Reflective Practice

Initially, signing up to Mindlab seemed like a massive adventure, I had known staff who had raved about their experiences in the course and I was looking forward to the possibilities of future learning pathways – unfortunately, life got in the way.

The course, although demanding, really encouraged collaboration. Yet less than a quarter of the way into the programme I accepted a position at another school and suddenly – with conflicting timetables and an increased workload – the possibility of collaborating on assessments went out the door. Consequently, the adventure quickly became a massive grind as I struggled to complete activities on time while performing professionally within my new position.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the group activities that were presented in the class based part of the course. In each of these activities I was paired with different groups of staff and it really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and relationships. This early collaboration around new and inventive IT (though largely irrelevant in a university entrance course), did show me the benefits of collaborative learning and the strength of digital tools as a part of the assessment practice.

The Ministry’s Practicing Teaching Criterea (PTC), number 7: ‘Promote a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive learning environment,’ encourages teaches to implement collaborative learning pathways within their classes. Vygotsky (1978), emphasised that increased intellectual success could be attained through collaborative mediums and it would seem rudimental that teachers include collaboration in their own classrooms. Mindlab has clearly shown this intellectual gain to be the case, and has been instrumental in helping me address my own weaknesses in delivering collaborative learning.

Osterman, & Kottkamp, (1993) note that reflective practice is a key aspect of personal development in a teachers’ pedagogy and forces us to address our own shortcomings. Indeed, when the experience is problematic, it is most likely to ‘lead to behavioural change.’ In this case, I was forced to look at the implementation of collaborative activities within my own class: why was I not achieving the desired results? what were the shortcomings of my programmes? how could I more effectively engage students in the learning process? and, what could I do myself to improve my own delivery of collaborative learning elements?

Peers within the Mindlab class experience some success after collaborating to build a robotic arm.

These questions led me on a path that helped to address Criteria 12 of the PTC: “Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their [sic] professional practice.” During the online component of Mindlab, I undertook research into flipped classroom practice with a view of better enabling collaborative activities within my own teaching. My work on the literature review quickly identified issues with my own understanding of group dynamics and the implementation of a student led classroom with a facilitating teacher. I quickly discovered that my scaffolding of group work needed a lot more detail, and I had to train my students in collaborative aspects, rather than just expecting them to have a basic collaborative tool kit.

Consequently, my future goal is to really hone the delivery of collaborative elements of my learning programmes. In this fashion, I intend to take greater control of group dynamics and how I assign different people to groups. I also realise that early on in the process, I need to more intensively model, clarify, and guide students through areas of group responsibility. Lastly, I need to improve student accountability to ensure that all students within a group are actively contributing.

Ultimately, Mindlab – despite its frustrations – will undoubtedly create change in my professional practice. Going forward, my biggest goal next to collaborative learning, is to investigate better ways of assessing students and using collaborative forms of summative assessment in NCEA.

Exiting times are ahead!

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from

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

Vygotsky , L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Interdisciplinary Connection and Collaboration

I am in the very fortunate position of being a Religious Studies teacher and in terms of inter-curriculum collaboration and flexibility, I think that you would be hard pressed to find a better subject than mine.

At its heart, Religious Studies presents its students with a way of looking at the world through a variety of different lenses. One particular area that I would like to see co-construction around is our unit on bio-ethics.

At year 13, we have a major unit of work that looks at bioethics with choices ranging from stem cell research, fertility treatment, and assisted suicide. In an ideal world, I would envisage that with a flexible timetable and supportive teaching staff the following links between the subjects could lead to deeper learning and skills acquisition among the student body.

When looking at how to make this form of collaborative education occur, Mulligan, & Kuban, (2015) state that three conditions must be met to ensure success. Firstly, the Qualities and Attitudes of the staff must align. In this manner, staff need to trust in the professionalism of each member, and roles must be equitable with a large amount of enthusiastic cooperation. Secondly, the Workplace Conditions must also be favourable. Tied into this is the necessity of timetabled planning time with fellow collaborators and time for other administrative requirements. The physical aspects include well-resourced classrooms with adequately sized work spaces and reliable infrastructure and IT. Class time and student teacher face-to-face time also slots in here. Finally, the Common Goals of the collaborating teachers must also be in sync.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.

One major challenge with NCEA, despite its flexibility, is that we are still geared towards assessment. Thus when we look at a subject and its choices, potential buy in from other staff can be best facilitated when the common goal is a lot clearer. The chart below demonstrates the available links afforded by an assessment end-goal between three different subjects.

For example:

Unit Topic: Stem Cell Research

Curriculum Area

Learning Outcomes

Skills being developed

Religious Studies (AS90826, Level 3 NZQA. 6 Credits) •      Investigate a contemporary ethical issue, by breaking it down into components or essential features.

•      Develop conclusions about the response of the religious tradition to the issue, supported by evidence.

•      Research

•      Literacy

•      Source interpretation

•      Critical thinking

•      Note taking

•      Scaffolding text and arguments.


(AS91602, Level 3 NZQA. 3 Credits)

•      Integrate biological knowledge to develop a reasoned informed response to a socio-scientific issue.

•      Select and collate relevant biological knowledge to develop an informed response.

•      Research

•      Note Taking

•      Scientific Analysis

•      Understanding of cellular processes.

•      Data analysis and evaluation.

•      Calculate and apply formulas.


(AS91476, Level 3 NZQA. 3 Credits)

•      Create and deliver a fluent and coherent oral presentation which develops, sustains, and structures ideas and commands attention. •      Research.

