Photo by Garrett Jackson

One quarter through this new year and you’re probably already behind on some of those aspirational goals that you set with the energy and optimism that the Christmas holidays brought. This is business as usual for most of us mortals and nothing to worry about, but over the last week we have also been treated to a list of the new Government’s own ‘to do’ priorities, and as faithful public servants, we are paying attention and starting to wonder what the nitty gritty details will mean . . . specifically what we will be required to do.

It’s a bit like the recent solar eclipse across North America – through the wonders of modern science pretty much everyone knew it was coming and understood what was happening, so it was merely interesting. 500 years ago, the same event would probably have caused terror.

Knowing something is coming and understanding what it will look like are two critical steps in avoiding worry. On the flip side, if the sun suddenly disappears and you have to make up your own explanation . . .

.   .   .

The great news is that we remain ‘self-managing’ schools here in New Zealand. We have the ability to create the ‘how’ of what happens each day. The ‘what’ is largely mandated, and this is no different with the latest set of Government priorities and aspirations.

A degree of autonomy is a degree of insurance in a time of change. Insurance against what? I suggest against any possible unhelpful and/or unreasonable policies with the word ‘possible’ being critical. It’s easy to see change as threatening and to lose objectivity even before that change arrives. At least we have half of the picture – we know our next wee eclipse moment is coming.

The bottomline is that significant change requires significant energy, and so the annoying gap between knowing change is coming and understanding what it will look like, is an opportunity to shore up our personal reserves.

Luckily, a Term break is right in front of us and with that freedom comes the opportunity to do things that mean we will be ready to deal with whatever is coming down the pipeline of new governance. I intend to get moving, get connected, and to do some more learning about how to sleep like the proverbial baby. What’s your plan?


Photo by Sergio Capuzzimati 

The thought below came out of a recent conversation with a colleague where we were discussing the the willingness (or otherwise) of some newer staff members to take on extra responsibilities when needed. They were frustrated at this situation and wanted change, but at the same time were grateful that many others were willing to step forward. 

Culture, an eclectic mix of elements, thoughts, actions, and ways of doing things. And it’s also one of the biggest things that is laid at your principal door. It might even be in your Job Description and it’s an ongoing work stream that every school leader has to deal with.

.   .   .

We use the word all the time in conversation about our schools and it’s often in a judgement – “School X has an awesome culture; you can feel it the moment you step onsite”.

People will say things like, “you need to visit Suzy over at Y School, their playground culture is so settled.”

So off you go to have a coffee with Suzy and wander through their grounds to see this for yourself. Then you come back to your place and tell your team about the goodness. At this point it’s possible that some goals start to be set and plans formulated to develop a new playground culture at your school. Maybe you need to.

The problem with this approach is that culture is very complicated and nuanced – it can be incredibly difficult to understand exactly what is driving that “settled” playground. And it’s all too easy to start following a particular path of action that should have worked, but doesn’t.

I suggest that there is an easier way, a way that is more likely to get you to where you want to be and doesn’t involve translating someone else’s magic mix into your setting – instead of new, how about amplifying the ‘good bits’ of your existing reality?

A major plus of this approach is that you are starting in your own context with the assets available and already intimately known by you.

The cliched reality that ‘you will get what you focus on’ is your driver here, and it’s a lower key, positive way to create change.

Is your mission to create a completely new culture? Or might it be better to amplify what is already good?


Photo by Letizia Bordoni 

With Uncertainty There Are Always Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have choices such as:

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

Do we choose to love or do we choose to hate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost

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

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

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

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



Today we have a guest post from Saira Boyle. Saira has wide experience in leading schools and  is currently the principal of Mt Hobson Academy based in Auckland. She shares some confronting reality about our job, but also offers solutions that just might be what you need.


What’s your real insurance policy?

Over the last two to three years I have observed, with a mixture of sadness and delight, the steady trickle of principals stepping away from the job. Sadness, as the sector once more takes a punch to the gut, and delight as our colleagues, our people choose LIFE!

Throughout 2021 it was reported that there was a global pattern of people in executive and CEO roles stepping away from the corporate high pressure and choosing jobs with less hours, less pressure, less stress and consequently less remuneration. It was even given a name – The Great Resignation. The two-year plus, COVID roller-coaster saw many people in such high-power roles take stock of what was important in their lives, down-tools, down-size and down-stress in order to gain some sort of balance and satisfaction in living life.

In my first year of Principalship there were many things which jumped up and shocked me, but one of the most memorable was listening to Phil Riley, who had completed some comprehensive research across Australia and New Zealand, talk about Principal wellbeing. I heard him speak twice over a short period of time. First was at the Catholic Schools conference in Wellington and then a few months later, which was my second year of Principalship, at the Beginning Principal conference. I remember the story he told was hard, bleak, and in fact stark, for the future and health of our Principal sector. The first time I heard him speak, I was 43 years old, fit, strong, healthy, a non-drinker, non-smoker, active and indestructible, or so I thought. I grumbled to other ‘young’ colleagues about the doom and gloom he presented and had the all-too-common attitude of ‘not me’.

One line that stuck with me, from his presentations, was that young principals were likely to be impacted hardest. His findings showed that the levels of stress, workhours and general pressure experienced by Principals would see ‘young’ principals work, work, work and then drop. Dead. He discussed that because of the ‘job’, (our sedentary lifestyles and high-pressure experiences), work related, silent killers would creep up on us and without warning, claim us in significant numbers.By the time I heard Phil speak the second time, a few months into my second year, at 44 years old, my attitude had adjusted. I’d had a warning and a serious one at that!

