We were all saddened to hear that our dear friend and colleague Robyn Lawrence passed away on Saturday 12th September 2020. Her contribution to our organization and to early childhood education has been significant. There will be many in the early childhood community, not just in Aotearoa New Zealand, but in Australia, England and Germany as well, who will have experienced the force of her contributions.
Robyn started her career as a primary school teacher, but after becoming an early childhood teacher she never looked back. She made a superb contribution at Pakuranga Childcare for almost two decades and during this time and beyond she was a key leader in the development of Awhi Whānau Early Childhood Centre. Her commitment and dedication to taha Māori was evident in all that she did and stood for. Her early work on looking closely at the land you stand on in your setting, and reflecting and acting on what is beyond the gate, was work that inspired many of us. Robyn also lectured in assessment at Auckland College of Education, Auckland University of Technology and the Wellington College of Education. Throughout all, Robyn was an authentic person who put inter-dependence at the heart of her work and her life.
Lorraine Sands, one of her long-time colleagues and friends, encapsulated Robyn’s contribution when she wrote, ‘the first time I met Robyn, I understood that I was in the presence of a woman with quiet grace, a person who cared deeply about children and their families, and a sense that she had used her vast experience, both as a teacher and in the way she lived her life, to form an enacted wisdom in her relationships. Robyn, in all the years I have been so privileged to work with her, was forever championing children’s inexorable right to be respected, and for the environments they learned in to be responsive to their deep desire to connect with others through their play. I have always loved to listen to Robyn as she shared her perspectives on learning and teaching. I owe much to these conversations, immersed in contextual examples of children’s learning, and supporting research, for they were always uplifting and inspiring. Teachers all over New Zealand and beyond will have memories of the way Robyn’s wise council shifted our own perspectives and influenced our practice for the better. I feel such an overwhelming sense of sadness at her passing but Robyn leaves a legacy of influence that would be hard to quantify in terms of the way teachers have changed their engagements with children and families so we were more focused on kindness, better able to listen to children and to be responsive to their deep seated interests. A light that helped us to navigate our way has gone out with Robyn’s passing’.
Robyn brought many qualities to the teaching of children and adults. Her passion for teaching and learning was evident, and she was always open to change and growth. She saw herself as a lifelong learner and would continually reflect on her work and practice. She built relationships, knowing and appreciating others, always putting them at the heart of her teaching. Robyn was also so respectful and deeply respected. She worked in a way that was both supportive and collaborative and she was engaged and engaging. She was thoughtful and reflective but worked with empathy and care. She was trustworthy and patient, always working with integrity. I think these values came from a deep sense of purpose in life connected to her faith. Always in the service of others and humble in all that she did. She was always the team member ready to take risks and demonstrate resiliency. But she maintained a keen sense of fun and humour, being ready to participate in any adventure.
Robyn was so passionate about children’s lives and their futures. She took immense joy in their successes and I know Robyn’s documentation of children’s learning lives will inspire others. Just a fortnight ago I rang Robyn, but was unable to get hold of her so I sent her a text. I wanted to talk to her about the work she did with a little boy called Zachary in the days when she was leading the team at Pakuranga Childcare. I was about to use some of this work in a presentation on Sustainable Leadership. It is such a testament to her work, that 17 years after she did it, it still holds the test of time.
Robyn was also deeply thoughtful about teaching and learning and totally passionate about her work with Learning Stories. She has written several very thoughtful articles and one of my favourites is; ‘Talking with Lions and Swimming with Elephants: Being Brave and Courageous – Overcoming Fear through the Support of a Trusted Companion’. Today, I often use Robyn’s work to illustrate the principle of depth, because without doubt Robyn’s work ‘protects, and promotes deep and broad learning for all in relationship of care for others’. She understood the complexity of learning and teaching, viewing it as dynamic with the power to transform. To her, it was an art as much as a passion! As an ELP facilitator, she has inspired us with her workshops and presentations over many years and her work lives on significantly inside Kei tua o te Pae.
We are honoured to have known Robyn and she has left us all with fond memories, she was a gentle soul who will forever remain in our hearts. As Maya Angelou said “A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.” Our thoughts are with Gordon and the family during this very sad time.
Murimuri aroha, Wendy Lee
What follows is a series of photos that illustrate some of our shared experiences during her time as a facilitator with the Educational Leadership Project. This is followed with messages from friends and colleagues.
ELP team at retreat, planning and developing our work.
Back row from left to right: Lorraine Sands, Alison Brierley and Kathryn Delany.