•      Oral language.

•      Presentation.

•      Information technology.

•      Writing Structure.

•      Making links (synthesis).

•      Drawing Conclusions

It is clear that when looking at a topic such as stem cell research, there are very clear links between these senior subjects and how they can operate alongside each other to form a pathway for deeper learning. So any issue is not going to be with the topic and the broken faculty silos, but rather with the assessment and implementation of teaching strategies.

At a summative level, all three subjects can be assessed via an oral seminar with the use of IT. While it may take a few tweaks to ensure that all three subject’s standards are met, it shouldn’t be too difficult for a group of teaching professionals to create the right conditions for this end-goal.

The biggest barrier to this mode of learning will undoubtedly be in regards to preparation time. While most teachers have little difficulty in preparing learning programmes for their students individually, having to work with a range of other staff – often with differing timetables – poses many problems.

From a management perspective, this kind of project will need dedicated in-school planning time to ensure that the staff delivering the programme are able to collaborate, weed out, and develop learning pathways and facilitation techniques. This planning time is easily the most important variable in the successful implementation of this form of endeavour. Consequently, the timetable coordinator needs to try and align non-contact time among the facilitators to give them time to work together. The school’s leadership also needs to allow time for whole planning days in the build-up and development of this form of project.

I firmly believe that if there is a will, there is a way, and a programme such as the one outlined in the chart could be a success as long as teachers are willing to compromise and work collaboratively to foster an open learning pathway for their students.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from


Social Media in the Classroom

Sharples, (2016) note that “social media can bring learning to life by summoning up different times, spaces, characters and possibilities. They can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources.”

Within my classes, I have been working hard to create lessons that embrace modern technologies that the students can engage with and create meaningful learning. Some of these technologies include media creation tools such as video making software, and the use of social media platforms.

Due to some recent study, I have quickly realised that I have not been using social media to its full potential. Instead, the social media I have used has been in an administrative capacity and has only just touched the surface of its potential.

Firstly, I have used Facebook as a means of creating class groups where I can create online conversations and remind students of deadlines. In terms of creating benefits within the learning of my students, it is something that is very difficult to measure. I know that articles and information that have been posted on the site has received likes and the odd comment from students, but as a lot of the information is classified as extra reading, I am unsure if the students are actually reading them or just hitting the ‘like’ button to give the illusion of them working.

I know that some students make use of the extra readings, as references or allusions to them often appear in their writing or discussion, but for the most part, this evidence is anecdotal and I need to develop a better system of assessing student engagement in the readings. One possibility would be to include the tool EdPuzzle in my readings. EdPuzzle as a tool allows you to set questions and analyse who is engaging with the text and how successful their comprehension of that text is. Although EdPuzzle isn’t strictly a social media platform, when used within a Facebook group as a tool within a tool, it will give a much clearer indication of student learning than the Facebook platform alone.

Recording and editing a YouTube video for publication and peer critique.

One challenge that I initiated this term, and am still awaiting the final submission on, is a documentary styled video assessment on the First Crusade. The students have been working on this with the knowledge that it will be published on YouTube and shared amongst the class for comments. The class will then be encouraged to comment on each other’s videos, and provide feedback and advice. This discussion will also form a part of their assessment. In this way, I hope that YouTube will become a place where ‘meaningful dialogue’ (Bolstad, Gilbert, McDowall, Bull, Boyd, & Hipkins, 2012) can occur.

Ethically, there are a huge range of problems that are created with the use of social media. From my own standing, I must weigh up what students can see of me, and also how I interact with them to protect my own credibility (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007). In this way, I have a separate Facebook account through which I interact with students. The student pages that I am linked to also have other teachers as members so that we can all read and see what is going on.

Students working on creating a documentary in class. Jesus’ ascension perhaps?

On YouTube, there are also questions around student visibility, parental consent, and harm from social media bullying. With the current class project, when the students upload their work, they will do so through my own teaching account that is operated in a safe mode that is undiscoverable on the YouTube search engine. In this way, only by sharing the link can people have access to the videos. I have also emailed all the parents asking their permission to have their students publish something online. Finally the students also have a choices, with camera shy students opting to work on the script writing and research part of the project while more extroverted students have chosen to be the public face of the video.

Going forward, I would like to be able to create links with similar classes around New Zealand and ultimately the world. In this way, the students could get feedback on their projects from a range of other students, and in the same way, provide advice to the learning peers elsewhere. This would contribute to a shared culture of learning and innovation that is without borders (Melhuish, 2013) and one, that I hope, will lead to a deeper and more fulfilling learning experience.

Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education (NZ). Retrieved from

Mazer, J. P., Murphy, R. E., & Simonds, C. J. (2007). I’ll see you on “Facebook”: The effects of computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning, and classroom climate. Communication Education, 56(1), 1-17.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved on 05 May, 2015 from

Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi,C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Retrieved from




Identifying an ethical dilemma

As a teacher engaged in pastoral care, one of the most pressing ethical issues we face is the student use of social media outside school hours. By and large, the majority of student actions on social media are not concerning, but frequently, issues addressed among teens via their devices would often lead to isolated issues of bullying and harassment. This can often spill over into the school environment with parents expecting the school to deal with the issues among their child’s peer groups.

licensed under creative commons

This ultimately raises a number of questions for a school’s pastoral team: who is responsible for a student’s use of media outside school hours, and what role – if any – does the school play in mitigating the fallout caused by the abuse of social media?

