Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Can you remember when you were sick for a few days 5 years ago? What about a year ago? Me either. I can remember the times I broke a bone or had some sort of medical intervention, but not the times a seasonal bug flattened me for a few days. I know it happened but it’s not important.

So, what does that prove?

Firstly, we can safely assume that everything turned out OK. That urgent work was either not as urgent as we thought, or someone else dealt with it.

Secondly, the worry involved in deciding whether to stay home was a tragic waste of life energy.

Unless you are one of the tiny minority of people with bullet-proof immunity, or luck, you will sometimes become unwell. We work in very close proximity to a lot of children, and they are essentially little human Petrie dishes in the winter months.

But here you are this morning, beating yourself up about needing to stay home even though you feel like rubbish.

Perhaps you’ve got an ERO review happening (who’s feeling déjà vu at the latest version of the model?). Perhaps there’s a Board meeting tonight. Perhaps an angry parent has a twice delayed meeting scheduled . . . Pick your pain.

As leaders we operate from a position of supporting people, trusting them and setting a good example, but here we are seriously considering doing exactly the opposite, by:

  • Working at 50% capacity
  • Spreading germs to others in our schools
  • Not trusting our teams and systems to deal with our absence
  • Modelling the wrong thing to do when sick
  • Sending a message that we think we are indispensable

Don’t do it.

Message your leadership team, crank up the heater, and head back to bed. The only person standing in the way of this sensible, professional response is you.



What would make your principal role better?

If you wave a magic wand and remove the ‘but’ that floats alongside any honest conversation regarding the desirability of the principalship role, what changes?

.   .   .

Right now we are pushing for improvements to our employment contracts. Money and conditions (workload/sustainability). These things are outside of our direct control and we rely on our employer to improve them or not. Let’s briefly look at this.

Money – everyone in every job wants more money. It’s a given in employment negotiations that the workers will ask for more. Though after a certain point, this negotiation is always about relativity. (There was an excellent post about this written recently on the NZ Principals’ Facebook page by Callan Goodall. Callan draws a line between a person on the new minimum wage, a beginning teacher, an experienced teacher, and a principal – read it if you have access.)

Relativity shows how roles are valued and is where ‘the rubber hits the road’ when all the nice and affirming words are over. And in New Zealand, the relativity between a principal role and other education roles has become a joke. Based on money, it makes no logical sense to keep doing, or aspire to, principalship. This is particularly true if considering a U1 or U2 role (these are small schools in NZ) where an experienced teacher is often paid more outright.

Workload – various groups have been collecting data on this somewhat subjective metric and regardless of what the total workload is (and it’s huge), the bit that worries me is that it is increasing (see The New Zealand Primary Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey 2021, Deakin University). This latest data set, which has been repeated annually since 2016, shows that both the sheer quantity of work, and the pace that it needs to be done, are at the highest levels reported. Which leads us to sustainability.

Sustainability (yours!) – this is reflected in the number of people aspiring to do the job and then choosing to stay in it. Well . . . a statistic that is being shared currently, is that 60% of Auckland principals are in their first 5 years in the role. Sixty percent!! More than half of school leaders being inexperienced in our largest city does not reflect a job that the majority find sustainable. It means people are voting with their feet and it would be something that worried me deeply if I was the Minister of Education. When local principal jobs are advertised (and that’s frequently at the moment), schools are struggling to attract applicants – sometimes they have to advertise multiple times. Anecdotally, the situation is similar across the country.

I think it is fair to say that improvements to each of these areas is needed urgently.

The question is, will the Government and Ministry of Education, do anything?

.   .   .

I apologise for painting a fairly grim picture above, but the current contract negotiations are on my mind and while we wait with bated breath for Government intervention, history shows that the cavalry are still very unlikely to be coming, so the way forward, the positive response, is to put our thinking into the ‘how’ of what we do each day.

How many hours do you choose to work daily?

How much exercise do you prioritise weekly?

How much time do you allocate to a passion hobby/whanau/friends each month?


