Ten Trends 2015: Learner agency

Most people are familiar with the ‘old’ way of doing things in schools: the teacher controlled what was learnt, how it was learnt, even where and when it was learnt. But, a key trend that has characterised education in recent times is a move towards learners owning more of the process: to give them ‘the power to act’ in their learning, or what is known as ‘agency’.

Agency can take many forms; from being empowered to make decisions about which activity to move onto next, through to learners being empowered to take positive social action in their communities. Providing choices in learning (whether to work individually or in a group; whether to provide evidence of learning using a piece of writing or a diagram) is an important factor in engagement, which is, in turn, a contributor to student learning and success.

learner agency

Many schools now build student agency by doing things like fostering a greater sense of ownership and self-efficacy in learning, inviting students to have a voice in that learning, and even to take more control over the way things are learnt. Student-led inquiries are one way to build agency, as learners often control not only the challenge or question that is explored, but also the method of investigation, the tools that are used, the action taken as a result of the inquiry and the means of demonstrating evidence of learning.

An interesting challenge with this way of learning is scaffolding all learners towards success, particularly when all of them have very different levels of experience and expertise when it comes to the inquiry process. We know that without some core knowledge and skills- such as questioning, researching, investigating or analysing information- it’s going to be difficult for them to be at their best as learners. This is about getting that balance right between ‘just in case’ learning and ‘just in time’ learning.

A crucial outcome from these new approaches to student agency is the development of so-called ‘soft skills’ such as self-management, prioritising, time management and teamwork. It’s probably these skills and competencies that will serve our students best in the future because it’s the ‘soft’ skills that are often the hardest skills to develop.

In this video, Claire Amos describes how Hobsonville Point Secondary School is embedding learner agency into their school culture.


  • What different components of agency can you identify throughout the video? What is agency comprised of?
  • What is the relationship between building ‘base’ knowledge and skills, and providing agency over leading?
  • Student-led inquiries are one way to provide agency, but how else do schools and centres offer it?
  • How does providing agency prepare students for the future?
  • In what ways does the role of the teacher change in a ‘high agency’ environment? In what ways does it stay the same?



Clap along if you know what happiness is to you — Digital Convergences for happiness

Happy kids

Back in 2013, as my son started his schooling, I watched Logan La Plante’s TEDx talk he did at the University of Nevada. The one line that really struck a chord with me was, “When I grow up, I want to be happy". Logan was homeschooled, but he did not like people’s reactions when he told them this. So he coined the term, “Hackschooling”. His TEDx talk goes on to focus on being happy and healthy, and is a valuable insight into a student’s thoughts on education.

I want to be happy now!

Bringing it back to the quote from the talk, “When I grow up, I want to be happy", it made me think, Why wait till we grow up. Now that I have children of my own, their happiness is one of the main drivers in my life — as it is in many other parents lives — and it has been very interesting to see how this happiness is impacted by how their school day, term, and year is going.

For children to learn, the learning must be challenging, while, at the same time, learning should have scaffolding and tools available so that opportunities for fun, success, and happiness occur during and after the learning.

Happy in the pit

James Nottingham talks about being in the “Learning Pit” as a model to help explain to students how and why challenge is necessary for learning. It provides a framework to help move through the process to co-construct an understanding of the key concepts. Some students, however, will still struggle with these challenges due to “road blocks” to their learning, meaning that happiness, success, and fun are often not part of their school day. These “learning blocks” could be:

  • learning difficulties
  • a lack of motivation due to no authentic audience
  • a struggle to record their ideas using traditional methods
  • poor engagement
  • difficulty ordering their thoughts.

Some learning blocks minimise the opportunities for learners to move past the confusion into the deeper learning of the model, and could result in learners never getting out of the pit.

Happy tools

Digital tools such as speech-to-text, text-to-speech, brainstorming tools, visual organisers, online collaborative spaces and documents, and blogs all give learners the opportunities to overcome their learning blocks and learn on a more equitable footing. These “nouns of learning” enable the learners to have the tools to develop the “verbs of learning” such as contrasting, summarising, sequencing, questioning, analysing, applying, interpreting, and predicting — to name a few. I think that these digital tools, along with other tools, are going to be a critical part of a learner’s toolbox as we move forward in education.

Happy to merge technologies

One of CORE Education’s Ten Trends is the concept of Digital Convergences, which refers to the merging of previously discrete and separately used technologies, as well as the almost ‘invisible’ integration and use of technologies as a part of our everyday life. Below is my endeavour to look at merging a number of digital tools into a possible writing process to enhance the opportunities for happiness and success in literacy.

Writing process

Happy to be challenged

I have also attempted to adapt James Nottingham’s Learning Pit diagram to show how Digital Convergences could be integrated into the model to allow for opportunities to overcome the Learning Blocks. Teaching digital tools, and using them as part of the process, gives learners a larger toolkit to draw on when they come across the necessary challenges in their learning. A student who struggles with handwriting could type or dictate their ideas to facilitate a way over their learning block. Similarly, a student who does not see the point of going into the pit because no one apart from the teacher ever sees the learning, may be motivated by blogging his or her learning, and sharing this with a wider audience.

digital convergence opportunities


If Logan La Plante is correct, and all children want to be happy when they grow up, what opportunities, then, are we providing for our learners in the classroom that will ensure they feel success and happiness right now and in the future?

