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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It’s three weeks into my sabbatical and I’m sitting outside with a cup of coffee and Tim Ferriss’ “Tools of Titans” ¹. The day is one of those amazingly clear but crisp examples of winter that we get way down here in South Canterbury.

 I stop for a moment to appreciate the calm and while I do, just sitting there, I can’t help but think about what a “normal” 10am on a Tuesday would be like. It starts me thinking about why the two scenarios are so different.

I pondered this same question periodically over the rest of the sabbatical. There were obvious explanations around the practicalities – I’m not at work, therefore; no meetings, I’m not taking phone calls/replying to emails, someone else is dealing with staff/student/people issues, finances, strategic goals, etc, ad Infinium.

But while these are all real, I think there are bigger ‘meta’ advantages that are creating this sense of calm and my list today is:

  • My head is not juggling multiple tasks
  • There are very few interruptions
  • I am in control of my day – it is predictable
  • I have time to be well (exercise, clear head = sleep, eat/drink healthily)
  • I do one thing at a time (and compete it before doing another)

(I’m much like Dave, and I can’t believe how the sense of freedom opens up the possibilities of my whole day. I relish in the sense that I’m not tied to my desk or the physical boundaries of my school. My day opens up before me with an infinite list of opportunities and choices. I don’t feel in anyway constrained by the usual daily noise and nonsense that I get in my role at school. Of course, much of the noise and nonsense is actually a figment of my own making.

It’s the space of this sabbatical that is giving me the opportunity to unpack the habits and  thought grime of nearly 25 years of principalship – it gives me the space to declutter.

Equally importantly, it allows me time to practise some key new habits that will help me positively do my challenging principal role for the next five years. Because let’s face it, I’m heading back to my school, back to my desk, back to the issues that I left behind. This time I’m planning on being a lot more intentional about the way in which I tackle the challenges ahead. Steve.)

This is the first sabbatical ² that I have applied for and with the experience fresh, can honestly say that I should have applied earlier. I had reasons not to (self-justified), such as changing schools, not having a suitable reliever, ERO coming, . . . but I now know that these were mistakes.

If you are wondering whether you should apply, my emphatic advice is “YES”! The very fact that you are considering the idea means that you should. Just do it.

Colleagues who have experienced sabbaticals (some several times) have warned that I will find it incredibly hard to “climb back on the horse” and resume business as usual. That returning to the incredible busyness of school leadership will be difficult after experiencing something different.

I understand that possibility, particularly the reality that being time poor brings with it, but am hopeful that by implementing some of the aspects of the 40HP I can mitigate the impact – a real life test if you like!


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¹ This is an amazing book that is a collection of thinking and experience from dozens of thought leaders – “Tools of Titans”, Tim Ferriss, 2017.

² Currently in New Zealand, a principal who meets certain service criteria can apply for a 10 week sabbatical. There is both a “project” component and a “refreshment” component to the time.