Quite simply included…

I have been considering the idea of inclusion a lot recently, so when asked to write a post, I decided to write on the subject with reference to someone else’s life, thoughts, ideas and research. However, I changed my mind and then my post, because I know a thing or two about inclusion.

So here goes…

Young FionnaThis is my story.

What I've come to realise is that inclusion, or lack of it, has had a huge impact on my way of being and on whom I have become.

Before sixteen, I was going to be whatever I wanted to be. My future was an open book.  Things were easy for me. Good at school, good at sports,  good at making friends. I was a fairly ‘normal’ teenager with little care for any possible struggles amongst some of my peers. I was too busy making my own way. Being popular. Doing well. Becoming something. Inclusion wasn’t a consideration. I was able to participate easily and naturally in anything I put my mind to. The path I was on was clear of any foreseeable barriers. I was quite simply included, quite simply.


This was the person I was.

At sixteen, I had a berry aneurysm (stroke) that paralysed the left side of my body. I lost the use of my left side, my hair, my boyfriend, my schooling, my clarity of thought, my identity and my way of becoming.Fionna in wheelchair I stopped being quite simply included and became someone completely different in the matter of minutes and then years.

This event created a new pathway that led towards the person I was to be.

I quickly became good at other things, like re-learning how to stand, walk, use my left side and be what I perceived as ‘normal’ again. Not ‘disabled’, but ‘able’ to participate. To be included. Certainly not different.

Actually, I was very different. Because my left side was and still is partially paralysed. And it wasn’t just the physical difference that made me different. My entire demeanor, my personality, my outlook, essentially most things about me had changed. But I was still determined to participate in everything. I had big ambitions and I knew what it was like to be quite simply included. I wasn’t going to miss out on a thing.

However, I also learned how to assimilate. I deflected. I disguised. I tried my best to blend in and make myself invisible so people wouldn’t notice anything different about me. Any attention might have made me stand out for what I thought were all the wrong reasons and therefore leave me vulnerable to rejection and criticism. It might make me different. I think a lot of this anxiety stemmed from the fear of being labelled, because in the 1980s, if you were ‘differently-abled’, you were possibly called ‘a cripple’, ‘handicapped’, or at the very best, ‘disabled’. I felt that any label would have a negative impact on my capacity to achieve, or become, or simply be.

This terrified me.

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‘Revitalising zones of the human imagination’ : Māori-Pākehā relations in education

This blog asks Alex Hotere-Barnes (CORE Education Researcher/Evaluator) 7 questions about:

  • being Pākehā learning reo and tikanga Māori;
  • his experience of working alongside diverse Māori in education; and
  • what gets him up in the morning!

1. Your formative education was spent going to kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori, how did that happen?

The late 70s and early 80s was a period of social and cultural change. My parents were politically active at that time. They were both drawn to liberation movements: stopping violence against women; gay, lesbian and bisexual issues; and anti-racism.

Eventually, the opportunity arose for my twin brother and I to attend kōhanga reo. This happened because my dad was, and still is, pretty ‘out there’ politically. Despite his unconventional views (or hopefully, because of them), he was respected by local whānau and hapū. They invited us to be involved in the local kōhanga reo. This opportunity fitted well with his values and philosophy to raise us as bilingual and bicultural citizens.


When, as an adult, I asked my father why he wanted to expose us to Māori education as a Pākehā middle-class family, he said:

“I had an opportunity for you to learn a broader base of ideas as a part of who you are. My upbringing often felt stiflingly narrow and limited because it seemed so monocultural, even when I could learn as an adult to change. I knew I could use my current experience to offer you what I thought would be a much more useful base. I was resolute that the good things within the Māori world along with our privilege as Pākehā would be a whole new combination for you to choose from as you got older…” (Graham Barnes 1)

I realised later, through my own research, that similar ideological and philosophical beliefs underpinned other Pākehā support and involvement in Māori community development initiatives.

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Does ICT assist learning?


View slides on Slideshare: "Students, computers and learning: making the connection" by Andreas Schleicher (OECD)

The latest report from the OECD titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection has attracted lots of attention in the past week. The report's main claim is that computers do not improve student results, and news feeds around the world have picked up on this using headlines suggesting school technology struggles to make an impact and  schools are wasting money on computers for kids.

Behind the headlines are revelations that technology in the classroom leads to poorer performance among pupils is that it can be distracting and that syllabuses have not become good enough to take make the most of the technologies available. There are also concerns about plagiarism with concerns that if students can simply copy and paste answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter.

Such headlines are bound to appeal to the tech sceptics and those calling for 'back to basics' as the panacea to education's woes – but what does this report really tell us? Given the level of investment involved with the use of technology it's certainly not inappropriate to ask whether it makes a difference, but in doing this we need to ask: “Difference in what?"
The OECD researchers found no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. It adds that the use of technology in schools has done little to bridge the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The report concludes that ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services.

