A school in good heart

TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES: Greg Mackle and his wife Julie — ‘best of the best’ — at home. Pictures by Liam Clayton
At home in the classroom
Retiring Gisborne Boys’ High School principal Greg Mackle works with Luke Bregman revising graph drawing interpretation (ready for the end of year assessments next week) in his Year 10 social science class.
Mr Mackle after the school prizegiving earlier this month.

A career first as a science teacher then as principal of Gisborne Boys’ High School has never felt like a job for Greg Mackle because he always had a passion for it.

“It just so happened that I decided early on that I really loved teaching. I knew it was what I wanted to do so it has never been like a job for me.”

In his role as principal he always kept up his teaching and over the years has taught classes ranging from Year 9 science to Level 3 chemistry.

Born and raised in the South Island Mr Mackle got a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Canterbury, then a Diploma of Teaching from training college in Christchurch.

“At that time the country was very short of teachers so they had a scheme where they gave you a salary for the three years you were at university and you gave a commitment to become a teacher. If you changed your mind, you had to pay the money back. But I completed my degree then got my teaching diploma and my first job was at Nelson College. I was 21.”

All these years later there is a stortage of teachers again especially in science and maths.

“Perhaps a scheme like this might address the growing national and local teacher shortage. For example we spent two years looking for an HOD (head of department) in maths and accounting.”

He says he has never felt the job was tough in terms of student behaviour but the hours required to do it well can be long.

“It’s about the relationships you build with the young men and what is quite tough is the hours you have to put in if you want to build good relationships.”

He credits the work of a “magnificent senior leadership team, HODs, staff and superb community involvement including the board of trustees”, for leaving the school in good shape for his successor.

“The school is in a hugely strong position — we’ve got a five year ERO review cycle and the programmes and strategies we run are engaging and successful.”

“It’s a good time to hand over to another person because I know there are always things that can change. There are always better ways of doing things. It’s not that I’ve lost my passion. There’s still a heap of things that need to be done that I would like to do here but it’s nice to be able to give somebody a period of time to put things in place and do things differently — to do things better.”

He recently wrote a list of all the things he would still like to improve and change and will definitely discuss these with his replacement when he hands over the reins.

The school values of respect, courage, perseverance, honesty and loyalty are values the students came up with and he is constantly reinforcing them.

“Engaging the boys means recognising them for their unique, cultural, individual backgrounds and what they can put into the school. What’s changed is that teachers — all around New Zealand — have moved away from standing at the front of the classroom and being the fountains of knowledge. There is still a place for this but there are many other ways teachers and young men can be both teachers and learners.”

“We’re working really hard on pedagogy. It’s about engaging students and giving them the opportunity to show how good they are. You always hear the negative things but there are so many more positive things about young people.

“We believe they have so much to offer back to us and encourage them to be part of teaching and learning. The pay off is that they then engage other students and they then become leaders of their learning and leaders of other students’ learning. They keep our feet grounded about what we’re trying to teach, why we’re trying to teach it and how we can work together.”

There is much to be proud of in his 21 years as principal, including winning the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award in 2015, the Supreme Award for best school in New Zealand. He is also proud of the high achievement of the 65 percent of Maori students at the school.

In 2016 the school received its third commendation letter from the Minister of Education for being above the national average for student achievement.

He is proud of programmes like Tu Tane, Te Kotahitanga and Tu Whanau which ensure that each young man’s personal development, wellbeing and engagement grow his own sense of self-worth, and his individual responsibility for his choices and actions.

“We set really high expectations for our students and the school achieves well above the national average levels. Our Maori students are achieving as high if not higher than our non-Maori.”

Mr Mackle began his time at Boys’ High 31 years ago, when he took up the position of head of the science department, and taught chemistry. Subjects on offer at the school then were English, maths, science, social sciences, PE/health and a “bit of woodwork with the options of art and history”. Among the broad range of subjects now available are design, visual communications, workshop technology, media studies and stage and technology.

“Now we have so many options on offer, which is how it should be. Our timetable is a massive jigsaw puzzle that we have to put together.”

A highlight of his career has been the work done to create a careers pathway programme.

“There are four careers pathway staff. They track every single boy at Year 11, 12 and 13. The boys are regularly interviewed by our careers staff and our Dean to make sure they are doing what they need to do to be able to pursue their career interests. We have a Gateway programme and there are people and businesses in our community that allow our boys to come in for one day a week and get work experience — places like The Warehouse, Noel Leeming and also in forestry, farming, mechanical engineering and building”

With approximately 40 percent of the students intending to go to university he says it is important the other 60 percent get assistance to help find the appropriate tertiary study, apprenticeships or pathways into jobs.

