Many hands share the mahi for improved learner outcomes

Issue: Volume 100, Number 15

Posted: 24 November 2021
Reference #: 1HARWY

Te Waimairi-iri Kāhui Ako comprises 12 schools and 17 early learning centres in north-west Christchurch, and since 2017 they’ve gone from strength to strength as they collaborate to improve outcomes for more than 6,000 tamariki and rangatahi.

Colleagues Raewyn Saunders and Jenny Washington say the kāhui ako has been very supportive to them as they began their journeys as principals.

Colleagues Raewyn Saunders and Jenny Washington say the kāhui ako has been very supportive to them as they began their journeys as principals.

There’s chatter, laughter, and a sense of camaraderie when principals and across-school leaders from Te Waimairi-iri Kāhui Ako gather in the Cobham Intermediate School staffroom for one of their regular monthly meetings.

The kāhui ako has developed a sense of connectedness through professional and personal networking, and in supporting each other through events such as the Christchurch Mosque attack, Covid-19, the Christchurch Rebuild programme, and personal stress, explains Jenny Washington, principal of Te Ara Maurea Roydvale School.

Jenny, who has recently stepped down as one of the kāhui ako’s three leaders, says there’s a well-embedded culture of collective improvement that centres around trusting relationships, utilising leadership capabilities, listening to learners, and committing to goals that improve outcomes for learners in the kāhui ako.

Marae trips and pyjamas

The mahi has included several trips to marae around Aotearoa, and Jenny says there’s nothing like having conversations in pyjamas with colleagues for getting to know each other and breaking down silos.

“You’re living on the marae together; you really get to know each other and rub shoulders. It did the opposite from that competitive model of us working locally, because you understood and appreciated each school’s context and the principal as a leader and also a person,” says Jenny.

Raewyn Saunders, principal of Fendalton Open Air School, is a kāhui ako co-leader alongside colleagues Eddie Norgate and Matt Bateman, and says there is now a strong collegial network and principals know they can rely on each other.

“The network for what are quite complex jobs, is really powerful. The strength has come because we really do know each other. What started with one purpose has kept growing like a ripple effect with more and more layers and benefits,” she explains.

“We’ve had some common stressors and needs for support. It can be quite a lonely job being a principal, especially if you’re in a competitive model and you’re trying to outdo the next person. But I think that we all see that we each have a place, and that our schools are all different, and they’ve all got value,” adds Matt, who has been principal of Burnside Primary School for the past 17 years.

Matt Bateman and Nadene Brouwer listen to the kōrero at a monthly kāhui ako hui.

Matt Bateman and Nadene Brouwer listen to the kōrero at a monthly kāhui ako hui.

Common language

Te Waimairi-iri Kāhui Ako was initially two clusters put together after the 2011 earthquake, explains Jenny.

“The power in this kāhui ako is that we have developed it ourselves. We know all the local principals, we know if someone needs support, we know that we can ask somebody about the practices they use.

“If there’s someone in their organisation with real skills and capabilities in a certain area, we’re happy to share the mahi around wanting the best practices in our schools. We make efforts to mix and mingle and to listen to each other as leaders, and work as a team,” says Jenny.

After each round of professional learning and development (PLD), the across-school team seek feedback from staff on what worked well and what they’d like to see in future.

Ongoing connections between sessions and the ability to co-construct the programme develops deeper connections between colleagues outside of their own schools.

Cobham Intermediate principal Eddie Norgate is new to the co-leader role, although he has been involved from the beginning. He says the mahi of the kāhui has smoothed some of the transitions between early learning, primary, intermediate and secondary school.

“It’s developed in terms of the relationships between teachers, and the alignment of processes. We’re speaking a common language around things like ‘knowing me and knowing the learner’.

Eddie Norgate.

Eddie Norgate.

 “For example, there’s a kāhui PLD focus on learning maps. When the kids that are coming to us next year, meet us in term 4, they’ll bring their learning maps which will help them talk to us about how they learn, what they like about learning, and that will help us on so many levels,” says Eddie.

Across-school support

The kāhui ako’s across-school leads are the glue which connects this large community and building relationships between all of the sectors – early learning, primary and secondary – is a large part of its success.

At first, the roles were focused around a single kaupapa such as culturally responsive practice, or literacy, with each pair of across-school leads working across all 29 learning settings from early learning through to high school. It became clear that the strength of relationships between the leads and schools were key drivers of the mahi and in 2020, each pair of across-school leads was assigned specific schools or early learning centres.

Two of the across-school leaders, Rachaelle Stidder and Nadene Brouwer, work with the 17 early learning centres and Allenvale Specialist School. 

Rachaelle and Nadene, who are both teachers at Burnside High School, have been able to support Allenvale Specialist School in several practical ways, which have benefited their own students as well.

“Running cross country days or swimming sports is a huge logistical feat for them, as many of the learners require one-to-one support to achieve success” says Nadene.

“We helped with their cross country – our local high school students were running with their wheelchairs. Their athletic sports day is coming up and that’s another opportunity for all the students to work alongside each other. Our learners get just as much out of it as theirs do,” shares Rachaelle.

Early learning voice

One of Rachaelle’s key goals, when she started in the role at the end of 2018, was to build relationships with early learning centres in the kāhui ako.

“The process of how a kāhui was working wasn’t very well known. We used the analogy that we were kind of building the plane as it was flying. That really was what it was like initially and there was no voice coming in from our early learning centres. I had little children at pre-school at the time and I knew how valuable the voice was from that sector.

