Luckily, I’m a teacher not a builder. I say this because while I’d love a new Ford Ranger (with EV stickers on it), I’d be so slow in my job that I couldn’t afford to run it. Why? Because I’ve realised I’ve got a problem – I like projects to be just right. To be fair, I’ve suspected this for a while, but over the last holiday break I found myself pulling apart a small deck I’d built and redoing it just because one corner was slightly (15mm to be precise) too high. That deck was, objectively, finished last Christmas, but instead of accepting it was done, I just had to adjust it.
I think school leaders are very prone to doing this. Tweaking that pandemic plan, leading yet another curriculum meeting about maths, trying to build the perfect Professional Growth Cycle . . . the list is long indeed.
And we’re surrounded by people who do the same thing, and are part of a system that encourages this over thinking. It’s hard not to do the same.
The people closest to us as leaders are the teachers we work with. Typically, they like things to be right (fairly so) and can be passionate about their specialty, which leads to searching for the best. On the face of it, this is an admirable quest. Better is better and obviously the students in our care deserve this.
But there’s a cost to seeking perfection.
For example, how many times have you arrived at another reporting cycle and found that what was agreed to be fine last time now needs to be amended? I’m pretty sure most of us have been part of that dance! The “big picture” people in the team will talk lovingly about biting the bullet and adopting a whole new system, those with eyes for detail will want the font sizes changed . . .
The cost comes in the discussion, the thinking, the re-creating, the energy – all of these are finite resources and if not carefully allocated, either stop us from doing other important work or simply add to an already heavy load for everyone.
. . .
The education system that we are based in explicitly and implicitly encourages the same behaviour.
New curriculum initiatives are usually broadly described. They come with school-by-school autonomy where each school interprets how to implement them. In a quest to avoid prescription, very little specific guidance is given and so every school starts inventing their own version. This can be a daunting process and principals I know are always eager to see what others have done, not only to get some guidance on what to do themselves, but to compare and see if what they already have is “good enough”.
(As a brief aside, NZ is currently going through a curriculum “refresh” and my fervent hope is that the new model breaks the cycle of school-by-school reinvention. My breath is held.)
The implicit push is more subtle. There’s an unwritten expectation that things can always be improved.
At times this has been obvious with terms like “a culture of continuous improvement” driving Review Office expectations, but at other times it’s deeper, buried in conversations or contained in media releases. When a system wide problem emerges, an almost default next step is to start talking about what schools can do better. In our NZ context, the current angst about school attendance is a classic example.
The fact that all can see the main drivers of the problem are societal, with an overlay of 2 years of international pandemic, does not stop the conversation quickly turning to what schools can improve on. (I’m not suggesting that schools can’t be more welcoming, more relevant, or more attractive – simply that yet again we are seen as an easier answer to a complex problem.)
So the dance will start again and teams across the country will need to use their finite resources to respond.
. . .
Which brings us full loop to a term that I believe has been wrongly maligned in our game – “good enough”.
“Good enough” – satisfactory, fine, acceptable, decent, respectable – are all synonyms for this term.
When deciding at what point to stop working on something, to leave it alone, we are making a decision about where the project sits on a continuum. That line starts somewhere around ‘crap’ and stretches all the way to ‘perfect’.
Perhaps if our only job was to create a single beautiful thing, like a designer watch or a set of song lyrics, it would make sense to push the definition of good enough closer to the perfection end of the scale, but we have a myriad of things to create, maintain and support.
Recognising “good enough” and acting on it, is not a natural behaviour for many of us, but to ignore it, is to self-impose unnecessary workload and comes at a high cost to other important work.
‘Good’ is good and ‘enough’ is enough – believe it.
This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow principal in New Zealand, Saira Boyle from Willowbank School. As an experienced principal, Saira has been become increasingly conscious of the demands that our leadership roles make on us, and has generously shared some thinking and tactics that are worth considering.
In our work as principals we’re bombarded on a daily, if not hourly basis, with a diverse range of challenges, each one creating a stimulus inside of us; some physical, some emotional and others a combination. At the start of 2018 I developed a life threatening unprovoked blood clot in my leg; the cause – layer upon layer of work related unreleased stress stimulus as a direct result of ‘the job’ (which don’t get me wrong I LOVE, and am slightly addicted to!)
