Name: Petra Verbeek
Title: Deputy Principal
Organisation: Hamilton Christian School
I started teaching 35 years ago and have not fallen out of love with the profession in all these years. I was born and bred in Germany. When I was 10, we moved to South Africa because my father and his brother wanted an adventure. Growing up in South Africa has given me an appreciation of cultural diversity, the challenges immigrants face when they move to a country where they cannot understand the language, and how to communicate with people who come from different backgrounds.
I taught English as a second language, as well as Afrikaans and German for 15 years. After I was married and had two beautiful girls, we made the move to New Zealand where I taught at public schools for a number of years before I embarked on my journey in Christian education. My first role was as a Head of Department where I taught a range of subjects in the Humanities at a small Christian School in Hamilton.
My passion has always been teaching English and helping students reach their potential. After more than 17 years at Hamilton Christian School, my passion now is much more than just conveying content and ensuring academic excellence. I am passionate about building relationships with students and colleagues and supporting them in their academic as well as spiritual journey.
I want people to feel valued and I know that my work has eternity value. As the school was small I wore a number of hats: Head of Department, Head of School, Deputy Principal, Pastoral Care Coordinator, and pretty much Jack of all trades. Now that the school has more than doubled, my focus is Head of Secondary School as well as Deputy Principal.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Petra's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Change management: Being a collaborative leader who takes the team with me instead of being authoritative. Balancing justice and mercy: when to step in and help"fix" an issue instead of allowing a staff member to wrestle with the issue.
Having those challenging conversations in a way that still makes my staff feel valued and not diminished. Allowing others to make mistakes and then working through what went wrong and looking for solutions on how to do things better.
Making sure I stay relevant: We need to remember that when people follow us, they can only go as far as we go. If our growth stops, our ability to lead will stop along with it.
He aha te kai a te Rangatira?
He kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero
What is the food of the leader?
it is communication
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I have always been in leadership positions since I was at school, later in my church, and even at university. Looking back, I can honestly say that I never sought out leadership positions, yet the opportunity to lead always came my way. The first leadership position I actually applied for was the role of Head of Department Humanities at Hamilton Christian School. It was challenging and humbling to be able to lead a small team.
As a small school of 300 students, we never had the resources to appoint a Deputy Principal and I clearly remember thinking I was perfectly happy in my job looking after my small team. As is the nature of small schools, staff wear many hats and are multi-talented. I "fell" into doing a lot of supporting work for the principal at the time. During the principal's professional review, I remember being asked if I would accept the role of Deputy Principal if I were asked.
I adamantly said that I was not interested as it would take me away from teaching, my number one passion. I was a teacher, not an administrator. God definitely has a sense of humour - one day the principal just informed me that as I was doing the job of a Deputy Principal, I might as well have the title.
Since then, I have learned much about leadership, but I have retained the teaching aspect of my job even though it adds to my workload. I usually pick more classes during the year and relieve others' classes mainly to support my team, but my bread and butter, what fills my tank and gives me joy is the students!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake up early, make myself a good cup of coffee (start the day on the right foot), and spend quiet time in the scriptures and prayer unless there is a lot of relief to organise for sick staff. This sets me up for anything the day is going to throw at me.
I am at school by 8 am. There is never a dull moment teaching in an area school (Years 1 - 13 students): I teach, relieve, do pastoral care, observe staff, or wander through classes in between pressing administrative jobs. After school I am more often than not in meetings with staff, students, or parents.
I try to be home by 5 pm so that I can unwind for a bit spending some time with my family and pets before catching up on some depending on the kind of day I had, or just relaxing with a book or good murder mystery. Some afternoons I even manage to catch up with friends for a coffee.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
To hold the space: during conversations or radically candid discussions, do not form a response in your head, just listen. Do not jump in; do not butt in. Make a note of questions for later if necessary. Just listen and honour what is in the other person's head - let them verbalise and wait for clarification later.
Also, I do not need to know all the answers because I am not an expert on everything. But I can trust my team: the answer is in the room somewhere! Not to make assumptions - The Ladder of Inference (Peter Senge, 1994) Communicate, communicate, communicate! Be available, visible, and use invitational language. Protecting staff - sometimes taking one for the team. Be Moses who stood in the gap for his people.
5. 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?
The Multipliers Effect: Tapping the Genius inside our Schools
I have had to reflect on the fact that a multiplier needs to be a) talent recruiter, b) community builder, c) thought provoker, d) investor in their team's talents, and e) high stakes challenger.
I also found the section around how someone can become an accidental diminisher while thinking they are a muliplier challenging and definitely worth reflecting on.
The books heled me think about the fact that good leaders know when to step back and ask questions instead of delegating instructions. Mistakes are not failures but lessons to be learned! This reminded me that C.S.Lewis once said that failure is falling towards success, and that “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Do not expect your team to do anything you are not willing to do yourself. Listen to your team and be willing to compromise. You are first and foremost a servant because "those engaged in the study and practice of leadership may not immediately think of love when they think of leadership, but I'd argue that the best leaders know how to love well in their leadership work" (C.S Lewis).
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves."
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
When we changed our approach to pedagogy, moving towards a discipleship model of behaviour management away from a punitive approach, it was challenging to help some staff understand that this was not negating consequences at all. Instead, it was looking at building relationships and teachers taking responsibility as the adult to guide and shape children.
Even though rules have never won the heart of a child, it took a lot of patience and conversations as well as modeling and in-class support to help some staff come to grips with this. The scaffolding and patience have paid off in that we can now have more meaningful conversations and are able to show more grace while still grappling with mercy versus justice.
I also bought a video series, Culture of Grace", to encourage reflection and discussion. It has taken almost two years for some teachers to see the value of discipleship versus the discipline model (we have even had staff resign). this journey has taught me patience and that some people need more time to process change. But, we are a better, more cohesive team today than we were two years ago.