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7 Questions with Maurie Abraham

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Maurie Abraham

Name: Maurie Abraham

Current title: Principal

Current organisation: Hobsonville Point Secondary School

Maurie started his role as Foundation Principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School in October 2012. Prior to that he was Principal of Opotiki College for 10 years after being Deputy Principal for 10 years. His teaching areas have been in the Social Sciences. Maurie has been involved in leading the implementation of restorative practice within schools and has run workshops on this topic throughout NZ and overseas. This, along with his passion for exploring new ways to engage teachers and students, resulted in Opotiki College achieving the kinds of results equal to those achieved by more economically advantaged schools. The commitment to academic excellence and strong, positive relationships with students is what he brings to his role as Principal. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School he has helped lead the development of an innovative curriculum and pedagogy designed to better prepare today’s young people for their current and future worlds. He is firmly of the view that student wellbeing must be at the heart of all decision-making in a school and that schools must put as much effort into the front end of the New Zealand Curriculum as they do for the back end.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?

Maintaining the courage to lead according to a moral purpose. Putting students, their learning and their wellbeing at the centre of decision-making and development of school structures requires the courage to stand up to colleagues, staff, parents and system push-back.

2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I get up at 6am and go for a run. Over breakfast I check any overnight emails, scan on-line news and check out any relevant notifications on my Twitter and Facebook Pages. I'm at work just after 7 30am and generally have 45 minutes of quiet time to get on top of short tasks. I have an efficient process re emails and rely on Google Tasks to keep on top of things. At 8: 30 I generally lead or attend a 'Kitchen Table' with staff for 30 minutes. From then until the end of the school day I meet with a range of people, both in and out of school, and work on the jobs in my Tasks list. I am an active presence throughout our school and spend a couple of hours every day visiting classes and talking with students about their learning. I find this the best student voice to inform my thinking. I host many visiting groups from NZ and around the world and I take them into learning spaces and I hear kids respond to their questions. Often I'll take my laptop and sit in an open space in the school to complete administration tasks and respond to emails so that people see me at work and can also sit and chat with me. At lunchtimes I do my best to walk throughout the building and outside. After 3 30pm I'll often have a team meeting of some sort for an hour and after that I address my Tasks list again. I try to leave the site at about 5 30pm but sometimes it can be closer to 7pm. I try not to take too much work home but sometimes it is unavoidable. The Tasks are a combination of administration and strategic activities.

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

I have always argued that leadership is a combination of moral purpose and courage. More recently I have learned to add a 3rd element which I call being open to learning. That largely means that I have to be open to the idea that, despite holding a particular view about an issue, I might be wrong. As well, I have had reinforced to me over the last 12 months as we navigated through the pandemic that not only is wellbeing important, but that without it any meaningful learning is impossible.

4. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Russell Bishop's "Teaching to the North-East" has had a profound impact. My experience in the restorative practice field has led me to talk about the effective management of behaviour or relationship breakdown requires teachers to be warm AND demanding. BBy this II mean that they must overtly show kids that they care for them and that they have high expectations of all learners to flourish and be successful AND that they have high expectations of themselves to support each student to do so. Bishop's book has provided the research base to show that not only is the warm and demanding approach the key to successful management of behaviour and relationship issues but that it is the basis of the only effective pedagogical model for diverse students to flourish and be successful.

5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?

I appoint people entirely on mindset. Jim Collins' book "Good to Great" resonated when he said in relation to employing staff that the key is to get the right people on the bus then rearrange the seats later. When you appoint a mindset you have the perfect opportunity for growth of leadership. Our ongoing induction process is all about understanding and embedding our vision, values and principles. In that environment you then give people the permission to lead, to try, to fail, to learn and to grow.

6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

You have to walk the talk. You do this by dismantling every institutional practice that gets in the way of student wellbeing: meaningless uniform etc rules that squash diversity, bells that diminish self-regulation, streaming, assessment driving curriculum etc and have meaningful processes to collect and act on student voice in relation to curriculum and operational matters. You need to walk the talk with staff in a similar way. The above changes for students generally lead to better staff wellbeing as well. For both groups it's about ensuring their voice and their diversity is acknowledged and has a rightful place in their school.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader in the education sector so far?

By exploring the principles of restorative practice very early in my principalship I found a set of principles that have helped guide me through the stressful area of managing relationship breakdown (between students, between students and staff, between staff and between parents and all of these groups). From that foundation I have been able to move from a relationship-based approach to behaviour management to a relationship-based approach to curriculum and pedagogy.
Another highlight, at a previous school, was enrolling in a 3 year Maori language and Tikanga post grad programme which included many parents from the school community. I learned so much and whanau could see that I was happy to be part of that important journey with them.