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.



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.


.   .   .

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.



Last Friday when David published his awesomely simple “The Positivity Button” blog, I found myself with something that hasn’t happened in months. An empty calendar.

It was hard to believe. 

An empty calendar.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty to do, but an empty calendar is pretty rare these days. Unheard of even.

It came at a particularly tricky and difficult time – full of plans that really had to fall like dominoes in the right direction for it all to come to fruition. And it had been like this for a long time. You’ll know those types of times well I suspect.

But it did highlight something to me though that I should have reminded myself at the time.

Nothing is forever. There are ebbs and flows in this job, and every now and again you’ll get through it all and have time to breathe.

The difficulty is knowing when this is about to happen. My empty calendar on Friday could quite as easily have filled itself with all sorts of school led maladies. But on Friday the stars aligned and there was nothing but space.


It was a good reminder too that when those spaces afford themselves, don’t go packing them full of things that need to happen. Instead, use the time to do something in your school that you want to do. If you want to do some of the needs – all good! Jump right in! But don’t put the pressure on yourself to believe that this is the time for you to get ahead. You well might, but you might also be better off taking that breather. 

This is classic Be Slacker Better stuff. Remember, this is quite different to being a Better Slacker. It’s about giving yourself the permission to give yourself some slack. To give yourself some time.

So as I was spending the time tidying up the piles on my desk and shredding months of plan workings that all led to the master plan that I had just landed, I got to thinking more about David’s post and his Positivity Button.

Brian Eno is better known as a musician/producer who has worked with the likes of U2, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Coldplay to name a few. In 1975 he teamed up with an artist called Peter Schmidtt to design a box of cards called oblique strategies. It’s a little bit more complex than David’s Positivity button, and not quite as deep as all the stuff philosophized over by the Stoics – but essentially it’s all the same; A way of looking at the current situation and trying to make some sense of it.

Eno’s Oblique Strategies are a set of provocations and ideas that can help you look at your situation from a different view point. These days you can go straight to http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html and click a button that will give you a random oblique thought provoking one liner.

Originally the sayings came in a set of 55 separate cards that wikipedia tells me “offered a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.

I’ve taken them a step forward and replaced “artists” with principals. Well, it’s not too much of a step forward – we are after all “artists”!

Here goes a sample of what they have to offer:

Don’t be afraid of things because they are easy to do

Once the search is in progress, something will be found

Honour thy error as a hidden intention

And a personal favourite: 

Take a break

On Friday when I found my calendar to be free I took a break from thinking and tidied my desk. No shame in that.

For someone who has had a year of own goals and fair share of errors, the “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” one sounds sweet. It immediately gives you a release from that anxious terror that you’ve done something wrong. And it helps you look at the situation from a different angle. Maybe this principal gig isn’t so bad after all.

Of course this is all just another way of helping you get through your situations. It’s as relevant and as correct as David’s ‘Positivity Button’ (“I’m going to have a really really good day”) or the Stoics “Have we found anything better?

…than being brave

…than moderation and sobriety

…than doing what’s right

…than truth and understanding?”

And maybe, just maybe it’ll help you get to that next time when you have a clear calendar in one piece.



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Photo by Andrew Dunstan

You’ve made it through the first week of term. Some of you are beginning Surplus Staffing processes, some of you are fending off vaccination demands, some of you are juggling bubbles in Level 3, some of you are arguing dollars in the budget cycle, and some are just finding it hard to find time to breathe!  All of us are trying to look like the swan on the water, majestic on top, but frantic under the surface!

But nonetheless, congratulations, you’ve got through one week – alive!

During the holidays I got to thinking. We’re often hard on ourselves. This is because we have huge expectations. Some would say we care too much. And because of this we’re either as hard as steel or we beat ourselves up, or some gooey substance in the middle. So I wondered if it would be useful to write a letter to myself, and put it in my top draw, to be opened on the last day of school 2021. What would it say?

.   .   .

This is what I’ve written.

Dear Steve,

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

You will have survived.

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

But they didn’t. 

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

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

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

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

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

You should be proud of that. Ka rawe!

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

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

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

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

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

She was brave enough to go up to the dragon.

The dragon was friendly.”

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

Have a break and then come back sword sharpened.

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

Love Steve

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



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Imagine if there was no “I” at your school.

That would also mean, no me, no mine, and no my – not even a you, or a your, or theirs.

Only a WE.

What would your school look like?

What would it look like from your perspective as principal? 

For a start you wouldn’t say that this was “your’ school”, or “my school” …. Instead it would always be our school. That’s not a hard place to start. 

There would never be problems over ownership – they couldn’t be yours, or mine, but only ours. I wonder if this would make things easier? Would this lead to the problem being judged and not the person? Or would this lead to problems never going away in a mountain of unaccountability?

