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Tīmatanga – Inception

This term an exciting new adventure in teaching began – I am teaching in a ‘power of three’ collaborative team which is spread over four learning spaces! I am the newest team member and have had the pleasure of setting up the third and fourth ‘rooms’ in temporary accommodation (portable units) on the school site (the school is currently undergoing a large demotion and construction project).

There are limitations to space and available furniture but what I have noticed is that anything is possible if you are enthusiastic about what is unique. I had a definite “a-ha!” moment when I was contemplating the metal walls of the temporary buildings… they are magnetic! It was as though a world of possibility opened up and I immediately dug out the dusty box of magnetic letters to spell out some words of welcome on the wall.

Bringing a new learning space together in a limited time frame has also shown the value of “just in time” support. This is a rapidly growing school with a busy staff – finding the right person at the right time could be an impossible task. However, I have been on the receiving end of a generous amount of support as colleagues have stepped up to answer questions, source equipment, move furniture, share data, and I have even had coffee brought to me twice this week!

Everything that went well in the first week, in a nutshell:

  • Positive relationship building with colleagues, students and parents
  • Setting up new learning spaces which are safe and engaging to be in
  • Being put forward as my team’s rep for school-wide kapa haka
  • Setting professional goals with mentor teacher
  • Offering professional support for upcoming Enviroschool projects
  • Collaborating over student data in preparation for next week


Professional readings this week:


Whakamanawa – encouragement

Amazing words of encouragement and support from the people who saw the day to day effects of my teaching on their child… It was a privilege to work for them and with their children. The community as a whole were dedicated to supporting the children’s success at school, so having such positive feedback is really affirming. This post is meant as a heart-warming digest for me that I can look back on in the future.

“I have found Carolyn to be conscientious, well organised and professional. Carolyn has a caring nature and is personable and approachable. She has a calm and measured demeanour, but has a presence in the class which the pupils respect. Carolyn is not afraid to join the children in activities and has displayed an ability to laugh along with the children while taking part in games.
Carolyn has encouraged [our daughter] throughout the year not only in her education but in her personal development. [Our daughter] has matured and grown as a person over the last 12 months which in part, is due to Carolyn’s positive influence as a role model.
Carolyn is intelligent and thoughtful and has been a wonderful teacher.”

“During [2013] I have seen an amazing change in our son. He started the year on a remedial reading programme and was having difficulty generally with his learning in all subjects. [He] has just blossomed. He is now above the required level for his age for reading, he is confident with his reading and thanks to Carolyn has developed a confidence I never thought he would get in the classroom.
He is now very confident in his ability to nut out problems and discuss it with his classmates in all subjects in the classroom. He is probably a natural leader and Carolyn picked up on this very early in the year and has nurtured this quality in [him]. I am just so impressed with how she has looked at him as an individual and thought about what qualities he has and how to make them shine and in turn given him so much confidence and happiness in the classroom.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Carolyn for all she has done for [our son].”

“We would like to thank you for being such an awesome teacher. [Our daughter] has had a very happy and settled year in your class and has come home excited and enthusiastic about learning. She has loved your great sense of humour and jokes! It has been reassuring to me when I drop her off in the morning that you are so welcoming, calm and cheerful – nothing ever seems to ‘faze’ you. I have felt really comfortable that I could ask you anything (even the trivial stuff) about how [my child] is going at school – and I’ve appreciated how you have always been available before and after school to talk. You really seem to ‘get’ [my child] in a way other teachers haven’t.
So, let me take this opportunity, on behalf of [our whole family] to thank you so very much for teaching and inspiring [our daughter] this year to be the best she can be. You have made such a hugely positive impression on not just us, but the wider school community as a truly ‘inspiring’ teacher – and in only your first year of teaching. We believe you have a very good teaching career ahead of you and we do very much hope you will return […] at some point in the not too distant future.”

“Thank you for your amazing effort this year. [My son] is a sensitive child who can retreat easily into his shell, however this year you have encouraged and supported him in every way. He has blossomed. Under your care, his reading has gone from mediocre to WOW and so has his maths. If you had not pointed out to me his difficulties I would not have picked up his issues. So thank you for your attention to detail. Your calm but determined approach is to be commended, it has bought out the best in my child while not causing stress in these important years of learning how to learn.”