I know that you can’t simply choose to work 5 hours per day, or go for a walk every lunchtime, but you absolutely can change the parameters of these type of ‘how’ factors to make the job you value (because you’re still in it), better.

And if you do choose to make some healthy changes, don’t neglect to take others at your school with you. Alone you’re a rebel, together you’re building the new status quo.



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Photo by Nicole Baster

Resilience is not singular.

I wrote this last week after a chat with some awesome Wellington principals.

We were discussing tactics that school leaders could use to make the job better and more sustainable. As we discussed deliberately recovering after periods of intense work, I could see people nodding but with some reservation. Eventually someone voiced the “but” sitting accusingly in the air.

“But, what will my team think?”

A very valid question, and for context, we were discussing Board meetings – there’s always lots of prep to do in the lead up, then at the meeting, you the operational leader, are ‘it’. Questions, opinions, justifications, pleading cases – they’re all yours to handle, and then when it eventually  comes to an end, you will have a whole new ‘to do’ list to add to the next day’s existing load – in fact, you’re likely to be the one left to turn the lights out after everyone else has gone home!  

So we were discussing the possibility of coming onsite slightly later the next morning. As a principal, you could choose to do a bit of deliberate recovery by fitting in a some exercise, sleeping in a little, or doing a home-based chore that was left undone the night before.

But where’s the fairness?

What about the staff trustee who was also at that evening meeting but who couldn’t come in any later because they had a class to teach? What would they think if you chose to take the opportunity available to you, but they couldn’t? Is this fair?

.  .   .

I believe there are two things to consider here. The first is that what is good for you (as the principal) is also good for other staff members, and secondly, that within a school people have very different jobs.

Starting with the assumption that what is good for you is also probably good for others, I believe we have an obligation to share the possibilities for working sustainably as widely as possible. Teachers, admin staff, and everyone else who works in a school, have pressure points where they sprint for a while and work in overload. Report writing would be a classic example for teachers as would audit time for the admin team.

This is where you, as the leader, can absolutely create opportunities for others to recharge and build resilience. Possible examples include letting your senior teachers know they are trusted to work remotely if they wish on release days, that hearing they had run their meeting in a coffee shop would make you happy, that you encourage them to go for a lunchtime walk if possible. For class teachers you could allocate a ‘no strings attached’ release day which they could use as they wished, there could be meeting free weeks where all were expected to leave site early – the possibilities are actually very wide.

However, this type of resilience enhancing thinking can be derailed if you worry that different people have different possibilities. It’s natural to want to be as fair as possible, but we also have to be clear that the shape of roles in our schools are very different – both the pressure and possibility of being a principal is quite different than the pressure and possibility of being a class teacher.

Which brings us back to where this post started – your own resilience is easier to build when firstly, the people around you understand what you are trying to do, and secondly, that you want it for them as well.

The best way to ensure those around you understand what you are trying to achieve is to tell them. Meet with your senior leaders and admin team and discuss what you are doing and why. Being upfront about what you are doing is the best, and I would argue only, way forward. The opposite is to half-heartedly try some changes – using the meeting tactic above, going for a lunchtime walk, etc without any context for those who see you doing it. This means they will create their own narrative about what you are doing, and you will possibly feel guilty as well – don’t do this!

The second part of the puzzle is to help the others understand that you want them to work sustainably too. This can be both through concrete actions (e.g. here is a no-strings attached release day), or through consistent messaging to staff (e.g. whanau first).

If you get these two puzzle pieces in place, the likelihood of being supported to work in a resilient and sustainable way is exponentially higher.


PS: You should never apologise for doing your job in a sustainable way – in a logical and fair world you would be celebrated for doing this. Be brave.

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“At this altitude, I can run flat out for a half-mile before my hands start shaking.” – Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity.

I’ve always loved this line from the movie, even though my personal experience of running ‘flat out’ never left me with shaking hands . . . legs, heart, lungs, etc all shaking, but not the hands (this may well be the key reason why I’ve never starred in any movies).

