Early learning kaiako bring deeper connections to kāhui ako

Issue: Volume 101, Number 13

Posted: 12 October 2022
Reference #: 1HAX2f

Leaders of the Tauranga Peninsula Kāhui Ako have pulled out the stops to support their early learning centres; mahi that is informing best practice transitions and improved professional development for all kaiako.

The contribution of early learning kaiako to Tauranga Peninsula Kāhui Ako is supporting better transitions for tamariki.

The contribution of early learning kaiako to Tauranga Peninsula Kāhui Ako is supporting better transitions for tamariki.

Theoretically, a kāhui ako benefits all members. The reality, however, is that it can be difficult for early learning centres to engage because of resource constraints (no funding for relievers so kaiako can attend meetings, for example) and a mismatch of aspirations.

Ken Ward, lead principal for the Tauranga Peninsula Kāhui Ako (TPKA), explains.

“When kāhui ako were first established, there was an early learning representative at the table but there was nothing happening in that space. The achievement challenges at the time were limited to reading, writing and mathematics.

“Then there was a shift to culturally responsive and relational pedagogy. Early learning services got some funding to do professional learning as well so suddenly, we were starting to see some connection because they were doing some things that schools were doing.

“We asked ourselves what we could do to enhance early learning participation, little things like making sure they were invited to everything because a lot of the time they were not being invited. And there was an assumption that because it’s hard to get release teachers in early learning, they wouldn’t turn up.”

Encouraged by a high turnout of early learning kaiako to a teacher-only day, Ken got permission to appoint an across schools lead from the early learning sector. Melissa Osmond, an early learning educator of 22 years, joined the TPKA late in 2019.

Passion for empowering kaiako

Melissa has a passion for supporting and empowering other kaiako and has been involved with Educational Leadership Project Ltd for 21 years. She has also participated as a teacher/researcher for the Ministry of Education’s Centre of Innovation research projects and shared her experiences in teaching and learning throughout Aotearoa. She is also well-embedded in the Tauranga Peninsula community; she has three children at schools in the kāhui ako and teaches three days a week at Greerton Early Learning Centre.

Melissa’s task, to lead development of the early learning workstream, is a big job and one that she squeezes into the two days that she’s not teaching. But with autonomy, agency, and the budget to create her role, and the unswerving support of TPKA leaders, Melissa’s work is paying dividends.

“The two days a week that Melissa does is out in the community. She is visiting all the centres, she’s running all the meetings and leading in that space, then connecting with the new entrant teachers at the primary schools,” says Ken.

In the year since she took the role, seven early learning services have joined the kāhui ako, encouraged by Melissa’s advocacy and the opportunity to contribute and learn. Melissa says the kaiako have rich knowledge to share and can also benefit greatly from the PLD available in a community of learning.

“There are amazing kaiako in our community and they’ve got such strong teaching practice, we really need to showcase that. We also want to make sure that we are giving back, so that’s the provision of PLD that helps to strengthen their pedagogy further.”

Primary teachers value the information that comes in early learning portfolios.

Primary teachers value the information that comes in early learning portfolios.

Building a shared kaupapa

“We have about four events each term. One is our collaboration between schools and early learning in terms of building a shared kaupapa around transition to school,” explains Melissa.

She says they have set it up as a professional growth cycle inquiry review, with everyone collaborating to make systemic change.

“What’s happened a lot in the past is that everyone comes together, they talk and talk, but we don’t make changes that better our community. So, we are working on wise practice statements to be given to governance and adapted as objectives.

“We are trying to grow a clear expectation around what works in terms of transitions that support whānau and mokopuna.”

Melissa says transition visits are important, and children have a smoother transition if their teacher from kura visits them in their early learning centre.

“Tamariki have amazing strengths and capabilities and for a teacher from school to visit them in the centre, to build that connection in a place of safety is huge, but it’s not funded. Teachers don’t get the release time from school to come and make that happen. So how do we shift some of those practices so that we can support these amazing children and their whānau? These are some of the questions that we are trying to unpack.”

Another focus for the kāhui ako will be to unpack the curricula, particularly Te Whāriki.

   The kāhui ako is building a shared kaupapa around transition to school.

  The kāhui ako is building a shared kaupapa around transition to school.

“It’s such a rich and beautiful curriculum, and it’s all based around relationships and mana. If we understand each other better and know each other’s curricula and how they weave together, we can create a continual learning curriculum that complements both sectors.”

As an example, Melissa says kaiako from early learning and primary had a robust discussion about how wellbeing and self-management are connected.

“If you are working within your rear brain and you don’t feel safe and connected to the people around you, how can you move to a position where you’re able to advocate for yourself and have authenticity and autonomy in the classroom, and manage yourself? It begins with wellbeing.”

Dismantling the ‘us and them’ mentality

Ken’s professional background eases Melissa’s task. He trained in early learning and worked as a kindergarten teacher before moving to primary teaching and leadership.

“I used to feel the mentality of ‘us and them’. It’s like, ‘We get these children to school and then we start teaching them.’ It’s frustrating,” says Ken.

“Where I’ve seen a good connection is primary schools doing play-based learning. They can learn a lot from their early learning colleagues, particularly about learning stories and being able to assess the play. I’ve seen a lot more respect for early learning teachers when we are talking at our meetings and sessions around not just transition but talking about best practice around play-based learning and sharing those ideas.”

Melissa is enthusiastic about the collective’s approach to play, saying many schools are working with the foundations for learning.

“Which is awesome because they’re thinking about the wellbeing of children and making sure they’ve got foundation skills to build upon before they start formally learning to read and write. Parents are feeling so relieved about their children starting school because there isn’t the pressure to start reading the day you start.”

Ken says some of the transition work is around primary teachers acknowledging the prior learning of new entrants and valuing the information that comes in their early learning portfolios.

“It’s about spending time with families because for some of them, it’s their first child into school.”

Melissa recalls an example of how early learning and primary kaiako differ in their approach.

“Last week a centre facilitator said that they were in a PLD session and one of the teachers mentioned tamariki starting school, and ‘starting to learn’. This early learning teacher was so shocked that she couldn’t respond. She didn’t feel confident to speak up and say that tamariki don’t start school with empty slates.

“The moment they walk into kura, they bring what was gifted by their tīpuna. They have spent time in the womb, and five or six years on the earth learning every single moment of their days and they bring a rich story with them. Don’t unpick what we have helped to create, it’s about continuing to weave and being a new thread in their tapestry.”

Melissa says it’s a deeper, bigger picture she hopes early learning kaiako are bringing to the kāhui ako.

“It’s about changing the view that early learning kaiako are not as professional or knowledgeable as kura teachers, and about building the confidence of early learning teachers to speak up.

“I feel we are growing that partnership. We are hearing each other and every group that has fed back to the collective has said it’s going to be a better partnership if we keep this narrative going and we continue to work together.”


Schools can learn a lot from their early learning colleagues, including being able to assess play-based learning.

Schools can learn a lot from their early learning colleagues, including being able to assess play-based learning.

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

Posted: 12:14 pm, 12 October 2022

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