Do you allow your learners opportunities to utilise the technologies that are at their fingertips on smartphones, tablets, and laptops?




In mid-2014 I was presented with an opportunity by a Twitter colleague of mine, Sonya Van Shaijik aka @vanschaijik, to write the final chapter of a collaborative e-book to be launched at the end of October, to conclude Connected Educator Month New Zealand. The kaupapa that I was asked to write about, all in te reo Māori, was ‘Whanaungatanga — Relationships’. I consented to write the chapter, and on the 31st of October the e-book was launched. For the purposes of this blog, I have translated my thoughts from that time into English for everyone to read. Here is my disclaimer: all the ideas and thoughts are mine, and are an interpretation rather than a direct translation of my previous blog.

In this blog, the concept of Whanaungatanga — Relationships will be discussed. Whanaungatanga is a massive kaupapa, one which can not be fully unpacked in one short blog. Therefore, this blog will be themed on three aspects, relationships between people, people’s relationship with the environment, and the relationship between people and the non-physical ‘spiritual’ world.

Unuhia te rito o te harakeke kei whea te kōmako e kō
Whakatairangitia rere ki uta rere ki tai
Ui mai koe ki ahau he aha te mea nui o te ao
Māku e kī atu he tangata, he tangata, he tangata!

Remove the heart of the flax bush and where will the kōmako sing?
Proclaim it to the land proclaim it to the sea
Ask me ‘What is the greatest thing in the world?’
I will reply, ‘It is people, people, people!’

We often see this whakataukī ‘tossed around’ within educational contexts to acknowledge the importance of establishing strong, sustainable relationships with students and their whānau, colleagues, hapu, iwi and the wider community. This indeed is a formidable task, even for the most ‘onto it’ educator. So I ponder, ‘How do we form these relationships with all these key education partners?’ This is what our educational leaders are saying:

  • Me hui kanohi ki te kanohi kia rongo i te mauri o te tangata!’ It is important to meet face to face, eye to eye, breath to breath to get a full understanding of the people we are working with.
  • ‘He mauri tō te tangata, he whakapapa tōna, he mana motuhake.’ Everyone has mana. Everyone has a whakapapa, a genealogy, heritage and identity that makes that person no more and no less important than the next person. When we learn to treat everyone with care and respect,  there are fewer barriers to establishing and maintaining relationships. Address the issues and not the tangata.
  • ‘E rua ōku taringa, kōtahi tōku waha.’ You have two ears for listening and one mouth for talking! Listen attentively to what others are saying and expressing. When people are sharing their thoughts, ideas, and aspirations, be respectful of what they are saying and how they are saying it before you respond. When responding, acknowledge others, summarise what they have said, restate how you have interpreted the message and don’t say things you will regret!

Ko au ko te awa. Ko te awa ko au.
I am the river and the river is me.

This Whanganui proverb describes the relationship between people and the environment, and in this context, the tangata whenua and their ancestral river. The mighty Whanganui river provided oranga (sustenance and wellbeing) to the people who resided on its banks. This was the source of their livelihood, their local ‘supermarket’, their ancestor. Without the river and all its bounty, life would become increasingly difficult. Without the river flowing freely, the land would soon become barren and unworkable. This whakataukī encourages people to be cautious in the way we treat Papatūānuku, the land, sea, and waterways. We are the kaitiaki (guardians) of this world. In our role as kaitiaki, people need to care for and respect our environment and our environment will care and provide for us. Acknowledging local pūrākau, local history and stories of ancestors and significant landmarks is also very important.

Ko te wairua tētehi pou o te whare tapawhā
Spirituality is one of the posts that stabilizes the house

Professor Mason Durie, within his Whare Tapawhā research, expresses the correlation of a person and their spirituality as one dimension that needs to be strong. He states that people need to be self confident and self assured to be healthy in mind, body and soul. If all the sides of the whare are strong, so too is the person. Another whakataukī from Te Paipera Tapu that supports this whakaaro states that the three most important things in this world are faith, hope and love. Without these three things we are incomplete. When a person’s faith, beliefs and values are acknowledged and respected, they will thrive, be confident and excel… when a person’s faith, beliefs and values are challenged and disrespected it is hard to maintain solid relationships. One’s relationship with the non-physical world needs to be accepted as these intangible relationships are the foundation for one’s values and beliefs.

Me tītiro whakamuri kia anga whakamua
We must look to the past to strive for the future

This whakataukī leads us to our ‘so what?’ We all know that relationships and partnerships are essential when working with others. Our students achieve better when they know they are respected and cared about, and so too, we work better with our colleagues when we are all treated equally and our thoughts, ideas and beliefs are respected. In the ever-changing game of Professional Development, as providers we must ensure we are being honest, trusting and respectful as this forms the foundation of successful healthy relationships. When time is taken to learn about others, to listen to their needs and to their goals, a strong bond is formed. The hard work is then maintaining the relationship!


