“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.”

Paulo Coelho author


There’s truth and power in those words. As an aspirational 40 Hour Principal how you do your job has an impact on others. And from the 40 Hour Project perspective, the others I’m talking about are your colleagues.

When you are brand new in your role, your internal picture of how it should be done will largely be based on what you’re seen other leaders do. You probably haven’t taken any actual notes, but you will most definitely have made sub-conscious observations. It’s what humans do.

So, the impact of other leaders is very real and yet it is random chance as to who you have had the pleasure of working with leading up to your new position – you may have seen genius in action or . . . not. But regardless, the time you arrive onsite, the clothes you wear, the number of meetings you organise, call back days, expectations for emailing – pretty much all the how of doing your new job is made up by you.

.   .   .

Easier to challenge the status quo if others are doing it

A real-life example of this happened recently. I’d hurt something playing sport a couple of weekends earlier and despite my best efforts to ignore it, the situation wasn’t getting any better. Reluctantly I accepted that a physio appointment needed to happen and rang to organise one. The helpful receptionist asked what times suited and I said something before 8am or after 4pm would be great. There was a pause at the other end of the phone as she checked and then informed me that nothing was available at those times for nearly a month. She then volunteered that there was a gap at 11am on Thursday. After a quick look at the diary, I accepted.

The appointment took about 15 minutes and as I came back through their reception area I saw another local principal waiting. We were both a bit surprised to see each other. I met the same principal a week later and they commented how it was great to see me there as they had been feeling just a tiny bit uneasy making the appointment inside the school day (whatever and whenever that is!). Their choice was the same as mine though – wait for weeks or get the issue sorted.

If people see someone doing something it is instantly possible

I remember my grandmother telling me that when she was little, they had a bath once per week. She said it was amazing when friends who had travelled to another country came home and said the people there had a bath every day! What!?

.   .   .

How many of you would do your job better/more effectively/more sustainably if you worked off-site one day every week? Imagine the benefits – distraction free, focused, no wasted travel time, different environment = fresh thinking, etc. Many leaders in other fields do this regularly.

But, does the mere thought sound slightly crazy? I bet you can quickly come up with a long list of “what ifs”. I certainly did when I first heard about this. Just thinking about it stretched my mental model of school leadership.

Yet the fact is, some principals already successfully do this. They have the full support of their Boards and are convinced it makes them more effective (and more sustainable). It becomes possible (mentally) because others are doing it.

Critical Mass – starts a cycle

The more people that do something, the easier it is for others to do the same thing. It’s basic human behaviour to do what others do most of the time. This is a great mindset if what they are doing is healthy/good/useful. But what say it’s 1950 and you haven’t smoked a cigarette yet?

When most principals prioritise a particular action, all principals will find it easier to do the same thing – for good or for bad. It’s about building a ‘critical mass’.

A current example is that post pandemic (is it post yet?), it is universally ‘ok’ for leaders to talk about wellness, to organise PLD for their teams on this topic, to add helpful snippets to school newsletters. Even the Ministry mentions it in their sector comms.

If we roll back even 5 years, PLD was almost never about wellness. With the push of a pandemic, what was considered a fringe, slightly strange choice of focus is now almost a norm. The point of critical mass has passed and what was once very rare is now mainstream.

I haven’t seen a cigarette smoked in a staffroom for a long time but I have met people who do an exercise class every Wednesday at 7.30am.

.   .   .

Many (most?) schools have limited applications for the principal’s role when it comes up. Many advertise several times hoping to find that perfect candidate, and yet, in those very schools are people who have the potential to be amazing in the role but who choose not to put their hand up.

Some of this is our responsibility.

Potential leaders in our schools observe what we do, how we talk, how we look after a tough week. They weigh up the evidence sub-consciously and make choices about whether to take on the challenge or not. They base their understanding of the job based on how we do it – role modelling. This is both a huge responsibility and a huge opportunity for better.

