Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I had the privilege of listening to Melissa Osmond, from Greerton Early Childhood Centre in Tauranga, speak at the Learning Story Conference in Hamilton recently.  Melissa had shared how Learning Stories were an amazing vehicle for sharing learning in a multitude of ways.  

I was particularly taken by the analogy Melissa used of a pie and Learning Stories.  She spoke of how each piece of pie needs to be individually robust, no crumbling crust, lack of flavour or runny filling, for the pie to be successful.  The same can be said of a child's portfolio, the Learning Stories contained within must also be robust, with no spelling or grammatical errors, lack of analysis of learning or depth.  

Melissa's message was about the importance of producing quality documentation, one that identifies a teacher's ever growing understanding of teaching and learning and that shows planning, evaluation and continuity.  

Have you thought about encouraging your colleagues to edit one another's Learning Stories while in draft? This process not only creates opportunities for feedback but professional discussions, where teachers can contribute their ideas and thoughts and it's a wonderful way to not only ensure that the documentation is robust but also has depth. 

We need to ensure that each piece of documentation filed within a child's portfolio can not only stand on its own, as a fabulous piece of assessment, but also contributes to building up the picture of the child as a whole.  As teaching teams we need to take time to reflect on the portfolios of our tamariki. Is what's contained inside a reflection of them?  Does it show who their friends are?  Does it contain Learning Stories that celebrate what the child knows a lot about?  Does it show how teachers have fostered the child's strengths and interests?  Does it include their whānau?  Food for thought!  
Meri Kirihimete

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tōku reo tōku ohooho

How wonderful and inspiring the day was at the recent Learning Story conference in Hamilton.  I had the great pleasure of being able to listen to Brenda and Miria from Mana Tamariki.  This year I have been very interested in Te Reo Maori within ECE and beyond.
I have started to research the effects of language on culture thinking about which comes first.  After listening to Brenda and Miria I am starting to see that they are inseparable.
As Brenda and Miria spoke I began to more deeply understand that there are ways of learning and knowing that are just not describable with English and can only be spoken of with Te Reo Maori and vice versa there are ways of using Te Reo Maori that can only happen when there is a deep understanding of nga tikanga Maori.
Brenda and Miria spoke of the traditional oriori and the traditions woven around the use of these very meaningful chants.  One of these chants was all but lost until a recent discovery of the words and again it as been revived and brought back to life by those able to express the heart felt meaning behind it.
John Banks many years ago said that we have lost the battle with Te Reo Maori and all we can do is hold onto the culture.  (or words very similar to that)  Through passionate people like Brenda and Miria surely that battle will not be lost as they ignite in others the desire to do justice to a language that hopefully will never die.
Ane leid is ne'er enough - my scottish whakatauki - one language is never enough.  How true that is in New Zealand.  My reflective question is this- is language without nga tikanga Maori understanding tokenism and therefore is nga tikanga without language also tokenism?
Tōku reo tōku ohooho - My langauge, my awakening.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Traditional Christmas Tree

When Mason and Zane visited yesterday the Christmas Tree was up and bare except for its sparkly underwear of lights.  The boxes of treasures waited for us to dress the tree.  I said to Zane ‘What one shall we put on?’ and without opening the box quick as a wink he said ‘the blue man and the red man’. We couldn't believe our ears. He’s not three yet. He was twenty-two months old last Christmas and he remembered his favorite decorations. What a stunning memory. Human beings have stunning memories.  We looked in the box and there they were waiting for him to put on the tree. He showed them to Mason his brother. Mason was inspired to crawl to the tree and they put the men from Russia on the tree.

Well, I think it is traditional that I write a Christmas Tree blog now for the third Christmas in a row.  I have been reflecting on tradition. The dictionary tells us  it is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. And here we have been decorating the Christmas Tree all together. Look how much my grandchildren have grown. They get to help decorate. 

