Monday, 24 October 2016

Cultural Responsiveness - Not Just A Tick Box

Creative Commons Attribution
(This post is for a Connected Educator 2016 Edbooknz project on education buzz words, facilitated by Sonya Vanshaijik.)

“Cultural responsiveness” is one of those terms: if you gathered a whole pile of current Ministry of Education documents and put them through the word cloud mincer, “cultural responsiveness” would stick out of the group like a neon billboard.

Captain Cook - portrait in public domain
I’ve just processed the Education Review Office’s School Evaluation Indicators (July 2016) and naturally, it’s right up there like today’s special. And it needs to be. We only have to look at the news apps to see the conflicts world wide, even in this enlightened age, which are about cultural conflict. Aotearoa New Zealand too. We are still working through issues in New Zealand that began when Captain Cook and his crew landed in New Zealand and a party was slaughtered in a cove in the Marlborough Sounds because their actions were insulting to the host people.

The problem is, that our need to identify with a group is, if not innate, then certainly nurtured in our early experiences of life. We look for similarities, and for the most part, we do our best to be accepted by a group of humans who speak, act and think along the same lines. Even the non-conformists are conforming to the group of other non-conformists.

The problem we are finding though, is that the group known as “New Zealand education” has been recognised as being too based in Western European culture. An effect of this is seen to be underachievement in New Zealand’s indigenous Māori people because they don’t recognise their own culture in the content and pedagogy of the classrooms they attend.

I’ll mention - but not spend much time on - the issues New Zealand educators also see as having an effect: the effects of poverty. Yes, it is a vicious cycle leading to more disadvantaged Māori; we know that we can’t engage students who are more worried about Maslow’s pyramid than Bloom’s.

The deficit thinking that has been blamed for Māori underachievement is documented in archives quoted in a parliamentary paper from the Auditor General’s office (2012). Older Māori have anecdotes of being disciplined for using their own language at school; indeed, a national policy discouraged its use. Even earlier, the missionaries saw the “anglicising” of Māori children and their communities as a way of becoming less like heathens and therefore closer to God.

A report from 1862 has a school inspector reflecting the belief at the time that:
"a refined education or high mental culture" would be inappropriate for Māori because "they are better calculated by nature to get their living by manual than by mental labour" (Auditor General’s paper).

In 1915, it is noted that Māori were discouraged from entering “learned professions” and  even as late as 1960, the Hunn Report saw integration into the Western system as the key, leading to a huge reduction in Māori speakers.  This attitude to original culture was engaged by all non-English immigrants of the time; as a child of the sixties with a Dutch parent and extended family who emigrated to New Zealand, I know none of my ancestors’ language. It was more important to be accepted by the dominant white New Zealand, English speaking culture.

Only three years later, the Currie Report highlighted Māori underachievement. From that point on, researchers and education initiatives have battled to reverse a well embedded deficit model of education that has hampered many Māori students.

So back to 2016.  The mistakes of two preceding centuries continue. The attitudes, though we hate to admit to it, continue. I live in Rotorua, a city regarded by many, to be the heartland of Māori culture. Daily I hear the mispronunciation of Māori language, even by educators I work with, who have the best intentions. Take the word “whānau.” I remember a Māori colleague in the late 1980s, at another school in a town not far from here, who stood up and chastised our principal for not only mispronouncing the school’s name, but for saying “far-now” when the word is “far-know”. I cringe when I listen to a principal in a Ministry video talking about the work his school has done to link with their “far-now”.

Other people are quite blatant in their determination to use English vowel sounds; I continually have to explain myself and stand up for the Māori vowels, even with members of my own family. And they should know better. My name, originating from European ancestors, has a pronounced “e” in the middle that should result in four syllables but is often given three and a hyphen. I empathise completely with those Māori who think others are either not listening or don’t care enough to remember.