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Ten Trends 2015: Maker Culture

Let me tell you about a little annoyance I have in my life — maybe it’s in yours as well. No matter how carefully I fold them, knot them gently or, carefully place them, my earbud headphones always unravel in my bag and (like a little octopus) wrap themselves around everything in sight. So when I need them, I end up emptying my whole bag just to disentangle them.
Every. Single. Time.

So rather than accepting a future of pulling everything out of my bag when I need my earbuds I chose to do something about. My two options were:

  1. hope someone has created the perfect solution for me (and made it available at a reasonable price) or
  2. take destiny into my own hands, learn a few things and make something myself that solved the problem.

This second option, which taps into human-kind’s innate ability to make tools and solve problems, is at the heart of what’s known as the ‘maker movement’.

Let me give you a bit of background: the maker movement takes advantage of the fact that technology is at the point now where previously industry-level prototyping tools (modelling software, 3D printers, electronics, laser cutters) are now affordable for many schools.  So we literally have the tools available to us to help our kids be inventors.

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Global connectedness and frame of reference

A few weeks ago students on a LEARNZ field trip were backstage at an opera; last week they were in the Wellington Mayor’s office talking Smart Motorways. Next week they’ll be searching for kea nests in the Southern Alps. All LEARNZ field trips are journeys to the unfamiliar.

Travelling to Antarctica is another step-up in unfamiliarity. Inside Scott Base life is mostly familiar; but outside presents a new normal. It’s common to see people walking and skiing at one o’clock in the morning. For students and us, it’s a new frame of reference.

Right now Shelley and I are preparing for an Antarctic science virtual field trip. Students on this trip will join a NIWA science team trying to find out why sea ice in Antarctica is increasing while it is disappearing in the Arctic.

Mt Erebus

Mt Erebus in the far distance from Hut Point Peninsula, framed by the Ross Ice Shelf on the far right, and sea ice on McMurdo Sound on the far left.

An opportunity to learn about frames of reference

In guiding student learning to prepare for this virtual journey, we are exploring ideas around frames of reference. The things that make us what and who we are and give us our point of view define our frame of reference. Our reality. One person’s reality may be very different from another.

Two people stand facing each other on either side of a street. A car drives past. One person sees the car moving to the right. The other person sees the car moving to the left. Two different frames of reference; two different observations. Our frame of reference determines how we see and understand the world. It’s influenced by our geographic location, who we live with, our beliefs, our education, our culture.

Our frame of reference can limit our ability to understand issues and to think critically. Part of a picture only tells part of a story; what you see is not always what you get.

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Let’s get talking … cross-sector


Photo: Serge Melki (Flickr under CC)

As we think about innovative learning environments and future focused education, it is time to look beyond the confines of our own educational setting, eg our own classroom, schools, kura, centres and community. We can benefit more by looking across the sectors where we can, learn from the wider field of education and strengthen professional relationships.

We have lessons to learn from each other, ways that will help us pull the best aspects of education together. Through connection and collaboration we will understand more about the learners we work with; the conversations that we engage in can contribute to a seamless education for each of our learners.

An example of this is the exchange of ideas on topics such as maker movement, collaborative teaching, and project-based learning. In a quality early childhood setting, these are often embedded practice. Early childhood teachers collaboratively plan, develop curriculum, and teach together every day with each teacher’s practice being openly shared. They teach in flexible learning environments providing spaces for group work, thinking space, project space, and space for children to be able to create and make. The learning environment is seen as the ‘third teacher’, with considerable thought and planning by the teachers to ensure it is a dynamic learning place. It is this playful exploration, creating, tinkering, and making that forms a key part of the early childhood curriculum. Teaching and learning in this environment might look different to that in a school or kura, but the practices are just as pedagogically sound, designed to support young children’s active exploration and learning. As the school sector considers how the maker movement and collaborative teaching fits within the curriculum, it seems timely that we talk with each other, develop shared understanding, rhetoric, and grow our own practice.

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In our past is our destiny

MoerewaPhotograph by Shirley Williams (from Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand under CC License)

We are defined by our narratives, and our narratives can shape our way forward — to our future, and to our success. Helen Baker, Principal of Te Kura o Takaro, says,

“It’s not someone else’s story that we’ve captured. It’s our own story and that to me is where the strength of any Marau ā‐kura/Localised Curriculum is … that it is yours, it’s your school’s story, your people’s story … So that lives on … past any of us here and live in the hearts and minds of people which is where you really make change”  
(Baker Pakiwaitara-Marau 2013)

Helena Baker highlights our stories and emphasises that our history needs to be reflected in our Marau ā-Kura/Localised Curriculum, so that students can see their history, and their stories in their learning, and in their curriculum.