Stay with me a little longer. 

School resources wouldn’t or couldn’t be selfishly hoarded because there would never be a, “Hey! That’s mine!”, or a “I bought that out of my budget”.

Would this lead to people looking after things haphazardly, or would they care more?

On the face of it this seems like just a simple change in language. But how could this simple change define your school? 

Time would be ours and no one would mind if they took up your time or if you took up theirs. Our time would always be ours. Would this lead to more time wastage? Or would it lead to things taking the time that they always needed and warranted?

And what about that little kid, sitting over there? The one who can’t read and who gets so frustrated that she kicks, bites and spits. She would rightly be our problem. Would she even be a problem at all? Should she ever have been seen as a problem in the first place? Would the Ministry of Education see her as your problem, or would they see her as a human who rightly needs to be supported?

I wonder what trust would look like? If there was just a we, and there was always just a we, then what trust could ever be broken?

Much of trust is you and me orientated. I trust you not to put me in the shit, and you trust me not to do the same. If you break that trust, or maybe it’s me, then where does that put us? If there’s no you and me, just a we, then where does that put us?

And what about well being?

We collectively look after each other without judgement. There’s no “he’s not coping” sort of comments. There’s just a we are in this together. 

And learning? Recently I found myself sitting in my Te Ahu te Reo course, and I wondered, what if I looked at my me learning, as I sat there responding very much as an individual, as a we learning experience instead? And I imagined what it would be like if everyone else in the class also looked at it as a solely we learning experience. How would that feel as a learner?

Of course having just a system where everything is a we could be akin to an ant colony. We shouldn’t be leading schools where everyone and everything is done at the beck and call of one being, or one overarching reason.

The goal I guess, as principals and leaders in our schools, is to build our cultures where both we and me/I can flourish side by side. Our role is to get this mix just right, the Goldilocks mix as I like to call it, so that the beauty of humanity can shine. Our humanity. 

Too much we, and our schools can be stifling; too much I and our schools become isolated egos all fighting for attention.

In our schools we deal with multiple approaches and multiple personalities. Somehow we are able to magically sprinkle fairy dust through our classrooms, playing fields and staffrooms, and we are able to take this seething horde of humanity and make it all work together and collaborate – like a WE. Wow, think about that for a minute – that’s quite an achievement.

As an individual you get to bring your own flair, creativity and identity to the kura and this should never be underestimated. 

But the best place to start, is to begin with the we/our…. as in “this is our school”. 

Imagine that.


Next Friday we come to you



Growing up, my Dad had lots of great advice for me. Two pieces have stuck with me through thick and thin. One he pulled out for the first time during our very first time playing golf together (and last as well now that I think of it). As he swung backwards and forwards wildly missing the little dot of a ball at every sweep, he yelled out mysteriously, “There’s method in my madness!”.

At the time I was about 18 and I’d never heard that saying before. I really thought he was as crazy as his swing. 

Over time I’ve learnt to recognise my own method in my madness, in particular in things that I do in my professional life. Case in point when it comes to taking a look at things that get me down as a principal and I find myself taking a close look at my character.

Which leads me nicely to the second thing he used to say. Invariably whenever I had stumbled, which was often, he would say; “Don’t worry Steve, it’s character building”.

Again, because he was my Dad, and I was just young, I had no idea what he meant.

Again as I’ve stumbled my way through principalship, his words have taken on a new meaning.

Even more so, recently, when I heard an addition to my Dad’s saying:

“Personality is what we see when times are good, character is what we see when times aren’t so perfect”

In recent times this has resonated with me. I’ve seen fellow principals and leaders find themselves in times of trouble and mistakes have been made. I’m not immune to this. Every time I make a mistake, put a foot wrong, or find myself in trouble it’s not my personality that will get me through. It’s my character.

Your character is often you at your rawest. Interpreting what that means to you can be confronting! Especially at 3:00am.

Knowing your character is one thing, but understanding it is another thing altogether. 

Epictetus, a first century philosopher, once said, “people feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them”.  Put simply, thoughts cause feelings and behaviours. Case in point with your character. 

Your character is your bedrock. It’s both what makes you strong as metal and as flaky as the dust in the wind. You’re likely to feel great about your own character when you “dig deep”, “hold strong”, “lean into the wind “ but feel like a loser when you “cave in”, “break down” or “ lose the plot“.

Truth is though, it’s not your character that is actually at fault, but the feeling that you assign to it that makes you feel at fault. Put it another way – unless you’re thinking about it and you’ve assigned a feeling to it then really it means nothing at all.

So when you get into a situation that involves you taking a closer look at your character, be careful not to assign too many ill feelings to what you see.

