Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hey hey, my my...and once you're gone you can't come back.

Well - that's that then. My last day as a school Principal was last Friday and now I'm no longer in lame duck-ville, more in limbo land before my new role as a leadership adviser kicks in. My family and I fly out to Qatar on Wednesday so this will be my last posting before I arrive and get established.

Friday was a surreal experience. It's very sobering leaving a job - handing in the keys, giving back a computer, cleaning out personal material, taking the pictures off the wall (and my Star Wars clock), waving goodbye to workmates and turning the light off on three years as Principal. It's a lot like leaving home - you can't go back and help yourself to the refrigerator like you used to.

I'll miss a few things for sure - the great people I worked closely with on a daily basis in the front office - my first visitor of the day (Di Di), early cup of tea from Ina and Suzie reminding me about Chelsea's success, will be one. The students will definitely be another - as I was loading up the car a number of them wanted to shake my hand, wish me well and yell 'good luck'. I loved teaching them and leading them to believe in themselves and dream big. I also appreciated the warm, positive comments from a lot of the staff and the Board of Trustees and the large number who attended my farewell morning tea.

What I won't miss is all of the petty small stuff that a number of staff cling to. Petty jealousies and juvenile attitudes (the 'I'll hold my breath till I get my own way' brigade) and private agendas that don't have the students' best interests at heart - all can wear down positivity. It's a real pity and something that is a feature of a staffroom that has developed an 'us and them' set of attitudes over time. That scenario becomes a sap on energy levels and rather than deal with important things, too often attention is on the nitty gritty of repairing relationships and putting out fires.

I hope the staff at Stratford High School can embrace a new leader and give them a chance. I hope they can. Anyway - I'm on to newer and exciting things and I'm looking forward to what is around the corner. I am sure it will challenge me in new ways. Should be an interesting time in 2010. Stay posted!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Here's a great message for students everywhere; it’s about believing in yourself. And for a change it doesn’t come from Star Wars. In his eulogy (speech at a funeral), Edward Kennedy Junior said this about his dad:

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. And a few months after, I lost my leg. There was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington DC. And my father went to the garage to get the old flexible flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the hill. I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. It wasn’t easy for me to walk and the hill was very slick. As I struggled to walk I slipped and I fell to the ice. I started to cry and I said, “I can’t do this, I’ll never be able to climb up that hill”.

And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, “I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes all day”.

Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world. But as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be okay.

You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible.

It’s been an honour being your teacher for a while. My best wishes for your future. DREAM BIG! And live the life you've imagined.

Warren Purdy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The global market and me

I have announced to the school that I will be taking up a position overseas in the next few weeks. I have therefore resigned from my position of Principal at Stratford High School.

My wife and I will be travelling to Doha in Qatar where I will be helping to train some of their new Principals. I am looking forward to this, having recent experience of this myself with the National Professional Qualification for Headship in the UK, and the First-time Principals' programme run by Auckland University. My masters degree in Educational Management will also come in handy, I'm sure.

Why am I embarking on this change of course? The opportunity and adventure involved in doing something exciting in a new environment is the overriding reason. This quote from Alan Alda sums it up, “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk, and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. But what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.” It would be hypocritical of me to preach the idea of dreaming big and taking a risk, and not follow through with that myself, wouldn't it.

I will be the fifth Taranaki Principal to resign in the space of a year and I guess questions will be asked. But we now live in a global marketplace and Principals will be looking, not only for positions in New Zealand, but in the middle east, in the UK, in Australia...and New Zealanders have always left the country to experience the world.

Being a Principal in the naughties is a stressful occupation anyway and I don't think it's reasonable to expect us to stay in these jobs for lengthy periods. Gone are the days, I think, when Principals stayed in a school for twenty plus years and then retired.

My plan at the moment is to delete this blog (and the Shakespeare Society one) in about two weeks time. It's been a really fun thing to do but I will incorporate my ideas into my other blogs from now on.

I'll leave you with my prizegiving speech from yesterday:

A very warm greeting to you all –
The extended family of Stratford High School.
It is with much pleasure that I present my annual
address to the school community at our senior prize-giving.

This has been a challenging year for the school and for me personally. Every year has its combination of good and bad times but too many times this year the balance was tilted firmly into the bad. In October a number of us attended the funeral of a fine student – Kenneth Reeve Marcos. Kenneth was in year 12. For us at SHS he was a cheerful student, a talented artist, a trusted friend, a diligent worker at the Eltham Four Square, and we didn’t see his death coming. The loss has been felt deeply by his family, his close friends and by his teachers. I was deeply saddened because the potential, the dreams, the opportunities, the abilities that were so apparent inside Kenneth have now been lost to the world.