In January of 2018, I woke one morning to a pain in my leg and was diagnosed with a non-provoked blood clot. Watching the doctor snap into action as he worried it could break off and go to my lungs or brain, causing irreversible damage or death, was fairly loud as a wake-up call. I was expected to self-inject blood thinners twice a day, increase my daily activity and drink over 2L of water. The silent killer, of which Phil spoke, had decided to make an appearance and the only thing which could account for it, was stress, ongoing, daily dress. You all know about this, right?

Fast-forward and in 2020, in the middle of lockdown I noticed my right arm was experiencing pain, and my shoulder eventually locked up, unable to move the arm more than a few cm in any direction and in constant pain. I was told it was a frozen shoulder. I started to feel ‘old’ and like the decline was on its way. You may be thinking, we all have pain, we all have illness, why is she telling us this. Well, that is the point! We don’t need to at all.

On reflection, I look back and realise, even with these two health alarm bells, it was only when I experienced a huge and traumatic loss at the end of 2021, did I truly wake up and take action. So often, we miss the small signals, or we don’t stop and take them seriously. But I can assure you, they are there; in the twinge of a muscle, or the ache in your joint, in the upset stomach or the chest tightness, the small signs are there. Our bodies are performing a multitude of actions to keep us alive and well every day, connecting with our minds and inner voice and vice versa. I’ve come to believe we can do one of three things;

  1. Brush the little messages and signs away, explaining them as ‘old age’ (it doesn’t have to be this way)
  2. Numb the signs and signals with pain relief, wine, food and other indulgences (the body will win eventually – and I don’t mean in a good way)
  3. PAUSE and listen; then create a space where you can take time to reflect on the way in which you live your life and decide the small habits you can build every day to TAKE YOURSELF BACK – this is the path to FLOURISHING

I decided to learn more about my body, embark on a course of study and make it something that meant a) I was an absolute novice and b) I could eventually help others to find their own strengths. In the last year I have trained and become a certified personal trainer as well as studying towards the Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing. It was hard being the least experienced after years of being the ‘expert’. It was challenging being the least strong and oldest in the class. But it has been exhilarating studying in an area which has become a passion, and being able to combine my Growth Coaching accreditation, the PT course and education background to help people flourish is amazing!

It does not matter how long you have been in the job it is CRITICAL to prevent yourself from becoming the job. Top tips for the term break:

    • Unhook yourself from the identity of the job, you are not your job, and your school can live without you
    • Engage with a coach or take time to self-reflect to discover your true purpose and passion
    • Make a plan to climb your second mountain before it is too late

Trust me, it is the most re-vitalising thing you can do for yourself. The magic that happens while you do this is in the hearts and minds of those around you. Your children, your partner, your family, your staff, and community. When they see you being a model of wellness, they will notice, and your influence will be tangible. This is leadership.

Hearing my youngest daughter tell me, “Mum, you are thriving now” was the biggest reward I could reap from my actions of daily self-care!

In order to take the leap to discover your purpose and passion, perhaps these simple activities can help:

    • Vitality – focus on clean, nutrient dense food, drinking 2L water daily, increasing the quality and quantity of your sleep, daily movement (building muscle is the best insurance policy of all) and your energy will begin to thrive
    • Simplicity – declutter your life, from your wardrobe to your garage, your friendships to your responsibilities; if it doesn’t serve you, say goodbye
    • Curiosity – spend time getting to know YOU; listen to your body, quiet the mind; self-discovery is the most exciting part of self-care (this is the LEAST selfish thing you can do)
    • Courage – make a list of the things you have always wanted to do and then make a plan and do at least one of them, who cares what people think, it’s your life, live it in love (with yourself)
    • Wisdom – read daily – learn a new skill, learn about being human and use your experience to build upon and write your path forward; don’t leave it to chance
    • Peace – leave the ego based identity at the door, and come home; home to yourself, the real and true you because you are all powerful, perfect, whole and able to climb your second mountain of purpose and passion!

My hope is that by sharing a snippet from my story, of how I’ve gone from Principal to Personal Trainer and Mindset Growth Coach, and thus from perfectionism to peace, you will take away at least one small self-care action to apply to your life during the term break and nurture your wellbeing!

300,000 people die each day around the world and most of them wake up each day, unaware it will be their last. Principals are disproportionate in that number. We are not guaranteed another breath. If there is something you want to do with your life, go do it.

No more waiting.

Be bold.

Love deeply.

Live with purpose, passion and peace.



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Photo by Afra Ramió 

I was speaking to a newly minted principal the other day who was experiencing a strange phenomenon – they were finding their new job fairly easy!

.   .   .

I can still remember my first principalship, a week in and sitting at my new principal desk, with the door shut and no distractions. I sat there looking around and thought something like, “this isn’t as hard as I thought”.

Sure, there were things to do (including quite a bit of teaching back then), but it seemed manageable. There was time to think about what next and a sense of freedom after being in a classroom up until that point. It was a happy feeling. My recollection (to be fair it was a while ago) is that this satisfying, warm feeling lasted about a fortnight.

.   .   .

Somewhere between those initial two weeks and the end of that first year, I found myself working at a pace that made me wonder if stepping out of the classroom had been a serious mistake. Decision making about what to do next had changed from peaceful consideration to being all about priorities and letting things go – even important things at times.

So, what changed?

I think it was moving from a combination of ‘not knowing what I didn’t know’, and the general positivity surrounding me as the ‘new’ leader, to being responsible for everything. It was probably about then that I realised that no one wants an apprentice principal – they want the real deal right from the start.