I would like to share with you, as an example, our story, and how it shapes our Marauā-Kura/Localised Curriculum.

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“Tuútu’u le upega ile loloto – Cast the net deeper”

Casting the net wider

In May 2014 Nu’ualofa Playgroup, an early childhood facility for Pacific Nations families, opened in Rowley Avenue Primary School in Christchurch. This is the story of how we, as  two Palagi teachers, worked with a school and its local community to bring this collective vision to life.

Where it all began

Our journey began in 2014 when we were lucky enough to participate in a Pasifika Leadership Professional Learning programme offered by the Ministry of Education (MOE), through CORE Education and facilitated by Ruta McKenzie and Justine Mason. We went into this feeling completely out of our comfort zone yet knowing that we could be better supporting the Pasifika learners enrolled in our Home Based Childcare Service. Over eighteen months we attended a number of two-day fono and monthly network meetings with the Pasifika Leadership group. It’s been the best PLD we’ve ever experienced.

Through the Pasifika Leadership programme we also learnt of the opportunity to apply for CORE Education’s Pasifika Education Grant. We were fortunate to be awarded one of these. This provided us with funding for a supported inquiry that enabled us to tell our story through video of what we have learnt and developed as a result of our PLD.  Our advisors for this project were Ruta Mckenzie and Keryn Davis.

The support, learning, camaraderie, and connections we made during this PLD, gave us the courage to stand strong for what we believed we could offer the Rowley community. In April 2014,  after discovering the  people in the MOE who were able to see and support our vision, we secured a participation contract with the MOE to provide a supported Pasifika Playgroup. In collaboration with the Principal at Rowley Avenue Primary School, we engaged Laiga Tomuli (a Samoan parent at the school), to facilitate and supervise the playgroup and work in the community to encourage aiga (families) to participate.

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Multiculturalism: Navigating the spaces between Ethnicity, Identity, and Diversity using Cultural Intelligence

When I think about the kind of work that I do for CORE in centres, schools, clusters, as well as with other education partner agencies, I more often than not end up talking about culture. Initially, my role as Senior Advisor Pasifika focuses on Pasifika cultures in relation to raising the engagement and achievement of Pasifika learners in Aotearoa. Now this role has expanded to include multiculturalism.

What has helped me to explain how to go about doing this (the engagement and achievement part) has been by looking at multiculturalism as a lens, as a way of thinking about, discussing and understanding our connections with the rest of the world.

Having grown up in Auckland, I have always heard the term multiculturalism bandied about — by far the most multicultural city in Aotearoa. The all-girls high school I attended would proudly tout at the top of each school newsletter that “We are a multicultural school.” If the high school music groups were any indication of that claim, it quickly verified it — as we had girls from every colour hue under the sun, with as many different accents as you could imagine.

What has changed since then is how multiculturalism is now seen on a global scale, particularly with how we understand what it means to participate in the world as a global citizen and to be culturally intelligent.

Dyne, Ang, Koh (2009) discuss a framework called Cultural Intelligence, that originated in North America, and is widely used by corporate businesses as a way to connect with potential trade partners in the Asian market. This framework can also be applied in other fields or disciplines such as sociology and education. The basic premise is that, in order to obtain cultural intelligence, you must observe and follow four stages:

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Professional Learning and Development – Choose wisely and well

e-learning in PLD

I have had a few sobering moments when scoping new schools for Learning with Digital Technology (LwDT). At one school, I was asked, “Is this where the IT training starts?” At another, the principal started counting the professional learning and development (PLD) initiatives on her fingers and proudly told me they got everything they asked for.

My experience with the LwDT project has shown me that good quality pedagogy and good quality professional inquiry help decide PLD and technology use, so you can see why my heart contracted when I had those conversations. I wondered what care and thought had gone into choosing appropriate PLD.

Effective, sustainable, professional learning and development is about change, about a culture shift, and as such requires quality thought, discussion, planning and implementation. Schools need to think about – ‘What is important for all our students to be like, to know, and to be able to do to help them become engaged, contributing and fulfilled citizens in a changing society?’ And then … ‘How do we do that?’ It is at this point that schools might identify PLD that will help them in their quest.

I can’t emphasise enough the absolute importance of discussion and communication with all stakeholders – school and community in this process. Have the conversations and involve everyone, it is after all and should be, whole school reform. The purpose is to bring about a positive difference for all students. ‘The moral and political purpose of whole-system reform is ensuring that everyone will be affected for the better starting on day one of implementing the strategy.’ Michael Fullan and Ben Levin.

If I was to write an open letter to principals thinking about engaging in external PLD, here are some questions and statements I might include:

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