So... the tree isn’t looking so ‘adult’ this - maybe more eclectic than other years but in many ways much more traditional as we grow, share and transmit our memories.  Here we are talking about and revisiting through the prompts of the Christmas Tree decorations. We are  growing traditions by sharing memories, feelings for and with each other. We talked about; The heart your mummy made at Brownies - The time I was in Germany - squashed into beautiful little Christmas shop in Freiburg with my friends -  The ‘king’ star decoration Hawaiki remembered from last year - The time my nan and pop gave us some christmas tree lights when I was little - Pipiana’s best is ‘golden ball’ though I notice the dolls from Russia are interesting too - The elf from their great aunty Anna who loved their Nana so. 

Memories are shared and the decorations once again this year have the power to prompt  the ‘rememberings’ that now become the stories for another generation to revisit. The memories are shared in the stories and the memories are stored in the feelings.  Maybe it is not about the ‘red man’ or the ‘king’ or the ‘golden ball’ - maybe just maybe it is about being with a Nana who tells stories and trusts me to put the precious decorations high high up on the tree. Maybe one-day they will say ‘Remember when Nana Kathryn ...’.  Maybe just maybe it is all about love - the kind of love that is traditional. 

Wendy shared this quote from Maya Angelou with us “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Best wishes for many new memories and the opportunity to create ‘rememberings’ and traditions with your loved ones this year.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

He toa taumata rau

To follow is a learning story I wrote about my moko, Taylor.  I wanted to share this as it is a Nanna's prerogative to feel a sense of pride, whakahi, when they see dispositional learning happening for their grandchildren that will have positive outcomes right throughout life.  What better way to celebrate the learning than by writing a learning story about our adventure around Mauao and the way Taylor embodied the  disposition of persevering.
As teachers when we are sending these positive messages to children about their learning the implications are far reaching.  What a wonderful privilege to be able to build into children's lives strong messages about them being capable and confident life long learners.

He toa taumata rau.
We all went for a walk around Mauao recently - you, Fletcher, Uncle Jordan and myself.  As we started our journey of adventure you were keen to try the tracks that Uncle Jordan and Fletcher were taking.  These tracks were not the main walking tracks they were narrow little tracks above the main path.  

You ventured along the first path a short distance then decided that you were not confident enough to go any further and asked me a assist you down.  Fletcher and Uncle Jordan continued to take the higher more risky road.  Every now and then you would give that road another try, traveling along it as far as you were confident, setting your own limitation you knew when it was time to get down.

The wonderful thing about going around Mauao is that there are places that can grab our imaginations. A walk around the base of The Mount can become a time of great adventure and creativity as we found out on this day.  We had taken a pathway that lead down to a beach and you, Fletcher and Uncle Jordan stopped to create a wonderful piece of art work out of drift wood.  This was truly a team effort that required everyone pitching in and doing their bit. 

Once completed we sat back and took photos.  We could here the wow’s and  the“oooh look at that” from the people 
passing by.  Our mission was complete, our structure built and now it was time to keep moving.

 Back on the track you decided once again to follow the steps of Fletcher and Uncle Jordan.  They ran along quite swiftly and managed the trickiness and the height of the path with ease.  You however, could not keep up, but.........and it is a big BUT, you were staying on that tricky path.  Even when the path grew narrow and high you stayed there and you stayed there and you stayed there.  Amazing Taylor you conquered your fear one little step at a time.  

Finally the track became quite high and even the bravest of the brave, Uncle Jordan, had trouble getting down off the dizzying  heights.  However, seeing Uncle Jordan struggle to manage on a very slippery slope did not put you off you still wanted to keep going.  It was at this point I asked that you come down which you most reluctantly did.  It was not because of the height, not because of the slipperiness, not because I was worried about you,  but what would normally take an hour to walk around the base of The Mount had already taken us two hours and were only half way there.

