column | Community

What New Zealand Schools Have Accomplished with Autonomy and Community-Building

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Jan 18, 2017

What New Zealand Schools Have Accomplished with Autonomy and Community-Building

What can the U.S. borrow from New Zealand's schooling system?

A few months ago, EdSurge’s own Betsy Corcoran traveled to New Zealand, where she sat down with Pete Hall. Back then, he served as the Educator Engagement Lead for the Network for Learning (N4L), and prior to that, as principal at Upper Harbour Primary School. Right now, Hall is the newest principal of the Taupaki School.

Corcoran spoke with Hall about New Zealand’s schools, and discovered a few unique facts—including the reality that standards aren’t the be-all, end-all of schooling in New Zealand. In fact, the schools place a huge emphasis on bringing the community into the running of programs like makerspaces, and offer students a sense of autonomy that you don’t always see in standards-obsessed systems.

Here’s a Q&A excerpt from the transcript. For the full interview, check out the EdSurge podcast below.


EdSurge: New Zealand, on the one hand, faces some of the same education issues that we talk about in the United States. Yet, you have some amazing features in your schools. We had a chance to visit two schools, in particular. I would love to have you share a little bit about the Taupaki School, which is a small country school. What is particularly special about what Taupaki has been doing?

Hall: I think most people who learn about Taupaki see the amazing stuff they are doing around makerspaces, bringing the community in, and getting kids involved from other schools. They are busing kids from other schools to come in and use their amazing resources.

I think what they are doing there is quite extraordinary, because they have made a point of making sure that their students are learning and meeting the national standards. We heard Stephen Lethbridge (the former principal) talking about that tension that they had as a community around taking on national standards and what that meant. Now, they certainly make sure they meet those standards, but they do not say that those standards are the be-all and end-all of what they are doing in their school. They are building things, they are interacting with their community, they are doing things that matter, they are engaging in inquiries.

It was fascinating to hear Stephen point out that schools in New Zealand have a lot of freedom to decide how they are going to meet the national standards. What he has done that is so magical there, and he is really working with the community to make sure that they are co-constructing how they are going to get there.

I think you did a beautiful job of talking about what it is to listen to a community about the needs of their students in a way that does not need to be muddied with the idea of, ‘What does that mean for national standards?”

Stephen built that trust of, “Yes, that is something we do.” What is it that you really value and what is it that you want to see? And when your student leaves Taupaki, who do you want them to be? How do you want them to be in the world? Can we recognize them on the other side of the school gate, when they move onto the next school?

There is another school that we did not have a chance to visit today called Pt England. It deals with a very special population here in New Zealand. Tell me a little bit about that school, and how they have been working with the community of students they have.

I think what Pt England School has done very, very well is they have made an absolute relentless point of bringing their community in as part of their journey.

In New Zealand, we have decile ratings. So, “decile 10” would mean a feeder school to areas that are particularly wealthy. For Pt England School, they are a decile 1 school, so that means a particularly poor area. We have all got stories in our heads of what that might look like and what those challenges might be.

They run a program where they provide laptops for students, that all of the students can have and take home. They have always done that, though, from before, when they were providing leased computers to students. They were doing the same for iPods—students would take home podcasts to listen to in their homes. It has always been a part of their philosophy, and now they are doing that with laptops.

I understood from some other conversations that I had that when they were thinking about how to set up this leasing program, they really engaged with the community. They literally went to the community and said, “What are you willing to spend?” Ultimately, they came to a price of about, I think, $3.50 a week when leasing these computers. And then after three years, they are owned by the kids.

They really are their own devices. They take them home and take them to school.

The other thing the school does is provide Wi-Fi to the community, as well. They push that out, so the community can continue to have access to the same network that they are using in school, as well.

I think, the assumption is usually that in poorer communities it can be harder to get parents on board, but actually you need to know how to plug in. I think they have made a real point of doing that well.

Finally, tell me a little bit about the school that you ran–Upper Harbour.

Upper Harbour is perhaps a similar community to Taupaki, a decile 10 school, quite a large school, 400 to 500 students. I think one of the things we tried to do there was consider, “What would the needs of those students be that we just do not see yet?” If you are considering the needs of stressed communities, there might a need to offer breakfast in the morning, just so that learning can happen. That is one example of an obvious need. What is the obvious need when you are looking a well-resourced community? Actually, it is not that obvious, which is not to say there are not needs. How do you go about finding out what your community needs?

We did a consultation with the community. I was Deputy Principal there for three years. The Principal, Jeannette Craig, has always done a great job of working with the community to always be listening and always trying to make sure that what we are doing is meeting a need that community have really understood.

I think, through that process, we heard back that resilience was one of those things. Well-resourced families have quite high expectations of these students and of their children. We thought, ‘Well, how does that pan out?” You can end up with more anxiety.

We have huge problems with that in the United States. In Palo Alto, heart of Silicon Valley, one of the most affluent areas in the country, we have had a string of suicides. The kids have said over and over that they are under intense pressure, whether it is from each other or their families. How did you deal with that? What did you do?

That became one of the core threads for the Board. The Board really, really wanted to see that addressed as well.

Jeannette created a resilience team, a team of people who were thinking about resilience across the school. It relates to developing resources; it relates to thinking about how teachers could notice the signs. You are now thinking about a muscle that needs to be developed and who we need to help students develop that muscle, build their resilience. That has been a lot of fun, because it is actually quite hard.

It is very hard.

Growth mindset was one of the things that we began working on, as well. What is it to apply growth mindset as a parent? As a teacher? What is it for all of us to be resilient? How might we model that for each other in our whole community?