I once met a principal who quite openly said they had the best job in their school. Not only did they make a positive difference to many people every day, but they had the freedom to do the job without hovering near exhaustion on the daily. They saw no reason to be considered the hardest working person onsite every day just because someone else thought they should be.

It’s 15 years since I worked with that person and they are still successfully leading a large school in a complex setting. I’ll bet they have inspired many future and current leaders – how we do the job matters.



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 Today we have a guest post from Danny Nicholls of Te Matauru School in Canterbury. Some of you might know him for the awesome mahi he does helping administer the NZ Principals’ Facebook page. This week Danny is offering up some very inciteful and timely suggestions for how to move past the present inertia that is gripping many of us. (If you would rather listen to this post, jump to the end and hit the link.)

“What can you do today to shift from reaction mode to action mode?”

If you’re of a similar vintage to me, you’ll be aware of The Cure. Your impression might be of a very dour goth band, and yes there’s some of that, but for a band whose biggest hit is called “Friday I’m in Love”, there’s more than one shade to their songwriting palette.

Stick with me here.

Our current circumstances as Principals – managing our way through Red level, assimilating SPOC and CTUT and other four letter words into our vocabulary, basing our professional decision making around our next Zoom, or the latest Facebook share from another Principal – is leading us away from empowered decision making and context based leadership, into reliance, dependency and a waiting game, as we scour the stats and opinions to try and decide what we should do next for our communities.

We’re getting stuck in it too.

I’m like you – I read the Facebook and Twitter posts, I parse through Iona’s bulletin at a time of day that I should be practicing football skills with my daughter (which is her SMART goal this term – well done to her school for giving their children something personal to focus on at the moment rather than worry about the global situation!), I read and think and overthink and uberthink and read and think, and then I plan and I plan… and then I adapt my plan and tweak it again and again… and then I hope that I am giving my community and staff the right advice…and then I repeat it all the next day.

Talking with a couple of Principal colleagues recently, we reflected that the independence, innovation and creativity touchstones of Kiwi school leadership (remember that doc?) might be getting squeezed out at the moment. Leaders who have built up systems over many years are now having to throw them out and become more flexible and vulnerable than ever. It’s hard for any of us to change, and it’s hard not to feel in control of everything. As leaders we are in the deep waters, and while some of us are waving to the shore, some might be drowning. 

Anecdotally these patterns that are developing seem to be enabling a lack of confidence and action from us as leaders. We are waiting for others to tell us what to do, or to adapt a template that someone else designs for us, rather than thinking for ourselves. (PS – nothing wrong with sharing – that’s in our DNA – it’s dependency that’s a worry)

We are getting stuck.

The loudest voices on social media are becoming our yardstick for what we “should be doing”, and scaremongering about what might happen tomorrow, and why someone else is to blame for it. We find ourselves taking advice and direction from people we’ve never met simply because they are the most vocal or have the most edgy perspective. We worry that we don’t have the most up to date information, and then when it arrives, we rush with questions, rather than taking the time to read and reflect. We are reducing our kanohi ki te kanohi with our most trusted colleagues and voices in the interests of physical health, possibly at the cost of mental health. We are hunkering down, hoping our plans and spreadsheets are the magic fix, and that this will pass.

Planning is no substitute for action. A plan without action is a waste of time. And a lack of action is leaving us feeling tired, overwhelmed, stuck and powerless.   

Back to The Cure.

On the same album as that Friday song, there’s another tune that us older folk would call a “deep cut”, called, Doing the Unstuck. It talks about shifting our mental model from paralysis to action – the importance of getting up out of our comfy desk chairs and doing something, anything – and to appreciate the positives that we do have, and the power to change our circumstances. So taking a cue from the song – let’s think about what we can control and do to get us unstuck.