In my school, there is no written formal policy on the misuse of social media outside of school hours, but staff take it upon themselves to identify and mitigate any instances of social media misuse, even if it was occurring outside of school hours. The school does this for a number of reasons. Firstly, as teachers we were/are committed to protect the wellbeing of the learner (Education Council, Code of Ethics). We acknowledged that the students who were involved in these social media instances were disengaged within the class and that their concerns could sometimes accelerate into physical confrontations.

Secondly, as a school we were/are responsible for promoting and protecting the principles of human rights, and social justice. Integral to this is the right for a student to feel safe at school. In this guise, we also had a responsibility to engage in relationships with ‘families and whānau that are professional and respectful’ (Education Council, Code of Ethics). Because many parents were not aware of their student’s use of social media, we felt it important that they understood the intricacies of what was occurring and how to deal with the issue from home.

To illustrate our procedures around instances of social media misuse, a potential example of it, alongside its rectification will be discussed:

Student A (the instigator), made a disparaging meme about Student B and then shared that meme on Snapchat among other members of the class. Two of the students who received the meme, C and D, then used the screen shot function on their devices and saved the image. They then distributed the image around more friends, including students from other schools. The following day, Student B is made aware of the meme by one of his/her friends and is left upset and angry. At recess, there is a confrontation between the students.

Stakeholders Issues and Concerns
Student A Created a meme that victimised Student B. The student is liable under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 because he/she used a form of electronic communication that contravened principle 5 of the act: ‘A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.’
Student B Had a meme posted publically about themselves without their knowledge or permission. He/she is upset and feels undermined by the peer group. He/she feels victimised and embarrassed. Student is concerned that this may hang around and negatively impact on their online identity (Henderson, 2014) Student does not want to be at school.
Student C and Student D Thought the meme was funny and sent it onto a wider peer group. Their actions also constitute a breach of the Harmful Digital Communitcations Act 2015.
Peers within school Many saw the meme and did not pass it on. Most thought it was funny, but did not think anything more about it. Their perception of Student B remains unchanged, most think more negatively about Student A. They are concerned that he/she might target them.
Peers outside of school Same as above.
Parents of student A Surprised that their child has been accused of online bullying. Worried that there could be police intervention. Worried that the police may hold them responsible as their student created the meme at home on the family server.
Parents of student B Angry that Student A created the meme and shared it. Want Student A held accountable. Wants the school to exercise its maximum authority.
Parents of students C and D Like the parents of Student A, they are worried about potential criminal proceedings, but feel that their children had a much smaller part to play. Want the issue to go away.
School staff Would like the situation dealt with effectively and quickly. Worried that the online component might bring the school into disrepute, especially if it is picked up by the media. Concerned that all the students’ involved need to be given a fair and equitable say in proceedings.


A restorative conference would be called between the immediately affected families. Restorative practice works in well with my school’s Catholic charism as it requires all parties to become involved in the discipline process. Using the school’s policy of care for the individual and its links to restorative practice, the lead pastoral team would define the issues, acknowledge all those involved and their roles, reflect openly on the effects of the behaviours and finally, agree on consequences.

Licensed under creative commons.

Although the school would not seek any criminal proceedings, we would insist on the attendance of the school’s partnership Police Officer to add formality to the proceedings and emphasise the criminal nature of the bullying. The school would also arrange the meeting so that the parents of the affected children could attend so as to support their students, and to express their views and give them full engagement in the process. Having parents attend the full proceedings is important as it helps to mitigate any unforeseen disciplinary problems that a family might instigate such as the example illustrated by Hall (2001, p.2-3).

Ultimately, the school would be geared towards addressing the imbalances caused in the relationships by the offending and the restoration of all parties back into the class environment.

To address the wider group of students exposed to the incident, the school would employ the New Zealand Police to address the students at an assembly and brief them on what constitutes online harassment, how to avoid it, and what potential penalties there are.

In this way, the school would meet all its ethical responsibilities of ensuring that the students are safe and that the wider whanau groups had an adequate input into the proceedings.

Education Council. (2017). Our Code of Standards: code of professional responsibility and standards for the teaching profession. Retrieved from:

Hall, A. (2001). What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. Paper presented at the IIPE Conference, Brisbane. Retrieved from

Henderson, M., Auld, G., & Johnson, N. F. (2014). Ethics of Teaching with Social Media. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (2015). Digital technology – Safe and responsible use in schools. Retrieved from

New Zealand Government. (2015). Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved from:


Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

Having moved to New Zealand as a twelve year old, my initial dealings with Māori people were not positive. When I arrived in Hawkes Bay in the early 1990s, Māori made up a large amount of the unskilled and uneducated work force and this had led to the ghettoisation of some Māori communities within residential pockets. These communities exhibited high amounts of crime and problems associated with low socio-economic conditions. Because of this, within the Pakeha community, there was an entrenched notion of an ‘us and them’ system of segregation. Needless to say, as a weedy and unconfident young boy, this led me to develop an unnecessary and irrational fear of Māori.

In terms of a Mauri model of cultural awareness – adapted from Potahu, 2011 – this placed me firmly within the Mauri Moe (death) state of Māori cultural awareness. I had little to no appreciation of Māori culture, and apart from some familiarity with the All Black’s haka, I had no idea of what it meant to be Māori.  Fortunately, this changed as I entered a high school where Te Reo Māori was a compulsory subject in forms three and four (years 9 and 10). It was here that I entered the Mauri Moe (sleep state) of cultural awareness.

