Photo by Andrew Dunstan

You’ve made it through the first week of term. Some of you are beginning Surplus Staffing processes, some of you are fending off vaccination demands, some of you are juggling bubbles in Level 3, some of you are arguing dollars in the budget cycle, and some are just finding it hard to find time to breathe!  All of us are trying to look like the swan on the water, majestic on top, but frantic under the surface!

But nonetheless, congratulations, you’ve got through one week – alive!

During the holidays I got to thinking. We’re often hard on ourselves. This is because we have huge expectations. Some would say we care too much. And because of this we’re either as hard as steel or we beat ourselves up, or some gooey substance in the middle. So I wondered if it would be useful to write a letter to myself, and put it in my top draw, to be opened on the last day of school 2021. What would it say?

.   .   .

This is what I’ve written.

Dear Steve,

I write this to you, to be read at the end of the term. I want you to know that by the time you read this you will have made it.

You will have survived.

You will have made it through a really tough term. No doubt there were times when you thought you wouldn’t, and that everything was so insanely intense that your eyeballs were about to explode. 

But they didn’t. 

The sky didn’t fall in, even though it threatened to. 

You dropped the ball during some important plays, but yet you were still there when it was time to catch the next one.

There were too many times when you forgot to smell the roses, and the daffodils, even though there was a lot on offer to smell. They’re your nectar that will get you through when you come back. 

Sometimes you let distractions guide you away from who you are and where you want to go, but then you came back to it all and you should be proud of that.

You made it, alive and kicking, to the end of the term.

You should be proud of that. Ka rawe!

So take time off and have some holidays, time away to learn to breathe again. And every now and again, if those doubts begin to linger during your break, take a read of this story by one of your 7 year olds.

“Once upon a time there was a castle in the middle of a jungle. It was heavily guarded by a dragon. It’s a fierce dragon.

The dragon looked enchanted and he was glowing. The dragon had smooth scales and lime green eyes.

One day a little girl was exploring the jungle. She saw a huge structure.

She walked closer until she saw it was a big castle guarded by a dragon!

She was brave enough to go up to the dragon.

The dragon was friendly.”

And once you’ve finished reading that, tell yourself, “There are a lot of dragons to slay, but make sure you’re not one of them.”

Have a break and then come back sword sharpened.

Be proud of what you’ve achieved, don’t dwell in the shadows. You did it, and that’s something to celebrate!

Love Steve

What would you say in a letter to yourself if you were to write it today, to be opened at the end of the term?



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Photo by Petar Tonchev


Just recently I found myself talking with a colleague about the myriad of things that we end up doing in our roles. A recent example was when I found myself sweeping water out of the junior boys’ toilets for an hour or so. Lucky me! There’s nothing like sweeping water out of the junior boys’ toilets wearing your best shoes and favorite work pants. It’s almost invigorating … not!

My colleague changed the tack of the conversation slightly, like he is want to do, and told me that occasionally he gets time to help out his caretaker by getting on the ride-on mower and cutting the lawns.

This appeared like a very generous thing for my colleague to be doing. I was instantly envious. A; because we don’t have a ride-on mower at our school and B; what he was telling me reminded me of a fond memory.

When I’d been at Teachers’ College, a few moons ago now, I’d spent my holidays pruning trees in the Hanmer State Forest or mowing lawns for the Hanmer Springs/Hurunui District Council.

These jobs enabled me to see both where I was going, and where I had been almost minute to minute.

In my current role as a principal, it’s not always easy to see where I am going, or even where I have been. There is constant “noise” related to our role that gives little opportunity to stop, pause, and look, and in turn feel good about what has been accomplished. 

“You know, I don’t really want to admit this,” I said quietly to my colleague, “but there are times in this job that I’m not really sure where I am going.”

As sharp as tack he came back with, “Go where the grass is longest – that’s what you’d do if you were still mowing lawns!”.

He had a point. Actually, he had a great point. Especially as we head into the end of the Term and the school holidays are beckoning like the sweet bastion of goodness that they are! 

The point that I’m trying to make here, is that throughout our busy, hectic lives in Term time, the grass indeed grows long in those places that we don’t look after. I’m talking specifically about our own well-being here

During Term time, as we move to cram everything into our already bulging calendars, the first thing that is missed out is our well-being. Ironically it should be the first thing that we put in, and then we should build our days around this goodness and the energy that this positive move will enable.

I’m taking it though, that you’re more likely to be like me at this point of time in the Term. The grass on your well-being lawn is overgrown and your energy levels are low.

With the energy that you do have left, take a little time to consider “going where the grass is long” during your upcoming ‘non contact/holiday’ time. Make a plan to do a number of things that you like doing; enjoy doing; and have missed doing during the last ten weeks because you ran out of hours in the day to look after yourself.

And when you are making this plan, take a step forward and look into Term three and begin to formulate a long term vision for what your well-being lawn will look like. Do this now before the reality of your job and your old habits engulf your best intentions.

Go on. Write down four things that you are going to do, just for yourself in that first week of holidays. Then another four things (yes you can repeat them!) for the second week.

