Tell us a bit about AGE School. How would you describe it?
AGE is a school that is breaking the mould. As a boutique school, we are purpose-designed to help each individual thrive as who they truly are. Our smaller size allows deep relationships to be built and in that fashion we can really personalise learning to each individual learner’s strengths and interests. We are helping to develop curious, creative, compassionate leaders who will create a better future for their community.
What attracted you to the Principal role at AGE School?
This was an exciting opportunity to lead a school that is based on the educational ideas and values that are close to my heart. I have been leading conference workshops and sharing my passion for activities that enable students to be curious, creative and empathetic; now I get to help develop a whole school based on exactly that. An added excitement is getting to start this development in my local community on the North Shore in Auckland and then once we are thriving here, we will look to create new AGE School communities around New Zealand. It was such an attractive opportunity that I had to jump at the chance to get involved.
What do you aim to achieve as Principal of the school?
The main focus over the next couple of years is growth. We move into our purpose-built school next year and that will allow us to mature from an exciting new school into a boutique school of choice, with a wait list to enter. The strategic growth over this time will allow us to become sustainable financially and in terms of staff capacity, as well as ensuring that our students and families get the personalised learning approach that they are seeking. The AGE Way that we are developing as we progress will set the recipe for new schools to develop in other contexts around New Zealand.
Tell us about your choice of career as an educator. Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way?
I was someone who always enjoyed school and a couple of teachers inspired my learning along the way. Nixon Cooper, my Geography teacher, inspired both my love of Geography and my understanding that learning can be joyful as well as challenging.
The main influence in setting me on a path to being an educator though was Jan Cameron. The North Shore Swim Club and New Zealand Swimming coach was a massive inspiration to me. She would do anything to see us succeed. Jan set high goals and expectations and then set about doing everything possible to give us the best chance of success. Her knowledge of each of us as people was outstanding – she could always tell who needed a tough talk and who needed an encouraging word in the ear. When I stopped swimming, she gave me a job as a coach so I got to learn from her directly. This was the catalyst to me changing my degree and heading on a path to teaching.
Describe the pathway your career has followed.
My teaching career has been full of opportunities that have shaped the educator I am today and it has been great to have leaders who recognised my ability to take on challenges from early in my career. I started teaching at Waitakere College where I got to experience the Te Kotahitanga programme and co-facilitate the programme. When my partner got a job in Wellington, I spent six years teaching at Wellington High School. Here I took part in the Quality Teaching, Research and Development project which looked at Māori success in Social Studies. This ignited an interest in educational research and I did my Masters degree part time while teaching at Wellington High. A return to Auckland saw me teach at Takapuna Grammar School where I contributed to the Key Competencies and Effective Pedagogy project with NZCER.
One of the defining experiences of my career was being part of the foundation staff at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. Getting to experience starting a school from scratch was incredible. We had an inspiring team of future-focused educators and the time to delve deeply into what we felt education should look like. Whilst there, I was accepted into Google’s Certified Innovator programme and I received an eFellowship with Core Education. Lynfield College was my first Senior Leadership role and I learned an incredible amount there.
This year, I have been able to take my learning from all those experiences and put it into practice leading AGE School.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Inclusive, empathy-fuelled and focused on the vision. I strongly follow the mantra that “Leaders do not create followers, leaders create more leaders.” Every member of a team has strengths that they bring and I believe that these should be utilized to help move the team forward. This gives people a chance to add their own ideas whilst also developing their own leadership skills.
Empathy is a key skill for leaders. If we can understand how our decisions affect all members of our community, we will be far more effective in making the right changes happen. Having empathy with our team also means that we will better understand which areas to challenge and how we can nurture them as we move toward the school vision.
A key element of my leadership is maintaining a focus on the vision. The vision and values of the school should be regularly referred to in our daily practice and used as a filter on the decisions made – does this decision help us move towards the vision? This also works for management decisions.
Can you share your thoughts about independent education - in New Zealand and internationally?
Globally, independent schools are leading the way in which schools are innovating to reimagine education. I have been inspired over the years by the use of Design Thinking at independent schools in the US such as The Nueva School and Mt Vernon Presbyterian School. Here at AGE School we have been particularly influenced by two newer independent schools in New York – The Blue School and We Grow.
What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?
Being an independent school allows us to run our reimagined model for education. The much lower student-teacher ratios mean that we are able to more effectively run our personalised learning approach. We can structure the school in a way that plays to the strengths of our team and the passions of our students. With the best of intentions, this model would just not be possible in the state system.