Front row from left to right: Jo Colbert, Wendy Lee and Robyn Lawrence
Time for the team to engage in risk and challenge following work in the
Nelson district. We headed off to the Tasman to explore the sea…
Left to right: Robyn Lawrence, Wendy Lee, Jo Colbert,
Kathryn Delany, Lorraine Sands, Alison Brierley,
Julie Killick, Helen Sola Nanai.
Robyn and Wendy in the front double kayak!
Returning to Christchurch after the earthquake and finding friends in
Akaroa. Left to right: Kathryn Delany, Jo Colbert, Lorraine Sands,
Robyn Lawrence, Wendy Lee
ELP Christmas’s always special events, usually filled with entertaining
skits from different members… from the back (left to right) Jo Colbert,
Lorraine Sands, Julie Killick, Malcolm Carr, Kathryn Delany and
Robyn Lawrence. Front row (left to right) Margaret Carr,
Wendy Lee and Helen Sola Nanai
Robyn, always ready to join in the fun!
It is not enough to go on a long walk to visit the fumeroles, but we
have to fully experience it.
An ELP Leadership Retreat, Robyn’s contributions always so
deeply thoughtful and reflective. A time to share and to collaborate.
At the ready, time to welcome our Australian early childhood guests off
the Devonport Ferry and take them on a marvellous early childhood
experience. This included some magical storytelling from Robyn and
various other events from the ELP team members.
Following an Inspiration Day with the Hawkes Bay ECE community we
got involved in the local community, it was Napier’s Art Deco weekend,
we were ready to play. From left to right: Gillian Fitzgerald, Wendy Lee,
Lynn Rupe, Kathryn Delany, Carol Marks, Sibylle Haas (from Germany),
Robyn Lawrence and Lorraine Sands.
Another special ELP event. From left to right: Jo Colbert,
Kathryn Delany, Lorraine Sands and Robyn Lawrence.
More special workshops for the ‘Mothers of the Brides’. Kathryn is
leading this special literacy workshop (never to be forgotten) before
we head out for a special lunch in the Hamilton Gardens!
Learning the art of becoming a Mother of the Bride! Enjoying the
We had many adventures overseas with Robyn, working with early childhood teachers in different parts of the world. Here is a little window into some of these experiences.
This ELP team is not travelling light for this big mission to Europe.
Here we are in Germany,
left to right: Jo Colbert, Kathryn Delany, Wendy Lee and Robyn Lawrence
On a boat in Berlin:
Left to right: Sibylle Haas from Berlin, Robyn Lawrence,
Julie Killick and Lorraine Sands.
Working in Pen Green, Corby, England. Time for a little relaxation,
left to right: Robyn Lawrence,Lorraine Sands, Alison
Brierly, Kathryn Delany and Jo Colbert.
At this time we separate and head to different parts of England to work.
Arrived in Whitby, England.
Left to right: Kathryn Delany, Wendy Lee and Robyn Lawrence
The team re-joined each other after a month working in England and we
headed to Sweden, here we are in Stockholm with Guinilla Dahlberg.
Left to right: Alison Brierley, Wendy Lee, Julie Killick,
Gunilla Dahlberg, Lorraine Sands, Kathryn Delany, Jo Colbert
and Robyn Lawrence.
Another trip to Germany, this time we are with Klara Schloemer,
Lisa Scholemer and Rolf in Moenchengladbach. Left to right: Wendy
Lee, Alison Brierley, Lorraine Sands, Lisa Scholemer, Kathryn Delany,
Jo Colbert, Robyn Lawrence, Klara Scholemer and Rolf. We all had such a
wonderful adventure working in Germany for several weeks and visiting
and working in many different cities and towns across Germany.
MESSAGES FROM FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES
My beautiful colleague, forever friend and wisest person I know. Our 'owl encounter' brought together a wise human and a wise creature! Both smiling knowingly at one another. One of many wonderful moments shared with Robyn that I will never forget.
I love this photo of Robyn, I was out walking one morning in a small town in Germany and spotted Robyn at a cafe having her breakfast. It shows the strong, independent, confident woman Robyn was along with her absolute passion for life! I met Robyn in 2000 when we joined ELP, we connected quickly and made the decision to finish our degrees together. As adult students, we had not studied for many years and Robyn became my critical friend through my degree and I was hers. We used each other for sounding boards as we completed assignments spending many hours in discussion about what we were learning. Robyn was an incredible mentor, travel buddy and friend.
I remember Robyn for her kindness towards all people from all walks of life and all cultures, her intuitive and gentle engagement with teachers, friends and children using her wisdom and quiet disposition. She had a wonderful sense of humour and a love for life, enjoying new experiences. I will always remember her kindness when I joined ELP.
Annika Claesdotter from Sweden
Robyn, you are one of those wonderful persons who opened a new world to me!
