Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards: a winning strategy (part 1)

Issue: Volume 93, Number 14

Posted: 11 August 2014
Reference #: 1H9cso

The inaugural Prime Ministers Education Excellence Awards have come and gone, the judges have made their decisions, and winners have gone home proud, with the confidence and energy to keep striving that comes with acknowledgement at the highest level.

The awards celebrate outstanding examples of education first and foremost, but they recognise that a sustainable lift can happen only through the collaboration of management, teachers, young people, and the community they all serve. For this reason, the awards were opened to groups rather than individuals.

In serving to provide examples of best practice, the relevance of the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards cannot be overestimated. The judging process was rigorous and exhaustive, and all those winners recognised were able to demonstrate real change, real improvement, and real sustainability. Much evidence was gathered in telling these stories of change.

Education Gazette doesn’t have room in just one issue to give all six high-achieving winners the deep coverage they deserve, so we’re covering three categories at a time. There is something we can learn from each of the six winners.

Prime Minister’s Supreme Award – Takiri ko te ata

Winner: Otumoetai Intermediate School

"Effectively what we’ve done is treat our teachers in the same way we treat our students. They’re all on their own personal and professional development pathway."

"Otumoetai Intermediate has a planned approach to change the lives of every student in the two years they attend. Their highly effective systems for teacher learning drive up achievement. Their students develop the competencies required to be truly in charge of their own learning."

So said the judges of the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award – Takiri ko te ata when awarding this ultimate accolade to Otumoetai Intermediate. The school was, in fact, a finalist in three separate award streams, an astonishing achievement given the number of entries. These three were: Excellence in Engaging; Excellence in Teaching and Learning; and Excellence in Governing. This signifies a schoolwide effort that has not gone unnoticed.

Principal Henk Popping says that around six years ago, the school realised they weren’t doing enough to positively influence the lives of every student. The school community put its thinking cap on and a range of solutions were mooted.

In the governance area, Henk and the board of trustees looked at how they could refine their practice. One of the key results of this examination is that whenever the board meets, one hour is put aside to look at student achievement before general business is attended to. Story boards are used to document and view achievement, which gives everyone an overall picture at a glance.

Henk says that the school embarked on a very fruitful community consultation process to find out what people within – and outside – Otumoetai Intermediate wanted from their school. Partnerships with nearby schools – both those that feed Otumoetai and those that Otumoetai feeds – have been developed.

Henk says the stand-out feature of his learning community is the focus on teacher capacity and expertise. This has been an area that has had relentless effort put into it in recent years, and it’s starting to pay off.

“Lots of schools tend to focus on curriculum areas [in terms of professional development]; we actually concentrate on growing expert teachers. If you do that, then curriculum will look after itself. When we looked at what we were doing in terms of nurturing our teachers to be the best that they can, we were lucky enough to have Professor John Hattie come to our school and speak to our teachers. He said that the biggest difference in student achievement is teachers themselves and what they do in the classroom.

“As a school, we found a model of teacher improvement using Dr Kevin Knight’s work from the Graduate School of Education in Christchurch. Kevin has been working with us for six years now to refine teacher development. Effectively, what we’ve done is treat our teachers in the same way as we treat our students. They’re all on their own personal and professional development pathway. We’re now just about at the stage that we’re self-sustaining in this respect; we’ve got enough expert teachers at the school that they are able to successfully mentor and coach their colleagues.”

This focus on the development of teachers makes for more satisfied and motivated staff, says Henk. New teachers are informed that, while they will have to work hard, they will always be assisted and supported to find out what they don’t know, and they will be helped to identify the best path toward filling these practice knowledge gaps.

Excellence in Engaging – Atahapara Award

Making the world a better place: St Thomas’ Social Enterprise Hub

The Excellence in Engagement – Atahapara Award seeks to celebrate and acknowledge schools that are succeeding not just in engaging their students, but the wider community as well, leading to improved and sustained outcomes for all children and young people. The winner of the inaugural Excellence in Engaging award in 2014 was St Thomas of Canterbury College.

The judges said of St Thomas’ Social Enterprise hub:

“This is not a typical enterprise programme; the St Thomas’ focus on social good and engaging with disadvantaged groups is clearly having a huge impact on the way students view themselves and the world of business.”

The Social Enterprise Hub at St Thomas of Canterbury College has been running for over a decade now, and is a unique philosophy pursued by the school when participating in the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES), a business modelling scheme run by the Youth Enterprise Trust.

