In his 36 years as a primary school principal, Ken Miller always made time for Life Education Trust to visit his schools.
Ken was one of a group of principals in the Waipa/King Country area that worked to re-establish the local Life Education Trust in 2002 after it went into recess. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, taking on a second Educator and mobile classroom in 2020 to ensure every school could be visited annually.
Ken uses a medical analogy to describe the Trust’s work, likening the classroom teacher to a GP and Life Education Trust’s Educators as specialists in the field of health education.
“I always felt that because Life Ed had their own training programme and their own resources they gave us another dimension to offering the health curriculum to students and I still think that holds true. In fact, I think it’s more so now, especially the way Life Ed has adapted to meet the way curriculum is developed in schools - they’re still able to offer that extra dimension that your run of the mill teacher/GP can’t offer.”
Ken’s experience in rural primary schools has proved invaluable for the Trust since he joined.
“I thought I’d do it for a couple of years and then… I’m still there.”
He is the first port of call for the Trust’s two Educators, helping them with any professional concerns and providing a listening ear.
“In the course of two weeks in a rural area like ours, they can be at three or four different schools, so quite itinerant. In a normal teaching situation you have that collegiality every time you walk into the staffroom – sometimes our Educators don’t have that because they’re transient.“
Ken says he doesn’t necessarily have a magic bullet, but a sense for the best way to deal with issues such as parent concerns. “So far we haven’t had any dramas.”
He is pleased the Trust has become more responsive to schools, allowing teachers to choose the most relevant topics for their students covering physical and mental health, nutrition, identity, relationships and substances.
“At the moment our Educators are finding the schools are leaning towards building resilience and protecting self esteem because COVID has done a lot to unsettle children and adults.”
In Ken’s opinion, one of the real determinates of success for students is peer pressure.
“The years 7 – 10 are the time you’ve got to counter the effects of peer pressure and now, with the influence of social media, I think our involvement is more essential.”
Ken has always advocated for Life Education Trust to move into secondary schools and believes the Smashed and Smart$ theatre-in-education programmes the trust for Year 9 and 10 students are a huge step in the right direction.
Ken’s other responsibility on the trust has been managing the movement of the mobile classrooms, owing to his background as a truck driver.
When Ken left school, he originally followed in the footsteps of his father and took a job driving trucks. Thanks to the encouragement of his high school principal, who was a bit disappointed in his career choice, he then went on to training college.
Outside of his work in schools, Ken remained involved in trucking in various capacities and kept up his heavy vehicle licence. Since he became a trustee, Ken has helped moved the mobile classrooms from school to school. He knows all 68 schools in the area and which road to approach them on.
“It’s quite heartening to drive through a township and see secondary school students who have had Life Ed at primary all shout ‘g’day Harold!’, want me to blast the airhorns to recognise they’re there.”
Three weeks after he retired as a principal, Ken decided retirement wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and returned to truck driving, this time as a tanker driver for Fonterra.
Many of his co-drivers heard about his work with Life Education Trust and wanted to volunteer their time. So, even though he no longer works for the company, Fonterra drivers do most of the driving shifts that Ken doesn’t do.
The Trust’s relationship with Fonterra has always been positive. The workshop team at the local tanker base do all the basic maintenance on the Trust’s vehicles at no cost. The mobile classrooms and tractor units are regularly parked at the secure Fonterra truckyard in the school holidays.
Ken says the current Trust has a lot of governance experience with essential skillsets including accounting and law. Like him, many of the Trustees are long-standing, and they are careful to give prospective Trustees the opportunity to become familiar with the role before signing on. The two teachers employed as Educators are always invited to meetings (which usually finish with dinner) and the Trustees are regular visitors to the mobile classrooms.
“It’s always been easy for me to stay on the trust, we’ve operated well.”
One of the biggest challenges the Trust faced was dealing with an arson attack on the mobile classroom. With a huge amount of community support, and a speedy trip to Wellington for Ken to pick up a replacement classroom, they were back in schools in less than in a week.
“The community support and the support from the schools in our area was memorable. It gave us a very clear message how Life Education was valued in the Waipa/King Country area.”
Ken was made a Life Member of Life Education Trust in July 2021 for his instrumental role in the Waipa/King Country Trust’s success.