How is student wellbeing supported at Macleans? Should children of past students have enrolment priority? What books and shows has Mr. Hargreaves been consuming? These, and more, in the following interview with Mr. Hargreaves, Principal of Macleans College.

Firstly, what are your plans for Macleans this year? Do we have any new things in mind?

Yes, we actually have quite a lot happening. Maybe not all of this is visible to the students, but some of the things we are working on relate to property, like the work going on for the new science block. We are looking at a total revamp of our timetable and the six periods on Wednesday, period allocations for subjects, and how we select options and how they are available to students.

How well do you think the current system of support for students at Macleans is working? Could there be any improvements made to support students’ wellbeing?

That is a really good question; in fact, it was our topic of discussion at a recent board meeting. We do know for sure, by tracking the statistics, that there’s an increasing number of students accessing help through the SAS. There are specific things that are happening, with the issues that students are presenting around anxiety, family, stress, tension, and eating disorders. Mr. Coaton, the Head of Guidance, presented to the board that we are a well-resourced school and he doesn’t know of any other school that has five guidance counsellors that are trained and available to support students. But he also made the case that there’s a recommended ratio of a counsellor to every four hundred students and we’re just a bit below that. We then got onto the proactive programs that we have in place, like peer support, ‘Mates and Dates’, the health curriculum, the Travellers program for Year Nines, the mindfulness group. So it might be about pouring more resources into proactive preventative programs, supporting all students before things start to go wrong.

Extracurricular activities have always been one of the key aspects of student life here at Macleans. Do you have any advice to students who have their own ideas to contribute to the many extracurricular clubs and activities that Macleans College has to offer? How would a student or group of students go about proposing a new addition to an already extensive list of co-curriculars?

That’s happened this year, when students have approached senior management and had activities added to our list of recognised co-curricular activities. What generally happens is that students will write a proposal – who is going to manage the group, the benefits of this particular activity, does it need staff support and any funding, where would it be based – and then present that to Mr Mackenzie. Then if it’s something straightforward, he’ll approve it. Most things are approved, but not everything is—if it’s a double up or if we don’t really think it’s going to benefit the students.

Other clubs have recognition and badges attached to them. While still valuable and important, service clubs lack the “premier team” requirement; they don’t get that level of recognition. What are your thoughts on this?

This has caused debate over the years and the main thread of the argument seems to be that if you are doing a service activity, it’s not about recognition. It’s about performing an act of duty and giving. The other aspect is that with the teams, there is a performance aspect. You are acknowledging a talent and an aspect where there’s some competition taking place. Service activities don’t provide that. You have to be persistent, turn up, and be diligent.

My understanding is there are cultural badges available but not for the group that sits underneath the ‘umbrella’ of the cultural club or a service group. We’re always open to hearing a debate about it.

In hindsight what are your thoughts on how Macleans College, as a school, took on the unprecedented challenge of learning through lockdown? How did you help staff members adapt during the multiple unexpected lockdowns?

The whole thing was a learning experience for staff and students, and overall they did a great job. The staff quickly upscaled and learnt how to do remote lessons and the students remained engaged with their work and made a lot of progress with their learning. Initially teachers were very enthusiastic and would Zoom for an entire period, then set students work, which was too much and became overwhelming. So we then tried to modify our practice so that there were shorter periods of direct instruction via Zoom and then opportunities for students to complete activities and exercises prior to the next Zoom beginning, just to get that balance of instruction and activity right. I think we improved as we went. The other thing that we hadn’t anticipated was the sheer volume of communication between teachers and students. So many alerts and messages and things on Google Classroom, we just needed to do fewer things but do them better. Shorter lessons, less direct instruction, more time for students to get on and work independently. I think by the end we got the balance right.

Do you think anything has changed from before disruptions from Covid-19 to now? If you could do it again, would you make any different decisions? (e.g: less physical worksheets and more online resources)

We’re obviously smarter now, having done it once. So we wouldn’t have to go through that upscaling and learning phase, where we got the balance wrong between direct instruction and time for students to work. We had another aspect at the front of that question – what’s changed. People are still dealing with the upset of routine and the uncertainty of the remote lockdowns, closed borders and Covid. We’ve changed a bit about how we teach and learn. I think there’s much more use of digital learning strategies now and the online platform for delivering teaching. We’ve also now got a new appreciation of being in school and I think we value being able to learn together. We appreciate that learning is a social activity and that there are benefits to having others learning around you to support one another, to share ideas and be collaborative.

Macleans College has a huge group of international students. How do you think Covid-19 has affected these students?

