Encouraging collaboration among educators


Before education, I was employed in the wholesale industry. As part of a small team, I played my part in ensuring customers — retailers in this case — were achieving the best they possibly could with our product. I wasn’t, however, on my own. I wasn’t allocated a certain number of customers who I was responsible for from start to finish. What did happen is each of my colleagues played their particular role, be that order processing, marketing, sales etc. Each of these roles came together to create the overall customer experience and business functionally. We couldn't have operated without one of them, and one of them could not have operated on their own. We worked collaboratively with one another.

Fast forward to my introduction to Education. A world where it seemed like my constant communication and contact with colleagues was drastically reduced, and all of a sudden, it was required that I perform all the roles needed to ensure the customers — students in this case — achieved the best they possibly could with our product: education.

I have since, however, found joy in developing my collaborative practice more and more to a point where I feel like all those wonderful things I missed from business were back. I have had the pleasure along the way of meeting some wonderfully brilliant educators who possess incredibly high-level collaborative skills. These individuals don’t see themselves as individuals alone, but rather, a vital part of a high-functioning supportive team.

So, what changed for me? How did I begin to collaborate as an educator?

This was brought about by a shift in school layout and team makeup. As a school, we shifted from single-cell classrooms to Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs). As a group of individuals, we very quickly saw the need to become a team, to work as one. While it was, at times, a tough and rocky journey, the benefits have ensured that I would now never wish to go back to functioning on my own. The collegial support, sharing of workloads, differing strengths and interests, ability to learn from one another, and the increased support for learners are benefits that provide support for staff and learners alike.

“Teachers who work together collectively, collaboratively to understand their impact are probably the single most important factor in this business” — John Hattie (2013)

We cannot assume, however, that all educators are eager to share their practice in such a way. To some, the idea of collaboration can be quite scary. It can be seen as a loss of autonomy, a pressure to have others view and critique your work. More meetings, and an increased workload.

So, how might we ignite this positive mind shift into collegial collaboration? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ask educators to challenge their own and each other's thinking.
  • Propose ‘why’ and ‘what other way’ questions.
  • Draw out what is challenging about operating alone, and find ways to ease these challenges using colleague support.
  • Identify the barriers, and seek out solutions to these.
  • Find a starting point that works for your educators.
  • Explore the positives and benefits of collaboration.
  • Discuss successful collaborative environments: other schools and businesses.
  • Build positive staff relationships, get to know each other, spend time together.
  • Ask yourself how collaborative am I myself?

It is an exciting time to be in education, and a pertinent time to start making these changes that can prove so valuable to what we are all so passionate about. So, what steps will you take today to improve your own and others collaborative capacity.


Is Māori representation Māori privilege?

Māori voice

The Māori privilege debate continues to do the rounds.

Over recent years, as I have become more involved in my own tribal activities, it irks me that many communities still cannot get a grasp of the place of mana whenua within the wider community.

This was best played out in my community last year during the New Plymouth District Council Māori Wards referendum that went to the vote, and was resoundingly voted against by 83% of the wider community.

The online and letters-to-the-editor rhetoric in the local Taranaki Daily News reminded me of the 1950s and 60s’, “We need to watch out for these uppity Māori”. And, amidst the usual diatribe came the, “Why should Māori get special treatment?”, and other Māori-privilege comments.

It made me think, are Treaty of Waitangi workshops and cultural responsiveness programmes really hitting the mark at a school level, let alone amongst our wider society? Are they getting us to a place of really seeing Māori as tangata whenua, as mana whenua? It has been 40 years since the beginning of the Māori renaissance of the early 70s — why are we still grappling with these treaty issues? I often think and publically announce that we have come a long way in those 40 years of Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa, Māori Radio, and TV, treaty settlements, but still 83% of my community said No to Māori representation.

And that is the crux of what the Treaty means for us as Māori. Māori are tangata whenua, one of the treaty partner’s, though some people still want to dispute that. That partnership gives Māori mana whenua rights and responsibilities. We are not just another member of our multi-cultural society. For Māori, this is our homeland, the only place we can speak our language — an official language — since 1986. The only place we can live our cultural beliefs, to just be Māori. Other cultures can return to their homeland to speak their language, to live within their culture.

I listened to an old Pākehā pensioner say at one of the public meetings that, ‘We are all one people, and we had no problems with race relations in my time — some of my best friends were Māori’. This is known as “white privilege” — the normalisation of all things determined by a majority culture. Ann Milne, in her paper, “Colouring in the White Spaces” (2009), gives examples of white privilege:

“In my own life, in the 21st Century white privilege looks like:

  • Not being expected to speak on the views of all Pākehā New Zealanders
  • Not being constantly asked how “my people feel about that”
  • When I buy a car I am not asked if I can really afford it
  • When I choose to move house, I can choose a neighbourhood that I want to live in
  • If I am late to a meeting, that doesn’t reflect on all Pākehā
  • The ability to practice my spiritual beliefs when I choose, not on tap for others
  • Having several choices of political candidates to choose from”

And so it goes on; this list is non-exhaustive!