This common experience is an example of the cumulative ‘weight’ that our role brings over time. The longer you do it, the more stuff you are responsible for. If you stay in a school for longer than 5 years, you are responsible for a whole mountain worth of things, both done and undone.

When you shift schools, the slate is temporarily wiped clean. But the more you know about the job, the quicker you get back to carrying that weight in the new setting. Ignorance can indeed be bliss at times!

What got me thinking this week were the compelling statistics just released by the NZEI (a New Zealand teacher union). Their latest survey of the principal workforce found that 20% overall wanted to leave the profession in the next two years and for new principals, nearly half (47%) wanted out inside of 5 years. But the stat that really stopped me in my tracks was that none, as in zero, nada, zilch felt the job was manageable, and none felt well supported in the role. (The data represents approximately a quarter of all principals in NZ.)

.   .   .

Is it possible to get back to a sense of manageable load like when you first started?

I argue it should be, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it will take collective, system level changes to achieve this. As individuals, many of us are making intentional ‘job design’ decisions but until the system comes on board and starts supporting us, it’s always going to be a compromise.

A while ago, when the 40 Hour Project began, I thought that when enough leaders made sustainable choices in the role we’d reach a sort of ‘critical mass’ and the momentum would force change. I still believe that individuals making smart choices (and being visible about them), is valuable for everyone, but without direct support from our system, individuals are vulnerable.

You could transpose the label ‘system’ for ‘Government’ but it’s more than just that – it’s your Board, local MOE, Senior Advisor . . . all the way to the Minister.

.   .   .

In the meantime, while we wait for the figurative ‘penny to drop’ somewhere, and to celebrate the successes you led over the last 8 weeks, how about investing one hour putting important non-work items on next Term’s calendar. I’m pretty certain you had no trouble adding ‘set in concrete’ items like Board meetings, PLG sessions and your commitment to the duty roster. I suggest you spend your hour, door shut, adding at least two important non-work items into every week – inside of 9am – 3pm (or between 3pm and 5pm if you are at teaching leader). Coffee, friend, walk, gym, read, whanau, hobby, could be possible labels and if you’re feeling a little vulnerable in a shared calendar, use code. This could be the most valuable hour you spend all Term.



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It’s been a while since this blog kicked off – 25 July 2019 to be precise when we published a post by Steve called, “Leave it At the Gate”. Every Friday of Term time since then we’ve pushed out some thoughts to people such as yourself somewhere in the multiverse.

Mid 2019 . . . that really was in another lifetime.

We made the decision to start The 40 Hour Project then because it had become clear that school leaders were under huge pressure to fulfil the role. What should have been an amazing career choice was often simply too hard under the expectations and workloads required. Even the very best, resilient, dedicated and experienced principals were often struggling. There had to be a better way.

So we decided to do some provoking, to mention possible ways of working that just weren’t widely accepted, to challenge some sacred cows and to accept that not everyone would be pleased.

.   .   .

Pre-pandemic, a lot of the discussion was around strategies and tactics for getting to the important work and doing it in ways that were sustainable. It was becoming clear to many that the common model of school leadership had become unhealthy. We’ve talked about some of the reasons before, including the complicated mess of separating a vocation from a job and other people’s mixed-up perceptions.

Regardless of the drivers for where we found ourselves, the reality was simple – if changes weren’t made, good people, doing important work, would continue to be hurt. So we talked about making time to get things done, prioritising personal health, recoiling from ‘busy’ and embracing ‘being professional’.¹

The conversation was eagerly picked up and the momentum gave a clear feeling of change either happening, or at least the possibility being considered.

And then the big disrupter appeared – Wuhan may have been first, but the rest of us caught up quickly.

.   .   .

Two and a half years later things are different.

Everyone has had to adjust and adapt and even our industrial aged education system has had to accept different.

The passionate people out near the edges of our system are working for change. Their calls are often based selflessly in quests for equity – for the children and young people we work with. They are challenging traditional curriculum delivery models and even the nature of education itself. And while our huge, ponderous education system is very hard to move, no one can deny the need.

However, stuck in between the shifting plates of the status quo, and possible new ways, are you, the leaders.

I believe this battle for the future has complicated and obscured some of the simpler messages of The 40 Hour Project. The damn virus itself makes it tough to build new habits when at any given time you, or other key people in your school, can be out of action.

But despite this, the need for change has never been greater. With plenty of experienced leaders stepping away from the role, there are an equal number of new leaders stepping up and that fact equals opportunity. The opportunity is now for those who are working with our newest leaders – their habits aren’t set . . . yet.

A very recent example that reinforces this point is the way people have reacted to an unprecedented action by the Ministry of Ed. All new principals were given a large sum of money to spend on themselves, to support their well-being. Strings unattached!! I know many of our American followers will find it very hard to believe a Government would do this, but trust me, for those of us in the New Zealand system, it is equally amazing.

This gift illustrates how experience builds expectation.

Those receiving the gift are surprised (and hopefully very happy) and from this point onwards in their careers will live with the possibility that sometimes someone in power will notice they are working damn hard under pressure and try to help.

Those more experienced have never seen such a thing and wonder if it is just some random anomaly probably never to be seen again. Years of not being noticed take their toll.

Regardless of your perspective, the fact is that it has happened and so for me represents the shifts that are possible and in this case tangible.

Someone far enough up the food chain in the Ministry has noticed that leaders are struggling and has convinced the money holders to act. I don’t think this would have happened pre-pandemic.

It is now our collective job to encourage this type of thinking, to shift it from an anomaly to a business-as-usual scenario where the system looks after the very people who have the biggest responsibility and the biggest impact – you.


