Hillmorton High School

Hillmorton High School principal Ann Brokenshire
Hillmorton High School principal Ann Brokenshire

Principal of Hillmorton High School Ann Brokenshire says that when principals are in crisis mode there are certain factors that have a significant bearing on their responses and actions. As part of a 2019 sabbatical, Ann interviewed Christchurch Secondary School Principals who had experienced the earthquakes, the aftermath, and the mosque attack.  She identified three key factors that impact and determine how a leader deals with any crisis: 

  1. Values that motivate the leader to act and the values that the school holds
  2. Balance in life that involves effective support from others
  3. Working with and trusting the team.

“It doesn’t matter what the crisis is, dealing with Covid is the same,” says Ann.

Equity and access to a good education for every student is a strong driver for Ann. The task of ensuring students had a digital device at home and with suitable connectivity, was hugely challenging.  “Working off mum’s phone was never going to work for any student,” says Ann, and she acknowledges the community and business support in financing devices for students. “It is a lot better than it was, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Achievement results have been lower over the last two years, with those students who have a strong sense of their identity faring better than those who do not.  Ann attributes the outstanding achievement of her Pasifika students to having developed strong relationships and learning with Pasifika staff.  “Unfortunately our Māori students throughout Covid, appear to be less resilient, and staff are working really hard to engage with their language, culture and identity and are doing a good job, but there is still some work to be done.”

It has also been noticeable that “even the top kids dropped off with motivation and are finding their learning hard to manage”, Ann says.  Missing out on significant events and occasions was very disappointing for most students and “not being able to run around and play sport, or play your instrument inside was really difficult.”

Keeping the school open for students, and not rostering home year levels has been a priority for staff at Hillmorton High School. “The last two years has taught us that our kids don’t do very well when they learn at home,” says Ann. Therefore when staff absences were high during Omicron and they did not have enough relievers, they began the school day at the start of period 2. This meant that all teachers would have their non-contact time during period 1. However, a consequence of the delayed start to the day meant that some students have found it difficult to settle into their learning when they do arrive at school.  Also with the loss of period 1, some learning areas have less time with students than others – thus disadvantaging students and therefore creating inequity.

Constant review and revision of the learning programmes and the school timetable is now normal practice, with Ann saying, “the realisation is that this situation is not going to go away quickly and this is probably how we are going to be doing school.”

When Ann talks about maintaining balance for a leader she is not simply talking about work versus non-work life activity, but more about how a leader maintains a healthy wellbeing, including being well connected and supported by others. “Having really good support outside of school is really important…that support to keep you going is absolutely essential and part of your own wellbeing”. Ann found that most principals she spoke to, cited whānau as being the most significant support mechanism, with connection to principal colleagues also being important, with a number also having outside supervision. 

Moving forward, Ann says that “if this is what it’s going to be like, schools must keep doing those things that further develop the one on one relationship, and provide mentoring support for students”. There may also be a need “to change our expectations with the quantity of work to complete – doing less but better”.  Because staff are already tired and feel overworked, and with the impact of the pandemic ongoing, she suggests that there needs to be a mindset change to enable people to work through it.  “We’ve got to stay fit, healthy and positive, otherwise everyone will be depressed and down.”

Ann’s principled yet realistic approach to her role as the leader means that she is relentless in her effort and works hard to attain what her students need and deserve - no matter what external circumstances the school is faced with. 


About the school

Hillmorton High School



School type

Year 7-13 State Co-educational Secondary School

Approximate roll



Ann Brokenshire

School website

Hillmorton High School

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