Understanding what needed to change and making this happen

What key actions led to positive outcomes?

Each of the three Kāhui Akomaintained a central focus on improving outcomes for learners. Leaders took different approaches to establishing models of practice. They were responsive to the community context and looked for relevant and appropriate ways to establish outcomes, collaboration, and inclusive structures and practices.


A clear, well‑developed operating model to support collaboration

Participants in the Northcote Kāhui Ako were deliberately casual in their conceptualisations of the structures and procedures for their community. Initially, their main structural arrangement to establish the Kāhui Ako was a stewardship group that included all principals, deputy principals, school and ELS leaders, as well as the regional Ministry representative. This group met monthly. It acted as a steering committee to respond to emerging Kāhui Ako‑related issues, and as a professional learning community for members to support and facilitate their own inquiry. The ASTs were invited to come to the stewardship group to report on their work, and also for guidance and direction. Each individual member school on the committee was responsible for reporting back to their board of trustees about the progress of the Kāhui Ako. The annual report was prepared by the lead principal and distributed to all school boards and governance groups across the learning community. Over time, the stewardship group took on the governance role, while the Kāhui Ako lead, ASTs, and WSTs operationalised the work.

In the first year of operation, the Kāhui Ako lead met with ASTs and WSTs fortnightly to find ways of working together, and with the Kāhui Ako schools and ELS to support teaching as inquiry, professional learning, and/or student learning projects. For example, the ASTs and WSTs were encouraged to read papers and discuss them in relation to their aspirations in their own contexts (e.g. Helen Timperley’s paper on Spirals of Inquiry; ERO report Teaching strategies that work‑ Mathematics). As a result, this group served as a professional learning community for the Kāhui Ako.


An agenda for change 

Successful collaboration requires all participants to have a shared vision for change, including clearly defined objectives and solutions. Collaboration often breaks down when participants think they are working on the same issues, but find out this is not the case.

Collaborative practices established through a long history of working together helped the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako to establish and share an agreed agenda for change early on. A group of school leaders, for instance, supported by their boards, undertook awareness‑raising activities in their respective schools and the wider community. Focus groups, community hui, and information evenings were used to develop a road map and vision for change, and galvanise community efforts around the vision.

The inclusion of boards’ representatives in setting the agenda for Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako was a shift from earlier collaborative efforts as a cluster. Participants acknowledged that in the past there was limited or no involvement of boards in school clusters. Since the establishment of the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako, principals have built more meaningful relationships with school boards and with a variety of stakeholders, and created a stronger role for them in governance and management of the Kāhui Ako. More generally, the Kāhui Ako leadership facilitated discussion and debate about strategies for driving change by always bringing different voices together.

Focusing on a small number of high‑leverage activities

Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako had to choose which actions would most benefit student achievement. This resulted in the identification of a small number of targeted activities:

  • collaboration to strengthen pathways (for example, a shared focus on oral language)
  • cross‑cultural collaboration (for example, a shared commitment to working purposefully with the wharekura)
  • innovation (for example, implementing a learning support trial).

Creating a clear operating model

Effective structures that support implementation of the agenda for change is at the heart of a successful collaboration. The elements of the operating model developed by Ōtūmoetai and discussed in this section include:

  • creation of inclusive structures to support the collaboration
  • use of deputy principals as learning mentors
  • effective allocation of across‑school teacher (AST) and within‑school teacher (WST) resources.

Kāhui Ako decisions regarding the structures reflect their aspirations to be inclusive and leverage their internal and external expertise to address the challenges.

Creating inclusive structures to support collaboration

Participants in Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako quickly acknowledged the need to create a structured process for effective decision making. In its early stages, the collaborative process appeared ad hoc, and the dedicated time needed for the work was not anticipated. Participants recognised that early attempts at collaboration had failed because supporting infrastructure was not in place, and that collaboration takes time.

To counter these issues, participants agreed to establish a steering committee with overall responsibility for governance and management of the Kāhui Ako. Membership of the steering committee signalled to the community the Kāhui Ako intent and aspirations for change. The steering committee included principals of all member schools, learning mentors (deputy principals – discussed below), Ministry regional lead advisors, representatives from early learning services (ELS), iwi representatives, and ASTs. The diverse membership of the committee was inclusive, focused members’ attention to maintain a sense of urgency, and mobilised stakeholders without overwhelming them. The steering committee was able to frame discussions to present opportunities as well as challenges, and allowed participants to navigate differences thoughtfully and build trust and empathy amongst participants.

In addition, Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako established four advisory/working groups to support specified work areas and achievement challenges. Advisory group membership included two to three senior leaders (including the learning mentors), and possibly a principal working with ASTs. This created teams of five to six people focused on the achievement challenge for their year levels, thus effectively acting as a ‘leadership’ team for that area of work. Members of the working groups also made sure there was good ‘flow’ between areas of work across the Kāhui Ako.

These operational structures are supported by clear terms of reference specifying mandate, roles and responsibilities. This approach has maintained momentum at different levels of the Kāhui Ako and served it well.

Deputy principals as learning mentors

The Kāhui Ako model requires ASTs to spend 50 percent of their time in classrooms.[2] This means many deputy principals (DPs) who are leaders of learning in their schools are not able to meet the prerequisites. While the intent underpinning the policy was understood, the remuneration associated with the AST roles upset the dynamics amongst staff and undermined the pedagogical leadership DPs had demonstrated over the years. In some instances, those appointed to the AST roles struggled to lead the learning of adults across the Kāhui Ako.