  We all know the best anecdote from mind numbing spreadsheets and bulletins is getting out into our schools and spending time with our littlest people. I’m limiting my classroom contact at the moment, but I’m trying very hard to be out in the playground during breaks and spending time with our children – laughing with them, answering their questions both big and small, and showing an interest in them. It reassures them that things are OK in our corner of the world. It reassures me too.  

  It already seems like a very long time ago, but do you remember your new year’s resolutions? Gretchen Rubin (check out her Four Tendencies book if you haven’t already – seemingly designed to unlock those staffroom culture elephants!) – recently posted about the concept of a Determination Day – a reset, a chance to start over, to find again the resolve you had on January 1st. We need now more than ever to take that walk, to log off Twitter for the night, to spend time talking with people, and to experience those personal wins.

  Manage your time and your commitments. You don’t have to attend every Zoom. You don’t need to know the opinion of a Principal who is posting all the time on Facebook. Your community will forgive you getting your comms out later than the school down the road if they know you are busy caring for their children and keeping them safe. Because really – that’s our number one job at the moment. 

  Connect empathetically. Check in on your Principal colleagues that are quiet at the moment – you might be the only person doing so, and they might really need it. Do the same for the adults in your school community. 

  Connect strategically. Iron sharpens iron – who are the colleagues you need to connect with who will lift you up? Who makes you feel better after you talk with them? You need to talk to them now. Give them a call. You don’t need a reason.

  Put down the device. We aren’t made to sit in front of a screen all day. We need fresh air, communication and connection. Make it a daily non-negotiable. Go for a walk by yourself or with a friend. Listen to a podcast, do some baking or turn up the stereo and sing along – whatever fills your bucket.

 –   And finally, a time management recommendation – read Oliver Burkeman. Four Thousand Weeks is a very different take on time management, but it will resonate with you for a long time. His latest post is worth reading also and not a million miles away from the thrust of this post right here.

You could even listen to The Cure (or not). But you might need to Do the Unstuck. 

What can you do today to shift from reacting mode to action mode?



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If you are feeling the pressure right now maybe you need to ditch your superhero cape for a moment and find some other heroes to help. It’s about distributing the load.

Sort of like this – 


So who are these other potential heroes in your school and why might they not be sharing the load with you? 

I’d suggest they are to be found everywhere; amongst the team leaders, the teachers, the admin crew, the caretaker . . . Sure, not everyone in your school has superhero qualities – but plenty will. And then the question really becomes; why, in this time of need, are they possibly not standing with you, distributing the load?

Well, it might just be that you haven’t left a space for them to join you. When superman/superwoman is in the house, no-one else offers to take the lid off the jam jar. 

As a favourite thought leader of ours, Seth Godin says – 

It’s easy to use our indispensability as fuel. Fuel to speak up and contribute. That’s important. But it’s also possible for that same instinct to backfire, and for us to believe that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right.

That’s unlikely.

Using the power of a pandemic to bring people together, now may be the perfect time to shuffle to the side a bit, make space and invite them to share the load. 

However, some school leaders can be intimidating. They’re used to being in charge and potentially project an aura of perfection, of always knowing what to do and doing it perfectly.

To get others to step forward and shoulder the load, you need to be able to park your ego, – and and trust them to “get it done right”. To be, as Brene Brown explains so well, vulnerable. And if this way of working is foreign to your team, it’s going to take some deliberate actions by you to make the changes necessary.

It’s worth it though – one superhero is good, but a team of superheroes is unbeatable.




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We offer something a little different this week – a link to a discussion we had with Justin Baeder from the Principal Center. Justin is based in Seattle on the Pacific Northwest coast of the U.S.A. where he is the Director of the Principal Center, an organisation that aims to help senior leaders build their capacity as instructional leaders.

One of the channels he uses to share information is the Principal Center Radio which is a podcast that has featured a wide variety of educational leaders. This episode it was our turn for a chat and you can click the image below to hear it.



Dave and Steve

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Last time I wrote about how we often over think our roles and that this in turn creates problems that aren’t even there. It was part of a piece about slowing things down, especially at this time of term.

