Photo by Nils 

It’s been quite a year. In fact, it’s been quite a few years now. And it looks like next year, and the following, will also be quite a year or two as well!

Congratulations. You have made it through this “Quite a Year” phenomenon. Well almost. A week or so to go, but I’m placing bets that you will indeed make it through. Hold on, it’s all going to be ok.

No doubt 2023 has been full of Herculean tasks. Those sorts of jobs that have required Herculean like efforts. Hercules of course, is the Greek and Roman demi-god  famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures. I imagine that this might sound just a little bit like a Principal or a Leader. 

But why stop there with the Greek/Roman task analogy.

I wonder how many of you have also participated in these following sorts of tasks throughout the year? (I’d like to take credit for these, but I can’t. They come from a comment section on a Facebook group called P#ucked Up and Filosophical. I couldn’t help myself – they all ring true in some form or another to me!)

Icarian Tasks: Whereby you’ve undertaken a task that you know you’re going to fail in but you do it anyway in a spirit of unabandoned fun! (Icarus was known for being  excessively ambitious. “An Icarian mentality that could only lead to a crash and burn”)

Cassandrean Tasks: Whereby you’ve had to deal with people who you know won’t listen to you, even though you’ve given them accurate information – and you’ve had to watch them fumble about even though you’ve told them the solution right from the start (Cassandrea prophesied the fall of Troy, but no-one bothered to listen.)

Dionysian Tasks: Whereby you’ve worked while a bit tipsy on wine – hoping none of us have undertaken this sort of task – but no doubt there have been times when it seemed it was the only way to get through! (Dionysus was the Greek god of wine!)

Pandorean Tasks: Whereby as soon as you start, the task goes all pear-shaped with heaps of surprises jumping up from anywhere and everywhere. (Think here of Pandora’s Box and the crazy “gifts” that popped out of these.)

Gilgameshian Tasks: Whereby you went and slayed the task against all odds, but you did so with the help of an incredible colleague. (Apparently Gilgamesh and Enkiduwere great friends who fought Humbaba, a giant who guarded the sacred trees. They successfully slayed the giant!)

Odyssean Tasks: Whereby you began a task as a group, and it took a really long, long, long time … so long that in the end you were the only one left doing it.

Narcissian Tasks: Whereby you work tirelessly on something but your efforts go unnoticed by someone too smugly entranced by their own intellect.

Can you think of any others? We’d love to hear from you.


Photo by Kamran Chaudhry 

Ok, so we all know that everyone experiences some level of anxiety. 

For some of us it might be as simple as that nagging little thing in the back of our mind that tells us we’ve missed something important. 

For others it might be more  like a suspenseful movie playing and replaying in your mind, complete with nail-biting plot twists and surprise guest appearances in worst-case scenarios. It’s as if your brain has a subscription to the most dramatic channel on TV, and every worry is a gripping episode that leaves you on the edge of your mental seat, popcorn optional.

Science tells us that we’re likely to have evolved this somewhat cute little knack of being overly worried as a way of protecting ourselves from the good and the bad during times when things were just a little bit more simple than they are today.

Like when we had to make life and death decisions about whether to fight or flight in a certain situation. Things were simpler then – a sabre tooth tiger roars in the distance – and all you needed to do was decide whether you were going to hang around or not. Anxiety is, in effect, a super power.

Life isn’t so simple now. The places that we find ourselves leading in, are full of situations that constantly ignite our fight or flight intuitions. But how do we learn from anxiety and how do we unleash this super power without it just sending us all absolutely bonkers? Well there are a few things that we can do to help.

Firstly; being aware of your negativity bias. This is the thing in your mind that likes to make the worst of everything. It’s likely that your negativity bias will be in full flight when you’re tired, hungry, angry, frustrated, stressed … and there are multiple problems needing to be addressed. During these times your own negativity bias will be fuelling your anxiety. 

