Specialist teaching diploma supports communities

Issue: Volume 100, Number 10

Posted: 12 August 2021
Reference #: 1HANxX

A refreshed specialist teaching qualification combined with Learning Support Study Awards is already providing benefits for two postgraduate students and their communities.

Justine Gibson is a resource teacher of the deaf (RTD) based at Ko Taku Reo.

Justine Gibson is a resource teacher of the deaf (RTD) based at Ko Taku Reo.

Justine Gibson is a resource teacher of the deaf (RTD) based at Ko Taku Reo, Deaf Education New Zealand in Auckland. She completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching, with an endorsement in Complex Educational Needs in 2014. In 2020, with a Learning Support Award, she embarked on a second Specialist Teaching diploma, with an endorsement in Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Because of the cross-over between the two endorsements, she has been able to upgrade to a Master’s programme.

“It’s important for people to understand that there’s lots of scope. A lot of people may have done the RTLB qualification, like I did the previous diploma, and it’s reassuring for people to know that they could create a pathway where they could do a Master’s programme within their field of practice.

“Getting a Master’s degree allows you to grow professionally. There are opportunities to work in different areas of education, including Ministry of Education specialist advisor positions and senior leadership positions in deaf education,” says Justine.

Insight into study

This year, Justine is doing a full-year paper in Specialist Theory and Foundations for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

“We’ve looked at who we are as teachers, the values that we bring, and where our culture sits amongst the culture of the students we work with, as well as our deaf culture and community that we work in.

“We’ve had a large module on audiology, learning about how children hear, how hearing equipment is used to improve the hearing of our children. And we’ve just finished a module on language development because we’re not speech-language therapists, but we’re expected to know a lot about language development and the building blocks of how language develops with all children.”

Justine says the study award supports her to take two days’ study leave per week, which makes a huge difference. “If you had to do the study on top of working full-time, that would certainly put a lot of people off.”

Living between two worlds

As an RTD, Justine works in mainstream schools as an itinerant teacher, with deaf and hard of hearing children. This includes those who have come through deaf early learning centres, with their families choosing mainstream education so their children can be part of their local schools and communities.

“Through my study, I’ve been able to talk with families about how they made those decisions and what was important for them. There are a wealth of opportunities that children can engage with to foster both worlds.

“I’ve learnt a lot about how people live between both worlds. The thing that I love the most is that when all our learners get together, they just pick up where they left off. For me, that’s where this diploma has really opened my eyes to how you can position yourself – and have choices.”

a child wearing hearing aids sits on his mother's lap

Many deaf children learn to live in hearing and non-hearing worlds.

Dual role

RTDs fill two roles: an assistive teaching role, which is called ‘indirect’ and involves equipment, and a teaching role, which is called ‘direct’. The course has been redesigned to ensure that RTDs are skilled to do both those jobs.

“The course has changed slightly and they’re now allowing us a whole year to work on the Deaf theory paper, which means we get really good opportunities to incorporate our learning into our practice,” says Justine.

“For example, we have learned how to read an audiogram. I attend my students’ audiology appointments; I take a copy of the audiogram and then I can go back to the school and explain that to them. Then the teachers understand why it’s important to wear the microphones at certain levels so the child can hear that.

“Teachers wear microphones for a lot of our children, but they will often say ‘but I speak really loudly’ – it’s more about the teacher’s voice going straight into the child’s ear, rather than all the background noise.” 

Resources for teachers

Since beginning study, Justine says she’s developed helpful resources for teachers to use.

“Having been a classroom teacher for 27 years, I know that you may have specialists come in, but it’s very hard when you’re in the middle of taking a class to take in the information.

“I’ve created some takeaways, like menus, that they can refer to. That’s helped in that there’s less reliance on me to come in when something’s not working, as far as equipment. They can use the ‘cheat sheet’ to help themselves. I love it when I get an email that says, ‘I’ve fixed it! I’ve managed to make it work’.”

Justine’s personal philosophy is about empowering everybody she comes across to say, “You can do this as well as I can. I just happen to be the person, who if you really get stuck, I’m here for you. I’ve got the time to help you”.

“The one thing I would say about the course that I’m doing, is that it is absolutely 100 per cent applied to our practice. It’s not a theory-based course. It’s a very practical course where you’re always thinking about students that you support, what you are learning and how it applies to them,” she concludes.

Empowering kaiako kōhanga

Braidie Keelan

Braidie Keelan began the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching at the beginning of the year.

Braidie Keelan is a kaiako from Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo in Tairāwhiti Gisborne and began the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching, with an endorsement in early intervention, at the beginning of the year.

Two years ago, an appraisal process led the kōhanga on a journey to support Braidie in undertaking the postgraduate diploma and she’s passionate about telling other kaiako kōhanga about the pathway. She says she’s the first kaiako kōhanga to undertake the diploma and the first to receive a study award.

Last year they only just recognised the Whakapakari Tohu – the kōhanga equivalent to kaiako status in mainstream. I really want people to know that it’s a pathway for our kōhanga reo to investigate and really think about going into because it’s a space where there’s a need.”