Then go further and commit to a well-being plan for the Term. Make sure you have something happening for you, that’ll fill your bucket, at least once a week in your plan (and I’m not talking about the weekends) through until the next holidays.

When you get to weeks seven, eight and nine of the Term plan, double your well-being dose. Weeks seven, eight and nine are notoriously “hitting the wall” times in our professional lives, so make sure that your lawn is well and truly cut then 🙂 . 

We’d love to hear what sort of things you plan to do as you “go where the grass is long”, so please feel welcome to leave a comment below, or over on The Forty Hour Facebook page.



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Photo by Devon Divine

Just like a song, every blog article needs a great line to pull you in right from the start. Something that’ll catch the imagination, and won’t let go. 

I’m trying to find something that’ll make the term “psychological detachment” sound enticing and thrilling. Something that’ll get your attention and not let you go until you’ve read the whole piece.

Mmmm, how about this? 

A study published in the May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that people who became depressed late in life had a 70% increased risk of dementia, and those who’d been depressed since middle age were at 80% greater risk.

80%! Gulp!

Too negative? Too depressing? Mmmm maybe.

.   .   .

I don’t want this post to be one of those gloom and doom types. No,  this post should be read as a beacon of hope. Maybe my starter line to grab you all in should be; 

This is what you can do today to help you with your tomorrow!

Last year we did a brief survey of around 150 New Zealand principals in a quest to find the answer to “what strategies do principals use to effectively and quickly recover from stressful events”. It seems that some principals are able to bounce back a lot quicker than others. How do they do this?

We found that the “bounce-a-backer-ers” did four things really well.

  • Firstly they found time to exercise regularly.
  • Secondly they found time to talk to their people (confidants, people they trusted) about the crap they were going through.
  • Thirdly they found time for Me Time! … that time that was just for them, and only for them. Time to do something they loved, without interruptions.
  • And fourthly … they had a wonderful ability to rationalise the stressors that they were going through. They appreciated that bad times never last, and nor do good times. That the things that worry us are often miniscule in the big picture of things, and that ultimately they weren’t alone in dealing with these issues. Powerful stuff.

Great, perfect! Sorted!

Now all we need to do is appreciate these things and put them into place and we’ll all be as resilient and “broad shouldered” as these successful principals! 

But nothing is really that simple is it.

All of these things take practice, and need to be turned into habits … both physically and mentally. And all of these have a time element. You need to prioritise time for them to be beneficial.

And it turns out that there are a couple more key elements that also help. They’re both important for recovery, and to put it not too finely, they both need to happen daily.

Daily recovery is vital for giving us the ability to bounce back. Proper recovery allows you to take on the next day with the “vim and vigour” that your school (and you) deserve.

The alternative is known as burn out, which easily turns into depression, which in turn leads to that jaw dropping dementia statistic that grabbed you into this article!

So what are these two elements?

Internal Recovery – this is about giving yourself some respite and relief from stressful situations whilst at school/work. Switch tasks, go for a walk around the playground, take time out for yourself. These don’t have to be long times, but it’s important that you give yourself a break. In olden times this was also known as a lunch break, or morning tea!

In many work places outside of schools these breaks can even be taken off site – imagine that! The key of course is to give yourself a break regularly. Mix it up, and don’t forget to do it. Got a spare minute or two before a meeting – don’t check your emails, instead just take some time. Pause, chill, stop. For a minute or two or three.

External Recovery – this is what we do outside of our work hours. The real key here is to develop this thing called psychological detachment. Often we think that we’re well onto the road to recovery by doing things such as reading, catching up with social media or socialising. These are all good things to do. But the big key is to do these things that detach you from your work.

If you’re catching up on some reading, but it’s work related then your recovery isn’t going to be as useful. If you’re socialising with friends, but you spend the whole time talking about work – again, although initially useful to unload, over time it doesn’t have the same recovery effect. And have you ever found that watching TV full of bad news and gruesome shows doesn’t work like it used to – well, maybe it’s time to actually switch that box off so that you can detach yourself from many realities that you simply have no control over.

Psychological detachment isn’t easy though. Recently, I spent some wonderful time at Lake Tekapo in the South Island of New Zealand, but instead of just enjoying the place for what it is, I spent most of the time ruminating on a school issue. It takes some serious practice just to be in one place, and to enjoy being in that one place, without the stressors of school or your work place creeping in. 

Many who are particularly good at psychological detachment find that “attaching” themselves to other things can be useful.

In a nutshell – get a hobby.

And be passionate about it. Put your “vim and vigour” into that. In the past I’ve played sport, and at present I’m in a band. It’s very hard to do a competent job of doing a lead guitar solo that runs across the fret board, if you’re still “fretting” about school or work. The key, as I’ve said many times, is to find something that takes you daily away from being attached to workplace thoughts and concerns.

Taking time to master your recovery, every day, so that you can face the next day with the energy and enthusiasm it deserves is at the heart of beating burnout. It’s also at the heart of living for today, and not about “just getting yourself to the weekend, or just getting yourself to the next holiday break”. 

This is what you can do today to help you with your tomorrow!

(For a little bit more on this read Rajvinder Samra’s piece.)


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