The work around this is to be aware of your thoughts. Your negativity bias is only one way of looking at something. Psychologists like to use the term Cognitive Flexibility. Instead of defaulting to one way of looking at something, take your time to look at the situation from a variety of angles. Maybe, just maybe, that staff member who you thought gave you a dirty look during the staff meeting doesn’t hate you after all! There might be another rational and logical reason for that particular face.

Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki describes different ways that we can turn anxiety into a superpower.

1. Productivity Superpower – also known as the WHAT IF anxiety. This may look like these sort of questions in your head;  “What if he didn’t do that” and “What if that wasn’t done right” and “what if this thing all goes wrong”

To turn this particular anxiety into a superpower she recommends turning these thoughts into actions. Change your WHAT IF list into a TO DO list. Give your worries an action e.g ring someone for clarification, google something, ask for help from someone. Suddenly you’ve changed your anxiety into something productive!

2. Flow Superpower – Flow is that wonderful thing that occurs when you find yourself deeply in the moment and time seems to magically slow down and even disappear. Great things happen in flow. But anxiety is the enemy of flow. Nevertheless, periods of “micro flow” can still be found in times of anxiety. Chances are not noticing these occurrences though. Micro flow happens all the time, even in times of anxiety. Even if it’s a moment of day dreaming – or letting yourself daydream; letting yourself go, just for the moment. It can help, and more so if you can catch yourself doing it and take some time to savour it. 

3. Empathy Superpower – Let’s face it we all have anxiety and we all know what anxiety feels like. We can use this by being aware of the anxieties of others. This is a superpower that is so easy to put in place. Notice the people around you. Look for the signs – those signs that you know so well because you produce them yourself. All you have to do is give a kind word, or lend a hand to the person who is going through their ‘stuff’. 

Maybe anxiety can teach us a lot more about ourselves and the situations that we find ourselves in  than just feeling shitty, or just being worn out. There’s no doubt that it’s not easy. There will be times when it’s ok just to embrace the “down”. But remember, you don’t have to do that. You have a choice. Your anxiety doesn’t control you. 

Instead you control your anxiety.


Photo by Letizia Bordoni 

With Uncertainty There Are Always Choices

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about the changes coming our way in the Education sector in New Zealand as a result of the change of Government.

They say that change is the only constant. And whoever “they” is, they might just be right. Change is a major player in our lives, both at a personal level and professional one.

With change comes uncertainty and often with uncertainty comes feelings of anxiousness and anxiety.

It can seem at times that along with this uncertainty that your choices in life begin to become limited. There are times as a leader that this seemed very much the case and this in turn added to the feeling of anxiety.

In reality though, even in times of uncertainty you still have many options available to you. You are never in a situation where you don’t have any choices to make.

One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s 1915 epic “A Road Not Taken”. In it he suggests that life is a journey full of decisions, and that sometimes it’s the most obscure ones that we make that make the biggest difference, even when they seem the most unlikely. 

I like this. I like this a lot. In terms of leadership it’s a beacon for us. It’s a leading light and reminds us that there is always a choice, and that the right choice might not always be the thing that you initially thought was going to be the right choice.

And, if we think about it even more, we have choices everywhere. In times of uncertainty these choices are still there:

We have choices such as:

Do we choose to be indifferent or do we choose to stand up

Do we choose to love or do we choose to hate

Do we choose to make a difference or do we choose to sit on our hands

Do we choose to we proactive or do we choose to be reactive

Do we choose to be positive or do we choose to be negative

Do we choose to move forward with goodwill or choose to hold onto a grudge 

Do we choose to trust or do we choose to be skeptical

Do we choose to have milk in our coffee or to keep it just black

Uncertainty and change doesn’t äutomatically mean that our choices have been eliminated, it just means that life is going on. And it will go on, whether we like it or not. And that too, is a choice.

And as Socrates once famously said; “The Secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”.

