Monday, November 16, 2015

On Celebrating Learning Stories - Conference Oct2015

The Learning Story Conference has been a stalwart of the Educational Leadership Project since the year 2000. Each year teachers come together from throughout New Zealand and share stories. What is refreshing about this, is that every story is different. And thus, every Learning Story Conference offers new insights, fresh ideas, and stimulating pedagogical discussion.

2015 was no exception. As Wendy Lee enthused, it is, as usual, encouraging and inspiring to see teachers face their fears, and stand up and share their stories, philosophies, successes and challenges with fellow colleagues. At times we saw the nerves, presenters shared their anxieties, as new and experience presenters began their presentations. But what excitement! as these leaders, reached deep, expressed their passions, relaxed and became animated as they began to enjoy the conversations that evolved from their personal and professional shared experiences.

At the end of an incredible conference, Wendy Lee thanked presenters, and encouraged new presenters by quoting “You have to be brave so that others can be brave”. And that is certainly what I witnessed throughout the day.

The Learning Stories shared worked together to clearly represent and encourage learner identity. These are treasured stories that children claim as their own, interacting with their portfolio, and passionately sharing their learning with friends and family. Examples were shared about learning Stories and portfolios connecting children with events through time, and with whanau - clinging onto their books with a deep sense of belonging.

Margaret Carr brought us back to the essence of the story. When Margaret first researched narrative stories, it was just the beginning of what has become a rich assessment process, not only documenting children’s learning, but developing learner identity and influencing children’s long term image of themselves as competent and confident learners. Margaret reminded us of the element of uncertainty - about what came before and the direction the learning will take - between stories. We were encouraged to continue to embrace the value, and grow the continuity, of learning stories, to celebrate the connections between time, places and relationships.

Wendy Lee explored the development of e-portfolios and challenged us to remain true to the purpose of the learning stories’ socio-cultural perspective, and to remain true to our professionalism. The use of technology within ECE has always been a contentious one, however e-portfolios offer valuable connections. We need to be mindful not to become teach-technicians using quick and easy tech tools, which can distract us from digging deep and expressing what we know. We were encouraged in all manner of learning stories, to reflect and be mindful about how we weave our professional knowledge of assessment, using Te Whāriki into children’s stories of learning, in a way that is relevant and powerful. There is value in both the e-portfolio, and the paper portfolio, and we hugely beneficial to have both!!

I can’t wait for the next Learning Story Conference, and to hear about the tamariki and teachers’ courageous stories of learning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Let the children play.

I was at a centre recently and we were discussing Learning Stories.  My question to this group of teachers was - what are your long term aspirations and goals for the children at the centre.  The teachers thought about this for a moment and replied - they would like the children to have empathy, to be socially competent, to have resilience and a surety about who they are.  I do think that there were a great deal more aspirations that these teachers had but in the moment that was their list.

After a bit of discussion about the aspirations we watched an interview with Sir Ken Robinson in which he was asked,  “What skills are essential for humanity to thrive in the modern world?”

Sir Ken Robinson has four areas that he thought we should grow in children - our long term aspirations for them.  These were the four area:

Creativity - which he described as the fruit of imagination.  I have heard others describe this also as divergent thinking.  Gansky  described divergent thinking as “the ability to branch out from a starting point and consider a variety of possible solutions, involves fluidity of thinking, broad scanning ability, and free association.”   

Compassion - Sir Ken Robinson says this comes from the same power as imagination.  It is being able to see things away from our immediate circumstances.   He calls it applied empathy and the cultural glue that holds us all together.

Composure - This he said is mindfulness.  He quoted recent statistics from the World Health Organisation that state in 2020 depression will be the biggest form of disability. He goes on to say that children need to feel whole.   Within ECE I think this about seeing the tamaiti as a whole person with spirituality, mana, a past, present and future who is rich in potential and ensuring that the tamaiti has the same understanding of themselves.  Maybe we would call this belonging - but belonging is very very big.  Small word big meaning. 

Collaboration - He said children need to learn to work together rather than as individuals.  Going into the future if children have learnt collaboration they will be facing common challenges together.  I can imagine that if children are sharing their ideas, thoughts and passions in a collaborative way when facing problems while they are young then when faced with new challenges in the future that they will have the multiple perspective and ideas available to them through this ability to collaborate.