This is the crux of the matter when it comes to character building. Train yourself to know your strengths and flaws, because they are what make you human. No one is perfect. But also find a way to train yourself not to assign a feeling or emotion to all of them.

Think of your mind a little like a Facebook or YouTube algorithm. It keeps on showing you similar stuff to that which you’ve been looking at – or in this case with your mind, what you think about. Think of each thought as being a bit like the LIKE button. This tells your algorithm to give you more of the same. That’s a useful way of explaining why you tend to replay and remuniate over events again and again.

This takes some superhuman-like abilities though to avoid. As I’ve written often, I’m not always great at nailing this.

Anthony Metivier in his rather dry TED video entitled, Two Easily Remembered Questions That Silence Negative Thoughts”, (watch from about 7 minutes in!) comes up with a bit of a solution. He suggests that as your thoughts come in that might question your character, ask two simple questions.

Is that thought useful?

How does that thought behave?

Next time you’ve had a particularly crappy day at school, and everything has turned to custard and you find yourself starting to question what your character is really about, ask yourself those two questions about the thoughts that you are having:

Are these thoughts useful?

And how do they behave?

Bear with me as I explain this next bit, there is a little method in my madness here, as my Dad would’ve said!

So the other night as I lay in bed, questioning my character after a series of failings, and the thoughts began to flow in waves like they do, crashing against the rocks, I decided to run an experiment. 

Not that I have any experience in Tinder like dating apps, I decided to view my thoughts as though I did. As my thoughts flew in I purposely looked at them from a slightly removed perspective. I swiped them left or right as I asked the questions, is this thought useful, and how does it behave? If I caught myself in the negative I swiped them away, instead dwelling in the positive and useful thoughts

This little exercise might help you strengthen your character, and might well help you get a better night’s sleep at the same time.

Your character, and your understanding of it, is pretty vital. It’s unique to you, and it’s what makes you special. Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are. Your reputation is who people think you are.

And if you can get your head around that, then that’s definitely character building.

See, I always thought there was method in my madness.



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Hey you!

Yes you!

The one reading this blog!

Yes you!

Now don’t be shy, I’ve got some questions for you – yes you!

I’ve always been a big advocate of the Five Ways to Wellbeing model. Probably because there’s only five to remember, but also because it is so simple and makes heaps of sense. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about the Five Ways to Wellbeing centres on five key thoughts: Give, Take Notice, Be Active, Connect, and Keep Learning.

Here we are in the middle of another lockdown, we’re as busy as that proverbial place of fire and grimness. Coupled with this, it’s mid-term and we’re about to head into that part of the term when everyone gets crazy tired, people lose patience and it’s hard not to feel just a little swamped. 

What better time then to Take Notice of where you are at …. Yes you!

David talked in last week’s blog about the need to “Get your figurative oxygen mask on so that you can continue to be amazing”.

Part of this process is Taking Notice of where you are currently positioned – and I’m not only talking about this from a professional point of view – but also as a human being.

This week I decided to throw in some  extra thoughts and provocations to help me personally take notice of where I’m at. Some of the answers weren’t too flash, but all in all they showed me some things in my current predicament that were missing and gave me a heads up as to what I could do next in terms of grabbing that oxygen mask and taking a bit gulp of goodness. Maybe they’ll help you too.

# When was the last time you had your blood pressure taken?

# When was the last time you went on a romantic dinner with your significant other?

# When was the last time you got away for an entire weekend with your significant other?

# When was the last time you said NO at work when normally you’d say YES?

# When was the last time you said YES at home when normally you’d say NO?

# When was the last time you felt like you were the BEST Principal/Leader in the world?

# When was the last time someone did something that made you really happy?

# When was the last time you did something for the first time?

# When was the last time you did something just for you?

# When was the last time that you went somewhere that you’ve never been before?

How do these questions make you feel? What are the keys to getting to these points?

We live in crazy, crazy uncertain times. As principals and leaders much is expected of us. There is very little out there in terms of research and study to tell us how to do it – well not without spending a whole heap of time finding the info – time that you likely don’t have.

A great friend and fellow principal of nearly 30 years standing, Grant Willocks, once said that principalship is a bit like running a marathon but with an increasingly annoying quirk. In a marathon, every five kilometres or so there is an aid station. There are toilets, and a drinks/water station. You know that they’re going to be coming up, because you’re all following the same route and you can plan where to have your rest. The difference in education is that no-one now seems to know where those aid stations are. The route is continually being changed, and the aid stations are never where and when you need them – if they’re there at all. 

Because of this, we need to have our own walking aid stations. So take time to take notice of where you are at. Use the questions above to help you take stock of you. You’re the best aid you’ve got.


Keep up here:


I’ve come up with a new medical term. Hell, I don’t even have a degree (although I do have a couple of useful diplomas, and some may say I have a degree in life), but this hasn’t stopped me coining a new affliction; a disease; a malady.