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Photo by Albert Stoynov 

When I was 17, which is a little bit younger than I am today, I began my first three week posting at a primary school as part of my first year of teacher’s training. 

Sadly, I don’t remember the name of the teacher who stood in front of the class that day. Sadly because, no doubt, like all teachers, she touched the hearts of many in her career. And she deserves to be remembered.

Teachers and leaders do this daily. 

Let’s call her Mrs Batchelor. 

As a 17 year old I watched her carefully write up on the blackboard, in white chalk, the day’s handwriting lesson. The very next day would be my turn. A simple handwriting lesson.

I was petrified. It seems so simple now. All these years later, and a million handwriting lessons and other lessons; and staff meetings; assemblies; sports events: end of year prize giving speeches later….etc, etc. and I wonder now what I was scared of. But I was. 

My heart raced as I walked to the front of the class and scraped the chalk across the blackboard surface. I must have written the line of the day’s letter (it was a “d”….. a cursive d) a hundred times…..rubbing them out, just to get them like Mrs Batchelor’s. 

I followed the model of her lesson to a tee. And she was happy with that. I think she even wrote in my Teacher’s Planner book, in a completely acceptable 1980s manner, the four letter word….. GOOD. 

This is probably the first example of authenticity, or in my case, lack of authenticity, that I encountered in my career. She wasn’t being inauthentic. I was.

I say this because, although I followed her model successfully, there was nothing in this simple lesson that gave an indication to my students of who I was. And because of that I failed in this opportunity to connect.

If I could go back and talk to myself, the advice I’d now give is this: 

The model is important, true. But you need to bring something of yourself to that model, in order for you to not only connect with people, but also be fulfilled in yourself. You need to be authentic. 

So what does this really mean? Well, that’s a very good question, because it doesn’t appear to have been a big consideration in the majority of my teaching and principal career. We weren’t trained in authenticity. It certainly was never promoted as that crucial key that I now know is so important. 

Authenticity to me means this: 

  • Having a great respect for who you are as a person. This means knowing and understanding what your key values and personality traits are. 
  • Having confidence in knowing your own strengths AND weaknesses and understanding that both of these are a part of you …. yes you! So don’t hide from these, feel embarrassed about these, or make excuses for these. Embrace them. Wear them on your sleeves! 
  • Finally; Knowing that authenticity also promotes diversity. There will always be some sort of model to follow, but the real strength in our schools and workplaces isn’t found in a model, but in the diverse personalities that grace our places. 

How do you show your team that you are an authentic leader? 

You do it by promoting who YOU are, warts and all. And that means becoming very good at knowing who you are and being able to communicate what this means to your organisation. 

Yes, this means that you are opening yourself up to a lot of judgement. Being authentic is a potentially vulnerable place to be. But if you have built a culture of authenticity then you will have also built a culture of acceptance and safety.

You lead by taking that big step into the unknown of how people will perceive and receive you. You have a choice. You can do this by wearing a mask and therefore hiding your own unique personality. Or, you can do this by being your biggest asset – YOU.

So if I was 17 again, and I was taking that simple handwriting lesson all over again, I’d be hoping that the model and the plan, somewhere, was also saying “find a way” in this lesson to be yourself and do that.


Photo by Benjamin Davies

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of another term. You’ve done it! No doubt there have been some misfires, dropped balls, and a few times when everything has seemed just a little icky and maybe a bit stuck. But you’ve made it anyway; like you always do. It almost seems against the odds. But it never is because you always do make it. No matter the circumstances. No matter what.

We’d like you to take some time and celebrate that; some time just to breathe and say to yourself, “hey you, you’ve just done a damn good job, and you can be proud of how you’ve made it through”. Because no matter how anyone sees it, there is no-one on this planet who has done what you have done. There is no-one who has had exactly the same experiences as you. And therefore you can(and should), be proud, because only you really know what that has really involved; what that has really meant, in terms of energy, sacrifice, fortitude and patience. Go you!