.   .   .

To sprint:           flat out for a short time

To jog:                a steady pace, easy to maintain

.   .   .

I don’t know how you’re going this week, but I’ve found myself operating in ‘sprint’ mode. There have been a lot of ‘big’ items to work on – Board meeting, end of year data review, strategic planning and a decent smattering of people related issues that required my full attention, energy, and time.

(And even as I write this I am a little embarrassed that any of it seems difficult, because in the back of my mind are our colleagues in The Hawke’s Bay . . . for blog readers outside NZ, a quick Google will show you why.)

Experience has taught me two things about sprinting – I’ll need to do it sometimes, and after I have, I need to recover.

Looking ahead into my calendar, I can see a solid fortnight of ‘sprint’ time in front of me and that’s only the known stuff, so some care is going to be needed if I want to avoid shaky hands.

I know right now that I need to look after the basics – food, water, exercise, sleep, family – which is a challenge because they are exactly the things that are easy to neglect with the pressure on. What helps me stay mindful of these needs are memories of the times when I haven’t been  . . . neglect them and the wobbling starts.

And after the sprint is over, I need to recover.

It’s actually urgent and important work this recovery period, as if not done, my ability to do my job is greatly lessoned, and my ability to be a functional and happy human likewise.

Recovery periods are more than the basic list detailed above, they’re not about survival, they’re about building up and filling the tank. And they absolutely can’t wait to the next Term break as that is too far away. Whatever your ‘tank filling’ actions are, there is really only one person standing in the way if they are not done. Doing this better is about taking ownership and giving permission. (Of course, creating a culture that encourages and supports you in these vital actions is the responsibility of our whole system, from the Minister of Education to your Board. It’s just that some of them don’t know this yet.)

Recovery is about sustainability – yours. And this is where ‘jogging’ is periodically necessary. By deliberately jogging after periods of high pressure, you are building up reserves for the inevitable times when the pace and pressure pick up. Jogging by design is not being lazy, it is an intentional action that makes you better at what you do and who you are over the longer term.

A practical example for me – last night I had a Board meeting and it finished late. I went home with my head full of stuff and the usual post meeting ‘to do’ list casually added to my workload. I didn’t really get to eat dinner and I certainly didn’t get to exercise or spend time with those I care about.

But this morning I have an off-site meeting at 8:30am and there lies possibility. So, I’m not calling into the Office first, and I’m not going to start on that new to do list before the meeting. Nope, what I’m going to do is go for a walk, make a leisurely coffee afterwards, and sit and chat with my kids as they head away to school. That’s what I call jogging.


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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog piece about the reset buttons on a computer, Ctrl Alt Del. I thought they were a useful way of looking at your own reset when finding yourself in troubled waters in your school.

Term Four is the term where everything comes towards you at mindboggling speed and often you find yourself letting go of any hope at all of looking after your own well-being. David captured it brilliantly in last week’s piece Tempting Fate … if there’s any hope of getting through it all from a healthy well-being point of view, then you really do need to take a good look at doing what you can (e.g. you’re not a super being), in the knowledge that this will be good enough.

Today’s piece looks at what happens when you push Ctrl Alt Del together on your computer keyboard, and how the options that come up on your screen are very useful in helping you do “just what’s enough” in order to get through the Term in one piece.

.   .   .

When you hit the keys Ctrl, Alt, and Del together, you get a blue or black screen with five options:


Switch user

Sign out

Change a password

Task Manager

These can be very useful if you look at these in terms of how you approach your work during your principalship/leadership.

For example:

LOCK: You can look at the word lock from a number of different ways. Here goes three interpretations though that might help.

(a)    LOCK: Lock the door – close your office door and tackle a task without interruption.

(b)   LOCK: Come to a decision and lock it in. Go with it. You’ve made the decision based on the best intentions and all the information that you had at the time. Lock it in, and move on.

(c)    LOCK: Lock the door part two: When you leave school, lock the door and with it all the stress and pressure of the day behind that door. See that door as a physical boundary between your professional life and your personal life and don’t go back to the professional side until you unlock the door again the next day.


