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Reaching the Horizon

By Steve Saville

It’s been a good couple of weeks. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days working with Tauhara College in Taupo recently, and then, last Friday, I was again fortunate to be able to participate in a leaders well-being workshop facilitated by Wiremu Gray.

What do these two events have in common?


Waka feature prominently in Tauhara College iconography and Wiremu uses the symbol of Waka to help explain an approach to leadership and leadership well-being. It just so happens that, on a far simpler level, I have also been thinking about Waka recently. Specifically Waka as a symbol for what I am starting to see in many of the schools that I am working alongside.

So, it seems timely to also write a blog about what I see starting to develop in schools by also using the symbolism of Waka. This is not going to be a complicated blog, in fact it is deliberately simple. As you read it I merely ask you to see your school as a Waka.

Many of our schools’ leadership teams are starting (I emphasize ‘starting’) to look to the horizons again, and dream about setting out on the next stage of their journey - the next adventure!

‘Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.’

- Freya Stark

Schools have been a bit ‘becalmed’ recently after, what was, a fairly severe battering from the ‘elements’; there has been a very real need to seek safe harbour for a while to take stock and carry out repairs.

But Waka are made to move, to navigate the seas and to seek adventure. It seems that as leaders are looking at what is just over the horizon (or in some cases, they are hearing tales about what lies in the seas ahead, and feel compelled to be part of the adventure)

they glance back and, as they do so, many are realising that, maybe, their Waka is not quite ready for the potentially arduous voyage ahead:

  • The paddles (which in this context) represent the curriculum.

  • The vision and the values of the school may have been damaged, and need restoring.

  • Some of the crew have yet to fully reconnect and are not necessarily in complete harmony with the direction the Waka is about to set sail on.

  • The recent battering has left some of the crew exhausted, weary and nervous about venturing out into open seas again.

  • There may be a shortage of the provisions that are required for the journey ahead.

Whatever the details, many school leaders, having taken stock, are left with the realisation that the Waka is not yet fully operational and as good sea captains they realize that setting out without a unified, strong crew all paddling in unison and in the same direction is a recipe for disaster.

They are aware that a Rangatira weaves people together. That's what the word means, and that remains the primary goal of a school leader. This weave has been challenged and needs to be prioritized and restored before setting sail again.

This then is the first key point.

#1 Shipshape: If the Waka is to reach its next destination, whatever that may be, the seaworthiness of the vessel and the crew needs to be prioritised. Seems obvious, but sometimes what is obvious isn’t always what is prioritised.

This then leads to the second main point, don’t worry I said that this was a blog without complexities so there are only two main points.

Even if the Waka is seaworthy and strong, merely setting out and hoping for the best is not a wise move. The likely result will be a crew paddling hard, but the Waka just goes round and round in circles. Lost, marooned, or worse.

#2 Pilot: This is where the numerous navigational signs need to be read and utilised.

The stars above that help map the journey could be PLD providers; the currents that speed the journey could be the Ministry of Education; clouds could be educational research; the flight patterns of birds could be the experiences of other schools.

All of these are important and help map the way forward but these navigational signs won’t do the work in the Waka. The stars, clouds and birds aren’t in the Waka paddling, they provide the map and the guidance to make sure the Waka gets to where it needs to, but - and let us be absolutely clear here - the work that propels the vessel is done within the Waka.

The strong paddles powered by a strong, unified and well provisioned crew working within a seaworthy vessel, that is what will get everyone over the waves, through the rough seas and safely to a destination.

This is a simple blog, a reminder that you can’t wait for the currents, the birds, the stars, or the clouds to power your Waka. They might shine a light and show the way, they may help in the setting of priorities, but those who will get the mahi done are the paddlers who drive the paddles into the water. Don’t wait for others to steer your Waka, all you have is already there - even though it may need a little restoration.

If you prioritize the Waka and then look to the stars, the currents, the birds and the clouds to help guide you and, as long as you realize who is in the Waka and, providing you read the navigational signs correctly, then you have a far greater chance of making landfall and not getting lost and all at sea. There is a far greater chance that all of the crew's hard work will actually be worth it and ensure that everyone survives the voyage safe and sound; making landfall in a new world full of potential and possibilities.

Told you this was a simple blog.

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