A pair of turtles are just one of the tricks a new school principal has up his sleeve when it comes to getting tamariki excited about learning.
Dave Smith has been appointed principal of St Joseph's School in Stratford on a one-year fixed term contract, and to the delight of the pupils there, that means turtles Phantom and Victoria are now hanging out in one of the classrooms.
Turtles, says Dave, are a great help when it comes to reading, writing and even arithmetic.
"Turtles don't judge you. So if a child is struggling to read, or doesn't want to read out loud in class, they may be happy to read to the turtles, because they won't mind if you get a word or two wrong or don't know the answer to something."
When it comes to the classic question children face of 'what do you want to be when you grow up?', Dave says he knew the answer for himself early on.
"I've always wanted to be a teacher, right back to when I was at high school in Stratford, teaching was what I wanted to do in life."
Dave doesn't mean Stratford High when he talks about his old high school; the school he attended is nearly 18,550 kilometres away from here, in Stratford-upon-Avon.
That school - King Edward VI, commonly known as King's New School, is famous for being where a certain William Shakespeare learned "small Latin and less Greek" – to quote his friend and fellow dramatist Ben Jonson. While Shakespeare is thought to have headed for London when he left King's, Dave headed a bit further afield, arriving in New Zealand as a 16-year-old.
"My Dad and my step-mum Helen were planning to move to New Zealand, which is where Helen is from, and I had decided I would go with them for a year. They were in the process of adopting my sister at that time and just as that was done and everything was ready to go, my sister's birth mum was having another baby and Dad and Helen were given the opportunity to adopt him as well. So they ended up staying in the UK for another year while that adoption was finalised, but I carried on with the original plan coming out here to do my sixth form year at Rathkeale College in Masterton."
By the time Dave's dad, step-mum and siblings arrived in Aotearoa, Dave was fully settled into school and stayed on for seventh form as well.
"I was going to go back to the UK for university, but then I got offered a place at Massey and so took that and then from there went into my first teaching job at Ashhurst School."
A couple of years later, Dave finally headed back to the UK to teach there for a while, leaving his class in the capable hands of a fellow teacher named Katie. After a couple of years Dave returned to Aotearoa and Ashhurst School.
"I was lucky as they had kept my job open for me, so I came back, and Katie went to teach in the UK for a while. Eventually we were both teaching at Ashurst at the same time and we started spending more and more time together, and well ... now we are married with two children."
Katie's family are from Taranaki so it made sense to move to the region once they had children, says Dave, and they now consider themselves fully at home here.
"It's a great place to have a family and we have both really enjoyed teaching at schools in Taranaki. Katie teaches at St John Bosco School, and until term four last year, I was deputy principal at Highlands Intermediate."
Dave was seconded from that role into the role of acting principal at St Joseph's Stratford for term four last year, and says he is "really pleased" to have since been offered the fixed term role at the school.
"It's a great school, and the support from the community is incredible. We've got an incredible staff, our school families are really involved and engaged with what we are doing and the link with the diocese and connection to the church over the road is really strong."
Dave, Katie and their two children Eden (6) and Louie (3) are all enjoying getting to know the Stratford community and the Immaculate Conception parish as he settles into the year-long role.
"The school board wanted pupils and whānau to have consistency for the year while they go through the process of recruiting a permanent principal for the school, and having spent term four here last year, I knew it was a school I was happy to spend more time at."
A well-resourced, well-supported school means teachers and pupils can focus on teaching and learning, says Dave.
"The classrooms here are a good mix of modern learning environments and more traditional ones meaning every child is able to have a space suited to them. The special character of the school really shows, with the school's values of being caring, sharing and serving apparent in everything that happens here."
Dave says pupils at the school are "really well-behaved" and credits the teachers and parents for that fact, along with the small class sizes, excellent resources and "abundance of teacher aides" the school benefits from.
"It really is a great school for students and teachers alike."
Being a principal can be lonely at times however, he says, with more time spent in his office than the classroom.
"Especially as we navigate through Covid, where we are minimising close contact, so I don't really get to be in classrooms much right now which I do miss, but I grab any opportunity I can to spend time with the kids outside."
From playing cricket, hanging out with the new entrants in the sandpit to teaching one of the technology options the intermediate pupils will take later this year, Dave says he enjoys every opportunity to get to know each and every one of the school's 184 pupils.
"I still love teaching as much as I did when I first graduated from Massey, that hasn't changed at all."