A Leader of High Regard by Helen Bing
This had been my fourth syndicate meeting that I had sat through without uttering a word unless speciﬁcally asked. According to Faye a few weeks earlier it was my fault that meetings ran over time. I talked too much. Really! Me! I can assure you reader that my silence did not shorten the meetings in any way and I was over being quiet. It was much too much work.
Mind you, our syndicate meetings were always interesting. Faye, bless her cotton socks, always made sure we had food and tea - usually cheese and crackers of a low fat nature to take into account we were all ageing slightly and the arteries were in need of looking after. One of our team after her ﬁrst ever meeting with us was asked by her husband if the meeting had been interesting. Well yes, she replied, I learnt how to hang out washing. Another one went home complaining to her husband - laughingly - that the topic of the day had included her sex life.
Back to Faye, our leader of the Junior Department at our local primary school. As she will tell you, she arrived with brown hair and by the time she left, it was dead white.
Faye started at our school a couple of years before me. She took the job of a regular classroom teacher teaching a horde of 5-year olds, then not long after I arrived, she gained the job of senior teacher. I was one of the ones who wrote a letter of support. Why? Because of the support she had given me when I ﬁrst joined the Junior School and I wanted it to continue.
Like any person who wants to be the best they can be in their job, she began doing courses to bring her right up to date with current teaching practice that she then put to good use in her own classroom and shared with others. Her style was always about the children, not the programme, consequently the children ﬂourished.
Eventually the job of Assistant Principal came up which Faye applied for and won. By now she had honed her knowledge and skills and she was ready to use them to create a Junior School that was the envy of many. The staﬀ was loyal and so were our parents. Initially she was working full time in the classroom as well as leading the team, but as the numbers of children got bigger, the School Principal insisted that she should become a walking A.P. At ﬁrst this did not ﬁt well with her, but in the end it became inevitable that walking part of each day would have to happen if she was going to do justice to the job in hand.
By now the Junior School alone was the size of a small school. At one point there were eight classrooms and then two more had to be built to accommodate the growing numbers. With classrooms comes new staﬀ. Now this is where a good leader comes into their own. There are some very interesting people out there who come into the job with their own unique styles. I have to say that I have been very lucky in that I was allowed to work my own way. At least my way did sit alongside Faye’s beliefs - most of the time. Over the years though there have been the high ﬂiers passing through who liked to share their views rather vocally. Then there were the ones that worked in total chaos or who were rather more preoccupied with their personal lives. Whoever turned up though, Faye managed to guide them through. There were one or two that made me wonder how she managed to cope, but she did, and the children never suﬀered as a result. Somehow, she always kept the team together as a unit without all the under lying niggles that can easily arise.
Knowing about the community and the parents that are part of that community make for a happy school. By the time Faye left, she had taught children and the children of those children. They kept coming back because this was the place where they wanted their children to be.
A sense of humour goes a long way. In teaching, as with most jobs, you need one to get through the day sometimes. Thankfully, she knew how to laugh at herself. Mind you, we all knew the daft things that she had done, because one thing she had never learnt to do was to keep things under her hat. I mean really. While on one of her ﬁrst trips overseas she had a beggar come up to her in London. He asked for money for a “cuppa tea”. No thanks, she replies, I’ve just had one. Obviously, the poor guy didn’t get his tea. He just wandered oﬀ looking totally bemused. Most of us would have kept quiet, but not Faye.
But for all of this, Faye was no push over. She knew what she wanted and her department was going to be up to her standards. It was known to be good, not because it was in the ﬂashiest area, because it wasn’t, but because people could trust Faye and her team to do the very best they could for the children in their care. And why did we all get in behind her, because we believed in what she did and a solid group of us stayed there to support her.
Eventually retirement loomed. Behind her back the planning started to make her send oﬀ one to remember. Over the dishes on night I hit upon the idea of making it a “This Is Your Life” moment. The Juniors all pulled together and out shone themselves. The leader of the school choir drove a two-hour journey to make sure the choir sang their hearts out. Parents who ran the Samoan and Cook Island groups prepared the children to perform in style and the Kapa Haka group was superb. Her family were there to share it with her.
The end of of year concert was always held outdoors on the ﬁeld. The Principal got up and spoke about Faye to the assembled parents. From the back of the ﬁeld a group of fathers gathered and broke into a haka that made your skin prickle, just for Faye. Around the world people have seen the haka performed and usually link it to the All Blacks. It is used though for many important occasions and to have it performed for you is actually a huge honour.
Others behind the scenes also organised an end of year dinner in her honour. Past staﬀ members and Board of Trustee members came and shared the occasion. There were ﬂowers and gifts. Stories were told and there was laughter and the odd tear. All of this was for our leader whom we all held in high regard. An inspiration to us all.
So what was it that made Faye so special? There are a few words that spring to mind. Empathy, humour, doggedness, knowledge. Hard work and long hours. The ability to pull all these things together and to communicate her vision to others.
And how did she take to retirement? Well there’s another story for another day.