Tags:#NVW2020VolunteersCase Studies

6 min read

How Tania Morgan-Smith takes a "peek behind the curtain" at education

There are many ways we give back to our communities – and for one in five New Zealanders, that takes the form of volunteering.  

For IAG’s Tania Morgan-Smith, there were many reasons to volunteer with Springboard Trust. A labour of love, a tangible way to give back, a way to put her strategic expertise to use for the good of others. 

Also, a naturally curious parent, she was thrilled to get a look at how principals worked day-to-day.  

[This content forms part of our National Volunteer Week celebrations - head this way to check out the rest of our interviews, videos and infographics!]

Coming together 

Initially, Tania thought Springboard was too good to be true.  

“I was referred by a work colleague who’d been a capacity partner (CP) the year before, and thought I would love it.”  

“But from some initial social research, I couldn’t find anyone who had heard of Springboard. Once I found one of our Auckland team volunteered as a facilitator and spoke to them, I understood – and I couldn’t wait to start.” 

“I loved that it was separate to the Ministry, and everyone I ended up speaking to about the work said the relationship they built with their principal was amazing.” 

With 10 years of leadership experience, a background in coaching and a high dose of natural inquisitiveness and optimism, Tania leapt at the opportunity to partner with a principal.  

“At a lot of organisations you do a volunteer day each year – but with IAG happy to have me work with Springboard, I felt like this was a much longer-lasting way to give back.” 

Every single person is involved for the greater good, which brings a real honesty to the work.

A rare kind of relationship 

In Tania’s own words, her first meetings with her SLPP principal – Mark – were like an awkward blind date.  

“As we figured each other out, we got a beautiful level of openness that I really appreciated – totally impartial and honest, which is really rare these days.” 

Her work with Mark was in challenging him, reflecting with him and helping him overcome hurdles in his strategic development.  

“I loved working with Mark and it was such a privilege to be so embraced by both him and his school community as one of their own.” 

The two-way path of learning 

A self-confessed overthinker, Tania found SLPP an invaluable opportunity to practice keeping things simple in a coaching and relationship-building environment.  

“Corporate environments tend to lean on fancy language, but this programme is not academic – it's organic.” 

“It’s you talking to a principal, one human to another. Working with Mark basically helped me learn when to stop talking – to understand when he was opening up in a way he often couldn’t, and when it was my job to listen and help him simplify what was going on.”  

“I want to help them capture how they feel, and help them respond to it – no jargon required at all.” 

These are lessons that Tania has brought back with her to IAG, and used to help herself and others discover new development opportunities.  

“Since doing SLPP, I’ve been promoted into a more strategic role. I thought that was going to mean more of that academic thinking, but it’s the opposite – it's about stepping back, doing less so you can achieve more – applying what I tried to help Mark with to my own role.” 

“It’s made working with SBT such a huge win-win, being able to give back while also gaining some pretty groundbreaking personal and professional development myself!” 

Tania and her cohort celebrating at the end of 2019.

Unique opportunities for connection 

As Tania explains, there was also a massive third benefit to volunteering with Springboard Trust – the connection with other Capacity Partners.  

“You work with the most diverse range of businesses in SLPP. Air New Zealand, Conservation, Sports New Zealand and small business owners – people I would otherwise have never had the opportunity to work with.” 

“Everyone’s had the typical networking experience, where everything feels a bit false – SLPP is nothing like that. Every single person is involved for the greater good, which brings a real honesty to the work. It’s people being their real selves!” 

Seeing the role for what it truly is  

Through SLPP, Tania noticed a common thread between Mark and other principals – that they often undersold their capabilities.  

“I was surprised by how many don’t see themselves as leaders, using statement like ‘never left school’ and underplaying their role. Their role is massive! It might be innate humility, or maybe true servant leadership – either way, actually seeing behind that curtain gave me so much respect for everything they do. They give all of themselves to the work.” 

“I just wish their own view of principalship matched more with how I feel about it!” 

Back for round two  

In 2020, Tania has returned to volunteer with Springboard – and she’s brought some great metaphors with her.  

“Why wouldn’t I come back? The first time is like the burnt pancake – it's still good, but it’s never the best. Now that I’ve done SLPP once, I want to give it another shot and develop more. IAG has been super supportive of this too – there's been no barriers at all to coming back.” 

The second time around, Tania is spending more time sitting with what her principal – Bruce – is saying and trying to challenge him in a constructive way.  

“Last year it would take me a couple of tries to properly take something in – this year I’m more familiar with the content of the workshops, so can focusing on being present, clearing my head and giving my all.” 

But of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made being present a little more difficult. Bruce and Tania enjoyed the switch to virtual conversations o far and, based on their first remote workshop, there are still no real barriers to development ahead.  

“I’m told we should never waste a crisis, so using this time to notice how Bruce and his school community rally has been invaluable. How you uniquely are is how you respond to a situation – and for Bruce and I, we’re both here to help each other. There’s no stopping that!”  

