Saturday, October 8, 2022

Akoako@TeKura - Our Online Community of Practice - More than halfway!

 We have had a term of two sessions twice a day in Weeks 3, 6, and 9 and have been reflecting on the impact of Akoako@TeKura in general and specifically the extra sessions. What has the impact been on the Community of Practice at Te Kura. Is it becoming a way to create a sense of community and connection? 

Sessions in Term 3

Our sessions this term have focused on creating a sense of belonging at Te Kura and the part that each and everyone of us has to play in that. We can say we don't feel a part of something, but what can we do to change that - to be solutions-focused, rather than only seeing the problem? What are the opportunities that have popped up as the result of something we've noticed?

The focus questions for the Term have really challenged us to go deeper - to think more critically about how we can continue to be part of the change we want to see...and be.  You can see an example of some of the questions below with the related Mātāpono in brackets:

  • What does belonging look like at Te Kura?  
  • What does it feel like, sound like, taste like, smell like? (Whakamana, Whaitake) 
  • How do we create a sense of belonging for our ākonga and their whānau at Te Kura? What are all the rauemi/resources we have available to do this? (Kotahitanga, Whakamana, Māramatonutanga) 
  • How do we create a sense of belonging for kaimahi at Te Kura? What do we do now and what are the possibilities for the future? What are the possibilities? (Māramatonutanga, Kotahitanga, Whaitake)
  • How can individually do something to create a sense of belonging at Te Kura? (Whakawhanaungatanga, Māramatonutanga)  

Here is what we've explored in Term 3

Every time we create a session, our focus is always to connect to who we are at Te Kura. 

We've picked up a few new leaders, which is fantastic and have more people interested in running sessions in the future - lots of ideas for future sessions are added to the Jamboard. The beauty of using this tool is that once it's opened, it stays in your Google Drive and can be accessed anytime, anywhere. It is really exciting to see when people in our CoP add ideas at times outside of the main session.

We have deepened our focus and connection to our Ngā Mātāpono as discussed in a previous post. This has had an impact on the level of discussion. This is mostly in the chat and on the Jamboards. I think our next - and most important - focus for the community, is to find ways to encourage people to have the confidence to share with cameras and microphones on - this is the challenge of having a solely online Community of Practice...but we are up to the challenge! 

Friday, July 8, 2022

So, Why is a CoP so Important and Valuable?


I've written a previous post on Reflective Practice and Communities of Practice - a warning: it's a long one! It goes into detail about the power of reflection in a CoP and includes thoughts on how important the Key Competencies are. You can read it here

As I looked back at that post from 2016, I made many connections to what we are working to achieve at Te Kura. I know how powerful CoPs can be when they are designed well and work well. As part of this - and underpinning it - at Te Kura we have our Ngā Mātāpono/values, which I've also reflected on in a prior post: Looking Back to Look Forward.  In Akoako@TeKura we are focused on creating sessions that are underpinned by these values so that our people can see Ngā Mātāpono in action and explore them in the context of the discussions.

Our community continues to grow and it has been exciting to see the level of confidence growing in our participants. 

A question came up about why we wanted to share the invitation to the sessions with ALL staff. The reason behind this is that it shouldn't only be about our teachers if we are going to be a true CoP - all voices need to be heard and have much to offer. As an example of this, I remember many years ago when I first became interested in CoPs and we made sure that all of the staff at our school, from our caretaker through to the Principal was involved and invited to sessions. Some of the most powerful changes we made to our teaching practice came from discussions with our people who weren't teachers. I'm pretty passionate about including everyone, particularly if we are to live our values - our Ngā Mātāpono. 

Ngā Mātāpono are our principles that guide our practice but they are also how we want to be. 

Discussions in the second part of the year have included the following:

Term 2

What's Your Why? Simon Sinek

Everyone is a Change Agent

Be a Change Agent - Teachers as Change Agents

Where to Next?

We still get requests to record the sessions, but are sticking to our guns on this one. We have made sure that everyone knows that they can still access the rauemi/resources, Jamboards, extra within our learning platform and that is helping a little bit. It's still a challenge for us and I'm not sure we have the answer yet. The power of being live -and not recorded - is the interaction, comments in the chat and the connections that are formed during each sessions between people. I still think we would lose that if we recorded and I definitely believe we would lose some of the trust and openness. 

We have, however, listened to people who have really struggled to get to the 8.00am session. If we want to be a truly inclusive community, we needed to address this so, from Term 3 we are moving to twice-daily sessions, three times a term. The second session will be a lunchtime one from 1.30pm - 2.15pm. 