Then there is the principal who just wanted to rename me Heidi, as that was easier. How many of our Asian students have changed their names for similar reasons? My name is my identity. I was named after two people: my paternal grandmother and a Swiss caregiver my mother had as a child, who she was very fond of. My name reminds me of my heritage.

Language is identity. That’s why it is so important that Māori learners see and use it. And that schools embrace it. But the danger is in thinking that having a bit of Māori language on the whiteboard is enough.

Culture goes deeper.  Language is a key but in order to be responsive to culture we need to do a lot more.  The second thing is to take heed of the that other key competency, “relating to others.”  As Hipkins et al remind us, relating to others is much more than paying lip service to another group, it’s about delving deeply into the understandings, attitudes, values and beliefs, in order that we can walk alongside this group and not judge them according to our own cultural lens.

For example, Māori themselves, do not regard themselves as one group called “Māori.” In Rotorua, mistakes were made even recently, by well meaning folk, who dealt with the wrong haukāinga or sub-tribe; there are many such groups even in our city, and their particular stories, links and ties to the land must be acknowledged. The third thing to acknowledge is that it is important to listen to the voice of that haukāinga. Our haukāinga, Te Roro o Te Rangi is having a greater voice and agency, in our school: sitting on the Board of Trustees, and in appointing teachers, in the creation and in the gifting of a school pepeha, our cultural umbilical cord to our place. One of our haukāinga talked about our tamariki (children) as the tamafreakies, who need to know they are connected and that they belong in our school. I love the analogy of that cultural umbilical cord, a strong image in much of our indigenous culture.

I’ve talked about the deficit model that has injured Māori student achievement from the mid nineteenth century. Our propensity is to generalise cultural beliefs into a formulaic interpretation of all members of that culture. While we do have a need to identify with a group, we also, as humans, enjoy being identified as individuals. We don’t want to be seen as all the same. “Love me for being me!” we cry on social media. “Culture is not merely a question of ethnicity, but also beliefs, spirituality, age, gender, and sexual orientation.” (Shaw, White & Deed, 2013, p. 6-7)  I love the Ted Talk by Taiye Selasi who asks not to be identified by her perceived ethnic origins. Macfarlane, Bishop, Durie, Hattie and others point to the need for relationship building to improve educational outcomes. Best practice continually points out the need for us as teachers to know how our students tick so that we can guide them with not only what they need, but in what they want to learn, and utilising the ways they best learn. Rita Pierson famously reminded us that students don’t learn from people they don’t like.

What I’m questioning are three things:

Can we in fact be culturally responsive when our lens is so coloured by our own upbringing? New Zealanders who can’t pronounce vowels correctly and use English pronunciation, and judge manners on their own often English tradition?

Are we being responsive to the individual needs of students or paying lip service to what we see as an ethno-cultural generalisation?

Vision of the New Zealand Curriculum
The third, which I’ll suggest now, is can we be culturally responsive when we haven’t got a mandate to change the educational landscape in New Zealand? The ERO School Evaluation indicators suggest that the path to achievement is for students to be self regulating learners. Many teachers battle with that when National Standards have focused our teaching on a narrow set of skills which have been predetermined for all to mean “achiever” or “non-achiever.”  Michael Fullan reminds us that we must
“...ensure that you’re not obsessing with targets and assessment in order to make room for the things that really matter in educational transformation."

This post is about how jargonistic the term “cultural responsiveness” is - but let’s be fair. If schools are making an attempt to be culturally responsive, let’s acknowledge that they are making an effort.

The New Zealand Practising Teacher Criteria begin with overarching statements assert the rights of all students to have equitable learning outcomes and the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi. Criteria 3 and 10 point to the importance of our bicultural partnership and criterium 9 highlights the need to respond to our diverse learners (ākonga).

The question I leave you is one that was posed to me and my senior leadership team by another principal: What is it about your classroom that makes a Māori child - any child - feel welcome? How have you adapted the contexts and pedagogy of the programme and environment of your learning space to make it theirs?