¹ Professional = working in ways that are both effective and sustainable.

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Photo by Aren Nagulyan

It’s been another interesting week to be a 40 Hour Principal. And as usual, the challenge is partly around the doing, and partly around the mental load of juggling too many balls at the same time.

But there’s also another challenge that is becoming more and more evident in conversation with people both inside and outside of our day jobs – there’s a sense of ‘waiting’.

Danny Nicholls, in his guest post a couple of week ago, touched on the topic of the ‘inertia’ that is currently gripping many of us. As he put it, we are stuck and with that comes a real sense of waiting. Those with major disruption gripping their schools are waiting for it to be over. Those who haven’t reached that stage yet are waiting for it to start.

As an example, everywhere I go I’m hearing people verbalising some version of, “I just want to catch it and get it over with” (in reference to Covid). There’s a feeling that each of us is in a limbo of sorts until we have our turn (to get sick) with the implied upside being that life will get back to normal afterwards. Job done.

But, what if it doesn’t? What if this roller coaster goes for much longer?

From my own, non-expert perspective, it’s looking more likely by the day that this adventure we are part of is here for the longer haul. If I look at what is happening in countries that beat us to their virus peaks, getting sick (or at least testing positive), does not give people a ‘free pass’ to resume normal life. While the exact science is still unknown, the best our Government experts will give us is a 90 day warranty . . .

.   .   .

Waiting for our ‘turn’ certainly creates inertia. It can bog us down in a mental holding pattern that is limiting to both productive leadership and personal happiness. I can feel it in myself.

So what to do? I believe some of the answer is be found in how we choose to think about it. As we patently can’t control the virus, we need to focus on where we do have some control – our thinking.

If we park all the conflicting thoughts we have about this pandemic, just for a moment, and pretend that our new normal is that people, including ourselves, may periodically become unwell, what changes?

What mindset and approaches would you change if this were true?

For me, everything.

  • I would stop trying to manage staff absences through a combination of ninja like scheduling skills and crossed fingers.

Absences would be expected and either we would have more staffing capacity or different allocations of responsibilities. All classes would be accessible onsite and offsite.

  • We wouldn’t be talking about whether children have a fortnight’s learning activities accessible at home.

Children at home would engage with the same learning opportunities as children at school.

  • Communication with families would be completely different.

Because new systems had been setup and a new norm created, communication would be focused on the learning – not the fact that people might be temporarily isolating.

  • The shape and intention of our curriculum plans would be much different.

Curriculum would reflect the essential skills and competencies that students need to learn effectively both in a classroom and in a home.

  • Priorities for personal wellness would look different . . .

Maintaining the best health possible would become a key focus area – at least on a par with a school’s current ‘core’ subjects. The new school organisation would reflect that focus.

The list is endless really.

Our planning and thinking would have to stop being reactive and start being proactive. There are lots of clever people in education working on exactly this. For example, one topic that is being talked about a lot is ‘hybrid’ models of teaching where the whole curriculum delivery is set up to work regardless of whether a student is physically onsite or offsite. Much of the conversation has been about temporary arrangements, but an increasing amount is around a possible new normal.

The bottom line is that this current sense of waiting has to be challenged, because as a school leader it stops progress, and as a human it is exhausting. I’m not suggesting in any way that we can ignore the reality of what is happening in our schools, but I am suggesting that to start looking at some parts of what we are doing as long term, is potentially an energising and ‘freeing’ way to think. It shifts the feeling from  holding on and reacting, to one of possibility.

What do you think?



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Photo by Stephen Hui  

You’ve probably all heard the saying, “never waste a good crisis” which was originally attributed to Winston Churchill and has now been recycled a million times (particularly in the world of business where one person’s ‘crisis’ is another person’s ‘opportunity’ – e.g. no one is quibbling about the cost of vaccines right now . . . ).

I think a global pandemic qualifies as a crisis and while that is largely a bad thing, one upside is that it creates a climate of change – the status quo gets a non-negotiable slapping.

There are big meta challenges to solve – global vaccination, redistribution of food resources as economies struggle, and a world supply chain that is creaking badly.

At the next level down countries have to change how they support (or not) people who can’t work, how their borders will operate in the future, and how to keep their people safe.

Below these lofty change needs, deep in the system called public education, is you.

And it’s very likely that you need to change something too – not necessarily something forced on you by the pandemic, but something that will make you both sustainable (better) as a school leader and as a person. The pandemic just brings with it a general sense of the cosmos shifting, and with that feeling, change seems more possible.



In my case,  I’m currently part of a Springboard Trust Coaching for Leadership programme focused on strengthening our leadership team, and to do my part, I need to make some changes.

While I know that the science of change management is a well researched field and that many clever people have created excellent models to guide us through the process, I’m currently just focusing on a very simple little tactic – the interesting fact that changing something small somehow creates momentum towards bigger things.  

Strange as it may sound, by tweaking a couple of small daily habits, I definitely notice my ability to consider bigger change is easier. Couple that with the ‘opportunity’ of a crisis (a general feeling of change) and now becomes an excellent time to work towards better.

What I’m doing:

Getting up 45 minutes earlier than usual.

I’m not doing a full Power Hour as Saira Boyle has shared, but instead have focused on only a couple of elements at this time. Firstly, I don’t look at any screens. I open up the curtains and let the day share its light. As it’s getting warmer I’m going outside and I’m the only one there. Once I’ve spent a couple of minutes being still (is that meditation?), I head inside, get a coffee and read a section of a thought provoking book (currently Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris). Then I journal a few thoughts that link to what I’ve read. 