The jargon of learning environments — ‘Modern’, ‘Innovative’, ‘Flexible’?

interactive classroom

While sat in front of my laptop at the beginning of May, slogging through a literature review, I was bemused to discover the Ministry’s MLE website renamed to ‘Innovative Learning Environments'.  Most interesting was the justification that indicated the change was ‘consistent with both international usage and growing discomfort in New Zealand with the term MLE’ (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2015).

As part of my Master’s thesis research, ‘Making the Shift — Perceptions and Challenges of Modern Learning Practice', I have been tracking the terminology associated with modern learning environments (MLE) and modern learning practice (MLP).  Specifically, I’ve been exploring community-wide perceptions of the definition and purpose of MLP at a school knee-deep in the paradigm shift that is transforming many schools in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand.

Although I have yet to discover any sweeping empirical evidence, I am keenly aware of the perception of ‘growing discomfort’ with the term MLE.  Multiple participants have indicated that ‘modern’ seems to them a misnomer and, in fact, the school in my study ditched ‘modern’ well before the Ministry — they now call their learning spaces Flexible and Responsive Environments for Deep Learning (FREDL). Admittedly a bit of a mouthful, but it certainly provides an element of precision that both ‘modern’ and ‘innovative’ are missing.

Learning research strongly suggests that an effective learning environment is one that:

  • makes learning and engagement central
  • ensures learning is social and often collaborative
  • is attuned to learners’ motivations and emotions
  • is acutely sensitive to individual differences
  • is appropriately demanding for each learner
  • uses assessments that are consistent with the aims, with a strong focus on formative feedback
  • promotes connectedness across activities and subjects, in and out of school.
    (Dumont & Istance, 2010)

No mention there of ‘modern’ or ‘innovative!’ 

Don’t get me wrong: I am firmly entrenched, philosophically, in the studentverse — the realm where learners are the driving force for all decisions that are made in education. I’m patently aware of the need for change in public schooling across the developed world, with research indicating that there is a ‘critical gap’ between the world students experience outside the classroom and the world within (Shear, Gallagher & Patel, 2011), and where 65% of primary aged students could end up doing work that hasn't been invented yet (check out Cathy N. Davidson’s blog). Hattie’s most recent published duplex — The Politics of Distraction and The Politics of Collaborative Expertise — outline the need to shift away from ‘the confused jargon and narratives that distract us’ (Hattie, 2015a, p.1) to coherent and focused attention on student learning (Hattie, 2015b). This backs up Michael Fullan’s New Pedagogies for Deep Learning project, where the emphasis on deep learning eclipses all other languages of reform. Whatever we call it, there is certainly an enormous shift that needs to occur in education, making the focus more about the learners and their life-long learning.

Considering that the definition of innovative is ‘featuring new methods; advanced and original’ (Innovative, 2015), I guess I’m a little worried about teachers on the ground — what sort of message is the jargon sending them about their reflective, highly-skilled practice?  Do we want teachers to feel that they constantly have to be ‘new', ‘original', ‘cutting edge', or, as the OECD (2013) puts it, fundamentally different in approach to the main body of practice? Thankfully, they also admit ‘what is seen in some contexts as innovative might appear to some readers as unexceptional’ (OECD, 2013, p.26). That’s comforting, as I have never considered my own practice to be ‘cutting edge'; I have always depended on prior experience and, most importantly, connections with respected colleagues, literature and resources to assist me in providing the most appropriate learning for each individual. 

According to Fullan & Langworthy (2014), innovative developments in education are already being driven and sustained primarily by teachers and students. If you want evidence of that in New Zealand, just log onto the VLN to follow the conversation of and between dedicated, thoughtful, reflexive practitioners.

So, how much of the amazing learning that is already happening in our schools is innovation and how much of it is learner-centred, flexible practice?

The insistence of the school in my study that the environment — physical, virtual, social — needs to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the learners remains in line with that of the Ministry’s expectations. Like the international literature, this speaks to us less about jargon and semantics and more about how students learn within the nexus of space, people, and technology.



Dumont, H. & Istance, D. (2010). Future directions for learning environments in the 21st century. 
In Dumont, H., D. Istance and F. Benavides (eds.), The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, Educational Research and Innovation (pp. 317-338), OECD Publishing, Paris.

Hattie, J. (2015a)  What doesn’t work in education:  the politics of distraction.  Retrieved from

Hattie, J. (2015b)  What works best in education:  the politics of collaborative expertise.
Retrieved from Pearson:

Innovative. (2015). Oxford English Dictionary.  Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.  Retrieved 25 June 2015, from

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2014). A rich seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning
(New Pedagogies for Deep Learning White Paper).

New Zealand Ministry of Education. (2015).  Innovative Learning Environments.