Don’t bother looking it up – it’s nowhere to be found in the textbooks or on Google.

It’s called Ruminoid Arthritis. 

It’s derived from two words.

Ruminoid – a term that I have made up, call it artistic license – from the word Ruminate. Originally to ruminate was the term used to describe how cows and bovines eat their food, but lately it has taken on an alternate description; the process of continually thinking about the same thoughts.

Arthritis – the term used to describe the swelling and tenderness of one or more of your joints. For the purposes of this blog piece, again using artistic license, the swelling and tenderness is likely to be in your head in the form of a headache, or your shoulders (in the form of tension) or in your other large muscle, the maximus gluteus, referred to affectionately as a pain in the ar**e.

So what are the symptoms of this new malady called Ruminoid Arthritis? 

You, yourself may already be afflicted by it.

Well, there are many including:

  • Aforementioned headaches and tense shoulders
  • Sleepless nights
  • Countless recounts and replays of professional situations
  • Continual attempts to predict outcomes without knowing the full circumstances
  • Catastrophizing
  • Overthinking
  • Ruination of family events because you’re not actually present – you’re away in your own world.

Of course it’s not new at all…. I’ve just given it a medical name to give it some sort of prestige. But it is very real.

Over the years I’ve been a big sufferer of this. It’s quite possible that I have the world record for the longest streak of rumination ever recorded. On a tramp in the mountains in 2011 I successfully (or should that read unsuccessfully) ruminated over an issue I’d been having at school for over 5 hours as I walked to the hut along a flat, boring river bed.

Around me the mountains shone like jewels in the winter sun, but I didn’t see any of it, I was too busy sorting out a professional issue in my head – over and over again; rehearsing strategy; catastrophizing what would happen if I didn’t get it right; totally missing the fact that I was on holiday and that I was in the most beautiful land in the world. By the time I got to the hut I was exhausted. And being mentally exhausted isn’t a good thing. Did I solve the professional issue – nope, and so the next day when we walked out to the car I spent another 5 hours going through it all over again.

Much of Ruminoid Arthritis is totally avoidable. The trick is to catch it before it takes off. You’ve got to recognise it when it starts and then act on it.

At the very essence of it all, ruminating is just a set of thoughts. The first important understanding to recognise is that you control your thoughts, it’s not your thoughts controlling you. If you’re a sufferer of Ruminoid Arthritis then you will habitually let your thoughts get away on you. When that happens, if you don’t act quickly and intentionally then it’s all a bit like herding cats.

The website Healthline has a list of ten tips for controlling your ruminations. Tip #1, Distract yourself, fits nicely in tandem with Tip #8 Understanding your triggers.

The site suggests that each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who’s around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day.

Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination.

And then follow this with a big dollop of distraction. Look around you, choose something quickly, get up out of your seat and change your location. Go for a walk, ring a friend, anything that will take your mind away from that trigger.

Another good strategy is to inject a bit of positive stress into your life. The Mementia phone app has a great deal of useful, and free, wellbeing initiatives and strategies. Take time to read Invite more good stress into your life for ideas that will also alleviate your rumination habit.

The Mementia phone app is actually a treasure trove of goodness. You can download it from Google Play or the App store. It is New Zealand based.

One of the very best tools in the app is the “Worry Tool”. Worry is a huge trigger for Ruminoid Arthritis, and this little tool is a very quick and easy way of dealing with this trigger in an efficient manner. Use it!

I certainly haven’t cured myself of this malady, but I’m hopeful that soon it will be a thing of the past. I’m not going for world records anymore, I do have relapses, but on the whole I’m building a very useful kete of resources to keep me in the now. If you’re a Ruminoid Arthritis sufferer then you can too. 



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Photo by Petar Tonchev


Just recently I found myself talking with a colleague about the myriad of things that we end up doing in our roles. A recent example was when I found myself sweeping water out of the junior boys’ toilets for an hour or so. Lucky me! There’s nothing like sweeping water out of the junior boys’ toilets wearing your best shoes and favorite work pants. It’s almost invigorating … not!

My colleague changed the tack of the conversation slightly, like he is want to do, and told me that occasionally he gets time to help out his caretaker by getting on the ride-on mower and cutting the lawns.

This appeared like a very generous thing for my colleague to be doing. I was instantly envious. A; because we don’t have a ride-on mower at our school and B; what he was telling me reminded me of a fond memory.

When I’d been at Teachers’ College, a few moons ago now, I’d spent my holidays pruning trees in the Hanmer State Forest or mowing lawns for the Hanmer Springs/Hurunui District Council.

These jobs enabled me to see both where I was going, and where I had been almost minute to minute.