It is just fantastic to see attention placed on something that might otherwise just fall under the radar. But as soon as you raise it, as soon as you make it part of what people are talking about in the community, you can change what you do.

column | Community

What New Zealand Schools Have Accomplished with Autonomy and Community-Building

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Jan 18, 2017

What New Zealand Schools Have Accomplished with Autonomy and Community-Building

What can the U.S. borrow from New Zealand's schooling system?

A few months ago, EdSurge’s own Betsy Corcoran traveled to New Zealand, where she sat down with Pete Hall. Back then, he served as the Educator Engagement Lead for the Network for Learning (N4L), and prior to that, as principal at Upper Harbour Primary School. Right now, Hall is the newest principal of the Taupaki School.

Corcoran spoke with Hall about New Zealand’s schools, and discovered a few unique facts—including the reality that standards aren’t the be-all, end-all of schooling in New Zealand. In fact, the schools place a huge emphasis on bringing the community into the running of programs like makerspaces, and offer students a sense of autonomy that you don’t always see in standards-obsessed systems.

Here’s a Q&A excerpt from the transcript. For the full interview, check out the EdSurge podcast below.


EdSurge: New Zealand, on the one hand, faces some of the same education issues that we talk about in the United States. Yet, you have some amazing features in your schools. We had a chance to visit two schools, in particular. I would love to have you share a little bit about the Taupaki School, which is a small country school. What is particularly special about what Taupaki has been doing?

Hall: I think most people who learn about Taupaki see the amazing stuff they are doing around makerspaces, bringing the community in, and getting kids involved from other schools. They are busing kids from other schools to come in and use their amazing resources.

I think what they are doing there is quite extraordinary, because they have made a point of making sure that their students are learning and meeting the national standards. We heard Stephen Lethbridge (the former principal) talking about that tension that they had as a community around taking on national standards and what that meant. Now, they certainly make sure they meet those standards, but they do not say that those standards are the be-all and end-all of what they are doing in their school. They are building things, they are interacting with their community, they are doing things that matter, they are engaging in inquiries.

It was fascinating to hear Stephen point out that schools in New Zealand have a lot of freedom to decide how they are going to meet the national standards. What he has done that is so magical there, and he is really working with the community to make sure that they are co-constructing how they are going to get there.

I think you did a beautiful job of talking about what it is to listen to a community about the needs of their students in a way that does not need to be muddied with the idea of, ‘What does that mean for national standards?”

Stephen built that trust of, “Yes, that is something we do.” What is it that you really value and what is it that you want to see? And when your student leaves Taupaki, who do you want them to be? How do you want them to be in the world? Can we recognize them on the other side of the school gate, when they move onto the next school?

There is another school that we did not have a chance to visit today called Pt England. It deals with a very special population here in New Zealand. Tell me a little bit about that school, and how they have been working with the community of students they have.

I think what Pt England School has done very, very well is they have made an absolute relentless point of bringing their community in as part of their journey.

In New Zealand, we have decile ratings. So, “decile 10” would mean a feeder school to areas that are particularly wealthy. For Pt England School, they are a decile 1 school, so that means a particularly poor area. We have all got stories in our heads of what that might look like and what those challenges might be.

They run a program where they provide laptops for students, that all of the students can have and take home. They have always done that, though, from before, when they were providing leased computers to students. They were doing the same for iPods—students would take home podcasts to listen to in their homes. It has always been a part of their philosophy, and now they are doing that with laptops.

I understood from some other conversations that I had that when they were thinking about how to set up this leasing program, they really engaged with the community. They literally went to the community and said, “What are you willing to spend?” Ultimately, they came to a price of about, I think, $3.50 a week when leasing these computers. And then after three years, they are owned by the kids.

They really are their own devices. They take them home and take them to school.

The other thing the school does is provide Wi-Fi to the community, as well. They push that out, so the community can continue to have access to the same network that they are using in school, as well.

I think, the assumption is usually that in poorer communities it can be harder to get parents on board, but actually you need to know how to plug in. I think they have made a real point of doing that well.

Finally, tell me a little bit about the school that you ran–Upper Harbour.

Upper Harbour is perhaps a similar community to Taupaki, a decile 10 school, quite a large school, 400 to 500 students. I think one of the things we tried to do there was consider, “What would the needs of those students be that we just do not see yet?” If you are considering the needs of stressed communities, there might a need to offer breakfast in the morning, just so that learning can happen. That is one example of an obvious need. What is the obvious need when you are looking a well-resourced community? Actually, it is not that obvious, which is not to say there are not needs. How do you go about finding out what your community needs?

We did a consultation with the community. I was Deputy Principal there for three years. The Principal, Jeannette Craig, has always done a great job of working with the community to always be listening and always trying to make sure that what we are doing is meeting a need that community have really understood.

I think, through that process, we heard back that resilience was one of those things. Well-resourced families have quite high expectations of these students and of their children. We thought, ‘Well, how does that pan out?” You can end up with more anxiety.

We have huge problems with that in the United States. In Palo Alto, heart of Silicon Valley, one of the most affluent areas in the country, we have had a string of suicides. The kids have said over and over that they are under intense pressure, whether it is from each other or their families. How did you deal with that? What did you do?

That became one of the core threads for the Board. The Board really, really wanted to see that addressed as well.

Jeannette created a resilience team, a team of people who were thinking about resilience across the school. It relates to developing resources; it relates to thinking about how teachers could notice the signs. You are now thinking about a muscle that needs to be developed and who we need to help students develop that muscle, build their resilience. That has been a lot of fun, because it is actually quite hard.

It is very hard.

Growth mindset was one of the things that we began working on, as well. What is it to apply growth mindset as a parent? As a teacher? What is it for all of us to be resilient? How might we model that for each other in our whole community?

It is just fantastic to see attention placed on something that might otherwise just fall under the radar. But as soon as you raise it, as soon as you make it part of what people are talking about in the community, you can change what you do.

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