OECD (2013), Innovative Learning Environments, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD

Shear, L., Gallagher, L., & Patel, D. (2011). ITL research: Innovative Teaching and Learning Research, 2011 Findings and Implications. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.


Ask your students how you can become a better teacher

Katrina is a year-13 student. She knows what helps her learn and what can get in the way. Earlier this year I had the chance to interview her. Take a look at the video before you read on.

So now you’ve watched the video, here’s some questions for you:

  1. If Katrina was a student in your class or a member of your school community, how could you make the learning environment more effective for her?
  2. Which of those tweaks or changes might provide additional support or options for other students? Get really specific if you can.
  3. How could you increase the usefulness or flexibility of these changes by innovatively using digital technologies?
  4. Which of the tweaks or changes you identified could just become the “way you do things”? Could they become part of practice across year groups and learning areas? How could you support this to happen?

A universal approach

The approach I am advocating here is a “universal” one where we deliberately seek differing perspectives, and in response create opportunities and environments informed by this diversity. A strong characteristic of this approach is that we do our innovating and solution finding in partnership. In seeking to understand the diverse experiences of others, our thinking and the way we do things will get challenged. If we continue to work closely with those we have interviewed, we can often find workable and effective solutions together. In the video above Katrina talks about what gets in the way of her learning, but she is astute about what could help. Her fixes contribute towards what we could call “the least restrictive environment”, one where options and supports (no tech, low tech and high tech) are:

  • selected based on the specific needs of students
  • built into the environment or the ways of working at the outset
  • made available to everyone.

Exploring a universal approach in your school

  • Interview some of the students in your class, department or school to give you a heads up on how you can help them learn?
  • Take a whole school approach and weave student’s recommendations into “how we do things round here”.
  • Dedicate a staff meeting to exploring the Inclusive Education website and the Inclusion Principle on NZC Online. Find some jargon-free ways of talking about creating environments that are a better fit for your students.
  • Find out more about Universal Design for Learning: a practical approach with that “universal” idea at its heart.


Moving beyond fun: Game-based learning

Games are normally considered to be ‘fun’, though recently there is a growing interest in how gameplay can promote empathy, encourage reflection, develop problem solving and creative skills through “serious experience” (Iacovides & Cox, 2015)

Recently I had the privilege of listening to Rachel Bolstad and Dan Milward talk about “Games and the future of education” at a CORE Education breakfast.

For those of you, like me, who are exploring using games as part of learning, this was a great place to start. For teachers who haven’t used games as a tool for learning, or who have never played games, the first thing is to have a go!

In this video, Rachel talks about her research into the environment that games and simulations present for thinking differently about learning, and about what students and teachers might be doing. She suggests one of the best ways teachers can pick up ideas and explore their own use of games in the classroom is by connecting with others and sharing — I invite you to add your thoughts, findings, and ideas as comments on this blog.

Rachel Bolstad
Link to Video

But before we begin, let’s clarify our terminology:

What is a game?
Game:a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.

Is game-based learning the same as gamification?

  • Gamification is taking a learning process and applying game principles (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to it.
  • Game-based learning (GBL) is taking a game and using it for learning. GBL is aimed at teaching a discrete skill or specific learning outcome, rather than being a complete pedagogical system.

Gamification vs games-based learning: What’s the difference?

Many of us have used games in the classroom to support learning, but how do we move from using games at the simple drill and skill end of learning  to thinking about how students can use games to be creators rather than receivers of knowledge?

Learners and teachers as game users  ➜ Learners and teachers as game creators

Using games for learning   ➜ Using games (and game-thinking) to transform learning

The development of entertainment and commercial games with really engaging and immersive environments provides a huge opportunity for exploration, problem solving and creativity.

What’s going on in these game environments? What is it that keeps people in them and motivated and engaged and exploring?

  • The experience of ‘effectance’ or the immediacy of feedback to the player
  • Repeated cycles of suspense and relief, curiosity, and an increase in self-esteem
  • The fascination of becoming part of an alternative reality and playing a new role in simulations of spatial environments and/or interesting narratives.

“Enjoyment is the reason for players to begin, sustain, and repeat exposure to digital games.” (Schoenau-Fog, 2011)

James Gee describes key element of video games as, “a series of problems that you must solve in order to win.”

In this video, Rachel and Dan talk about using games to deepen and enrich thinking – both through playing and through creating them.

Rachel Bolstad
Link to video

Game-based learning and gamification are both trying to solve a problem, motivate, and promote learning using game-based thinking and techniques.

Once you know what kind of hardware you have at your disposal, you can begin to search for games. These are some mentioned by Rachel in her videos.