On and off for the last three years I’ve unsuccessfully dabbled with a range of different things to help deal with impact of the work stress; healthy food, drinking water, walking, gym memberships, early nights, leaving work before 6pm, leaving the laptop at work, taking email off my phone, and so the list goes on! When I say unsuccessfully I mean I started different tactics and strategies, usually at the beginning of a new term and as the pace and mahi picked up or the winter months kicked in, each one fell by the wayside. I mean, after a vexatious parent, a playground fight, an overwhelmed staff member and a pile of non NZ trained applications to read for a teacher vacancy, toilets to clean, grumpy neighbours, a teacher in tears due to the pressures of an under resourced child with non-typical needs, a board report to write and a late night PTA meeting to attend (in one day!) who can resist a sausage roll or two, binge watching Netflix until the early hours and an extra hour in bed in place of a morning walk, right? Snapback into old and trusted habits was strong and fierce, time and time again. Sound familiar?
Believe it or not it doesn’t need to be this way. A couple of weeks ago Steve’s blog made reference to a Stoic quote about responding to pressured situations by, “firstly not getting worked up and then by doing the right thing; being a good human being and speaking with kindness, modesty, and sincerity”. A fabulous outcome of living by this mantra is personal growth and wellbeing – the ever illusive holy grail. When I posted in the comments of Steve’s blog and he invited me to share with you, I have to say I put my new learning into practice, silenced the mind and responded with gratitude for the opportunity. So, here I am, and here goes.
. . . . .
I’ve been practicing something for around two months now, on a daily basis, which helps immensely to make that space between stimulus and response a space where one can manage the emotion to ensure reaction doesn’t occur, keep the brain out of the red zone reaction and develop stress mastery. It’s simple, effective and takes only one hour each morning. It breaks down the stronghold of mental models which lead to our ‘reactions’ (becoming worked up) to certain situations and in this space the ability to respond as a good human being – our purpose!
The brain is programmed from birth to around 7 years old and those programmes, (or cages) shape and set the stage for our five life categories ~ health, finance, spirituality, relationships and career. Our subconscious is strong and in many of us it is the boulder blocking the light to shifting habits which prevent our growth and stress mastery. This daily practice gently chips away at the boulder and develops in its place new pathways in the brain, which result in the ability to take perspective, remain calm, manage our emotions and respond in kind ways. It is AMAZING!
When you wake in the early hours, instead of spending time aimlessly ‘scrollaxing’ try this and watch the results. Set the day the right way with the Green Focused Power Hour (*Bill Cortright);
Ten minutes of reading ~ something for yourself; self growth input. If you want to master stress then daily commitment to self development is essential!
Ten minutes journaling ~ if you are taking in new information, then you also need to journal to make sense of and release the old thought patterns
Ten minutes affirmation ~ decide what you want to achieve and repeat out loud for ten minutes eg I am healthy, I am strong, I am inclusive, I am present, I am joyful
Ten minutes of visualisation ~ think of your ideal day in 3 years time and imagine it in detail
Ten minutes of meditation ~ to centre the mind and build new brain pathways
Ten minutes of physical movement ~ stretches, walking, yoga, running, putting the brain in the green zone
In the evenings I sign off the day with around 15 minutes of reflection on;
Triumph of the day
Challenge of the day
Idea to explore
Feeling of the day
Memory of the day
Within two to three days I noticed a difference! Joy, ease and lightness entered my life from all angles, it was remarkable! My teenagers started smiling at me, my husband made me laugh and danced with me when I arrived home from work, a vexatious interaction was greeted with calm and generosity and my team began to feel less bombarded! When a meeting became volatile, I was able to remain calm and respond effectively. When a child decided to slam his head into the window my presence was able to calm his anger. When an employment issue resulted in ugly action, rather than allow the what ifs and overwhelming thought patterns to invade my mind late into the evening and weekend, I watched my thinking and put it to one side, later responding with kindness. When I would usually be exhausted and counting down to the break, I am more energised than ever!
Catching the Habit!
I think the reason I am able to make this a habit is down to a few things, the first being my why. During lockdown in 2020 I noticed a dull ache in my right arm, which over the months resulted in my shoulder seizing up, permanent pain and limited use of the arm. Around the same time my Apple watch started telling me my heart rate would occasionally flutter it’s way up to 170bpm for no apparent reason. Then there were the usual female gripes for women of a particular age and then the big one, a beautiful member of staff in her forties was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer. Just like that, her life changed forever! She decided to eat clean and her surgeons explained to her the importance of daily exercise. I bought a book for her on food and read parts of it myself and that coupled with the podcast mentioned below made me realise we need to start with inside out. Suddenly my why was no longer about looking good, maintaining my youth and hanging onto the past.