“It’s about not putting the ASTs in front of others till they are ready. It would not be a responsible thing to do.” Lead principal

The Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako decided to appoint their DPs as learning mentors, with a clear mandate to support and build the capacity and capability of ASTs. ASTs are leaders drawn from participating schools to engage with other leaders and ASTs. However, DPs are most likely to be unit holders and in leadership positions in their own schools. As learning mentors to the ASTs their role was “to guide/mentor the work of the Kāhui Ako in their area of work”. As illustrated below, the ASTs have mostly valued the contribution made by the learning mentors, and believe their active engagement was critical to building AST effectiveness.

“We have curriculum expertise but we don’t have much leadership expertise. The learning mentors are helping to bridge that gap strengthening our overall growth as leaders.”

“The learning mentor helps to strengthen the credibility of the ASTs; they have the ability to influence and have done that on many occasions.”

The innovative use of the skills and expertise of the DPs as learning mentors allowed this Kāhui Ako to value the ‘unsung heroes’ in the system who appeared to some to be displaced by the Kāhui Ako model.

Innovative inclusion of learning support expertise

One of the underlying intentions of the Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako model was to help schools use the power of collaboration to innovate teaching and learning approaches. The learning support trial of this Kāhui Ako is an example of this. Dissatisfaction with the responsiveness of the learning support service, combined with the need to give every child the opportunity to access the curriculum at their level, led the Kāhui Ako to consider participating in a learning support trial. The Kāhui Ako provided a strong voice in discussions with the Ministry that resulted in a new solution to a shared problem. The Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako seconded one of their senior special education needs coordinators (SENCO) to the Ministry at 0.5 FTEs to work across three Kāhui Ako in the region. Synergies were created through the following actions:

  • schools working together collaboratively to share data on students with additional needs and seeing them as part of the Kāhui Ako community of care
  • establishing one register in each school to capture consistent information for the Kāhui Ako register, and to monitor progress against actions
  • providing flexible options for family and whānau to seek support and advice (as opposed to a referral service)
  • developing an electronic student plan where all information and progress could be captured
  • building relationships with key people in agencies and services aligned with the culture of Ōtūmoetai Kāhui Ako.

“Often as a single school, you don’t have the strength of numbers and you don’t often have the relationships; so it takes time to get things done. But as a Kāhui Ako, we represent the voice of X number of learners and teachers. This gives strength to our voice and we get heard.”


Creating inclusive structures to support collaboration

The intentions and principles underpinning the Waimate Kāhui Ako were well supported, and genuine collaboration centred on shared responsibility for all children and young people. Participants acknowledged it would not be possible for individual schools to undertake the work being done in the Kāhui Ako, such as the creation of the joint operational guidelines or access to professional learning and development (PLD). Access to PLD was particularly relevant for small schools as they would not be eligible for the resource.

A clear operating model

Leaders understood that a clear operating model with well‑defined structures and procedures was necessary for the collaboration to function effectively. This operating model provided clarity about:

  • decision-making processes
  • roles and responsibilities
  • how information and resources would flow between members
  • how widely power and influence was distributed among members
  • how members would collaborate
  • how the community would mobilise around change in Kāhui Ako leadership, staff turnover, or a change in the judgement resulting from an ERO review – acknowledging change happens as the Kāhui Ako matures and develops.

Leaders were very deliberate in the conceptualisation and implementation of structures and procedures for Waimate Kāhui& Ako. The structures developed in consultation with principals and boards’ representatives actively promoted cross‑school collaboration and joint work. Structural arrangements to operationalise the Kāhui Ako include:

  • a stewardship group operating as a sub‑committee of each board with two representatives, the principal and a trustee from each school’s board. This was set up at the outset. Their work is guided by a stewardship framework that clearly articulates the scope of their mandate and the principles underpinning their operating model, including how conflicts and disputes between Kāhui Ako members would be resolved. The stewardship group holds responsibility for appointing the Kāhui Ako lead, ASTs, and WSTs. The stewardship group also offered trustee training sessions to members of the board of all schools to build collaboration at board level. At the time of ERO’s visit, the stewardship group was considering adding a member of the rūnanga to the group to strengthen engagement with parents, whānau, and the wider community.
  • a syndicate structure with each WST leading a cross‑school syndicate. Three syndicates were set up to cover Years 1 to 3, Years 4 and 5, and Years 6 to 8 to support collaboration between teachers from different schools teaching at similar year levels. The syndicates meet twice a term and the syndicate leads (working group) meet one week earlier to plan, ensuring the meetings are well run, organised, and focused.  This also ensures all schools are benefitting from the extra resources. The syndicates were given a clear mandate for leading learning across the Kāhui Ako. The successful use of the WSTs as across school roles is a unique and innovative response to the resource allocation for this Kāhui Ako.
  • a working group that includes Kāhui Ako leadership and teaching roles. This makes sure the focus and principles of spirals of inquiry are used to inform and drive decisions.
  • a management group that includes all principals. This group meets twice a term and serves as a platform for collegial support, Kāhui Ako management, and PLD ‑ particularly for the first‑time principals in the Kāhui Ako.