Tāmaki College principal Soana Pamaka says support from her principal peers was invaluable during the pandemic.
Strength in shared experiences
Amidst the constant and overwhelming challenges faced throughout the pandemic, Tāmaki College principal Soana Pamaka says being able to regularly meet and share with a group of like-minded principals who were experiencing the same things as she was, provided encouragement, inspiration and strength to keep going.
Covid has hit the Tāmaki College community hard with students and their families not only affected by illness but with loss of employment and income. Sadly, it has made the vulnerable students even more vulnerable. Soana is a leader who is passionate about the students and community she serves and is relentless in doing what is needed for her students, often helping students get to a point so they are ready for learning.
“Being part of the principal group has been a key support for our mental wellbeing and being able to cope throughout the pandemic,” says Soana.
The principal group with approximately 10 leaders (including a number of new principals) was historically formed as part of the AMHI programme. With the programme and funding now discontinued, the principal members have continued to operate as a self-governing professional leaders’ group and are currently meeting weekly. Principals work within the same communities and share the same issues, and therefore understand each other and what is being experienced.
“It is safe environment, where principals can share their stresses and challenges, and then we talk solutions,” she says. Acknowledging that the solution will not be uniform for each school, principals are able to discuss them, and then take what might work in their own school.
Understanding the challenges
Soana believes that despite receiving regular information from the Ministry of Education, the level of challenge faced by school principals during the pandemic has not been fully understood. It upsets her when statements and decisions are made by officials that are disconnected from reality and have no regard to “what that might look like on the ground”.
She says it has been tough for leaders as they work through wanting to make the right decision for their community. “There is no script to tell you what to do and at the end of the day you just have to make a decision.”
Support for principals
Support for principals has to be personalised. “We say to our teachers to understand our students, and it is the same for principals; we have to understand our principals in order to support them,” she says.
There needs to be better recognition of the cost on a principal that includes stress, loss of personal time and family time.
That’s why the tight-knit group of principals that Soana associates with has been so important. It is principals supporting other principals, and often the key message is as simple as “you’re doing a good job and you’re ok”.