You will remember that the Stratford Way acronym is completed by D for Dreams. At the school assembly following Kenneth’s death I asked the students to keep hold of their own dreams. The founder of Apple computers, Steve Jobs, certainly knows the importance of a dream. He says “believe in your own strength to follow your heart. Be conscious of the power that you have to make a difference in your own life and to make your dreams come true. Every single one of you has the power within to make the right choice for your future. Trust in your gut feeling and your intuition and have the courage to follow your heart. These things somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

I hope all of you can relate to this and continue to action Steve Jobs’ advice throughout your lives. I certainly intend to.

During August we also said farewell to a close friend of the school. Our Mayor, John Edwards, passed away in Stratford after a period of illness. John was a student here from 1954 to 1957. He served on the Board of Governors from 1977 until 1989. For four of those years he was the Board chairman. He was definitely a true friend to the school. His warm and gentle personality will be missed throughout the Stratford district.

On a very personal note my father, and Jade’s granddad also passed away in September from complications from the stroke he suffered in August. I would like to thank Raewyn Rooney, Diane Lithgow, and Suzie Terry who attended dad’s funeral on behalf of the board and staff. Their effort and commitment in driving up to Auckland to support me during this time was very much appreciated.

You’ll now understand why I said earlier that the school and I had had a challenging year.

This Prizegiving and the reports that you will read in the Peak for this year will indicate that we have had a huge number of successes and great occasions to celebrate as well – far too many for me to list in this speech. Some of my highlights have been watching the Y13 students grow throughout the year (I’ll swear Jade has put on a couple of inches), the victorious MacAllister chant (no one saw that coming after the practices), and my terrific under 15 boy’s football team. These guys exemplified the never give up, never surrender motto that I love. We must own the world record for 4 all drawers in a season. You were a credit to the school and I was extremely proud of you.

To this year’s leavers - Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Be proud of who you are and where you are going. This is your moment on the stage. Take what you’ve learned here and dig as deep as you have to, and rise as high as you can. Keep your passion. Make mistakes and learn from them. Honour curiosity and follow it. And, in everything you do, recognise the individual person in others. I think it’s also worth repeating a quote that Viv Milner used in her speech at the Y13 leaver’s dinner. It comes from Alan Alda – the actor who played Hawkeye in the TV series MASH. He said – “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk, and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. But what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”

To those who are returning next year. Take up the risks and challenges that will be placed before you while you can. As Bill Gates says – “your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they will let you try as many times as you want to get the right answer. That doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life”. So make the most of your opportunities next year while you can.

As with any end of year prize giving, there are people to thank and farewell. Chrystal Sheehy has elected to stay on in the UK and resigned her position during the year. Cathy Sheehy takes a temporary leave for 2010 to explore the great big world. We’ll look forward to seeing her back in 2011.

The members of the Parent Teacher Association and the Board of Trustees give up a lot of time
to attend meetings and functions throughout the year. I would like to thank each of them, on behalf of the community, for their dedication and commitment to the school. We must be the only school in NZ whose staff rep is on maternity leave and board chair resides in Australia but modern technology has largely resolved these barriers. Pete’s dedication to SHS has remained undimmed throughout the year. I value his advice and resolve to continuously improve life at SHS for staff and students. Thank you Pete.

My thanks to the senior management team - Maria, Phil and Barbara for another excellent year. They responded superbly when I suddenly had to take leave because of my dad’s death. It’s great knowing that I can leave the school in good hands at short notice.

Many generous people are behind each one of our many successes this year and the staff’s on-going commitment should never be taken for granted. Our students are fortunate indeed to come to school each day and be served by such a talented team of professionals. To the support staff and the teaching staff, on behalf of the parents and students – thanks and congratulations on an excellent year.

My work life is made easier by the terrific team of Suzie, Ina and Diane in the front offices. It’s often three against one in the banter stakes and it’s tough at the moment with Chelsea doing so well in the English Premier league but you three make it fun to come to work. Thanks for your good humour, loyalty and solid support throughout a tough year.

As 2009 draws to a close I would like to end my speech by wishing seniors good luck for the externals with a Celtic blessing and with a wish for everyone to experience peace and joy during the coming Christmas holiday:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rain fall soft upon your field.
And until we meet again
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Thank you