I know that sounds incredibly low key and simple but I can promise you it sets a different tone for the day. And I think that’s the key – it’s different. (The other small change I’ve made is to swop my habit of listening to news channels with listening to music. A sense of FOMO made that tricky for the first couple of days but now it feels really good.)

We’ve talked lots about habits and the relentless pull towards the status quo in other posts, but by making the really simple changes above, I think I’ve moved my figurative wagon wheel out of it’s constraining rut just a little bit. Once free, even just a tiny bit, it can start to take a new path.

If you too have some important things to improve, I think a great way to get started is to just change something small in your daily routine. You may be surprised at the mental shift that comes from this, and combined with the general sense of change in our world, things can happen.



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“You can’t please all the people all the time”.

These words are often quoted after a particularly drawn out or stressful event. They are a figurative shrug of the shoulders that signals an end point.

But the truth is that for many of us there is a lot of angst that comes before this point. And a lot of it comes because we don’t want to upset people, in fact we don’t want to upset anyone.

Early on in my educational adventure, I often found myself in that camp.



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.

So, what are some signs that you are operating in this trap? Here are some  common ones.

  1. You pretend to agree with everyone

When people are discussing a topic, it is not your job to agree with everything they are saying. That’s a low trust position. Professionals can (and should) disagree at times.

  1. You apologise often

This is sometimes a default habit. If your opinion, or leadership call, is made thoughtfully, you have zero to be sorry for. This doesn’t mean it’s OK not to care, but your best decision is your best and that’s nothing to apologise for.

  1. You often feel burdened by the things you have to do

Despite the reality that you are in charge of your own schedule, it’s possible that you are doing some things merely to please others. As an example, if you ever stay onsite later than you need to, because of what people might think if you left earlier, then that’s a red flag.

  1. You struggle to say “no”

This is a common one – your calendar is already full of things but when that keen sounding person asks if you will do something, you feel bad saying “no” – regardless of whether the new thing meets the definition of important work.

  1. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you

Anger is a complex emotion and often has very little to do with the person it’s projected onto (you are probably innocent!). It’s also true that many leaders find it very uncomfortable if others are annoyed at them – fairly or unfairly.

  1. You frequently need praise to feel good

Praise makes everyone feel good. However, some of us like that external affirmation so much that we change our behaviours to get it. Not necessarily a good thing.

  1. You avoid conflict at all costs

Conflict at some level is a part of making change and if you aren’t willing to offend anyone, you may easily become ineffective in pursuing the important work.



Can you see aspects of yourself in this list? I certainly could, and at some level still can!

For myself, I have made significant change in how much (or not) energy that I put into trying to please people. It’s taken time, and at certain points in my career some deliberate effort to get a better balance. The key for me has been around being clear about  what’s important because once I did that, many of the negative emotions or feelings I would once have tried to avoid became so much easier to manage. Clarity gives purpose.

And of course, none of this is meant to say you should aim to be “tough” or unkind. The complete opposite really – a school leader’s important work is always to do with people, and seeking better outcomes for them comes with the strong possibility of disapproval from others.

The real question isn’t, “how can I keep everyone happy?” but, “who am I willing to offend?” 



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Photo by timJ 

The 40 Hour Project is all about making positive change, but often it seems really hard for people to do this. There are factors at play that leave people doing the same old/same old despite the reality that they have many options.

There’s definitely the drag of the status quo at play, but there’s also the very personal thing we call ‘belief’.

Belief is more than facts and logic, it’s a complicated mix of experiences, values, personality and emotion.

This post from one of our favourite thought leaders, Seth Godin, sums it up perfectly –

Belief and knowledge

They’re different.

Knowledge changes all the time. When we engage with the world, when we encounter data or new experiences, our knowledge changes.

But belief is what we call the things that stick around, particularly and especially in the face of changes in knowledge.

While more knowledge can change belief, it usually doesn’t. Belief is a cultural phenomenon, created in conjunction with the people around us.

The easy way to discern the two: “What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”

Yesterday, you rolled up to school having chosen the time, what you wore, and any number of other small things that collectively make up who you are as a leader.

You chose what the important work was, whether you let people interrupt you, what you ate (or didn’t) for lunch, where in the school you were present, which meetings you attended, and when you went home. Once home you decided whether or not to continue working and for how long.

In essence, your day unfolded in a way that you created. It reflected the beliefs that you held as a leader.

And maybe it was awesome in many respects – but – what about the bits that were potentially ineffective or came with negative consequences for you? Things like skipping exercise because you were too busy, or being so accessible that your day was a blur of other people’s needs, or missing your own children’s sports in the weekend because you were busy supporting your school teams . . .

And it’s hard to change because what you believe a school leader is/does/should do, shapes your actions and choices.

A belief is not a fact, it is a mental picture constructed by you.

If you can apply that truth to something that needs to change, it will help you reframe your thinking.

A real-world example for me involves my own change from spinning the figurative hamster wheel most days, to taking control of some parts of every day. I used to believe it was vital to be super accessible to everyone, but over time I realised that by doing so, I often neglected the important work (or at least did it later when I should have been resting/re-energising). Once I finally realised that I wasn’t doing anyone a favour by working like that, my belief changed and I changed. (I’m a big fan of a technique called ‘batching’.)

Seth’s closing question sums up our challenge –

What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”

One way to see something differently, comes from using a longer lenses to sharpen up the reasons for making change. You can read  more about this in another post – Asking The Uncomfortable Question.

If there’s a bit (or a lot!) of your job that just isn’t working well for you, it’s time to consider whether what you believe about the role needs to be challenged.