The teachers from the centre had actually spoken about many of the skills essential for humanity listed by Sir Ken Robinson.   

It is always amazing to me that when you hear something for the first or second time then you start to notice and hear about it more.  It is a little like when you buy a car and all of a sudden you see that particular brand everywhere and you hadn’t noticed it before.  Well that feeling has happened to me over the last week - hearing those teachers speak, hearing Sir Ken Robinson’s interview and now today an article I found on the internet called, ‘The Decline of Play and Rise of Children’s Mental Disorders’.  In the article Peter Gray talks about the decline of play and the correlation between lack of time to play  and depression in older children.

Gray wrote, “Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to:
solve their own problems
control their own lives
develop their own interests, 
and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.

Solve their own problems - creativity.
Control their own lives - composure.
Develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests - if you have seen they way children work together and share their passions and interests you would know there is a strong link to - compassion and collaboration.

If I were to ask how can we build creativity, composure, compassion and collaboration within the children we teach I wonder if we would all answer - ‘let the children play.’

This is a link to the article:  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Growing up....

More thoughts on 'what do you want to be when your grow up'.

I have recently listened to Sir Kin Robinson online - he was discussing what 21st Learners need to learn in preparation for their future.  This is something that we might share over the next few blogs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Who you are!

Notes On An Unhurried Journey

While getting lost in the internet, as I often do - sometimes only to surface several hours later for a coffee and a time to ponder on the journey, I found these wonderful words by Professor T. Ripaldi at:
Notes On An Unhurried Journey
When we adults think of children, there is a simple truth which we ignore; childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live; a child is living. The child is constantly confronted with the nagging question: “What are you going to be?” Courageous would be the youngster who, looking the adult squarely in the face, would say, “I’m not going to be anything; I already am.”
We adults would be shocked by such an insolent remark, for we have forgotten, if indeed we ever knew, that a child is an active participating and contributing member of society from the time he is born. Childhood isn’t a time when he is moulded into a human who will then live life; he is a human who is living life. No child will miss the zest and joy of living unless these are denied him by adults who have convinced themselves that childhood is a period of preparation.
How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him as an apprentice. How much we would teach each other… adults with the experience and children with the freshness. How full both our lives could be. 
A little child may not lead us, but at least we ought to discuss the trip with him; for, after all, life is his and her journey too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

In the book He Pou Tātaki - How ERO Reviews Early Childhood Service it is very clear about the expectation for collaboration of everyone involved in the ECE service.  One of the contributing elements to Pou Arahi is:
"Establishing and developing the organisation culture of the service " under this element an indicator of good practice is:
"Collaborative ways of working are fostered with everyone involved in the service. "

This is a very broad view of collaboration that includes everyone in aspects such as:
self review,
strategic planning,
annual plans,
assessment & planning,
staff appraisals, 
policy & philosophy review.
 Everyone includes teachers, children, whānau, managers and board members in varying degrees depending on what you are looking at.  If we are truly seeking the best for our tamariki having a broad base perspective will assist us as we refining and reflect on our practices because it will not be about one person's perspective any more but rather they ideas of the collective.   As we gather everyone's ideas and thoughts then filter these with current research we will have self review, planning, assessment etc that is rich with   knowledge, culture and passions. 

Monday, May 11, 2015


Tim Gill is one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood, and an effective advocate for positive change in children’s everyday lives. This video and the below graphic are from Tim Gill's Twitter page:  Gill is talking about older children having the freedom to be part of the wider community.  As he said the issues around this are complex and I wonder if one of the issues is risk aversion.  Are we cotton wooling children to the degree that they would not be able to cope at the age of 6 or 7 to explore their community? Have they been given the opportunity to make decisions about their play, learn from mistakes, set their own challenges and goals and move into a backyard that is exciting and supportive of them as learners?
Children need to have access to outdoor spaces.  This is an important issue for childcare.  All to often children are unable to freely move between inside and outside spaces due to the ratios within our centres or gates that need a teacher to open them - as the photos show for the St Peters Centre in the last post.  Teachers need to be reflective about their practice and they need to be the advocates for children to ensure that they get the care and education they deserve 100% of the time, not just on the good days when our ratios are better or for that hour that is between morning tea and lunch when we can manage to have the doors open.   Gill talks about the children's shrinking horizons - are we adding to this in ECE by actually reducing children's opportunities to have the freedom to explore even in our  backyard.
Outdoor play and the importance of risk and challenge for children would make a wonderful basis for an action research question for centres who are thinking about providing the best opportunities for children to become thinkers and learners within an environment that supports their innate curiosity. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Interesting spaces

