Nardi Leonard – Pono

A case study for Learning from the Middle.


Kia ora. My name is Nardi Leonard, from Finlayson Park School (FPS) in Clendon, Manurewa. Our school has over 850 students and our roll will grow to 900 by the end of the year. The main cultures of our students are Māori and Pacifica. We are currently 80% Maori and Pacifica with 23 cultures making up the difference. We are very committed to the first language of our students as we believe that through the first language we will be able to meet the learning needs of all our students.

I’m currently the Deputy Principal and I sit in a second tier within our school leadership structure alongside our Associate Principal. I’ve been DP at FPS for five years now and I made a strategic move to this particular school, one, because I knew about their bilingual education and commitment to that, but also, I came from a small school and the challenge as a leader in a school of this size, I felt, would be very good for my growth personally. I also heard that the school promoted individual growth and the opportunities would be more available to me as a leader. So it was a strategic move to move here and work in a school of this particular size.

I never actually chose to be a DP. I was shoulder-tapped by another person who felt I had the qualities to fulfil that position, but it wasn’t something I looked at myself and thought “Yes I am a deputy principal and I will be a principal”. However, while being here at FPS it’s a very nurturing style of leadership and our principal actively promotes us to move ahead and look forward; in fact it’s said that you only leave this school if you’re going on a promotion – you never go sideways or go backwards, so that’s comforting to know.

I’m currently being supported in my pursuit to further my education through the school. Our BOT has committed financially to professional development for all leaders and encouraged us to pursue higher honours. So it’s that self-belief that if our board and our principal supports us to go forward in our own education, then it makes me want to do it and actually believe that I’m possibly good enough to do it. It’s extremely important here in the leadership qualities of our leadership.

The school has supported me personally and professionally to pursue leadership honours, or leadership positions and it’s my role in the school to ensure that that filters down to the team leaders who I am responsible for within our school, so those conversations have to take place, whether they’re formal or informal, that I plant a seed in the leaders that they too want to pursue, not just higher honours, but just where does their career want to go, where do they want to go in their leadership management.

I need to be aware of what’s on offer in the community or nationally, what’s being offered for leadership opportunities and just to plant those seeds within the team leaders so that they too can have the opportunities that I have had. That is a culture within our school; our staff are continuously upskilling, continuously seeking or sorting out further PD studies and it is supported by our board, by our principal, financially, but also in time. If they need to have a day away in a conference, that’s where the support comes in from our school.

A key leadership practice at FPS is about the promotion of change and although there’s a perception that change can be problematic, it’s actually a culture in our school that change is a really good thing and that with change comes success and exciting new innovative teaching strategy.

Quite often, regardless of whether you’re in a leadership position or not, we promote change, we promote new ideas and we invite our leaders to challenge the things that we do in our school now, the practices that we have, and try and continuously look for new ways that we promote student achievement. My role is to help support team leaders with these ideas and ensure that I’m not trying to put a halt on what they do and actually encourage them to look outside the square – how can we make things happen?

I think, because we’re encouraged as a group to be innovative, you’re quite surprised that all of a sudden people from out of nowhere come up with ideas that at times, if you’re an outlooker, sound really obscure and it’s that ...dare to dream, and we want our leaders to dream and then it’s my role and also our principal’s role to try and make that dream happen.

Using this case study

  • Nardi talks about her role to promote other leadership capability in the school. This has emerged from her commitment to pono, self-belief. Who are the people in your school who you could encourage to pursue leadership opportunities? What is on offer in the school, community or nationally for them to take up?
  • At Finlayson Park school the promotion of innovation is a key leadership practice. Nardi takes an active role in this with a support team. What practices need to change in your school? For example if you wanted to improve student achievement what would you encourage people to do the make that happen? What challenges would you face? How would you help people make that dream happen?

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