Here at my new school I was introduced to simple tikanga Māori and learnt basic protocols. Little did I know, but the seeds were being sown to help enable me to further explore tikanga. Under the tutelage of Paul Blake, I discovered mihi, haka, and a love for hangi. I also experienced my first tangi after the loss of a school friend. Yet, although I wasn’t proficient in Māori customs by any means, the roots had begun to form.

From Mauri Moe, to Mauri Oho, my tertiary years fostered a great period of proactive pursuit of knowledge around Māori history and art. Here at university, I studied papers on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the historical interactions between the early British Crown and Māori iwi. I also studied Maori art and culture which developed a deeper appreciation for Māori customs.

The carving demonstrates the integration of Christian, and in particular Roman Catholic, beliefs with a Māori world view. The carver has suggested the concept of the Virgin Mother of God by placing a full facial moko (tattoo) on the face of Mary. In doing so, he has likened her to an Ariki Tapairu – the firstborn female in a family of high rank. Ariki Tapairu were invested with special tapu (sacredness). They weren’t allowed to marry or be touched by men, and their full moko signified their status.

Finally, within my own context, I believe that I am openly moving towards the Mauri Ora stage, though I am not quite there yet. Experiences with the He Kakano programme, marae visits, and frequent attendance at powhiri have enabled me to better understand Māori practice and customs. However, I firmly believe that full Mauri Ora can only occur with language acquisition and this is a step that may be too difficult. In the meanwhile, I try to actively engage with the relatively few Māori within my classes and try to weave their cultural histories into my lessons. I also seek their advice on certain aspects of lessons and use this to guide my classroom reflections.

In terms of my school’s practice of engaging Māori and enabling staff and students to engage with Māori, a number of steps have been taken. Firstly, at the school-wide level, the start of each week always begins with a karakia in Reo Māori. When planning for events (building openings, blessings, mass, etc), we try and incorporate local hapu customs. For example, after the death of a student, we invited the local kaumatua in to bless the buildings and remove the tapu associated with the deceased student’s mauri. The school’s Māori language teacher also wrote a waiata oriori to help the students to sing about the school’s cultural history. Finally, the year 9 retreat is built around a terms worth of education around personal identity in a New Zealand context (biculturalism and links to Tangatawhenua) which culminates in a day and overnight stay at the local marae.

Within my own pedagogy, as a religious studies teacher, I am in the fortunate position of being able to weave biblical narratives with Māori cultural stories and understandings to better enable Māori voice within my earning activities. For example, in one learning activity, we might analyse the creation myths of both the Māori and the Hebrew Old Testament to search for the greater meanings behind the stories. We also look at myths around figures such as Maui and compare his exploits to those of the biblical figures of Joshua, Sampson and such like. In this way we can create bridges of understanding between the cultures that enable not just Māori students, but also Pakeha students to engage with the topics.

Lastly, I discuss the roles of faith and the importance of Māori spirituality. It is essential to acknowledge that Māori adopted Christianity and it was not something that was forced upon them. When Samuel Marsden was invited to New Zealand by Ruatara of Nga Puhi, it was with Māori consent (Parsonson, 1990). Indeed, with Maori vastly outnumbering Europeans at the time, if the Māori had disagreed with the proselytising of their people, the early missionaries would not have had much success. Using the Māori expressions of religion and art fostered by the Pai Mārire, Kīngitanga, and Ringatū movements, we are able to investigate the expressions of Christianity through a Māori lens. This strategy leads to more engagement with the Māori community and a better sense of hauora among the Māori students at school. It also allows me to foster more student focused agency (Gutschlag, 2007) to identify areas of improvement within my own teaching as Māori students feel more comfortable approaching me within their own Māori context.

Gutschlag, A.(2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioning. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from

Parsonson. G. S. (1990). ‘Marsden, Samuel’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, and updated online in May, 2013. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,

Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from…


The trend of tech and BYOD in New Zealand

There’s an old proverb from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that says, ‘Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.’

In education we have been giving students fish (knowledge) for years. This model ensured that the teacher remained the primary conduit for education as the teacher was the focal point of knowledge. However, the last twenty years has seen a technological explosion that has rendered the knowledge based teacher largely obsolete and seen education become student centred and primarily skills based. In other words, education is now geared towards teaching the student to fish, and most importantly, education wants to help the student to learn to teach themselves how to fish.

By teaching a student to learn to fish for themselves, teachers are providing a more valuable service to the students. Students learn how to problem solve, present, and craft their knowledge developments into new and exciting modes of communication. This makes a student a better employee in the future as their skill sets make them creative researchers, problem solvers, and presenters.

So what has enabled this transition? Well, the modern device (smart phone, laptop, etc.) has already rendered the supercomputer of the 1990s obsolete, and within a few seconds, a technologically able student can access more up to date information on their devices than any one teacher can hope to learn in a lifetime. Technology lies at the heart of the modern technological revolution but it isn’t without its problems. The US National Intelligence Council’s (2017) ‘Global trends: The Paradox of Progress’ paper noted that, ‘Technology is accelerating progress but causing discontinuities. Rapid technological advancements will increase the pace of change and create new opportunities but will aggravate divisions between winners and losers.’

Used with permission. Image taken from:


In New Zealand, the most visible trend associated with the technological revolution is the school based policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The Network 4 Learning noted in a 2015 survey of 700 schools, that 65.7% of decile 8-10 schools had a BYOD policy, while only 50.9% of decile 1-3 schools were ‘using, or thinking about using, a device programme.’ Obviously, the 2015 report is now outdated, but it does give some startling figures that support the idea that technology will exacerbate educational outcomes between those who can afford technology and those who cannot.