The reality, for Māori, when people say to us “we are all one people” is that we all speak English only, and live a Pākehā life that doesn’t value our identity, language, and culture. In New Plymouth, if Māori parents want their children educated through te reo Māori, there is only one choice, unless they are happy to travel 45 minutes to Opunake. If they want them educated through te reo Pākehā, there are 39 choices. Don’t tell me about Māori privilege.

So, how well are Māori represented in those English-Medium schools? Is what is happening in our wider society being played out in Boards of Trustee (BOD) representation? How can we encourage Māori representation without it being seen as Māori privilege?

The reality is it is hard to be the sole Māori representative on a board, and Māori are not always jumping at the chance to stand. So, school leadership must look at ways to make Māori representation safe and valued.

We must understand that the mana whenua voice is value-added, rather than just there because we are Māori. The mainstream mono-lingual, mono-cultural position is not the only worldview. As we look at the bigger picture and consider Māori values and attitudes to our environment, leadership, economy, staff recruitment, and curriculum content, Māori have a lot to offer at many levels.

Some suggestions:

  • Māori representation is a must on boards of trustees.
  • A mana whenua voice should be considered as a permanent Board position.
  • Begin with the Māori school whānau. The iwi machine is often too hard to work through. Remember, calling whānau hui is not always the answer, but allow that school whānau to determine the best way to meet and engage. Don’t let this be dominated by school leadership and teachers; let the whānau lead so that their voice is heard. That group becomes the support basis for Māori representation on the board, and invite them to decide who that will be, or, how their voice should be heard.
  • Go on your own journey of understanding the local iwi narratives, plan your own reo journey, and seek the support of mana whenua to determine the tikanga/protocols that are appropriate for your school.

Māori privilege is a myth. When we really understand the history of Aotearoa, we also understand why Māori dominate the negative statistics. But, let’s leave learning our own history in the New Zealand curriculum to another blog!


FASD – An invisible disability

“FASD may often be an invisible disability…yet has very visible consequences.”
Jacqueline Pei & Tracy Mastrangelo, Professionals without parachutes presentation 2015

What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a preventable, lifelong disability, resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol, that has no cure. It is a brain injury, done to a developing brain. It is not a behavioural issue, therefore must be treated differently.

Students with FASD often find school a difficult place where they do not experience success. As more students are being diagnosed with FASD the prevalence of this disability is beginning to emerge.

FASD student
Image source: Flickr – Lily Monster under CC

This blog post aims to provide you with an awareness of FASD and a starting point for your own investigation.

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‘My brain is in my bum’

students working at standing desks

It is funny, but the most powerful statement I have ever heard about Innovative learning spaces was from a year 8 boy at an intermediate school, who, when I asked why he was standing to do his maths, told me, “For reading, I like to sit, but when I do maths, it is like my brain is in my bum, and when I sit on my brain I cannot do my maths”.

I have been lucky enough to experience a number of new innovative learning environment’s over the last few months. it was great to see the Cultural Aspect of CORE Education’s five areas of changereflected continually in the development of these spaces. This cultural aspect was evident in how these teachers and learners set the purpose and expectations for the learning areas and culture within the learning space. This was done through a number of activities and exercises to develop a collaborative culture that would ensure student engagement, wellbeing, and achievement was high.

The activities involved working with the learners to name the spaces, define and describe the space, and set the expectations and behaviours for the area. A great example of this and one of the Seven Principles of Learning from the OECD 1 is in the Year 7/8 Toroa hub at Marshland School.

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What counts as research?

research files
Photo by bourgeoisbee under CC

I often get asked what I mean by research. Finding a precise definition can be tricky, especially in education where the term inquiry is commonly used to describe a range of investigative and reflective work. In New Zealand, for example, concepts such as teaching as inquiry, spirals of inquiry, and action research, are often used interchangeably, creating confusion. It’s because of this that I think it timely to ask: ‘what counts as research?’. In this blog I share how I have negotiated this slippery question in my practice as a researcher and research mentor.

When thinking about research, I differentiate between ‘research-related activities’ and the more detailed and systematic concept of research, which for ease of understanding, I call ‘research projects’. Many people engage in research-related activities, and do these well, but not everyone carries out a formally recognised research project. So what is the difference?