Now, after you’ve celebrated, take a little bit of time just to think of your future self. I’m not talking about some unknown character in twenty years time, but that person in two weeks time. You know, that person who will drive into your place of employment, park their car in your favourite car park; fill your favourite cup full of coffee; and put their feet under your work space, take a huge breath, and begin the new term. 

And ask this question: Will your future self love you?

You’ve got a couple of weeks now to lay this foundation. 

What sort of things do you need to put in place, so that your future self will say – “Far out! That ‘me’ from two weeks ago really did a great job for me and got me into a fantastic position for tackling the new term.”

I reckon if you’ve got some crappy things to work through work wise, then your future self will probably love you if you get these little nuisances out of the way sooner than later. That way you can rest and enjoy the majority of the break away.

And after you’ve done this I reckon your future self will probably love you if you give yourself plenty of time just to be you. And when I talk about you, I don’t mean “Principal You”, or “Leader You”, but “You, you”. There’s only one person in the world who knows what that really means to be you. And being that particular YOU for a great part of the next couple of weeks will put you in a great position for the next term.

But trust me, eat the frog first. Get rid of some of the crappy things off your to-do-list first. And then go and find yourself.

Your future self will love you.


Photo by krakenimages

I really enjoyed David’s question last week; “What would this look like if it was easy?”  Which got me thinking and I want to extend this just a little bit further.

What if you moved through your school, or learning place, as if you were the easiest person to work with?

Please note that I’m talking specifically of being easy to work with, and not for. What would your personal definition of “being easy to work with”  look like?

What would people see in you that made it easy for them to work alongside you?

How would you behave around people?

Where would this thing called consistency fit in?

What would you see in the behaviour of others around you as a result?

Do you think that being the easiest person to work with would result in people thinking you were a push over, or making other judgmentally negative insinuations? (Of course it’s not a competition. You can have many people in any one institution being easy to work with.)

But I’d imagine that if I was onto a winner and having a brilliant day, with all the ducks in a row and everything was going to plan, that I’d be easy to work with. It’s those other times when you’re up against it, neck deep, with a board report to write; a stand down to investigate; an angry parent to deal with; a broken photocopier; and no coffee in the kitchen. What about those times?

It’s easy to be the following when the tide is flowing in the right direction

  • Be reliable and always follow through on your commitments.
  • Be respectful of others’ time and work.
  • Be open to feedback and willing to learn.
  • Be a team player and be willing to help out wherever needed.
  • Be positive and have a good attitude.

People who are easy to work with are also people who others are likely to want to collaborate with and succeed with. Unsurprisingly being easy to work with makes your own work more enjoyable and fulfilling.

So how about you? If you were the easiest person to work with, how would it change your own wellbeing?


Photo by Brett Jordan

Last week David provocatively asked “What would you do if you had only two hours a week in your job”. It hit a nerve with a number of people, including, unsurprisingly, me.

There were elements of David’s piece that were mighty attractive. For a start, imagine only working for two hours a week! What a treat. And secondly, imagine if your job was to do only the things that you believed were most important; if you could cut through all the BS and get to the real nitty gritty that made a difference – how meaningful would that be?

How would that look?

I wonder though, if it may just be a bit of a red herring because being human would make it impossible. We wouldn’t, or couldn’t ever get to this nirvana without feeling guilty, or conflicted, or judged, or questioned. We carry too much baggage in our heads. Stuff that was placed there not just yesterday, but the day before that, and the week before that; even years. And we carry with us the expectations of a future, which is more often than not labeled THE Future, as if it is already written and all we really need to do is do the right thing here and now and it will all become so.

Of course, we don’t have the luxury of working just two hours, or four or eight on just those things that are most important. Nevertheless it’s still a great question to ask in order to clear your mind. So I’d say to you, give yourself a bit of space this morning, after you’ve read this and ask these three questions

  1. What’s important to you right now?
  2. What do you need to get there?
  3. Is there anyone close to you who can help you that you can go to talk to? (and then go and do that)

And then once you’ve done this, because even this is a big task, see if you can do this next thing. It’s a quote from Maya Angelou, and it’s wonderful. Can you make it happen before the end of the term?

