Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Can you remember when you were sick for a few days 5 years ago? What about a year ago? Me either. I can remember the times I broke a bone or had some sort of medical intervention, but not the times a seasonal bug flattened me for a few days. I know it happened but it’s not important.

So, what does that prove?

Firstly, we can safely assume that everything turned out OK. That urgent work was either not as urgent as we thought, or someone else dealt with it.

Secondly, the worry involved in deciding whether to stay home was a tragic waste of life energy.

Unless you are one of the tiny minority of people with bullet-proof immunity, or luck, you will sometimes become unwell. We work in very close proximity to a lot of children, and they are essentially little human Petrie dishes in the winter months.

But here you are this morning, beating yourself up about needing to stay home even though you feel like rubbish.

Perhaps you’ve got an ERO review happening (who’s feeling déjà vu at the latest version of the model?). Perhaps there’s a Board meeting tonight. Perhaps an angry parent has a twice delayed meeting scheduled . . . Pick your pain.

As leaders we operate from a position of supporting people, trusting them and setting a good example, but here we are seriously considering doing exactly the opposite, by:

  • Working at 50% capacity
  • Spreading germs to others in our schools
  • Not trusting our teams and systems to deal with our absence
  • Modelling the wrong thing to do when sick
  • Sending a message that we think we are indispensable

Don’t do it.

Message your leadership team, crank up the heater, and head back to bed. The only person standing in the way of this sensible, professional response is you.


Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona 

Ok, so I’m a bit of a slow learner. That’s probably no surprise to some of you, let alone me!

I’ve just come across OSHO’s wonderful quote. He says; “Creativity is the greatest rebellion in existence.”

Ooooh! I like that! I’ve always fancied a bit of rebellion, or at least the prospect of it – that feeling that you’re doing something out of the norm, out of the ordinary, pushing the boundaries, shaking the tree.

I like that a lot.

Osho, for those of you like me who didn’t/don’t know, is an Indian Spiritual Guru and this quote comes from his best selling book “Creativity, Unleashing The Forces Within”.

Google tells me that “Osho highlights the fact that creativity is much more than a simple act; it’s a profound form of rebellion against the conventional boundaries and the restrictive nature of our daily existence”.

I like that too! I like that a lot.

So, in this changing world impacted with the likes of AI, I wondered where in education the greatest rebellion might be currently found.

Unsurprisingly I found it where it always has been; in our Early Childhood Centres and Kindergartens.

In these places you walk through the door and you see un-abound creativity everywhere, and anywhere. 

I think you’d struggle to find anywhere on the planet where such unabashed creativity is produced in such an unrestrictive and supportive manner.

What’s more, these creative souls (yes it’s the 2-5 year olds I’m talking about) go about their acts of daily rebellion in a constant state of “I don’t care”. 

Yeah, sure, they’re learning to care – as they look for the acknowledgement like signs from their teachers, care-givers and parents. But on the whole I can’t imagine any three year old in the world who starts their finger painting masterpiece with the thoughts, “how will this be accepted? and is it acceptable?”

Around these three year olds is a lovely caring and supportive bubble wrap like layer of safety. It’s provided by the state, or the private institution and it comes in the form of the teacher. This layer of safety allows for our children to be almost as rebellious as they want as they go about making sense of their new world.

As I said, it’s hard to imagine a place on earth that is so free in regards to this creativity. 

As children get older and they move through our education systems, the significance of the safety bubble wrap and its use, becomes diluted.

This dilution, or constraint, is done on many different layers; by peer pressure; by family expectations; by societal “norms”; and by the institutions themselves who are also under the same constraints.

Creativity is inherently fueled by risk taking. Our three year olds are encouraged to take risks – in fact they often don’t even comprehend that a risk is even there. 

This is called play. And they learn about risks by doing stuff in their play.

By the time our kids find themselves further up the school system this risk taking/play aspect of creativity is often non-existent.

And to compound things more our teachers are often so risk-averse themselves that the creativity rebellion is well and truly about to be extinguished.

