A venture into past, present, and future

The internationally acclaimed author Janet Frame described Dr. Robin Charles McConnell’s writing as “a unique celebration of one man’s joy in living and being alive with family, friends, yesterdays….”

Robin, a Massey alumnus, has an impressive educational background with marked national success at all levels, from being the sole teacher of a rural school to professorial achievements. His career is diverse, with professorial highlights, consultancies in four countries, working with five national teams on leadership, and with his writing. Robin’s experiences are manifest in an impressive body of writing that encompasses poetry, sport, and genealogy. 

Robin McConnell

Getting to know students first

Robin has a deep connection with Massey having achieved his first degree from the university in 1982 and having lectured at Massey for six years in the 1990s. 

A great passion for exploring the nature of the world drove him to develop in-depth knowledge. He completed his master’s degree at the University of Auckland and achieved a PhD from the University of Waikato.

Robin’s commitment to education included being a rural school advisor of the New Zealand Department of Education. He was the principal for Rerekohu Area School from 1976 to 1979 and Fairburn School from 1980 to 1983. After that, Robin acted as Inspector of Schools for the New Zealand Department of Education from 1984 to 1989.  

Robin’s education career path went further in the 1990s when he was a lecturer at the University of Waikato. Following this role, he expanded his teaching area to sports, and he undertook the position of sports program leader and senior lecturer at Massey University. Moreover, when appointed to Unitec, Robin was New Zealand’s first Professor of Sport and later was a high-performance manager at the New Zealand Rugby Union.

“Getting to know students first” has always been Robin’s teaching philosophy because “if you were given the responsibility, you need to find the most helpful way for them to succeed in their studies.”

Robin’s first teaching job was as a sole teacher in a New Zealand school. “I’ve taught five-year-olds right through; there’s not much difference with teaching tertiary level. The critical thing is knowing your students as people, understanding their personal and academic goals, and giving individual support, when necessary, to attain these goals.”

A great example of Robin’s approach to teaching and students was that they had an open invitation to bring family members or friends to a lecture to see something of their uni life. “That led, for example, in Albany, to a boyfriend of one student becoming the first in his family to attend university and, in Belfast, to a student’s distant farming parents coming and as a result, a more understanding relationship between the parents and daughter,” Robin says.

Robin has received many awards during his teaching career. He was the recipient of a range of Massey University research grants; he was awarded many teaching awards, especially valuing the 1999 Distinguished Teacher Award, which was mirrored at the University of Canberra and the University of Ulster in student ratings.

Crossing multiple fields

Besides being an excellent educator and a great scholar, Robin is also a highly experienced genealogist, team and leadership consultant, and writer who has lived in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.

Robin’s journey is full of variety. His books include Iceman (a biography of notable All Black Michael Jones), Inside the All Blacks, The Successful Coach, Taua of Kareponia: Leader from the North, and Nothing is as Physical as a Poem. The most recent is Tracing Your Family History with the Whole Family: A Family Research Adventure for All Ages.

Asked what excites him about writing across so many different fields, Robins shares, “It’s because they all have a core commonality of self-leadership and self-expression; we each have the capacity, or, at least, the potential for self-leadership and a range of expression.”

Robin takes his poetry as an example, published in various publications from encyclopedias to literary journals in Australia, the UK, the USA, and New Zealand. The poems are an expression of one man’s family, friends, and relations, which Robin believes fits all the books he has written. “It’s because they start with people and an old-fashioned idea that writers can enhance the world that people are in, and enhance the way people see themselves,” says Robin.

The fascinating book Inside the All Blacks results from spending three years “living” with the All Blacks. Robin traveled with them, attended their training sessions, and celebrated with them, observing them both as public stars and private individuals.

Inside the All Blacks

To understand how and why the All Blacks have become the world’s most impressive rugby team, Robin went back to the early days, interviewing the oldest surviving former players from the 1920s and stars of the post-war era right through to the team’s more modern iteration. The result is that people have a chance to look at what it means to be an All Black and what happens behind the scenes in the All Black camp.

A lifelong genealogist

New material for families, educators, and children, Robin’s latest book, Tracing Your Family History with the Whole Family: A Family Research Adventure for All Ages, establishes a new dimension in family history research.

Tracing your family history with the whole family

Robin’s book is particularly innovative. A plethora of genealogy books primarily assume that family history research is by adults, for adults, marking family history as an “adults-only” sphere of life. Robin’s book is unique, and it introduces family history and the research process – past, present, and future – as a team effort by people of all ages in the family, young and old. 

Speaking of the inspiration for writing this book, Robin says it is written in the belief that engaging in family history is a venture for all families, regardless of age. The book is laden with practical examples to assist those of all ages who venture into this wider domain of family history.

Robin has always been interested in genealogy. “I’d started when I was a kid, and I partly developed because a family member was a top genealogist. It also fascinates me that I have never met a person who does not end up being interested in their parents and great-grandparents. What will the world be like for our children?”

“The least we can do is to help them understand their own family history, with its strengthening of self, and provide the personal, emotional, and practical skills for their futures as best we can,” says Robin.

Robin would enjoy hearing from past students, at teamleadership2021@gmail.com.