Extending collaborative teaching practice - innovations

A major component of the development of Kāhui Ako has been the emphasis on collaboration to improve outcomes for learners through changes in teaching practice. Effective collaboration can be characterised as frequent sharing of knowledge and practice among participants, with the aim of addressing a set of common challenges. Use of data and inquiry identified teaching practice as a key focus area for innovation and professional sharing to raise student achievement across communities, and this has occupied much time and planning for all Kāhui Ako.


Professional learning challenges

Creating opportunities for professional learning and sharing has been important in the Northcote Kāhui Ako. Inspiring and sustaining this focus, however, has been more challenging. Sentiments like “the across‑school teachers should be telling teachers how to change” reveal an expectation of a more active change process among the within‑school teachers (WSTs) and other teachers in the Kāhui Ako. Be that as it may, the stewardship group and ASTs preferred to create a platform for collaborative inquiry and work that aimed to challenge thinking and practice. Effective collaboration was characterised by deep and frequent sharing of knowledge among participants with the aspiration to bring about enduring change. As the WSTs and other teachers embarked on collaborative inquiry, they developed a more in‑depth understanding of what needed modification and took the initiative to bring about change in their own contexts. They connected within the network and look outwards to gain new knowledge and insights to determine what was needed to address the challenges their learners face. Such inquiry processes resulted in the realisation that there was “no silver bullet”; that change can only come about by unpacking and adjusting existing beliefs and theories held by teachers, parents, and students.

“This is hard work. We are willing to be patient and deliberate about it. We are going about it systematically and it will take some time to percolate down to all teachers.” Across‑school teachers

The challenges were evident in the results of a survey of teachers the Kāhui Ako conducted in Term 3, 2017. The findings show over half responded with either ‘not well’ or ‘not at all well’ to questions about their perceived value of participating in the Kāhui Ako and/or how well the Kāhui Ako was supporting their capacity for inquiry. In response to these findings, a roadshow was undertaken. The Kāhui Ako expected to repeat the survey to monitor the progress over a 12‑month period.

Deepening the focus on teaching and learning at all levels

Rather than finding an ‘off the shelf’ solution, the Northcote Kāhui Ako considered the real value of operating as a Kāhui Ako was to understand and respond to the issues of their community. They were determined to know more about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of their own situation so as to make a real difference. They decided to engage and reflect on the values and beliefs held by learners, parents, and teachers in the Kāhui Ako. ASTs undertook case studies of learners in the Northcote community from Years 1 to 13 involving interviews with a range of learners, and their parents and whānau. The focus was on understanding what constitutes success from different perspectives. The case studies were presented to and discussed at length with the WSTs and the Kāhui Ako leadership. Workshops with staff from all five schools were also undertaken to elicit teachers’ theories of what accounted for the variance in outcomes for learners in the community.

The case studies with learners and their families and the teacher survey identified the following:

  • parents and whānau largely see success as being about a child’s enjoyment of school, their wellbeing, their connectedness to others, and their ability to be resilient and give things a go
  • success as measured by national standards or NCEA was barely mentioned by families
  • learners considered to be thriving have a history of multiple opportunities outside of school – being engaged in sporting, cultural, artistic, and community activities, for example
  • learners considered to be struggling have often faced difficulty in the past that negatively impacts their sense of self‑efficacy
  • teachers at all year levels strongly believe that learner disposition (engagement with learning) is the biggest factor in learner success
  • home factors were also identified as being important to disposition and academic progress
  • teaching and learning practices were not identified as barriers by teachers, parents, and whānau in terms of learners achieving their potential.


Teaching collaboratively

The purpose of Kāhui Ako is essentially about improving the quality of teaching and learning through schools working collaboratively and sharing their knowledge and expertise. The Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako put this intent into practice to help reduce variance and improve equity in student achievement within and across schools.[4]

Within this Kāhui Ako the creation of the internal advisory groups provided the platform for exchange of expertise and knowledge. By clustering ASTs and WSTs around an identified learning area, and providing them with a learning mentor to guide their inquiry, the Kāhui Ako aimed to bring about significant changes to the pedagogical and instructional practice of teachers. At the time this case study was undertaken, the Kāhui Ako leadership were building their capability by undertaking external professional learning and development.


