Leading authentically and mindfully closes the gap between our intentions and reality. Being culturally responsive requires effort, and relational pedagogy is an experience best measured by those around you. It’s not what you say you do, it’s how others experience your decisions and actions that defines your leadership and ultimately leads to successful outcomes.
This post shares my learning from leading a Ministry of Education funded national project supporting the implementation of the revised curriculum Te Whāriki He whāriki mātauranga mō nga mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early childhood curriculum (2017). I was excited by the challenge and opportunity to work with others to develop new leaders, build unity through early learning networks, and strengthen practice across the sector.
Two recent events have prompted my reflection on how others experience my leadership and its relevance to my learning.
- The first is the name kaiurungi given to me by a colleague to describe my new role at CORE Education as navigator of the waka of the Early Years team.
- The second event is an expression of leadership portrayed in the image above by Ngāi Tahu artist Morgan Hale-Matthews, which was commissioned by a stunning group of wahine toa/strong women.
Part of my role included recruiting and leading 26 ngā Kāiaki Marautanga/Curriculum Champions to support the implementation of Te Whāriki across Aotearoa. This taonga/art piece was presented to me at our final hui along with some stories and recollections of my leadership. The korowai/cloak adorned by 26 feathers represents each curriculum champion. The image and their tribute are dear to my heart and reminds me of our shared experiences, and my learning, and acts of leadership. When I look at this image and hear the name kaiurungi/navigator, I think about two things — my leadership intentions and others’ experiences of my leadership.
The context — Leading a project on the implementation of the revision of a highly acclaimed and treasured curriculum, Te Whāriki, was daunting. The kaupapa demands a compelling vision for all children in Aotearoa. I entered a new work environment with different systems and online tools, developed and led a national team, worked in partnership with the ministry, and engaged with diverse perspectives across the country. One of the hardest things was the high expectations and, at times, polarising feedback from a very interested ECE sector. I quickly became overwhelmed and consumed with worry.
My story and what helped? I will focus on the following four areas that are important to me and have guided me in my leadership practice.
● Self-efficacy and emotional intelligence
● Authenticity and leading mindfully
● Acting with purpose to ‘be’ culturally responsive
● Relational [online] pedagogy
What does it look like, feel like, and sound like?
Self-efficacy and emotional intelligence: My previous learning and focus on self-awareness helped me to be resilient and adaptive in this situation. Being successful in leadership has been linked to having a strong sense of self efficacy and emotional intelligence. Self-efficacy is more than having confidence, it means believing in your own abilities. This required me to think about and define what success for me looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
Goleman (2018) considers emotional intelligence one of the most significant success factors in the context of leadership. This includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Goleman suggests we check in with others and warns against only going by your own sense of how well you do. We all have blind spots when considering our own strengths and limitations — from the very humble to the ego driven personalities. He recommends seeking an evaluation of your emotional intelligence from people who work with you, know you well, and whose opinions you trust.
New pathways and insight are created by being open to feedback and a review of your work. Having the courage to ask for help was a defining moment for me that resulted in a shift in mind-set. I began to see things differently, changed my expectations, reprioritised, and intentionally moved into a space of uncertainty that, overtime, became comfortable. Constantly consolidating, chunking things down, adapting my ideas, and checking in with others became a useful strategy. Some advice I received was to use my connections and the people around me well. When you actively work to create a culture of respect and seek input from others, you increase the intelligence of the group. This created powerful learning moments. At times, feedback or a different perspective would stop me in my tracks and lead to a greater understanding. Acknowledging my learning and understanding my emotions and reactions helped me to be strong enough to change my mind, be less planned and scripted. What does it look like, feel like, and sound like to be agile and responsive?
