Talking Heads;Briefing;School Management;Interview;Tania Fitzpatrick

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Name - Tania FitzPatrick. Age - Mid forties. Years as a head - Eight. Current school - Te Kura Kaupapamaori. Location - Christchurch, New Zealand. Description: Maori medium all-through school, 90 pupils, primary and secondary.

* Career history

After I had my family, I did some teaching in our pre-school Maori system, te kohanga reo. During this time there was a revival in the Maori language and I decided to train as a teacher. Fresh out of college, I was appointed here with another college-leaver and we were made joint headteachers.

We had 35 children and had some accelerated learning. Everything had to be done at such speed. When my colleague left five years ago, I was made the sole head.

* How would you describe your style of headship?

Very firm and fair with both staff and kids, but I try to give every opportunity to empower other teachers. I think others would say I'm very powerful, but fair and respectful of them and the kids.

Our collective vision is far greater than individual personalities. I don't make decisions on my own, but try to achieve a consensus. We don't make decisions until everyone is in agreement. Everyone means the staff and the whanau (extended family, important in Maori culture).

We communicate through newsletters, meetings, telephone and other Maori networks. Our students make up their own rules and they set goals about what they would like to learn. We try and meet these goals.

What are the most important aspects of a head's job?

The kids and getting the resources to meet their learning needs. We have lots of learning barriers here and need to be well resourced.

* What do you enjoy about your job?

Meeting people and achieving our goals. It's wonderful to reflect back and see how far we've come. The job is so challenging - the diverse range of people we deal with and trying to please them all.

* What don't you enjoy?

The hours.

* What are the most difficult things you do?

Public speaking, because I get very emotional and it never comes out as I'd like it to. There is always a tension between meeting the requirements of our own people and the education system and trying to blend the two together. I am accountable to both the ministry and to our own people.

* Who or what most influenced you in your approach?

Our own culture and lots of people including education researchers Janet Holmes and Richard Burton. They have changed the way I look at things and broadened my views. Maori educationists Sir Peter Sharples and Rose Pere have been very influential too.

* What was different from what you expected?

At first there were lots of headaches and heartaches. I was not au fait with the system - things like legal everyday requirements, staffing, ratios, funding. I was so green. It was a crash course in learning.

* What would you do differently next time round?

Lots of things. For a start, I'd make sure that the systems were up and running and in place before we opened.

* What keeps you sane?

I enjoy what I do. I couldn't ask for a better job. You cannot get bored and it's always so exciting. The joy of being around with the staff and the kids and the whanau keeps me going. The staff are brilliant. Time with my own family is very important too.

* Who are your heroes?

All the movers and shakers in Maori education.

* How would you like to be remembered?

For being the best principal in the world!

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