A shared understanding: South Wairarapa Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako

Issue: Volume 96, Number 18

Posted: 16 October 2017
Reference #: 1H9fQh

What do students think about their own learning? And how about the thoughts of the wider community? Before making their plans, leaders of the South Wairarapa Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako made it their mission to find out.

Valuing all voices is considered vital to success within the South Wairarapa Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako.

So before writing its achievement challenges, South Wairarapa consulted more than 600 students through discussion groups and online surveys, plus local iwi, health groups, school whānau, boards of trustees and other community members. All groups appreciated the opportunity to be involved.

Seven key themes came from these discussions: hauora, connections, global knowledge and skill, creativity and innovation, values, beliefs and agency, community and aspirations.

The enthusiastic leaders of South Wairarapa are from 13 schools – one secondary and 12 primary –   across small rural communities and towns in the region. From the start, their emphasis has been on collaborative tasks that create links between community and learning. Now, with everyone on board, they’re excited to get started.

Gathering and understanding other views

Mary Wootton is a learning facilitator and Expert Partner for this Community of Learning.

“Our role as Expert Partners is to accelerate the forming of this Community of Learning, and to help support the leaders to get moving,” she says.

“The accelerated progress of South Wairarapa shows what can occur with a strong partnership between Kāhui Ako leaders, the Ministry of Education, and expert partners. South Wairarapa has a real point of difference: its leaders want to be as inclusive as possible. They’ve actively sought and included the views of a range of students, from new entrants to year 13s, and other local community members, before writing up their achievement challenges.” 

South Wairarapa asked teachers, leaders, whānau and wider community members for their views on issues such as the learning strengths and challenges across their schools and communities, and what community members would like to see their schools work on.

Craig Nelson, Martinborough School principal, is the lead principal of the South Wairarapa Community of Learning. He has been actively involved in gathering student perspectives.

“This exercise is shaping the way the leaders think about teaching and learning within the community schools,” he says. “What came through quite strongly was that students were challenging the purpose of school and the purpose of learning. That led to us really asking ourselves: ‘What does learning look like, and what is important to our kids?’ Is school the only place where learning happens?

“Because it’s not just about school, it’s about having the buy-in of the whole village, so to speak. Therefore, the involvement of our whānau and community in developing the learner becomes really important, and that is why we needed to consult with them first. There’s so much more to a child’s learning than what happens in a classroom.” 

”The strengths are the people…”

Craig says the South Wairarapa Kāhui Ako is a natural progression from the Learning and Change Network the schools have been part of for four years.

“Through the Network we have seen the value in working together and forming a shared understanding of what education looked like for our kids,” he says.

“From this experience, we decided to form a Community of Learning as a continuation of what we were already doing. We saw there was potential for us to get more support and a bit more drive, externally, to help us succeed. 

“One of our challenges is physical distance – we’ve got some schools that are one hour’s drive apart, and so the ability to get together on a regular basis is not there. You can’t casually pop down as you might in a larger centre.

“The strengths are the people in our CoL. They’re absolutely willing to do the job – we’re all motivated to do the best for the young people in South Wairarapa. In all honesty, the strengths far outweigh the challenges. What we get from this is only limited by our imagination.”


“It is great the wider community being involved initially, rather than being consulted after the fact. – Board of trustees member at a combined school meeting.

“I had to email to say how much I enjoyed the meeting. Over the hour, nine of our principals took the lead and spoke at different times! The support for each other, and our enthusiasm, was really obvious. My teachers and trustees feel much more informed and want to get on board, and I’m sure many others will too. It is so good to have support from the Ministry of Education, as well as [from our] Expert Partners. Thanks for making me feel so positive about the future. If we can collaboratively do something different, maybe we will make a difference.” – Principal comment after a combined trustees meeting.

Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako

A Kāhui Ako is a voluntary group of education services collaborating with each other and with the wider community to lift progress and achievement for all their learners, and can consist of early learning services, kōhanga reo, schools, kura and tertiary institutions, formed around the educational pathways of their children and young people. A Kāhui Ako works in partnership with parents, whāhau, iwi, employers and others in the community to ensure student success.

Expert Partners

The Ministry of Education is funding 122 Expert Partners to work with Kāhui Ako leaders as they build collaborative practices and take action to meet their achievement challenges. Their support helps Kāhui Ako develop robust and quality achievement challenges and plans to accelerate student progress and achievement. Expert Partners agree a work programme with their Kāhui Ako leader and are available to support them for up to two years. 


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 16 October 2017

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