Authenticity and leading mindfully
You don’t own your thoughts
Hold ideas lightly
Dr Kate Thornton provided a guest webinar on Leadership for Learning. She talked about the capability of authenticity. For me, being authentic means being true to yourself, honest with others, and aware of your influence and impact. Being vulnerable and in control of your emotions can lead to deeper learning opportunities. Alongside this is awareness of context and maintaining perspective. As leaders, we can spend a lot of time in our heads — thinking, reflecting, analysing, perfecting, re-visiting past events, and planning our responses. Whilst reflection and self-awareness are necessary, I learnt first-hand the impact of spending too much time in my head and worrying too much. This worry and overthinking is counterproductive and gets in the way of action, creativity, and seeing what you need to see. Investing in self-awareness and surrounding myself with different viewpoints helped me to lead in different and unchartered waters. Several points in the book, Leading Mindfully (Sinclair, 2016), resonated with me — most especially, the idea of getting out of my head. The strategies and suggestions in this book helped me to recognise when I was stuck, to understand my reactions and to let things go more quickly and move through things lightly. This freed me up to focus on what really matters.
Acting with purpose to ‘be’ culturally responsive
Another of the capabilities that Dr Kate Thornton referred to was having a clear vision and purpose. The project had clear deliverables and was based on a new model of teachers teaching teachers in a mostly online environment. My role and our vision was to grow others, build leadership capability, and create a new layer of leaders for the sector. This required deliberate and purposeful strategies. I talked with others, read about online pedagogy, and learnt about effective ways to develop an online community of practice. An important consideration was how can I lead and maintain a relational approach in an online space to build capability. My own vision and priority is to enact my responsibilities as a Tiriti partner. To be my authentic self, this situation could be no different. My cultural competence is always evolving and in recent years I have set myself a challenge:
when I know more, I do more
I no longer have excuses; I equip myself, challenge myself, and embrace the feelings of being a learner who is open to feedback and who may get it wrong, but tries. I feel the nerves and do it anyway. My professional responsibly as an educational leader is to role model respectful tikanga, use te reo Māori, and create opportunities and encounters for others that validate Māori as Māori. The idea of acting with purpose is a great way to ‘be’ culturally responsive. Promoting whanaungatanga and demonstrating tikanga-a-rua became a deliberate decision. With strong views and importance placed on kanohi kitea/the seen face, we had a big job to do — the kaupapa was Te Whāriki.
After 200 years of educational history Māori was, for the first time, being given the opportunity to influence a new curriculum that would touch the minds of future New Zealanders
Ngā Kaiaki Marautanga/Curriculum Champions and CORE Education Early Years team at a hui with special guests Sir Tamati and Lady Tilly Reedy. Photo used with permission from CORE Education | Tātai Aho Rau.
Relational pedagogy — Leading a team in a mainly online environment
Working alongside the curriculum champions in an online community of practice was a highlight. At the beginning, there were mixed views about the online component as it was a new experience. I came to appreciate the way digital technology could afford us different and equitable opportunities to meet anywhere, anytime, across Aotearoa. I needed to overcome my own reservations, have an open mind, and inquire into the possibilities of online tools and platforms. We created a supportive and predictable routine of meeting online weekly, and I developed a regular post ‘from Kathryn’ to keep the group engaged and connected on CORE’s online platform Edspace. Building relational trust is what made the difference. Kaiako felt comfortable enough to be honest and ask for help. We were patient with each other. We struggled at times and celebrated in each other’s success.
Below is a breakdown of some of the ideas and strategies that we used to support online engagement and promote cultural responsiveness through a relational approach that was based on CORE’s Tātai Aho Rau values.
Whanaungatanga: relationships, identity, and whakapapa — What we focus on grows. At the forefront of our minds was people and place. Who do you bring with you? was suggested by one kaiako as a way to introduce ourselves for the first time. The success of our mahi was in the strength of our relationships.
Manaakitanga: an ethos of care and agency as a stimulating kaupapa — Establishing our tikanga and way of being through regular connection inclusive of all. Taking the role of hosting seriously and checking in with each other to share, console, and celebrate our achievements was important.
Co-constructing the agenda by being vulnerable ourselves as learners and engaging in dialogue we could hear what was on top and be responsive to new ideas, and experience just-in-time learning.