In my current role as a principal, it’s not always easy to see where I am going, or even where I have been. There is constant “noise” related to our role that gives little opportunity to stop, pause, and look, and in turn feel good about what has been accomplished. 

“You know, I don’t really want to admit this,” I said quietly to my colleague, “but there are times in this job that I’m not really sure where I am going.”

As sharp as tack he came back with, “Go where the grass is longest – that’s what you’d do if you were still mowing lawns!”.

He had a point. Actually, he had a great point. Especially as we head into the end of the Term and the school holidays are beckoning like the sweet bastion of goodness that they are! 

The point that I’m trying to make here, is that throughout our busy, hectic lives in Term time, the grass indeed grows long in those places that we don’t look after. I’m talking specifically about our own well-being here

During Term time, as we move to cram everything into our already bulging calendars, the first thing that is missed out is our well-being. Ironically it should be the first thing that we put in, and then we should build our days around this goodness and the energy that this positive move will enable.

I’m taking it though, that you’re more likely to be like me at this point of time in the Term. The grass on your well-being lawn is overgrown and your energy levels are low.

With the energy that you do have left, take a little time to consider “going where the grass is long” during your upcoming ‘non contact/holiday’ time. Make a plan to do a number of things that you like doing; enjoy doing; and have missed doing during the last ten weeks because you ran out of hours in the day to look after yourself.

And when you are making this plan, take a step forward and look into Term three and begin to formulate a long term vision for what your well-being lawn will look like. Do this now before the reality of your job and your old habits engulf your best intentions.

Go on. Write down four things that you are going to do, just for yourself in that first week of holidays. Then another four things (yes you can repeat them!) for the second week.

Then go further and commit to a well-being plan for the Term. Make sure you have something happening for you, that’ll fill your bucket, at least once a week in your plan (and I’m not talking about the weekends) through until the next holidays.

When you get to weeks seven, eight and nine of the Term plan, double your well-being dose. Weeks seven, eight and nine are notoriously “hitting the wall” times in our professional lives, so make sure that your lawn is well and truly cut then 🙂 . 

We’d love to hear what sort of things you plan to do as you “go where the grass is long”, so please feel welcome to leave a comment below, or over on The Forty Hour Facebook page.



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A few years ago orange was the new black. Shortly afterwards anything that was new, exciting and a must have, was the new black. With this in mind I proclaim that in the world of leadership a thing called Stoicism is the new black. Well, I would proclaim that, if it was actually something new, but stoicism has been around since the ancients, and it turns out that any new thinking is just someone else’s old thinking from way back when.

So why is stoicism hitting the right note with me now?

Like with many ideas, I stumbled upon this. A bit like stumbling upon a $20 note fluttering in a dark alleyway just around midnight.

But I got to wondering, after David’s confronting statistics in last week’s blog, if it really is up to us to fix this, then where is a good place to start?

.   .   .

I’m thinking that we’re all in a bit of a stumble in a dark alley just around midnight. So what would that $20 note look like?

And then I stumbled on something that has been a recurring idea for quite some time now. And when I say for quite some time I mean quite some time – think thousands of years!

Fellow principal, Saira Shaikh Boyle, posted this quote from Marcus Aurelius on Facebook – 

“The first thing to do – don’t get worked up. For everything happens according to the nature of all things, and in a short time you’ll be nobody and nowhere, even as the great emperors Hadrian and Augustus are now.

The next thing to do – consider carefully the task at hand for what it is, while remembering that your purpose is to be a good human being. Get straight to doing what nature requires of you, and speak as you see just and fitting – with kindness, modesty, and sincerity”

Don’t get worked up and your purpose is to be a good human being. Or don’t get upset and do the right thing!


The Stoics, and there are quite a few famous ones (Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Cato, Zeno, Cleanthes, Hecato, Musonius Rufus et al), all believed in this simple mantra:  Your purpose is to be a good human being. Do that, and only do that. 

As wikipedia describes it, eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly. Being a good human being.

That sounds incredibly deep, so I prefer to go back to the Don’t get upset, Do the right thing mantra. Here are some examples:

That funding from the Ministry that I was led to believe was coming, but now isn’t – well I’m not going to get upset, and I’m going to do the right thing by letting it go. I’ve pursued it long enough now, I have to move on.

That kid who has just trashed that classroom because the funding from the Ministry to adequately supervise him didn’t go far enough – well I’m not going to get worked up, and I’m going to do the right thing by making sure that supervision happens somehow even if it means it is me who does it until the Ministry meets their commitment.

That botched conversation that I led at the Board meeting that didn’t go to plan because I wasn’t quite on top of my game – well I’m not going to get upset, and I’m going to do the right thing by being better prepared next time around, or I’m going to have the courage just to say I don’t actually know at this present time.