“I am very very disappointed that you have not been kept on at […]. I feel they are losing a valuable asset. A dedicated, hard working, intuitive and motivational teacher. I wish you all the best for the future and am envious of the school who hires you next.”


Each parent generously gave their permission for these letters to be shared.

Āwhina – asking for help

One of my biggest learning moments this year has come recently when my mentor and I began having regular structured PRT meetings. Prior to this term we have had a flexible and fluid arrangement that meant we could go for over a month without meeting about PRT specific topics. However, each one of those meetings would conclude with my mentor saying, “Remember you can come and ask me if you need any help.”

The recent change to our meeting arrangement has brought one very clear fact to the fore: I have never learned to ask for help. The ingrained habit of waiting until I need help before asking has meant that I have missed dozens of opportunities to ask for help simply because I want to be better at something and feel able to ask for support in achieving that goal.

The small but significant difference in what motivates people (ME!) to ask for help, I think, can be identified thus:

Asking for help when you need it usually stems from a fear of failure and is associated with a sense of self-doubt and, for me, a sense of being a pain in the ass for the person whom I am asking (and my method of asking for help is usually prefaced with a lot of apologising for needing help in the first place).

Example: “I just don’t understand why this isn’t working, so, I know you’re busy and I’m sorry to be a pain but I just don’t think I’m doing the right things and I’m not sure what to do to make a difference…” etc. Add some more self-depreciating apologies and excuses for not independently having the situation under control… This vague and confusing method of asking for help can result in frustration for both sides. (I know because I have been on the receiving end of this method myself!)

Asking for help when you want it, before you need it, feels different. It feels like asking how to be greater and more successful tomorrow than you are today, and is combined with a sense of aspiration and purpose. In the last few weeks I have learned that this type of asking is usually met with enthusiasm and can even be a compliment to the person you’re asking to support you – people, including me and teachers in particular, love to help – especially when you are specific about what you want to achieve. If the person you ask can’t help, they will generally direct you to someone who can when you use this approach.

Example: “I haven’t collected any evidence of meeting Registered Teacher Criteria #11. What would this evidence look like and can you help me identify some quality examples?” 

That’s it – simple and specific. I want this help, can you support me. There is no reason to feel like a nuisance if you are being responsible and proactively asking for help. This is a lesson (not just for teaching, but for life in general) I wish I had learned years ago. It makes all the difference to whether you have set-up your support network to wait at the bottom of the cliff, or whether you are working together co-constructing the wings you need to fly!

Ask... seek... knock

Ask… seek… knock

For information on high-quality co-constructed PRT induction click here

How do you ask for support and ensure you are reaching your aspirations, rather than just surviving? How are you teaching your students to ask for help in specific and constructive ways?

Tangata whenuatanga – who am I, where am I, and what is the nature of this place?

My place in the world is near the edge of Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere in Waitaha / Canterbury. Ngāi Tahu is the established name of the mixture of indigenous Māori tribes who came to reside in the Waitaha area. Before Ngāi Tahu’s 17th century migration the dominant tribe had been Ngāti Mamoe, who had themselves previously displaced the tribes of Hāwea, Rapuwai and Waitaha. It was the chief, Te Ruahikihiki, who established control over the Taumutu territory on the edge of Te Waihora, in conjunction with several chiefs who held territory to the North and supplied the Ngāi Tahu stronghold at Kaiapoi pā. Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki is now one of the five primary hapū of the Ngāi Tahu iwi. Historically Te Waihora has been an abundant mahinga kai teaming with waterfowl and sea-life and was guarded by the protective taniwha, Tūterakiwhānoa (Christchurch City Libraries, no date).

When considering place-based education, or more specifically Ngāi Tahu and Taumutu based education, teachers need to think about how students can develop understanding of themselves as a citizen in connection with this community. How does Ngāi Tahu/Taumutu fit in with the student’s perception of history and identity? How can teachers engage students with the concerns, customs and cultural ways of knowing of this community, and enable them to make connections to the ecology of Te Waihora? As Woodhouse & Knapp suggest (cited in Gruenewald, 2003) place-based education is inherently multidisciplinary and pathways from Ngāi Tahu/Taumutu to the New Zealand Curriculum can easily be found. It is the dynamic relationship between place and student that must be recognised and nurtured.