He iti hoki te mokoroa nāna i kakati te kahikatea.
The mokoroa (grub) may be small, but it cuts through the Kahikatea (whitepine).


Thank you to my critical friends, Ximena Aitken,  Philippa Antipas and Sonya Van Shaijik for your thoughtul critique.

More opinion on cultural responsiveness:

By me - Cleaning Our Cultural Lenses June 2016

Gully, Nicole. (October 2016). Engaging Māori students and whānau in future focused education - review of Janelle Riki Ulearn 16 keynote.  Retrieved from


Bishop, R, Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T. & Teddy, L. (2009). Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5)734–742.

Controller and Auditor General. (August 2012) Education for Māori: context for our proposed audit work until 2017.  Retreived from

Education Review Office. (July 2016). School evaluation indicators: effective practice for improvement and learner success. Wellington: Crown.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2),106-116.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Press.

Hunn, J. K. (1961). Report on department of Māori affairs with statistical supplement. RE Owen: Government Printer.

Macfarlane, A., Glynn, T., Cavanagh, T., & Bateman, S. (2007). Creating culturally-safe schools for Māori students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36, 65-76.

Ministry of Education. (2011). Tataiako: cultural competencies for teachers of Maori learner. Wellington: Crown.

Robinson, V, Hōhepa, M, and Lloyd, C (2009), School leadership and student outcomes: identifying what works and why – best evidence synthesis iteration, Wellington, page 16. Retrieved from

Shaw, S., White, W. & Deed, B. (2013) (Ed.). Health, wellbeing and environment in Aotearoa New Zealand.South Melbourne, Australia:Oxford University Press.

Sweeney, Rebbecca. (October 2016). Michael Fullan Keynote: Early lessons from implementing new pedagogies for deep learning. Review. Retrieved from

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Road to Our School Community of Learning

We are on our way...and it’s a great feeling.

We’ve had a full on year so far, but the difference is that the tiredness is bearable because we are building something positive.

After six years in this school, the difference is palpable.  Why does it feel so different?

Staffroom talk

A lot of discussions in our breaks are now centred on learning.  We are sharing the excitement of a fab learning experience.  Teachers get together informally to plan or to moderate a piece of writing.  Staff get to the staffroom on time and the room doesn’t empty out when the meeting is over.  A two minute catch up turns into a two hour strategic discussion and we smile because we’ve solved an issue or come up with a great idea while “chewing the cud.”

Sustained PLD

Our professional development doesn’t consist of one off disconnected staff meetings led by the senior leadership team.  Last year our ALL initiative didn’t take off because it wasn’t given priority or time allowances in the school calendar.  This year, after a well facilitated meeting on accelerating literacy, the literacy leader and I came back to a school with an action plan to discuss and made sure that our fifteen week initiative was given the time allowances needed to meet its goals of building a literacy learning culture and community engagement. Teachers were grouped into PLGs of four teachers and given in school release for peer discussion of their inquiries.  The message was made clear that their development was important enough to give it in school time.

Distributed Leadership

The literacy lead teacher is a staff member who isn’t an expert in her field, but has a number of qualities that make her a great leader.  She shares these with the maths lead teacher.

  • Love of learning and a desire to keep learning and keep looking at how others learn and what they might learn
  • Listening to the needs of others 
  • Learning to deflect and filter negativity
  • Creativity
  • Ability to keep up with the paperwork
  • Understanding of the need for data to drive an initiative and to help filter particular needs

Middle leadership development

It’s important that middle leaders understand their importance in ensuring that syndicates of teachers are improving their teaching and learning and not just that their role is about administration and behaviour management.  This year has seen more input into the role, including targeted professional development opportunities.

We’re on our way...but there are still pot holes to navigate and a few learning pits to climb out of.