My why was about being strong, in body and mind for me! Find your why.
I engaged a spiritual counsellor and then a personal trainer (only one or the other now!) and because I was investing in me and paying for this, it was also a motivator to stick to the plan! Having someone to hold you to account is essential! You invest in others every single day. Invest in you! You’re worth it. A coach of some sort is essential. If you want it you may need to give up something so the budget fits, but it is worthwhile!
Understanding how the mind works; getting through the first thirty days is the crunch, and then the next thirty, then the six month milestone and then the year! (I’ll let you know when I get there!) Make a plan and chip away, a little each day. When you wake in the morning your brain is in theta state; the most receptive state to change. So, if you can, set that alarm an hour earlier (go to bed an hour earlier – what’s going on at 10pm that’s so important?), let’s face it, many of us are awake and mindlessly running through the day before we begin the day anyway!
My crazy hormones and busy mind were waking me around 4.30am-5.30am and I would lie there trying to force myself back to sleep, or start ‘scrollaxing’ through mindless FB or Instagram feeds until it felt like an acceptable time to rise. So I decided to reframe my perspective and put this time to good use and now I wake excited to enjoy the process.
If you aren’t a natural morning person, why not just pick twenty minutes to start with and try the reading (self growth material) and journaling to start with? Maybe the affirmations could be said during your shower? Your visualisation during your commute and your mediation during a morning tea break? The other day I opened my curtains and watched the sunrise as I yoga stretched – what a way to put the brain into green and what a blessing to start the day in the green zone!
If you miss a day, don’t panic, just keep going. Consistency is key!
As part of living into our Mindfulness – Pause, Breathe, Smile programme (which is now funded in all schools) we meditate at the start of all meetings – our Catholic colleagues out there are blessed to begin with prayer. Whatever the name, it’s about stilling the mind, the endless stream of thought, throughout the day. This sets the foundation to create your new habit.
Love the process and notice the little things each day that change – this, in short is what keeps me motivated! It works. It works because it’s chipping away at the subconscious mind and changing the pathways to support new habit formation. It works because it’s little and often. It’s neuroscience. It works because it brings joy and emotion is contagious! Make sure you get hooked on the right one! Oh, and by the way, my arm is now moving again, my palpitations under control, my migraines less offensive and relationships deepened at home and work due to a new found headspace. Accepting the process as the goal is more important than an ‘end goal’ for me. The process is bringing daily joy in incremental measures. Starting the day with a daily reading from The Daily Stoic is a great reminder of the action we should take each day to bring us closer to ‘home’.
“Well-being is realised by small steps, but is truly no small thing” – Zeno, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 7.1.26
I have learnt the importance of;
Watching my thoughts and when a negative thought arises, reframing to the positive
Sitting with and feeling the emotions which arise from the daily challenges, excited that they give me an opportunity to explore where the emotion is coming from, in turn breaking the boulder
Observing the reactions and being still in my thinking mind, enough to create space to plan a calm and good response
If you are ready for human centred leadership in all areas of your life then give it a go! Remember growth is a continual process and when challenges come our way, it’s an exciting opportunity to practice smashing up that boulder, creating new habits and allowing the light to shine in and through our subconscious!
I’m sure so many of you have your own amazing ways to grow and lead the right way, this is simply something that works for me! If you’d like to know more about this and share experiences if you embark on the ride, be welcome to be in touch. Having a champion is always a bonus! Meanwhile remember, what you think you become, what you feel you attract and what you imagine you create!
“You could enjoy in this very moment all the things you are praying to reach by taking the long way around – if you’d stop depriving yourself of them.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.1
Freedom – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
Happiness – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
Respect of your peers? That too, in the choices you make.
All of that is right there in front of you. No need to take the long way to get there. (Holiday and Hanslem, 2016, The Daily Stoic)
Fabulous readings to get you started:
The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
Grit – Angela Duckworth
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
What Happened to You? – Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey
Stress Mastery – Living Right with Bill Cortright (podcast)
40 hours? 50 hours? 60 hours? 70 hours? . . . How many hours do you work in an average week?
. . . . .