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“Readiness is all” — Building change readiness in organisations

When Shakespeare wrote for Hamlet his famous line ‘readiness is all’, he certainly wasn’t thinking about teachers implementing Chromebooks in the 21st century, but the phrase (and its translation ‘what’s important is to be prepared’) is a great piece of advice for those of us living in changing times.

All people have different levels of openness to change based on things like the context, our previous experiences, our personality type and whether we prefer the familiar or the novel. (Robbins, 2005). However, in a fast-moving world (where change is constant) we must all be ready to embrace change to varying degrees. For educators, this change might be the implementation of new, high potential technologies, new research findings related to pedagogy, or new practices as a result of the changing needs of our learners.


Readiness for change

Our level of readiness for change directly influences our individual decisions to either resist or support a change effort (Choi, 2011). So what increases a person’s readiness for change? Researchers point to three things:

  1. a belief that change is needed, and
  2. a belief that the proposed change is appropriate for the challenge at hand, and
  3. a belief that the organisation has the capacity to implement the change (Choi, 2011).

Let's look at each in a bit more detail.

Is change needed?

The first condition centres around establishing a 'why' for the change (sometimes called 'a sense of urgency') and this often involves looking at things such as:

  • Your organisation's vision and values and how well these are being enacted
  • Data and evidence that what we say we value is actually what is happening on the ground,
  • Changes taking place in the wider environment that may impact on your work: new technologies, changing community or demographic contexts, new policy directions etc.
  • Self-review process which may identify areas that need further attention or different approaches.

However you do it, you should explore the drivers that sit behind the change so that everybody involved in the change should be able to answer the question “Why are we doing this?”

Is the proposed change appropriate for the challenge at hand?

The second element that increases a person’s level of change readiness is for them (or us) to believe that the proposed change is appropriate for the challenge at hand. There are two key elements here: the first is about the level of fit with the organisation, the second is about the likelihood that this change is right for this challenge.

The level of ‘cultural fit’ is essentially the degree to which this change is appropriate to your organisation. The link to your organisation's vision and culture is important, because organisations that try to adopt change initiatives that run counter to who they are, seldom find success- even in cases where that same change has been successful elsewhere. Changes that are ‘low-cultural fit’ rarely succeed in the long term, often being ceremonially adopted, significantly adapted or simply abandoned (Canato, A., Ravasi, D., & Phillips, N.,2013).

A second way that leaders can increase people's sense that a given change is appropriate is to make be participatory and transparent in the process by which the decision is made to proceed. This is about making visible the factors that guided the choice of a given change effort in comparison with other possible courses of action. It's a public examination of the pros and cons so others can see the reasoning at work. It might also include helping people to understand the research that has informed thinking.

Can we successfully implement this change?

The third component of change readiness is a belief that the organisation has the capability and capacity to successfully implement the proposed change. This component can sabotage sensible, well-planned change initiatives: imagine an organisation that knows change is needed, believes that the proposed change is the right one, but is so disillusioned about prior attempts at change that they still think it is going to fail. It's a recipe for disillusionment and cynicism about change.

There are a number of different things that leaders can do to increase an organisation’s sense of self-efficacy when it comes to implementing change:

  • Ensure that every change is well considered, thoroughly researched and carefully implemented. False starts, or misguided initiatives can be potentially damaging.
  • Provide timely and adequate information about the change (McKay, K., Kuntz, J., & Näswall, K., 2013). This consists of keeping everyone informed about transactional 'small picture' details (timeframes, consultation periods, scope and sequence etc.) as well as overarching 'big picture' considerations (big trends driving the change, alignment with current practices, research informing decision-making etc.)
  • Establish participatory decision-making processes (where participants are part of the problem-finding as well as the problem-solving).
  • Prototype wherever possible. This helps to build participants' sense of self-efficacy around small changes, ultimately increasing their appetite for larger ones.


One of the key challenges surrounding the building of change readiness is that it is difficult to do any of this quickly: if an organisation doesn't have a sense of urgency about change today, it's unlikely to suddenly develop one tomorrow. Similarly if individuals are disillusioned about the failure of previous change initiatives, it takes time for this self-confidence to return. One of the clear implications for change leaders is that readiness for change should be constantly and carefully developed well before change is needed. Paradoxically, by the time change is upon you, it may well be too late.

Reflective questions:

As a way of exploring your level of change readiness (either as an individual or as an organisation) consider a change initiative you’re undertaking ask these questions:

  • Why is change needed?
  • Is this change right for our organisation?
  • What confidence do we have that the change will meet the challenge at hand?
  • Do we believe we can successfully implement this change? If not, what support will be needed?