It’s had a big impact on our international students. I’ve met and spoken to quite a few – they’re homesick. They’re desperate for the borders to reopen so that they can reconnect with family at home. International students living with parents here are still feeling dislocated from their extended family groups back home. It puts quite a lot of stress on international students. As a consequence, what we’ve seen is some have just gone home. They’ve abruptly ended their time at Macleans and headed home so they can have the support of their families, quite understandably.

Each term, there would be a scheduled week separate for the juniors and seniors set for exams. What are your opinions on the idea that all students are tested for all subjects in a week’s time? Do you have any suggestions to any possible changes that could be made to assessment weeks in the future?

This was a topic of discussion amongst house leaders and the senior management [a couple weeks ago], but it’s been a topic of discussion on and off for years now. The point of having a focused period of time is that it highlights the importance of assessment. We don’t have trips, we reduce the homework, and we focus on our assessments. We think more about how we prepare for assessments, we take advice about revision and how we can do our best. Of course, the downside of that is a compressed period of time where you’re sitting lots of assessments. What we think we might do next year is reinforce the idea that assessments don’t have to be one hour, they don’t have to be all written, they can be multichoice or short answers, to simplify the tasks for students and marking for the teachers. Also, if we make it two weeks for seniors and juniors combined, then it’s not all in one week, where students might have two or three assessments in one day. They’ll have ten days to do their tasks. The issue with assessment weeks is because they’re done in class time and everyone’s time tables are different, some people can have two or three in one day. Whereas with the term three and four exams, there’s study leave and two exams in one day with a break in between.

There has recently been proposed changes to enrolment priority groupings. What are your thoughts on that?

I disagree with the idea that children of past students will have no priority. I think the Ministry of Education failed to understand the importance of community in a school. As we are a whanau house school, family connections—being able to follow your siblings, brothers and sisters into school—is really important. That’s what you get: a legacy, tradition, true understanding of values and pride in school. And it builds a community feeling. Learning is a social activity and if you can have strong relationships that hold people together, then I think you will have a school that functions far more effectively. So removing those family priority groupings I think is a big mistake. It’s been misunderstood as a way of protecting your patch and the rich looking after themselves. Not understanding that it has nothing to do with social economic status; it has to do with people and relationships. I just hope that the changes proposed are enacted.

It’s the primary duty of a school to care for and listen to its students, maybe even coming before education or developing skills. Do you think the school needs to improve its harassment policy, in relation to LGBTQ+ students and harassment of them based on identity?

That is a hard hitting question. To say that we could do more is always possible. We have an expectation that no form of bullying or exclusion is acceptable. Mr Coaton is not just involved with the LGBTQ+ Rights Club, he’s very aware of the requirements of the school and advocating for us to be aware of the needs of that particular group.

Students who are victims of bullying targeted at their queerness are sometimes private about their sexuality. Do you think this might make it harder for them to talk about harassment, or go down the typical avenues of seeking help, due to the stigma around LGBTQ+ identities?

That’s a barrier to providing help, because the seeking of help is actually the issue in itself. My general feeling is that the school as a whole is pretty tolerant. I think we’re probably great in a few respects, that being that this is an area that we can do better. I think society as a whole could do better in this area, as schools are a microcosm of what’s happening in society at large. What we are doing at the moment, is that we’re doing well on the third cycle of collecting information around how safe we are at school, at acceptance and tolerance – can we go to staff to get support for issues? The feedback on the survey has been quite encouraging in that the vast majority of students are safe and comfortable.

What are the top books/movies you’ve been enjoying this year?

‘Student-Centred Leadership’. ‘Teach Like a Champion.’ I’ve just picked up one called ‘Belonging’, which is really interesting. It’s about how groups function and the need for people to have a sense of belonging. It draws on the idea of whakapapa – we all connect to people that were before us, how people will follow us and we just have to make our contribution at the time. At the moment on Netflix, I am a bit addicted to ‘Line of Duty’, a British police drama that’s keeping me going.

What kind of books/movies are you more interested in?

I like books that have an element of history or fact to them. There’s an author called Conn Iggulden who wrote a series of books about Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, and the Mongolian Empire. It’s really interesting and obviously over-dramatised, but a fascinating sort of look at the history, through Mongolia and China and a little bit of the Middle East. Then he wrote another series of books about the Roman Empire. It’s about the rise of Julius Caesar and then his assassination. Again, dramatised, but makes it interesting. Things like that, I find really fascinating.

Interview conducted by Elaine Cao and Kelly Ma. Transcript published on 12/07/2021, with minor edits for clarity and concision. Photo by Vian Shah, from Macleans College News Committee.

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