(a)    SWITCH USER: Is there another person who can do this task? Do you really need to do this job? Look to delegate it to someone who has more time and more skill to do the job justice.

(b)   SWITCH USER: Give yourself a break. Get up from your desk and switch your own personal user mode from “stuck in a mental rut” principal mode to “take a break and get some fresh air” principal mode. There are times when forcing yourself to push on through some really hard stuff just isn’t going to cut the mustard. Give yourself a break. Even ten minutes can do wonders. Then get back to it. Switching User mode just might be the thing that helps you push on through.


(a)    SIGN OUT: Very much like LOCK the door option. Sign out is literally that. Get up, leave, sign out and give yourself some space. You’ve done enough for the day. You’re not giving in, it hasn’t beaten you, you just need some ME TIME. 

CHANGE A PASSWORD (Also known as Change the record):

(a)    CHANGE A PASSWORD: Think of this like changing a way of looking at something. Maybe you’ve spent a morning on a problem on your laptop, and you find yourself hitting your head on the desk in frustration. Take a different approach to the problem.

        1. Go talk to someone else and get a different perspective.
        2. Brain storm some creative ways of looking at the task in a different way
        3. Change the environment that you are working in – work from home for example.
        4. Get pen and paper out. You’ll be amazed how a big piece of A3 paper, some coloured pencils, and some fancy black ink pens will help you nut out a problem after wasting a few hours looking blankly into your computer screen.


(a)    TASK MANAGER: Enlist your most trusted colleague to be a task manager for you. Sit them down and outline what you want to achieve in the next hour, or next day. Put it down on paper. Leave the paper with them. Give them the authority to pop in every now and again to see how you’re doing with the task. Give them the authority to be slightly annoying to you in pursuit of getting the job finished. Being a Principal or Leader doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the advantages of some good old fashioned micro management sometimes.

(b)   TASK MANAGER: Set up a group of people to take on the task together. You’ll co-ordinate the roles of the group as the Task manager to take on the problem together.

(c)    TASK MANAGER: Be your own Task manager by writing out a series of steps to work through to help you achieve your goal. Imagine that you’ve finished the job, and you’ve done brilliantly. Write down the steps that you took to get that brilliant job completed. Now imagine just completing the job to “it’s good enough” level. Do the same with the step writing. Use the brilliant steps to help you eliminate the candy floss extras that don’t really need to be there.

OK, so that’s about it. When you find yourself in a tough situation hit the Ctrl, Alt, Del buttons in your mind and take a looksie at the options in front of you. Some of these will help you get through.

Remember though, you are a human being. Allow yourself to be slacker if that means you getting through to another day. Sometimes it is as simple as that. No one else in your school really knows or understands the pressures that you are under.  Be Slacker Better, press Ctrl Alt Del. 



Welcome back everyone!

(And before you read another word, you can scroll to the bottom and listen to the post if you prefer.)

By the time you read this you will (if you’re reading this in New Zealand) have just about navigated your way through the first week of term.

Congratulations! Well done! You’ve done it! Again! Against the odds even!

The holiday break now seems like a distant memory, but if you’re like us on the Forty Hour Principal team, you might still be enjoying the afterglow positive energy that flows from your break away and into the early part of the term. 

The key is to keep this afterglow well and truly shining for as long as possible.

So just for a moment I need you to stop thinking about your Red Level Covid Plans, your BCP’s (thanks Iona for this lovely new acronym), your Audit trail, Analysis of Variance and first Board report of the year. Oh! And also forget about answering those annoying emails about facemasks and exemptions.

Park it, and take a little time to plan for yourself a survival plan.

This plan, written when you’re relatively fit, healthy, energetic and “with it” will help you manage those times when you’re relatively flabby, sick, downright tired and despondent. This Survival Plan is for you to access during those times when looking after yourself has become just a little bit too hard.

For me, I’m going to write it as a ten point plan. The number doesn’t really matter, but for artistic purposes ten always has a nice ring to it.