Enter AI stage left.

On first glance it appears that maybe, just maybe the rebellion is about to be reignited!

But on closer inspection I wonder if AI just gives us the opportunity to take risk taking out of the creative equation altogether.

I’ve always thought that the risk taking part of being creative is the part that makes us truly human. It’s the part that adds the spice to the process!! It’s like the wrapping on a present at Christmas time – until the wrapping is taken away there’s always the uncertainty left about what has been created; it’s an anticipation that is intoxicating.

Being creative has never been totally risk free – unless of course we’re all living in a kindergarten world – so why would we allow AI to take this away from us?

Surely, if we are going to embrace AI into the creative realm (and to be honest it looks like we have no choice), then the time is now to be actively encouraging our teachers to take real life risks in their classrooms.

This means looking at what “Being Creative” really looks like. It means celebrating this often – as in, getting really excited about human creativity! 

And it means reigniting the flame and letting the rebellion take hold.



A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece that said when I get sad I get awesome. 

Well, I try to at least. 

And in the article I encouraged leaders to go out and find their “awesome trigger” – that thing that fires the belly!

For me, my awesome trigger is finding something that will get my creative juices flowing. This means finding those things, even in the most mundane during our professional lives that can be turned into something a little bit more interesting. 

There is a caveat to this though. And a risk or two. 

Firstly, the caveat.

Your awesome trigger can’t and shouldn’t be overbearing for others. 

One thing that is vital about being a Principal or any leader really, is your ability to be humble. 

If you’ve got an awesome trigger that suddenly, and unexpectedly takes away from the shine of something already happening in your school, well you’re looking for trouble. Use your trigger to add to the experiences of your school for sure – but the crucial point is to add, or enhance what is already there. Not to build work load or expectations.

Conference Syndrome is a classic example of this. I know of some instances where staff had dreaded the return of their Principal from a conference – packed full of new ideas and “exciting” initiatives that just simply had to be done right here and right now! A conference can certainly be an awesome trigger. What’s better than hanging out with colleagues knee deep in the same stuff you are, but getting to hear face to face how these situations have played out and have been overcome. I love conference time!

But your particular awesome trigger shouldn’t add to anyone else’s work load. Yes it can be used to inspire others and it can be used to promote ideas, but be wary that there will be some on your staff who see your trigger as something different altogether. And that will worry them, especially so if it is out of the blue!

Knowing your staff and having your finger on the pulse of the energy level of your team is therefore not only vital, it’s a no brainer. Running with your latest awesome trigger, jumping around like the Principal Loon that you are, yes it’s mighty fun and often infectious, but there are times when it’s not advised.

During these times find another awesome trigger.

It’s these sort of doubts that tend to plague us all the time. What’s good for me? Is it good for you? Is this the right time? When is the right time? 

And then Covid rears its’ ugly head as well.

Covid has had an impact on us all. No doubt about that. And it’s this on-going unknown impact that is, well…. unknown. We all have teachers and staff heading back from their “Covid Duty” at varying levels of readiness. Many come back too early. They feel pressured to come back to school and to bring some normality back to the children in their class and to support the staffing of the school. Much of this pressure is self initiated. It doesn’t help though when their Covid App bings on their phones and tells them that the isolation time is up and it’s safe to return. 

Covid Crush is a term I’m using at the moment to describe a steady, but nevertheless unrelenting build up of pressure in our schools. Staff head away on Covid Duty, come back, as others depart – the cycle of coming and going is constant. But those who come back always seem willing, but they’re not always able. They are tired, really tired. And they join a group at school who are already tired, really tired.

And yet we expect everyone to carry on, pick up where they left off. Because let’s face it, our new normal is pretending that the old normal (pre-Covid) is the new normal. It’s not.