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Photo by David Holifield


You probably know the metaphor of “the carrot and the stick” where a stubborn donkey needs to be encouraged to move. There are two basic options (as donkeys are hard to push around). You can dangle a carrot just in front of its nose and, if hungry, the donkey will move forward. The other option is to whack it on its hind quarters with a stick (no donkeys were harmed in the creation of this metaphor). If the “stick” hurts enough, the donkey again moves forward.

However, the ultimate donkey moving tactic involves both the threat of the stick and the promise of the carrot used at the same time. It’s more likely to work than either option individually.



In the 40 Hour Project we usually focus on the good things that you can expect by making healthy leadership/lifestyle choices – the carrots.

The problem is that human nature seems to predispose us to take a short term view of any possible rewards. If the reward is immediate, we are more likely to buy in than if the reward is several months or years away.

For example, if we buy a lottery ticket each week we get the immediate thrill of possibility, but we could save the $20 and at years end have a guaranteed $1040. Not many people take option two (even though it is almost certain to be a better reward).

It’s the timeframe that stops us being smarter.



So today, I want to mention a motivation technique that’s all about the stick rather than the carrot.

This tactic is one that Tim Ferriss uses regularly to help make uncomfortable changes (he calls it fear setting).  Tim argues that if a change needs to be made, staying with the status quo is not a neutral position – it comes with a cost.

He starts by asking the tough question, “if I don’t make a change, what will it cost myself, those I’m responsible for (e.g. my school) and those who care about me?”

Some examples are health costs, financial costs, family costs, and happiness costs.

To expose the costs more, you put a timeframe on them. What will the status quo cost me in 6 months, 12 months, 3 years, 10 years?

Here’s  a simple example using a health cost:

Let’s pretend you love donuts and you regularly buy them from the awesome bakery conveniently located just down the road from your school. When you’re feeling generous (or guilty!), you buy them for your team as well. This is fun, until you visit your doctor and she  points out (annoyingly) that you’ve gained 3 kilos since she saw you last year.

We can plot the future pain using Tim’s method:

Weight change in:
6 months + 1.5kgs
12 months + 3kgs
3 years + 9kgs
10 years + 30kgs

You can see that the timeframe magnifies the reality of not making a change. 1.5kgs worth of “stick” might not be enough to move you at all, but somewhere between that and 30kgs it becomes a lot more compelling!

You can apply this method to a whole range of other areas. The only initial self-discipline needed is to ask the uncomfortable question of yourself and to plot out the “costs” so you can clearly see the situation evolving in your future.

A work example that I have used is around time spent sitting. It seems the longer I’m a school leader, the more time I spend on my butt. I’ve seen the media reports about what this means to the future me and I don’t like it!

I used this “fear” idea and worked out that I was sitting approximately 30 minutes longer each day than I did a couple of years ago. This was of course just a guess, but I then plotted it on a timeframe. You can do  the maths but it looked bad to me!




The bit of this process that stirs some worry (the stick) is the way a negative thing amplifies over time. This little exercise has meant I’m way more conscious of how much sitting I do – I now try to stand up if someone comes in when I’m sitting down, I have an easy to use standing option on my desk, and I make sure I go for regular walks around our site ‘just because’ (which is easy to do in a school!)

Have a go, pick something that in your gut, you know is holding you back as a person (and of course as a school leader) and ask yourself that uncomfortable question – “what will it cost me/my family/my school if I don’t make a change?”

I’ve found it even more compelling when I write it down.



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Photo by Raul Varzar

Those of you back in the land of Level 3 lockdown (NZ context) have my utmost sympathy. There’s no easy way to run a school under these conditions and you have a massive task on your hands. Kia kaha – you are in my Level 2 thoughts!

This week I’m “piggy backing” off Steve’s suggestion that right now, amongst the uncertainty, is when we need to take half a step back from the action and reflect.

For those of you in Level 3 the status quo of school is gone. For those of us (a little nervously) sitting in Level 2, we know we might join you at any time.

Now is the time to seriously consider change.

A while ago we discussed the idea of making small, incremental changes to arrive at a new “normal” – 1% better as James Clear would say.

But I believe right now is the perfect time to by-pass that timeline and jump to a new position. To metaphorically advance around the Monopoly board and choose where you land.

Now equals opportunity.

.   .   .

So here’s my challenge – 

Find one aspect of the usual way of working at your school that through the lens of this pandemic, is no longer fit for purpose.

I’m talking about things like:

the number of physical meetings each week.

aspects of your school’s reporting

expectations around teachers being onsite

the shape of your lunch rosters

the amount of extra-curricular activities

the values you say are most important

This list is as long as your imagination!

A fundamental test you can apply is to ask people “why” something is done. If the answer comes back with some variation of, “because that’s how we’ve always done it”, you know you have a likely candidate.

I’m not suggesting that you go nuts and change lots of things, or even much at all – just one.

One thing that is now redundant because the world is shifting, and to be relevant, your school needs to shift too. One thing that might just start the change process that our students need.

When you pause for a moment, with the pandemic shining a light over your shoulder, what do you see?




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When your team’s winning you don’t change the captain – even if they are an arse. When your school maths results are going up you don’t bring in a new system – even though some individuals are failing. When it’s Mothers’ Day you don’t suggest that chocolates are unhealthy – even though Mum . . .

If change is needed, success or failure often relies on timing. Particularly changes to things that have been around for a long time, because then you are dealing with the status quo.

However, a global pandemic is a game changer, it’s a crisis. And for those interested in change, it is huge opportunity.

.  .  .