It will be interesting to see the impact the second session has. This is such an important aspect of creating a strong and effective CoP - listen to voices. Your people own this community, find ways to make it theirs. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Creating a Community of Practice in a Special Space

 I've written before about Communities of Practice and how powerful they are in all spaces, whether the community is one involving ākonga(students), or adults - or even better, ALL ages and stages.  See here, here, and here for a few previous posts. 

The power of a well-designed CoP means that it is a space for all voices to be heard, they have a place and space to contribute and it is not reliant on a certain level of experience. Everyone has something important to offer.

Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu

At Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School, we are spread across the whole of Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond, so it can be challenging to find ways to create a sense of community. From the time I began teaching at Te Kura, I quickly became focused on how I could help create this sense of community through something like a Community of Practice as I had in many previous spaces I had worked in as well as during my Masters' study.

The perfect opportunity arose this year when I took on a new role as a Kaiarahi-a-motu - National Leader of Learning in the Curriculum Wāhanga (team). Another kaiako (teacher) was also interested in creating an online group of some type - a book group or club - to focus on professional learning and development as well as personal growth and development, and so the plan began.

We are a term into the group now. Akoako@TeKura has become our online community of practice where we can share and collaborate in a safe space. Currently, there is one session in Weeks 3, 6, and 9 of the Term. The sessions are a 'Breakfast Club' and run from 8.00am - 8.45am.

Our format is the same each time:

  • Pre-reading or viewing - never longer than 15-20 minutes at the most (often a TEDTalk or TEDxTalk)
  • Focus questions to prompt thought and discussion for our sessions
We also have other rauemi/resources available if our people want to delve deeper into the topics. These are released on the day of the sessions so that we don't overwhelm people beforehand.

The sessions are never recorded - even though we've been asked many times to do this. We have been firm in our thinking on this as we wanted to create a safe and open space where people don't feel constrained in what they can share by the fact of it being recorded. This has meant that we have had some incredibly personal stories shared and we've been really humbled by this. A well-designed CoP relies on being underpinned by a sense of respect and trust and I think we have worked hard to develop this.

During the sessions, the focus is on discussion and creating new learning together - another important aspect of a CoP. We start with an icebreaker - often just a quick thought-provoking or funny video. We then open a Jamboard - we have one for each session and they are consistent in format so that people know what to expect:

3 Important Points (from what we've read, watched, etc)

Something that Squares with Your Beliefs or Practice

Something Still Circling Around Your Head (thoughts, wonderings)

A Call to Action

Moving Forward - Ideas for Future Sessions (to give a voice and choice/agency in what we share and learn about)

One of our other main goals was to create opportunities for leadership in the CoP - another important part of a well-designed CoP. We are gradually widening the group of leaders in the space and this is something that we will always have as a goal and focus. 

Everyone has something to offer and contribute in a CoP

Some of the topics for discussion in Terms 1 have included:

Two-eyed Seeing

My Identity: Mana: The Power in Knowing Who You Are - Tame Iti

Where to Next?

Heading into Term 2, we are focusing on leadership and knowing our 'why' or purpose in what we do at Te Kura. One of our main goals is to increase participation and ownership of the community. It is already strong but we know we can do so much more to create this sense of belonging and ownership. We've already increased the number of people who are keen to develop sessions and lead with us supporting. Our goal is still to create a CoP where people know they belong and are keen to take leadership of discussions with us in support roles. 

Stay tuned! 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

All You Have Is Time - So How Are You Using It?

The title of this post is credited to the amazing Jase Te Patu, (Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Tūwharetoa), one of the Keynote Speakers at uLearn21. Jase is a leader in the field of Mindfulness for Children and wellbeing.

Jase helped us to explore Te Whare Tapa Whā and challenged us in such an honest and open way to really look deeply at what we are doing in our lives that stops us from having a balanced Whare. The meaning of Hauora is Hau-o-rā - the "vital essence of the sun." It is all about energy and balance. 

In 2019, Jase spoke at TEDxWellington. This is the recording from that conference.


Wellbeing at Te Kura is central to everything we do - not only for our students, but also for ourselves. We have regular PLD around Wellbeing utilising the work of Lucy Hone and Denise Quinlan. Te Whare Tapa Whā is frequently explored at our Huinga Ako and forms an important part of My Korowai. If we don't focus on our wellbeing, learning and teaching can't happen successfully for anyone. 