Taylor, bravery has many resting places, He toa taumata rau,  is my favourite - whakatauki -  proverb.  I know that you are brave because you kept going with something even when it was scary.  Brave sits well on you Taylor.

What did I learn about Taylor today?
I realised that Taylor sets his own limits as to what he can and cannot accomplish.  But I also learnt is that Taylor will continue to try at tasks that seem too hard, too scary and too tricky until he has mastered them. This ability to persevere  with difficult will see you rise to challenges in the future Taylor.
Taylor you come from a long line of brave people.  Relations that saw big mountains in front of them but still tried to climb them.

Lynn Rupe (Kaiako, Nanna, Kuia)
April 2012

Navigating the bigger narrative of planning around Learning Stories

I spoke recently at an ELP lecture series on ‘Nurturing spaces, thinking places: How do these link in practice?‘  One team wrote to me afterwards with some fabulously thoughtful reflections, asking for some ideas about how they might re-think their current ways of planning.  The most useful process I think is to channel this kind of energy into a self review inquiry. As we draw near to the ELP Learning Story Conference, thinking about this now, without identifying the team and with their permission, the process I outlined to them, might well be useful for others. So, I thought I’d blog my response.  Teaching teams will have questions they wish to pursue and sometimes this might seem daunting. However using much of what you already have on hand will lessen your workload. It is the organisation of this material that is critical. It must be accessible and having a title: like a book, with chapter headings, that break the inquiry into manageable, relevant portions so subsequently the data can be accessed logically, easily, is a format that is simple and effective. 

The team asked me first if I remembered them! This is what I wrote:

“Yes I totally remember you and yes you were loud and laughing and I took that to be a sign of a team very comfortable and happy with each other which I thought was fabulous!!!”
What a wonderful email! The question you ask is a perfect self review question:

“One question we have been reflecting on is how authentic and relevant our own programming is for the children we care for? We wondered whether we were trying to plan too far ahead for an age group that has constant changing interest”. 

My thoughts would be:
Set that as a research question (this becomes the title of the self review)
Then put in a number of chapter headings:
1: What is  our practice so far? 
Put in some examples of your current planning, any wall documentation photos of this and any reflections teachers are prepared to write. Maybe you have discussed this at a team meeting and have some minutes from those. This becomes your base line data.
In this way you are using your documentation for a range of purposes and reducing additional work as much as possible.
2. What would happen if we stopped formal planning for the next month and everyone committed to writing learning stories?
Collect examples from each teacher. At your staff meetings read these out to each other and see what happens in your discussion. On the back of these stories write the comments from your teachers. My guess is that you will all have wonderful moments of thoughtful comment to add to the analysis the teacher has already written. Add this email letter to this chapter as well, as this is evidence of professional conversation wider than your centre. Add the evaluation forms from the workshop you all came to that night we met - more evidence of reflection without adding additional work. I think these kind of reflections are easier to write as they are immediately after some experience and the thoughts often just flow. There is often a lot of collective chat and excitement that leads to change.
3.How are we tracing children's progress through our learning stories?
In this chapter put the learning stories that have links, continuity is the key to tracking children’s learning progress.. Start writing in your stories: When I read through your learning story folder I saw a story written for you from Karen and as I watched you today I can see how much you have practiced this .......
I saw you on Monday working hard to pull yourself up against the table and all that practice has paid off for look at you now!.....
4. How are we supporting children to grow their learning further?  (the third part of learning stories  - the what next, this is the individualised planning for children)
Put learning stories in this section that have thoughtful ideas about planning.  Sometimes this will be acknowledging that the children are the planners and it will include how you are setting up a vibrant environment, full of discovery opportunities. Eg: We watched how you used the planks to balance and thought we would add some tree trunk rounds to offer some more challenge. I will be really interested to see what you choose to do. (someone else might write a story about what happens from introducing this kind of provocation. We need multiple perspectives to make Learning Story narrative assessments, valid).  When you stop taking up your time with old style planning formats and put the additional time you save into learning story writing, you have more stories to share with families and use for individual planning.
5.How have our families responded to these more connected stories?
Put any comments from families into this chapter including the comments you write into your learning stories after conversations with them.
6. What changes have we seen in our children's abilities to be planners of their own learning?
7. How is our team more in tune with children's interests?