In our previous post we asked for photos of interesting spaces since New Zealand now has the reputation of, "having overtaken Sweden and Norway as the most innovative designer of children’s spaces in the world. "

If you have photos that you would like to share of indoor or outdoor spaces please let us know - you can email us with your photos and blurbs at

               St Peters Childcare's interesting space

This was the beginning of the journey to transform an outdoor area into a back yard.

Here are a series of photos that show how children add life to a centre.  This centre initially had many gated off areas separating the up to 2's and the over 2's.  Over time the gates were removed creating an open space allowing all children to move freely between the indoors and the backyard.

The willow archway was created with smooth wooden pavers leading to the sandpit.  But alongside that a trickier path of boulders helps to keep stretching children's learning as they attempt to move over the uneven surface.

The plants - mostly edible - have softened the landscape and created a homely backyard rather than an outdoor space.

A crab apple tree forms shade, food and a place to hang a swinging chair.

Friday, April 17, 2015

ECE Innovation

This is a quote from the article above:
"One of the reasons that the New Zealand conference venue was chosen was the fact that the country of New Zealand is now considered by many to house the best designed early childhood programs in the world. New Zealand constantly integrates spectacular, innovative, building designs with natural surroundings indoors and outdoors. New Zealand appears to now have overtaken Sweden and Norway as the most innovative designer of children’s spaces in the world. We believe that all of us have so much to learn from the New Zealand experience of uniting children with beauty, functionality, and nature every day. "

If you have wonderful outdoor or indoor spaces that you want to share with the ECE community please contact us and we would love to put them on the ELP blog.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Below are several quotes from author Robert John Meehan who said "Be a reflective teacher. Honestly look at what you do from time to time.  Evaluate the purpose of your role as a teacher."

Being a reflective teacher means  researching, reflecting and evaluating on aspects of our practice.  To keep doing the same thing over and over could be called complacency. Kotter, PJ wrote, "Leaders (teachers) will never state that they have decided to strategically become complacent – however inaction is still a decision, albeit often an emotional rather than logical one. The failure to grasp opportunities to ‘think different’ and take action with a sense of urgency means they have decided to accept the status quo simply because it’s easier for them."

Any one of the below statements from Robert John Meehan could be used as the inspiration to reflect on teaching and learning within our centres.

"Our teaching should always be artfully crafted. It should impart something that is in itself sacred to the senses of our students." 

"The best teachers are those who pass on their zeal and enthusiasm as a legacy to their students." 

 "Learning becomes relevant when we connect it with reality." - Robert John Meehan 

 "Be diligent in trusting that what we do in the classroom could possibly echo for a lifetime in the heart of a student."- Robert John Meehan   

These quotes have come from:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Exciting learning

I saw this photo on the below Facebook page and thought about the wonderful learning that must have taken place for these children.  Photos like these make me realise that the spirit of invention, creativity, freedom, problem solving, camaraderie and curiosity are alive and well in early childhood.  Isn't this an amazing photo?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tinkering with ideas, sticks, mud, string......

This link will take you to a TED Talk by Gever Tulley.  I love the introduction to the talk  as he describes the exact moment he starts growing his ideas about Tinkering School.  The catalyst were some words of a parents who asks....."Is that a stick? You know the rules about sticks....." In one of the posts below titled 'The Journey' my mokopuna delighted in playing with sticks.
"When children are encouraged to solve problems on their own, they learn a great deal through the questions and hands-on experiments that lead to a solution.  Even preverbal children pose questions and identify problems - think of a baby who works hard to grasp an out-of-reach toy.....The process of being curious about something, asking questions, and exploring various solutions are all part of the fun of learning." (Rachelle Doorley,2014)

I wonder what the rules about sticks are in early childhood centres?  I remember reading a list of the 10 best toys ever - toys such as string, boxes, mud and the number one toy was THE STICK!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Single Story

While reading Wendy's post I remembered the powerful TED talk I had watched some time ago by Chimamanda Adichie titled The Danger of The Single Story.  I think this has been posted, in the past, onto the ELP Facebook page but I thought that it would be worth a revisit here on the blog.  So just click on the link below to see this powerful message.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Verity Johnson: Bad parents? These people are heroes

This is an opinion piece that was in the NZ Herald just before Christmas. I think it deserves to be read by a wider audience.  Verity Johnson says we need to rethink the way we talk about poverty, forget the prejudice and deal with some of the uncomfortable facts about what is happening in the homes of the 'underclass'. 