Our roles are incredibly complicated. I think that there’s so much going on in our schools that it’s almost inhumane to think that one person, us, the principal, can be expected to be all over it all of the time. We simply can’t. And because of that, from now on I’m going to try and just do this:

Not get upset or worked up – which I read as don’t place too much negative emotion on what goes on, whatever goes on.


Do the right thing – which I read as do what’s good for my school and, just as importantly, do what’s good for me.

I sincerely doubt that it’s going to be easy. I’ve spent a lifetime assigning negative emotions to what I do. On the whole I’ve always tried to do the right thing, so I’m hoping that I’m almost halfway there. But not equating a plethora of emotions is a habit that I’ll need to work on – no doubt again and again. Sometimes I’ll succeed and sometimes I won’t. But I’m not going to let that upset me. I’m going to be stoic about it instead.

.   .   .

Half Hour Update:

To be honest, my plan went swimmingly well for about 30 minutes. And then a left field issue led me to deal with things in a very non stoic way. Obviously this little project will take some time. Until then I’m going to follow another piece of advice

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” ― Ralph Ellison



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It’s the end of term! Time is short! And so is this week’s 40HP blog piece. The 40HP team have pushed the buttons quite a bit this term. We’ve tried to be provocative and we’ve tried to get people thinking about how they do their roles in a quest to leading a more balanced life.

So here goes a very quick precis of the top ten (in no order of importance) take outs and provoactions from our term of writings. Call it Forty Hour Principal Speed Dating if you will!


  1. “Give – giving is the thing that tends to fall away when you’re tired, stressed and swamped. There is an amazing amount of energy that one can receive from giving, in times of any struggle. And the best thing to give is time.”

   2021 Loading


  1. “When was the last time you paused, off site in a peaceful place, with a piece of blank paper and considered the how? The ‘how’ reflects the time you commit to a task, the energy you give and the stress that you either accept or reject. It is the difference between Principal A spending all weekend working on their Strategic Plan, and Principal B achieving the same outcome with their team during the week. Both get the same ‘what’ done, but how they do this is completely different – this is where possibility lies.”

   The How matters (at least) as Much as The What


  1. “As principals and leaders we find ourselves doing a whole heap of stuff that simply isn’t our core business. We don’t ask often enough, WHY is this my job? WHY is this my rodeo?”

  The Why


  1. “What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about something?”

   What Do You Believe?


  1. “Giving yourself a little time to PAUSE BREATHE SMILE before letting your next step be dominated by a feeling or emotion maybe, just maybe will save yourself the stress of dealing with extreme behaviours, especially if they’re yours!”

 Pause Breath Smile


  1. “By trying to please everyone, or at least to avoid upsetting anyone, we unwittingly make ourselves  ineffective because the only way to attempt this impossibility is to consign ourselves to maintaining the status quo. (And maintaining the status quo is simply not OK in a world where we need change.)”

   Pleasing People is a Losing Strategy


  1. “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.”

   Time to Keep it Simple


  1. “There’s a lot of scientific data that links your future personal misery to the amount of time that you spend enjoying the seductive embrace of the swivelly chair.”

   The Seductive Trap of the Swivelly Chair


  1. “Management vs Leadership? Surely they co-exist, not only side by side, but together like osmosis, flowing into one another; at times morphing into pure management while at other times being pure leadership, but more often than not just a colourful mixture of both.”

   The Management Versus Leadership Debate is Dead


10 . “Refusing to stay home (when you are sick) can also be a subtle disrespect of your team, because being unwilling to take a sick day on the grounds that you are irreplaceable, implies that your team is not quite up to the mark.”

   A Sick Story



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Last time I wrote about how we often over think our roles and that this in turn creates problems that aren’t even there. It was part of a piece about slowing things down, especially at this time of term.

Recently I was part of a discussion regarding the dilemma that we all face – when do we find time to show leadership when we seem to be in constant management mode. 

As principals, we are expected to be leaders yet we tend to spend  our lives in the day to day grind and minutiae of school existence rather than floating above it, being ultra visionary and seeing the “big picture”.

Perhaps it’s time to get off this hamster wheel of doubt created by over thinking the management vs leadership debate.

Surely they co-exist, not only side by side, but together like osmosis, flowing into one another; at times morphing into pure management while at other times being pure leadership, but more often than not just a colourful mixture of both.

Apparently it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care”. This to me, is one of the real touchstones of what being a principal is all about.

Effectively this means that the people that you get paid to lead, or manage, don’t care about either of these terms. They just care that you care.

When you do enough in your school to show that you care consistently to a diverse group of humans, then that is both great leadership and great management.

There are times when you need to manage. This might feel like you’re knee deep in the veritable crappolla generated by others. But the fact that you’re there, and you’re showing you’ve got something more than a heartbeat, is in itself great leadership.