Each week at Te Kura we have our Huinga Ako. These are usually face-to-face, but are all online at the moment due to the Lockdown in Tāmaki Makaurau. I wanted to be able to take what I've been learning over the course of the year at Te Kura and combine what I had learned from Jase.

At today's Huinga Ako, we used the same activity that Jase did with us. I created the four pou (pillars) on a Jamboard and we discussed what each of the pou could mean for us in terms of our Hauora this Term. What are some of the things we can do to take care of our pou over the course of the Term? We related this to our Ngā Mātāpono. 

Here is what we've come up with so far. The most exciting thing for me? The fact that this was a group of students supporting each other's Te Whare Tapa Whā, and that they were still online tonight adding to their kete of tools to look after Te Whare Tapa Whā. We will continue to revisit this and develop our kete for each one. Jase challenged us to do this. Do we go back to our kete enough? Do we support others enough to revisit their kete? Wellbeing is a team effort. 

A final thought from Jase - and this one really hit home for me:

"We spend two minutes on our dental health but some of us no minutes on our mental health." 

What are you going to do this Term to balance the pou on your Te Whare Tapa Whā? 

"Make [your] wellbeing a MUST each day."

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Citizen Science in an Online Learning Environment

During the uLearn21 Conference, I attended two sessions on Citizen Science. This is an area that has really piqued my interest - probably because I've held a long-time interest in flattening the classroom, connecting with mentors, and finding opportunities for learners to connect with the world around them.

I've had a long time connection with ePals in the past. This is an amazing platform where you can connect with people from all over the world, share learning and teaching and also experiences. We even had a shared Wikispace - remember those! - where everyone collaborated on their learning. It was about 2010 and exciting times.

Attending the two sessions on Citizen Science brought back a lot of the excitement I had for those days. The first session was a short taster session presented by Carol Briesman and Cathy Bunting. They provided a fantastic summary of what Citizen Science is:

"...scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration or under the direction of professional scientists and science institutions." (Eitzel, Cappadonna, Santos-Lang, Duerr, Virapangse, West, et al., 2017).


  - Access to mentors

 - Access to larger data samples to work with

 - Being part of the scientific process

 - Grow science capabilities and connect to the Science community

 - Encourage students to 'think like Scientists'

 - Build student agency / whakamana

 - Exploring possibilities in terms of future careers and, most importantly,

 - The chance to make a difference in the world.


I must own up to having a bit of an obsession with Design Thinking and the opportunities it offers our students to connect with the world around them and make a difference. Empathy is a key component of Design Thinking and this also kept coming through in the presentations on Citizen Science.

This is a nice summary of what Design Thinking is....

This is a great summary of what Design Thinking can DO - especially when learners run a project....

This was a Makerspace Project at a previous school. I supported students to learn the skills and we learned more about the Design Thinking Process by working together to create an awesome space - The Creator Ops STEAM (named by the project lead - one of my 13 year-old students). 


We are currently in Level 3 in Tāmaki Makaurau - and we're not sure how long for. I teach at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School, where we are mostly an online school with face-to-face catchups once a week when we are at Level how can I make something as powerful as this work? What do I need to do as a teacher to make this work and how can I use my experience as a blended learner and teacher to make a difference in the learning of my students?  We also have a Citizen Science Module available for our students - how can I use this and extend the learning from this starting point?

The second person who presented was Matt Boucher from Thorndon School in Wellington. Matt shared what he has been working on for quite a while with a range of students and contexts. The more projects he shared and explained, the more ideas I had for how this could work in our context at Te Kura. Matt's passion for what he has created really gelled with my Teacher Inquiry and the questions I have around bringing more Science into an online learning environment and how that could possibly work well. 


 My next steps will be to explore the resources at the links below, and watch the recording of the uLearn21 sessions again. From this, I will develop a plan that fits in with my Teacher Inquiry around bringing more Science into our learning environment at Te Kura and how that can happen no matter what the situation. My big question is around how we capture the real time excitement around experiments and thinking like scientists. I think Citizen Science could provide most of the answers for this question.

Exploration Links

Science Learning Hub - Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

                                              Science Learning Hub - Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

National Geographic - Citizen Science

                                            National Geographic - Citizen Science

National Geographic - Citizen Science Projects

                                                     National Geographic - Citizen Science Projects

Citizen Science New Zealand - Facebook Group

                                                      Citizen Science New Zealand FB Group

These will be enough to kick off the exploration and thinking as well as ideas for how we can make this work in our particular learning environment. Stay tuned! 


