Principal sitting on a green couch.

Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future

Big work weeks, demanding expectations and a lack of proper support networks.

These are just a few of the issues that came to the fore in the Principals’ Hauora Survey 2021. Our vision is to see principals’ wellbeing and professional growth well supported, with sufficient resourcing available to address their huge work demands. It is now urgent the government invest more in education.

The ask

As the challenging nature of leading a school changes, so too should the support, expectations and compensation for these roles.

  1. Better staffing to support school leaders.
  2. More resourcing for support in our schools and kura.
A woman with grey hair and a red shirt sits at a desk working on a laptop.

The 2022 Principals' Hauora Survey painted a grim picture

72% of principals report working more than 50 hours per week

is the average health self-rating from principals (compared with 72% for the general population)

Read more about the pressures that our principals are dealing with in the full report below.

Engaging with School Boards

The recent school board elections provide an opportunity to start the conversation with boards about staffing issues in our primary and intermediate schools, the pathway to fully staffed schools and to gain support for our campaign. 

We’ve prepared a guide to help you with this.

Paul Barker has a simple metaphor to describe how he and his fellow tumuaki feel at the moment.

“We’re kind of that stage where, if we were a tea towel, we’d be completely rung out,” he said.

“We need some extra sustenance and change to rejuvenate to back to doing the best possible job we can for our kids.”

Kaeo Primary School’s principal is hoping that Tu Meke Tumuaki – this week’s opportunity to recognise the work of principals in their community — will provide the catalyst needed for Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future [link to campaign] to make the Government take notice of long-standing issues facing primary education in New Zealand.

The campaign stemmed from the basic issue identified by principals – that primary schools need more staff. That means more teachers, teacher aides, learning support, administrators and specialist support staff, all of whom will help principals devote more of their time to leading teaching and learning and their school community.

“It will allow me to use the skills and experience I have got in my school to do a great job for the kids in front of me,” he said.

“Our kids are quite different nowadays. They have far more complex needs and we need people with experience and commitment focussed on teaching and learning and improving the basic things — the reason the school is there.

“That will only happen with additional resourcing and that will only come if people really get behind principals and our claims. We really do need to win so that principals can do their job properly.”

Mr Barker spends a lot of time in Te Tai Tokerau talking with other principals and he is hearing similar stories – the increasing demands on their time, while being expected to work at a faster pace is putting tumuaki under more and more stress.

“Each day I hop in my car to go to school, it’s a 14-minute drive and I finish planning my day. I could count on one hand the number of days that work out in the way I had planned on my drive,” he said.

“The reason they don’t is the same reason every principal feels – a great commitment to the kids in front of them.

Mr Barker says that when the children have a need, or there is a problem in a classroom, or a teacher has a need or a community situation that needs addressing, a principal’s work generally gets left on the corner of their desk until late at night.

“That happens day after day.”

“I love my job. It’s probably the best job I’ve had and will ever have. I love my school, my community and my kids. It’s what drives you … having the time to affect positive change for the kids in your care.”

Mr Barker is on the team preparing to go into bargaining with the Ministry on our collective agreement but was adamant this year’s negotiations were not about pay.

“Getting the system right so we can do a great job with our boards and for the kids in front of us,” he said, in reference to the recommendations of last year’s Puaotanga report.

“We need some systematic change; we need extra resourcing. Those things don’t come unless we win the support of our community. The most important people in our community when we come to confront this battle are all of the people that sit and do such an important job on our Board of Trustees.”

“He was one of those people who always seemed to find time for staff. The confidence you have as a staff member that you can walk in with any problem is greatly appreciated.”

Liam Rutherford often doesn’t get time to stop and reflect on how he is sitting in the sixth floor of a central Wellington office building as NZEI Te Riu Roa President, but when he does, he recognises the influence his principal Wayne Jenkins has had in getting him there.

Liam has spent almost three years in the role at NZEI Te Riu Roa after working for more than a decade with Wayne at Ross Intermediate in Palmerston North.

He says Wayne encouraged him every step of the way – both professionally as a teacher and in the work that he wanted to do to impact the wider educational sector.

“I’m really fortunate with the journey I’ve had to become President of NZEI Te Riu Roa,” Liam says at the start of Tu Meke Tumuaki – a week to recognise the contribution and unsung work of principals to their schools and wider communities.

“It is not lost on me that it couldn’t have happened without such a supportive and warm principal recognising that this was going to be a really important part of how I contribute to the profession.”

There were two things that made the most lasting impression upon him while working with Wayne.

The first was his willingness to keep his office door open to any staff member that wanted to seek advice or to talk.

“Or even just to vent,” Liam says with a laugh.

“He was one of those people who always seemed to find time for staff. The confidence you have as a staff member that you can walk in with any problem is greatly appreciated.

“The other area that I think is amazing is the effort he puts in to growing staff to be the absolute best they can be.

“I think it is important that we showcase our principals because many are just like Wayne. I would urge all of my colleagues across the motu to find some time this week to show them that their work is not un-noticed nor unappreciated.”

“It was a strange feeling at the end of the term – it felt like people were literally crawling towards the break.”

Amesbury School principal Urs Cunningham’s first official term in charge was the toughest she has ever encountered.

The ever-evolving nature of the Covid-19 pandemic meant things were changing daily as her school in the north-Wellington suburb of Churton Park grappled with multiple children and staff being forced to isolate as the Omicron wave took hold.

“It was just exhausting,” she says. “You had to constantly pivot and change your plans. We were down about one-third of our teachers at one point and the staff just adapted.

“It was a strange feeling at the end of the term – it felt like people were literally crawling towards the break.”

She says the break did all of the school, including herself, some good.

People were able to recover and they returned to school this term much more settled and with a: “we got through that, we can deal with anything” attitude.

“It’s very much a ‘bring it on’ mentality right now,” she says. “They all recognised that having to do things differently last term gave them some ideas and approaches to teaching that we can take forward and I’m really keen we don’t let those go.”

While last term was her first as an official principal at the school with just under 300 students, she had spent the previous two years as the acting principal.

Prior to that she was part of the leadership team that opened the school in 2012 so she says she came into the role well aware of the requirements and work demands placed upon principals.

Although there is one thing she’s not sure should be in any principals’ domain.

“I had to work out if the toilets in the junior bathrooms were at the right height for younger students,” she says. “I really don’t know if that’s in my skill set.

“But that is just indicative of the range of tasks we’re required to do as a principal and why we need more support and the ability to hand that type of administrative work off to another group of specialist people.”

Urs originally hails from Merseyside and is a fanatic supporter of Liverpool FC. She says one of the things that she’s excited about our Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future campaign is that it is pushing for more support for principals across the board.

“I am doing things I shouldn’t be doing and the campaign will confront those extra work demands, because what I really want is to get back to leading the teaching and learning and helping the teachers and students develop,” she says. “That’s where I should be putting the majority of my time.”

“I love the classroom. It is difficult to keep me out of one because I get so much joy interacting with kids. I really like watching their relationships with their teachers grow and knowing that I was part of that.”

“It’s also great to help teachers develop, because you know that if you help them grow that’s not only a lifetime career for them but it has a positive effect on so many children — I get my joy from that.”

Oh, and Liverpool victories.

“I would have also liked to have seen a more formal peer support network – I mean principals do help each other but we’re also competing for students to get more funding and I think that’s just not the right model.”

Kairo McLean was overwhelmed at his official whakatau/powhiri as the new principal of Aorangi School in Rotorua at the end of last term and not just because it had been delayed for more than three months because of Covid-19.

It had been a hectic start to his new role as he got used to the added responsibility of being a new tumuaki at the small school which sits at the foot of Ngongotaha maunga.

The 36-year-old had not followed the traditional route into the principal role. He spent five years in an Auckland secondary school, four as the head of PE at an indigenous school outside Alice Springs in Australia and then the past four years running the Awhina Activity Centre that was attached to Rotorua Boys’ High School.

“I was a bit of a wild card for the principal role and I definitely did not follow the route that most people take to get here,” he says.

“I also didn’t start out in teaching wanting to be a principal. That spark just grew as I moved up the chain and became a manager and then a senior manager and I saw the impact you could have on motivating and caring for staff and helping them grow.

