Advice from school leaders

We asked school leaders what strategies they would suggest to other leaders who were embarking on a major improvement journey. We also asked them to identify the likely positive impacts of their suggested strategies: for the adults concerned (teachers, leaders, parents, whānau), and for the students.


Develop a clear, future-focused vision that will provide direction for the school community. Involve everyone in its development so that they buy into it and it becomes an integral part of the curriculum.

Adults redefine success as more than literacy and numeracy or NCEA achievement levels. 

Parents and whānau understand the need for future-focused teaching and learning.

Students learn the importance of the school values and enact them.

Students understand what skills and attitudes they need to be a good learner and become aware of themselves as learners.

Students experience the breadth and depth of the New Zealand Curriculum.

Professional Learning

Make professional learning and development (PLD) a priority and time it carefully.

- Principal

Target PLD at changing teaching and learning: working collaboratively, using digital technologies effectively, maximising the opportunities presented by flexible learning spaces (FLSs), understanding how learning takes place, and developing student agency.

Changes need to be driven by what’s good for the students. We’ve seen a lot of modern learning environments but old pedagogy. That doesn’t work.

- Principal

Teachers have professional discussions about student progress and take collective responsibility for their students.

Teachers use digital technology powerfully to extend learning.

Teachers come to trust their students to be responsible for themselves as learners and cease micromanaging them.

Curriculum is increasingly student-led, with literacy and numeracy naturally integrated into authentic learning contexts.

Students experience a curriculum that is relevant to them, meets their needs, and values what they bring to their learning.

Students take responsibility for themselves as learners, exercising real choice in the goals they set, the work they do, the pace of their learning, who they work with and where they work.

Students learn to work effectively in social groups.

Students are capable and critical thinkers, seeking, giving and receiving feedback.


Expectations need to be clearly defined within a permissive framework. Make innovation and personalised learning possible, and empower learners both young and old. Developing minimum expectations makes changes manageable for teachers.

Adults model expectations for behaviour, collaboration and lifelong learning, and they model professional integrity.

Teachers have clarity about the outcomes required and can therefore plan for their students, utilising their own teaching strengths or those of the team.

Teachers are encouraged to take risks, to be creative and innovative; change gathers momentum as social contagion spreads.

Students learn by observing their teachers in action and develop mutually respectful learning partnerships.

The school culture enables students to take risks, to be creative and innovative.

Students know what is expected of them as learners.

Students monitor their own achievement and their development as learners.

Students collaborate; they reflect on and learn from mistakes and each other.


Do your research and communicate regularly and well – with everyone.

Senior leaders share their knowledge, taking time to bring their community with them. Teachers, students, parents and whānau see the reasons behind changes being made.<

Parents understand and can support their children in their learning.

Teachers trust the transparency of processes.

Research and sharing practice excite teachers and motivate them to make things happen differently in their classrooms.

Opening up conversations enables concerns to be aired and beliefs to be challenged.

Students develop powerful learning partnerships with their teachers, parents and whānau, becoming capable, confident learners who play a part in their community.

Students’ ideas and choices are respected and acted on.

Students are comfortable seeking or receiving help.

Being trusted, students become trustworthy.

We try harder. We’re better organised.

- Student

Flexible learning spaces

Plan for flexible learning spaces.

Teachers can choose the physical environment that most suits the way they are working with individuals or groups of students.

Students exercise choice in what furniture they use, and where and with whom they work. They can work collaboratively, or independently in a quiet space, as they prefer. 


Constantly review and refine innovations. Keep asking ‘Why?’ and ‘Is it working?’

School leaders and teachers are flexible and adaptable, responding to identified triggers for change.

School leaders and teachers are able to focus on teaching and learning as processes (including administrative processes) and the curriculum are refined.

Teachers constantly inquire into their practice, reviewing its impact on student outcomes and making adjustments as necessary.

Students’ learning benefits from the energy being directed at high-quality teaching.

Students see teachers adapting, learning from mistakes, and refining practice; they learn from this modelling.

Digital learning

Ensure that the digital technology infrastructure is robust and that all students have equitable access to digital devices so that no one is disadvantaged in their learning.

Teachers are confident to trial the use of technology in learning when the risk of system failure is reduced.

Teachers can plan, knowing that all students have appropriate devices.

Teachers make good use of cloud-based systems for collaboration, to manage learning and planning.

Students can rely on the system, enabling them to share and extend learning.

Students can access learning material anytime and anywhere, as it suits them.

Frustrations are reduced and resilience encouraged.

Senior leaders in one college have learned many lessons while working to implement an innovative curriculum that emphasises the use of digital devices as tools for learning. Their journey is currently in its early stages as they build teacher capacity and consistent practice across the school.

Factors identified by teachers as important for promoting digital learning include:

  • working with teachers to get buy-in for digital learning and building their capacity to use devices effectively with their students

  • having professional learning groups to support and encourage teachers to reflect on and change their practice

  • using digital learning and digital citizenship lessons to promote the key competencies as a part of the curriculum

  • connecting with the local community so that learning can be set in the context of local issues

  • taking the community with you and enhancing a sense of accountability to the community

  • promoting ako we are all learners, learning from each other.

Students commented on how the use of digital devices had impacted on their learning.

Docs are more accessible. Can see exemplars. 

Easier to do your work.  

When we didn’t have Google docs, it was harder to work from home.

Depends on how you want learn. 

Depends on the teacher.

Benefit is that we can edit our work.

Teachers can help you straight


[It’s] more individual, you have to be accountable.

- Aorere College students