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us”. ~Maya Angelou (Book: Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey)


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Photo by Kenny Eliason 

I’m sitting at a local coffee house here in Timaru. Across the table from me sits my friend. He’s ordered a bucketful sized coffee brimming with three shots, a powdering of chocolate and a jaffa on the side.

It’s going to be one of those conversations I guess, so I close my eyes. He only ever orders three shots when it’s going to be one of those ones.

He lets me outline my day, patiently asking questions and passing quips, but I sense he’s not here to listen to me. That’s ok, he obviously needs to vent.

I’ve made three mistakes in the last couple of weeks, he tells me. I whisper back to him; since when have we been keeping the score and if we are, who is keeping it?

Basically everyone, he says.

That’s a lot of people I tell him. That must be a lot of weight on your shoulders.

He agrees.

How many things have you done right in the last couple of weeks, I ask. He looks at me. I can see him attempting to count things up, but then he gives up.


Who is keeping score of those, I ask?

People make mistakes all the time, it’s what makes us human I tell him. It’s beyond that though; as all animals, insects, and living things make mistakes. Fish take a wrong turn and end in a net; bumble bees fly into a puddle for a drink, but then can’t lift off; cats jump from one point to another, and never quite make it. Mistakes therefore aren’t just what make us human, it’s what makes us a living being.

So I say to him, you’ve never stuffed up before have you?

And he looks back at me with open eyes and says, sure I have, all the time.

Same, I tell him. All the time. And just so he gets it, I say it again; ALL THE TIME.

Now with my eyes closed I tell him to follow these four simple steps.

  1. Name the mistake, and name the feeling it’s giving you. Own it. Take special time to name the emotion and how it makes you feel.
  2. Humanize it – let yourself know that these things happen all the time, to everyone, and they too get the same feelings and emotions. Some handle them better than you for sure, but equally some also handle them worse. It doesn’t matter, it’s a human condition to feel. That is fine.
  3. Now come up with a friendly sentence – if you were sitting in a coffee shop with a mate and they were unloading all this on you, what would be the friendly advice you would give? Write it down if you want. Say it out loud if you want. Make it sound like it’s come from a friend. What would you say?
  4. Now give yourself a timeframe. How long are you going to allow this mistake to make you feel like crap? Is it worth an hour of feeling shit? Is it worth a day? Will it even matter in a week’s time? 

Finally I talk to him about a Japanese concept called Wabi-Sabi. It’s all about finding peace in imperfection, and recognising that nothing in life is perfect. Beauty is found in the flaws, and so too the mistakes, even though it might hurt.

Now I open my eyes and I look across the table. And I see that no one is there. I finish my 3 shot bucket of coffee and get up and walk away.


Photo by Dylan Gillis 


We’re now well and truly into the new Term. No doubt you’re just about to head into another board meeting, or you’ve just had one.

Board meetings are always potentially stressful places. The main reason for this is because it involves people and their personalities. A Board meeting can be fraught with all sorts of issues for a principal or leader to navigate.

Get it right and the meetings you attend and provide crucial advice and guidance too will be perfect; they’ll hum! Get it wrong and it can be as painful as a train wreck!

Because of this, it’s important to remember some key points.  These are my top ten no brainers for working alongside your Board.

