The most common reaction when I tell people that I am head of a school is one of pity mixed with horror. “I wouldn’t do that job for anything,” is the sort of comment I usually get and I feel a sense of stoic pride that yes I do this impossible task and survive.

But for the present at least, that sense has been dented.

I have just returned from Christchurch, New Zealand, having taken out girls from my school to spend half a term on an exchange programme.

Visiting other schools is always a useful experience for professional development. The similarities and differences give a new perspective to one’s own experience and I never come away without a list of ideas.

Rangi Ruru School was no exception. I am coming back with thoughts on how to develop learning spaces, values education, leadership, marketing and more. But what is different and what has put my daily trials and tribulations into perspective, is understanding something of what it is like to work in a community shattered by a trauma.

It is now two years since Christchurch was devastated by two earthquakes. But there are still a number of schools in Christchurch that have never reopened and never will, so severe was the damage. At Rangi Ruru, lucky to close for just two weeks in the aftermath of the quake, they had other schools, unable to reopen, using their premises in the afternoons for some time. Every building had to be inspected and many were condemned. The school is still a huge building site with portable buildings everywhere. That is just one school. Every single school is in the same situation.

Then there is the personal trauma for pupils and staff with which schools are dealing. Over 100 died in this small city and many families lost their homes and are still not permanently housed.

Every challenge that our education system wrestles with, Christchurch also faces. But the effects of the quake put it into perspective. So for me, no anguished sighs about the stresses of my particular job – for a bit, at any rate.

* Sarah Evans is principal of King Edward VI High School for Girl

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