  • MinecraftEdu — a special version of Minecraft specifically for classroom use.
  • Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) – developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people. Play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard which threatens the survival of everything they have ever known.
  • Citizen Science — A time traveling adventure game about fresh water science.
  • Mission US — engages students in the study of transformational moments in American history. Each mission consists of an interactive game and a set of curriculum materials that are aligned to National Standards and feature document-based activities.
  • Civilisation – The game's objective is to "Build an empire to stand the test of time"

“After choosing a game, you have to play it. Really play it. Play it all the way through and make sure you know it intimately. When you engage with the game, you not only try to see the game from the perspective of your students, you also understand how the game presents the material. Before students play, teachers can introduce concepts in ways that resonate with the game. After students play, teachers can refer back to the game’s particular way of conceptualising an idea. When great teachers use the games to introduce and/or reinforce material, those games become another extremely effective classroom project or activity. In order to do this, teachers need to play the games themselves. Or even better, when time permits, play alongside your students.”
Jordan Shapiro et al, Mindshift guide to digital games and learning

I tried playing Never Alone. Nuna and Fox are in the Alaskan wilderness trying to find the source of a powerful blizzard. I made Nuna and Fox run and jump across icy gaps and snowy outcroppings, using each one's unique abilities to get through environmental mazes along the way. Fox can jump high, climb walls, and summon spirits to help them reach trickier spots. Nuna can push or pull objects and use a bolo weapon to shatter icy obstacles. Short videos called cultural insights unlock as you progress. People from the Cook Inlet community talk about what it was like to grow up in the region's unforgiving cold. Playing the game made me feel like I'd learned something about the people and history of southwestern Alaska. I think students would both enjoy solving the problems and learn things along the way. Having students with their own devices makes a huge difference to introducing games.

Whether you decide to implement a discrete learning game to teach a specific skill, or to gamify your entire learning process, hopefully the end-result is a more engaged and successful learning audience.

“I was the teacher who said no games in school because I was afraid people wouldn’t take me seriously if we were using games……….The one piece of advice, is that you’ve got to play.
Marianne Malmstrom – EDtalk

 It’s time to give games a try!!!


Iacovides, I. & Cox A. L. (2015). Moving beyond fun: Evaluating serious experience in digital games. Proceedings of the 2015 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI-2015). New York: ACM.

Schoenau-Fog, H. (2011). The player engagement process – An exploration of continuation desire in digital games. Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference: Think Design Play.


Ka ‘akama’ara ‘ua rāi tātou iā rātou – We will remember them

It is 2014, and I’m sitting at the Puanga Market in Avarua. Some of the locals are talking about the role of Cook Islanders in World War One. The tone is one of respectful remembrance. Many of our great grandfathers who returned did not speak about their experiences the horror and trauma of War — too much of a burden to share. An estimated 500 Cook Islanders and a significant number of Niueans served in WW1. This is a massive number for a country, which, at the last census, had a population around 15000. Most of them were in the Rarotongan Company, which served with the British in Sinai and Palestine as ammunition handlers.

Cook Islands celebration
Cook Islands commemorations in Porirua

It is ANZAC week 2015, and I am sitting in the Akapuanga Hall in Porirua at a Commemoration Ceremony. Names are being called out and descendants of those people are asked to come forward in remembrance of their tupuna. Most of us at some stage had been educated in New Zealand. There are questions. Why did we get involved? How were our people treated? Why were we not taught these things in school?

The impact of World War One on the Pacific Islands had a profound effect that still resonates today. It helped define how we Pacific Islanders viewed ourselves, and our relationship with the, then, British Empire, and New Zealand, its proxy in the region. It is essential to know this history if we are to understand who we are as people living in Aotearoa. From the legacy of the New Zealand occupation of German Samoa, and the subsequent inept administration in the post-War years — so appallingly inept that then Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised on behalf of New Zealand in 2002 — to the many who went, primarily from the Cook Islands and Niue, but also other Pacific nations including Kiribati, Tonga, and Fiji.

This history should be of interest to all who think it is important to understand our place here in the Pacific.

Enter the First World War project – a space that provides students with an opportunity to explore how the events and experiences of the First World War are relevant to today and the future, and support them to meet several New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa achievement objectives. Teachers can use these guides and resource packs to help students develop their own inquiries, and relate them to their everyday lives, communities, and aspirations.

WW1 website main page

The Māori-Medium side of the project has a specific theme relating to the Pacific. Themes will include: ‘Understanding our place in the Pacific’, ‘The Occupation of German Samoa’, and ‘The Role of Pacific Islanders in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force’. It will have a number of videos, student reference material, and teacher's notes that align with Te Anga Marautanga o Aotearoa.

Pasifika section of WW1 website

Keep an eye out as more content is added.


Hūmārie – an authentic response to cultural location

Kuirau Park, Rotorua
Fig. 1 Te Moana a Taokahu, Kuirau Park, Rotorua

To craft a curriculum

For the last five years I have had the privilege of working as a curriculum designer, armed with Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (partnership document to the New Zealand Curriculum) in one hand, and the voices of whānau in the other. Together with the school, we work to craft a curriculum that resonates with the voice and aspiration of whānau (including students, parents or caregivers, hapu, and iwi). At each school I enter bearing my personalised kākahu woven together with whakapapa (genealogical ties), reo (Māori and English), tikanga (my values and ways of doing things), and wairua (my sense of belonging and knowing). It is a humbling position. The role requires dancing between expert and amateur, worker and/or observer, and reflective practitioner or assertive advisor. At the heart of the work is the child, a future leader of the iwi. To design, craft, and shape a curriculum that leaves whānau in no doubt about what it means to achieve as Māori, feel success as Māori, and to know, do, and be as Māori in their eyes, is my role. Easy to roll off the tongue, and a challenge to create, but it is rewarding to give voice to mana whenua and the whānau.

