Helping put a support network around principals and constant communication is the key to improving hauora and ensuring a strong and positive relationship between school leaders and their Board of Trustees, a governance expert believes.

The latest Deakin University wellbeing survey shows that hauora continues to trend down amongst school leaders, who are increasingly burdened with more work demands that have to be achieved at a faster pace.

Reducing those demands by ensuring that the Government fixes the primary school staffing shortage has formed the backbone of our Te Ao Kei Tua | Creating Our Future campaign.

But Belinda Weber, a governance adviser at the School Trustees’ Association (STA), told a NZEI Te Riu Roa hauora seminar, that there are also other methods of ensuring that principals’ wellbeing was at the forefront of Boards’ thinking.

“The first thing for Boards to recognise is that there are lots of people involved in running a school but the most important employment relationship the Board has is the one it has with its principal,” she says. “So you must be making sure that you are doing everything you can to help them succeed.”

“The best way to do that is to create an environment where your principal …and school… can succeed.”

Belinda, who has been working for six years at STA in Te Tai Tokerau, says the key message she has been hearing from conversations with principals is that their relationship with their Board needs to be strong.

And that can be achieved relatively easily.

“I often talk with Boards (and say)  is about just being good human beings,” she says.

“If we can all go into this being good human beings that makes a real difference. Recognise that actually as Board members nobody expects that you know how hard it is for your principals. But because you don’t know that, go into a conversation with your principal. Get them to talk to you about what life looks for them. What the challenges are and how you can address those challenges.”

She says another simple thing that Boards can do to help build a positive relationship is to read the Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement – something she did when she was the chair of a board of a small school in her area.

“It’s really valuable,” she says. “It gives you a really good idea of what the principal has a right to expect from their employer.

“It’s really important to spend some time and make sure that you have an understanding because your principal is your employee and you have an obligation to keep them happy, healthy and safe.”

Having open, free and frank conversations can be a massive help for principals, she adds.

“Encourage your principal to share with your Board. Principals should not expect that the Board knows or understands the pressures they face.

“So there should be a way to share that with their Board in a way that doesn’t say ‘I can’t do this’, but ‘here’s areas you can help me with’.

“They also need somebody who is not their Board (to talk to). That can be a safe place to unload and to share how hard today, or this week or this year was.

“Make sure the Board has things in place to build that support network around them It’s not always easy but it needs to be done and … a place where the Board can make a difference.

“Your community need the Board to keep expecting the best. And they need you to keep challenging your principal to bring their best. And to bring out the best in our kids because that’s what we’re all here for, bringing out the best in our kids.”

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