I have so many happy, exciting, funny, beautiful memories thanks to you and I treasure them every day.
The Tongariro crossing is just one of them.
Thank you from all my heart for all the love and friendship.
I will wave at you up there among the stars and take good care of the peonies – they have been yours since you first saw them. ❤
Oh, very sad to hear of Robyn’s passing. I first met Robyn when I was at Unitec Early Learning Centre. It was our first connection with ELP, and Robyn was a wonderful facilitator. Robyn saw something in me that I am still growing into after all these years. She was gentle and kind, and knew how to nurture confidence and belief in myself to share the work and advocate for infants and toddlers in particular. It is a beautiful, yet sad, coincidence that her article about the golden threads is a part of my Learning Stories workshop, so she has been in my thoughts recently 💜
The first time I met Robyn, I understood that I was in the presence of a woman with quiet grace, a person who cared deeply about children and their families, and a sense that she had used her vast experience, both as a teacher and in the way she lived her life, to form an enacted wisdom in her relationships. Robyn, in all the years I have been so privileged to work with her, was forever championing children’s inexorable right to be respected, and for the environments they learned in to be responsive to their deep desire to connect with others through their play. I have always loved to listen to Robyn as she shared her perspectives on learning and teaching. I owe much to these conversations, immersed in contextual examples of children’s learning, and supporting research, for they were always uplifting and inspiring. Teachers all over New Zealand and beyond will have memories of the way Robyn’s wise council shifted our own perspectives and influenced our practice for the better. I feel such an overwhelming sense of sadness at her passing but Robyn leaves a legacy of influence that would be hard to quantify in terms of the way teachers have changed their engagements with children and families so we were more focused on kindness, better able to listen to children and to be responsive to their deep seated interests. A light that helped us to navigate our way has gone out with Robyn’s passing’.
I remember Robyn as someone who lived into her values. Robyn was authentic to the core and had a great sense of wanting to ensure that everyone was made to feel accepted for who they are. Not long after joining ELP Robyn came and stayed at our home and without a doubt Robyn showed and modelled absolute aroha and acceptance. I think that came from being so comfortable with who she was as a person. There is a long personal story that sits in behind these words but suffice to say Robyn loved people and she wanted those she came in contact with to experience her genuine love and acceptance.
One of my fondest teaching moments and with Robyn is the memory is the story of Mighty the turtle. I expect Mighty was a friend to many at Pakuranga College Early Childhood Centre, so often he would be found out of his cage and roaming the floor because of curious children. The most epic rescue mission was the quest to give Mighty a new tank. It weighed heavy on my heart that Mighty had a small tank, and I felt he deserved more space. But to think something and share a statement was never enough with Robyn, the questions always followed.
What could I do about Mighty and his small tank?
What was going to be my cause for change?
So, to cut a long story short Mighty the Turtle became the focus of the children’s 4-year-old transition time and the children started to recreate with blocks what kind of space Mighty should have. Many of Mighty’s young friends decided that Mighty must have a space with a ladder. So, under Robyn’s Leadership there was a fundraising disco for Mighty and a Bus trip to a pet shop where the children were able to choose a new tank for Mighty with a ladder.
Like many of Robyn’s family and friends and acquaintances I feel honoured to have known her and extremely lucky to have been inspired by her sense of urgency towards working with people to deliver the very best outcomes possible for tamariki and their whānau in our land, Aotearoa and further abroad.
Robyn was a leader that walked beside you so quietly until you did not realise you were leading by yourself.Robyn you taught me how the smallest of footsteps can lead to the longest journeys.
Rest quietly and peacefully.
I remember very clearly the day I met Robyn for the first time. I was on a mission to recruit thoughtful teachers, for the Kei Tua o te Pae resource development. Robyn at Pakuranga College Childcare Centre had been recommended and she agreed to meet me.
I arrived to find her tucked away in a tiny office surrounded by heaps of books and papers. We got on well but she wasn't as convinced as I was that this project was for her centre. She was honest – outside professional development in the past had not been a good experience.. It was too time consuming and frankly superficial. I left, giving her time to think about it.
Well, I am not sure what happened after that first meeting but clearly Robyn must have decided to give outside professional development one more go and we all know what that led to – years of inspiring teachers all over the world as many have so eloquently written about already.
I had three great adventures with Robyn, taking learning stories to Adelaide in the early 2000s. The teachers we presented to thought she was wonderful because, unlike me, she could speak as a current teacher. Her examples were real and powerful and complemented the theory stuff that I was largely responsible for.
We flew in tiny planes to take learning stories to a pub in Port Lincoln and the town hall in Port Augusta. We walked part of the wild southern coast and much more. Robyn put up with my insistence that we got self catering accommodation so I could shop at the amazing Adelaide market. She took a camera everywhere and so I now have this full and amazing record of those trips... and lovely memories of her.