I’m going to make this plan look pretty and official looking and then I’m going to print it off in colour and stick it somewhere bold, so that I can refer to it really easily. Who knows, I might even stick it to the lid of my laptop.

These points are going to be a hotchpotch of ideas that I know, when I apply them to myself, that I get enjoyment and energy from. Your points will be a lot different to mine, but you get my drift I am sure. These are for you to dive in at any time that you need a “pick me up” to get you going again.

My plan is called the Lime Thickshake Plan and involves the following:

  1. Leave school at 3:30pm with no guilt allowed two days during a given week 
  2. Buy something unhealthy but delicious like a Lime Super Thickshake from a Night and Day. Yes that does sound particularly lame, I agree. But they’re amazing and my wife has banned me from having them … ever! 
  3. Listen to my Uplift playlist on Spotify – one that I’ve already prepared just for these occasions. This playlist has songs that I find emotionally uplifting and positive. A bit of fun … songs that connect me with brighter times.
  4. Go for a walk in my favourite place looking for piwakawaka. For me it’s a bit seasonal here in Timaru where I go walking. Autumn time is lovely in the Scenic Reserve, Winter/Spring down on Caroline Bay. Somewhere serene.
  5. Ring Murray. He is probably my oldest friend and lives 2,000kms away. Sadly to say I speak with him far too rarely, but when we do it’s like nothing has ever changed. The key here is to have a real conversation. As in a spoken conversation. A connection.
  6. Go for coffee with Davo. 
  7. Write a Journal … take some time to write it all out e.g. write what’s going on and then write three scenarios – worst thing that could happen, best thing that could happen, and most likely thing to happen
  8. Get away – get out of town during the next available weekend. A mini break does wonders. Put a safety net of cash aside each week so that when you need to go, it’s not going to be the lack of cash that will stop you.
  9. Delve into my list of favourite sayings and re-introduce myself to the concept that nothing is forever, both good times and bad times come and go.
  10. Indulge in my hobby. Give myself the freedom just to immerse myself in that and to block out everything else. For me it’s the band I’m in. When I grow up I want to be a rock star …. And I’m still striving towards this.

It doesn’t matter how long your list is, or even if it actually is a list. What matters is that you have a plan in place all ready to go when you hit those difficult times where you’re finding it hard to keep your head above water.

And because we’ve all written so many darn plans over the last three years, you’ll find this one is a breeze!



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From a 40 Hour Principal perspective, school leaders in New Zealand are currently operating right out near the middle of a very long tightrope and someone or something keeps giving it a playful shake.

We’re not so much ‘leaders of learning’ but rather amateur psychologists with a side specialty in clairvoyance.

And despite any possible aspirations of superhero level powers, we remain annoyingly human. As such, right now, we need to ramp up our self-care.

.   .   .

I’ve been reflecting on the vaccine mandate recently (New Zealand context). It’s what’s ‘on top’ as deadlines loom.

I certainly don’t want to get into any form of debate about the rights and wrongs (of the mandate), but this very raw and real scenario starkly illustrates where the majority of your STHTM* originates.


We lead people and they are complicated. Year after year, the principal health and wellbeing surveys find that dealing with other people’s emotions and at the same time hiding our own, are among the biggest causes of school leadership stress. They trump workload, time poverty, and dealing with (insert your own favourite pressure point).

.   .   .

People ‘outside the game’ may not see the emotional intensity of managing/leading a community through examples like this.

They may see it as a purely ‘operational’ situation. A rule has been made, the people affected either comply or face the consequences. From an operational point of view your job is to ensure your school continues regardless – A + B = C. Simple.

But it’s not.

Everything you do is relational. In a school, a good school, people matter. They are not simply cogs in a machine or hidden away in the third assembly line in a giant factory. It’s the complete opposite. They are real; connected, known, and valued. If they are teachers, they nurture other people’s children for 6 hours per day. If they are in your office team they are known by the whole community.


