Reflections of a Southlander on the West Coast

SND 24 wk1 Principal SpeaksI managed to earn myself a speeding ticket recently as a result of panicking when passing a truck. It is not usually in my character to panic, nor is it to get speeding tickets. The field of view due to an upcoming hill was disappearing fast and I made the decision to continue to pass at a higher speed rather than pull back in behind the car I was passing.


In education I have found myself often taking a measured approach to ‘exciting’ and ‘new’ initiatives often instigated, it seems, by academics with little or no grasp of the realities faced in schools, especially in the classroom; ‘Open for learning classrooms’ for example, now referred to as ‘innovative learning environments’….does that mean that if you don’t agree with that philosophy that you’re not innovative?

A cunning plan by someone wanting to push through their ideology possibly! Mind you, I am certainly ‘open’ to new initiatives as long as there is sound reasoning behind them and they don’t try to provide the magical solution because their simply isn’t one best way to do things.

Now I don’t want to come across in this article as a cynic as I believe I am far from it. I have welcomed the Minister’s initiative to have a nation-wide goal of an 85 per cent pass rate for all 18 year-olds, for example. I don’t think that this is just an aspirational goal and I see it as being achievable and a necessity for our country to move forward.

Gateway and the Trades Academy have been instrumental at our school in helping improve the motivation of, and thus the achievement of, our boys in particular at school.
Bring your own devices/browsers has been and still is a challenge for our schools on the Coast.

We are very lucky to have our local West Coast Development Trust that has helped all of our schools with ICT wireless infrastructure costs.

I must say that I am concerned at the rapid push towards having exams on line by NZQA. If there is the expectation for all secondary schools to have students do their exams online then how is our computing system at school going to cope with exam conditions? If each student has to have a computer, then the Ministry is going to need to come to the party a lot more in terms of financial and technical support to allow schools to have large numbers of computers, especially if we are going to keep referring to education in our country as being free.

After four years in my first principal position, I was referred to recently by a colleague as an ‘experienced principal’.

I still feel quite green but it’s nice that people have that confidence in me even though at times I still suffer from the ‘imposter complex’, but I suspect that is possibly par for the course for all principals!

On the First Time Principals’ programme I was introduced to the concept of principal burnout and stress. I find whitebaiting at this time of year to be quite beneficial in helping with my reflective practice and stress relief.

Being a principal can definitely be a lonely and demanding job at times, but the advice given to me to establish a balance in my life between family, work and my time has been invaluable. SPANZ executive certainly did a great job highlighting this for me two years ago!

‘If I’m not feeling well and able to perform at my best – what chance has the rest of the school’ is a statement that I reflect on often.

Being a principal truly is a very rewarding job 99 per cent of the time but the trick it seems is being able to manage that one per cent of the time when it’s not!

The cost of living on the West Coast of the South Island is certainly a draw card for new teachers to the area; however, I have noticed of late a reluctance of North Island teachers to move down here.

I would have thought the high cost of living in Auckland, for example, would have been a factor driving people out of Auckland, but is the fear of not being able to return there due to house price rises becoming an issue – I’d like to know?

Frankly, though, I think there is a strong case for some sort of differentiated pay system based on location for teachers living in New Zealand…. I can feel unions spitting at me already but hey, unions are meant to be about representing all their members and their needs!

Health and safety can be a wonderful thing and having had several of our school buildings identified in recent times as being structurally at risk in the event of an earthquake we have had several new classrooms built for us and several others strengthened.

Our school is looking a lot newer and as a result students and staff alike are feeling more invigorated! God certainly does work in mysterious and wonderful ways at times!

Christ is the reason our school exists – we are a Marist and Mercy school and proud of it! When it comes to student achievement I have the firm belief that by looking after the whole student – physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally – good results in terms of academic achievement will follow. The values and key competencies in the new curriculum are reasonable steps in the right direction towards whole child development.

The concern of our students for others is something we have been working hard to develop at our school, especially in relation to ‘social conscience’. To this end we offered our students in Years 12 and 13 this year the opportunity to go on a service trip to Samoa in place of our usual biennial sports trip to sister schools in Australia.

Nineteen of our students and four teachers took up the challenge and they had a very rewarding and memorable experience. Needless to say we will be repeating this opportunity again in the near future!

I’ve just realised that parts of this article don’t link too well, so thanks in anticipation for the lenience of readers. I’m off to Hokitika tomorrow but next time I’m tempted to pass a vehicle at speed and risk getting another ticket I’m going to relax and remember to take the safe and measured approach, as after all what’s the hurry, I’m on the beautiful West Coast and life does not need to be rushed here, rather it’s to be appreciated and enjoyed!
Kieran Stone (Principal John Paul II High School, Greymouth)

John Paul II High School is a Catholic integrated, co-educational Year 9 to 13 school, decile six, with a roll of 200 students.


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