Tags:Primary SchoolSLRTPVolunteers

5 min read

Finding your leadership flavour: Carolyn Smith and Pauline Johnson in conversation

As we wrap up 2020 and look forward to a less disrupted year ahead, we’re reflecting on the year that was – as well as our recent celebrations – with people who have taken part. In this conversation, we have Pauline Johnson (Principal, Poroti School) speaking with Carolyn Smith (Partnerships Manager, Department of Conservation) about their journey together through 2020.

This year, Pauline took on our Strategic Leadership for Rural Teaching Principals Programme – a first of its kind in New Zealand, focused on the unique challenges of leaders in these rural contexts. She was supported by Carolyn, who volunteered as an Impact Coach – supporting Pauline to create her strategic plan and develop her own leadership style.

But to start with, they recap the amazing celebration they just had with the other principals and volunteers!

Pauline (centre-left) and Carolyn (centre-right), their accidentally matching outfits, and a celebratory cohort!

PAULINE: I loved how we both turned up in purple and white outfits - color coordinated without even talking!

CAROLYN: We’re in sync! The best part for me was seeing your strategy, reflecting all the various conversations we’ve had on the legacy, hopes and ambitions for the future of the school brought together into a beautifully described plan was amazing! We’ve dipped in and out of certain aspects of it, but the celebration was actually the first time I’d seen it all together – you wouldn’t let me see what it looked like before!

PAULINE: I just figured that even though we’ve been connecting online for much of the year, we got to know each other so well. You know so much about me now, I wanted to keep something as a surprise for you! I wanted something special for the celebration!

CAROLYN: Well you nailed it! It was actually quite emotional seeing where you’ve come from and then your confidence in describing the future.

PAULINE: It was so good having you, my support, sitting beside me.

CAROLYN: Its certainly been a different year learning to work virtually.

PAULINE: Sure has. With COVID-19, only one of the block courses was in person, so the programme has been virtually all online. I don’t know if it would have been any different – for me, it felt like you were in the room anyway. I’m an easily distracted person, my husband has to place me in restaurants so I don’t watch other people too much – so having those conversations in a private space, even online – the ability to focus on one person was perfect.

CAROLYN: That’s really interesting – the online thing, it doesn’t phase me because I do a lot of my work on Teams anyway. I can compare our work this year to previous years working with Springboard, and I actually prefer it online, you stay really focused. Your right that If we met in a café, or go for a walk, we can get distracted. It’s still great to have some general chat, but that deliberate one-on-one time online meant we stayed really focused on the coaching.

PAULINE: We did! I left those sessions completely brain drained and exhausted, having focused on leadership for that length of time. It was so beneficial; I’d say more beneficial than working face to face.

CAROLYN: Coming back to the celebration, the presentation of your plan – I remember noticing a lot of little things, watershed moments throughout the year that were totally aligned with what you presented. When we unpacked the 360 feedback, set goals, understood your leadership style – it all came together so well.

PAULINE: It’s not something I’m comfortable doing, standing in front of people and presenting. The first part, school and strategy, that was fine, but the second, talking about personal leadership and the impacts on me – that was hard. I had to come out of my comfort zone and talk from the heart, really reflect on the journey. I really wanted to do the people who had supported me justice with that.

CAROLYN: That ties a bit into the learning we did throughout the year, especially introducing the idea of servant leadership. That was a new term for you, wasn’t it?

PAULINE: It was!

CAROLYN: It perfectly described your style though. I felt that at the start, you were almost reluctant to be a leader.

PAULINE: Very much so.

CAROLYN: But with the servant leadership discovery, it was like you realised that you already were one! And the style just needed a name. Once that clicked, you were on your way. Watching that transformation from, I think mother hen, you called it? From that to a massively empowering servant leader, and delivering this amazing strategic plan with all of that reflected in it – that was so special.

PAULINE: That servant leadership moment, when you asked me what I thought a leader was, and gave my style a name – that really gave me permission to lead how I do naturally, losing some of that mother hen stuff and using my strengths from the 360 feedback.

I was so emotional as well, because I’m also on the other end of my leadership journey to others in our cohort. They’re all younger, I’m on the way out kind of thing – I don’t know how many more years I’ll be doing this, I wonder if the 3-year outlook I wrote is the last one I’ll ever do! But it was amazing to get this opportunity, at this stage of my career. I was in a comfortable place with my day to day, but now I’m completely revitalised. I feel like we’re having much more of an impact on the community too, so many new people coming to visit and enrol their kids. You don’t normally get this kind of chance at my age!

CAROLYN: I hear that, and I saw so often this year that love you have for the school and the students. One of your strengths that shone through early was your heart for the community, marae, teachers, whanau – everyone. But you also made an amazing shift in knowing when to collaborate, to gather everyone’s voices, and when to turn that into a decision. If nobody’s giving a direction, the waka won’t move where you need it to.

PAULINE: Those changes are thanks to you! You’ve said before I give you too much credit but if you never posed the tough questions, pushed me out of my comfort zone, I’d still be the same mother hen leader with the same strategic plan as last year. We clicked so well and got a lot achieved in a short amount of time – I wouldn’t be where I am without your help.

CAROLYN: That’s such nice feedback, thank you – it's exactly what you want to hear as a coach. But I could ask the best questions all day long, if the person I’m working with isn’t interested in growing it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a team effort!

PAULINE: As a rural school principal, it’s amazing that someone like Springboard had the insight to see the ways in which we are different from metro principals and have a programme tailored to that. Like three days a week I’m a teacher, two days a week I’m a leader – but all at the same time most days really.

CAROLYN: For me it’s just such a privilege to step into a different space, into your space. It reminds me that leadership is leadership regardless of the scenario. A good leader can have a positive impact anywhere. The difference your making now through your leadership practice, and then extrapolate that impact out, into teachers and students and their whanau, it’s a pebble with some massive ripples – I'm grateful to have helped cast that pebble out!

Pauline and Carolyn have just completed the Strategic Leadership for Rural Teaching Principals programme. If you’re a school leader or a volunteer looking for this kind of opportunity, get in touch with our team!

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