With the average cost of an entry level device being around the $576 mark (N4L, 2015), it would seem self-evident that many New Zealand families are going to struggle to provide their students with technology for the classroom. Even with assistance programmes in place, device service lives are relatively limited, and with multiple children in a family, the cost of maintaining and upgrading technology within a BYOD environment can be tremendously prohibitive.

So where should schools stand? Obviously, it is essential – as stated in the 2016, OECD: Trends Shaping Education paper – that all students should have access to technology to ensure that they can benefit from the improved education that it can afford. This idea is supported by the 1989  Education Act, that states that, ‘every person who is not an international student is entitled to free enrolment and free education at any State school or partnership school’ (Part 1:3). Yet more schools are placing the cost of these devices firmly on the family and with New Zealand’s underfunded education system, it is hardly surprising.

Currently, schools who do not force BYOD and instead opt for the socially more beneficial One-to-One Device (OTOD) programme, where schools provide students with access to devices, rely on their Operation Grants to provide devices. This means that in order to provide their students with a basic instrument for modern education, they are having to cut into the funding that pays for a school’s day to day running costs (amenities, learning support, hardware, etc.). Obviously something better needs to be done. One solution would be for the government to invest in providing all students in the country with a device. The cost of kitting out our students with individual devices would cost the country $454 million (based on an entry level device of $576 and our current student population of 787,9601). To put this in perspective, the upgrades to the HMNZS Te Kaha and Te Mana cost the country $440 million dollars so it is well within our capabilities.

Ultimately, we have an obligation to provide the tools to enable our children to succeed in a technologically driven society. We must ensure that all students have digital tools to help them to reach their learning potential and as a country with a shared vision of free education, it is a burden that we all must bear.

1 Data gathered from the New Zealand Education Council’s 2016 figures.

KPMG International. (2014). Future state 2030: the global megatrends shaping governments”. KPMG International Cooperative: USA. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (2017). Education Counts: student numbers. NZ. Retrieved from

National Intelligence Council. (2017). Global trends: The Paradox of Progress. National Intelligence Council: US. Retrieved from

The Network for Learning Ltd. (2015). Tech in Schools Survey. Retrieved from:

New Zealand Government. (1989). New Zealand Education Act. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved from:


Current issues in my professional context

“The special character of the school is highly evident in values and practices that relate to respect, excellence and service. A wide range of opportunities and experiences for students encourages participation in activities at and beyond the school. Reflected across all areas of the school is a culture of high expectations for achievement. This is contributing to very successful outcomes for students.” – Education Review Office

Villa Maria College is a state integrated girl’s secondary school catering to years 7-13. It has a student population of just over 800 students. The school, being a Catholic College and not subject to the standard zoning, draws students from across the greater Christchurch region. Despite or because of this, the college is a decile 9 school. The decile rating system is determined by analysing household income, the occupations of the parents, household crowding, the educational qualifications of the household, and finally, whether or not the parents of the students receive any income support (Ministry of Education). This decile rating places Villa Maria’s students within the top 20% of New Zealand families with high socio-economic backgrounds.

The College’s year 13 students after assisting their brother college raise money for a sick teen during a variety show.

Stoll (1998), notes that a school’s culture is greatly influenced by the social backgrounds of the students in attendance. This is obvious at Villa Maria where a predominantly professional parent community places a great deal of emphasis on the academic achievement of their daughters. The result of this is that Villa Maria had 88.5% of its year 13 students achieve NCEA Level 3 in 2016, well above the national average of 53.9% (Ministry of Education, 2017).

Likewise, the teaching staff at Villa Maria also reflect this drive for academic excellence, with teachers putting in long hours at the College and often running extra tutorials after school hours or during their meal times to better enable student success.

This academic excellence is as strongly ingrained within the college community as the school’s special character. At the core of the special character are the attributes of the school’s Mercy tradition:

  • Education that is grounded in the Gospel
  • Respect for the dignity, worth and potential of every human being
  • Concern for the poor and the disadvantaged
  • Concern for justice

These values, embodied by the schools motto of ‘empowering each young woman to determine her potential, live gospel values, confidently embrace life-long learning and as a Mercy Woman be inspired to make a difference’ (Villa Maria College) was recognised by the school’s Special Character Community Report which noted that ‘The nurturing, support and care for individuals within the college and in the wider community is a strength of the college’ (Catholic Education Office, 2015).

Student’s working with the local special needs community to throw an afternoon tea.

Because of the very academic and culturally strong traditions of the school. There is a large amount of expectation placed upon both staff and students by the culture of the school. This can lead to stressful situations and high levels of anxiety within the school community. Fortunately, the school has sought to manage these in a variety of ways.

Firstly, among staff, the principal has strongly encouraged the development of a staff wellbeing committee. This committee, headed by the school’s counsellor, provides regular advice and feedback to staff through one a week staff briefings. The school’s senior management is also quick to offer staff any external help if it detects any form of extra strain on the staff. Secondly, the school has a strong social committee who organise staff drinks and afternoon tea every Friday. This provides an opportunity for staff to distress and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around work. Finally, the school is notorious for the amount of staff morning teas that are regularly catered. These shared meals enable staff to regularly come together and relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Likewise, the school’s pastoral team works very hard to ensure that the students’ hauora is looked after. Vertical Group teachers work alongside house deans to provide extra support where needed. The school’s councellor also works alongside a public nurse and health expert who come into the school once a week to see student’s by appointment. Finally, the school works closely with the Christchurch Health School to deliver options for students whose health may otherwise prevent them from attending the college.

