Tumuaki insights

By Diana Wilkes

Sean Bailey | Foundation Principal | Lemonwood Grove School

A little about Sean…

I enjoy living and working in Ōtautahi, this part of the country provides enormous lifestyle opportunities. I’ve always been really passionate about learning and improvement throughout my career, I’ve had some great opportunities and collaborated with some incredible educators.

I’ve led two schools in Canterbury. My first role as a tumuaki was at Ladbrooks School | Ngā Puna Tapuwai which was an awesome school and community. In 2015 I was appointed the Foundation tumuaki at Te uru Tarata | Lemonwood Grove School – a life-changing experience. Not many educators get this opportunity in their careers.

After two major health setbacks, I moved on from this role in 2020 to establish my own leadership consulting and coaching company called EmpowerYou. Leadership development and coaching is my core business however I also collaborate with a number of transformational organisations on projects including CORE Education | Tātai Aho Rau and the Education Review Office.

Sean Bailey — Image by: Sean Bailey

Te uru Tarata | Lemonwood Grove School (opened 2017)

Te uru Tarata | Lemonwood Grove School https://lemonwoodgrove.school.nz/ is situated in Farington, Rolleston. Rolleston is one of the fastest-growing regions in New Zealand. Traditionally the land around the school was used for farming however now lifestyle blocks continue to be purchased and divided into sections. The people who are drawn to this area are mainly young families who mostly work in Christchurch city. The Faringdon school community is very diverse. There are a number of families from various cultures who are moving into this area because of affordability and the opportunities it provides.


The Establishment Board were fortunate to be guided initially by Derek Wenmoth from CORE Education around visioning and values. The learning from initial workshops allowed trustees to formulate a clear purpose for the future of the school – ‘The best of you, as you’. This vision encapsulated their belief that ākonga would be guided along their own educational pathway in order to achieve educational success.

Initial visioning work — Image by: Sean Bailey

The next stage involved collaborating with Grow Waitaha to develop an education brief that supported the board around making sure the vision of the school was going to deliver bi-cultural education at Te uru Tarata and how property decisions would support that vision.

From the vision emerged a unique belief/mission statement: “We believe that providing a landscape of possibilities, people will connect and ideas will flow in challenging, collaborative and creative ways”, and four connected values: grit, responsibility, integrity and thinking. The vision statement drew not only from the importance of connection and collaboration when teaching and learning, but also the ties to the local landscape and how the land has and continues to be used in different ways.

Golden circle — Image by: Lemonwood Grove School

At this stage, the Establishment board and newly appointed leadership team referenced Dr Julia Atkin’s research and Simon Sinek thinking to get further clarity around not only the vision and values, but also the practices to support these. They used Sinek’s Golden Circle as a tool to develop and display further thinking.

Emerging values and beliefs — Image by: Lemonwood Grove School


Unfortunately by the time I was appointed, I only had 2 weeks to work with the board and the MoE to make any changes to the property design. There was a real urgency to get the plans signed off and the build started to meet timelines.

I was able to influence a small number of changes however the over design of the spaces stayed the same. What gave me confidence was that the architects, Stephenson and Turner had had been heavily influenced by research carried out by educator Dr. Julia Atkin and interior designer Mary Featherstone on Innovative Learning Environments in their design decisions.

Learning Spaces — Image by: Lemonwood Grove School

Looking back one of the changes I would make to the design would be to change the openness of each space that was designed for 150 learners by creating more defined spaces that could be used to meet the needs of the diverse learners at the school. 

Our place — Image by: Sean Bailey

Engagement & consultation

As part of our consultation with the community phase, we held a series of information evenings where we shared our vision, values and beliefs around learning and then gathered the communities thoughts, ideas and aspirations around what they felt was important in terms of a localised curriculum.

As part of these workshops, we discussed the future of education and work and used current research and thinking including The 7 Principles of Learning from the OECD report The Nature of Learning to strengthen our vision and values. We felt it was important that our community moved their thinking about learning from the past to not only the present but also the future.

As part of our the design of our localised curriculum, we engaged with Christine Brown, a Maori Advisor to schools. She provided the board and leadership team with guidance around how we could shape our emerging curriculum to ensure we it was influenced by the te tiriti o Waitangi principles. We were also fortunate to have Dr Tracy Rohan and Rachel Maitland on our establishment board who also provided ideas and knowledge.

Throughout our establishment journey we also developed a very strong connection with Denise Sheat and Te Taumutu Rūnanga. We also drew on the knowledge and thinking from our cultural narrative to influence our local curriculum and bi cultural approaches to curriculum. As a board and staff we later designed a cultural responsivness plan that ensured bi cultural outocmes and responsibilities were always front of mind.  Read the Rolleston Cultural Narrative report here for more information.

Designing our curriculum for teaching and learning

The curriculum at Te Uru Tarata for the first 4 years of establishment was based on identifying akonga’s interests, needs and abilities and then planning individual and group programmes relating to these needs. Programmes developed had a strong focus on student participation, engagement and agency. We used a number of approaches to enable this to happen for eg, learning through play which was a practice developed across the whole school. Our intention was for ākonga to be self-managing in ways that promoted equitable opportunities for them to achieve success across all learning areas. Being an establishment school one key element around this process was taking time to develop strong and supportive learner-centred relationships with ākonga and whānau.

Connecting with ākonga — Image by: Sean Bailey

Staff culture

Upon reflection, I think one of the biggest challenges for a Foundation Principal and leadership team is to continue to recruit team members who align to the school vision and values. It’s really important that people who are employed have a desire to be part of an organisation because their own beliefs align to those of the school. If this happens, it has a incredible impact on the culture of the organisation because everyone is moving towards a similar ‘why’.

There are always going to be times when the established beliefs around teaching and learning are going to challenged and compromised so therefore it important to keep coming back to the vision and values to ensure the purpose is being lived out and stakeholders are being intentional about their practices.

Top tips for new foundation tumuaki

Look after yourself and consider your well-being needs especially during the first 4-5 years. Make sure the Establishment and first elected Board take responsilbilty to implement a plan that supports you in your role. Keep them accountable to this. Think about integrating this plan into your Professional Growth Cycle. This will ensure that your role remains enjoyable and sustainable.

Think very carefully about the decisions you make around key appointments especially the leaders in the school. It is vital that you recruit people who are aligned to the vision and have the ability and mindset to work collaboratively together through exciting and challenging times. Also make sure that the leaders you recruit have had extensive experience teaching, leading and learning in a collaborative environment.

One practice I would implement in terms of recruitment would be using psychometric assessments like Clifton Strengths or DiSC profiling to identify strengths and weaknesses from the outset. This data is really useful for ongoing improvement purposes.

Entrance signage — Image by: Sean Bailey

Looking back

I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to have led Te Uru Tarata | Lemonwood Grove School as Foundation Principal for 4 years. Looking back, I am most proud of the strong vision for learning we developed for this community and our commitment to ensuring this influenced every decision we made for ākonga. I hope this vision and the values and practices that were established continue to guide the school into the future. 

Sean coaches and supports a number of school leaders across the country. He can be contacted through his website: www.empoweryounz.co.nz or sean@empoweryounz.co.nz