Photo by Ethan Robertson 


And so ends 2023 for the Forty Hour team. Thanks for following along and being part of our push to challenge the status quo of principalship in Aotearoa New Zealand.

You 100% should ‘clock out’ too when the time comes, but if you find yourself lying on a beach somewhere and wondering how to fill in the time, below are our most read posts – maybe there’s something in them that will interest you too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays – let the resting commence!

Dave and Steve

Top 3 posts of all time

  1. Who’s Sitting in The Principal’s Chair 
  2. You Are Not A Machine 
  3. Flattening The Curve 

Top 3 posts 2023

  1. When was The Last Time? 
  2. Sprinting or Jogging? 
  3. What’s Your real Insurance Policy? 


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Photo by Fran on Unsplash

We’ve all been younger versions of the person we are today. And most of us have been younger versions of the principal we are today. These two things are linked but not the same.

Unless you are very young (and hence not likely to be a principal) there’s a lot to dislike about getting older. Physically things change and time takes on an increasingly finite nature – and I’m not even going to mention the scientific fact that everyone slows down mentally (even if you believe that’s fake news . . .).


The better news is that many things also improve. You’ve had more time to connect with more people, learned skills compensate for a lot, you stop caring so much about a whole range of stuff that used to keep you awake at night, and with your increased life experience, have more opportunity to keep perspective when things get tough.

.   .   .

I’m borrowing an idea from Tim Ferriss this week. He often asks his podcast guests what advice they would give a younger version of themselves. He sometimes even specifies, “what advice would you give your 30 year old self”. My question is even narrower – “what advice would you give your first-year principal self?”

There’s probably as many answers to that as there are people doing the role, and if you are in your first year, all I can promise is that you will probably look back one day and think, “that was dumb!”

Personally, a couple of thoughts stand out amongst the myriad of other things I’d like to be able to time travel back with and slap in front of my naïve self. The first involves fully accepting that the job can never be finished.

.   .   .

As a teacher, you are responsible for a lot, but the edges of that responsibility are largely constrained to the core business of teaching your class.

If you were lucky (or very intentional) in your journey to school leadership, your path would have involved progressive increases in responsibility. Maybe from pure classroom to team leader, then to an AP/DP role. This journey would have equipped you with an increasing skill set, but even then, the step to being ‘the leader’ is a big one. And many in our eclectic system simply bypass most or all of that and find themselves fully responsible for a school with little more than a well written application and a great interview. Boom.

It took me ages to really accept that what we do has no end point, but once I did, it changed the way I work (and the mental load). Once you do accept that reality, the challenge moves from trying to get everything done, to working on what’s most important, empowering others to do the same, and crucially, giving yourself permission to say, “I’ve done enough”.

We (the Forty Hour Project team) have a key definition that frames this thought – “being professional means working effectively and sustainably”. The sustainable part refers to you.

(You can read a more detailed post on the reality of not having a finish point here. It’s a positive one!) 

.  .  .

The second piece of advice I wish I could give my younger self is to stop saying, “I’ll do it.”

Saying “I’ll do it” freely and often, is a trap that usually comes from a good place. Most school leaders I’ve met are intrinsically wired to be helpers, to get stuff done, to care about people.

They see a need, or someone alerts them to one, and 2 beats of a hummingbird’s heart later they are responsible for a new thing . . . and there can be a lot of new things.

What I now know is that by freely volunteering “I’ll do it” has consequences, and very easily interferes with our core goal to be professional (as above).

What consequences you say? How about:

Disempowers others

Makes you ‘busy’

Stops important work

Guarantees unnecessary stress

Creates false expectations in others

If I’d understood this earlier, I would have been a much better leader . . . and a much healthier person.

.  .  .

So, what about you? If you could time travel back to when the adventure first started, what sage advice would you give yourself?

Add your thoughts here if you like.

And if you are in New Zealand, happy Easter – park the worries about orange/tangerine/pale yellow/whatever and concentrate on your core work for the next fortnight – strengthening your school’s most valuable asset. We’ll see you on the other side!



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Eight things that you should read during the holidays:

1. Everything is F@#ked by Mark Manson …. This is the follow up to his much easier to read, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@#K. It’s a bit of a gruesome read from time to time and there’ll be times when you might wonder where is he going with this. The good news is that Everything is NOT F@#ked as the title suggests. It’s a ploy! But it is a bit in the way you hold your tongue when you’re looking at it. Insightful quotes include: “We see that our beautiful visions for a perfect future are not so perfect, that our dreams and aspirations are themselves riddled with unexpected flaws and unforeseen sacrifices. Because the only thing that can ever truly destroy a dream is to have it come true”. On the face of it; ouch! But when you look at it from a Principal or Leadership role then it really does make a lot of sense. We have imperfect schools full of imperfect people and we should celebrate that. Yes, aspire to whatever you want, do everything you can to get there, but do so in the knowledge that you are doing this with a lot of humans – and that it may not quite look as you planned once you’ve finished. And that is fine.