At a more whanau based level, the school and caregiver community work closely alongside each other. This takes the form of regular correspondence between the teachers and caregivers via fortnightly grades assessing student engagement. The school also strongly encourages both teachers and the parent community to contact each other if there are any concerns. The school’s leadership team has also worked hard to implement student mentoring (Ako Time) for 2017. This will enable even greater pastoral care of the students and strengthen the ties between the college and the parental community.

Catholic Education Office. (2015). Villa Maria College. Special Character Community Report. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:

Education Review Office. (2013). Villa Maria College. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:

Ministry of Education. School Deciles. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:

Ministry of Education. (2017). Villa Maria College – NCEA level 3. Education Counts. Retrieved 2 September from:

Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from

Villa Maria College. About Us. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:


My Communities of Practice

Teaching at its heart, has traditionally been a task undertaken by an individual professional in front of a class of learners. This system of teaching enabled the education of a workforce that best fitted the routines established in the workhouses of the industrial revolution.

However, in the last decade, there have been major shifts within the profession. Suddenly, no man was an island, and collaboration and team development began to improve and re-shape the way education and teaching has been traditionally done. These changes are forcing educators to discover new identities and those identities have formed a ‘crucial aspect of learning in organisations’ (Know, 2009). This search for identity has lead to the formation of professional communities that rely on peer to peer interaction to change teaching and learning culture across the board.

The benefits of peer-to-peer collaboration cannot be understated. I am almost positive that I have yet to come up with an original thought in the classroom, but because I have surrounded myself with more intelligent and experimental peers, my classroom delivery has developed in leaps and bounds. Moreover, as competent as I think I have become, new experiences with peers serve to continually broaden my horizons. Etienne Wenger (Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, 2000) explains that we develop competencies within our own workplaces that often aren’t challenged until we experience something new elsewhere. Suddenly, this new exchange of ideas opens our eyes and we suddenly bring that newly discovered dynamic back to our original peer group.

In this manner, communities of practice, or more aptly, areas where I can steal great ideas from great teachers, have been a boon to my pedagogy. Cambridge, Kaplan and Suter (2005) acknowledge that community practice allows professionals to connect, interact, and share resources and pedagogical practice.  The aim of this blog is to address some of these communities within the context of my own specialist areas.

As the current Director of Religious Studies at a Catholic Girls’ College, I am responsible for the special character of my college and ensuring that the students are exposed to leadership opportunities throughout their time at school. As a member of the school’s senior leadership team, I am also responsible for providing input on the future direction of the school. These positions have enabled membership in a range of communities of practice:

The Religious Studies Teachers’ Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (RSTAANZ *cough, cough*)

Despite its ridiculous acronym (seriously, what is it with education and bad acronyms?), the RSTAANZ aims to provide a range of resources to directly aid and assist teachers of religious studies across denominations and across the country. While in its infancy, the site has already been successful in promoting a lot of discussion on twitter and has also linked me with other professionals throughout New Zealand.

The New Zealand Directors of Religious Studies

This organisation runs an annual conference that includes keynote speakers, workshops and best practice seminars. Being exclusively focused on the delivery of Religious Education means that the content of the conference is directly applicable to my classroom practice. The networking opportunities made available at this seminar are also invaluable to me.

The Catholic Education Office (CEO) 

Having recently expanded to create a specialist secondary advisor, the CEO has worked hard within Canterbury to run specialist workshops to aid professional development across the board. Meetings are regularly convened among the Catholic Community of Learning where participants hear and see a range of techniques implemented across the various Catholic schools, both primary and secondary. This has the benefit of creating an environment where educators are free to share ideas and demonstrate aspects of their teaching that they are particularly proud of. Developmentally, I have found this organisation extremely rewarding as it has enabled me to learn from professionals who have vast experience in their respective areas and I have implemented a range of their ideas and resources directly into my own practice.

The New Zealand Flipped Learning Community

Having recently undertaken a post-graduate course in applied practice, I joined the flipped learning community to continue to expand my ability to provide technology-assisted learning tasks. This community, though relatively small, is extremely welcoming and its members are quick to share resources and advice. It operates through a blog site, occasional meetings in Christchurch, and through twitter where links to resources are often shared.


The hashtag #rechatnz has been promoted on twitter to encourage online collaboration between religious studies teachers. The twitter site allows teachers to be reflective in a community environment where shallow 140 character thoughts can be picked up by other teachers who may link the original question or statement to articles that may be of assistance.

The Catholic Community of Learning, Christchurch

The COL schools were originally signposted in 2014 but didn’t come into effect until recently. The goals of the COL are to work among all the contributing Catholic schools to:

  • Focus on the principle of the Common Good for all students by creating conditions which allow every person to reach fulfillment – academically, socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Work in partnership with students, parents, whānau and Parish to achieve our vision.
  • Provide learning environments that engage students.
  • Be culturally responsive to our bi-cultural heritage and the ethnic diversity of our school communities.