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Aotearoa e tōnui nei | Thriving Aotearoa uLearn21

The theme of uLearn21 was Aotearoa e tōnui nei - Thriving Aotearoa. I am always excited about uLearn and have been attending for many years. Due to our current situation in Aotearoa, this year's conference was online. My excitement was tempered a little bit by Tāmaki Makaurau heading into Week 8 - or is it 9? - of our current lockdown. We've had four so far and this has been the longest. I'm always a bit of a Pollyanna, but this one is even getting on my nerves, so I wondered if I could be as enthusiastic as I have been in the past about the incredible learning that is uLearn. I needn't have worried. You know that saying about 'something you didn't know you needed?'  I always know that this is a conference I need, but this year's one had something extra special. It came along at the right time and has given so many of us an incredible boost, along with awesome tools that we can incorporate into our practice. 

Most importantly, it made us think, question, reflect, and have a driving need to take action. The four keynote speakers, alone, created so much energy that the ever-present focus on lockdown just disappeared.  There was so much incredible food for thought over the two days that there will need to be many blog posts to not only reflect on what I heard but importantly, to reflect on what action I will take in my life and teaching practice to make and support changes needed - not only personally, but also in terms of Education in Aotearoa. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to learn and teach in a kura that is already so well on the way in this journey of thriving. 

As a bit of a taster, here is one of the Keynote Speakers presenting at a recent TEDxWelington. Jase Te Patu has a very special way of connecting with his audience and challenging us to be more and do more. 

                                             Jase Te Patu (Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa)
                                             TEDxWellington 2019

Having an online conference has many benefits including:

 - People who dislike crowds can participate more confidently;

 - If you have hearing loss, you are more than ably catered for - the sign language interpreters often stole the show!

 - As all sessions are recorded, there is plenty of time to be able to go back and revisit those that really got you thinking and, importantly, to be able to watch the sessions you weren't able to attend because you were at another incredible session.

As a conference that is inclusive, this is a fantastic example. 

Although the theme was #ThrivingAotearoa, I noticed another theme that seemed to run through nearly every session I attended - and also the ones I've watched since - the theme of space. Space to think, space to dream, space to be listened to (and heard), space to be individual and unique self, space to just be.  This theme, particularly in the current challenging climate seems to me to be just as important as the main theme. 

Perhaps it is this 'space' for what we need individually that leads to us thriving? What space do you need this Term to be able to thrive?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Looking Back To Look Forward -




2020 has been a year of many things to many people. For many of us, it has changed our focus and we are reevaluating what is important to us.

After many years of not being able to work full-time and of thinking that my career and love for teaching was in the past due to various health issues, a corner was turned and 2020 has turned out to contain so many more positives that any other year to date.

This year, I was hired to work at a very special school - Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School. This is Aotearoa New Zealand’s Correspondence School, but it is not the Correspondence School of old. This is a truly innovative and ākonga-centred learning and teaching environment that has our ākonga firmly at its heart. Our philosophy is as far away from a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy as you can get. We have a ‘one size fits one’ philosophy. You hear it in the daily conversations with colleagues, ākonga and their whānau. You see it in our actions.


We have just changed to a continuous reporting system

Instead of report-writing twice a year which, in actual fact, causes a lot of disruption to learning and teaching and with a finished report that is generally out of date by the time it reaches our ākonga and their whānau, we have ongoing learning and teaching where feedback and feedforward is ongoing and seamless. (ADD MORE and link to articles, research and Te Kura website)


Ngā Mātāpono are the principles we follow. They guide us in everything we do.

and it is at the heart of everything we do.

The five Guiding Principles also include two Capabilities and Dispositions each that we want to support our ākonga to develop. Together, these are:

Kotahitanga - Care / Resilience

Whaitake - Curiosity / Contribution

Whakamana - Agency / Optimism

Māramatonutanga - Sense Making / Creative Thinking / Innovation

Whakawhanaungatanga - Collaboration / Connection


My Korowai is our cloak which links past to present and to the future. It is never finished as new learning, experiences and connections help to grow and strengthen it as it envelopes our ākonga. It is our ‘connector’ if you like. It tells the story of all the different parts of the learning journey our ākonga are on.


Big Picture Learning is all about personalising learning and keeping our ākonga (learners) at the heart of everything we do. It's about connecting learning to the real world and finding opportunities to support our ākonga to find their way in the world. It is Inquiry Learning or Problem Based Learning at its best.

This form of learning and pedagogy is my passion and I am incredibly excited about the coming year and how I can incorporate these changes into learning from and with my ākonga.

We are constantly evolving and it is an exciting ara to be on.