Principal Christine O’Neill says that the focus at her school for teams participating in YES is adapted to suit the focus of the school: encouraging young men to examine and question social and structural injustice.

This means that every team concentrates on engaging with social issues and on looking for solutions that can make the world a better place. This involves the team engaging with sectors of society that are marginalised or otherwise underprivileged.

While the boys are taught that the profitability of any business is important – because a business that isn’t profitable isn’t a business for long – there is far deeper learning to be had. Profits that might arise from student efforts must be invested in a cause or programme that’s closely related to the journey of the product that’s created.

“Right through the whole programme, every enterprise project involves – at a critical level – community engagement within communities that schools might not normally have anything to do with. Obviously, there’s the business community; other times, it has been engagement with NGOs, such as the Police or Community Law. We’ve had students engaging with migrant and refugee communities, with villages in the Pacific Islands, and possibly the most unusual, engagement with the youth wing of the Christchurch Mens’ Prison,” says Christine.

“I think what was acknowledged was that we’ve intentionally gone outside the normal boundaries of engagement, and there’s been so much deep, rich, and powerful learning as a result – on both sides of the engagement.”

Highlights of St Thomas’ involvement with YES include a Pasifika team – the first from the South Island to enter – who created a simple product: soap, using ingredients from Samoa. The quality of the learning and engagement involved saw them win that year’s competition overall.

The engagement with the youth wing of the Christchurch Men’s Prison involved a team collaborating with young inmates to design and produce a bread-board made from recycled native wood. Christine says the experience, which included activities like playing touch with the young inmates, and having a barbecue with them, was eye-opening for the students.

“When the judges came to our school, we had two boys come up to them, completely independently, and say to them that they were in the team that was engaging with the youth wing, and that it had changed their whole view of life, their view of the humanity of these young men who were in prison. They had realised that these boys were no different; they’d just walked different paths.”

Excellence in Governing – Awatea Award

A different path: Nōku Te Ao early childhood centre

The Excellence in Governing – Awatea Award seeks to celebrate governance and management that engenders a thriving educational climate and embeds sustainable outcomes for all young people. Nōku Te Ao early childhood centre is the inaugural winner of the category.

The judges said:

“Nōku Te Ao is an early childhood centre committed to developing te reo, with the principles of whānaungatanga, kotahitanga, and rangatiratanga at the core of governance. There is integrity of purpose throughout the operation, and clear accountability that gets things done.”

Nōku Te Ao came into being around a kapa haka group and the whānau that supported it. Dy Stirling, kaihautū at the centre, says that this group decided that there was another way to provide quality early childhood education to their tamariki, which had at its core both Māoritanga and quality education.

Whānaungatanga is the central tenet of Nōku Te Ao. This means that teachers don’t just work at the centre; they are part of a family. This is the meaning of whānau in its truest sense, says Dy.

“We look after each other; our staff know that they’re part of a community in a very real way. For example, we recently had a staff member who passed away, and during her illness, we tended to her just as any family would.”

This means that roles are more broadly defined and less limited. In the dominant western professional model, one turns up to work and then leaves it all behind at five. This is not the case at Nōku Te Ao. Dy says that this sense of belonging, and of shared purpose, is motivating and inspiring. This is because everybody is motivated to help and nurture those that they care about, she says.

From the beginnings of Nōku Te Ao, trustees have been strong and active supporters of the goals of the centre. This means that kaiako feel well-supported in their efforts and know that they are precious to the life of the centre. Staff are supported to strive for professional growth in whatever form that may take.

Receiving the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award is acknowledgement that their efforts to live by the principle of whānaungatanga has made for a successful learning centre. Though the community is still in shock a bit, there are plans afoot to properly celebrate their achievement, says Dy.

“We’re going to bring the parents in for an overnight stay and show them the footage that was taken as part of the awards. We’re a learning centre all of our own in lots of ways: we’re not a kōhanga reo, we’re not mainstream, and we’ve been playing it by ear the whole way through. When you’re starting something new, there’s always trial and error. Lots of people have said the whole way through, ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do that’, so the award is a validation in a lot of ways. We don’t, of course, rely on awards to prove to ourselves that we’re heading in the right direction, but it’s such a fabulous thing that we can feel like others are now beginning to see our successes for what they are.”

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:49 pm, 11 August 2014

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts