The Principal Diaries - same, same but different

Today marks the end of my first week as Principal at Albany Senior High School.

The week began with a stunning powhiri to mark the hand over from Hobsonville Point Secondary School to Albany Senior High School and a beautiful way to mark my transition from Deputy Principal to Principal. It was genuinely touching to have my HPSS whanau, my family and friends to support me on my journey to the "other side". My whaikorero from the powhiri probably sums it up best:

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Firstly I would like to thank and acknowledge my Hobsonville Point Secondary School whanau for getting me to this point. I really can’t overstate the impact that working at Hobsonville Point Secondary School over these last five and a half years has had on me as a person, as an educator and as a leader. I have often acknowledged that starting a school is a less than a once in a lifetime opportunity. Working collaboratively to flesh out a vision, develop a set of guiding principles and designing and developing a curriculum that saw HPSS (like ASHS) re imagining what secondary education needed to look like was an incredible opportunity. To the whole team at HPSS I want to say thank you, it has been a magic experience, much of which is down to the incredible team of educators and support staff who work tirelessly to ensure the student is at the heart of every decision made. Thank you in particular to Maliina, Lea, Di and more recently Sally who I have loved working alongside day to day. And thank you Maurie for your kind words today and for showing me what courageous leadership looks like. I look forward to working alongside you in the coming years. 

In 2014 ERO described Albany Senior High School as a school that nurtures, inspires and empowers students. Since opening your school doors in 2009, I have followed your journey closely and from day one have felt a close connection to your values and vision for learning. Hobsonville Point Secondary School has often looked to Albany Senior as something of a navigator, I still remember clearly us coming to visit Barbara, Miranda and Hamish in our first year of planning, gleaning every bit of wisdom we could, and I know HPSS has continued to learn from the what happens here, whether it is the innovation of Impact Projects, the care you show every student in Tutorials or the professional learning and support offered by ChallengED I know that HPSS would not have been the school it is today without the learning gained from Albany Senior. I look forward to nurturing that connection, and just as our rugby players come together to create a First XV so to do I hope our educators and students will find ways to work alongside each other, supporting and challenging each other to be the very best we can be. 

I am so very excited to be the Principal of Albany Senior High School and I to assure you that I will live out the guiding principles of this school through my leadership. I will nurture. Ensuring every person that walks through the school door knows Barbara’s vision lives on. They will know “it is not if you are bright, it is how you are bright”. I will empower. Ensuring all learners and educators aspire to their personal excellence. They will  achieve highly and will be great citizens. And I will inspire. Working with our learners, educators and you to ensure that Albany Senior High School will always be a NEW school. 

So again, thank you all for the welcome today and giving me the opportunity to lead this incredible school.

And as stated in one of my favourite whakatauki...

Hare taka mua, taka muri; kaua e whai!
Be a leader, not a follower!

The rest of the first day was something of a whirlwind of faces and names. After a short time "at my desk" coming to terms with the fact that I'd made it (both in literal and metaphorical terms) I met with my SLT, getting to know my team, "where we were at" and coming to terms with a whole lot of new acronyms. I rounded out the day sitting in on a QTL (Quality Team Leader) meeting with their community. The QTL oversees their community of teachers in both their role as Tutors for Tutorials (which are similar to learning hubs) and as Mentors for Impact Projects the QTL is also the ISL (In School leader for the Kahui Ako). The focus of the meeting was to explore what deep learning looked like in both Tutorials and Impact Projects and discussing the practises and strategies that supported it. 

Day Two began with an opportunity to share my "vision korero" with the staff, sharing a little of what I told the BOT I would bring to role as Principal of ASHS and what I would be focusing on in the coming weeks. You can read the full text here. Of course my plan for the coming weeks is to look, listen and learn as much as possible. My intention is to get to know people, hear their thinking and get out on the floor to see Specialist Subjects, Impact Projects and Tutorials in action. 

Wednesday's focus was spending as much time on the floor as possible. Wednesday at ASHS is dedicated to Impact Projects. Impact Projects are a big part of what attracted me to the school, so spending a good part of the day exploring what the students were up to was awesome. It did strike me that being a Principal on projects day must be similar to being a grandparent - drop in, share your sage advice, wind them up and run away! Awesome! But seriously, it was an absolute highlight sitting alongside students - one student who has studied social media algorithms to help him gain 200K+ followers on Instagram, students publishing a podcast series debunking conspiracy theories, another pair tackling raising teen awareness of domestic violence and yet another pair planning a feminist breakfast event. Literally hundreds of students being given the time and support to pursue passions, learning a massive amount and many making genuine a difference in the process. Loved, loved, loved it.

From the ASHS website:

Take your learning to the world
The Impact Projects are our response to the key competencies with the New Zealand Curriculum document. The students are required to develop a project based on their own strength and passions. The four pillars guide the students to develop worthwhile projects:
  1. Student ownership and agency
  2. Substantial learning beyond the classroom
  3. Quality product
  4. Participating and contributing with the community

The students have the opportunity to be an adult in the world and to develop the skills required:
  • time management
  • leadership
  • project management
  • participation in an authentic context of their own making contribution to the world.
The students have the opportunity to develop their own learning and not to be limited by the limits of the teacher, the curriculum and the assessment. The time allocated is every Wednesday, for the whole day. The students do 2 projects per year.

The skills required for the students to complete a successful project are the skills that employers and universities clearly state are the skills required when students leave school.

Thursday was an opportunity to address the student body. They listened and even laughed in the right places, so I'll just call that a win. You can read what I said here. Basically it was a student facing version of my staff address, sharing what I've said I'd bring to the job, so they know what I'm about and can help keep me accountable. 

It was also a chance to observe Specialist Subjects in action. One thing I do intend to do in the coming week is share with the teaching staff the lens that I bring to observing learning, unpacking the kinds of questions I ask my self and may ask the learners when I observe any teaching and learning in action. 

I have realised my observational lens is framed around three questions:

Is learning visible?
Is learning deep?
Is learning inclusive?

I'll unpack this further in an upcoming blogpost. It struck me that if I was going to be observing and taking notes, it was only fair to be as transparent as possible. 

Friday was an opportunity to catch my breathe, meet with more staff and catch up on the more administrative side of the role. I did enjoy ending the day popping over to watch the Soccer and dragged the family out to cheer on the Basketball team in their final game of the season. 

Later that evening as I sat back with a glass of wine and reflected on the week, I couldn't help but have a sense of the same, same but different. There is much that feels familiar about my new school but also there is a quite a bit that feels different. I did however realise that I already felt at home in both the school and the role. 

And there is no denying, as far as first weeks go, this one was pretty damn awesome. 


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