Managing this takes a new level of Awesome Trigger from the Principal and Professional Leader. Especially so when you’re also a victim of Covid Crush. You’re in a unique position in your school though. You are both a recipient of the crush and also a potential cause. You have the power to slow it all down, irrespective of the external pressures from the Ministry of Education, or the Auditors or the Education Review Office or the ….. The list of external agencies is extensive. Creating these pressures is no doubt exasperated by their own internal Covid Crush. It’s a nasty cycle. I wish that someone would just put a halt to it all.

In a perfect world everyone would say let’s just stop for a cup of tea. Let’s stop fussing about economic growth; let’s stop fussing about margins; let’s stop fussing about finding those gaps and then plugging them with resources we don’t have; let’s stop worrying about the goals in our strategic plan. Let’s just stop and have a breather. 

And take that crush of pressure out of the Covid Crush.

It’s about now that I can hear John Lennon’s “Imagine” playing in the background! I’m trying to be funny here.

So maybe the work around is to redesign your awesome trigger. Maybe your awesome trigger is actually to say, stop, it’s cup of tea time. Those parent interviews and reports scheduled for the end of term? Maybe they’d be better half way into next term. Those strategic goal targets? Maybe it’s time to park them for a term and to rewrite the timeframe. That review of localised curriculum design? Would it matter if it was postponed until summer? That constant drive for perfection and accountability? Mmmmm, what would really happen if we took the foot off the pedal and avoided words such as “accelerating progress”, just for a little while.

The best place to start is to watch and listen to your people. Their collective wellbeing during Covid Crush is your new awesome trigger. Slow things down, take time to take the pulse, and then do something about the pulse!. And I’m not talking about writing up screeds of reports and strategising your new approach. You don’t need to run a 360 or a wellbeing survey to measure the feeling in your staff. This shouldn’t be something that we plot on a graph to look back in 6 months time in order to say bravo! Well done! (or to gnash your teeth at).

Listen, talk, watch, listen, talk, watch.  Give people time to recover. Put your time into things that will help the recovery.

There will be times when you are adversely judged for such an approach. I find that people who judge seldom do so from exactly the same point of time and place that you’re in. More often than not they do so from the exalted heights of God. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Your awesome trigger is to break the Covid Crush. And if you can do that, then I imagine you’ll be doing pretty darn well in anyone’s book because that’ll be good not only for you, but also for them. 


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There are plenty of tough bits in school leadership right now, but there are also gems of goodness that are shining through and need to be kept and built on as we move past the current challenges and onto the inevitable new ones.

.   .   .

Somewhat perversely, one of the perennial difficulties that faces principals is the isolation of the role.

Isolation is a strange word to link to the role of principal as we are absolutely surrounded by people – students, teachers, admin staff, parents, community groups . . . people are involved in everything and anything that we do. The isolation that I am referring to occurs because a principal is not really a member of any of these sub-groups. We are connected, but we are not in them.

A principal role is positioned differently.

And it’s complicated. Staff drinks on a Friday night? Absolutely you are there, but you are still “the boss” and that means there is an intangible separation. Even the most affable, accepted, and social principals still sign off attestations at the end of the year, still make professional judgements about other’s work, still mediate upsets, and still have control over other staff members’ employment issues.

Another example that nicely illustrates this tension involves your membership of your school’s Board. In New Zealand, a principal is both a full Board member but at the same time an employee of the Board. You are part of the Board but at the same time separate from it. If this relationship breaks down things get tricky quickly and so there’s always a sense of caution involved.

The issue is structural too. Schools largely operate as ‘silos’. You lead your silo and 5 kilometres down the road another person like you leads their silo and you’re both really, really busy. A brief phone conversation about an intending student transfer might be all the contact you have for weeks on end. And in some cases, there is active competition – bums on seats pay the bills, keep staffing stable, and can be a scarce commodity . . .

.   .   .

Connection is the antidote to isolation and the group that you have the most in common with in your day job are fellow school leaders.

And here’s where some unexpected ‘gems’ have glinted not only amongst the difficulties, but actually because of them.