The beginning and the end of what is most important in any school are the relationships between people. It has been researched and known for eons that children only really fly in their learning when they have a positive relationship with their teacher. Likewise, the staff team operate only as well as the relationships they have across and within the various groups and sub-groups they belong to. A school is not an individual, it’s a complex ever-changing kaleidoscope of interactions, needs, wants, dreams and emotions of many people.

And here you are, a school leader, positioned precariously between the clear instructions of your employer and your duty of care to the people in your team. That metaphorical tightrope just got another playful slap.

.   .   .

So, this year’s November dance (Madvember!) is particularly complex. There’s more than one competing tune and you are spinning more disks than usual.

Now is the time to be careful with yourself. To keep connecting with others, asking for help with tricky situations, eating stuff that’s good for you, exercising more than last month, stopping work at a reasonable time . . . just doing stuff that, despite you wishing you were superhuman, acknowledges that you are in fact simply human. (As we’ve suggested before, the Mental Health Foundation’s  “5 Ways to Wellbeing” is an excellent place to start.)

And if you are at the ‘apex’ of your school’s leadership, the model of self-care that you display impacts deeply on those around you. As a leader, it’s a case of the old maxim that ‘people believe more of what you do, than what you say’. Now is the time to model the good stuff.

Four weeks to go folks, deep breaths, and as Steve rightly said a couple of weeks ago, we’re all going to make it – just ensure you arrive in the best shape possible – oxygen masks on please!

Kia kaha


*Shit That’s Hard To Manage


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Growing up, my Dad had lots of great advice for me. Two pieces have stuck with me through thick and thin. One he pulled out for the first time during our very first time playing golf together (and last as well now that I think of it). As he swung backwards and forwards wildly missing the little dot of a ball at every sweep, he yelled out mysteriously, “There’s method in my madness!”.

At the time I was about 18 and I’d never heard that saying before. I really thought he was as crazy as his swing. 

Over time I’ve learnt to recognise my own method in my madness, in particular in things that I do in my professional life. Case in point when it comes to taking a look at things that get me down as a principal and I find myself taking a close look at my character.

Which leads me nicely to the second thing he used to say. Invariably whenever I had stumbled, which was often, he would say; “Don’t worry Steve, it’s character building”.

Again, because he was my Dad, and I was just young, I had no idea what he meant.

Again as I’ve stumbled my way through principalship, his words have taken on a new meaning.

Even more so, recently, when I heard an addition to my Dad’s saying:

“Personality is what we see when times are good, character is what we see when times aren’t so perfect”

In recent times this has resonated with me. I’ve seen fellow principals and leaders find themselves in times of trouble and mistakes have been made. I’m not immune to this. Every time I make a mistake, put a foot wrong, or find myself in trouble it’s not my personality that will get me through. It’s my character.

Your character is often you at your rawest. Interpreting what that means to you can be confronting! Especially at 3:00am.

Knowing your character is one thing, but understanding it is another thing altogether. 

Epictetus, a first century philosopher, once said, “people feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them”.  Put simply, thoughts cause feelings and behaviours. Case in point with your character. 

Your character is your bedrock. It’s both what makes you strong as metal and as flaky as the dust in the wind. You’re likely to feel great about your own character when you “dig deep”, “hold strong”, “lean into the wind “ but feel like a loser when you “cave in”, “break down” or “ lose the plot“.

Truth is though, it’s not your character that is actually at fault, but the feeling that you assign to it that makes you feel at fault. Put it another way – unless you’re thinking about it and you’ve assigned a feeling to it then really it means nothing at all.

So when you get into a situation that involves you taking a closer look at your character, be careful not to assign too many ill feelings to what you see.

This is the crux of the matter when it comes to character building. Train yourself to know your strengths and flaws, because they are what make you human. No one is perfect. But also find a way to train yourself not to assign a feeling or emotion to all of them.