2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni …. This is advertised as a “leadership fable” but in reality it is this and much, much more. It’s really useful, and at the back it outlines some seriously good advice about how to work with your team to break down the dysfunctions. So what are those dysfunctions? 

Take your teams through these when you get a chance. The Fear of Conflict can be a real road block in work places – not just schools. I know I fear it. But if you have an environment of trust, and a really good understanding of what that thing called “trust” is (and a commitment to it from everyone), then conflict can happen without the sting. This book feels very American, but it’s more than worth it.

3. Green Eggs and Ham  by Dr Seuss. If you haven’t read this for a long time, then take time to read it again sometime this summer. Take turns in putting yourself into each of the characters’ shoes. There are people in your schools who don’t like change and will fight and scrap along the way. And you, yourself, will also be in places where you don’t want to be on the change spectrum. Me? I hate the taste of kumara, but I have been known to like it when it’s been dressed up in something – just don’t tell my wife!

4. CrossRoads by Mark Radcliffe – Ok so this isn’t technically about wellbeing, being a principal/leader or anything to do with Education. Instead it’s a musical journey. It is a collection of essays in the search of moments that changed music. If you love the history of popular music from the 1950s onwards then there will something here for you. The leadership lesson from this book however is a gentle reminder that we all need to find something that is our personal passion. And we need to make time for it. So this holiday, replace this book with a title about a passion of yours, and sit back and enjoy the sense of energy that it gives you.

5. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – yes you read that surname correctly but did you pronounce it right? Me-high-cheek-sent-me-high is how you say it. This was first published in 1990 and the words on each page look like they’re printed in size 7 font, but wow, what a great book. It’ll take some brainpower to get through it though, but each page is guaranteed to have at least one sentence that’ll make you go “wow”. As the title suggests, it’s all about “Flow”. That’s that elusive place where we find ourselves sometimes where everything comes together as it should and you achieve things at a startling rate, just as you imagined them! There have been little times of “flow” during 2021. Some of those times have been so fleeting that you could have easily been mistaken for them not happening at all. But look harder. You have done an incredible job this year, in an incredibly challenging space. Your places of real “flow” might feel intermittent – but on reflection you might be surprised.

Also there is a great piece in this book that describes the amount of thought processing power you have. Now remember, this book was written in 1990, so brain science has come a long way, and the measurement of the amounts of “data” that any one person can deal with at any one time is up for grabs. But, whatever that number is, it is finite. It’s not an infinite number, and so don’t ever beat yourself because you haven’t been able to process everything at any one time. You can’t. It’s impossible. 

6. 4 Things Every Leader Should Know About Making Decisions (But Most Don’t) … a blog …. 

If you don’t read anything on this list then at least make sure you read this. It’s quick and it’s easy. I wish I’d read this way back in the 1990’s when I first became a principal. It would’ve saved me a lot of anguish when making decisions. The first one is a goodie indeed; “ Your Job Is To Make Tough Decisions, With Incomplete Information, In A Compressed Time Frame”. Wow! That about sums up dealing with COVID. Decisions have had to be made, usually without anywhere near the amount of information you really wanted. But you still did it. Leadership!

Pure Gold!

7. Fade Away – Harlan Coben – Alright, so stick with me on this one. This is a novel. It’s not anywhere related to education or leadership and it fits in a bit with number 4 on this list. I picked this book up in a second hand store in Queenstown. I’d watched some Harlan Coben Netflix shows and enjoyed the twist of his stories. What was great about this story is that it was written originally in 1992. And it’s set at the same time. What’s so great about that? Well, the way that it is written feels like it’s at the cutting edge of technology. The hero runs around with a 1.44mb floppy disc of data in his pocket as though it is the best thing ever invented. This cutting edge technology helps solve the crime. There are many other examples littered throughout the story. The tone of the writing emphasises it even more, because it’s not just set at the time, it’s written at the time – before the internet, before the information explosion. It is funny. Why do I recommend you read this? Well, maybe I don’t actually recommend this one, but read something that was written a long time ago. It’ll give you a sense that things change, that everything changes in some way or form. Those things that were once seen as the most important and cutting edge things to worry about will also fade. However, we are still all human and even though there is this constant change, you will still be you. No matter what.