Our local Principals’ Association has been holding weekly ‘touching base’ online hui. We are quite a small group and certainly small enough for people to keep their video on, so the first time we met like this there was an array of faces and office backgrounds looking back at me. I’ve never visited some of those offices and it seems a long time since I’ve seen most of the people looking back at me – some I’ve never met!

But there we were, in the same place, at the same time, talking about the same things. And even if we didn’t have anything to ask or add, there was a sense of connection in just being there. The odd joke was cracked, and shared challenges acknowledged.

Likewise, the wider regional meetings give some of the same effect. Even though most participants turn their cameras off, being part of the hui and seeing the leaders in action also creates a sense of collective connection. Early in the pandemic I would never have thought this possible.

The strange thing is that in some ways we are potentially more connected with our wider colleague groups than we were when we could physically catch-up. While the possibility to meet up in person was there, the reality was that we often didn’t, particularly in larger numbers.

I’m as ready as the next person for some stability and predictability in our working lives, but I also hope that we can keep some of these new connections alive as our schools adapt and evolve.

Have you felt any of the same?




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From a 40 Hour Principal perspective, school leaders in New Zealand are currently operating right out near the middle of a very long tightrope and someone or something keeps giving it a playful shake.

We’re not so much ‘leaders of learning’ but rather amateur psychologists with a side specialty in clairvoyance.

And despite any possible aspirations of superhero level powers, we remain annoyingly human. As such, right now, we need to ramp up our self-care.

.   .   .

I’ve been reflecting on the vaccine mandate recently (New Zealand context). It’s what’s ‘on top’ as deadlines loom.

I certainly don’t want to get into any form of debate about the rights and wrongs (of the mandate), but this very raw and real scenario starkly illustrates where the majority of your STHTM* originates.


We lead people and they are complicated. Year after year, the principal health and wellbeing surveys find that dealing with other people’s emotions and at the same time hiding our own, are among the biggest causes of school leadership stress. They trump workload, time poverty, and dealing with (insert your own favourite pressure point).

.   .   .

People ‘outside the game’ may not see the emotional intensity of managing/leading a community through examples like this.

They may see it as a purely ‘operational’ situation. A rule has been made, the people affected either comply or face the consequences. From an operational point of view your job is to ensure your school continues regardless – A + B = C. Simple.

But it’s not.

Everything you do is relational. In a school, a good school, people matter. They are not simply cogs in a machine or hidden away in the third assembly line in a giant factory. It’s the complete opposite. They are real; connected, known, and valued. If they are teachers, they nurture other people’s children for 6 hours per day. If they are in your office team they are known by the whole community.


The beginning and the end of what is most important in any school are the relationships between people. It has been researched and known for eons that children only really fly in their learning when they have a positive relationship with their teacher. Likewise, the staff team operate only as well as the relationships they have across and within the various groups and sub-groups they belong to. A school is not an individual, it’s a complex ever-changing kaleidoscope of interactions, needs, wants, dreams and emotions of many people.

And here you are, a school leader, positioned precariously between the clear instructions of your employer and your duty of care to the people in your team. That metaphorical tightrope just got another playful slap.

.   .   .

So, this year’s November dance (Madvember!) is particularly complex. There’s more than one competing tune and you are spinning more disks than usual.

Now is the time to be careful with yourself. To keep connecting with others, asking for help with tricky situations, eating stuff that’s good for you, exercising more than last month, stopping work at a reasonable time . . . just doing stuff that, despite you wishing you were superhuman, acknowledges that you are in fact simply human. (As we’ve suggested before, the Mental Health Foundation’s  “5 Ways to Wellbeing” is an excellent place to start.)

And if you are at the ‘apex’ of your school’s leadership, the model of self-care that you display impacts deeply on those around you. As a leader, it’s a case of the old maxim that ‘people believe more of what you do, than what you say’. Now is the time to model the good stuff.

Four weeks to go folks, deep breaths, and as Steve rightly said a couple of weeks ago, we’re all going to make it – just ensure you arrive in the best shape possible – oxygen masks on please!