In order to establish and maintain student connection with Te Waihora, class groups must go out of the classroom and spend time there and learn what is of this place. These visits are opportunities to encourage students to make and share links of what they personally know of the place with their classmates, creating relationships with each other and the locality. There must be people in the community from Ngāi Tahu/Taumutu on site, to share their own knowledge of the place, for students to reflect upon, consider and connect with, an expectation that was voiced by Ngāi Tahu themselves (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 1996). This social sharing of knowledge and memories then becomes part of the students’ awareness of this place through multiple perspectives and exploration (Gruenewald, 2003). Rather than read about the history and significance of Taumutu from an objective perspective, students can go to Ngāti Moki Marae, built on the site of Te Pā o Moki (a pā built by Te Ruahikihiki’s son over 600 years ago), and see its proximity to Te Waihora in order to learn about its importance to Ngāi Tahu and the wider community, which will develop empathy and interest, and a foundation for reflection and inquiry.

In 1848, the land around Taumutu was sold as part of “Kemp’s Purchase”, the largest Crown purchase in New Zealand history which involved some 20, 000, 000 acres being ‘sold’ by Ngāi Tahu  for £2,000. The eastern edge of the purchase was contested by Ngāi Tahu almost immediately, as they had not consented to the inclusion of Te Waihora (or several other valued locations along the eastern coast). The Crown disregarded Ngāi Tahu’s right to the mahinga kai as it was seen to interfere with the civil drainage required for the immigrant settlements (Waitangi Tribunal , 2012). Te Waihora subsequently became polluted as Ngāi Tahu were no longer allowed to manage the water levels and the land was converted to pastures for the new European colonists. Irrigation canals were routed and livestock effluent entered the waterways. Because they have been a site of social, cultural and ecological disruption Taumutu and Te Waihora provide opportunities for rich place-based learning from social, cultural and ecological perspectives.

Gruenewald (pg.9, 2003) asserts that developing a critical pedagogy of place can “teach us how to live well in our total environments” and “identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places” (2003, p.9). Both aspirations are relevant in the New Zealand context which promotes the values environmental sustainability and bi-cultural identity. It would be impossible to separate the two values, as the landscape and ecology is so closely woven into the fabric of Māori identity, and the Pākehā identity has also formed over generations in response to colonist, indigenous and environmental experiences. 

Das (2008) adds weight to the argument for place-based learning by suggesting that education is not only for preparing children to become active citizens in the future, but can be used to enable their democratic participation now. This is not to suggest that students be burdened with a sense of political responsibility to solve every social, cultural and ecological problem, which is also warned against by Gruenewald (2003), but they can be inspired to feel an empathetic connection with one place where they can and want to make a positive impact.

In 1998, after nearly 150 years, the Ngāi Tahu grievance against the Crown was settled in one of the most significant settlements by the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal. The bed of Te Waihora was returned to Ngāi Tahu and Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki ki Taumutu were appointed primary kaitiaki of the lake, a role which is officially recognised by the local Selwyn District Council (SDC) and Department of Conservation (DOC) (Waitangi Tribunal , 2012). Over the last 14 years a number of joint initiatives between Ngāi Tahu, SDC, DOC and Environment Canterbury (ECAN), the regional management council, have been put in place for Te Waihora, in order to revitalise its historical, cultural and ecological values. More recently, Fonterra has stepped in with funding also to help the community revitalise this taonga (NZ Government, 2011). The social, cultural, ecological and economic value of Te Waihora is not questioned.

A purposeful initiative in action in the Taumutu area which addresses these values and offers educational opportunities is the revegetation of the Canterbury Plains by Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust. Students are invited to get involved with the project which aspires to develop a greenway from the Southern Alps to the sea, including the shores of Te Waihora. The community based project works alongside other environmental initiatives and has the support of Lincoln University scientists and governing agencies. Students are encouraged to design and develop native green space in their school as well as to volunteer at planting days where native plants are reintroduced to public areas, such as riverside recreation spots (Te Ara Kākāriki, no date). This one project can be linked directly with the aspirations Ngāi Tahu have expressed and documented for their children.

