Melinda Bell – Awhinatanga

A case study for Learning from the Middle.


Hi my name’s Melinda Bell. I work at Homai Primary School in Manurewa. Here at Homai I have several leadership roles: I’m a team leader, I’m a literacy and maths mentor, I’m a tutor teacher and also recently I’ve moved into learning about systems and organisation, SENCO and, just moving into the traditional DP kind of role.

Here at Homai the environment is an environment that grows leaders. It really values distributive leadership and really values giving staff the opportunity to move into leadership. My career goal at the moment is to become a principal. I’ve spoken to the principal here, Laurayne, about that and she has supported me in this by giving me lots of opportunities at school to develop the skills and dispositions that I need to become a principal.

Homai is a school that builds the capacity of their leaders, they really value growing good leaders, good strong leaders with strong pedagogical content knowledge, that they can then go and impart on other teachers or staff in the school. I’m not a leader who sees themselves as the person who knows everything. I’m a learner alongside the people that I’m leading.

I lead by example. I take every opportunity that is offered to me here. Laurayne, the principal, has given me several opportunities this year to develop my mentoring skills, to develop my leadership across the staff – with small groups, with the whole staff – one-on-one mentoring sessions. I’ve also had the opportunity to really dig in deep with a beginning teacher and help develop their professional capacity as a teacher, getting into their classroom, working alongside them, modelling, buddy teaching – all of that kind of thing.

The culture at Homai is one of high trust. For example, recently I’ve moved into a position where I’m learning about systems. I have a mentor who is the current DP at our school, and she is taking me step-by-step through the process of “well this is how I do it, but you might want to do it another way”, building my capacity so that I can then go on and build that with other teachers or staff in the school.

In terms of my own professional learning – I identify some things, maybe courses, university papers, Visible Learning workshops – things that I need to grow myself as a leader, and then something that is going to be able to be imparted on the staff at school as well.

If a staff member comes forward and they really need assistance or growth in a particular area in their classroom together we’ll go and look for something that’s going to support them in that role – that’s going to help them develop the skills they need. We try to look within the expertise of the school before we go outside of the school – we want to make sure we’re using what we have in the school, the great resource we have in the school.

Myself, as a leader, I’m always looking for that person who can take on a leadership role in something else as well. Looking at while I’m mentoring, who can I mentor to do this role again for themselves, looking at the skills that they have in the classroom – how can they take that on and give that to someone else on the staff, to just bring that leadership across the school, so it’s not just the one person at the top.

We’re constantly looking for that opportunity to just grow other people into the role so that if someone leaves there’s not a big gap. It’s sustainable, it’s going to continue, it’s going to grow. It’s all there.

For me at the moment in my career I feel like I’ve “done” the classroom thing and I’ve impacted on the students in my classroom. I have, maybe, 20 children in my classroom – so I’m influencing 20 children. Where I see myself moving into a principalship is because I want to have the influence on making change and developing teachers, developing students, developing practice, developing learning and achievement to a wider group of people.

I feel that I have a lot of knowledge and skill that I can impart, and bring and make change somewhere that needs me, that needs my skill. And I’m not someone to sit and say I know it all. If I got to a point in teaching or leadership and I said that’s it I can’t learn anything more, that’s me, I shouldn’t be in this profession any more, so I just, I want to move into being a principal so that I can impact on a greater group – and just continue to learn and grow myself as a teacher, as a leader, as a learner.

Using this case study

  • Melinda identifies growing leaders as a key factor at Homai School, and she has experienced it herself. How does your school develop leadership?  In what ways can you as a middle or senior leader take or create opportunities the school has for you to develop your own leadership skills? What areas of your leadership could benefit from development in the school?
  • What goals do you have for yourself in the future and who can you get advice or mentoring from about achieving those goals? What else can you do? For example, are there external opportunities you can take to achieve those goals?

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