Recently I was part of a discussion regarding the dilemma that we all face – when do we find time to show leadership when we seem to be in constant management mode. 

As principals, we are expected to be leaders yet we tend to spend  our lives in the day to day grind and minutiae of school existence rather than floating above it, being ultra visionary and seeing the “big picture”.

Perhaps it’s time to get off this hamster wheel of doubt created by over thinking the management vs leadership debate.

Surely they co-exist, not only side by side, but together like osmosis, flowing into one another; at times morphing into pure management while at other times being pure leadership, but more often than not just a colourful mixture of both.

Apparently it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care”. This to me, is one of the real touchstones of what being a principal is all about.

Effectively this means that the people that you get paid to lead, or manage, don’t care about either of these terms. They just care that you care.

When you do enough in your school to show that you care consistently to a diverse group of humans, then that is both great leadership and great management.

There are times when you need to manage. This might feel like you’re knee deep in the veritable crappolla generated by others. But the fact that you’re there, and you’re showing you’ve got something more than a heartbeat, is in itself great leadership.

Equally there are times when you lead. And this might feel like you are able to fly above the same crapolla generated by others. But the fact that you can see what is going on with eyes like a falcon is also in itself great management.

So don’t over complicate it, and definitely don’t worry about it, you’ll be where you need to be, when you need to be, and that is good enough.


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Leading with fulfilment

“Fulfilment is a feeling of satisfaction that you get from doing or achieving something, especially something useful.” – Collins Dictionary

This week Steve and I are talking with a group of school leaders in Rolleston (just south of Christchurch). The theme for the discussion is “leading with fulfilment” and I have been floating the topic around in my head in preparation.

What does it mean to lead with fulfilment?

Fulfilment can be a pretty broad term when applied to a group of people. Each of us have things that we value more or less and these things often change as life changes around us. A beginning leader might gain fulfilment from arriving at the end of their first Term in a role without major drama. Someone with a few years under their belt might feel this when a 3-4 year plan comes to fruition. Someone else may feel fulfilment from an excellent external review– there is variation!

As what constitutes fulfilment is so individual, perhaps one way to progress the conversation is to focus on a key message of the Forty Hour Project – balance.

You are a leader and a person. Neither fact is mutually exclusive and if done deliberately, both sides can complement and strengthen each other. A leader who puts all their finite time and energy into their work will, sooner or later, be impacted negatively by this imbalance. Your body doesn’t care that you’ve decided exercise and sleep aren’t a priority, it will simply stop working properly over time. If you are lucky it will take a few years, but not everyone is lucky.

Likewise, a person who neglects important parts of their role will cease to be effective. In a perfect world you could spend as much time as you like ensuring your human needs are met, but we don’t live in a perfect world. As leaders, we are responsible to and for others, have important work to progress, and sometimes that has to take priority.

If you can find a healthy balance between these competing needs, you have a much better chance of feeling fulfilment in your role. The opposite, to operate with imbalance, opens the door to resentment and frustration.

So, balance is key. It’s about acknowledging and respecting a healthy mix of the need to fulfil your leader’s role and your needs as a human.

.   .   .

Of course, good intentions without a little deliberate strategy will likely stay just that.

One way to start rearranging your reality is to make a couple of lists. I’ve added examples that people have shared over time, but you are the one who knows yourself best and your lists may be quite different.

Stuff I need to stop doing:

Accepting poor sleep

Saying “yes” to everyone


Doing everything yourself


Treating all work as equal


Working on multiple things at the same time

Being the last to leave site daily


Saying you are “busy”

Setting an unbalanced example

Working to full capacity all the time

Stuff I need to start doing:

Use the science to sleep better

Saying “no” (particularly to “busy work”)

Delegating and empowering others

Doing the important work most of the time



Leaving when you’ve done enough

Saying you are “productive”

Modelling a healthy balance

Being smarter about energy use  


If you look at any of the items in the lists above and feel yourself mentally saying, “I can’t do that”, my response would be “why not?” Your mode of operating as a leader right now was not mandated by anyone. The Ministry of Education hasn’t told you how to do your job – you made (and make) those decisions yourself. Which means you can choose better.