“The students can come in with their parents for career interviews. Sometimes it might be the first time a parent has an idea of what their son was actually thinking in terms of a job direction. We have a back gate so it doesn’t need to be advertised that the parents are coming in.”

While Mr Mackle believes the school has a healthy culture with pastoral care he, like many educators around the country, believes the mental health of students is an ongoing concern.

The boys are encouraged to talk to someone if they are having stress-related difficulties.

“We don’t care who they talk to but want the boys to know there is always someone here to listen. Our senior students along with all staff play an important role in this regard.”

One of his most testing experiences as principal was when two students took their own lives. The school has put practices in place so that any student who might be at risk can get the help they need.

“All schools are looking very closely at the issues around mental wellbeing in young people.”

Advancing technology is something he has had to keep up with. The school has gone from having about 12 Apple 2Es to now providing 600 chrome books. Some students learn robotics and coding at The Mindlab and they have high-end cameras, sound equipment and Apple Macs for editing.

“I have a brilliant stage and technology teacher who seems to be acquiring the latest gear for the students who are learning about lighting, staging, props, filming and editing.

Discussing their careers recently with a fellow teacher also approaching retirement, both agreed it was not about the gold watch.

“We both agreed that our reward was seeing the results of the work we have done and the success the school and our young men have achieved.”

It’s the boys, staff and whanau he is going to miss the most, even if the boys can be a bit cheeky at times, with one recently saying “You’re going out to pasture sir”.

“They say it as it is.”

He has fond memories of the early days and the support he got from Brian Cairns, Dick Glover and his secretary.

“They were the people who trained me.”

But he admits the training he did for an Educational Management Diploma helped too, giving him the theory behind educational management for a principal.

“That gave me the theoretical and educational knowledge to put changes in place at Gisborne Boys. I just adapted it.”

With a few special dates in the diary, such as his second granddaughter’s first day at school, and a 15- week tour of Europe arranged by his wife Julie, Mr Mackle is going to take some time out before he makes any further plans for his retirement.

“I want to acknowledge Julie, who has been the ‘best of the best’ in every way in supporting me totally throughout my teaching career, but especially over the last 21 years.”

He will be at the school to welcome new principal Andrew Turner at his powhiri next year.

“If there is a mantra for my future it would definitely be (the school motto) — Virtus Repulsae Nescia, Courage knows no defeat. Toa hinga kore, Toa mate kore.”

A career first as a science teacher then as principal of Gisborne Boys’ High School has never felt like a job for Greg Mackle because he always had a passion for it.

“It just so happened that I decided early on that I really loved teaching. I knew it was what I wanted to do so it has never been like a job for me.”

In his role as principal he always kept up his teaching and over the years has taught classes ranging from Year 9 science to Level 3 chemistry.

Born and raised in the South Island Mr Mackle got a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Canterbury, then a Diploma of Teaching from training college in Christchurch.

“At that time the country was very short of teachers so they had a scheme where they gave you a salary for the three years you were at university and you gave a commitment to become a teacher. If you changed your mind, you had to pay the money back. But I completed my degree then got my teaching diploma and my first job was at Nelson College. I was 21.”

All these years later there is a stortage of teachers again especially in science and maths.

“Perhaps a scheme like this might address the growing national and local teacher shortage. For example we spent two years looking for an HOD (head of department) in maths and accounting.”

He says he has never felt the job was tough in terms of student behaviour but the hours required to do it well can be long.

“It’s about the relationships you build with the young men and what is quite tough is the hours you have to put in if you want to build good relationships.”

He credits the work of a “magnificent senior leadership team, HODs, staff and superb community involvement including the board of trustees”, for leaving the school in good shape for his successor.

“The school is in a hugely strong position — we’ve got a five year ERO review cycle and the programmes and strategies we run are engaging and successful.”

“It’s a good time to hand over to another person because I know there are always things that can change. There are always better ways of doing things. It’s not that I’ve lost my passion. There’s still a heap of things that need to be done that I would like to do here but it’s nice to be able to give somebody a period of time to put things in place and do things differently — to do things better.”

He recently wrote a list of all the things he would still like to improve and change and will definitely discuss these with his replacement when he hands over the reins.

The school values of respect, courage, perseverance, honesty and loyalty are values the students came up with and he is constantly reinforcing them.

“Engaging the boys means recognising them for their unique, cultural, individual backgrounds and what they can put into the school. What’s changed is that teachers — all around New Zealand — have moved away from standing at the front of the classroom and being the fountains of knowledge. There is still a place for this but there are many other ways teachers and young men can be both teachers and learners.”

“We’re working really hard on pedagogy. It’s about engaging students and giving them the opportunity to show how good they are. You always hear the negative things but there are so many more positive things about young people.