The act of humbling oneself

Hikoi to see Makawe
Fig.2 Hikoi at Makawe

Hūmārie – the act of humbling oneself so that your importance is minimised and the status of another elevated.

As a facilitator, to be hūmārie is crucial. It is an unselfish act of invitation to view the world through a lens not of my own making or interpretation, but to experience it through whānau eyes. Hūmārie allows openness to the known and unknown, the seen and unseen, the visible context and the invisible message – I see you, I hear you, I know you. At the heart of all teaching and learning decisions is the child – ko te pūtake o te ako, ko te tamaiti. My act of ‘hūmārie, to mingle with the presence of their tupuna is the ultimate recognition that I can pay deference to a cultural lens other than my own.

A kākahu fashioned by heritage and tribal prestige

Hikoi to Makawe
Fig.3 Hikoi at Makawe

Hūmārie allows one to embrace a child’s whakapapa, his or her reo, his or her tikanga, his or her wairua. It is an understanding that each person comes wearing his or her own kākahu fashioned by heritage and tribal prestige. At the same time, it leaves a layer untouched that can then be feathered by the pride of those I work with in my role as facilitator, teacher, guide, learner, advisor. I wear humility on the inside as my constant tour guide to realise whānau aspirations for schooling, not through policy and practice as my first encounter, but touched by iwi memory and a strong sense of belonging. If my culture counts to me, then my act of hūmārie (humility) will show that theirs counts, too.

Cultural location

View from Pukeroa towards Ngongotaha maunga
Fig.2. View from Pukeroa towards Ngongotaha maunga

Cultural location is the pivotal factor in creating a culturally responsive curriculum that resonates with the localised voice of iwi. With your cloak of hūmārie you listen to the wind’s whispers, the bird songs and follow the flow of the waterways to their source in waiata.  Here is the sacral nature of environment. Location derived from the reo of the people, identity borne of environmental features and significant places that resound in ancestral exploits, all serving to immortalise placental belonging – tangata whenua – people born of the land. Pivotal to location are three pātai (questions):

  • nō hea? (where are you from?)
  • nā wai? (whom do you represent?)
  • ko wai? (from whose waters were you born from?).

Each school bears their own kākahu resplendent in the feathers of story, people, places, events and a language that honours those who have mana over the land.  Our role requires us to work collaboratively to weave the story of past, present and future in to a carefully crafted, collaboratively constructed curriculum. Why? Because this curriculum should exemplify the iwi and the tamariki who represent it. At every setting one common theme reverberates– a sense of belonging, identity, language and culture are at the heart of Māori student success.

Ngotea te wai o te kākahi

Ngotea te wai o te kākahi – draw nourishment from the nectars of kākahi.  A saying used by Ngāti Whakaue reminding us no matter where we may be in the world, home is where the kākahi lies. The kākahi are my GPS to home. Ko Whakaue te tangata. Ko Rotorua nui a-Kahumatamomoe te moana. Whakaue is my descendant ancestor. Lake Rotorua named for Kahumatamomoe, another eponymous ancestor whom I can lay claim to in my geneology.

You see, for me, the real business of cultural location is to shift teaching and learning to a model that truly enables whānau to become confident, connected and contextually welcome in the learning environment. Cultural location has the assumption that by being grounded in your own identity, language and culture, this then means that you are on an equal par to take a walk in another’s footsteps. As I sit here writing, I am saddened by the news of a relative’s passing. As the mamae (hurt) settles I can almost hear our kaikaranga calling him on to the marae for one last time.

Haere wairua mai ra e tama i runga i ō mātā waka, haeremai, haeremai, haeremai. Haeremai rā i runga i tō marae a Paratehoata-Te Kohea e, ki roto i te ahuru mōwai o Te Noho a Pū, e hika e…haeremai, haeremai, haeremai rā.
To our son, return to us now and bring with you all your ancestral connections so we may mourn as one. We call you home for one last time on to your ancestral marae, Paratehoata-Te Kohea. Our ancestor Tunohopu calls to shelter you within his warm embrace. Oh esteemed one, we salute you, we welcome you, we, your iwi, receive you with open arms.

I can hear our kaikaranga calling him on to the marae for the last time, the cry ancient, reaching across time to join together the spiritual and physical worlds in one space, the words woven as a spiritual cloak around him and his grieving whānau.

These words may seem out of place in this post yet your ingenuousness to its message is what counts for the culture I bring to meet with yours. Your openness to my voice laden with legacy and tradition is the one response that my heart will recognise, that my soul will rise to, that my being will open to as a mokopuna of iwi. By knowing the stories, significant tribal places, songs and words that express my tribal identity within the karanga, you can then immerse yourself in my world in a meaningful way.