Recently we shared some data regarding the work habits of New Zealand rural principals. One confronting statistic was that 47% of the group were working 60 hours or more on average! Here’s the chart this number is based on.
Chart 1 shows the average hours per week worked by NZ Rural Principals
I shared this information with a small group of non-teaching friends last weekend and the general, off the cuff reaction was something like;
“So what? That’s what all managers/professionals/leaders do these days.”
And right there lies the fundamental problem – for some crazy reason people see the status quo as OK.
Well, that’s not how I see it, because –
Multiple studies have shown that from a pure productivity perspective, working beyond 50 hours is counter productive – the longer you work past this number the less you get done.
Multiple studies have shown that from a wellness perspective, working beyond 50 hours makes you sick.
. . . . .
So whydo so many smart people ignore the data and push on past the safe limits? To answer this question we have to look back into history a little.
When the industrial revolution kicked off in the 18th century, it became very common for workers to clock huge hours (12 – 16 a day, 6 days per week). This abuse was not accepted by all and in 1817 a well known industrialist, Robert Owen, coined the phrase, “8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, and 8 hours rest”.
It took another 100 years before the majority of developed countries agreed that this was a good idea and in 1919 there was the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention where 52 countries ratified an intention to limit the hours people worked (thanks Wikipedia!).
It took even longer for Governments to actually enforce any suggested limits. And in a great many cases, they made exceptions – if you work as a principal in New Zealand you are one! Your contract says;
“shall work such hours as may be reasonably required to enable them to properly fulfill their responsibilities whether or not such hours may exceed 40 hours per week.”
So despite the research around what working excessively long hours means, even your employer is encouraging you to keep going!
This all forms part of the “why” – why we continue to work more hours than is effective or healthy. We are operating in a way that comes from a past time when a ‘good’ worker worked ‘hard’ and the ‘hard’ was judged largely by how many hours were clocked. The fact that your 2021 employment contract encourages you to ignore an effective limit says volumes about the difficulty of making change in public education at all levels . . .
. . . . .
But we know better now. That 100 year old “8 hour working day” was just a stab in the dark. It wasn’t based on any research.
Way back in 1817 Robert Owen probably didn’t have a lot of productivity data to draw on but he didhave practical experience of what too much work did to peoples’ wellness (and he didn’t like it).
So we can approach this topic from both a productivityangle and a wellnessangle.
Lets start with productivity. A well known study (2014) by Professor John Pencavel of Stanford University, found that productivity per hour declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.
More recent studies have narrowed the productivity data even further. Based on current research, many scientists agree that the maximum time people are productive each day is approximately 6 hours. 6 hours! Some of you will have passed that mark before lunch time!
Which brings us to the wellness aspect of working 50 hours plus – it’s not good for us.
In a meta analysis of 243 published papers over the last 20 years, there was a clear (and frightening) link between long work hours and the following medical problems: cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and poor sleep.
These are all serious issues, which are backed up by the anecdotal evidence that Steve and I have that many of you are currently medicated for either cardiovascular issues or anxiety. Sadly, New Zealand school leaders seem to match the international data very closely!
And as usual, the cavalry is not coming.
Youare the only person who can set a reasonable cap on your regular working hours. It is crystal clear in the research that the upperlimit for productivity and health is no more than 50 per week. Somewhere below this would be better.
It’s time to be more professional¹ folks.
¹ A 40 Hour Project definition – “being professional is working in a way that is both effective and sustainable.”
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 thaton the table and talk about it.
“I hadn’t been at my school for very long. It was a country school with a straight road of about 6 km separating it from the edge of town. Perfect running distance to unwind after a hectic day of principalship. I left my car in the carpark and took off down the road. The run went so well that I did it again the next day, and the next, leaving school each day about 4pm. Each evening I’d get a lift out to school to pick up my car. The pick-up times would vary from 5:30pm through until after 9:00pm.
Overtime, I began to get compliments about how hard I was working from the community. “Wow, you’re putting in some long hours at school at the moment” and, “awesome work, you’ve been busy”. I didn’t read too much into it. It was true I had put some hours in, but I began to wonder how members of the community who had nothing to do with the school, knew so much about how busy I was and the amount of time I was spending working.
The compliments kept coming, and so did my running home habit.
My fitness improved and at the same time so did my standing in the community.