Faculty and Staff

Lastly, within my own faculty I am blessed to have a Head of Faculty who is experimental and a highly skilled practitioner of Microsoft enabled technologies within the classroom. She is very open to experimentation and is happy for staff to make mistakes in their search for better classroom practice. Accompanying the HoF, are a range of staff who, while being very hard working and professional, are still yet to embrace student centred learning. With the introduction of extended learning times, these teachers have struggled to maintain their chalk and talk teaching styles and are in need of professional development in these areas. With a supportive HoF and a leadership team determined to bring the college into the 21st Century, it will be interesting to see how these staff members are managed going forward.


Cambridge,  D.,  Kaplan,  S.  & Suter,  V.  (2005). Community of practice design guide: A step by Step Guide for designing & cultivating. Retrieved  from:

Knox, B. (2009, December 4).Cultivating Communities of Practice: Making Them Grow.  Retrieved from

Wenger, E.(2000).Communities of practice and social learning systems.Organization,7(2), 225-246


Smashing records on the way to visit a giant bird’s nest.

Day dawned on our final full day in Beijing and the adrenaline ran like a deluge through the veins of the boys. For two long years, the Chinese language students had lived in the shadow of one Benjamin Joseph Topham. This fabled figure of STCC folk lore had achieved the near impossible, managing to traverse twenty-four towers along the length of the Great Wall.

Snakes and ladders was originally developed by the ancient Chinese as a way of passing time during the harsh winters.

In the years since Ben’s heroic acts, the saga, nay epic, of Ben’s victorious journey had only grown more magnificent. Some former students swore that Ben managed to scale all one million steps of the Great Wall without so much as any lactic burn. Other witnesses testified that Ben’s face was illuminated gold upon the completion of his last tower. Even Chinese witnesses were astounded by Ben’s heroics, and his legend is known among the Wall community as the ballad of the Dà Bái Hè (Great White Crane).

Thus, upon our arrival at the Badaling National Park, seventeen young and expectant men were primed and ready. On this day, either history would be made, or glorious death would be achieved in the pursuit of immortality. Starting at the base tower, the group immediately split into two, one half opting to challenge the southern part of the wall first, while the other group challenged the northern side. The southern crew, consisting of Fraser Buckley, Josh Dent, William Topham, Jakob Hoogenboezem, Josh Doocey, Jack Pugh, Ethan McLintock, Josh Grosvenor and Will McCorkindale broke early with the solitary goal of destroying Ben’s record. Arriving at the highest point of the southern route, the super team’s spirits were high and focused on victory.

Team Awesome believes in sweaty male bonding experiences.

Team Awesome practices their battle formation.

Gazing into the distance remaining of the southern route, these hardy lads were not intimidated by the near vertical steps where any slip was surely death. Making use of the centre rails, these intrepid men slid their way down the wall and neared the end point of the southern route, the fabled twelfth tower. For the rowers among the team, Josh D and Will T, it was also a time to ensure that their hard made training gains were not lost. On one climb, the team challenged itself to complete a push-up on each step while on another ascent, sprints and lunges were incorporated.

Climbing stairs is easy when you’re this ripped.

As the team arrived at the twelfth tower, the trailblazers paused and waited for everyone to catch up. In this team, no man stood alone, and the entire group touched the tower at the same time to commemorate the collaborative work that was essential to conquering Ben’s legacy.

Self-explanatory, if this needs to be explained you may need ‘re-education.’

From tower twelve, the team turned around and began the long trek back to summit the northern wall. Drenched in sweat with legs and calves burning, they encountered the dreaded enchantress Circe – aka Mrs Kennedy – who told the brave members of Team Awesome that they only had half an hour to complete the entire northern traverse, and suggested they relax and dine on sleep inducing ice-cream. As bold St Thomas’ men, Mrs Kennedy’s challenge only bolstered their resolve, and with Ben’s battle cry of, “I’m not going to let my brother win!” uplifted the team and carried them onwards. In this last passage, where every step was painful and where every at second landing they were accosted by trinket sellers, the rallying cry of, “What’s gonna work? TEAM WORK!” kept the group pressing onwards.

The post-season rowing sprint programme ensured the development of fast twitch muscle fibres.

Suddenly, tower seven of the northern climb loomed large. Yet the group, as it rounded the notorious precipice of tower five, had lost two of its original number to the dreaded German backpacking sirens.  This loss affected the group greatly, and it was only after the appropriate prayers were said, and incense was lit, that the mission could continue.

Summiting the last stretch of wall as a combined unit, the group touched the goal at the same time. Suddenly, the realisation of what had been achieved flooded over the group. Ben had managed 24 towers in total, but Team Awesome had managed 19 single towers which when crossed twice (forward then back), equaled 34 towers in total.

Many signs along the great wall are made of the hammered bronze taken from the shields of crushed foes.

The boys had not only beaten the Great White Crane’s record, they had absolutely pulverised it. William, giving in to the emotional revelry of the situation, celebrated the defeat of his older brother with a shirtless dance on one of the ancient wonders of the world.

“We knocked the bastard off!”

No Visitors Allowed. Anti-tourist propaganda at its finest.

With new found energy, the greatest team ever jogged back to the base tower to recount their glorious deeds to the enraptured audience of their peers, including those who were unable to topple the oldest Topham. Here amidst photographs and congratulatory pats on the back, the lone strands of a new ballad could be heard from the lone Chinese musician on the ramparts whose song, The Unrelenting Nine who broke the Dragon’s back, debuted at number one on the Chinese Music Charts that night.

The Chinese form the largest number of tourist visitors to the Great Wall.

