Photo by Milad Fakurian

It’s 7am and we’re in a van convoy (well 2 vans going the same way) of local principals heading to the NZPF Annual Conference. We’ve got a two hour drive ahead of us and people are beginning to settle into the early rhythm of this adventure. There are multiple conversations starting. 

The talk is all about work; staffing, property, PLD, challenging student behaviours – the usual ‘what’s on top’ type stuff. It stays like that all the way until we arrive at our venue, the beautiful new Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre.

Once inside, we join the other school leaders from around the country and the conference starts for real. We are treated to a variety of speakers who share their experiences and thinking on a host of education related topics. Some of the speakers have many years of experience and some are still at primary school. Individually they wero (challenge) us to think/do things differently. The topics covered are wide and we the delegates are taking notes, affirming statements and engaged in the thinking. We are working, and there is concentration and effort evident. Some have their laptops out, others use paper and many take photos. All are intent on capturing, processing and sharing the things that might matter in their schools and teams. You can feel the mental cogs grinding.

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Later, our local group is together again but this time it’s at dinner. As soon as we are settled at the restaurant there are multiple conversations starting.

The talk is not about work. It’s about whanau, fun, dreams and hobbies. There is energy and good humour in abundance. The feeling is one of connectedness and people comment about the fact that’s it’s been too long since we’ve been together like this. Experiences are shared and  information swopped naturally and easily. Nothing is forced, it just happens. No one is taking notes yet plenty is remembered.

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The next day a new crop of speakers share with us and one in particular left me with a quote that resonated. Kaila Cobin, Founder and CEO of Boma NZ, said:

We are feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel”

I believe that this powerful observation neatly explains the contrast between the two parts of the previous day I described. In any given situation, we approach it first from an emotional perspective. The emotions are often not consciously recognised, but they are always there by default.

In the first part of the day, we worked harder, felt the mental burden of engaging more and had to put concentrated effort into the thinking part of being actively present.

At dinner, the engagement was natural and unforced. We let the ‘feeling’ part of ourselves go first and even though the topics discussed were extremely important to individuals, the group left energised rather than tired. 

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Another example that reinforces the truth of Kaila’s statement, happened on the journey to conference. A traffic cop pulled in behind the van I was driving. Objectively, he had zero interest in our plain old rental van. We were keeping to the speed limit (I checked at least fourteen times!) and following all the road rules. But . . . from the moment he pulled in behind us to the moment he finally passed us and disappeared, I operated as a ‘feeling machine’. My very human brain was under pressure that rationally shouldn’t have existed. 

On Monday, when I head back to school, I’m going to add Kaila’s quote to the wall in my office where I put these things. It’s going to remind me of this truth and will hopefully start some rich conversations. A conference gift!



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