As a facilitator, you bring your expertise to help weave their world into a distinctive curriculum reflective of the haukainga (home people) and cognisant of their needs.

Consider this as an approach to cultural location

So, if you want your curriculum culturally located within iwi story, here’s a few points you may want to consider, or that can affirm the great work you have already done:

H: Hūmārie
Humble yourself to listen to authentic whānau voice from kaumatua, kuia, whānau, ākonga

Ū: Ukaipō
Return to the bosom of their songs, stories, significant places, marae, maunga, awa/moana

M: Mōhio
Do an environmental scan of iwi, place, documentation, stories, know your curriculum document

Ā: Aroha
Neither expert or amateur, offer your kete of skills to potentialise their aspirations for schooling

R: Reo
Use reo ā-tīnana, reo ā-wairua, reo ā-waha, reo ā-rongo, reo ā-ngakau, reo ā-iwi to express it

I:  Iwi
“Ko te iwi te kura” The school is the iwi – Te Whānau a Apanui saying shared by Nehu Gage, 2012

E: ‘Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini’
My strengths come not as an individual but working as a collective


Tukua mai ki a piri, tukua mai ki a tata
kia eke mai ki runga i te paepae poto a Houmaitawhiti!
 Welcome to my world.

Fig.5 Tamatekapua

 Fig.6 View of Muruika

 Fig.7 View to Mokaia


Building partnerships online to improve a child’s learning

It’s encouraging to hear Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand state that they’ve seen a national shift towards e-portfolios in early childhood services becoming a norm over the last 3 years. As identified in CORE’s 10 trends for 2015, the e-portfolio provides teachers ‘with the ability to offer increasingly personalised, meaningful, engaging learning experiences for students. To track their progress… and to make informed decisions about strategies that are most likely to make a difference for that student.

I have been involved in an e-portfolio platform called Storypark as an advisor on behalf of CORE Education, and I’m very excited about the possibilities it provides the early years sector.

Children online

The community is key to a child’s development

As the saying goes, “It takes a community to raise a child”. Research shows that partnerships with families are a critical part of early childhood education (Mitchel. L, et al. 2006). A secure and user-friendly e-portfolio should support parents and teachers to communicate and work together to nurture the learning journey of the child.

In this world where generations and individuals are often separated by the pace and practices of modern-day life, e-portfolios can help overcome the increasingly common isolation felt by families. They do this by recognising a child’s individual interests, development, and strengths in a way that is potentially more accessible in time and place, therefore reaching a wider audience than their print-based equivalent.

One thing that has impressed me about the Storypark platform is how the community travels with a child from birth to school. Individual children’s development and current interests can be easily shared via photos, videos, audio and text. It supports important transitions and encourages continuity for the child while providing new insights and deeper understanding for the people that matter most in each child’s learning (e.g. parents, family, teachers and speech language therapists or other specialists). This information can be analysed by teachers and provide evidence to inform planning, reporting, and improve understanding of each child’s unique interests and abilities.

I’ve been working on the Storypark project for around three years now. It’s been impressive to see how effective it is in improving the holistic view of a child as well as strengthening the ability of teaching teams to work more effectively together. The immediacy with which information can be shared means parents, families, children and teachers are all able to respond to each others ideas, aspirations and knowledge of children’s current interests and strengths. Assuming teachers are alert and listening, this will make teaching and planning a good deal more responsive and intentional.

I thought I’d share with you the experiences of two early childhood centres. They exemplify how effectively teachers and families can utilise e-portfolios.

Two early childhood services’ experiences using Storypark:

Te Whare Whai Hua in Gisborne

Te Whare Whai Hua logo

Our early learning centre is located on a local high school premises, and we were established alongside a Teen Parent Unit to care for their young pepi (babies) as they continue their educational journey at a secondary level

We believe that Te Whare Whai Hua has a two-fold task:

  • To provide a friendly support base for young parents as they pursue their education and life journey. The values of aroha (love), manaaki (support) and whanaungatanga (kinship) are deeply embedded into our way of life here.
  • We believe that our tamariki (children) are uniquely special and aim to provide quality education and care to all those in our whānau (extended family).

It has been a huge challenge to ensure that we were able to implement these tasks to the highest quality levels. Surveys revealed that our parents were more likely to read a learning story or share comments on social networks as opposed to the templates we provided them here at the centre. We reviewed our practice and decided that e-portfolios could assist our kaupapa (purpose).

We have previously struggled to implement Te Whatu Pokeka: Kaupapa Maori Assessment into our programme.  But with Storypark we have used the Te Whatu Pokeka learning tags to document, highlight and celebrate our tamariki’s participation in our local kapa haka festival.  We were able to share this journey online with our entire whānau (extended family), and use these learning tags to link our children’s characteristics of confidence, leadership, pride, inner strength, sharing of knowledge, working through difficulties, whanaungatanga (kinship), whakapapa (genealogy/lineage), exploration, risk taking, displaying their cheekiness and having fun.

