“We are here to report to you on some of the things happening on the waka,” said Rawiri. 

“We don’t want to alarm you, but there seems to be a little group who are being more than mischievous in their endeavours”.

Hinemoa wiped the sleep out of her eyes. She wondered how long she had been sleeping, and felt a pang of guilt. This news of mischievousness did little to help her anxiety.

Beside Rawiri sat patiently his kurī. He obviously had been feeding it well. The dog was a splendid beast, yawning and beaming in the sunshine. 

“What a fine kurī you have, Rawiri,” said Hinemoa, “But where is your second dog?”

“I don’t have time or need for a second dog,” he replied. “I’m more than happy to feed one kurī,” he beamed. 

Hinemoa bent over to pat the dog. His collar sparkled in the sun, his name proud for everyone to see; Patience.

“Hinemoa, we are worried about some of the things that are being said,” said Manawa. Her two dogs looked unsettled beside her. One of them was larger than the other, Hinemoa stretched to read her name, but really didn’t want to get too close.

“They don’t even listen to you anymore,” she went on, “They think you care only for yourself, and some of the things you have been saying, well, they think are just a little bit odd.”

Manawa kept talking, “It’s got to the stage where they think you have no idea where we are going, and they think you don’t even care.”

Rawiri added quickly “It’s not all bad, I think this is grossly unfair and someone is undermining you on purpose.”

Hinemoa quickly fed her two kurī and was instantly surprised as to how one seemed so much bigger than the other. 

“We need you to step up and be more of a leader,” said Manawa. Her dog bristled beside her.

The four Kaitiaki turned and left, heading to their different points on the waka. On the bow shone Ataahua – yes, shone. Her kurī stood proud beside her.

I need to talk with Ataahua, thought Hinemoa and off she went.

She picked a path through to the front of the waka mumbling to herself, “What was Ranginui thinking when she chose this crew for me?”

As she neared the bow Wiremu suddenly stood up in front of her. He was menacing, but his kurī was worse. The dog snarled and let out a violent bark that seemed to shudder the whole boat.

“Have you seen the state of this?” he asked, pointing to the flax ropes tying the balers to the side of the boat. “We’ve lost three balers over the last week, and it’s because there’s no-one showing enough care on this damn boat. These flax ropes are a shocking disgrace! I bet you wouldn’t get this on any other waka!”

“We can’t go on losing balers. At this rate if a big storm came along and we had to bail out the waka quickly we’d be right up against it. Show that you care for our lives and get someone down here to fix these flax ropes that keep these bailers from washing away!” 

He spat the words out with such indignation that Hinemoa had difficulty in keeping on her feet. The swell of the sea matched the swell of emotions circling in her mind.

“Why don’t you see these things!” He yelled.

At that point Ataahua stepped up. “You walk past these ropes every day Wiremu, but yet you’ve done nothing yourself. You’ve chosen to take, take and take but never thought to give. Why haven’t you chosen to give some time and look at the ropes yourself? And that dog that you feed is out of control and threatens to take us all to the depths of the ocean if you don’t get it under control.”

She said these words with much force, and yet beauty. There was no anger or aggression, just a commentary that Wiremu had nowhere to go with other than to step back and turn away.

“Thank you Ataahua,” said Hinemoa. “How did you manage that?”

Mysteriously she turned around and said, “It’s easy when you know which kurī to feed,” and with that she was gone, back to her tamariki and the sunshine that was still beaming across the bow.

Hinemoa turned around, looked at the flax ropes and felt a pang of regret for not seeing this beforehand. Did this really mean that she didn’t care? Before she could answer, four crew members turned up and began mending them. Each of them had a small but beautiful kurī at their side.

By the time Hinemoa had made it back to the stern of the waka the weather had taken a turn. In front of her a huge cloud bank, as long as the horizon and as high as Ranginui’s belly (the sky god), threatened with lightning bolts and thunder claps. The sky began to ominously darken and a chill began to fill the air.

To her right the outrigger began to loosen in the growing wind and the building swell. This wasn’t a good thing. The outrigger was designed to give the waka greater stability, especially so in strong seas. Someone would have to swim over and make sure the outrigger was up to the task.

Hinemoa knew that there was one person who had both the swimming strength and the skills to get across safely and to secure the outrigger in time for the storm. But it would be a close call.

“Wiremu!” she called. 

Wiremu was still feeling aggrieved and slighted from his run in with Ataahua. He looked up with a grunt, and tellingly his dog called out with a growl.

“Wiremu, I need you to swim across to the outrigger and make sure that everything is secure before the storm arrives,” yelled Hinemoa.

“Aie! I will go, but not because you ask me to, but because I do this for the good of the waka,” he answered back.

“I would expect nothing less,” called Hinemoa.

He picked up his kit, secured himself to a long piece of rope and dived into the ocean. Along with him jumped his two kurī.

Why is he taking his kurī with him, wondered Hinemoa? Can’t he leave them just for a short time?

Wiremu and his two dogs swam to the outrigger. His smaller dog hauled herself up onto the wood and shook the ocean from her fur. Wiremu pulled himself up and steadied himself so that he could do the mahi.

Soon Wiremu’s second dog made it to the outrigger and tried to pull himself up onto the canoe.

At each failed attempt the whole waka rocked. Hinemoa couldn’t believe how big the kurī had become. The weight of the dog trying to get up onto the canoe was beginning to have an impact on the stability of the whole waka.

