Life as an Assistant Whānau Leader – What Leadership Means

Voices - 7 October 2016

Helen Embleton (C14), teaching English at One Tree Hill College, shares a reflective piece on what leadership means, from the perspective of her role as Assistant Whānau Leader. 

At the end of Term One this year I was appointed as an Assistant Whānau Leader at my school. There are many strands to the role including: academic and pastoral support, organising events and competitions, running assemblies and discipline. The last six months have provided the busiest and most fulfilling times in my career so far. It has been a steep learning curve, but as I look back and reflect; I can’t help but still feel the same about ‘What Leadership Means’.

There is no doubt that in a role like this you can often feel like you are juggling things. You can have a free period beautifully mapped out with what you will achieve, and then plans are suddenly upturned by something that happens. The main thing I have learnt so far is to be ridiculously organised. You can never predict who or what situation is going to come through the office door; nor how long it will take. You also need to be adaptable to the hilt. You can bounce from having a family meeting, to meeting a new student, to teaching. As a leader in the corporate world in a previous role, we were told to prioritise our ‘to do list’ every week. We were told to grade our list from A to C and to “focus on your As.” In this role I would say that as the day unfolds you reassess your list constantly and what you deem to be an ‘A’. However, I have also learnt very quickly that you could easily get consumed by a role like this. It has been important for me remind myself of this advice from the past. Not so that I only focus on certain things, but so that I still get time to teach and make a plan of when to work through the ‘C’ things that have come my way. You could easily feel overwhelmed at times, so it is important to plan where to focus your energy.

I always liked Margaret Bendell’s advice of working through and with others. To me, that is a huge part of what Leadership is. The absolute highlight in this role so far has been working with students and seeing them enjoy success. One of my first jobs was helping to run the School Ball. Don’t get me wrong, there was a heck of a lot of work that went into the School Ball from me. But it was about facilitating it in a way that students could be responsible for parts of the event, feel responsible for more and share in the success of the whole event. To me, it was their event. The looks on their faces on the night were just priceless. So, to me, Leadership is about facilitating and guiding others. It is about sharing successes and allowing others to grow and feel celebrated.

Leadership is also about being approachable, being humble and being present. One of my favourite things to do is to go and sit with a Whānau class or hang out in the commons chatting to students. I make myself very available for students to come and chat or discuss things. I also took on the task of running a Whānau assembly last term. This was another highlight for me. I involved students in the assembly, but knew I would need to lead the assembly and give a talk to nearly 300 students. I can remember thinking ‘what on earth have I got to share that is good advice?’ I then realised that the best way to connect with my students was to be me. I didn’t need a fancy speech, I just needed to share my own advice and some of me. As I spoke that day about my own epiphany during my time at school, the auditorium was absolutely silent. After the assembly finished I had students thanking me and wanting to know more. That afternoon I was reminded that Leadership is about being transparent and open. It is about being that person people feel comfortable coming to talk to. It is about being human.

So, as we head into Term Four I am gearing up for another busy term. I am still learning every day and have a long way to go. However, looking back has allowed me to realise that there are endless theories out there on what Leadership means, but what matters is finding your own style and being true to you.