Teaching As Inquiry

The ALL and Maths development this year have both focused on learning through teaching as inquiry.  This hasn’t been an automatic success.  Teaching as inquiry requires a desire to trying something new in order to improve teaching and learning; it means dedication to being a data gatherer, a researcher, a risk taker and reflective practice.  No more nor less than we are required to do to meet the Practising Teacher Criteria, no more nor less than we expect from our students. No more or less than the values and attributes embodied in the Key Competencies, themselves an evolution of the future thinking of groups like the OECD, who last century began to discuss the need to change education to meet the aptly called wicked problems of our present and future.

It’s new for some.  They might not like “one size fits all” professional development, but they find it very hard to operate when given the freedom to follow their own learning path.  It means disruption to “doing it as we’ve always done it”. It means leaving our comfort zones.

Listening to Student Voice

In our inquiries we are getting better at gathering student voice and sharing what we hear.  We’re discovering that it’s not what they say, but rather what they don’t say that is most indicative of learning.  What we aim to hear is ownership of the learning process; we’re not there yet.

Self Regulated Learning

What we aim for is self regulation, where akonga are engaged in what they need to learn and how they want to learn.  To do this, they need to understand how best they learn and the reason for that learning.  We need to all realise that these learning dispositions need to be taught.

What we need to come to terms with is that akonga, the term used for learners in the Practising Teacher Criteria, is not just about meeting the needs of our child charges.  Teachers are akonga too.  When we as teachers - and teacher leaders - understand that we must keep growing our pedagogy, we will be better equipped to role model self regulated learning to our students.

OECD. (2005). The definition and selection of key competencies: Executive summary. Retrieved from​

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Reflective Practice: So here we are...

Week 32 - Applied Practice in Context: Reflective Practice - Putting it all together
So here we are, at the end of the Mind Lab certificate course in applied technologies and collaborative learning and I’m a wee bit sad.
I think about how I shut myself into a bedroom for a weekend to complete the very first assignment for Digital and Collaborative Learning in Practice and the disappointment when my mark was not indicative of the work I felt I’d put into the submission.  Part of the problem was not having a routine to study, one that I now feel I’ve managed and mastered.
There was surprise that we had to write essays and frustration on two accounts: the word limit and the lack of feed forward.  While I agree that being succinct is a necessary skill (let’s face it, we all ended up skimming and settling on the summary in our literature review research, right?) I’ve been reflecting on an assessment system that has to fit in with the requirements of a traditional tertiary qualification system.
There was total brain preoccupation with the topic of my literature review for weeks, maybe months. And the pile of books that stayed on the dining room table like a semi-permanent monument to the pain of having it hang over me.  
But, there was the satisfaction of actually getting into those tomes and finding out about an area of pedagogy that had worried me for ages: how can we make students self regulating learners as they need to be if we are going to engage them in a new iteration of school? How will we ensure they are making the best of their interests and skills to cope in the world of wicked problems they are going to move into?
I loved the collaborative learning in our workshops and that we weren’t given the solutions.  “He who does the work does the learning,” kept popping into my head (a quote attributed to Doyle, but I think, much older). Yes, clever.  No one rescued us.  
I love the online community; I’ve embraced online discussion for a number of years.  As I said in a comment on Stephanie Thompson’s blog,
blog 32.JPG
- comment, June 24, 2016.
This Applied Practice in Context paper has been my favourite. I’ve relished the bites of different topics I’ve digested each week: reading the class notes at the start, reading the set and other references, and finally writing when I’m sure I can do it in one sitting,  because my thoughts have been chewed over for long enough.
This blog has been the vessel of my reflection for a while.  I label each post against the Practising Teacher Criteria.  I can match my learning over this course to most of these criteria, but I will reflect here on two:
Criteria 9: Respond effectively to the diverse and cultural experiences and the varied strengths, interests, and needs of individuals and groups of ākonga.  This has been my drive since I first became aware of the term modern learning environments, which have morphed into innovative learning environments.  How has learning practice innovated? Do we need to scaffold self regulated learning? Can we and should we if we are still in a tradition single cell classroom? Is this the answer to engagement and student achievement? Will greater awareness of individual learning needs ensure that schools are culturally responsive?  I plan to follow through with my inquiry plan on this topic and it preoccupies my thoughts about our own school’s pedagogy.