If you lead in a balanced and hence sustainable way, you give yourself so much more chance of feeling the deep satisfaction – fulfilment – that comes from making an impact as a leader. With the traditional school “Madvember” about to start, now is a perfect time to make change.




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Photo by Markus Spiske



When people are giving their all, when the pressures on and they are stretched too thinly, that is when it is very easy to be hurt by others. 

And there seems to be a lot of educational leaders feeling that hurt at the moment. 

These are good people doing their very best to lead in difficult circumstances – maybe because of  COVID, maybe because they are new to a role or new to a school, maybe they’re not getting the support they need from those with the purse strings . . . What they have in common is a deep feeling of hurt – betrayal almost by the very people they are trying to serve. 

Why is that? 

My gut feeling is that it is to do with being human, or more accurately, not being seen as human. 

.   .   . 

Steve and I often write about the leader’s role not defining us. It is part of who we are but not all of who we are, but does your team believe that too? 

It can be very easy to unwittingly contribute to this misconception (that you are one dimensional). It’s a tough gig at the top and one way to mitigate risk is to metaphorically pull on your armour and present a “professional” face to your school 

There are many ways to do this – you can separate yourself by the way you dress, you can create a culture where you are always in charge, you can subtly discourage disagreement, you can pretend you know what to do in all situations . . . the list is long. 

Meanwhile, your team are facing their own challenges. They too are struggling inside a pandemic, they too may also feel overwhelmed by workload or difficult situations. Their challenges are real too. 

Then one day you hold a staff meeting and seemingly from out of left field, despite the huge effort you have clearly put into the situation, there is a total lack of kindness or understanding towards you. Churlish questions are asked, people’s faces show disapproval, you can almost taste the disdain in some corners of the room . . .  

What!? Don’t they see how much of yourself you’ve put into this? How can they seemingly completely “forget” all the slack you have cut them – the leave granted, the thoughtful messages about achievements, the support of their initiatives . . .  

.   .   . 

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they have stopped seeing you as a person and now see you as “The principal” or “The Assistant Principal”. And when you are reduced to merely your official role, your feelings and emotions are easily discounted.  

As a person, you are invisible. 

.   .   . 

I believe at least part of the answer is to lead from a position of humanity. You need to let your team see you as a person who happens to be their leader, rather than just a leader, fullstop. 

And the way to do this is to be brave enough to be vulnerable. 

Vulnerable” – “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” The critical word here is capable – it’s the possibility that shows you as being human.

Brene Brown describes this beautifully.  


There are simple actions that you can start (or do more often) tomorrow  –

Admit when you don’t know 


Ask for help 

Talk about your life outside work  

Share your aspirations 

These things can help others see you as a person and when the going gets tough, that is a very good thing. 




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Photo by Loic Leray

I’m not really known for my short blog pieces. The last one I wrote ended up as a world record for me in word count! Recently I’ve been enjoying some Seth Godin blogs. He is the total opposite of me. He says the bare minimum, and then leaves. His words linger in the air, uncluttered by superfluous language. He never gives the answers, but instead provokes you to look for them yourself. And I’d pick that those little journeys that he sends you on are more than just the content of the words in his blog.

For example, this is his blog post from the 17th July 2020.

The benefit of the doubt

“Sometimes we earn it.

Sometimes, it’s handed to us even when we don’t deserve it.

And sometimes, we’re deprived of it, through no fault of our own.

Everything works better when we have the benefit of the doubt, and offering it doesn’t cost very much at all.

And it’s rare enough that we should work overtime not to waste it.

JULY 17, 2020″

That’s 68 words … and that includes the heading and the date!