Following the unprecedented defeat of Ben Topham’s record, the group had another massive lunch and then visited the site of Beijing’s 2008 Olympics, viewing the spectacular Bird’s Nest stadium as well as the Water Cube. Both buildings and the square that they sit in are impressive feats of modern engineering and design. The Bird’s Nest and the Cube straddle the Dragon Line, the emperor’s pathway that cuts directly through Beijing and into the Forbidden City.

Whoever said that ‘learning construction with pipe cleaners wasn’t beneficial’ has obviously never been to China.

Shortly after this picture was taken, Mrs Shields renounced teaching and undertook training at an obscure Shaolin Monastery.

After another action packed and exhausting day, the hotel and bed proved to be a reward of the highest calibre. Rest was essential as the following day was another early rise and a high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai.


Taking over a Forbidden City, Hightailing through the Confucius Institute, the Hutong and Peeking Duck.

After the previous day’s late night, the promise of a sleep-in sounded really good. Unfortunately, sleeping in while visiting Beijing isn’t likely to happen, and when I ventured down into the lobby in the morning, the team was ready and waiting for their trip to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Upon arrival at Tienanmen Square, the team was rather disappointed to say the least. From the group’s entry point, the Square itself was rather underwhelming and was dominated by a massive building that housed the embalmed remains of Mao (for those keen on seeing dead people, the body apparently is so well preserved that it looks like Mao is just having a nap). Moreover, there was an obvious absence of parading soldiers and screaming officers, something essential to any Western depiction of a communist country. However, we need not have worried too much, as when we ventured past Mao’s resting place and entered the front of the square,  we saw an area that was both impressive and on a grand scale – and also had one or two guards thrown into the mix.

The local street vendors were out in force in the tourist areas, their coolie hats making them easily recognisable.

The massive square is set out in front of the Forbidden City, and is flanked by the Chinese National Museum and the Great Hall of the People. Both buildings are absolutely monumental in their scale. From a distance, neither building looks particularly large, but when one crosses the square to stand in front of them, their sheer size is revealed. Rather than performing any compensatory function, the Chinese socialists have a ‘big is better’ ideal and building on this scale is believed to emphasise the importance and longevity of the ideal. The square itself was first established in the 17th Century and over the years has been expanded several times. Following the 1950s, the final expansions were completed and the square can accommodate up to 600,000 joyfully happy people.

When making models, Jack could never get the scale of his buses correct.

Man 1: How do you know your dad is planning for the future? Man 2: He buys two cases of beer instead of one.

From the square, the group then traipsed north to the entrance of the Forbidden City. The city covers over 180 acres and was built in 1420, with a total of 9,999 and a half rooms (unbelievably, they ran out of bricks and the last room has been largely forgotten). The city is incredible and its architecture and design is unparalleled in the world. It is recognised as both a UNESCO Heritage Site as well as a Chinese National Treasure, right up there with Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.

Unfortunately, the booked Chinese foot masseuse forgot to show, much to the disappointment of the boys.

Exploring the place required some decent footwear and patience as crowds flocked lice ants all over the place. Our students, wearing their bright blue shirts, scattered like the aforementioned ants through the various courts and probed the immaculate gates. The group spent most of the morning exploring, and didn’t even see a quarter of the city. We, the teachers, were very thankful to our guide, Happy, who kept the boys moving and on time. By the end of the morning our feet were so sore that most of us were wishing for a foot massage, but our itinerary had other plans, and it was less a case of Happy Feet, and more a case of grin and bear it.

Finally, Joshua gave in and submitted to a token pic with a native cat.

Immediately after our visit to the Forbidden Palace and lunch, we were taken to the Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing. Here the boys performed a haka as a way of thanking the Institute for all the work they had done for us.

You put your left hand in, you put your left hand out, you put your left hand in and you shake it all about…

Following a few quick speeches and obligatory photographs, we were then given free reign through the Institute’s museum and education space. This interactive and informative place was easily the best maintained and enjoyable museum experience encountered by the boys and staff. Interactive media allowed the boys to dress as women, play badly strung instruments, and hit a bell set with about as much musical talent as a fingerless pianist. The exhibits were also clean, easily viewable, and the interactive electronics actually worked! All had a fantastic time and just as everyone began to run out of steam, we were again ushered into the bus for a trip to the Hutong.

The auditions for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, had several stand out applicants.

The Hutong are the old neighbourhoods in Beijing and their narrow streets and quant brickwork hark back to an older China. However, inside the buildings is a world that is anything but old. As a major tourist site, the Hutong bustles with modern cafes, trinket and souvenir stores, and just about anything else you could care to imagine. Set against a meandering river that joins two lakes, it was a beautiful spot and the boys launched into another round of exploring and adventuring. Meanwhile, the geriatric teacher posse immediately headed west and found, and I kid you not, a cat café.

On the quest to find Jet Lee and a Chinese film set.

The cat café is either a dream come true for feline fanatics, or a potential nightmare for anyone with hygiene issues. The coffee (which was served with pictures of cat’s paws and faces on the foam) was surprisingly nice, but was served on tables that cats leisurely strolled across and cleaned themselves on. The café was essentially a place where you could go to hide from annoying pet allergy people, or a place to take pet allergy people to see them succumb to anaphylactic shock.

What’s new pussy cat? WoOooOoooOooooOo.

Finally, after another long day, we sleepily made our way back to the hotel for a duck dinner that went down extremely well. Unfortunately, a little too well for one boy who gorged on the skin and who later discovered that rich foods are better eaten in moderation. Fortunately, he was able to sleep it off and join the team the following day as we braved the Great Wall and a long standing record.

The demise of one or two of the lads.