Criteria 5: Show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning.  We have two main professional development foci at my school in literacy and numeracy.  Interestingly it’s difficult getting some teachers to embrace reflective practice. Dawson (2012) reminds me that reflective practice and self regulated learning is the same thing.  Here’s a quandary: the senior leadership team have recognised through our data that writing and mathematics have a large number of under achievers.  So have the teachers.  We need to look at and change what we do.  We recognise that teaching as inquiry is the most effective method of changing our practice, and for teachers to own the change.  But the big issue is workload.  We need to look at how we support our teachers to ensure they can complete rigorous, evidence based change.  The Professional Learning and Development Advisory Group’s 2014 report acknowledges this lack of time as one of the issues (p.11).  

We tried an “in school” approach: groups of teachers released and allowed to determine their own discussion topic for this time; we predetermined that that was how it should be run. Feedback was that it was worthwhile, but also that some did not think they had time to be out of the classroom.

Self regulated learning and teacher development are my ongoing goals.  I’ve completed one paper towards my Masters in Educational Leadership and now this Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Learning.  I want to keep studying and my next decision is which pathway will I follow.  I am a self regulated learner and love that digital technologies and collaborative learning have enabled that to happen.

Davis, M. (2003). Barriers to reflective practice: the changing nature of higher education. Active Learning in Higher Education, 4(3), 243-255. doi: 10.1177/14697874030043004
Dawson, P. (2012) Reflective practice. Retrieved from
Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner centered environment: A guide to  teaching in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Hobbs, V. (2007). Faking it or hating it: can reflective practice be forced? Reflective Practice, 8(3), 405-417. doi: 10.1080/14623940701425063

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from
Ministry of Education. (August,2014). Report of the professional Learning and development advisory group. Retrieved from

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Crossing Boundaries*

Week 31 - My seventh post for Applied Practice in Context:  My interdisciplinary connection map

I believe in the NZ Curriculum. It is a forward thinking document that encompasses future thinking, local context, and learners not only as individuals but as citizens of the world.

Which connections will I address first?

My literature review was about self regulated learning (SRL) because we are now trying to develop innovative learning practices to meet these aims. It’s time for a shift from passive learning (or lack of learning) of reluctant school goers, to active, owned learning. While I see all the connections on my diagram as intrinsic to the whole, I need to talk about two that are near future goals. Embracing digital technologies is one of the connections from the map. Enhancing what we do in positive behaviour for learning, is another.
I listened to a webinar this morning: a chat with Grant Lichtman, author of “#Edjourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education”. He talked about the need to reinvent the current school model and that many schools are behind the times in thinking about the world their students are growing up in.
Our students have been born this century, when the world wide web and computers were already very much in use.  They don’t know a time without computers and don’t understand teacher hesitation in using available technologies.  I use my smartphone, ipad and laptop for research, collaboration, connection, and publication; and I want instant results because I can have instant results.  My students have similar expectations.
Besides teacher reluctance,the other issue is available funding.  I do my best to advocate, educate, assist and innovate wherever I can.  I’ve got our executive officer applying to trusts and our technician installing Chromixium into some old laptops that have passed their use by date.
Positive Behaviour for Learning is a values programme that our school has been involved with for seven years.  Like all programmes, there comes a point where you inject more time and energy - and even funds - into it, or you start over. At the start we gathered community, teacher and student voice on what our key values should be and developed the statement: “Mokoia is a community which values respect, relationships and honesty for learning.”  Reading Hipkins et al’s “Key Competencies for the Future” has made me think more deeply about how we view these values and what attitudes our students really hold.  I am acutely aware of what we call cultural responsiveness and whether we can embrace what Hipkins et al call the range of “discourses” we encounter and need to be comfortable with; can we adapt and appreciate cultural values that differ from those we are born into? Are we good digital citizens? Are we respecting our environment?

