Tags:#NVW2020VolunteersCase Studies

5 min read

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 High Performing Leaders 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.”

Schools are at the heart of communities. And if you want to give back to your community, Springboard is the perfect place to do that.
Carolyn Smith, APR, Department of Conservation

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 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’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’s leadership material doesn’t do that, and I was very impressed.”

Overall, Carolyn believes Springboard is a great place to volunteer.

“Schools are at the heart of communities. And if you want to give back to your community, Springboard is the perfect place to do that.”

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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