Kia kaha


*Shit That’s Hard To Manage


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Ok, so last time I wrote I said I was tired. This time, two weeks later, I’m exhausted. This is different to being tired. It’s the next step up for sure. It’s that feeling you get when you get home and you slump into the couch, and thirty seconds later you’re asleep. It’s that feeling you get when you wake up an hour later with no knowledge of where you are or what time of day it is. For all you know it’s the next day. You hope it’s the weekend. More often than not it’s not.

For those of us providing leadership in New Zealand schools we’ve spent the last couple of weeks at least planning for life at school with COVID-19 Level 2 restrictions, and at least a week of living life at school with COVID-19 Level 2. You’ve enjoyed the community joy and relief of seeing your students walk back into your schools. You’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of seeing all of your staff in the flesh for the first time in 7 weeks. It has felt good to be back.  

But I’d imagine that for most of us this has been a mind bending  journey.  And this now goes way back at least ten weeks to the uncertain pre-lockdown COVID times. That’s why we’re feeling so damn tired! Hats off to you all.

During the journey we’ve been the rock of our community. We’ve been the calming role, we’ve played the compassionate role, we’ve listened, we’ve consulted, we’ve made decisions, and then often re-made those decisions. In short we’ve led. We often do this sort of thing, but the context has been greatly different and we should all be proud of ourselves

During this time we’ve also seen a glimpse of what the future could be, and David and I have both written about this, a lot. We’ve written a lot about what a “new normal” might look like. 

So on Monday I headed back to school with some niggling worries. What if my Board thinks I’m slack because I asked to defer the Board meeting? What if my emails weren’t all read? What if people find out I haven’t reviewed my School Docs during lockdown? What if my class washing hands stations weren’t going to be manageable?  What if my community jumped the gates and refused my “want” for them to wait patiently for us to bring their children to them at the end of the day? 

None of these worries eventuated. 

However one worry did stick with me; what if my “new normal” was just my “old normal” and I had learnt nothing during lockdown?

This week I’ve found myself doing a whole heap of roles that wouldn’t have been in my job description before lockdown. I’ve sanitised the bathrooms every day, I’ve emptied and refilled our classroom washing hands stations, I’ve emptied tubs of paper hand towels and replaced them … frequently. Every day. 

During this time my school has seen me do this. They’ve seen me get my hands dirty and muck in. It’s provided an opportunity for me to interact with a whole heap of kids and adults in ways that they haven’t necessarily seen before. Yes, I’ve never shied from mucking in, but the point I’m making is it’s opened up another connection. This is a connection that is much more valuable than a Board report, or a data drop for the Ministry of Education … it’s a connection that shows that I’m “in it” with everyone. That there truly is a thing called “together”. As a result I’ve had a reminder of where my new normal should be based.

The new normal quite possibly is that everything should be about connections and therefore everything is fluid because the means to connect is also fluid. 

So don’t sweat the small stuff; The Board reports, the data drops, whether your Strategic Plan meets Ministry of Education approval etc. etc. Yes, have high expectations, sure, but sleep easy knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers, or all the visions, or all the knowledge. You just need to know how to encourage it all to come together, and if you don’t know then surround yourself with people to help you. And you do this by connecting in a myriad of different ways.

I want to finish with this story.

I’m currently in my fifth school, and 31st year of teaching. Four of those schools as Principal. I tend to stay at a school for 6-8 years. In all I worked hard, made my mark and tried my best. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not so. At all of the schools I had a great time, and worked with great people – adults and children alike. I’ve now been at my current school for 8 years. If I go back to my old schools there is nothing really to say physically that I was ever there. Yes I’ve built classrooms, laid netball courts, donated trophies. But since I’ve left, children have come and gone, teachers have come and gone, people have come and gone. The memory of my connection isn’t to be found in any of the buildings. Instead my connection has gone with the people, and possibly still sits with them today … years later. And that’s the crucial point. Our new normal has to be more people orientated, not systems or buildings. 

Our new normal has to be about finding those connections between people and encouraging them to flourish.