In the week just passed, Helen Clark (former Prime Minster of New Zealand) announced that she was seeking the upcoming vacant position of United Nations (UN) Secretary General, in effect the top diplomatic position world-wide. Immediately after this announcement, the New Zealand Government announced without hesitation that it would support and resource where possible her quest. Clark's announcement and decision to apply for what must be seen as not only an incredibly difficult position in terms of decision-making, diplomacy and logistics should be understood and celebrated by every New Zealand citizen, let alone every teacher and student. There are huge challenges ahead, most notably an expectation from Eastern European entities that believe it is their turn by virtue of geographical rotation and a possible veto from any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Never-the-less, here are some reasons why we need to celebrate and learn from Helen Clark's job application in an education context and beyond.
Here is a New Zealander seeking to be the best in the world in her chosen pathway. In Clark's current position as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, she is already one of the most influential diplomats in the world and likewise, one of the most influential females yet she still wants more. Despite New Zealand leading the world in giving women the vote, being one of the first countries in the world to declare itself nuclear-free and having one of our own be the one of first to successfully summit Mount Everest, we are achievers but almost humble to a fault. Our country of just four and a half million people should be celebrating the fact that one of our own is prepared to reach for the very top. In applying such ambition to the classroom, it is essential that all parties involved in the educating of our young and not-so-young (teachers, parents, students themselves) should set no limits on what they are capable of achieving now and in the future, in education and in life.
One of the keys to Helen Clark's longevity and ultimately her professional success is her almost obsessive, passionate dedication to her political, civil career, at no doubt great sacrifice to her other interests, her marriage and personal life. A quick look at her political career illustrates how much immersed she has been and is in living and breathing her political and civil life. Now such commitment such and dedication may not be to everyone's liking or preference but never-the-less what it does illustrate is just how much it does take to achieve for so long and to be be a three-term Prime Minister and beyond. What's the lesson here for students? Talent is important but so is dedication, hard-work and pursuing one's own dreams and aspirations.
One of Helen Clark's greatest strengths is her almost unshakeable belief in herself, whether everyone is her with her, against her or somewhere in the grey. When she speaks, it is with such tremendous confidence and authority, she leads as much through intimidating less-confident individuals through her visual and verbal confidence as she does with the quality or otherwise of her argument. Having met Ms Clark in person, I have been impressed with how she comes across as valuing the voice and ideas of the individual she is conversing with. Through her supreme self-confidence, she empowers the other individual through making them feel valued and considered. In this case, Clark illustrates the most confident, capable individuals are the ones who can talk when need be, but also are at ease with being a supreme listener as well.
Helen Clark does not quit having failed. Of all the lessons that should be learnt from Ms Clark is the fact that through-out her career, she has faced various professional obstacles yet appears to have never questioned either her ability, suitability or indeed even the most ultimate outcome. Two examples illustrate his trait which educators would now call something akin to "grit". The first example is that it took her six years from first standing for parliament until she was elected. Clark's "grit" (for lack of a better term!) also stood her in good stead when in a very close call, her party missed out being in government in 1996 through not being preferred by the party holding the balance of power. Despite such a high-profile setback, Clark did not quit and as a result, won the next election three years later by a significant margin. Subsequent to this victory, her party won two further elections leading Clark to being the leader of New Zealand for almost a decade.
A victory for Helen Clark would no doubt be a significant victory for her primarily but also to a large degree for our country. If Clark is successful, in this writer's opinion, such an achievement would be up there with Hillary's summit of Everest, the All Blacks & Team New Zealand's international triumphs and the deeds of Jean Batten, Kate Sheppard & Ernest Rutherford. Yes, it would be awesome for Clark to succeed but if she does not, the journey and learnings to succeed but if she does not, the journey and learnings derived are sufficient enough for every student in this country to feel pride and confidence that even though we may be at the bottom of the world geographically, we do lead the world in time, and can lead the world in many other contexts as well. All we have to to is aspire, commit, believe and never quit, no matter what.
Good luck Helen from a teacher, learner and proud New Zealander!