This is just an example of his … for more your should check out his blog site at https://www.sethgodin.com/

So that’s what I’m going to try and achieve here. I don’t have the answer, and I want you to go on a journey to find yours.




Four ‘P’s of Principalship

Purpose …. This is the rudder that helps you move your school in a certain direction. Without purpose you are an inflatable lifeboat without oars in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You move with the currents and the prevailing winds. What, therefore is your purpose?

Passion …. This is the energy source that fires your direction. It is your engine. It keeps you going. It’s what gets you up each day. It gives you satisfaction of a job well done, and nourishment to keep going. What, therefore is your passion?

Poison … This is everything that gets in the way of your Purpose and Passion. It’s the waves and potholes that get in the way. Not only is it the viciousness of gossip, the bullying of colleagues, but also the battle within your head, the doubts that have been sown, and the situation that you are in. It is physical and mental. It is real and it is imagined. It is both in your face and subtly in the background. It is quiet and it is loud. Another word for this obviously is conflict, but conflict doesn’t begin with a P! How you deal with this either adds to the poison, or it diminishes it. But it never really goes away, and there is always something that will replace it. There are those who have the super power of resiliency that seem to rise above this, never letting the waves entirely swamp the boat. What a superpower to have! 

What do you do to mitigate poison? Is it effective? Does it constantly get in the way of your Purpose and Passion? If it does, why?

Poise … poise is about balance and equilibrium and self control. Poise is how you walk around the school with your head in the air not only knowing that you’re doing a great job, but also knowing that everyone else knows you’re doing a great job too. 

I’m arguing here that your poise in your role is dependent on this equation:

Purpose + Passion/Poison = POISE

Too much purpose and you run the risk of over managing or micro managing others.

Not enough purpose and you will be a leader like a chicken who has just had it’s head cut off. And of course where is the poise in any of this?

Too much passion and you run the risk of burning your team out around you. Too little and they will simply think you don’t care.

Poison plays an important role however. Without it you just have Purpose and Passion, and although this does sound nice, the reality is that it is the poison that keeps you grounded and accountable, approachable and human. The narcissist is typically all purpose and passion inflamed by their ego – as long as it’s all about them. The poison they don’t see. The poison keeps things real, but if we manage it badly then the purpose and passion of our lives means nothing.

The key to optimum POISE then is the continual balancing act of ensuring that Purpose, Passion and Poison play off against each other in a well balanced like way. 

So, if you find there’s too much poison in your world, then maybe you need to make your purpose more visible, or your passion. And if you’re being accused of being a narcissistic, whip wielding, tyrannical leader, then maybe, just maybe it’s about time you take a look at how you’re dealing with your poison component.

When everything is in sync, you have maximum POISE. 

So how do you maintain your ‘P’s to ensure maximum Poise?




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Have you ever been at your desk, in your car, or in the shower and thought something like;

“How did I get to be the principal? This is crazy!”

“I hope nobody finds out – I don’t know what to do.”

“I can’t believe they appointed me.”

If you answer “yes”, it’s a high chance that this random thought was followed by a sense of anxiety, maybe even a sick feeling in your stomach. It’s something that increases your heart rate and introduces a solid helping of self-doubt.

Well, you’re not alone. It turns out that the world of school leadership is blighted by these types of feelings. Most principals that we have talked to have experienced them at some point, but the tragedy is that far too many of us battle with this thinking regularly. It can be debilitating.

“I had just won my first principalship and was sitting outside the school in my car and I suddenly felt sick – literally sick. What have I done? I don’t know how to do this (be a principal). I just sat there like an idiot with these panicky thoughts rolling around me. Eventually, I got out and walked inside.”

For many, this feeling fades as they gain experience, but for a worrying number it stays, popping up in quiet moments or when big decisions must be made. It’s hard to be a decisive leader when a little voice is whispering that maybe, just maybe, you’re not up to this whole leadership lark . . .

