Maniototo Area School principal Melissa Bell at a Harvard principals conference in Sydney. Ms Bell and Mt Aspiring College principal Nicola Jacobsen were both awarded scholarships to attend the Sydney event.

A trip to Sydney during the school holidays sounds like a great way to relax but for two local school principals it was anything but — although they would do it again in a heartbeat.

Maniototo Area School (MAS) principal Melissa Bell and Mount Aspiring College (MAC) principal Nicola Jacobsen were both awarded scholarships to attend a leadership programme run by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Sydney.

‘‘Absolutely incredible,’’ Ms Bell said when she described the experience.

‘‘It’s fuelled my tank for the next couple of years.’’

The hardest part was tempering her enthusiasm and not trying to change everything at once, she said.

One of the great takeaways was the contact with other principals, many in Australia, facing similar challenges in remote schools.

Since returning she had been in contact almost daily with a group of them.

The week was one of the most intense she had undertaken.

Early morning starts, full days of learning and then reading and preparation in the evening meant there was no time for sightseeing.

‘‘I was so, so tired. By Friday night I came back and stared at a blank wall for a while.’’

However, there were no regrets about that.

‘‘It will change a lot in my practice.

‘‘I would recommend it in a heartbeat.

‘‘It was the best leadership [professional development] I have ever had.’’

MAC principal Ms Jacobsen said it was the best professional development course she had been to.

‘‘It was really enriching but also really robust. ‘‘I felt like I was a student again.’’

Each session was led by a Harvard professor but there was no ivory tower isolation in what they taught.

‘‘You certainly saw that a lot of their work had been them wanting to help other principals in schools make a difference through the research they had done themselves.’’

An awareness of the impact of trauma on children was a key area of learning for Ms Jacobsen.

It was good the course was run in the holidays so she was not thinking about what was going on back at school.

Interacting with principals from Australia gave a perspective on how fortunate New Zealand was to have the same curriculum across the whole country, she said.

There was a lot of transience in New Zealand for various reasons and it helped children that the curriculum was standard in each area.

It also helped principals help each other to problem solve and share experiences.

‘‘I’m grateful we have got the system we have.

‘‘I can talk to a principal in another school and I’ll know they know what’s going on as well, without having to try and explain the context or what’s happening at the ministry. We all know that.’’

She was grateful to her husband who took care of everything at home for a week and also to the MAC board for their support.