Wairuatanga: acting with moral purpose and connecting with heart — ensuring the uniqueness and wellness of each person is nurtured spiritually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
Kaitiakitanga: maintaining the integrity of the kaupapa. Harnessing the collective wisdom of the group to learn and share our ideas and culture about past, present and future. We needed to preserve and protect the kaupapa and its foundations, and be genuine in our engagement, so our time together was efficient, beneficial for all, and added value for future citizens of Aotearoa
My focus was building pedagogical leadership capability for effective curriculum implementation. My approach and intention was to be relational and role model cultural responsiveness as a starting place for having conversations about practice.
My experience taught me to keep getting to know myself, trust in my own abilities, value immensely the contributions and mentoring of others, and seek different viewpoints and perspectives.
● How do you intend to lead?
● How do you think you are going?
● What do others think?
● How do you really know?
Intentionally entering into an uncertain space required me to think differently and be well equipped. It is complex and comes from within, but it is also about understanding your context, being clear about the purpose, and taking action.
I want to finish with the following by Jan Robertson that aligns with my own views about effective leadership as a way of being.
Effective educational leaders:
are self-aware. They know their values, beliefs and assumptions about life, leadership and learning, and are critical, deep thinkers about how these perspectives impact on their leadership. They seek feedback;
know how to learn deeply from their everyday work of leadership, and they know how to enter relationships as a learner to create new knowledge and inspire vision for what might be;
know they are system leaders, not kura, kindergarten, or school leaders … they collaborate together with other leaders, within and across contexts, to think, and to transform the system of education;
understand the importance of partnership in relationship, and know how to partner in leadership, in learning and as Treaty partners …
are emotionally, socially, culturally and cognitively intelligent and responsive in their practice. They are ego-less in leadership and can build capacity in leadership by developing themselves and others around them. They see this as important leadership work;
are creative, informed thinkers who cross boundaries to seek and explore new places and spaces of learning and knowledge and inspire others to do the same as they continuously focus on the quality of teaching and learning;
are confident and intentional in leading transformative change, underpinned by a strong moral purpose for equity and future-focused learning opportunities;
are digitally confident and competent in e-learning communities and understand the potential of technology, networks and connectedness for enhancing learning;
are comfortable with ambiguity, complexity and not-knowing as they learn and adapt within their leadership practice.
(Robertson, 2017, p. 16).
CORE Ministry Video. (2018, July). Dr. Kate Thornton [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/277217640/7cad45e26f
Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand Matatū Aotearoa. (2017). Five Think Pieces. Retrieved from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Five%20Think%20pieces.pdf
Goleman, D. (2018, March 1). Do You Make This One Big Mistake About Emotional Intelligence? [Linked in]. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/do-you-make-one-big-mistake-emotional-intelligence-daniel-goleman/
Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga (2017). Te Whāriki He whāriki mātauranga mō nga mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early childhood curriculum. Wellington, NZ: Author.
NZEI Te Riu Roa. (2016, November 9). Te Whāriki turns 20 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_3870276665&feature=iv&src_vid=xJOv5U3J7VQ&v=tyAQdhP69XY
Robertson, J. (2015). Think-piece on Leadership education in New Zealand In Leadership for Communities of Learning. Retrieved from https://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Five%20Think%20pieces.pdf
Sinclair, A. (2016). Leading Mindfully: How to focus on what matters, influence for good, and enjoy leadership more. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Te Whāriki Online. (2018). Spotlight: Leadership for learning. Retrieved from https://tewhariki.tki.org.nz/en/leadership/
Waka: Shared with permission from Ngāi Tahu artist Morgan Hale-Matthews
Dr Kate Thornton online: Shared with permission from Dr Kate Thornton guest webinar.
Spotlight: Leadership for Learning: Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga: Spotlight:Leadership for Learning
Curriculum Champion team and CORE’s Early Years team photo: CORE Education
Latest posts by Kathryn O'Connell-Sutherland (see all)
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