FOR Southland’s 2017 Woolf Fisher Fellowship recipients James Hargest College (JHC) principal Andy Wood and Windsor North School principal Andrew Smith, their trip abroad was “reaffirming” and “inspiring”.
“It reaffirmed what a fantastic school system we have in New Zealand,” Mr Smith said.
“[It] was affirming of the decisions we are taking in our school development,” Mr Wood said.
The Invercargill principals were the only Southlanders among 15 New Zealand educators awarded the prestigious fellowship this year.
Founded by Sir Woolf Fisher in 1960, the fellowship recognises and rewards excellence in education. Recipients travel overseas on a 10-week sabbatical to examine different teaching practices and attend a week-long leadership course at Harvard University, in the United States. Recipients are nominated.
Mr Smith said receiving the recognition had been one of the highlights of his career in education.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked actually. I was overwhelmed and extremely humbled to receive it.
“I am incredibly grateful to whoever nominated me. I would love the opportunity to thank them in person.”
Mr Wood said receiving the fellowship was humbling and a huge honour.
“It reflects well on the school. I am just one person. Everyone else is doing the work to run what is hopefully a great school.”
Mr Smith and Mr Wood said attending the Harvard leadership course taken by the world’s leading educational researchers was one of the highlights of their trip.
“I found there was enormous commonality about how we think about our kids and how we want them to achieve,” Mr Wood said.
“I was challenged by a lot of ideas which made me think deeply about my leadership.”
Mr Smith said he had enjoyed being able to talk to teachers and principals from around the world and share ideas.
Both principals declined to be drawn on what changes or new initiatives they may introduce into their schools as a result of their experience, as they were still reflecting on it.
“It was not about coming back with radical ideas,” Mr Wood said.
“In a year’s time we will be able to evaluate the value of the trip. Only time will tell.”
Mr Smith said: “I am still processing it, but bit by bit I will be making small changes within the school.”
Pupils in the United Kingdom had very good oral language skills, he said.
“[Oral language skills] are a vital skill to have in the workforce. I would certainly like to see it developed further [here].”
Mr Wood said he visited a Welsh school trying to revive the Welsh language as part of a renaissance of the language, which was relevant in terms of how JHC was working hard to introduce te reo Maori into the school.
While overseas, Mr Wood went on a personal pilgrimage, retracing Brigadier James Hargest’s escape from a prisoner of war camp in Italy in World War 2 and visited his grave site in Normandy, France.
“There has been a revival about pupils [at JHC] learning about Hargest, so I wanted to build my knowledge.
“That was an important part of my journey.”