Photo by Liam Martens 

I once spent a week in Wellington as part of an initiative only the ‘senior’ members of principalship will remember. It was called the Principals’ Planning Development Centre. An experienced leader could apply after a minimum 5 years in the role and if selected, had access to an intensive, immersive course where 3 – 5 principals were put through their paces by an equal number of trainers/assessors.

The experience included simulations using actors to create scenarios, for example, a difficult conversation with a staff member or developing a strategic plan for a Board. Out of sight, a group of observers watched everything you did and wrote a report on your performance. At the end of each day, you were debriefed by one of the facilitators and given feedback. At the end of the week, you received a report that included a marking schedule across all of the activities and tasks.

I’ve still got my report. It grades me on every aspect assessed, as either a ‘strength’, proficient’, or ‘development opportunity’. (Anecdotally, post the course, a number of principals decided that the job wasn’t for them – it was an emotional and all-encompassing experience.)

Looking back now, it seems incredible that the Government was willing to invest this amount of resource in us. It was the first, and so far for me, only time that the system invested so much in an attempt to make me better in my complex role. It was a true unicorn event.

.   .   .

The reason I mention the PDPC in this post, is because of an accidental ‘by-product’ of the experience – it highlighted a job/role that I could never do, and in comparison, how great my current job often is. This thought has regularly helped me keep perspective when principalship has been challenging.

For the week I was in the capital, I stayed at a hotel close to the Centre, (just off Lambton Quay for those who know Wellington). The course started on the dot at 8am every day, and so I found myself walking through the central city in the early morning while it was half dark. As I walked, the office blocks around me slowly came to life. Those myriad individual windows towering up above me randomly blinked alive as the lights turned on, one by one.

I could see right into many of them, and what seemed to be the norm, was that there was some sort of cubicle setup with a desk, a filing cabinet, a partition of some sort and sometimes a plant sitting hopefully by the window. The person occupying them was effectively in a small box for the day. And of course, the vast majority of people working in those buildings didn’t have a window at all. Their boxes were deeper inside the building, where the fluorescent lights hummed and flickered with no natural light to assist. I wondered at the time whether they even had plants.

I’ve never forgotten this. In fact, the very thought of heading day after day, into a small, enclosed space to make phone calls, process paper and generally stay there for an 8 – 9 hour shift makes me feel slightly ill.

And the upside is that it reminds me that my days are the complete opposite. They are filled with noise, activity, unpredictable excitements and an ever-changing variety of tasks, places, and people. Yesterday, I finished my day checking a go-kart our kids are going to race this weekend. Today, I’m starting with a class trip to a local Eco Centre.

Yes, there will be paperwork today. Yes, there’s a very difficult conversation coming up with a parent, and yes, I will spend more time at my desk than I want to, but my days are never boring and for that I am ever grateful.


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Photo by Jess Bailey


Simon Sinek, in his 2017 video clip called “Empathy“, makes an important point (among a host of other great thinking) that should resonate with many principals.

Firstly; “You’re not in charge, you’re responsible for those who are in your charge.” He likes this point so much that he says it again; “Great leaders aren’t responsible for the job, they’re responsible for the people responsible for the job.”


As a principal, the easiest way to look after the children in our charge (especially if you have a large school with a huge roll), is to look after the teachers responsible for the face to face mahi at the chalk face. One important way to achieve this is to have a very clear understanding of what our teachers are going through. It’s vital to be empathetic about their role.

Primary School Teacher and Kahui Collaborator, Sarah Spittal, wrote a great piece for us called Work Smarter Not Harder – a teacher’s perspective way back in October 2019. So we thought it a good idea to catch up with her and hear how things have been going in her classroom.

.  .  .

“More than six months on from my previous guest post, and it’s time to take a look at how time has affected the ways that I work and live. But more than just the passing of time really, the affect Covid-19 and a forced break away from the classroom has made for me.

You may remember that I was aiming to work smarter, not harder. I was achieving this through maximising the use of time, not taking work home with me in the evenings, and most importantly, rejecting the mindset that working longer and harder, ticking off every single thing, every single day made me a better teacher.

While lockdown was undoubtedly physically restful, mentally and emotionally it was exhausting. In my case, caring for and home-schooling my own 4 children, while reaching out to and responding to my class was quite the juggle! The line between work life and home life was well and truly blurred to the point of being invisible. This I found hard.

However, there was definitely extra time available to me. I was determined to use this gift of time to grow my skills in Digital Technology. I thought of ways I could make things easier and more enriching in the classroom and created a heap of resources to suit. I’ll admit, I was a bit obsessed and spent long hours on this, but it was OK – because I was excited and passionate about it. I think if you’re lucky enough to feel passionate about your work, it really doesn’t seem like work!

Then came the announcement that we were all heading back to school.  It was actually quite exciting at first! Without a doubt, it was awesome to see my friendly colleagues again and connect face-to-face. We teachers are certainly social creatures! Spirits were high and nobody seemed stressed – He Waka Eke Noa! 

I feel happy at work. Paperwork feels manageable and I feel blessed with the wonderful children I teach. Our principal decided that not only would we not have to back-track and provide written reports for the time spent in lockdown, but we wouldn’t write reports for the whole of Term 2. I think this has made a huge difference to the workload and pressures of us all and I am grateful for this. The well-being of staff and students has been prioritised and as far as I can tell, student learning won’t suffer as a result.

For the most part I’ve upheld my goal of leaving work at work on weekdays. I’ve re-started my sport (roller derby!) and believe the measure of when I’m doing well is when my life feels balanced and I feel happy. Sleep has been well and truly prioritised and I get lots of early nights – the difference to how I feel in the morning is undeniable, as are my energy levels as the week goes on. 

But it’s Week 10 now and I feel like things are beginning to get a little harder. Twelve weeks in a Term is very long – even if 5 of them were spent teaching from home. People are starting to look a bit weary and we are heading into the ‘getting through’ stage of the Term, where we may need to be more careful that we look after ourselves and one another just the little bit more. 

I really hope that the lessons learned in lockdown don’t fade away. That we continue prioritising our health and well-being. That the parts of our job that don’t contribute to or improve student learning are identified and weeded out. And that we remember that no matter how much we enjoy teaching, it is but one part of who we are.  

The biggest take-away for me is to treat every single day as a gift – even Mondays! With the unpredictability of life, I think every day spent earth-side is a good day! And I will endeavour to remember this when I feel myself getting stressed over things that really don’t matter.”




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