  1. Always have an open mind. Be equally prepared to be right or wrong. A board is meant to work like a mini democracy. That means that the majority rules. Sometimes your vote will be in the majority and sometimes it won’t. Don’t stress it either way.
  2. There is a reason why you have two ears and one mouth – listen more than you talk. This gives you a two factored advantage. Firstly it’ll appear that you are a very considered professional, and secondly it gives you time to pause, reflect and contribute positively and not as a knee jerk reaction.
  3. Seek to understand and be prepared to ask your own questions if you are not clear about the reasoning behind decisions being made in a meeting
  4. Go into a meeting, any meeting well prepared. You might never have all the ducks in a row, but turning up as a blank canvas isn’t a good idea.
  5. Never feel pressured to answer questions or to lead discussions feeling ill prepared or off the cuff. You might feel experienced enough to do this, but I can tell you, I’ve found myself in some difficult situations when I thought I could just wing it.
  6. Work hard to build a positive relationship with your Presiding Member. If you want your school to hum, then you need the full on support of this person. This means putting in the time to build up an understanding between the two of you that is mutual, respectful and even caring. You need to know that you have the support of your presiding member and they need to know they have your support.
  7. Don’t allow new items to be added to general business that you have no idea about. Make this clear with your Presiding Member that all meetings should be “no surprises” meetings. If it’s important enough for the Board to want to know your thoughts and opinions, then it is important enough for them to show you the respect to be well prepared. This goes both ways … no surprises for your Board, or for the very least your Presiding Member.
  8. Your Board is a diverse group of diverse thinkers, with diverse backgrounds, diverse opinions and diverse agendas. This includes you. 
  9. Have a really solid understanding of what being a professional means to you, as an individual. This is often a value based opinion that may differ in the eyes of others, but nevertheless it is who you are, and makes you unique. The Board chose you because they saw something in you. Be that professional, not one that you think you have to be .
  10. Have fun. Laugh, celebrate, enjoy. 


Being on a Board should always be a rewarding prospect. You’re in an amazingly privileged position leading a school. This is the same for everyone on your Board.

Help build a culture in your Board that is inclusive, supportive, caring and then you’ll see your school really begin to hum.




And just like that we find ourselves at the back end of yet another Term. No doubt there were times when it felt like this Term would never end, but like everything it will and it does and it has, or nearly.

This got me thinking about our cultural obsession with being happy. I guess it often feels that being happy is a state of mind that isn’t always conducive to being and happening in our workplaces. It’s not a bad obsession to have, this obsessive quest for all things happy, don’t get me wrong. I mean I don’t know anyone who really enjoys long bouts of unhappiness. But if that’s your working definition of a school term e.g. long bouts of unhappiness, then Houston we have a problem.

Happiness comes and goes. The good news is that it will come again as soon as it has gone. It will arrive in places both expected and unexpected, and I’m picking that it’s the unexpected places that generate happiness that are the best.

Our culture bombards us all; leaders, teachers, admin staff, and students with quick fix ways of getting that happiness top up. Buy this, buy that, go here, go there, do this, do that. There’s so much quick fix stuff out there that it’s a: surprising that we’re never unhappy, but yet we find ourselves unhappy a lot and b: unsurprising that it’s an addiction that we can’t seem to let go of.

Which got me thinking about what are the things we have in our toolkit that protect or prolong our happiness?

About a year ago, when I was actually a Principal, a speaker attended a local Principal meeting talking enthusiastically about keeping upbeat and building on (and holding onto) this thing called Resilience. I’m no longer a Principal, but I sense talking to people still at the chalk face, that little has changed and that with “just a little bit of resilience” there’s a sense that we’ll get ourselves through. 

To an extent that’s true. We (or you more accurately) have gotten yourself through. I can’t help but wonder at what cost? So what is it, this magical thing called resilience?

My ears really pricked up recently when I was listening to Esther Perel on You Tube. I’ve talked about Esther before, she’s a psychotherapist who excels in relationships.

She was speaking about a thing called the Resilience Trifecta. This involves three key elements that surround our understanding about how resilience best works.




Bending is the process of being flexible. Lots of yoga helps you become physically flexible, and so I wonder if Bending is the psychological equivalent when it comes to resilience. The French have a lovely term for this called Je plie, et ne romps pas which essentially translates to “I bend but do not break”. In English we might say; “Live to fight another day”, or the delightful Te Reo “Kei te tu tonu au” – I’m still standing.

