Volunteer values from a self-proclaimed strategy geek

This article forms part of our National Volunteer Week coverage, celebrating the breadth and depth of expertise that our partners bring to New Zealand schools. For more interviews and celebrations, head this way! Springboard’s volunteers are the backbone of our work. Bringing their unique skill sets to New Zealand school leaders creates connections and learning that are difficult to find elsewhere – and for the volunteers themselves, it means a special opportunity to give back. For the Department of Conservation’s Carolyn Smith, this sense of giving back to schools was at the heart of her decision to work with us. “I’ve always volunteered in some form. Our communities are run and defined by how much we participate in them, and schools are at the heart of that. It makes for a pretty cool opportunity!” Flexing your strategic muscles Carolyn is a self-proclaimed “strategy geek” and was thrilled to be able to apply that expertise in a volunteer setting. “Springboard means I can align my volunteering with something I already love to do– strategic thinking and planning.  It’s a different skill to some of the volunteering opportunities you see on offer, which is fantastic.” Since 2017, Carolyn has volunteered in a number of Springboard roles. She initially came on board as a Capacity Partner, to work directly with a principal on their strategic plan.  That role reshaped into becoming a facilitator for our Springboard Coaching for Leadership programme for two years in a row. Now, she is in a coaching role for our newest offering, the Strategic Leadership for Rural Teaching Principals programme. With a rich history in strategic planning and a variety of SBT roles under her belt, Carolyn is well-placed to speak to the value of this work – and the challenges she has helped principals overcome. “Coaching has been a great experience for me.  We use the GROW Model of coaching Springboard uses at DOC.  The aim is to help others explore and resolve their challenge without the coach leading or solving the issue for them.  As I have no education background, I can’t fall into the temptation to solve because I don’t understand the context well enough-which holds me firmly in the coaching space.” Carolyn has found having a breadth of experience outside of education has also been an advantage in other ways. “It means you concentrate on leadership and strategy. You don’t get caught up in the details of what the ministry is doing – you just focus on the principal as a person and a leader.” Facing challenges alongside principals Carolyn has some fantastic insights into principals and the risk of burnout– all of which stems from her own experience. “I’ve seen senior leaders go so long without having a good work/life balance, and it take its toll on everyone eventually. Even if it’s not a burnout as such, I’ve seen people develop cancer through exposing themselves to years of stress – everyone needs to find their limits.” It’s a lesson that she believes is critical for principals. “They are always giving 190% - and it’s not healthy. You need to have a good balance, to set an example for your team. If you get too immersed in the role you lose perspective, and I’ve found that to be a vital step that I can help with.” Helping principals achieve that lightbulb moment, of realising they need to set a healthy example for both themselves and their teams, was one of the most impactful experiences for Carolyn. Taking risks as a facilitator has also been a high point. “One time I pushed forward with a series of uncomfortable questions. It was incredibly challenging for the participants, but I encouraged them to lean in and be brave, which they did. It moved a principal relationship into a place of true honesty with their team. It was incredibly powerful and I was so proud of them - helping them reach that place is a real privilege.” Cutting-edge application When Carolyn first joined Springboard Trust, she had just completed her post-graduate certificate in Strategic Leadership through University of Canterbury’s Executive Leadership MBA programme.  Coming into a volunteer environment focused on this, she was impressed with what she saw. “A lot of the material Springboard Trust teaches – it's very similar to the contemporary and cutting edge material in the papers I had just completed at Canterbury. It reinforced the quality of Springboard Trust’s approach around leadership.” “So many principals I’ve worked with move from being a teacher into this leadership role, and it’s totally different. Many don’t have formal training or support and may have outdated models of leadership or experienced traditionally masculine ideals around what makes a good leader.” “At Canterbury we learned that leadership is people centered-starting with looking after yourself.  A good leader doesn’t need to be the star up front with all the ideas, but a coach who brings out the best in their people. The way leadership has been taught was, for a very long time, not focused on the human elements of an organisation. Springboard Trust’s leadership material doesn’t do that, and I was very impressed.” Overall, Carolyn believes Springboard Trust is a great place to volunteer. “Schools are at the heart of communities. And if you want to give back to your community, Springboard Trust is the perfect place to do that.”

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