On becoming something new

Tihei mauri ora!

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e rau rangatira mā

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Ko Jocelyn ahau. Nō Wairarapa ahau.

Ko au te Tumu o Te Tari Whakapā Kaupapa I Wairaka. Kia ora tātou katoa.

It’s autumnal today. Things are a little grey. Birds outside my office window call as if rain is on the way. Today is my last day in the leadership role I’ve had since 2008, and before that, leading the Bachelor’s programme since 2001. I didn’t choose today to be an ending of sorts. If I had, it would have felt different. Forgive me indulging in reminiscence here. It’s the end of an era that’s not being marked officially as I’m still in the department. And I know with fierce clarity it’s not an ending; it’s a time of becoming.

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I joined Te Whare Wananga o Wairaka a long time ago. Different times, different me. In the mid-1990s it was growing fast, crawling with students. Many of the buildings were prefabs; there was no Hub or Building 180. The Library was there, and all the 111 – 115 row of 1980s institutional architecture. I reckon it all still feels like a hospital, polished lino floors and a certain smell, now so antiquated as a place of learning. When the Hub and 180 were being built about 2000 the director of the construction works at the time said that the concept of the undulating floor and all the spaces around it was meant to have the feel of a shopping mall or village. But it’s always been plagued with issues: bad aircon, whistling winds, terrible acoustics. I’m glad it’s all being upgraded to a 21st century learning commons. Bring on the Transformation.

I came to teach Communication Skills to Certificate in Engineering students. Two classes a week was enough when I had young children. The first lot of students were a bit tough on me – in that slightly insolent way, “Hey Miss” – but I learned quickly to push back. I’d been a high school teacher for a few years so I knew those tricks. The Department of Communication was based in a bunch of prefabs about where the little Pharmacy and Bookshop are now. Communication lecturers were crammed into partitions in two prefabs. Cutting edge teaching equipment included big lumbering TV monitors and video players on wheeled trolleys. These had to be booked and wheeled to class by the teacher. You won’t believe this, but sometimes, because video gear was in hot demand, we had to book a video trolley from the “Business” departments, housed in the comparative luxury of Building 172 which was pretty new then. So this meant walking from, say, where the bookshop is, over to 172 along pathways between prefabs and over the rutted paved path from the stream and up the hill, where sometimes if you stood on a loose paver it would splash muddy water up over your shoes; up in the lift to Level 3 or 4 of 172 to collect the great lumbering video trolley, checking that you’d signed it out in “the book”; back into the lift; and then set off back to your prefab classroom somewhere over the other side of the stream. This was tricky work, wheeling a top-heavy trolley about as tall as me, carefully negotiating those paths. You had to be organised early. Ae it were tough in them days, you young’uns don’t know how lucky you are. Teehee.

Sometimes I’d need to bring one or two or more of my three girls aged about 9, 6 and 4 when I started. They’d each bring a backpack with a lunchbox, favourite videotapes, felt tip pens, books – a bit of an adventure for them. We went to Mum’s work! I’d settle them into an office or resource room so they could spread out, watch videos, draw, go with me to the staff room to make a hot chocolate. One day as I walked in with my smallest with her huge backpack on and hair in two plaits, my then boss walking behind me was overcome at how sweet this looked, me holding a wee girl’s hand, all so organised, off to work with Mum.

This has been a long chapter of my life. Among the things Te Whāre Wananga o Wairaka gave me back then was a huge excitement in discovering the field of study called Communication. What a precious gift. I knew I’d found my real vocation. It helped me make sense of so much about the world – like a key to unlock things, or a big map to lay everything out on and understand how it’s all connected. I quickly devoted myself to completing my Masters even though by then I was full time teaching. I’d go to the library to search for journal articles. In 1998 you had to book in for a computer beside filing cabinets of things called CD-ROMS! And search the databases that way. But hey, I was hooked. I just drank it all in. Unitec itself was full of ambition for what it wanted to be. It was a buzzy place, full of itself through these years at the turn of the millennium. I was persuaded to take on the role of Programme Leader for (what was then called) the Bachelor of International Communication in 2001. In 2006 we started to look at a major revamp of the degree and after a lot of thought and work it became the BC in 2008. I stepped up to HOD and Sara Donaghey took over as Programme Leader. I loved this leadership journey. Others seemed happy to gather around and be part of the vision. It’s been a pretty stable team – not too much coming and going. It’s felt like whānau for many years. I keep in touch with quite a few graduates; some of them I consider my friends.

Dept 2015 planning day

What do I know, that I want you to know? I’ve been on the planet long enough to have found a calm place to help me deal with change. The thinking I’ve had to do as I’ve watched the latest Unitec restructure unfold has sharpened up these life lessons. Where I find myself may resonate for you too.

The only thing that matters is people. The things that work best come from relationships of trust. Do what you say you’re going to do.

 He aha te kai ō te rangatira? He Kōrero, he kōrero, he kōrero.
What is the food of the leader? It is knowledge. It is communication.

Relationships and real connections matter more than likes or LinkedIn requests to connect. It’s what people think of you, and say about you, that’s the best currency and that will take your furthest. Invest with determination in the bank of your reputation – even the small deposits all add up. The way you speak to people, the sincerity of your listening, the trouble you take to meet them halfway, your kindness and honesty, your diligence, the effort you put in (even if it’s kind of invisible), the thanks you give, the moral compass you have within yourself that tells you where is true north, the commitment to things that are worthy. This is what I know.

 He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

And your reputation is the thing of highest worth in this world. Do people speak highly of you? Can they rely on you? Are you genuine, honest, and do what you say you’re going to do? The house of your character, your credibility, gets built brick by brick by brick. And the best thing? No one – no one – can take that away from you.

This is a time of my becoming. What I’ve been in this time and place, and all that’s been done and created, by all of us together, was what it was, but it remains. It remains. It’s part of all the people who’ve come and gone. We carry it in ourselves. I’m proud to have been a part of building – brick by brick by brick – a solid reputation for us as a team with internal and external partners and stakeholders. What we know is that we have a reputation for doing creative, innovative and worthwhile things in our programmes of study, and that we are always responsive to the need for change. That we know our stuff. That we were in the middle of creating exciting new things, and we never gave up. We don’t give up.

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This is the time of my becoming. There’s so much I want to do. I’m intent on finding my next leadership opportunity in a space where I can continue to serve the exciting intersection between the landscape of ‘careers’ (whatever that actually means now) in communication and the best ways to ready graduates to find their way there. I wish you well in building the house of your character that will be your strength and security in testing times. Ka mate kāinga tahi ka ora kāinga rua. When one home fails, have another to go to. Have two strings to your bow.

Āpiti hono tātai hono, rātou te hunga mate ki a rātou.

Tātou te hunga ora ki a tātou

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

I pay tribute to those who have passed before us; I give thanks to those of us living. Greetings to everyone.

Ki te aroha.

2 comments

  1. Alex Lee

    You have been a great friend, colleague and inspiration.may your aspirations and hope hold you close as you step across the threshold to a wonderful new place of being. much respect and aroha. Ka kite ano.
    Alex Lee

  2. You have always been an inspiration for me and a great support all along this journey you have summed up. I vividly remember many of those milestones in the development of Unitec and the Department of Communication Studies. The year you took on the role of programme leader was also the year that I started working in Unitec and I am wont to say I haven’t seen better… You took up every challenge that came your way and I sincerely hope the best is still ahead for you.
    All respect and thanks for everything.

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