It’s not about giving in, or having people walk all over you, or not getting what you want, or any of those things that people bandy around when they think that you should stick to your guns and not move or compromise in any way.

Some people call it pivoting, but I like the idea of bending, a bit like a tree in the wind.

Perspective comes from looking at the situation with a different lens or from an alternative angle. Perspective gives you the opportunity to take a 360 degree look at whatever you’re facing. This might also help you bend, and be nimble.

And finally, Attitude. Attitude is your mindset. It’s one of your key coping mechanisms. You have a choice as to which attitude you bring along to the party. There’s not a lot of value in adopting an attitude that appears defensive or cold. Adopt a more curious and positive mindset to the situation in front of you and it’ll put you in better stead.

Of course there are other ways to protect your happiness.

Over the years I’ve heard people say; I just don’t give a sh#t”, or “I don’t give anyone or any situation the luxury of deciding for me what energies I may or may not use”, or “I’m made of harder stuff, and I don’t get stressed”.

It’s important to repeat that happiness is a thing that comes and goes. And because of this it’s also important to understand that happiness is a present – literally, in that it happens in the present. If you want to gauge the success of your life you’re better to do as many Positive Psychologists suggest; don’t base it on the whims of this thing called happiness, it’s way too fickle. Instead look for meaningfulness in your life. That’s a thing that transcends time; it helps you evaluate your past; it helps you enjoy your present; and gives you hope for a future.



As a profession we are relentlessly and continually in a state of goal setting.

Our goals are supported by plans that are extended descriptions of how we expect we’ll successfully nail our goals.

Often these plans are meticulously descriptive. This thing will happen first, and then this thing will happen and then this thing will lead into this thing and then, well, sometime in the future we will be finished. But we never seem to quite get to the finished part, and if we do get to the finished part then there is no time to stop and smell the roses. By that time another goal has taken over and another supporting plan will have started its path. 

We’re strategic planning; we’re staff meeting planning; we’re classroom planning; we’re weekly planning; we’re planning for the term; we’re budget planning; we’re camp planning; we’re planning someone’s going away party; we’re planning curriculum meetings and parent meetings and meetings that’ll precede other meetings. As I said, it’s just a bit relentless.

It’s the thing that makes us human and that, along with a funny looking thumb, sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and makes us feel like we’re top, well, ermmm, dog.

We can look into the future and predict that there will  be a need or a want and we can set a goal and then manipulate the world around that need or want to make it happen. We are so goal motivated that Biswas-Diener and Dean (2007) once famously said, “Pursuing goals isn’t just second nature, it is vital to our functioning”. 

But here’s the thing. In the goal setting research world there is a crucial element that constantly needs to happen for any potential goal to be successfully met.

Along with experiencing positive emotions, using your strengths, attaching meaning and utilising a support network, researchers claim that savouring the journey plays a pivotal role in goal achievement.

But yet when was the last time in our plans did we write anything down about how we might enjoy or celebrate the trip?

As we head into the back end of the term and your mind starts to invariably wander along to the next goal, take a little time to stop and smell the roses. Well done. You did it. You pulled it off.

And now, as you start to organise the next journey, deliberately plan for moments in the trip to savour the moment. Call these mini celebrations if you want to, but don’t just plan for them at significant milestones but also at random points in time when it’ll feel good just to stop and say to the team, man we’re doing well, and yes we’re shit hot!

I’m betting it’ll make a huge difference to what you’re trying to achieve.


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When was the last time?

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

Ten things to ask:

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


Extra for experts:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These behavioural impulses are called micro-aggressions.

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

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

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

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

I’d like to offer three more words –

Yet and As If

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

Things aren’t wonderful in my life, yet.

Things haven’t improved for me, yet.

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

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

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

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

Feel as if things are going to work out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A     R     O     H     A


Photo by Chimene Gaspar 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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