Working in an interdisciplinary environment

We now understand that we learn when two conditions are met:
Firstly, we want to learn. We have an authentic reason for taking on board new knowledge or skills.
Secondly, we can make connections with our previous knowledge. We make better sense of the new learning. We get that “aha!” moment.
It makes sense then that learning does not happen readily when knowledge and skills are taught in isolation.  It’s why we realise that we need to look at the authentic use of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum when we decide how literate or numeric a learner is. Can they select from their knowledge and skills to solve problems? Real life problems usually involve a range of disciplines or learning areas, and we need to be able to select appropriately.  Life events do not occur in siloed subject areas, and we are realising that we need to give learners authentic situations to practice with.
However, as our class reading emphasises, each discipline has its particular literacy.  We depend on expert knowledge for some problems and situations. We depend on the development of that expertise too, so it’s important that our learners are exposed to the full range of disciplines. You never know when your class harbours the next Einstein. Take a look at this:

The education model that most of us are familiar needs to change to ensure we have engaged learners prepared to solve today’s issues with today’s tools, and able to adapt and learn for the issues of tomorrow.  It seems clear that we need to engage our learners in authentic situations and an interdisciplinary model is the one that fits best.
* "creating something new by crossing boundaries" - definition of "interdisciplinary" from


Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Press.
Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach - Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI, 7(26), 76-81. Retrieved from
Lacoe Edu (2014, Oct 24) Interdisciplinary Learning [video file]. Retrieved from
Lichtman, G. (2014). # EdJourney: A roadmap to the future of education. John Wiley & Sons.
Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from
TEDx Talks (2001, April 6). TEDxBYU - David Wiley - An interdisciplinary path to innovation. [video file].Retrieved from

TEDx Talks (2015, March). TED2015 - Neri Oxman - Design at the intersection of technology and biology. [video file].Retrieved from

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Getting a “Handle” on Social Media

Week 30 - My sixth post for Applied Practice in Context:  Professional Online Social Networks 

I've written about my involvement with social networks before, especially with Twitter.  This latest post, to meet my post-grad requirements, outlines my use of a range of networks for professional learning, as well as giving you some great reasons to be involved yourself.

It can be tough for some educators in New Zealand.  Many of us live outside of the main cities and it’s a major effort, time-wise and cost-wise, to access the courses and workshops we see advertised on the web or in the Education Gazette. That’s why the online networks I engage with have become my “lifelong learning” lifeline.


I like being @mrs_hyde; she is embraced by a learning community which has similar values about teaching and learning. Literally; hugging and shrieking has become the norm for edutweeps who meet for the first time.  When we meet face to face, chances are we have discussed, assisted, debated, laughed and empathised with each other already.

I follow global educators on Twitter who share their own and others’ ideas and articles.  This provides me with a wealth of education readings about the latest pedagogy.  In addition, I can directly contact the experts who I would never feel I could approach in real life. I’ve had conversations with some of my education heroes like Steve Wheeler, Richard Gerver, Nigel Latta and Grant Lichtman
I’ve been able to engage in webinars, like last week’s discussion between Keri Facer and our Edchatnz star, Danielle Myburgh.  I read some of Keri’s work on futures thinking for my literature review and it was a bonus to hear her speak on the same topic.  This one was at 7.00pm on a Wednesday night; I’ve been known to sit up in my pyjamas to listen and contribute to a northern hemisphere webinar at 3am!

I’ve got a wealth of knowledge about other schools in New Zealand. My classroom really doesn’t have walls.  I feel like I am part of a virtual staffroom and know “who does what” in New Zealand: innovative learning environments, makerspace, Minecraft… This has led to school visits or online question and answer sessions.

I’m a regular participant in educator chats like #edchatnz, #aussieED and #ldrchatnz.  These Twitter chats are fast moving discussions between global educators.  Using Storify, and the hashtags, I curate these chats into slideshows to read later, save links and serve as evidence against the Practising Teacher Criteria. There’s usually a Devil’s Advocate - I’ve had a turn at that - to challenge our thinking.