Welcome to the world of the “impostor phenomenon” (syndrome). It’s real, difficult, and far more common in our profession than you might imagine (because one of its common markers is that it’s carefully hidden).

The label was coined in 1978 by two researchers, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes.¹ Their initial research was centred on high achieving women who appeared to suffer from the syndrome most often, but more recent research has shown it affects many men as well.

The medical professionals say that it is a cycle of thinking (not a mental illness) and follows a set of predictable steps. In fact, it’s so well studied that there is a  scale² that psychologists use to measure how severe the condition is. (You can test yourself here.)


.  .  .

So what’s going on in your head?:

Firstly, there is an achievement related task to do (for example, leading a strategic planning meeting). Once the task has been identified, one of two likely actions happen, either you over prepare for the task, or you procrastinate and avoid it for as long as possible.

When the task is completed, if you receive positive feedback, you discount this and attribute the success to either extreme hard work (if you are an over preparer) or luck (if you are an avoider). Regardless of  which tactic you used, you don’t believe that you deserve any personal credit.

This cycle of attributing successes purely to luck or hard work, and not being something to be personally satisfied with or proud of, feeds feelings of being a fraud, self-doubt, and anxiety. An impostor is born.

 .  .  .

Given that this thinking is widespread in our profession, a key question is – why?

My guess is that it’s due to how people become school leaders and what they are expected to do once appointed.

Firstly, consider the pathway to principalship (or any other senior school leader position). In New Zealand, as long as you are a qualified teacher, you can apply for management positions. Some people coming to the leader’s role will have worked in middle leadership positions and others will be straight from a classroom. In either case, the amount of specific training for the role will be limited and the support provided afterwards unpredictable.

Once the job is won, some other factors kick into play:

  • An extremely complex role, so mistakes are likely
  • An extremely public role, so mistakes are highly visible
  • Almost no induction period – the rubber hits the road 100% on day one
  • An expectation that you make the right decision every time (and there will be a lot of opinions on what qualifies as “right”)

To compound things, there’s no rule book on how to run a school – particularly for the important work.³ (Briefly, the important work is always to do with people, it’s the wrongly labelled “soft skills” that leaders need to be effective.)

“I’d been a Team Leader for a couple of years and then the principal job at Next Step School came up. A good friend of mine said I should apply. I said, “no way” at the start, but after a few days, decided to get an application pack – “just to have a look”. It was exciting to think about a new job and after talking it over with my partner I decided to apply. To my surprise, I got an interview, so I rushed around for the next 2 weeks preparing. The interview went really well and an hour after it finished, I got a phone call offering me the job. I couldn’t believe it. I thought there’d be heaps of people better than me. I remember saying yes and then just standing there in the kitchen thinking “what have I done . . .”

Another reality is that we often pretend. We pretend we know how to run the meeting; we pretend we are OK after an intense ‘conversation’ with a parent, we pretend we understand the school finances like an accountant does . . .

And so much of what we do is agonisingly public.

This is a hard place to operate in, and even very experienced and outwardly “on top of things” leaders admit to having the impostor feelings – the cycle of thinking can be insidious.



How is your self-confidence right now? With the craziness of the pandemic still strong in our minds, it is very possible many of us initially experienced at least some “impostor” type thoughts – it’s hard to be confident when you don’t really know what you’re doing! 

The model Steve shared last week predicts that at some point, you started to realise you could handle the situation, but it also predicts that some time soon, the old feelings of doubt might return. Forewarned is forearmed!



So, what can be done?

Luckily quite a bit! If you are reading this and it resonates with you, you have already taken the first step – acknowledgement. The cycle of thinking associated with impostor syndrome is well studied and clearly outlined. If you can recognise it, you can start re-framing your thinking.

There are a lot of well qualified experts who you can access online for specific advice. One place that provides detailed, but clear advice, is Psychology Compass ⁴. The three basic steps they promote are:

  1. Share the Experience

A big part of the problem is thinking you are the only one feeling like this – which is simply not true!

