The Collegian 2024 – Mr Hargreaves Interview

Continuing The Collegian tradition of interviewing Mr Hargreaves, this year we decided to ask our renowned principal about his thoughts about Macleans College as of right now.

Find the YouTube Video of the interview here:

In line with Hargreaves’s newfound love for books and the reading initiative being implemented into our school life, we decided to enquire about his journey with reading and how it has impacted his worldviews.  

What are you currently reading, sir? Could you tell us a bit about it?

“Yeah, I’m reading a book by a former all black Sir John Kirwan. It’s called All Blacks Don’t Cry, the idea being that he suffered through some terrible mental health episodes when he was an All black. In fact, when he was playing rugby on the field; he was freaking out, as he described it and the book tracks through his lapse into, yeah- a state where he couldn’t function, couldn’t get out of bed. And then the support he got from his family, seeking professional help, having to work to find somebody who he related to and could give him the help that he needed. And now he works in the area of mental health with the Ministry of Health, and working with young people and others actually, who are needing support and guidance. He sees himself as a bit of an example – in that he looked big and successful and wealthy and, you know, had all of, you know, the world at his fingertips. But actually he was in crisis. So he’s, you know, puts that example out there for others.”

That’s actually like really sweet, like the way the book’s written. And how would you say, like reading that book has impacted you in your worldviews?

“Well for me, it just helps fill the picture about mental health. I think most of us grow up and as we have small encounters with, even our own health issues or maybe others close to us, we build up a view of who’s affected and how it plays out. And of course his journey is quite different from most. So it just helps to, you know, fill in the whole idea that actually it can be quite different for different people. And how you deal with it is usually quite different as well. What works for one won’t work for all, but really the most important thing is, you know, understand that it’s it’s not that unusual. You do need to seek help and no matter who you are and how sort of big and strong and tough and bulletproof you are, you might be somebody who needs to reach out and seek help.”

That’s actually some really good advice, even for many of us here as well, students who are slowly like for me and Nicole, where we are almost graduating and so that’s really nice advice for us going into the wider world and even for our younger students to like, realise that everything can sometimes not be okay. Thank you, sir.

On that note, if you are struggling with any issues that may be impacting your personal or school life you can always reach out for help through the school’s SAS department by emailing [email protected], going onto My Tools and filling out the Counselling referral form or visiting the SAS department by the library before school, after school and/or during lunch breaks.

If that doesn’t sound like you then, remember that you can reach out to trusted friends, adults (teachers included) or family members, and be sure to take any necessary steps that ensure you are physically and mentally okay.

Your mental health matters. Always.” – The Collegian Exec

With that, with the extra curricular expo that we recently had early in the term, how would you describe the extracurricular scene here at our school? 

“It has been developing. It was a great activity. The expose has been going for a few years now. I love it. Seeing the senior students marketing their activities and being so proud of the groups that they run and manage. It’s a thriving scene, is so many different things that students can get involved in it. It’s great. And I love the fact that, you know, there’s not the stereotypical just sport, drama, leadership. There’s this whole layer of other activities, you know, creative pursuits and quite niche activities that people can get involved in and find what they’re into. It’s really cool.” 

When you were, in fact, back in high school and doing college yourself, what was your favorite extracurricular activity? 

“Going back a long way. There weren’t so many things on offer back then. When I was a student, I got into the drama scene. I actually performed in a couple of school plays. I was on the debating team, I did debating, but mostly I did sports, you know, rugby, cricket, basketball, athletics, cross-country. I gave pretty much everything a go.”

In your current life, do you still continue to incorporate or participate in any of these extracurriculars you took part in the past?

“Well, I played rugby into my mid-thirties until my body said, “That’s enough, this is getting too painful.”. I played cricket into my mid twenties and actually up until very recently I did Masters Athletics. I did about 14 seasons of Masters Athletics from after I turned 40, and I’m just dealing with an injury at the moment, but that’s been a pretty serious pursuit of mine in the last decade or so.”