Think of your mind a little like a Facebook or YouTube algorithm. It keeps on showing you similar stuff to that which you’ve been looking at – or in this case with your mind, what you think about. Think of each thought as being a bit like the LIKE button. This tells your algorithm to give you more of the same. That’s a useful way of explaining why you tend to replay and remuniate over events again and again.

This takes some superhuman-like abilities though to avoid. As I’ve written often, I’m not always great at nailing this.

Anthony Metivier in his rather dry TED video entitled, Two Easily Remembered Questions That Silence Negative Thoughts”, (watch from about 7 minutes in!) comes up with a bit of a solution. He suggests that as your thoughts come in that might question your character, ask two simple questions.

Is that thought useful?

How does that thought behave?

Next time you’ve had a particularly crappy day at school, and everything has turned to custard and you find yourself starting to question what your character is really about, ask yourself those two questions about the thoughts that you are having:

Are these thoughts useful?

And how do they behave?

Bear with me as I explain this next bit, there is a little method in my madness here, as my Dad would’ve said!

So the other night as I lay in bed, questioning my character after a series of failings, and the thoughts began to flow in waves like they do, crashing against the rocks, I decided to run an experiment. 

Not that I have any experience in Tinder like dating apps, I decided to view my thoughts as though I did. As my thoughts flew in I purposely looked at them from a slightly removed perspective. I swiped them left or right as I asked the questions, is this thought useful, and how does it behave? If I caught myself in the negative I swiped them away, instead dwelling in the positive and useful thoughts

This little exercise might help you strengthen your character, and might well help you get a better night’s sleep at the same time.

Your character, and your understanding of it, is pretty vital. It’s unique to you, and it’s what makes you special. Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are. Your reputation is who people think you are.

And if you can get your head around that, then that’s definitely character building.

See, I always thought there was method in my madness.



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Hey you!

Yes you!

The one reading this blog!

Yes you!

Now don’t be shy, I’ve got some questions for you – yes you!

I’ve always been a big advocate of the Five Ways to Wellbeing model. Probably because there’s only five to remember, but also because it is so simple and makes heaps of sense. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about the Five Ways to Wellbeing centres on five key thoughts: Give, Take Notice, Be Active, Connect, and Keep Learning.

Here we are in the middle of another lockdown, we’re as busy as that proverbial place of fire and grimness. Coupled with this, it’s mid-term and we’re about to head into that part of the term when everyone gets crazy tired, people lose patience and it’s hard not to feel just a little swamped. 

What better time then to Take Notice of where you are at …. Yes you!

David talked in last week’s blog about the need to “Get your figurative oxygen mask on so that you can continue to be amazing”.

Part of this process is Taking Notice of where you are currently positioned – and I’m not only talking about this from a professional point of view – but also as a human being.

This week I decided to throw in some  extra thoughts and provocations to help me personally take notice of where I’m at. Some of the answers weren’t too flash, but all in all they showed me some things in my current predicament that were missing and gave me a heads up as to what I could do next in terms of grabbing that oxygen mask and taking a bit gulp of goodness. Maybe they’ll help you too.

# When was the last time you had your blood pressure taken?

# When was the last time you went on a romantic dinner with your significant other?

# When was the last time you got away for an entire weekend with your significant other?

# When was the last time you said NO at work when normally you’d say YES?

# When was the last time you said YES at home when normally you’d say NO?

# When was the last time you felt like you were the BEST Principal/Leader in the world?

# When was the last time someone did something that made you really happy?

# When was the last time you did something for the first time?

# When was the last time you did something just for you?

# When was the last time that you went somewhere that you’ve never been before?

How do these questions make you feel? What are the keys to getting to these points?

We live in crazy, crazy uncertain times. As principals and leaders much is expected of us. There is very little out there in terms of research and study to tell us how to do it – well not without spending a whole heap of time finding the info – time that you likely don’t have.

A great friend and fellow principal of nearly 30 years standing, Grant Willocks, once said that principalship is a bit like running a marathon but with an increasingly annoying quirk. In a marathon, every five kilometres or so there is an aid station. There are toilets, and a drinks/water station. You know that they’re going to be coming up, because you’re all following the same route and you can plan where to have your rest. The difference in education is that no-one now seems to know where those aid stations are. The route is continually being changed, and the aid stations are never where and when you need them – if they’re there at all. 

