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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These behavioural impulses are called micro-aggressions.

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

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

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

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

I’d like to offer three more words –

Yet and As If

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

Things aren’t wonderful in my life, yet.

Things haven’t improved for me, yet.

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

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

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

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

Feel as if things are going to work out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Ok I’m going a bit OTT here, a bit Off The Topic, a bit off the reservation so to speak. But I’ve got to get this off my chest, and well, that’s gotta be a good thing for my well being and my ability to function as a human being.

When I was a little younger than I am today I was an early adopter. Well, as early as I could depending on the cash circumstances at the time. When Casio came out with a new digital watch that had a calculator on it; well I definitely wanted one, but the finances weren’t there, and anyway I wanted a Healing Ten Speed bike (green preferably) more instead.

When the Sony walkman came along, yup I wanted one. And did some extra shifts on the milk run pushing the trolleys (remember those?) to get one.

Took me a while longer to get my first CD player as it meant replacing everything, and I mean everything, of meaning and worth to me. But I got there.

I remember a time when I had three typewriters in my classroom, and in the corner sat an old bathtub full of cushions; a reading well if you like, instead of a couch. It was cool. The bathtub itself as a reading implement wasn’t necessarily an example of “early adoption”, maybe just some early craziness.

Fast forward and I remember asking my Board to fork out extra money for a colour printer. “What do kids need colour for?”, asked the Board Chair.

And a while later I asked for a digital camera that could take 8 photos before you had to change the data card. “Won’t that just encourage the kids to use the coloured printer more?”, asked my Board Chair.

So as I said, I’ve always liked being a bit of an early adopter. Heck, even when interactive whiteboards were all the rage, fellow 40HPer Dave Armstrong and I were trying to figure out ways of getting them into our classes without spending gazillions of dollars.

All of it seemed to make sense and appeared to add to the experiences that we were supporting our students through. It all helped in making them see some sort of sense in their world. With the operative being THEIR.

I now find myself in “Green Eggs and Ham” territory when it comes to a thing called AI. Well, a little is an understatement …. It’s more like a lot. I feel totally in the “Would you, could you, in the rain?” part of the story when I’m talking about AI. 

“I would not, could not, in the rain. Not in the dark, Not on a train. Not in a car. Not in a tree. I do not like them Sam, you see”.

AI is short for Artificial Intelligence and it’s everywhere already, just not particularly smart, and entrenched in our way of life so much that sometimes we don’t even know it’s there. Up until this point it’s been useful, and supportive of the way we now think we should be living our lives.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen AI in a number of different ways;

Here’s the lead singer from the Darkness (I believe in a thing called love), Justin Hawkins attempting to work out what is a human produced song and what is an AI driven song Can You Tell The Difference Between AI & “Real” Music?!. If he can’t get it right, (and often he doesn’t) then what does that say about how far AI has now traveled? Need a song in a jazz frame … don’t worry about an actual musician, just get an AI to produce it for you.

Similarly we see Art pieces now being produced by AI in the genre of anything you want. Picasso anyone?

And then there’s ChatGPT, a chatbot that lets you converse like a real human. It has real flaws, makes mistakes sometimes, corrects itself and carries on. So much like a human, but without the emotional flaws that we bring to our own conversations.

Apparently AI is now at the stage where it is likely to take over sport journalism in the near future. Nothing to worry about that, but if all you need to do is type in the school, and give the AI access to some video feed – well, where does that stop?

In Australia, and no doubt other places around the world, questions are now being asked about the relevance of written assessment and exams at school. The ability of AI now to act, and respond in a way that is beyond human “perfection” is just a little scary. 

There’s something unnervingly unhuman about AI. But it begs the age old question; What is the point of being human?

I don’t know the answer to that. I’m supposing it has something to do with finding some sort of meaning in our lives. And that search for meaning is a lifelong search. What happens when you find it’s actually a 30 second  job for an AI bot? 

Is this going to be the great social leveler that we’ve all hoped for. You know that thing that provides us all with an equitable and equal 100% chance of being a success? That sounds a little intoxicating. We can all be Elon Musk.

Will it make us any happier? 

Or will it just make us all the same?

I don’t know any of these answers. But for once I don’t feel like being an early adopter here. I don’t even know if I want to be a late adopter.

Perhaps I’m worrying just like my parents did before me, when I told them I needed a calculator they said, “You don’t need a calculator, son, you just need to learn your tables”. 

I wonder where you sit with all this? Or maybe I should just ask ChatGPT.


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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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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.