Finally, with a bit of help from Wiremu, the kurī was able to climb aboard. But this didn’t really help anything – instead it made things a lot worse. 

Everyone could hear the creaking and splintering sounds associated with wood and too much weight to bear.

“Wiremu, get rid of that dog, or else we’ll all end up in the sea,” yelled Hinemoa.

“It’s not the bloody dog”, he called back “It’s the fact that there’s been no maintenance done on this outrigger since we left Hawaiki – it’s like I said this morning – YOU DON’T CARE!”

Suddenly one of the flax ropes holding the front of the outrigger unraveled and both the outrigger and the waka took a dive into a wave, sea water cascading over the gunnels and into the waka.

“Wiremu!! Get rid of that dog!” Hinemoa yelled. She knew that the dog was weighing not only the outrigger down but also the whole waka.

With that Wiremu picked up his smaller kurī and flung her into the ocean. 

“There!” he yelled, “Look! It’s made no difference at all! I tell you it’s not my dogs, it’s your incompetence!!”

A tear flowed down his cheek. “I love you little Forgiving,” he called to the kurī who was now drifting away from the waka and into the teeth of the storm.

Another snap! And another rope gave way. The weight was still too much. The whole outrigger was threatening to break away entirely from the waka putting the lives of everyone on board in a precarious position.

Overhead the storm whipped the skies, and the ocean danced in waves ever higher to the beat of the thunder.

“Wiremu! Get rid of that dog!” yelled Hinemoa.

“Why does that kurī mean so much to you???”

For a moment Hinemoa thought she could see terror in his eyes. The outrigger was threatening to snap not only from the mother waka, but from the world in its entirety.

He could see no way out.

“Fine!” he yelled, picking up his heavy kuri. He stood tall with the kuri over his head, straddling the edges of the outrigger. How he didn’t lose balance and fall into the ocean was beyond everyone’s comprehension.

Suddenly Wiremu began to twist and turn the dog above his head in a hurricane-like motion. So strong he was and so forceful in the rotations that the wind from the action whipped the sea up in a terrible tempest like frenzy.

The dogs’ howls at first mixed with the wind, and then took over completely. The kurī becoming at one with the storm, thrashing and riding over the storm, taking it to another level completely.

Back on the waka the crew huddled in pockets unable to believe what they were witnessing, scared stiff in the knowledge that this was the end of time.

Hinemoa hung on for dear life. The waka crashing and spilling over waves as big as the biggest thing ever imagined.

All the while Wiremu continued to whip the kurī around his head. The noise and the wind building, building, building.

And then he let go. His kurī, fat and pig-like, flung from his hands like a lightning bolt straight from Te Uira. The kurī flew high over the waves and into the heart of the storm, never to be seen again.

The storm lashed and thrashed it’s way over the waka, it’s inhabitants holding on to anything that could save them and for hours on hours it seemed to everyone on board that they were all heading straight to Aituā, the god of death, disaster, and misfortune. It was only a matter of time.

And then suddenly it was over.

____

For a long time no one moved. No one dared to. Hinemoa lay there as still as she could. Exhaustion overcame the waka and everyone fell into a deep sleep.

When she woke up the sun was shining and standing over her was Ataahua and her kurī Aroha.

“Oh great Navigator,” cried Ataahua, “Look!”

She pointed to the west.

At first Hinemoa thought she was meaning the outrigger itself. Surprisingly it was still in tack. Yes there was a lot of wear and tear. It would need some work, but it was fixable. 

She noticed that there was no sign of Wiremu. He had gone, vanished, disappeared.

But Ataahua wasn’t pointing this out at all. Instead she was looking towards a long bank of white cloud in the distance. At the base of the cloud one could just make out what looked like land.

They had made it! Where they had made it to, it didn’t matter. That problem was for another day.

As the rest of the crew woke up and saw what Ataahua and Hinemoa were looking at, excitement flowed through the waka.

Aie! They had done it!

Hinemoa pulled on the tiller and turned the boat towards the cloud. The wind picked up behind them and blew them all ever closer.

Beside her Hinemoa threw a morsel to her kurī – to the thinner one. She was surprised how good this kurī now looked. How proud and strong she was. How confident and assured she appeared.

Beside her Hinemoa’s other dog looked up with a pained, sorry look. Hinemoa couldn’t help but notice how ugly this kurī was. He was big now, but he was ugly alright. She wondered why she had kept him all this time, he had only ever been trouble.

Ataahua put her arm around Hinemoa’s shoulders. “You need to do what I do, and keep one kurī – and keep her warm and loved and fed”.

Hinemoa remembered that Ataahua’s dog was called Aroha.

“I feed Aroha all the time, and in turn Aroha feeds me. That’s all that I need.”

“Wiremu would have done well to feed his good dog too, instead of feeding Anger all the time”.

“Anger?” queried Hinemoa.

“Yes, Wiremu fed his Anger, all of the time. Nothing was ever good enough and this in turn fed Anger”

And then she said, “Hinemoa, oh great navigator, which kurī have you been feeding mostly?”

The waka was getting closer to the land now. If you looked carefully you could see the waves bursting on the shore. 

Hinemoa bent over and patted her bigger kurī. “This is Doubt, and I’ve been feeding her all along.”

Ataahua took a step towards the bow and her tamariki, and then turned … “You’d be better to feed your other one. It’s called Joy isn’t it?”

And with that she turned and she was gone.

Steve