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31 May 2022

I am gearing up to retire. One may imagine gearing down. Well, I will admit to some shifting in my thinking. I often need to force myself to concentrate on the task at hand! I choose the idea of gearing up deliberately. What I am finding in my last months on the job is my mind drifting to what will be, yes, but also what has been and what needs to be done now to ensure the smoothest possible transition for Pembroke’s new Principal, Mr Staker.

I am aware of the challenges of entering a school as a new Principal. I have done it twice myself. There is nothing quite like it. For me it was a whirlwind and, realistically, a 3-year one at both schools I have led. There are all the relationships to forge, details to grasp, tone and culture to understand, expectations to meet, personal life to find a place for, a new place to live in, new friends to make and current family to settle. And then there is the job of being a Principal—leading, managing, coordinating and supporting the work of a complex business. At Pembroke that includes 1,700 children, over 300 staff, 1,200 families and 12,000 old scholars, various stakeholder groups and aligned business and services, as well as governments and associations. It also includes a 50-million-dollar budget with ambitions for the future, and all the associated systems and processes built to support the programs, the people and the infrastructure.

It was my experience to feel great energy, excitement, fear and of course self-doubt all bundled into one when I started as Principal.

You do not undertake the experience alone—extremely far from it. Pembroke has superb people to rely on, and rely on them I did and do. But you can and do feel alone at times. That is the nature of the job and one that I imagine many of you experience in your work leading and participating in the various organisations that you do. What can we do to help make the transition at Pembroke as comfortable for Mr Staker as possible? I think the best thing to do is simply be aware of the realities of the job. When I came to Pembroke it was the occasional knowing wink, vote of encouragement, open support and a generous smile that made a huge difference.

Mr Staker and I have been in regular contact and more so now as the date nears and his professional obligations can now move to Pembroke matters. As much as possible will be done to ensure that the School is well set up to meet Mr Staker’s immediate aims, while ensuring that everything else is ticking along nicely. I am very excited for the School—I think the next stage in its development is going to be incredibly positive and dynamic. There is so much for you all to look forward to.

I rarely talk or write to you about what leading is like for me. That is because every day I am genuinely thanking all those who make leading possible, really possible. Steph, Sophie-Min, Oscar, staff, friends, deputies, chairs, colleagues, board members, volunteers, students, parents, interested observers, critics. It is so not an individual enterprise. To separate leading anything from those who help, enable and support it is disingenuous and frankly, in my case, inaccurate.

Occasionally I read about leadership. I read different views of what is important and why—relational, managerial, servant, side-by-side, ethical etc. In the end, and humbly, I think leading is all of it. You need to do and be bits of all the expert and not-so-expert advice. So, you are never really good at it all, and I apologise for the bits I have been poor at, but you need to be capable at enough of those bits to ensure that the role you, and in the end you alone, choose to accept is fulfilled. The role has a real impact on others and it is important that the ideas, energy and commitment it needs are offered. And that is the point for me. It is not just about how do I lead; it is also about why do I lead. I have always felt that the reasons not to lead should be given your undivided attention as well.

I lead because I believe in the importance of education, schools and the people associated with them to deepen and broaden human experience and knowledge in both expected and unexpected ways—not always positive or right or effective but more often than not. I believe that education, schools and the people associated with the m are so central to meaningful human development that I can’t conceive of concepts of human freedom, human enlightenment and human flourishing without them in some form. It is no less than that and, for me, it might be more. Leading Pembroke has served to deepen my commitment to that belief.

So, given the theme of this edition, where do the future and vision fit? They fit best as part of a much bigger picture in my view. If your efforts, locked as they are to the currents of your time as Principal, have helped to sustain a focus on the reason and purpose for education, for schooling and for their expression at
Pembroke, then I think the future is well served. In this way thinking about the future is genuinely conceived from the right starting point—no big paradigm shift or panaceas to go after, just the hard work of attending to the business of ‘purpose’, which has always been the biggest and most exciting story for me, and I know for many others.

Now I am looking forward to the challenge of not leading an organisation. I am looking forward to a different way of living, relating and thinking. It will be interesting. I think it will be at least a little liberating not to be governed by the rituals of an educational setting. I wonder what rituals will take their place and, engrained as they are, which ones will be harder to shift than others?

I wish you well and thank you all for your marvellous support over the past 12 years. I wish Mr Staker all the best and know there is much about Pembroke that he will treasure, and much of Pembroke that will treasure him.

Luke Thomson