A couple of weeks ago, Steve wrote about time and pace in the (then) locked down world and it really struck a chord with people both inside, and outside of, our game. (Check it out here if you missed it.) There was agreement that the conditions he described were real and good. He had put his finger on something that many others were thinking and feeling too.

It seems many of us recognised positive side effects of being in lockdown. Somewhat counter intuitively, there is an almost “wistful” recognition that what we’re experiencing is about to disappear.

Of course, there’s a scale of stress versus happiness that obviously drives our own viewpoint. We all had different experiences: kids or not, work requirements, what the local school expected, whether another person was with you, money security . . . there were as many variations as there were bubbles.

But despite these things, the “good bits” still managed to show through.

Amongst the stress and mess people noticed, and as we move closer to a lifting of restrictions, we can see aspects of life that are better than we had before.

And we want to keep them!

Lots of people agree – I asked our school community what they valued about the lockdown period and received this response. It neatly encapsulates the other replies I got and is written with honesty and a real sense of possibility –

Time to be bored! A very unfamiliar feeling for a lot of our family as life has just become so routine, busy and we find ourselves in automatic pilot. We ‘get through’ the week, so we can enjoy the weekends… a huge imbalance!

We have been reflecting on what we can do to slow life down a little bit during the week so that this isn’t the case. Do we need to work so much? We did not realise how much money we spend on unnecessary items and how this money would be better spent working less and spending it on time! Time is the most precious thing that we will value from this experience. It gave us the opportunity to get back to some old fashioned fun- creating new and creative ways to spend time together! Previously the thought was “where should we go?” – this has now changed.

When I hear my child say “I’m bored” I’m so grateful that he has the opportunity to be bored. So, so many valuable things learnt. My children valued the first time they got into the car because for once they didn’t have to bike or walk- this is a luxury! They were excited to receive mail, to see their teachers online, to do art, to play music- to play board games- those are all things I hope we will continue to enjoy as a family!”

So, for many of us, a question has started floating around in our heads; “how do I deal with my real-life obligations and retain the good bits of working/living from home?”

And the good bits seem, person to person, surprisingly consistent:

  • Time – to cook, to pause, to read, to get stuff done . . .
  • Connection with family
  • Connection with passion hobbies (your identity)
  • Exercise (maybe that’s about time as well?)

They all add up to a slower pace of life, – a sort of “hello the sixties, I wish I’d known you” type wistfulness.

It seems that working from home, or at least being at home more, gives us things that were so often absent in “the old normal”. And they are things that we will miss.

Unless .  .  .

Unless we choose to keep some of them.

.  .  .

I recently stumbled across a quote from Noah Kagan, a well-known entrepreneur, where he says, “ . . . for anything important, you don’t find time. It’s only real if it’s on the calendar.”

That’s truth right there. When you have a meeting with your leadership team, it’s on the calendar. When you want to see what is happening next week, you check the calendar. Meeting your appraiser? Yes, it’s on the calendar.

Have you considered putting some of the good bits of “working from home” on your calendar?

Because you could.




There’s been a great video circulating on social media recently by Tomos Robertson AKA Tom Foolery called The Great Realisation. Maybe you’ve seen it. It really is wonderful and follows a line that David and I have been promoting for a while now. In our current climate of lockdown and isolation it’s come into even more focus. Put simply this is the notion that our old “normal” wasn’t really the wonderful place that we all thought it was, and that we are now in a unique position to re-image a “new normal”. This is what Robertson calls the “Great Realisation”.

If I was going to design a new Tee Shirt it would have the slogan; “Join the Realisation Revolution

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit guilty that I’m not that excited about going back to school. In reality what I’m probably not excited about is going back to an old normal

To be honest, I’m tired. For the rest of this paragraph I’ll use the royal “we” here because I’m sure that you’re just like me. We’ve had over 40 days in lockdown. We’ve moved mountains to make home learning a reality, we’ve sweated a lot of small stuff, and we’ve made plenty of big decisions. We’ve all been asked to act in a manner that none of us was ever trained for. But yet we’ve all stepped up and done it. We’ve told our communities not to panic, and that we’ve got this. We’ve worked hard to create a sense of calm and normality even when we’ve fretted about going from Level 4 into Level 3, and now into Level 2.  Wow. No wonder I’m feeling the way I do.

As a result I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed. 

At times like this I find it’s useful to start giving the logical side of my brain a bit of a work out. 

Invariably this leads to thoughts about how I can best rationalise the situation.

There are a few rationalised points that come to mind instantly:

1. We are all in this together …. I’m not alone. There must be hundreds of thousands of Principals world wide also going through the same situation. Certainly in New Zealand alone that figure has to be at least 3,500. There’s likely to be plenty of Principals feeling the same way. This isn’t a time then to think in an insular manner, quite the opposite – it’s time to connect.

2. Nothing is forever … this is a very powerful thought. In the old days we’d used to say, “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish’n’chip paper”. Largely it’s the same with problems and circumstances. Today’s issue is old hat by tomorrow – or at least by next week. New things will have come and gone. Think about where your thinking was this time 6 months ago, three months ago, or even three days ago. Things change, things move. We’re in a very fluid time of our lives, but it won’t be like this forever. As a result of  this going back to an “old normal” doesn’t have to be the way if I don’t want it to be. There is time to consider a “new normal” and to embrace that on our return. 

3. There is always an upside…. Sometimes it is hard to find the silver lining, but over the last 40 days there have been many examples of “extreme positivism”. From a professional point of view I look at my staff and feel so proud. They have all stepped up in so many ways that six weeks ago I would never have thought possible. Yes there have been some bumpy times and things often haven’t gone to plan, but yet they’ve pulled together and done an amazing job. This will have a huge benefit when it is time to head back to school. As a result our new normal can be quite different to our old normal.