One day it dawned on me why my community seemed to know so much about the hours that I worked. When they drove home in the afternoon, they always saw my car parked in the carpark. They had no reason to believe that I wasn’t at school, especially when the lights were always on in the school at the same time (thanks cleaners!).
I hadn’t done this to be deceitful, or to skive off early each day, but it did underlie to me some suspicions that I had about how people see the role of a principal, and what we see the characteristics of a great principal as being.”
. . .
Many people put value in the hours you work, especially if they don’t know exactly what you are doing. And let’s face it, as a principal, there are often things that we do in our role that go unseen. This perceptionof the “hours you work” reflecting your value, is often worth more than the actual work you do. Perception is king.
If you are working long hours, then by association, you must be working hard and achieving a lot! I’ve never heard someone say, “wow you’ve only worked 6 hours today, you must have been super-efficient and on the ball!”. I wonder why this is? Sooner or later you’ve got to consider; is it our role to be the busiest person at school, or is it actually to make the most impact?
This begs the question, what would our roles look like if we were forty hour principals? I asked several of my colleagues, all who work a variety of hours, (but always well over forty in any given week – sometimes double that), “imagine if you could work a forty hour week, I wonder what that would look like?”
They all said it couldn’t be done. They implied that a forty hour a week principal simply wouldn’t being doing their job, and (just gently) that maybe I was out of mind suggesting such a thing.
The maths didn’t quite stack up either. If you start at 7:30am in the morning then you’d have to be walking out the gate by 3:30pm, five days a week. Even if you began at 8:00am, you’d be in your car by 4:00pm. None of this accounted for Board meetings, staff meetings, PD sessions, evening PTA meetings, or school community events which were important that you attended.
However, I think most of these principals missed the point.
Forty is just a number. A number that we all grew up with, that we were promised – the mythical forty hour work week. I could have suggested thirty-five or fifty for the same reason. Here we are in a principal world where many of us are overworked, stressed to the max, and struggling to create a work/life balance that has some semblance of joy. We clock up some insanely big work hours. The New Zealand Primary School Leaders’ Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey (2018) indicates anywhere between 55 and 80 hours a week.
The most important number of course, is not the number of hours that you spend chained to your desk. No, the most important numbers are found on the flipside. How many hours do you spend with your loved ones? How many quality sleeping hours do you get each night? How many hours do you spend exercising? How do your blood pressure numbers look? How many hours of stress do you pass on to those around you; to your colleagues and to your loved ones? These numbers add up to your wellness and hence effectiveness both as a person and a principal.
The “Forty Hour Principal” is therefore aspirational. There are countless things that you as a principal might have to do, and let’s face it the day will only ever be 24 hours long. However, there are some things that we do each day that can happen tomorrow or at another time. The things that you do that make an impact, or a difference, are the only things that really have to happen today.
The “Forty Hour Principal” isn’t about adding work onto those around you either. You are responsible for a lot in your schools and that is never going to change. This is about you being directly accountable to your own well-being.
So, what steps can you take?
Throughout this book we make several suggestions, but a good place to start is to take a look at your current hours per week. You’ll notice that they fluctuate a lot week to week, depending on what’s happening in the school. Try to timetable in at least two forty hour principal weeks during those potentially quieter times per term. Remember, forty is just a number. It’s aspirational. The aim here is to dramatically decrease your hours when the rhythm of the term makes this possible.
During these weeks, don’t feel guilty when you walk out at 4:00pm. Some of the biggest thinkers in the world routinely take time to do exactly – nothing. Bill Gates, Tim Ferriss, Mark Zuckerberg to name a few, have taken on the habit of regularly stepping away from their usual routines. This isn’t a vacation, it’s a “nothing time” where they spend periods reflecting, reading, thinking and living outside the all-encapsulating world that is running a business. They do this without being contactable or connected to their businesses. And they do it because it works – it makes them healthier and more effective.
Look at the 4pm walk to your car as the beginning of your nothingness time. Nothingness brings to it the flexibility of doing whatever you want as long as it is not more work.
On those days, switch off your email notifications from the moment you leave school. (You should try this every day, not just during your Forty Hour Principal weeks!) Switch them on again when you come to school the next day. You’ll be amazed at how many hours you can save per week just by limiting when you can be contacted. Consider not checking emails during the weekends either. If you are going to check them, then make sure you do it on your own terms, when you are ready to engage. Surprises can wait. They will be equally surprising when you read them tomorrow or on Monday.