It’s made working with SBT such a huge win-win, being able to give back while also gaining some pretty groundbreaking personal and professional development myself!
Tania Morgan-Smith, IAG

Find out more about how you can help New Zealand schools

Capacity Partners

Capacity Partners are matched with a principal undertaking the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme, meeting one-on-one with them throughout the year with through nine workshops. They build trust, understand the needs of the principal and their context and support the principal in building their strategic plan and their leadership in their unique situation.   As a Capacity Partner, you will work with principals who are new to Springboard Trust and may have backgrounds, specialisations and experiences vastly different from your own. Taking the time to listen, learn and leverage your expertise to support them is critical to success.   The experienced Springboard Trust team will match you with a principal, making all the necessary introductions before the programme begins. You’ll also be part of a cohort with five other principals and their volunteer Capacity Partners, as well as a volunteer who will facilitate each workshop.   Who makes a great Capacity Partner?  Typically, Capacity Partners are senior leaders in their organisation, who are highly capable and skilled professionals.  Experience is typically in strategic planning, change or programme management with strong coaching skills. They may also be emerging leaders hoping to support their learning and ongoing career growth, or who want to accelerate their development in this area.   Volunteers who are also skilled and experienced in leadership or facilitation.   You’ll have experience in coaching, understand how to lead people (particularly from a strategic perspective), and grasp the core ideas of strategic planning, change management and transformation. Time Requirements Capacity Partners are asked to volunteer approximately 40 hours of their time annually, including a three-hour induction for first-time volunteers and nine half day workshops over a calendar year. Programmes typically start in March and have their final celebration workshops in November.  Participation in the workshops is encouraged to ensure maximum learning and impact for the volunteer but also encourages the conversation and discussion that happens within the cohort. 

Subject Matter Experts

The Subject Matter Expert (SME) role is a flexible opportunity to support alumni (principals who have completed the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme) as they take on a bespoke project built around their strategic plan.   This might be assisting them at a Kickstart Your Strategy workshop, helping them review an annual plan, or simply sitting down with a principal and/or their team to help them clarify goals for the year ahead. What makes a good Subject Matter Expert? SMEs are typically senior leaders in their organisation, and have a wide range of expertise, including but not limited to:  Change management  Strategic leadership  Instructional design and leadership  Project management  Transformation projects  Coaching  Strategy analysis and refresh Marketing, branding and communication  Depending on the project, we may require more specialist skill sets for principal support. We would ideally prefer SMEs to have previously worked with Springboard as a Capacity Partner.   Time requirements Due to the variability of the work SMEs do, requirements may vary. Setting up a project usually takes 8-10 hours, while implementation may be anywhere from four hours to 50, across three to 12 months.  


Volunteer coaches work in the High Performing Leaders (HPL) programme, building an individual principal’s leadership insight, capability and practice – all with the goal of them successfully leading their school to better student outcomes and delivery to their strategic plan. You could be working with alumni principals, their leadership teams or their middle leaders.  What makes a good coach?  Our coaching volunteers are typically senior or middle leaders in their organisation, with extensive people coaching experience . They may also be emerging leaders, looking to accelerate their development but still have a core capability to coach and development others  Due to the advanced nature of the HPL programme, Coaches should be highly skilled in the usual areas of requirement: coaching, leadership development and planning, accredited or experienced in debriefing 360-degree surveys and analysis, as well as in-depth emotional intelligence.   Time requirements Coaching volunteers will have to spend at least 10 hours on the HPL programme, over a 90-day period (a single school term).  


Volunteer Facilitators Facilitators work in two of our programmes – the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme and High Performing Leadership Teams (HPLT). In the former, they work with a full cohort of six principals and volunteers, while in the latter they work with full leadership teams. While facilitating SLPP means working with principals new to Springboard, in HPLT they will be working with experienced principals (now alumni of Springboard Trust) and their leadership teams. This presents a unique set of dynamics every time, and can be an incredibly rewarding for those who volunteer their time.   What makes a great facilitator?  Typically, facilitators we work with are middle to senior leaders in their organisations, with extensive experience in people coaching or leadership. They may also be emerging leaders looking to accelerate their development, or highly skilled individuals in this area.   The key aspects facilitator should excel in are the art of facilitation itself, the ability to bring the content to life for the participants and how they can relate it to their own unique context.  Experience working with High Performing Teams and Leadership Development helps bring the programme to life for the participants.  Facilitation of SLPP in particular, facilitators should have experience in leading teams, as well as the ability to engage large groups of people and tell stories with ease.   It is critical that facilitators have strong emotional intelligence skills as you will facilitating cohorts often in varying situations of need , and contexts you are not familiar with.  Empathy and listening skills are a must.   Please note that in most cases, we prefer Facilitators to have prior experience as a Springboard Trust Capacity Partner so they have experienced the programme from that perspective.   Time requirements Facilitation volunteers for SLPP will need to volunteer 50-60 hours, including induction (for first time facilitators), across the calendar year. For HPLT, facilitators are asked to commit to up 10-15 hours over a three month period.

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