4. Where there are challenges there is room for personal growth … things happen and opportunities arise. The logical side of my mind opens up to all the new learning and growth that I’ve been a part of over the last six weeks. I’ve grown, and not just because I’ve eaten a lot of baking! And quite frankly it’s time to use that growth to consider new ways of doing the same old sh#t!

So as we head into the new uncertainties of COVID-19 Level 2 and we all get our team back together under the same roof, look for those opportunities to connect with your people about what the new normal might look like. I imagine that they too will be feeling like you. 

You could start by using a simple PMI about the experiences that your team had during lockdown from both an educational and personal point of view. Find the commonalities, look for ways to take on board the positive ideas in a school based format. 

One of my favourite bands, R.E.M used to sing a song called, “It’s the end of the world and I feel fine”. Originally  released in 1987 it is now back in the charts throughout the world as people use it as a rallying call for change. We might not change everything, there may be things totally out of our control, but for those things that you and your team can change to improve lives then now is the hour. Join the Realisation Revolution!


The other day I found myself looking over my wife’s shoulder as she viewed a clip on line from comedian and TV personality Miranda Hart. Some of you may know her show, “Miranda”.

“Turn that up,” I said to Helen, “what did she just say?”.

Miranda was talking about life in lockdown and the pressures, stresses and uncertainties that this created for everyone. And then she quoted a guy called Dave Hollis which really took my liking;

“Hear this: in the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

Bang! Wow! What a great thing to say. And on he went; 

“If things go back exactly as they were we will have missed the opportunity to take the good from this bad.

The gift nobody’s asked for is sitting here for us all to open — an opportunity to do some housekeeping in where we focus, who we spend time with, what we consume, how we work, what matters and most importantly what doesn’t.

Take notes. We’re getting a lesson we cannot forget when things return to normal.”

I liked what this guy Dave was saying. 

On his Facebook page, he describes himself in this way; “Every day Dude, In love with Rachel Hollis, Dad x4 Dominating the roads, NYTimes best selling author”

I like this description greatly. I don’t even know the guy but in a very small precis he’s told me he’s not a big noter. He’s just an every day guy who loves his wife and family. Oh, and he’s a NY Times best selling author – but that bit comes last.

It resonates with me because it’s essentially what David Armstrong and I have been promoting in the Forty Hour Principal project over the last year. We spend so much of our time in our professional lives leading, sorting, being accountable, mentoring, writing screeds of words, connecting, relating and being “fully there”. By the time it’s time for our other life, when we leave school each day, there’s so often little left but to collapse on the couch and nap away the evening in a state of exhaustion. At present I imagine that our professional Facebook pages would all read like mine; Steve Zonnevylle, Principal. Full Stop.

I want to be more like David Hollis’ Facebook precis. I want any description of me to start with the most important things. I want to be proud to be a principal, but I don’t want it to define me. As I’ve said in previous posts, I want my principalship to be a part of who I am, but not all of who I am. 

Last year, the other Dave (David Armstrong) wrote a great piece in our book “The Forty Hour Principal” called, “Be Slacker to Be Better”. Like the title of our book, the notion of trying to be slacker than normal in our roles is totally alien (as is the notion of actually working a forty hour week).

For most, using the words ‘slacker’ and ‘principal’ in the same sentence is akin to blasphemy. Recently we were asked to present at a meeting and we were keen to call our talk “Be Slacker Better”. However, the organisers quite rightly pointed out that many would see the notion of this as being almost disrespectful or rude. We could see their point.

.  .  .

So what is the point that we’re trying to make, and how does it relate to Dave Hollis’ invitation of not rushing back to normal?

Being Slacker Better is a call to arms. And when better than now, when we all have a bit of time on our hands to think things through to start to consider what a new normal might look like.

Plenty of people are talking up the premise that education will be different when we get out of isolation. If that is the case, then we should also be talking about the role that we play, and how we play it as principals.

We certainly aren’t advocating becoming slack. Instead, we want you to step up and look at the way you do your job. Take time to look at the habits you’ve bought into over time.  Take time to assess the way you want to live your life. Big questions. But you’ve got some time on your hands, so why not do it now?

Take a look at some of the things that you do now that you personally would consider slack if you did them differently. Don’t worry about the other side of the coin – things that other people would consider slack if you did them differently. This is your journey, not theirs. 

For example: 

  • What if you didn’t write so much in your Board Report? (Someone once said if you can’t explain it simply then you don’t actually understand what you’re talking about.)
  • What if you worked at home two days a term?
  • What if you left school at 4:00pm on those quieter days?
  • What if you closed the door of your office and made yourself unavailable more often?
  • What if you spent more time in classrooms and felt confident that administration trivia always has a habit of getting done tomorrow, or the next day?
  • What if you didn’t have so many meetings?
  • What if you viewed your role as the key relationship maker/connector instead of the key educator?
  • What if you looked to maximise your own talents within the school setting more?
  • What if you decided not to sweat the small stuff?
  • What would happen if …………..?

The list goes on, and is limited only by the questions you ask yourself. In the end, Being Slacker Better is less about some internalised concept of slackness, and more about finding those things that are actually the most important and getting to them more often by being efficient. 

With efficiency comes time. Not time to do more at school, but time to do more in the rest of your life. This is a very important point. It underlines the premise that being a principal is part of your life, not your whole life.

So to paraphrase Dave Hollis; in the rush to return to normal, let’s use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to and change those things that are not.



(What do you think? Add your voice in the comments below, or over on The Forty Hour Principal Facebook page.)