By taking on the aspiration of being a Forty Hour Principal, you actively and positively show that being busy isn’t what you value in your school. Impact is the goal, not the number of hours you log up. We’re not talking about Facebook likes here after all!
By looking after yourself you can do your job more effectively. Don’t give in to the perceptions of others who may see this in a negative light. Instead you’re showing some powerful traits; flexibility, a non-judgemental mindset, positive coping strategies, appreciation of self, and the ability to look after yourself and your school.
Throughout the Forty Hour Principal book and in our weekly blog posts, we look at other provocations that will get you thinking about your role. As a whole, they signpost ways that you can use to make being a principal or school leader more manageable, more sustainable, and more fun.
This is a guest post by a principal colleague, Mike Hope, from the Rangitikei.
With the excitement and nerves of starting a new principal role at the beginning of this year, the last thing I needed was to be dealing with a pandemic in my first term. The year started really well, with routines being set up, relationship building in full swing with the staff, children and the community, a successful community barbeque, the best swimming sports I have ever been a part of, student leaders announced and leadership training organised, preparations for this year’s big production etc…
Then bang! In Week 8 we’re notified that Aotearoa is moving to Lockdown Level 4 due to Covid-19. As all principals are now aware, this was a stressful time for children, staff and the community. I felt a huge amount of pressure from all angles, but felt lucky planning had begun a week prior, thanks to the support and wisdom of the leaders in our PLG meeting the week before. A discussion was initiated around planning for a pandemic and each principal shared their thoughts on what their schools would do. This got me thinking about what we as a school would do, and started checking our policies, procedures and begun planning as a staff. We decided to get the ball rolling with both hard copy and digital learning packs. By the time the announcement was made, each class was ready to go.
The following weeks are somewhat of a blur, with the amount of information coming from the MOE, MOH and the media, it made life at home that much harder. I found myself getting caught up in the moment, trying to listen to what everyone was saying, trying to keep our school community, BOT, children and staff all informed and supported. After 2 weeks in Level 4, my mind finally started to clear of the Covid-19 mist. It was my lovely wife that reminded me, that we’re all in this together and to try and keep life entertaining and fun for the children (both at home and at school).
From this point on, I stopped checking the news apps every 10 minutes, I stopped checking the Principal Facebook page every 5 minutes and I stopped checking my work emails continuously, waiting in anticipation for Iona’s bulletin at 7 or 8 o’clock at night. It was here I started spending and enjoying more time with my own young family. This helped me to refocus and formulate a plan, to not only inform the school community, but to boost morale. This came in the form of the weekly ‘Bluey’, a newsletter basically.
In the Bluey I started winding up the community about their support for the dismal Hurricanes, trying to drum up support for the mighty Highlanders. I tried to use a bit of humour when discussing life at home in lockdown, supported by photos of what I was doing with my family at home. I know, this isn’t an original idea, but the feedback I started getting helped with my own confidence.
As a staff we started having Zoom Meetings (which I had to learn how to use). Here we supported each other with each wave of distance learning packs. It was during these times, I begun to realise what an amazing staff I have. Their drive and commitment to support their children throughout lockdown, was above and beyond. They were in constant touch with the children and parents in their class, provided high quality learning experiences using a range of platforms, all while trying to look after themselves and their own families.
The icing on the cake came when one of my teachers mentioned making a music video for the children. With the staff we have, I knew this was a great idea and we made a very entertaining lip sync music video of ‘We’re not gonna take it!’. This brought not only the staff closer together, but also brought our whole community together. The last time I checked, we had over 3,000 views on our school Facebook page.
The life of being a principal in a new position, went from being full on, very busy and stressful, to being a lot more fun and positive. Through having a little fun and humour, our staff as a team has grown stronger and our community has come together. The staff were more eager to get back to school to be with their class and I know the children were missing being at school too. Not to mention how excited the parents were to send their lovely children off to school.
So yes, it all seems a little cheesy really. But the time in lockdown gave me time to think about what I value most, and for me that was family. I treasured my time with my 2 young children and my wife. It made me reassess where I was in life and what I needed to do. The following questions keep running through my head:
Do I want to continue to be overwhelmed by what principals have to contend with each day?
Do I want to carry on going home with a full head and not sleeping well?
Do I want to enjoy life more with my family?
Do I want to enjoy work more?
I need to change the ‘normal’ and start enjoying life more. Now I just need to figure out how.