In response to the invisibility and reported achievement levels of their tamariki in education Ngāi Tahu developed Te Kete o Aoraki, a memorandum of understanding which specifically details how responsibilities and relationships between the iwi, schools, and Ministry of Education can be developed. Te Kete o Aoraki states Ngāi Tahu expectations that the school environment should ensure Māori students “have an understanding of the uniqueness of their takiwā/rohe” and “ be confident in themselves and in their identity as Māori” and provides a framework for schools and iwi to work together to achieve these expectations. (Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, 1996, p. 21). One of the suggested methods for achieving this is to utilise ‘real-life’ contexts for learning which are compatible with Ngāi Tahutanga, and the example of participation in enhancing mahinga kai is used. To fulfil their role in this framework, Te Taumutu Rūnanga has established relationships with the schools in their takiwā and have gone so far as to produce resources to aide schools teaching of Te Taumututanga, including He Tirohanga Ūara Nō Taumutu, a document which aligns Te Taumutu expectations with the New Zealand Curriculum. This document is made available to teachers employed in the schools in the Taumutu takiwā.

Christchurch City Libraries. (no date). Te Waihora. Retrieved August 12, 2012, from Te Kouka Whenua:

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, Vol. 32, No. 4, 3-12.

Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.

Te Ara Kākāriki. (no date). Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust. Retrieved August 19, 2012, from Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust:

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. (1996). Compulsory Sector Education. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu:

Waitangi Tribunal . (2012). The Ngai Tahu Report 1991. Retrieved August 18, 2012, from Waitangi Tribunal Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti O Waitangi:

tangata whenuatanga – placed-based education

Place-based education is, literally, beginning where students are at and adapting the curriculum to reflect and respond to their local environment in meaningful and relevant ways. Sobel (2004) describes place-based education as a process of engaging students in authentic learning contexts with their natural and social-cultural surroundings.

Developing an understanding of place-based education, and a pedagogical approach which supports it, requires teachers bring down the walls of the classroom, which are metaphorical and physical barriers to exploring the local community and the world beyond. Schools have traditionally been places of learning about canons of knowledge which have little relevance to the places students come from, play in and explore in their out of school time unless explicit links are made.

The doubt and uncertainty teachers can feel as they begin dabbling in place-based education is described by Foran & Olson (2008) who assert that assumptions about teaching, learning and classrooms can cause teachers to doubt the place-based process. Classrooms are the places were knowledge and skills are taught and learnt, and it can be difficult to disrupt the assertion that learning is somehow synonymous with the building in which it has traditionally occurred.

Foran and Olsen (2008) go on to describe situations in which place-based learning have been subverted by the assumption that abstract classroom based learning has more validity and authority than a student’s experiences. Penetito (2009) describes how this subversion was reflected in the dialogue Māori students, like himself, had with their parents, indicating that the, largely Pākehā-centric, school-learned knowledge was somehow more accurate and truthful than the views of the adults in the community and their histories.

Traditional education has trained students to separate themselves from the environment and communities in which they live, in order to view standardised learning content objectively and develop abstract thinking abilities. This disconnection has been experienced significantly by Māori students, and has been identified as a cause of academic underachievement. It has also been a focus of interest for scholars and iwi who seek to address this trend. Prioritising the establishment of culturally responsive learning environments where Māori students can engage in supportive relationships and authentic contexts is identified as a leading factor in rectifying Māori student disconnection in education  (MacFarlane, Glynn, Cavanagh, & Bateman, 2007).

Place-based education affirms student identity by providing the context where they develop understanding of themselves as an active citizen in connection with community, engage with concerns and customs of their community culture, and make connections to the history and ecology of their unique locality. Tātaiako describes the tangata whenuatanga competency, required by trained teachers, as the ability to affirm “Māori learners as Māori [by] providing contexts for learning where the language, identity and culture of Māori learners and their whānau is affirmed” (Ministry of Education, 2011, p. 4) and identifies place-based learning as an effective way of providing those contexts.