“Early learning centres operate in a competitive environment and it’s about breaking that down and sharing that pedagogy, you’re still in the same geographical area and you still have that same connection to the culture,” she explains.

“These kaiako are so skilled – we’ve got so much to learn from them because they do all this choice-based learning that isn’t always as obvious in high school,” adds Nadene.

Lauren Sutcliffe is head teacher of Kidsfirst Kindergartens, Ilam, and says it has been good to have collegial conversations with colleagues and schools that have helped to break down barriers between them.

“It’s been great to have these two to facilitate that, and it’s been great to meet other early learning centres so we can travel that journey together and work together around internal evaluation and professional development,” says Lauren.

Lauren adds that all their teachers opt into different PLD opportunities each term. But working with the kāhui, she says, means they get opportunities they might not otherwise have, and they can also tap into different strengths.

Early learning centres can feed into many different schools, and Lauren says building relationships with junior school kaiako has enabled them to better support tamariki transitioning into school.

“It’s just knowing that the across-school leads are really approachable – that you can go and ask questions to figure out how we can best support our learners as they walk through the educational journey, not just from early learning to primary, but also through to secondary,” says Lauren.

Collegiality and relationships are key to (from left) Lauren Sutcliffe, Rachaelle Stidder and Nadene Brouwer.

Collegiality and relationships are key to (from left) Lauren Sutcliffe, Rachaelle Stidder and Nadene Brouwer.

Local curriculum and cultural narratives 

Throughout 2017, Canterbury schools worked with local iwi Ngāi Tūāhuriri, who presented the kāhui ako with a cultural narrative. As part of this process, links were established with Mātauraka Mahaanui facilitators, who supported schools to engage with, and embed their own cultural narratives after the Christchurch earthquakes. 

In the same year, the kāhui ako applied to be part of the Māori Achievement Collaborative (MAC), an initiative led by principals, for principals, with the philosophy of ‘changing hearts and minds’ through a process of deep learning, mentoring, coaching and collaboration for improved outcomes for Māori learners.

The kāhui ako’s principals and across-school leaders attended a MAC national hui and visited Parihaka, where they learned about the stories of passive resistance; in the same year they travelled south to Otakau Marae on the Otago Peninsula.  Not only did they spend many hours getting to know each other, but they learned about the narratives for each area, which have influenced and resonated with their own stories.

“We’ve all done a slightly different angle. Some schools have been through the rebuild and have had the facilitators support cultural practices with colours, paintings, design and artwork that might be incorporated in the build,” says Jenny.

Matt Bateman (Ngāti Waewae, a hapu of Ngāi Tahu) has been a valuable guide on the kāhui ako’s journey. He says the kāhui was fortunate that Ngāi Tūāhuriri, the hapu that has mana whenua over most Christchurch schools, presented each early learning centre and school with its own cultural narrative.

“They went into all the early learning centres and schools through our rebuild process, and we had a chance to develop our own school naming document and cultural narrative. Every school discovered their own story, and in their landscaping, they’ve been able to understand why they’re planting from a prescribed list – things that used to grow here, why they’re important,” he says.

Raewyn explains that the stories have helped early learning centres, schools and kura develop their local curricula.

“That’s where we’ve been really fortunate with Matt and some of his connections, that we’ve been able to go and visit these places.

“It has helped inform our localised curriculum and it also gives us a much broader perspective and informed background that we can share across the kāhui ako and with our own kura for the Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum,” she curriculum,” says Raewyn.

Matt says the Māori Achievement Collaborative has reinforced the importance of connecting with mana whenua, but also exploring people’s attitudes to biculturalism and multiculturalism. 

Hīkoi and kōrero

Originally from the West Coast, Matt’s whakapapa has provided knowledge and connections, which he happily shares with the kāhui ako.

“About four years ago I started taking busloads of colleagues, teachers, board members, and support staff out to the Tuahiwi Marae [near Rangiora]. I’ve arranged one for this group – 50 people from across the early learning centres and the kāhui in February next year. We’ll go there and the Ngāi o Tūāhuriri education team will welcome us on, tell us some local stories, give us some resources, share a meal.

“We visited Otago because they are the same iwi [Ngāi Tahu] and I would like the principals to visit each of the 18 iwi, so they know that every Ngāi Tahu child also has a papakāinga – a home,” says Matt.

Closer to home, Matt has led hīkoi to sites of interest in the Burnside neighbourhood. He says trips to marae and the hīkoi will help school to clarify some of the rich stories in their area.

“Moving into next year, we will talk about sharing our capacity to build a local curriculum, part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Histories curriculum content from some of the stories we know. By taking a common approach, we’re all helping each other to raise the bar in what we will be offering, instead of each school doing their own thing,” he says.

Achievements across the kāhui ako

“This will be my fourth year as across-school lead,” says Rachaelle.

“I’m really lucky because I’ve been able to see the progress over the years. It has changed and grown a lot, but it’s grown because we’re listening to the voice that’s coming from every sector as to what they need and how can we best provide that.

“Nadene and I are two out of seven across-kāhui ako leads, all with really amazing strengths. I think it’s extremely valuable being able to utilise those within every area for whoever needs them,” she concludes.


With whakapapa to Ngāi Tahu, Matt Bateman has led hīkoi attended by students, teachers and locals to places of of interest in the kāhui ako’s local area.

With whakapapa to Ngāi Tahu, Matt Bateman has led hīkoi attended by students, teachers and locals to places of of interest in the kāhui ako’s local area.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:22 am, 24 November 2021

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