Because of this, we need to have our own walking aid stations. So take time to take notice of where you are at. Use the questions above to help you take stock of you. You’re the best aid you’ve got.


Keep up here:

Who gets the oxygen first?

So here we are again . . .

Those of us in New Zealand have just gone into a nation wide lockdown with schools closed and everyone expected to stay home unless an essential worker. 

A fragment of the unwanted Delta COVID-19 variant has sneaked through our borders and for the first time since last year, all schools are shut. Which is not to say that school leaders and teachers are doing nothing!

In fact, the very opposite is true. Most leaders have wisely chosen to keep expectations on their teams and families low-key over this week but we all know this can’t last. The excitement of distance learning is about to get real.

My personal experience of running a school remotely is that it is damn hard work. There are a lot of details to keep on top of and the rules of the game can change at any given point in a day. Often key information comes in late in the evening because the people sending it want to be 100% certain it is accurate. This, coupled with the need to stay on top of both media news and the changing personal circumstances of people in your school community, add up to the likelihood school leaders will struggle to mentally switch off.

And staying “on” for too many consecutive days (and nights) is a recipe for problems. 

You’re going to create plans for curriculum delivery, for pastoral care of your community, for communication with your teams, for what to do if students disengage, for who works onsite, for how to maintain everyone’s safety, and probably a plan for who’s responsible for the Room 13 hamsters  . . .

So today’s provocation is bog simple – make one for you too.

Get your figurative oxygen mask on so that you can continue to be amazing – sustainably. 

Kia kaha




This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow New Zealand principal, Michael Fletcher.

Michael has worked in education for nearly 30 years, half of that in leadership positions. As the Principal of Chaucer School for the last 7 years he shared;

“There are days when I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this job . . . and there are other days when you couldn’t pay me enough to do this job!”

.   .   .

“My doctor has 28 principals on his books…”, I was told recently by an experienced principal. “Of those, 25 are on blood pressure medicine.”

Now, I’m not up to speed with the national statistics when it comes to what percentage of the general population has high blood pressure. However, I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s lower than 89%.

Sustainability. Our own. How can we prioritise this? For ourselves? I’m a believer in ‘put your own oxygen mask on first and ‘be kind to yourself. These sayings , mantras, reminders are all well and good. But what about tangible measures that we, as principals, can implement now to help make our roles manageable, realistic and sustainable? And what can Boards do in this space?

A key first step is to ‘get in on the table’. Principal health and wellbeing as a separate item on the BOT annual work plan. Then, listed on meeting agendas. For example Kahui Ako Principal meetings, Principal PLG’s, First time Principal hui, NZEI Principal network meetings.

Secondly, I’ve started canvassing colleagues to collate examples of measures they’ve put in place to directly support their own health and wellbeing. There have included: A period of discretionary leave, granted by the Board for the Principal to use to support their wellbeing; an annual subscription to a meditation app; 1-1 sessions with a counsellor/executive coach / professional supervisor; working a day per fortnight offsite; going in later one day a week; going in later on the day after a BOT meeting / late event.

Do you have other examples?

My next step is to ask colleagues if there is one new measure that they would like to see implemented this year to support their health and wellbeing.

Board of Trustee elections are coming up next year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, at the NZSTA ‘Governance 101’ workshops, new Board members received a list of tangible ways that schools have supported their principal’s wellbeing? This would help to normalise the fact that principal health and wellbeing is its ‘own thing’, it deserves and needs to be discussed, supported and resourced.

At the recent NZSTA conference a principal colleague shared this thought with me, “Imagine if people thought of a principal as a taonga …”.

That stopped me in my tracks. Now let’s get that on the table and talk about it.

I can feel a clip coming on . . .


*Taonga means “treasure” in te reo Māori. 

Check out Michael’s latest video clip here.


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“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.