As Maori, these are what we value as a culture and understand that these are real characteristics our tamariki display through their personalities and play, and that they have been handed down to our tamariki through our Atua (ancestors), Maui-Tikitiki a Taranga.

Storypark provides exactly what we were looking for as an e-portfolio service. Its aesthetics ensure that our tamariki are highlighted and celebrated … it’s a real collaborative service.

Working with child on a device

Kanata Research Park Family centre

Our parents here at the Family Centre, have been enthusiastic; expressing how connected and engaged they feel in their children’s learning and to the curriculum since we started using Storypark. Extended family in parts of the world as far as Russia and China are sharing in stories and adding to the culture in our programs.

Here are results from an independent parent survey based on 37 responses.

  • 100% agreed Storypark is easy to use and navigate
  • 100% agreed the learning stories posted on Storypark communicate to them information about their child’s individual learning and development.
  • 65% have invited other family members to view their child’s Storypark profile.
  • 89% felt that they were more aware of weekly curriculum and learning opportunities being offered in their child’s program through using Storypark.
  • 95% felt more connected to their child’s program and learning since the Family Centre started using Storypark

Storypark has facilitated an evolution at KRP — changing how our educators make learning visible to the parents. We’ve looked closely and reflected on how we document, communicate and collaborate on the children’s learning journeys.

Going forward as a centre, we have begun to make use of a Storypark feature to facilitate professional conversations between staff. We have created a ‘room’ on the site for educators to post professional learning opportunities and topics for professional conversations.  We have begun our first professional learning opportunity; working on as a staff, using Storypark as a tool for collaborative conversation.

Children engaging online E-portfolios, of which StoryPark is one example, are transforming early childhood education practice in many ways. In addition to documenting narrative assessments of children, they are giving teachers access to a range of resources such as the ability to conduct mentoring, registration and appraisal requirements. They also offer added functions like the ability to filter and analyse different learning trends.

Sharing information between the centre and children’s families has never been so easy. We also know that positive outcomes for children are more likely to result when such partnerships are in place. However there is a caveat here. Although e-portfolios are a great tool, the depth and richness of assessment and reporting still hinges on the teacher's ability to deeply notice, recognise, and respond to learning.



Ten Trends 2015: Networked for Learning

The rising importance and influence of networked organisations is one of CORE’s 2015 Ten Trends.

Networked organisations

Educational institutions are by nature very reliant on the structures that give them their identity, and serve to support what they do and the way they do it. Schooling structures, in many cases, look quite similar to how they have appeared for decades – a set staffing hierarchy, single classroom designs, separate curriculum areas. Today, however, across many organisational structures, not just educational spaces, we are seeing structural changes occurring. These are deep-reaching changes that alter the way authority, capital, information, and responsibility flow in and beyond an organisation

In schools, this can mean changes to existing physical structures (as we see in the design of innovative learning environments), changes in power relationships (such as students and teachers sharing responsibility for learning and teaching), or the emergence of completely new structures (e.g. virtual schools in the cloud).

The fundamental shift is in the way we understand how information can be created, managed and shared. It is no longer the privilege of those at the top of a single organisation – nor of single organisations in isolation. Now, anyone can have a voice, make a contribution, and be part of a collaborative enterprise. Sharing practice, developing ideas and new knowledge need not be restricted to certain people, single places and localised spaces. Driven in part by digital technologies, everyone can expect to be able to be heard and to have a legitimate role to play.

A networked organisation is one that understands two key ideas:

  • that each person within that organisation can make a personal contribution to the evolution of the organisation.
  • Secondly, that the organisation itself is part of a global set of connections, groups and individuals, able to communicate with anyone and make visible its work.

In the New Zealand education system, we can see this trend emerging in new views on curriculum design, professional learning practices and reimagined schooling environments that aim to cater to diverse contexts for learning. The concept of ‘school as a network’ is seen in the shared leadership and design for student agency  at schools like Hobsonville Point Secondary School and the design of collaborative spaces such as those at Roxborough Area School.

The emergence of grassroots driven professional learning, such as #edchatNZ and #cenz15, that use networks beyond traditional organisations, reflects the demand of the individual to drive their own learning, rather than have it mandated. In this interview Danielle Myburgh, of Hobsonville Point Secondary School, describes #edchatNZ – a community of teachers on Twitter – and outlines the benefits of networking this way.

Social networks like Twitter are used in many ways, but the use of such spaces  for informal learning in a network of colleagues has become a powerful addition to educators’ personal learning networks, or PLN. These are people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning, based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value added information for the other. There is a tacit understanding among participants that the reason they are connecting is for active learning.

The open nature of environments like Twitter means these learning networks are open and public, increasing opportunities to collaborate, connect, and discover new learning opportunities. Educators are able to access the collective knowledge of their peers, engage in discussions, debates, conversations, and participate in collaborative projects whenever and wherever they like. This active participation depends on a degree of transparency, self-motivation, and an implicit willingness among participants to experiment with new ways of learning within an informal “networked organisation”.


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