Never say never
Green’s earliest memories centre on the sheer joy of her first day at school. She can’t remember much else before then. Her five younger brothers, however, do remember being lined up by Green in front of a little blackboard their father had made for her, while she “taught”. “I knew then that that was what…
Green’s earliest memories centre on the sheer joy of her first day at school. She can’t remember much else before then. Her five younger brothers, however, do remember being lined up by Green in front of a little blackboard their father had made for her, while she “taught”. “I knew then that that was what I wanted to do with my life.”
From a little room off the wash-house out west in Auckland, Green went on to meet her dream. On the day she talks with EA, she’s juggling the end-of-year school overload; is in the process of appointing a principal to cover her job; and is preparing for the challenges of leading NZEI. She has headed Khandallah School in Wellington, with a roll of 480, since 2008 and the school is now where she wants it to be – “great teachers, great children and a really supportive board. In education some things can take forever to change, but in a school you can actually turn things around quite quickly. It’s the culture that matters – get that on the right track and everything else follows.”
She has a reputation for getting schools back on track. Now she has her eye on the government – something of a Herculean task for two-year job as president. But there’s a quality of infectious optimism and never-say-never about Green that let’s you think it’s all possible.
Her family were Catholic and poor – “but at the time I didn’t realise how little we had.” Her father had emigrated from war-torn Holland and her mother was one of 11. Her father earned just enough at a print shop in Royal Oak to support the family. Cashing up the family benefit brought in the deposit for a house in New Lynn. “There was no car, no new clothes. It was all hand-me downs but we had a big vege garden and chooks. We had eggs and we ate the chickens. It was easier then to live on very little.”
At her local Catholic school, Green remembers the nuns as strong, female role models who encouraged her to be whatever she wanted. “Mum and Dad were absolutely blown away when I got into Teachers College. It helped that you were paid to go then – I wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise.”
After teacher training, she was bonded to schools in Auckland. Soon, however, she married and took 11 years out “to have babies”, with a bit of relieving on the side. Then followed 17 years of teaching in the Waikato, moving from a DP role to principal of a small school.
When she was looking for a role at a bigger school, Wellington seemed the logical choice. Both her children were there and it would save a lot of time on travel to NZEI meetings. “I’ve been interested in NZEI since I went to the Waikato. It’s about having that wider network and finding out what’s going on.” Among other roles, she’s been active in branches and area councils, on National Executive and as an NZEI rep on the Teachers Council.
“I’m really excited now about having time to focus on NZEI, without trying to run a successful school as well. I’m really interested in what’s happening in education in New Zealand at a systems level, but also what’s happening for members, what’s happening for teachers, for support staff, what’s happening in workplaces – whether it’s primary or early childhood.”
It’s grassroots energy, she believes, that will drive change for the better. She’s excited about the work NZEI members have been doing on leadership and on collaboration, but she’s rather more sceptical about government policies that are imposed from the top down. “A system shift will come from the work that happens within specific schools and centres. So it’s about really looking at what we do, what works, what doesn’t work. It’s about having those difficult conversations about what we have to do around our teaching practice, around the way we organise our schools; the way we support and lead our teachers and students to actually get that shift up.”
[g1_quote author_name=”Louise Green” align=”right” size=”m” style=”solid” template=”01″]
Taking teachers out of classrooms, and giving some teachers and principals more money and then expecting others to collaborate with them… I just can’t see it working very well in primary.
Primary schools already collaborate, she says, and they work in clusters. “Taking teachers out of classrooms, and giving some teachers and principals more money and then expecting others to collaborate with them – I just can’t see it working very well in primary.” She’d rather see curriculum-driven reform that is professionally driven, than reform driven by National Standards and the PaCT online tool that ignores, for example, the debilitating effects of poverty. She also wants schools to have more access to professional learning and development.
“At Khandallah School, we wanted PD on science but we actually needed PD that supported the practice around modern learning environments because that’s where we’re heading. We couldn’t afford to put money into science. It wouldn’t matter if we’d done all the science in the world, if we end up in a new building with flexible teaching spaces and we don’t know how to make it work well.”
What a lot of it comes down to, she says, is the drive from above to turn teachers into technicians (with lower pay) coming up against the grassroots drive of education professionals to keep the New Zealand system at the cutting edge of educational practice so every child gets the best start. And you can tell which she thinks must prevail.
– Jane Blaikie