  1. Relax when you identify the thinking happening

Our minds and bodies are completely linked. Mental tension flows from physical tension and vice versa. We can manipulate this link.

  1. Identify the false thinking and re-frame it

This is basically an awareness exercise where you label the feelings/thinking as they occur and discount the nonsense.

There are a lot of other avenues beyond self-help research too – for example, your GP can connect you with trained counselors or other relevant therapists. 

And in the end, whether or not you are plagued by this type of thinking, many of your colleagues are, and this conversation needs to be had. If you are feeling brave, please share your experience – it helps everyone.



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²Hoang, Queena (January 2013). “The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming Internalized Barriers and Recognizing Achievements”. The Vermont Connection. 34, Article 6. – via http://scholarworks.uvm.edu/tvc/vol34/iss1/6.

³The Important Work, Chapter 3, “The Forty Hour Principal”, 2019


“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”

Nelson Mandela


So the good-ship “home learning” has launched, and you and your team have done your level best to make it as smooth as possible.

Once you get some momentum up things will smooth out, but right now there will be some choppy water – people will try whole class Zoom meetings, parents will realise their old computer is just that, someone else’s school will be perfect, . . . stuff will pop up for awhile.

But among all that, what is bubbling to the top, or at least percolating around the edges of your thinking?

Which parts of this remote learning adventure are throwing up possibilities? Sure, there are plenty of challenges, problems even – we weren’t ready for this. We didn’t get to practice and none of us have experienced it before. (To be fair, neither has anyone else in history! )

For me, it poses the fundamental question of which skills and dispositions we need to grow in our children?

The lens of crisis is revealing and what it shows is that the so called, “soft skills” are more critical than ever. Things like the ability to communicate, to build relationships, to show empathy, and to be resilient.

I’m sure most (or at least many) of you will agree. But to play the proverbial naughty advocate, do you think they will remain at the top of our priority lists after we all get back to our classrooms?

.  .  .

I believe there is both huge opportunity and huge risk right in front of us worldwide. The opportunity involves people identifying what really matters and carrying that clarity with them into the world when we have tamed this spiteful virus.

The risk is that we don’t.

Right now the spotlight of necessity is lighting up the type of attributes children, adults, – people need to develop to be ready for a future where the whole world can stop and the only way out is to work together for a common solution. This uninvited virus is a game changer.

What are the fundamental attributes that are making some individuals successful and communities strong? I want a short list of things that our school can embed into what we do. Some are already there, but some have just gotten promoted to the front of the line.

And one that is making a bid to be at the very front is resilience.

“Resilience – the ability to be  happy ,  successful , etc. again after something  difficult  or  bad  has  happened.” 

Cambridge Dictionary 

We can see it in our leaders and we can see it in some of our kids and their parents. But where it is missing, it takes a terrible toll and the ripple effects touch many others negatively. Now is the time to start changing this.

A key step in a leader’s role is modeling, so what are you doing to ensure you are the Ashley Bloomfield of your team? He seems to be showing amazing resilience in very difficult conditions, but how can we mere mortals build more of our own? A solid place to start are the Mental Health Foundation’s Five ways to Wellbeing which Steve has previously shared.

Once we are intentionally doing some of these resilience building activities, I believe we have a responsibility to model this. Do we let others see us deliberately doing things that keep us well and effective as leaders? Things such as prioritizing space to think, and exercise? Things such as saying “no” when excess demands are being made?

We all know that people see more truth in what we do, than in what we say. In this regard, is your messaging to your team consistent? How deliberately resilient would your team see you trying to be?

This crisis is a huge opportunity to reset the fundamentals in how our schools might best serve our students moving forward, and also an opportunity for us to walk the talk to empower others.

Soft skills have just proven to be anything but.



What are you seeing emerging? What would you put at the top of your “new world” list?

You can share your thinking in the comments below or over at The Forty Hour Principal Facebook page.