Equally there are times when you lead. And this might feel like you are able to fly above the same crapolla generated by others. But the fact that you can see what is going on with eyes like a falcon is also in itself great management.

So don’t over complicate it, and definitely don’t worry about it, you’ll be where you need to be, when you need to be, and that is good enough.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Emotions are there to help us understand the stuff we’re going through. But it’s not always helpful.

Emotions also help us convey to others what we are feeling. Jacinda Ardern being labeled by the Press as being “angry” about those not sticking to COVID-19 restriction expectations is a classic recent example.

Who knows if she is angry or frustrated, bemused, or simply pissed off, but the use of the word angry lets everyone else in on the “secret” of how she is feeling. And of the message that she wants to convey.

In this case it’s used as a warning, and quite possibly, a weapon.

There’s nothing really quite as easy and complicated as emotions. Easy because everyone has them. Complicated because no one really knows what everyone else is feeling. 

Often we think we know, and often it is assumed that we know.

Humans are notoriously bad at interpreting what their own emotions actually are let alone anybody else’s. No wonder, researchers have identified up to 27 different kinds of emotions. You’ve got to quietly wonder if the world was a simpler place when, in the past, researchers suggested there were only 6. 

This makes our role in Principalship and Leadership very tricky. We are expected to be experts in knowing what people are feeling and at the same time being able to suppress our own.

The first of these is a completely unreasonable expectation and we spend way too long spending energy on it. It comes well and truly in the “worry only about things that you have control over” camp of thought.

And the second, well, how healthy is it really suppressing your feelings over a long period of time?

Imagine in a school setting, for example my school. There are 360 students, and 40 adults running around on any given day. That’s 400 people within the confines of the school gates all running through 27 researched emotions every second of the day. As Principal you are essentially overseeing a mass of emotions. No wonder some days you’ve felt that you haven’t gotten it anywhere near right!

Of course the ability for you to have control over any one of those emotions that others have is highly debatable and negated by many other factors both externally and internally. And the extent to which these emotions are shown in behaviour also changes from person to person and situation to situation. Some seem to jump to extreme behaviours at the drop of a hat. Others face the same situation and you have to wonder if they’ve even got a pulse, let alone care.

In our language we talk about the two terms, emotions and feelings. So what’s the difference?

There definitely is a difference. I googled it and found a heap of useful references.  The one that I liked, from www.6seconds.org states the following;

“The short answer is: Time. Emotions come first, then feelings come after as the emotion chemicals go to work in our bodies. Then moods develop from a combination of feelings.

Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger.  It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another 1/4 second to produce the chemicals.  By the way, emotion chemicals are released throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, and they form a kind of feedback loop between our brains & bodies. They last for about six seconds – hence the name of our organization.

Feelings happen as we begin to integrate the emotion, to think about it, to “let it soak in.”  In English, we use “feel” for both physical and emotional sensation — we can say we physically feel cold, but we can also emotionally feel cold.  This is a clue to the meaning of “feeling,” it’s something we sense.  Feelings are more “cognitively saturated” as the emotion chemicals are processed in our brains & bodies. Feelings are often fueled by a mix of emotions, and last for longer than emotions.”


I like this because it helps me understand a process that I have been working on recently.

It’s quite simple, and it might sound just a little odd. It has a technical name that at the time of writing completely eludes me – sometimes we don’t need to know the official name, but the strategy is currently working for me.

It runs a bit like this. When I have an emotion I also have a sensation. That’s normal, and that’s what I understand to be the emotion chemicals being released in my body. I guess in many ways it’s your body saying, WARNING WARNING!

This is where I PAUSE. And I go searching just for that sensation, and I let myself feel it as it waves through my body. For me it feels like it starts in my head and then builds up in my shoulders and down through my body (for some strange reason I also feel it in my ears!). I told you this was a bit weird! The key is just to concentrate on that physical feeling; on that wave. Actually feel the sensation.

I didn’t know that these waves lasted for about 6 seconds as the website says, but if I timed it then that would be about right. So, PAUSE and feel that wave. Don’t give it a feeling name like anger or frustration or one of the other countless names. When you name it you’re just giving it a language term for you to understand and then that takes you on a completely different tangent. If the wave starts again, roll with it and just concentrate on feeling that. This might happen once, or it might happen multiple times. But the key is not to name it, just physically feel it.

I used to get these waves a lot on a Sunday evening before the week was about to start, or before an important staff meeting. And to be honest, I still do, but I’ve been able to lesson the intensity of the waves over time. This has helped me pinpoint what is actually bugging me.

During my PAUSE I then give myself time to consider the trigger – e.g. thinking about the important staff meeting; thinking about starting the new week. Identifying the trigger without thinking about how that makes me feel means I can get to the source of the wave without any baggage. Yes I can tell myself, “oh, I’m feeling something about that staff meeting ….. I wonder why that is”.