“When this job came up I was encouraged to apply for it by Chris Grinter (Rotorua Boys’ High School principal) and he gave me the best piece of advice I got – ‘just speak from your heart’ – so I did.”

Having been appointed to the role last year, Kairo says he found the administrative workload and budgeting tough to get his head around in the first term – something he recognises many of his colleagues also battle with as work demands increase, especially during Covid-19.

As a small school – Aorangi started the year with 80 students – he says they do not qualify for additional administrative support, something he felt would have been invaluable. He’s pleased to see this support is a crucial part of the claims for the new collective bargaining agreement and the wider Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating our future [insert link] campaign.

“That was tough, the first term,” he says. “I really struggled with it, even with the ability to ask a number of other principals for help and resourcing from the Ministry.

“I would have also liked to have seen a more formal peer support network – I mean principals do help each other but we’re also competing for students to get more funding and I think that’s just not the right model.”

He says dealing with increasing administrative work demands means that many principals –not just new ones like him – are stretched, working long hours and often finding they are being forced to catch up on their work in leading the learning and curriculum.

While Covid-19 ruined much of their plans for term one, he says he was pleased with the way his staff and community responded, especially when the virus swept through the school and they were forced to switch to solely online teaching for two weeks.

But he says they managed to keep the free school lunches programme operating, by setting up a drive-through station and also expanded it with community support to provide meals for families struggling.

Building that community support has proved to be successful. He says there are now more than 30 new students at the school for the second term and more expected.

He says that’s because the trust with the community is growing. And this term, with the Covid-19 response setting at orange, they’re planning to hold regular Friday film nights and invite whanau along to watch movies with their tamariki.

Kairo also expects to hold more educational opportunities in the natural environment – “kids don’t mind the outdoors” — and has already invited kaumatua along to help teach the tamariki about local culture and history.

“I already feel lighter this week,” he says. “I now feel that I can concentrate on the teaching and learning and the wellbeing of my staff and students this term.

“My goal is to spark the love of education and learning in these tamariki. To give them the literacy, numeracy and social skills they need to succeed.

“And really just to make them aspirational.”

Rowandale School principal Karl Vasau is passionate about how Tūmeke Tumuaki can help his fellow school leaders reach into their communities this week to help build consensus for making greater change through Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future.

The week recognises the contribution of principals to their schools and communities. Karl says these two groups are massively important to helping make the changes required to increase staffing levels in our schools and improve principals’ hauora.

Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future is built on getting more teachers, teacher aides, learning support, administrators and specialist support staff into primary schools.

He says that extra resourcing will allow teachers to teach and principals to lead the curriculum, mentor their staff and build a fun and invigorating educational culture in their schools.

“We are focussed in this next collective on addressing the gaps and the things we need to help us do our job as principals,” he says.

“I am very fortunate that I am a principal of a very large Manurewa school and I have the extra leadership in my school to share around and to do certain jobs.

“I cannot imagine the stress that some of our smaller school principals go through every day, being so isolated from the support that I take for granted.

“These are some of the things that are in our claims to help all of us do our job.”

Karl knows on a personal level that fixing those problems will help principals do their core role – of leading the education of our tamariki – after publicly admitting three years ago that he needed help when he realised his own health and wellbeing had been suffering.

Without the “support, love and awhi” of his Board of Trustees, he says, he would not have broken out of the downward spiral.

It’s why he is asking his fellow principals to keep talking to their Boards about the collective agreement claims and wider campaign as that will help address their wellbeing issues.

“We ask that all Boards of Trustees out there really understand and have a read about some of those claims because we need your support to get this message out there,” he says.

“It’s through voice and stories that we will win this campaign.”

Despite this week about recognising the impact of principals, Karl is quick to also recognise the work of his team at his school in south Auckland.

“We do this job as a principal because we love what we do. I often say to people that I have the best job in the whole world because I love it,” he says.

“But our beautiful staff and our wonderful teachers and support staff turn up day in, day out and make this job better.

“Their collectives are up as well so we need informed Boards supporting all of us.”

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