8. It’s Finally Time to Retire ‘Good to Great’ From the Leadership Canon

This is another blog that is worth reading. To be honest I’ve never read “Good to Great” but I’ve heard the term used a plenty, and I’ve even seen it turn up in vision statements and strategic plans from time to time. This blog paints an interesting picture in which it argues that even when this book was originally written in 2001 that the “measurement of success” it used to describe what “great” was, was fraught. It turns out (according to this blog) that to be successful you almost had to be one of 11 businesses in the Fortune 500. Mmmmm, I don’t think so! Success is a fickle thing. How we measure it, even more so. How others then get to see the success in our schools is another thing on top of that. We communicate our successes to the wider sector in an almost Facebook Highlights package sort of way. Our neighbouring schools and the sector as a whole get to see the amazing innovation, creativity, passion et al occurring in our schools. In turn that conjures up an image of success that also becomes a reputation. I wonder therefore that given that all schools have their skeletons, that the journey from “Good to Great” should always be viewed in the context of their own journey. 

.   .   .

Of course, this list is pretty irrelevant. There are many, many good pieces of writing out there that can inspire you. These all helped for me, but you’ll have your own. 

The important thing is to find something to read during your break. It doesn’t have to be education orientated. Take a break, breathe, read.



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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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To be honest I wondered if my topic for this week’s article, reflection, was still appropriate now that New Zealand is being re-visited by the COVID-19 virus and parts of our country are in lockdown.


I was going to start off by painting a beautiful picture. You see in South Westland, just near the township of Fox Glacier, is the beautiful Lake Matheson. It’s renowned worldwide for its stunning reflections. On any given day, when the conditions are just right the reflections are so perfect that it’s near on impossible to know what’s up and what’s down. Aoraki Mt Cook soars above you, and also at your feet.


I felt that this was the perfect metaphor for reflecting on our professional roles. When the conditions are near on perfect, then so is the reflection. It’s finding those perfect conditions that is the key to getting the thought processes moving.


A friend of mine, Richard Spackman, has recently stepped away from his hectic life running a thriving photocopy and print business, to travel the world with his family. COVID-19 has put paid to this and his tour of the world has become a world tour of New Zealand. During this time he has found time to self-reflect. He’s even written about it. The advantage that Richard has is that the conditions for his reflection are perfect. There is no noise or angst, no pressing timelines, no insidious conflicts or unrelenting perceptions or expectations. He has time. He has time to think.


And that reminded me again about how important it is to find the right conditions to get the most out of your reflections. Then the latest round of COVID-19 hit and I began to wonder whether this actually  was the best time to talk about finding the optimal time in your professional lives to go away and think.


I mean, as we all head back into various forms of lockdown and restriction, with it’s angst and uncertainty, the whole world seems to change once more, and the need isn’t to slow down and reflect, but instead it is to speed up and be ultra visible. As leaders in times like this we are expected to marshal the troops, know the answers to those questions that haven’t even been asked yet, and to always, always be one step ahead of the mob … or the virus … or that parent who thinks this is some sort of crazy conspiracy.


This isn’t time to slip away and find time for reflection. Or is it?


When I first thought about writing this piece I imagined that I’d be encouraging leaders to actively make time, and large chunks of it, to get away and do some solid reflection. 

However there is still a need for reflection in these busy COVID times. We just aren’t in a time rich environment. 


Is this therefore the time for micro reflections? Instead of a half day here, or a whole day there, I’m thinking ten minutes here, or fifteen minutes over there. 

And during these times your reflections aren’t going to be long flowing inquiry based examinations of your reason for being. Instead they’ll be succinct, targeted, and to the point.


How do these steps sound for a micro reflection during these crazy times?


  1. Reconnect with your purpose and what you’re trying to achieve
  2. Reflect on how you’ve got to this point and how you’ll know when you’ve got to your destination
  3. Refract on how this might look with another lens, and a consider if there is another way/s
  4. Commit to the thoughts that you have – if you’re making a change, commit to it. If you’re not, commit to that. But give yourself some flexibility. When new information arises be flexible enough to know that your commitment may change.
  5. Take time to breathe and let yourself know that you’ve got this
  6. And finally; read this quote by Maya Angelou.


“Do the best you can until you know better.

Then, when you know better, DO better.”


Now go back to your busy role knowing you’ve got this.


So where can you do this? Schools are notoriously busy. 


A ten minute walk around the grounds of the school straight after interval when the grounds are empty … 

A fifteen minute “alternate” route on your way to school in the car ….

A twelve minute escape to a room in the school that is seldom used….


You’ll know the places to look. Your office isn’t always the best place for this.The ideal is to find a place that is quiet. You just need some peace to get your micro reflection going.


Even Lake Matheson has days when the reflection is ruined by the weather. So don’t be hard on yourself if your own micro reflection gets messed up by the “constant noise” of school life around you. There’s always tomorrow. But see if you can make it a habit, and see if it makes a difference.






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