“We believe they have so much to offer back to us and encourage them to be part of teaching and learning. The pay off is that they then engage other students and they then become leaders of their learning and leaders of other students’ learning. They keep our feet grounded about what we’re trying to teach, why we’re trying to teach it and how we can work together.”

There is much to be proud of in his 21 years as principal, including winning the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award in 2015, the Supreme Award for best school in New Zealand. He is also proud of the high achievement of the 65 percent of Maori students at the school.

In 2016 the school received its third commendation letter from the Minister of Education for being above the national average for student achievement.

He is proud of programmes like Tu Tane, Te Kotahitanga and Tu Whanau which ensure that each young man’s personal development, wellbeing and engagement grow his own sense of self-worth, and his individual responsibility for his choices and actions.

“We set really high expectations for our students and the school achieves well above the national average levels. Our Maori students are achieving as high if not higher than our non-Maori.”

Mr Mackle began his time at Boys’ High 31 years ago, when he took up the position of head of the science department, and taught chemistry. Subjects on offer at the school then were English, maths, science, social sciences, PE/health and a “bit of woodwork with the options of art and history”. Among the broad range of subjects now available are design, visual communications, workshop technology, media studies and stage and technology.

“Now we have so many options on offer, which is how it should be. Our timetable is a massive jigsaw puzzle that we have to put together.”

A highlight of his career has been the work done to create a careers pathway programme.

“There are four careers pathway staff. They track every single boy at Year 11, 12 and 13. The boys are regularly interviewed by our careers staff and our Dean to make sure they are doing what they need to do to be able to pursue their career interests. We have a Gateway programme and there are people and businesses in our community that allow our boys to come in for one day a week and get work experience — places like The Warehouse, Noel Leeming and also in forestry, farming, mechanical engineering and building”

With approximately 40 percent of the students intending to go to university he says it is important the other 60 percent get assistance to help find the appropriate tertiary study, apprenticeships or pathways into jobs.

“The students can come in with their parents for career interviews. Sometimes it might be the first time a parent has an idea of what their son was actually thinking in terms of a job direction. We have a back gate so it doesn’t need to be advertised that the parents are coming in.”

While Mr Mackle believes the school has a healthy culture with pastoral care he, like many educators around the country, believes the mental health of students is an ongoing concern.

The boys are encouraged to talk to someone if they are having stress-related difficulties.

“We don’t care who they talk to but want the boys to know there is always someone here to listen. Our senior students along with all staff play an important role in this regard.”

One of his most testing experiences as principal was when two students took their own lives. The school has put practices in place so that any student who might be at risk can get the help they need.

“All schools are looking very closely at the issues around mental wellbeing in young people.”

Advancing technology is something he has had to keep up with. The school has gone from having about 12 Apple 2Es to now providing 600 chrome books. Some students learn robotics and coding at The Mindlab and they have high-end cameras, sound equipment and Apple Macs for editing.

“I have a brilliant stage and technology teacher who seems to be acquiring the latest gear for the students who are learning about lighting, staging, props, filming and editing.

Discussing their careers recently with a fellow teacher also approaching retirement, both agreed it was not about the gold watch.

“We both agreed that our reward was seeing the results of the work we have done and the success the school and our young men have achieved.”

It’s the boys, staff and whanau he is going to miss the most, even if the boys can be a bit cheeky at times, with one recently saying “You’re going out to pasture sir”.

“They say it as it is.”

He has fond memories of the early days and the support he got from Brian Cairns, Dick Glover and his secretary.

“They were the people who trained me.”

But he admits the training he did for an Educational Management Diploma helped too, giving him the theory behind educational management for a principal.

“That gave me the theoretical and educational knowledge to put changes in place at Gisborne Boys. I just adapted it.”

With a few special dates in the diary, such as his second granddaughter’s first day at school, and a 15- week tour of Europe arranged by his wife Julie, Mr Mackle is going to take some time out before he makes any further plans for his retirement.

“I want to acknowledge Julie, who has been the ‘best of the best’ in every way in supporting me totally throughout my teaching career, but especially over the last 21 years.”

He will be at the school to welcome new principal Andrew Turner at his powhiri next year.

“If there is a mantra for my future it would definitely be (the school motto) — Virtus Repulsae Nescia, Courage knows no defeat. Toa hinga kore, Toa mate kore.”

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JUSTIN EATON - 28 days ago
I was at GBHS when Mr Mackle began, but alas I wasn't in any of his classes . . . there was a fairly broad range of subjects back then, like languages, sciences, mathematics and arts, sports etc . . . many memories from my years there, and I remember the many fantastic teachers - sadly quite a few of them have passed. Mrs Jean Wilson . . . she was a great English teacher!!

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