Mike Wright, principal of South Otago High School, believes the school’s approach to student agency – “putting the student in the driver’s seat” – has positioned students well to respond to the challenges of the pandemic.
South Otago High School principal Mike Wright saw the writing on the wall before the first national lockdown and ensured that the school had an up-to-date pandemic plan written and ready to go. Therefore, when the first lockdown in 2020 was called, “people felt confident that they had a good plan they could follow, but knew also that there was a lot of work still to be done,” says Mike.
Student engagement with their learning was relatively high during the first lockdown, and when everyone returned to school, teaching staff were conscientious and supported those students who needed additional learning.
The school’s experience of the second lockdown was similar with high levels of student engagement, but there were a number of students who were less engaged with the view that their learning would resume once back at school. Some students took advantage of local employment opportunities and being enticed by earning an income, moved into full time employment.
Mike says he is very fortunate that he has a fantastic team of staff, who are loyal and committed to make the best the school can be. He attributes this to working within an environment that encourages open and honest discussions amongst staff, with an attitude of collaboration. When faced with decisions about mask wearing, Mike’s approach has been to present the evidence from the school, present a range of options for consideration and then discuss with staff their views and ideas.
South Otago High School in recent years has worked hard to ensure students are offered a diverse range of learning opportunities, are fully involved in the process and are successful in pursuing appropriate options for their future.Mike describes it as “putting the student in the driver’s seat, with taking more ownership of their learning”. Listening to student voice and what they believe is important for their future has been an important part of this process, as well as communicating clearly with students about what the school can do and how it can be achieved. This strategy is also very well supported by the wider community who provide authentic learning experiences for students.
Mike believes that the increase in student agency and effective learning dispositions, will benefit students as they continue to navigate through the disruption of the pandemic.
He sees success in the future for the school and its students being dependent on the strong relationships and connections that they have with their parents, caregivers and the wider community. Because of this, he is encouraged that students will be well served, despite not knowing for how long the effects of the pandemic will continue.
On a personal level, Mike recognises that leading as the principal throughout the pandemic has taken a toll. He enjoys the role and thrives on the challenges, but recognises that there is a cost to the additional workload and pressures. Individual wellbeing is generally at risk and quality time with families is nearly always impacted. Maintaining a balanced approach to work and other life activities is important for Mike, and he is disappointed that he currently has very little time to spend on his love of outdoor pursuits. However, he is ready and eager to put on his running shoes when the time presents itself.
About the school
South Otago High School
Years 9 -13 state co-educational secondary school
South Otago High School website (sohs.school.nz)