Braidie can already see where a lot of her learning can fit and what can be left in the kete for a rainy day.

“We came to the conclusion that if a tamaiti needs help, we’re going to get it and it doesn’t mean that we have to use and implement everything that we are offered or told, but that we could take what strategies we need and adapt them to whatever it is our tamariki need, in a language that is our own, and make it into something that fits us and our kaupapa,” says Braidie about Learning Support services.

Kōhanga kaupapa

Braidie became the kaiako matua at Te Whakaruruhau in 2018 and says it was soon decided there would be a shared leadership model, with all kaiako contributing their skills and strengths to the kōhanga reo. She says her studies have emphasised the special kaupapa of kōhanga reo and what she and her colleagues can offer.

“In kōhanga reo, we don’t realise how much of a skill base we have until we go into a space where our skills are something that people want and have to work hard to achieve. I’m so lucky that this has been my foundation because it’s made my study manageable.

“Everything they talk about in specialist teaching is collaboration and partnership. The kaupapa of kōhanga reo is that tamariki and whānau always come first and the kaiako’s expertise comes second. My studies are only emphasising that it IS a special kaupapa – it’s already embedded in our kaupapa. It’s part and parcel of being a whānau – but if you’re not part of that, I guess you have to learn it.”


Tamariki at Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo immersed in Te Reo ōna tikanga at a recent marae noho.

Tamariki at Te Whakaruruhau Kōhanga Reo immersed in Te Reo ōna tikanga at a recent marae noho.

Barriers to accessing support

Not only is the lack of interventionists fluent in te reo Māori a barrier for kōhanga and whānau when seeking help, but some of the language used can also be mystifying. Braidie has begun to compile a list of terms as she studies and she shares her learning with the kōhanga reo and whānau.

“Specialist teaching has its own language – there are so many abbreviations and sometimes when we have hui with whānau, we need to speak to them in a language they are familiar with. Maybe we haven’t explained things properly, but there can be miscommunication on what’s been said and what’s interpreted and what’s understood. I’ve got this ongoing development of a few pages of acronyms and terms that our whānau wouldn’t actually know so we can just learn together.”

Referral processing is also something Braidie learned about in her study and was able to put into action almost immediately.

“This was something where we said, ‘how did we not know that?!’ Prior to that, either the whānau would take their tamariki to a GP, or they would seek out the service themselves.

“So we’ve made our first referral as a kōhanga to Learning Support to be able to access those services for our tamariki. Otherwise, we would have gone round the mulberry bush. At any time, those specialist teachers and services could have told us that we were able to make a referral – that's huge for us and our whānau,” she says.

Kete of knowledge

Braidie is particularly interested in exploring the interface between Māori tikanga and pedagogy and Western ideas as outlined by University of Canterbury academics(external link) Sonia and Angus Macfarlane.

“An aspect of the course work that really engaged me was that of Evidence-based Practice (EBP) – particularly how it plays a crucial role in the considerations and applications of specialist teaching intervention. Course modules and themes focus on EBP. The three areas which make up the module are participant voice, professional expertise and relevant research or evidence.

“It’s where they intersect that becomes valuable. The adaptation by Angus and Sonia enriched it with tīkanga, which gives it a whole different dynamic from what people viewed as evidence, instead of just a Western view. There’s an interface where Māori tikanga and pedagogy and Western ideas can be woven together, as described by He Awa Whiria(external link),” she says.

The Ministry’s platform of resources He Pikorua, which aims to aims to support practitioners to work effectively and collaboratively within the Learning Support Delivery Model(external link), is also a rich resource, she says.

Meeting a need

Like all kōhanga reo, whānau at Te Whakaruruhau make decisions about the management and running of their whare. Braidie says that about two years ago through their appraisal process, they identified that there was a lack of early interventionists for Māori tamariki, with just one out of five Ministry of Education early intervention specialists in Tairāwhiti Gisborne being Māori.

“It was an area of growth that I wanted to pursue because the dynamics of kōhanga and outside services are quite strained for a lot of whanāu. If our tamaiti needs the awhi, we draw in the Ministry of Education services. If they don’t speak Maori, most kōhanga don’t want to have anything to do with it.

“When I started this journey, we thought I would learn all this stuff and I would come back to kōhanga and be able to share it with all of our whānau and I would still be able to stay within my kōhanga.”

It soon became apparent to Braidie and her kōhanga whānau that her new knowledge and learning will need to be shared more widely with Māori tamariki and whānau in the area.

“It’s been an amazing journey – I couldn’t just pick one thing to be honest. But a lot of what I have found valuable is that my whānau at the kōhanga reo have been able to learn alongside me, which is actually what they want,” says Braidie.

Apply for a Study Award

Applications for Learning Support Study Awards and Scholarships open on 2 August and close on 30 September 2021. Read this article online for links to the awards website and other resources featured in this article.

See the Learning Support Study Awards and Scholarships website(external link)

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

Posted: 10:12 AM, 12 August 2021

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