Friday, December 13, 2019

Today we let you go, with our love, with our respect, and with our thanks.

Today I had the privilege of farewelling Andy Kai Fong from Haeata. 
These were my words:

Andy, where do we start? And even more poignant- where do we end?

This school has been so big for you. And all of our roles, everyone in this room, have been so big within the school too because of you. Because you empowered us all to have skin in the game, you stood beside us, not ahead of us, not behind us but beside us as together we all created something very special.

If you came to this job to appeal to the masses, to have a bit of a cruise, to not ruffle any feathers at any level of the system, then you have failed.

If you came to this job with the idea to do something different, to challenge conventional thinking, to disrupt education or at least conventional schooling as we used to understand it, then you have succeeded.

A couple of nights ago I asked a few staff to send me a few words that they thought described you for them - as a person and as a leader

Someone replied: Tough job- i thought yes he has had a tough job, then I re read and realised that they meant I had a tough job writing and delivering this speech. Yes I do. I’ve made many farewell speeches over the years and this certainly counts up there as one of the toughest. But it’s been made so much easier by the following selection of replies I received:

  • Rangatiratanga, quiet strength, thoughtful, considered, wise. Stamina, An example of a decent human being
  • Inspirational . A change leader. Empathetic. Great sense of humour. Charismatic. Open. Forward thinking. Special
  • Profound, composed, knowledgeable, future-focused, fair, witty, intelligent, articulate and thoughtful, committed..
  • A Courageous, entrepreneur who leads beside you and allows the light to shine on those he leads. Always does the hard graft from media front person to late night dishes and clean ups after big events. Committed to cultural responsiveness . Has held the tokotoko for Haeata in relentless exhilarating challenge of forging a new paradigm in education for Haeata, for Aotearoa and the world. I have nothing but respect, care and admiration for Andy
  • A leader where hierarchy is not a status, laughs with us, at himself and asks your opinion
  • Selfless leadership, Kind, Steady, Brave, Not just talk, but follow through too
  • Dependable, patient, convivial, effervescent, amazing, funny, supportive, Inspirational
  • Resilient, Committed, Warrior, Passionate, Honest, Inappropriate, Laughs at himself, Trailblazer , Fighter, Humble, Inspiring
  • Direct when needed, but never harsh, approachable but not a push over, cheerful but realistic, a whole lot of things I didn't think could co-exist within the same person. I have always thought he walked a difficult tight-rope very well.
I could carry on, there were more. But after all those head swelling comments we might need to bring you down to earth a little. I'm not sure if you know this or whether it will come as a surprise to you but not everyone has loved you. The media hasn't always been your friend. The system hasn't always been your friend. And as you strived to encourage and then insist on teacher practice that supported our vision, some staff were not your friends either.

In fact one of the criticisms I heard last year was you were trying to create a Utopian society. I was never quite sure what that meant. This is what Google told me: Utopian: Idealists- proposing or advocating impractically or impossibly ideal social and political schemes

Well actually my answer to that, believe it or not, is a quote: “Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible” – Cherie Carter-Scott

That is what you have done here Andy. You have helped everyone live in the world of future possibility. You have helped us find out that when we believe in the impossible it slowly becomes possible. And you’ve done that with a calm serenity on the outside that I’m sure wasn't always there on the inside. But it’s the side you’ve always shown us, and the side you’ve always shown the world. In short you have been extraordinary just like the quote says.

Sure it hasn’t all been perfect. Anyone from the Burwood days remember the three hour session to co-construct how we will all dress at school, or session on whether we will “make” the kids leave their shoes outside the classroom. Sometimes the funny bone came out at the wrong moments, although that backbone and wishbone were ever present.

We were told when we started- If you are not being criticised, then you are not going far enough. If this is true then obviously we went far enough because we've certainly had our fair share of criticism. The way you have dealt with that criticism-especially the external criticism has been a lesson for all of us. You remain measured in your response. You encourage us all not to take it personally. You are always prepared to reflect on your role in any criticism received and how you could make that better or easier for next time. A true leader in so many senses.

I've used this very famous speech from Theodore Roosevelt a few times here over the last few years but I think it is worth reminding everyone here of right now: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Andy- you’ve been in the arena.

For four years now you’ve shown an absolute belief in the Haeata vision and a real backing of the Haeata people who stand behind that vision. You had some strong thinking around this but you’ve been prepared to allow all of us to help shape and contribute to that vision too. It is not just your vision.

As I wrote a few weeks ago- "What we need to remember is that when anyone leaves they leave a legacy, and for a Principal that legacy is in not just the vision they have created but in how they have created the living breathing day to day representation of that vision. And if that’s been done well, then there are many people who are able to keep developing that vision. Saying goodbye is personal- it is to the person. We are not saying goodbye to the vision." It is our commitment to the legacy you have begun here at Haeata that we will continue to evolve, strengthen and deepen that vision.

You’ve provoked our thinking and our reactions to situations inspiring us all to become not just better educators but better people. You empower and value everyone for where they are and where they can go to.

On a personal note, after having been a Principal for so long, I couldn't have come into this job and done it alongside too many people. You are one of those rare people. Finding out, not long after we started that we shared the same birthdate down to the year we were born in, kind of made sense. It emphasised the professional connection we had from Day 1. I will miss our continual professional chats- the sharing of reading and our reflections on that reading, wondering and debating the future of schooling, the challenging together of what the future could be for schooling and education. You have continually made me feel like your equal from Day 1. Finding someone who professionally challenges you, and allows you to challenge them, with a commonality of vision is so rare and I will consider myself so fortunate to have found that in you. Thank you for being my educational soul-mate (and I borrow that term from your wife) for the last four years.
There’s a pretty famous quote: “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” I don't think there’s too many people, if any, in this room that would say there life won’t forever be changed by the opportunity to work and walk alongside you Andy. Not only are you an inspiring leader and a credible educator, you are a rare and special human being. We will always treasure our time with you.

But it is time to say goodbye to you now. To thank you and to wish you all the best.

A few years ago a friend knew I was facing one of these tough goodbye speeches and they sent me this poem by Mary Oliver

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

And that’s the place I choose to end today.

Today we let you go, but know that we keep you in our bones, in this building, in this school, in our people and in our hearts

Today we let you go, and we know you go keeping a piece of us in your heart always.

Today we let you go, with our love, with our respect, and with our thanks.