Profile: Diana Patchett, Principal, St Margaret's College, Christchurch

Why have you chosen to come to St Margaret's College from Kristin School, where you were Junior School Principal?

I relish the return to single-gender education, where we can tailor our teaching and learning to suit girls. St Margaret’s College already has a strong reputation in this area, so I’m keen to add to the legacy. Offering our girls a breadth of opportunities where they can shine, unencumbered by gender stereotypes, is something I look forward to contributing to; especially in the areas of leadership and service.

While our academic results are outstanding, it is the breadth of curriculum offerings and opportunities that ensures the interests and learning styles of every girl are catered for.  Our professional teachers, modern facilities, and well-resourced sport and cultural programmes combine to enable young women to realise success – whatever that might look like for them.

At the heart of it all though, St Margaret’s College is a family that values each girl for the gifts and talents she brings, that provides a safe place for her to take on new challenges and empowers her to live and lead.


What are the similarities and differences between St Margaret’s College and Kristin School, and how did your time at Kristin prepare you for your role at St Margaret’s?

I am in the early stages of building my institutional and community knowledge at St Margaret’s College, however one obvious difference with Kristin is the age of each school.  Kristin School is 45 years young,  a day school located on the North Shore of Auckland. Its diverse community is made up mainly of ‘first time buyers’ to independent education.  By contrast, at over 100 years old, St Margaret’s College boasts fourth generation students, a catchment of families drawn from the the city of Christchurch, and a strong boarding population of girls from the Canterbury region and across the country.

Despite these differences, both school communities want the best for their students and share a forward-thinking momentum to maintain and improve their offerings, and they are both International Baccalaureate schools.

My time at Kristin reinforced my commitment to the importance of the early years in education and the value for students and staff of being part of a K-13 school.


What do you aim to achieve as Principal?

I hope to be a positive role model for our young women on how to live and lead, aspiring to excellence while promoting a healthy lifestyle with a balance of physical, social and spiritual pursuits.

Through my leadership, St Margaret’s College will maintain its reputation as a school of choice for teachers and students - attracting passionate educators who are excited by continuous improvement in their practice and welcoming families who have high expectations for their daughters.

I am especially interested in supporting our regional girls, offering a home-away-from-home in our Boarding School, while developing the confidence and independence to set them up for success in life outside school.


Can you share your thoughts about independent education - in New Zealand and internationally?

Independent education in New Zealand affords us a powerful opportunity to set young people up for success.  A popular message from schools internationally today is, ‘We are preparing students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet’. I would argue this uncertainty should not generate concern for our young people, rather draw them forward into the future with a sense of excitement and possibility.

Offering students choice in their academic pathways will continue to be important, thus the dual pathway of NCEA and International Baccalaureate at St Margaret’s College is invaluable. And while we will maintain our strong academic focus to ensure students realise their post-school aspirations, education in this age of change is as much about character as content.

Purposeful attention to fostering the skills and attributes that have afforded generations of young people the toolkit to flourish in even the most uncertain of times is key. Knowing and playing to your strengths, being an open-minded and flexible thinker, having confidence in your own abilities, practising well-developed interpersonal and collaborative skills, and perhaps most importantly, embracing failure as a necessary means to realising a solution to new challenges – these will continue to be invaluable life skills.


Tell us about your choice of career as an educator.  Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way?

I come from a strong line of teachers and learners, in particular my 84-year old mother, who continues her teaching career as a volunteer in schools and adult education, and my sister, who shares her skills and talents as a Creative Technologies teacher in Canada.

However, it is my four sons who provide my ongoing inspiration.  Their individual personalities and passions remind me of the importance for school communities of knowing and understanding every student, and never presuming that ‘one size fits all’.


Describe the pathway your career has followed.

I realised a skill for teaching from an early age, as a swimming teacher throughout high school, then a rowing coach during my university years. A love of Biology and natural sciences led me to a Bachelor of Science in Cell Biology, and a talent for water polo and rowing kept me at University a bit longer to realise a second major in Zoology.  My OE before returning to Canada to study medicine turned into six years in Papua New Guinea, a career in Advertising and Marketing and the beginnings of a family.  On relocation to Australia, I chose to undertake post graduate studies in Education to support my young sons as they began their school journeys.  I was soon drawn to make a wider contribution as a parent volunteer, then a French teacher aide before completing my studies and taking up classroom responsibilities.  In my first 15 years, I taught new entrants to seniors, in single classes, open plan, multi-age, state and independent sectors. In 2005, I joined a new single sex school in Queensland and relished the opportunity to work with a dedicated, energetic team to build a school programme and culture from scratch. Our family’s aspiration to move to New Zealand coincided with the Kristin position, and we haven’t looked back.


How would you describe your leadership style?

A strength of mine is perspective wisdom, which wraps up judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness.  I can make a decision in an emergent situation, but I prefer to think things through and examine them from all sides. I do not jump to conclusions, rather I operate in alignment with the motto of the Royal Society, ‘Nullius in verba’, (take nobody’s word for it) and rely on evidence to make decisions.

I would liken my style to that of an orchestra conductor whose role is to provide leadership, to support co-ordinated action to a unified cohesive product. I maintain a familiarity with the complete score, but have confidence in delegated responsibilities to ‘first chairs’ with specific areas of expertise. I make myself available to any player when reassurance or direction through the tricky bits is needed.

I aim to bring out the very best of individual talents and performance, and with careful guidance I believe we can produce something that will evoke an emotional response - from the orchestra members and the audience. And while it is the conductor who is responsible for the outcome of the group, the applause is shared equally.


What encouragement would you give to parents considering a private education for their children?

It is a momentous decision to have a child; some say it is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside your body for the rest of your life.  And as parents, we are only ever as happy as our least happy child. We may worry about what the future holds for them, especially in these times of exponential change.  We want them to be the best they can be, so their school becomes another significant choice in the parenting journey.

Independent schools have the flexibility to respond and offer academic, social, physical and spiritual programmes, with opportunities in high performance sport, cultural pursuits, outdoor education and service learning.  We ensure our graduates step into the world as confident young people prepared to make a positive change.

More than anything, students are at the centre of all we do. Our students, teachers, parents and staff take the time to develop positive relationships across our communities. Independent education offers families the opportunity to join a school with shared high expectations for young people, one that maintains a strong partnership with home, working together to ensure the wellbeing of each child in our care.