Here is the link to the story

I will also publish it below...

I was running, Hop card in my teeth, clutching my bag, pulling down my skirt and blinking away sweat. I was late. I was lost. And I'd forgotten to Google where Auckland City Mission actually was. But I needn't have worried. As I turned on to the corner of Hobson St, I froze. About 200 people were standing on the pavement.

It was the queue to get into the City Mission.

There was a TV3 guy in a sharp suit at the end of the line. He was trying to talk to people and was getting laughed at. I had to walk past him, and through the queue, to get to the door.

I've never felt younger, greener ... no, whiter, and more middle class than I did at that moment.

Inside, people were squashed into every corner. People sat hunched, elbows on knees, staring at me, or at the wall, or at the clock.

At my feet, a baby girl with dark curls wriggled around like a caterpillar.

I looked at her. Then I looked at my feet. I was wearing new trainers. I'd bought them yesterday. $180. A Christmas present to myself. White, high-heeled Nikes. They glistened like pig fat under the neon lights.

Eventually, when a bead of sweat had dribbled the full length of my spine, I got shown into Diane's office.

Diane Robertson, CEO of the Auckland City Mission, looked busy. She had one food parcel to distribute every eight minutes. She waved away my feeble small talk about the heat, pulled out the Family 100 Report on poverty in New Zealand, and talked for the next hour about the hideously intricate web of poverty.

I left. My stomach was tied in fierce knots at my own privilege, the injustice of the situation and the fact that some people had queued since 3am. There was still a queue at midday. They were waiting for a box of Weetbix, sausages and toilet paper.

Later that evening, I was in a funky Takapuna bistro for my girlfriend's birthday. It was one of those places where everything comes with an artistic olive. It was one of those places I felt comfortable walking into. One of those places I could wear the white trainers in.

It was also the place where I'd had one of my most heated dinner conversations ever. A guy had been telling me that we shouldn't have free breakfast in schools. Apparently parents who sent their kids to school without breakfast were irresponsible. If we gave them Weetbix, it'd only encourage this bad parenting.

The idea that poor people are bad parents is one of the ideas I heard a lot at school. It normally came alongside something like, "God, they just laze around, sponging off the government, living off benefits ... they don't even want a job."

There is prejudice and loathing, and then there are facts. The Family 100 Project, an online report compiled by Auckland Council, Auckland City Mission and Think Place, brings the truth of what's actually happening in the homes of the underclass.
You'll read, in story after story, about parents who don't eat so that their kids can. Parents who don't sleep in a bed so their kids can. Parents who will get up at 3am to queue, go through a five-hour ordeal of form filling, waiting, explaining, waiting, explaining again and waiting again ... just to get a box of Weetbix and sausages so their kids can eat at Christmas.

They don't sound like bad parents. They sound like heroes.

And when you read The Family 100 Project, you'll see there is a section on employment. You can read the interviews where people rhapsodise about working.

They want to work; it's a ticket out of poverty. It's a way to meet new people. It's a way to buy dinner every night of the week. And it's a self- confidence boost.

They don't sound like spongers. They sound willing, no, desperate to work.

And you can see the web of agencies that people living with poverty deal with in a fortnight. It's well over 20. Families must traipse from agency to agency, continually proving how they're 'legitimately poor'. I can't imagine what that's like. But it sounds like they work flat out to live.

We can do something about it. We can change the way we talk about poverty. We can donate to Auckland City Mission's 'Be Someone's Angel' campaign. Or we can think better of buying $180 trainers and buy two food boxes for a family instead.

I'm not sure I want these shoes now anyway. I thought they were a sparkly white. On closer inspection, I think they're a foul yellow.