That sounds quite nice to have something that you can find enjoyment in and outside of like work and school life.

“You’ve got to have it. Going back to that John Kirwan book, you’ve got to have the balance, you’ve got to have an outlet. And yeah, pretending I’m young, running down a race, an athletics track is a way to have that sort of release of stress.”

What are some challenges that you’ve faced during the time being here? A principal at Macleans? Is there any more wisdom you’d like to share with the students of Macleans directly? Personal challenges or any hiccups you’ve had along the way that you didn’t expect to have as a principal?

“Challenges? You mean, in running the school or sort of personal challenges? Plenty of hiccups along the way. I mean, nobody was expecting COVID, so I became the principal here at the start of 2018. So 18, 19, I guess you’d call fairly ordinary school years and that, you know, we had the annual cycle of exams and everything else that takes place on the curriculum and extracurricular scene and then of course, COVID came along and flipped everything on its head. So that was really testing. You know, we’ve had some personal tragedies on staff as well. They’ve been really tough times, too, for everybody to get through. Actually, and students as well. You know, sometimes we have to deal with families and students have gone through some pretty grim times. Those things are challenging. Right now, it’s role growth. There’s a big challenge for the school and if we’re having enough classrooms and teachers to accommodate all of the students, you know, that’s probably enough.”

The challenges- Yeah – there are quite a few challenges. You’ve definitely got your work cut out for you currently with just the few you’ve mentioned. 

As you talked about COVID 19 and other issues similar to it. What are some challenges or maybe even opportunities for Macleans now that most of it’s behind us?

“Well, one thing we’ve talked about and, in fact, we’ve already talked about reading for pleasure is, you know, what we learned through COVID was that we can do remote learning and that teachers need to have a good Google classroom and the teachers can be in contact with students kind of 24-7. And it’s how do we pair that back and take the good things, but also be mindful of traditional teaching and learning techniques that are really effective. So that’s our focus now. You know, we want students to write with a pen, write in a book, read physical books, but still have access to Google classroom. So that the support is there and you know, the notes are posted and students can look at past exams and there’s other things that are available.  But teaching and learning is quite a personal, I think, it’s an interpersonal activity and I think if you wonder about your good teachers, they’ll be teachers that you’ve built a learning relationship with and they can explain things in a way that you get. So for me, it’s what happens in the classroom, you know, that really, really matters, and although the devices are everywhere and we all have our laptops and phones, I think bringing the teaching back into the classroom, that sense of everybody working together, supporting one another, everybody bringing some knowledge that can contribute, asking and answering questions, that’s where we’ll get the most out of our classroom experience.”

Yeah, that sounds quite like a nice way of looking at education for the future and seeing everything actually being integrated nicely, with old and new. Well, here’s the thing, I’ll just cut in sorry- this sort of question, but you know, with artificial intelligence it is a big thing at the moment. With everything digital it’s you know, the rate of change changes, it’s accelerating.

“And you know, what matters most, I think, in life is, you know, the personal relationships, and I think what’s going to matter for you guys as you go off into the workforce, is EQ, and I know you’re all bright, you’ve got IQ. What will set you apart and help you enjoy your work experience will be your ability to get on with others. So, for me it’s EQ and you don’t learn EQ by looking at your laptop screen. You build EQ by interacting with others, you know, talking to your teacher, talking to your classmates, group activities, extracurriculars, leading your extracurricular activity. That’s the stuff that will really give you the boost in, and set you on a successful path.”

Yeah. I mean, yeah, having those leadership qualities quite early on from your time in school, and being able to learn tiny bits around how to communicate with people really does help set you up and give you access to more opportunities. Certainly like from my Junior years, I couldn’t really speak to anyone and now I’m here speaking with you, sir.

However, as you mentioned, with all the chatGPT and artificial intelligence, recently, there has been a rise of the use of it in general, amongst the students to more “efficiently” complete their assignments and homework tasks. What are your thoughts on this? And are we doing anything to try and prevent this as a school?

It’s a big deal in schools. I’m on a committee with the Ministry of Education looking at the authenticity of the work being done in NCEA. That’s not the whole purpose of the committee. It’s an NCAA committee. But this is a current topic of interest is how do we make sure that the work being handed in is authentic? That it’s the student’s own work, because the use of ChatGPT is rife and it’s quite often very difficult to prove which bits of work were done by a student and which bits had the assistance from the technology. So yeah, the issue is how do you solve it? Well, the only way to really solve it is to put the devices away completely and hand a pen and a paper to a student and you know, say. “Tell me what you know”, or to do a speech and tell me what you know or to create a piece of, you know, practical work or artwork in front of the teacher in class without taking anything away. So it does really restrict the way, you know, students can work, how an assessment can be done. Yeah, that’s the only way really to get around ChatGPT.”

With assessments that can be done at home with some students. How do you determine whether a student is truly that knowledgeable and can write similar things to what an AI can provide?

“Yes. So, what teachers should do is collect in classwork, so you can get a gauge on, ok, what is like the level of writing with this student and what’s their grasp with the language and the knowledge and the topics in this class. And then, if overnight, something is handed in that’s radically different, you know, superior. Then there’s going to be question marks raised as to who did that work. The alternative that people are trying to think about is, okay, what are the kinds of assessments or questions that you can ask that ChatGPT won’t know? I don’t know if you can think of, you know, questions where you won’t be able to source that, you know, very creative, very new. Unfortunately, I think it’s probably advancing so quickly that it will probably pull something together and probably invent an answer for you that’s quite good too, even with innovative and kind of radical creative questions.” 

It is quite terrifying to look at the reality that most of our creative industry (Painting, writing, music, etc) might be falling because of the use of ChatGPT and other AI softwares.

If we move back on to more things centred around Macleans College and you, as our principal, which cornerstone do you believe our school is most proud of? Is it our Whānau, our house, our extracurriculars or our academia?

“Well, we’re proud of them all, but I think what sets Macleans apart is the whanau house system. There’s no school that has a whanau house system like this. There are a couple of schools which have been built where they have a common space and a shared area and a bit like a house system as we know it. But there’s none that have eight separate buildings with the common space, the kitchen area, the lockers and then the classrooms attached. It means that our school can operate in a way that other big schools just can’t because we have that smaller school within the school. You know, you guys have a place that you can come back to and feel that sense of belonging with maybe 300, 350 other students, despite the fact that we’re approaching 3000. And I think that’s awesome. You have an identity that’s separate within the school linked to the, you know, the character that your house is named after, your own colour, your own house leader, your own attributes that you build up. And I think that’s what makes us special.”

Do you think the whanau house system impacts the Year 9’s more or our Year 13’s more? 

“Hah. Good question, it’s really important for the transition into high school. You know, if you were a 12 or 13 year old coming into Macleans and you were just let loose on a big campus going from one end to the other, without the house system it would be really terrifying. I mean, it’s scary enough anyway, but I think being able to come and settle into a house is, you know, smooths that transition, makes it an easier task to settle in and to find a place where you belong and to connect with a group of friends, you know, and then those initial weeks, meeting peer support and going to camp, I think helps all of that. But then, of course, by Year 13, you’ve found your group, you’ve had 4 to 5 years in your house, you’re very familiar, you know, it’s like coming into your own lounge and sitting down and feeling really relaxed. They truly become whanau.”

And with the whanau house system, do you see any ways Year 13’s could take it outside of the school and implement it either into uni or their workforce?

“Wow. Well, possibly. I haven’t given that any thought. What I know happens is that there is a Macleans network beyond school, so it probably doesn’t maybe just relate to the whanau house structure, but I know at university and then just in the east Auckland community, former Macleans students still know each other well and keep in touch.”

Before we were talking about how we’ve increased from about 2000 students to 3000. You talk a lot about the attendance rates in Macleans College. Why is it so important that we maintain all of these attendance rates and keeping them high?

“Have you been listening in school assembly?”

I have. I was just wanting to reiterate-

“Well, well done you, because I do wonder if anybody ever listens in school assembly or if I’m just up there amusing myself.”

“We were wanting to re-enlighten our fellow students and learn more so the smaller, more finicky details and/or any statistics you have to share.”

“Statistics? Well, so pre-COVID our attendance rate was close to 96% on average. So, you get an average attendance right across the year and we can print out the data here, and the ministry a;so tracks it with us. Since COVID, it’s been 91% thereabouts, and the Year 9’s always have better attendance then the Year 13’s. They’re young and keen and in fact, it’s almost just a line like this (A downwards slope), You know, Year 9’s, are sitting at 97% and the Year 10’s at 96 95, 94 and you get to the Year 13’s and they’re sort of nudging 90% or slightly below. Boys and girls, similar attendance rates. And then we break it down by ethnicity as well. Asian students have the best attendance, then European, Pacifica and Maori are lower. So there’s, you know, there’s layers to it.”

“You asked in there, why is it important?”

Like any smaller details like we know you talk about, coming to school allows you to learn and be there for the class and take in information one on one-

“Yeah. So the you know, the Ministry of Education has done quite a lot of-, not just the ministry- quite a lot of research in this about what is the impact of not coming to school. They’ve found that almost from one day missed onwards, attendance drops. So there’s some pretty strong empirical evidence that shows that attendance matters for attainment. Now, of course, you’ll all know exceptions. You’ll all know somebody who’s missed a lot of school and still got A grades. But on average, the more you are away from school, the lower your grades. There’s another aspect for me, and that’s just habit, you know, getting up and going to school. If you’re a bit tired or you’re a bit sleepy or hungry or whatever it is, you need to push through and get to school. That’s just a habit of being resilient, of fulfilling obligations, of just getting on with life. And I think attending school is a, you know, a mirror of how you approach life.”

That’s quite a good thing to have consistent with being able to get up and push yourself. 

What are your thoughts regarding the whole country’s slow decline in student attendance, and do you think the country’s decline in attendance might affect us here at Macleans as well? Like the culture we have in New Zealand?

Possibly, yes. So, the decline in attendance nationally is terrible. Like I said before, the more students that are away from school, the lower the grades. So we know that there are a lot of students who’s learning, you know, the qualification is being impacted by the fact they’re not at school. Also this habit forming that I mentioned, they are not forming good habits. In fact, they’re probably thinking that opting out of things is perfectly normal and that’s not going to set them up for success in life. And that means that we’ve got a generation coming through who aren’t going to be as well educated, they’re not going to have the habits, and that’s a bad place to go for the country.”

“Will it affect us?”

“Well, we’re a little bit of a microcosm here that does their own thing, because I know there are schools nearby that don’t operate the way we do. You know, if I wanted to brag, I’d say, you know, we have higher standards and better achievement and, you know, we have our way of doing things at Macleans that attracts people to school, parents, you know, they want to move to the Macleans Zone to, to attend, so they’re children can attend school here. So maybe we can keep doing our thing the way we do it and not be impacted by the rest of the country.” 

No, I definitely think all of us can agree Macleans has its own unique culture here, and that’s probably why it thrives so nicely. 

Overall, Mr Hargreaves gave quite a wondrous bounty of knowledge for us to look over and ponder throughout this interview. It was a very insightful look into how a principal views his own school and how the school’s operations run and the reasons they are in place. No matter who we are, we can definitely take something away from this interview whether it’s another reason to keep coming to school every morning, a reason to pick up another book in our free time or a reason to join or create another activity here at Macleans College. 

Special thanks to Joseph Zhang from the Macleans College News Committee for recording this interview, and of course many thanks to Mr Hargreaves for his time.

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