And then I BREATH. Deep deep breaths, and hold them in. (Don’t forget to exhale, or you might have another problem on your hands, lol)

Now I identify the emotion or the feeling. It might not actually be the anger that you originally thought it was.

And then I SMILE. The smile at the end is important. You’re telling yourself you’ve got this.

The process might take all of 10 to 15 seconds.

You can’t do this for everyone else in your school, and let’s be honest, many will think you’re a weirdo for even mentioning it, but you can do it for yourself. 

However, this gives you time to think a bit more rationally and logically before deciding what to do next.

It’s your emotions and feelings that give you the impetus to do something. You may still feel angry, but take time to consider how angry you are and what’s the best way for everyone around you for you to show or share that you feel angry? 

This article isn’t about suppressing your feelings. It’s far from that. You can’t beat biology! It’s the same with positive feelings as well. Take time to enjoy the feeling and sensation when you’ve got those positive emotions running as well.

What I’m saying is if you give yourself a little time PAUSE BREATHE SMILE before letting your next step be dominated by a feeling or emotion then maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to save yourself the stress of dealing with extreme behaviours, especially if they’re yours!



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Last week David wrote a great piece on the How being as important as the What.

It’s a piece that has resonated with me a lot and is really the core of the Forty Hour Principal Project.

To put no finer point to it, it’s the HOW that makes the difference between spending a forty hour week at work or spending an eighty hour week.
Get your HOW all aligned correctly and you can say a welcome, “well hello!” to the other part of your life.

.   .   .

Of course, your HOW  can rightly stuff everything up though.

Case in point was a couple of days ago. On Monday, while Auckland grappled with Level 3, the rest of us woke up to Level 2. Restrictions at Level 2 are nothing like Level 3. I arrived at school nice and early at 7am to get things in place. I helped the Caretaker organise the hand washing stations and get the registration forms all sorted. I wrote a memo to all staff. And I promptly forgot to look at the Level 2 Plan that we had, and promptly forgot to make sure it was under the noses of everyone in the school.

Thinking my HOW was all organised, including a healthy assumption that common sense would prevail for anything else, I left the school at 10am and headed to a Kahui Ako course.

When I arrived back at school at 2:30pm there were agitated people. Their agitation, on the face of it, was pretty low level for me. I didn’t feel it to be the problem they did – was PMP going ahead in Level 2?, were Parent Helpers allowed in the school during the reading programme in Level 2? and were we meant to be taking our 5 and 6 year olds out to the gate at 2:55pm under Level 2?.

My HOW had been at a level where I assumed that people knew this, even though it had been way back in October when we’d last seen Level 2 restrictions. My HOW had also assumed that these little finer points would be just that – finer points.

For some though it wasn’t. They wanted to do a great job, and lack of information made them feel just a little crap. Their HOW was to let me know that!

My HOW had let them down. And so I now had to rewrite my next HOW to make sure that things didn’t happen this way next time we head into Level 2. Simple Communication 101.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time beating myself up about this, but communication in things like heading into Level 2 are pretty important. Next time I’ll make sure our plan is printed off for everyone to see and I won’t leave it sitting in the Google Drive hoping someone will remember it’s there.

HOW we do things, obviously is key. Of course we could probably spend all year adding little bits and pieces to this thought. I mean isn’t WHO and WHEN also important. Well, yes, but arguably they’re linked to your HOW.

However, one word that sits a little to the left though, (or right dependent on which way you’re facing!) is WHY.

WHY it has to happen is something again, especially WHY does it have to be you?

As principals and leaders we find ourselves doing a whole heap of stuff that simply isn’t our core business. We don’t ask often enough, WHY is this my job? WHY is this my rodeo?

In particular I’m thinking of those times when colleagues and staff members decide that a problem they have is a problem that you need to solve. So, maybe, after the What, there’s a brief period of time when we should pause and reflect WHY.

Why is this your problem?
Why is this your issue to sort out?
Why is this something that needs your attention straight away?
Why is this your monkey?

For a lot of the time we are duped into doing something by our own mind. Dr. Libby Weaver affectionately calls this “The Invisible Load”. We do things because we perceive that it is expected of us, or we are guilt tripped into it, or that others will think badly of us if we don’t do it the way they want it to be done. Our Invisible Load stops us from asking the WHY question completely.

Of course once the WHY is all sorted, you can jump into the HOW, feet first.

In my situation it really was my problem. I am the leader of the school, and so I needed to front up and say whoops I got this wrong and it won’t happen this way next time. Next time my WHY will be simple, not my issue to sort out, because everyone will have the plan in front of them and everyone will already be prepared.



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