Woven through all of these finds are the notions of transparency and participation. These build trust in an organisation, and in the leaders taking that organisation through the change process. Trusting and believing in the people who are leading your organisation is perhaps the most important precursor to taking the first step.


Canato, A., Ravasi, D., & Phillips, N. (2013). Coerced Practice Implementation in Cases of Low Cultural Fit: Cultural Change and Practice Adaptation During the Implementation of Six Sigma at 3M. Academy of Management Journal, 56(6), 1724–1753.
Choi, M. (2011). Employees’ attitudes toward organizational change: A literature review. Human Resource Management, 50(4), 479–500.
McKay, K., Kuntz, J., & Näswall, K. (2013). The effect of affective commitment, communication and participation on resistance to change: The role of change readiness. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(2).
Robbins, S. P. (2005). Essentials of organizational behavior (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Mark Osborne is presenting a session on Leading Transformative Change at the coming Emerging Leaders' Summit (ELS) in June. These are to be run in both Auckland and Wellington.
Check out the details:

Mark is the founder of the Emerging Leader's Summit event in New Zealand.


I Too Am Auckland

What are the educational experiences like for our Pasifika learners? This was a question we were grappling with at our latest Pasifika fono.

  • What are the assumptions we have about our Pasifika students and why do we have those assumptions?
  • How can we then illustrate the impact some of those assumptions can have on our students?
  • Have attitudes changed?
  • Or, do we as educators working in the Pasifika education sector need to speak more clearly or if needed, more loudly?

It is the 1990s, I am studying for an Equity exam at Auckland University. Like a lot of students from South Auckland, I’m on a budget, and I look like I’m on a budget. After taking a break from studying, I’m about to walk back into the library when a man bursts out yelling ‘there’s that suspicious-looking Polynesian kid, grab him’. I turn around to see who he is yelling at. It turns out, it’s me. Just before they are about to pounce on me, one of the security guards recognises me, “Um, that guy is a student here”. Annoyed? Yes. Surprised. No. These experiences were fairly common. What was worse was when it happened in front of a crowd of palagi, and all eyes were on you, the poor kid from South Auckland. Sometimes, when you’re a minority, or you represent a number of minority groups, you learn to hide among the crowd; to find the little cracks and corners to squeeze yourself into, to avoid drawing attention to your differences. Humiliation. Frustration. Anger.

That was over 20 years ago.
Have things changed?

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Innovative Learning Environments: Five tips for effective implementation

Innovative learning environments

At the recent CORE Education breakfast on Auckland’s North Shore, we in the future-focused education team set ourselves the goal of offering a set of ‘Top Five Tips’ for the effective use of Innovative Learning Environments (ILE). It’s always a great mental exercise to limit oneself to a ‘top three’ or a ‘top five’ because it asks you to be ruthless in your evaluation of all available options. We based our tips on research rather than just word of mouth, and here’s what we came up with:

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The impact of the language we use in education

Hello! My name is special needs

“If we do not change our language to match changes in thinking, we perpetuate what always was.” Timoti Harris

In education, certain words and phrases have become the currency of our organisational systems and processes. We have ORS students, and “gifted and talented”, and TAs, and SEG grants, priority learners, and target students. We use the terms, in good faith, to define roles and responsibilities, determine funding needs, and allocate resourcing.

However, our actions raise some questions:

  • What is the hidden impact of those words on the wellbeing and learning of students and on the expectations and actions of teachers?
  • Is there an alternative approach?

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Will innovative learning environments work for everyone?

Innovative learning environment

Schools that have introduced Modern or Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) are striving to provide learning environments that are flexible. ILEs usually have flexible learning spaces that may include larger, open plan areas, along with smaller breakout and meeting style rooms. But, they are characterised by a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning that is much broader than just a change to physical spaces.

Innovative Learning Environments are places that are ‘open, flexible learning environments where inquiries are shared, interventions devised collaboratively, and reflections based on both self and peer observations’. (For more information see CORE’s white paper on Modern Learning Environments by Mark Osborne).

For those looking in from the outside, ILEs can sometimes look chaotic — they may not look like some more traditional classrooms with all the students working quietly at their desks.

Recently, I've had a number of conversations with parents who have said that ILEs won't work for their children. Some told me that their children need more structure and strong teacher-led learning. Others said that their child, given some choice about their own learning, would choose not to work hard. A few noted that their children would be lost, forgotten, or overwhelmed in larger open-plan-style learning spaces.

ILEs are not simply about giving learners choices; they aim to give learners agency. Agency involves choice, but also the power to act on choices, and accept the responsibility that comes with exercising that choice. (See CORE’s 2015 Trend – Learner Agency for more information).

So do ILEs work for everyone? It depends …

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