When stating the relevance of place-based learning Penetito (2009) refers to the tangata whenua relationships of ancestral connection, roles and responsibilities and the spatial metaphors adopted to illustrate how these concepts relate to the environment. Penetito’s statement that Maori practices of pepeha, ‘who am I, where am I and what is the nature of this place’, illustrate place-based ways of knowing is confirmed by the sentiments of Zucker (cited in Sobel, 2004) when he suggests the place-based process enables student to ask ‘where am I, what is the nature of this place’ and position themselves within the cultural and natural stories of that place.

Place-based education has clearly been identified as a culturally responsive pedagogy.

"Taupo carvings" CC image courtesy of Steve Gilham on Flickr

“Taupo carvings” CC image courtesy of Steve Gilham on Flickr

Foran, A., & Olson, M. (2008). Seeking pedagogical places. Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 2, No. 1, 24 – 48.

MacFarlane, A., Glynn, T., Cavanagh, T., & Bateman, S. (2007). Creating culturally-safe schools for Maori students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education Vol. 36, 65-76.

Ministry of Education. (2011). Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners. Wellington, NZ: Crown.

Penetito, W. (2009). Place- based education: Catering for curriculum, culture and community. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 18, 5-29.

Sobel, D. (2004). Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.

Mahi māra – to garden

Again and again in the classroom, my mind returns to gardening; not only because my own plot, so carefully tended last spring, is looking unkempt; but because it is becoming my metaphor for teaching. I have always thought of learning as a journey, but this is changing with everyday spent in the classroom I share with 24 amazing little people.

Initially, the gardening metaphor was applied to developing routines; I was referring to the constant restatement and reinforcement of the rules as ‘weed-picking’. “Got to get those weeds cleared before this garden can flourish”, I would cheerfully announce to other staff.

Then came goal setting and the new metaphor of growing towards the light. “We need a bright goal to strive for, something to guide us… Shine brightest on that which we want to grow…”. Which was of course quickly followed by praise being the water (of course), nourishing and nurturing these budding brain-fruits (do I sound like a loony yet?)

Then, today, I discovered an amazing brain-as-garden concept, used by an expert, which is based on research and facts!

Nathan Mikaere-Wallace has seeded the idea (see what I did there?) that
If the brain is a garden… then endorphins, released by singing, laughing and movement, are brain fertilizer; and that cortisol, released by stress, anger and fear, is weed-killer. 

In short, interactive FUN helps children’s brains to grow; and negativity is killing their brains! Negativity can be sparked by even innocuous comments (think of a parent asking the age-old question “And just what do you think you’re doing… insert first, middle and surnames here” in the most bowel-freezing tone possible – even a sudden “Don’t!” switches off the endorphin taps and turns the cortisol on full).

If my students are unsure of what is happening next, find the learning frustrating, or are always feeling that they (or anyone) are about to receive a bowel-freezing dose of negative attention; then they surely aren’t growing their brains / experiencing quality learning.

My goal for next week is to make sure I see every one of my little charges sing, laugh, and dance around each day to get those brain-fruits fertilising.


Cauliflower grown by author

Hātepe – proceed in an orderly manner

Four years of hard slog at University has paid off – a wonderful and supportive school just outside of Christchurch offered me the opportunity I’d been dreaming of and I am officially a teacher.

The first task I set myself was to write the mother of all to-do lists. There must have been at least 50 tasks on it – from ‘get a code for the photocopier’, right through to ‘arrange furniture’, and ‘organise reading groups’ (yep, I really wrote that – before I had even seen my class list). I am a list maker – I have lists for everything and anything.

The night before school began there was not a nervous twitch to be found – I had organised my students first week with military precision. The next day, it rained. Of course, rainy day activities were not on the list *sigh*

Lessons from week 1:

  • When working in a room with 24 other people (who are under the age of 8) things can often get away from the plan.
  • Students don’t want a perfectly planned programme anyway – they want to know their teacher is a human being who is interested in them and cares about what is happening in their lives.
  • Knowing how to set-up routines and expectations is far more important than making reading groups – reading groups aren’t going to work if the students don’t know what to do when they’re not reading!

Most importantly, try to enjoy every moment – planned and unplanned. That first week went so fast that I have only just had time to sit back and reflect on it, two weeks later.

“When you study great teachers... you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.” ― William Glasser

“When you study great teachers… you will learn much more from their caring and hard work than from their style.”
― William Glasser