Auckland Deputy Principal Bill Hubbard is in a rare position to make a difference in New Zealand’s education sector. As the Aitken Fellow with the University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership (UACEL) he provides his on-the-ground experience to UACEL staff to put the latest education research into practice while absorbing all they have to teach.

“The directors and staff of UACEL have formidable knowledge of the education sector and Aitken Fellows assist by providing extra perspectives about the day-to-day experiences of NZ school leaders,” Bill said. “UACEL uses Aitken Fellows as a reference point for work being trialled in schools, broadening the input that goes into course development and reaching deeper into the educational community through the Fellow’s professional contacts.”

The Aitken Fellowships fund positions for school leaders to pursue a Masters in Educational Leadership or doctorate at the University of Auckland for one day per week while working for four days a week in the University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership (UACEL).

Ironically for someone in his position, Bill didn’t always want to be an educator. His father had been a teacher trainer and his mother a teacher, and as a young man Bill vowed he would forge a different career path for himself. In his twenties he interspersed his OE with a variety of occupations, yet when he returned to New Zealand at the age of 30 and tried his hand at teaching, he had to admit that it really was in his blood.

In the 25 years that have passed since then, Bill has been a science teacher, a guidance counsellor and is currently a deputy principal of Rosehill School. As part of the fellowship, Bill has participated in the professional development courses that UACEL offers, helped develop new learning modules and worked side by side with UACEL getting to see how other educators across New Zealand are approaching challenges of practice.

“The Aitken Fellowship is that rare thing where every person and organisation involved comes out richer for the experience,” Bill said.

“It’s a gift to the education sector in that the school leaders’ learning goes back to the sector, it’s a gift to UACEL in that they have someone with recent on-the-ground experience, it’s a gift to the school leader themselves who gets a year of professional development and it’s a gift to the school they return to.”

It’s also a chance for him as a school leader to step back from the day to day work he would normally do and really focus on his own professional development.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane aspects of leadership. School leaders are often responsible for organising things such as exam timetables but you don’t grow as a leader creating exam timetables. It has to be done but the critical skills that school leadership really demands take time and a special environment in which to develop – the fellowship provides that time and environment.”

“School leaders will sometimes go for one day of training, or two, three or even four at the outside, but this is 365 days spent embedded with some of the best educators and educational researchers in the country. I was recently in a meeting where people were talking about professor Viviane Robinson’s research and I was able to clarify that discussion based on the conversations that I had personally had with her. I sit in an open-office environment and have learnt so much from being involved in conversations within the UACEL team.”

Director of UACEL Linda Bendikson says Bill has “added a huge amount of value for both ourselves and our clients. He has led a focus for us on our digital processes and getting us more into the Google environment. He’s also brought his own special interest in mindfulness, how it adds to you as a person and as a leader.”

She says that next year they will be hosting three Aitken Fellows, which will present both an opportunity and a challenge, in that each will bring their own areas of specialty and their own specific goals.

Aitken Fellowships are funded by Bruce and Donna Aitken in recognition of their family’s long-term involvement in education at all levels, inspired by Bruce’s father Alex Aitken who was a teacher and principal for more than 50 years, whose teaching legacy is carried on by other members of the family from early childhood through to tertiary.

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