Multi‑level approach

In the Waimate Kāhui Ako, collaborative practices for promoting learning and inquiry occurred at three levels. Members of the stewardship group undertook strategic collaborative inquiry focused on identifying what was happening for their learners. The knowledge gained from this inquiry helped the Kāhui Ako develop a shared understanding of their vision and aspirations. The collaborative inquiry processes used by the stewardship group made sure all participants had a voice in terms of how the challenges were identified to build a compelling agenda for change amongst all partners. The strategic planning session held in Term 3, 2017 with members of the stewardship group and the joint training for all trustees through NZSTA reflected the Kāhui Ako desire to shift from sharing and coordinating their work to achieving the best outcomes for learners in their district. Those involved believed the relationships were shifting from collegiality to working collaboratively to deliver their achievement challenges. This shift from developing a common agenda for change to sharing aspirations has been critical to the success of this collaboration.

For principals, the most common collaborative practice for learning and inquiry was the regular discussions with other principals in the Kāhui Ako. This included inquiring into student progress and strategies that could be used to improve progress of the students of concern within their teaching teams.

“It has lifted the expectations of quality teaching.” 

In addition, given the significant number of first‑time principals in this Kāhui Ako, the peer support received through the collaboration was described as invaluable. The principals have collectively come to appreciate and understand that being in a Kāhui Ako helps them achieve more for learners in the district.

For teachers in the Kāhui Ako, teaching as inquiry was a focus. The creation of the syndicate structure played an important role in supporting collaboration between teachers from different schools teaching at similar year levels. It provided a platform for inquiring into teaching and learning; sharing ideas and different ways of working; and discussing strategies that a particular teacher in the syndicate may have used, including reflections on why it worked or did not work.

“The opportunity to work with others rather than by oneself is important. It can be isolating in a rural school.”

“I have been a teacher for 15 years and this is the first time I am working with teachers from other schools in this district.”

More importantly, the relationships built with teachers from other schools paved the way for teachers to visit schools to observe and learn from one another. The trust and non‑threatening climate in the syndicates brought teachers together in ways that were purposeful and meaningful and allowed teachers to share and transfer their expertise across the Kāhui Ako. For example, those with specialist learning support knowledge and skills provided professional support to less experienced teachers.

“In the beginning there were some challenges – just getting to know each other and building trust took some time. But getting to know and work with other teachers has been incredibly rewarding. I am enjoying it and find it very stimulating.”

“We have been on this journey together and we are much more comfortable with each other now. The opportunity to work with other teachers has stopped me from becoming insular and the realisation that the issues I face are the same as other teachers in the district and if we talked it through, we could come up with better, sharper solutions.”

While this is heartening, the real challenge lies in teachers leveraging their relationships and collective inquiry to change their teaching practices. Examining what the teachers are doing differently as a consequence of this deep inquiry into teaching and learning practices will be the litmus test for Kāhui Ako effectiveness. 

Supporting ASTs and WSTs

The creation of cross‑school syndicates provided WSTs with the opportunity to lead the learning of other teachers from all schools in the Kāhui Ako. The WSTs acknowledged that their initial reluctance and concern, which stemmed from lack of confidence, negative perceptions about workload, and newness of the role, had been put to rest. Opportunities presented through the role have developed their leadership capabilities significantly. Their decision to take a leap of faith was well rewarded. The WSTs meet at least twice a term to plan their syndicate meetings collaboratively and participate in PLD and provide regular progress reports to the stewardship group.

“I had great hesitation in applying for the role. I discussed it with my peers and family and chose to apply as I saw it as an opportunity to acquire some leadership skills. It also took me out of my comfort zone and has kept me challenged.”

“In the beginning there were some challenges – just getting to know each other and building trust took some time. But getting to know and work with other teachers has been incredibly rewarding. I am enjoying it and find it very stimulating.”

In the context of the Waimate Kāhui Ako, the use of the AST and WST roles as leading and spreading pedagogical change has increased capability and internal coherence within the Kāhui Ako. Those appointed to these roles act as a bridge between management and teachers.

[4] Hattie, J. (2015). What works best in education: The politics of collaborative expertise. London: Pearson.