Eine sehr traurige Nachricht hat uns erreicht ... Shared in Germany
vor ein paar Tagen hat Wendy Lee uns mitgeteilt, dass Robyn Lawrence am 12. September 2020 in Middlemore gestorben ist.
Viele von uns - in ganz Deutschland - durften Robyn kennenlernen, entweder bei den Besuchen der neuseeländischen Kolleginnen an zahlreichen Orten hier oder bei Besuchen und Studienreisen nach Neuseeland.
Viele von uns erinnern sich an das gemeinsame Nachdenken und Reflektieren und an die persönlich und fachlich bereichernden und wohlwollenden Gespräche und wertschätzenden Begegnungen mit Robyn - sei es bei Vorträgen, Workshops oder bei Besuchen in den Kinderhäusern und Kindergärten.
Auch hier in Deutschland hat sie in der Arbeit mit den Lerngeschichten und in den Herzen vieler Pädagog*innen ihre Spuren hinterlassen - dafür sind wir Robyn sehr dankbar!
Wendy Lee und die Kolleg*innen haben auf den Seiten des Educational Leadership Project Blogs eine Seite zum Gedenken und zur Würdigung für Robyn verfasst. Gerne können Sie diese besuchen und sich nochmals an Begegnungen zurückerinnern - folgen Sie diesem Link:
Wir trauern um Robyn und werden sie sehr vermissen.
Robyns Familie und ihren Kolleginnen in Neuseeland sprechen wir unsere herzliche Anteilnahme aus und wünschen ihnen viel Kraft.
Für das Bundesweite Netzwerk Lerngeschichten
Dear Wendy, dear Lorraine, dear Kathryn, dear Alison, dear Jo and all the project facilitators,
You know many elephants Robyn has swum with and you also know what the lions she talked to looked like. It must be a great pain to lose this brave woman and this trusted companion. All your personal encounters will also be indelible. ELP is, in my opinion, a big family and has lost its wonderful senior. With courage, creativity and liveliness she set an example of how to be old in dignity, wisdom and beauty. Robyn also shared her wisdom with us here in Germany. I feel her warmth and intensity when I read her name.
There are many people in Germany who want to keep Robyn in vivid memory and this article seems to me to be very suitable. "Talking with Lions and Swimming with Elephants. Being Brave and Courageous - Overcoming Fear through the Support of a Trusted Companion".
As the author of the article, she certainly did not know how much this title reflected her personality overall. But we know it. Today I worked with Kornelia on the subtleties of the German translation. I think we have succeeded very well in translating into our language what Robyn wrote so brilliantly. We felt her sensitivity and the spirit of her wonderful examples. We feel that this treasure that Robyn has given us should be available to many people.
We, Kornelia and I, mourned Robyn's passing while working together on the translation.
Thanks for sending this mail and for starting the ELP blog remembering Robyn. It is really great what all her friends and colleagues have written inside this blog. Yes, I agree, Robyn was an exceptional person. I always remember her as someone with a very special aura. When your group was in Germany, I sometimes had the privilege to translate her workshops. It was not only what she said, but how she said something, which was so fascinating. Her smile, her positive way to listen to people and to answer with such love for children, adults and teachers was great and I'm very thankful for these opportunities to learn from Robyn.
Do you remember the turtles in Weberg? Robyn did a lecture at Auckland University one evening and part of it was the story from Africa "why stones live forever" and she gave me her PowerPoint presentation with the photos of our Weberg turtles, that featured in her presenation. And now also Robyn is part of these global stories of the land and people. It is very sad, but also very comforting.
from Kornelia Schneider from Germany (Hamburg)
I’ll never forget the deep experience when Norbert and I in 2008 visited the Māori childcare centre in Auckland where she was a facilitator. Robyn presented us a learning story she had written after watching a handicapped child experiencing the seashore. After some while this boy was daring to step direct into the water the first time in his life. Not only that this was a touching story of this boy, it also was a very touching story of Huhana being a teacher. The photos Robyn had taken showed, how very subtly supporting she behaved, staying with a little distance behind the boy with her hands uplifted to strengthen his back (that is an idiom in German, symbolically saying that someone is beside or behind a person to help her or him to stay upright). This was the best symbolic expression of a teacher assisting a child by staying aside or going along with him or her (instead of teaching top-down) I ever found. We had a very moving and inspiring conversation together and we could feel how this event in turn strengthened Huhana as a teacher. And so I was very glad when 2014 at my next visit in this Centre I found Huhana became in the meantime the leader of it.