I’ve used Twitter as my “lazyweb” to use the collective personal professional knowledge of others to quickly glean information. Or advice.  Other leaders on Twitter are great help mates.


While I’ve dabbled with Google+ in the past, I have put it to good use during my postgrad studies with MindLab. We share a community with our cohort, to share links, discuss assessments, ask questions and reflect on each others’ blogs.  I have two accounts: one is for school, one I keep separate.  In each one I have set up collections to curate readings I find on the internet. I am a member of other communities too: coding, Google Apps, Literacy, Minecraft. It’s been useful for setting up a study group community too, especially for our literature review.  

The Virtual Learning Network

I first started using this because I was the ICTPD facilitator for our cluster, and the VLN was the platform for sharing learning and recording evidence for our milestone reports.  I found that I could connect with other cluster facilitators and elearning experts for advice; what Melhuish calls “group genius”. I was one of the people who responded to her survey for her thesis:
“Two areas where participants felt the site most successfully met their needs were the ability to explore topical issues and being able to connect with other colleagues". (p.95)

I had my turn as guest speaker in webinars and enjoyed participating in forums.  My most active group is our #connectedrotorua group page.


While my aim has been to keep Facebook for social interaction with family and friends, an addition last year meant that I changed my mind. Two teachers from Auckland began the NZ Teachers (Primary) group which has in turn spawned a number of other professional teacher groups.  These are great help sites for locating resources and creating discussion.


Although I am a member and “link” with a range of professionals, I don’t venture into the discussions as I do on the other platforms.


I love Blogger because I love writing. This is my reflective portfolio, where I make sense of the ideas from my discussions and readings. I tag my posts with the Practising (Registered) Teachers’ Criteria. I then use my other social networks to share my posts, using the hashtags #edchatnz, #edblognz and #MindLabED.  I encourage students to have blogs and share these using the #comments4kids hashtag. 

Key features of social media that are beneficial for teaching and learning:

Ubiquitous personalised learning.  I love that I can organise where and when and how I want to learn. Social networks are always awake, even if it’s somewhere else in the world.

Multidisciplinary and cross sector.  I remember a time when secondary teachers and primary teachers kept to their corners. Now we are found in the same virtual staff rooms. Social media has helped to de-silo learning.

Equitable. Learning does not belong to those who are able to pay.  It is available to all.  Besides the free availability of googlable information, many structured courses are free. The Edchatnz Mooc is an example.

Ako. "Ako" means having a mutual teaching and learning relationship.  Wellburn and Eib (Veletsianos, 2016) talk about the different roles we can take in social media; at different times we can play the “expert, amateur, audience, author, learner, and educator” (p.65). Youtube is another example of this in action. 

Interactive and creative. Rather than just receiving content, we are expected not only to interact, but to make content.  

Authentic. Teachers are harnessing social media not only for their own learning but to engage students.  Students blog for real audiences who can provide feedback and feedforward in their comments. They are participating in quadblogging, and Twitter chats like #NZreadaloud and #kidschatnz

Key competencies.  Social media engages us in the competencies.  We must learn how to operate in each environment; they each have their own literacy.  Twitter, for example forces us to be succinct. Thinking, relating to others responsibly, managing self and participating and contributing with others are all encapsulated in these networks.

The vision of the New Zealand Curriculum is for “young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners” (p.7). The “older” people need to model these attributes too.  Social networks provide a rich, attainable arena for professional discussion and development to enable this vision. - cc license

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Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved from

Silius, K., Miilumäki, T.,Huhtamäki, J.,Tebest, T., Meriläinen, J., & Pohjolainen, S.(2010). Students’ motivations for social media enhanced studying and learning. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal, 2(1), 54-67. Retrieved from

Veletsianos, G. ed. (2016). Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.