I hope you can see how this systematically builds a strong picture of committed teachers, thoughtfully responding to children's learning. My guess is that in the past when you spent time planning together, that most of what you thought you would do, never happened and so much else happened that you have no record of. I think it is a fallacy that teachers carry, from a very old way of working, that 'planning' has to be done formally. It is much more responsive when it happens in the moment. Carry this planning voice on your shoulder " how can I make this learning more complex in this next moment?'  'What resources can I add to deepen the children's experiences?' Then write Learning Stories to document the process.

Planning for individual children happens in your learning stories and most importantly in the conversations you have with each other. Essentially the framework underpinning your view of your children and your community of learners is what will drive your practice.  Start with the Principles of Te Whāriki, then move to practice, otherwise teachers become task driven and real learning becomes squeezed, fragmented between rosters and routines (nasty words by the way, switch these for rhythms and rituals. These words revolutionise practice). If you truly think children are competent and capable, make your programme more flexible, more child decision friendly, more doors open.

So when ERO asks you, management etc. “What planning do you do for individual children?” show them the children's fabulous folders and the self review folder documenting your thinking journey. The Self Review that I have described is indicative of all that individual planning. After the month you will have stories to look through with a view to thinking about any strong patterns emerging. This could be the focus for a “Story of Interest’. This becomes an exemplar of planning in your community - group planning. This is done in retrospect as you see ‘threads of inquiry’ emerging from children’s interests. It might be about a traditional curriculum area or a disposition. And once again you set up the  Group planning story folder just like you did for the Self Review question and follow the same format.    You might ask yourself: How do we support curiosity to flourish?  What do literacies look like for our babies?

Over the months ahead you keep adding your stories with handwritten reflections from the sharing you do together at your meetings or supporting each other editing your stories. These become very relevant for your Teachers Registration/staff appraisal folders. I hope you can now see that writing more reflectively and sharing these lessens your work load as these thoughtful learning stories become very useful for a range of purposes. 

Hope this helps.
Have a fabulous time talking to each other and experimenting with ways that will work for you. What I hope most of all that this makes good sense, lessening irrelevant work and focussing on the work that really makes a difference for children and families.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Learning Stories: Are these powerfully reflecting the learning culture of your setting?

Learning Stories are teachers  individualised planning for children. Teachers  write the narrative (story) followed by an analysis and then think how to grow this learning further (planning). These three parts are what Margaret Carr considers narrative assessment and individualised planning. Their intention is to make a positive difference to nurture learning opportunities for children. This is why Learning Stories, to be effective, must be current (written as close to the context of learning as possible), shared in the team (so that every teacher can support this learning) and written with the three headings visible to make certain that learning is in the front frame. Over time, it seems that in many places, these headings have been absorbed into the body of the story. I know from my conversations with ELP facilitators that we think this is a concerning trend. While teachers might see the noticing (story), the recognising (analysis) and the responding (planning), it is not so obvious for families or children. There is a tendency too for teachers to stay in the descriptive phase, without a clear analysis when the three parts to a Learning Story are combined. This is not ‘planning’ for an individual child. Learning must be in the front frame, otherwise it is simply an interesting story. The three part format essentially gives teachers an opportunity to discuss the valued learning and support families to see this too. Otherwise we have missed a clear opportunity to support families to be their child’s long term advocate. We will have potentially missed the chance too of building a partnership where conversations about the learning interests of the child freely move between setting and home.

Planning for individual children/tracking their progress

There must be equity for each child where teachers consistently write to make sure no one is missed. It seems to me that this has nothing to do with accountability but everything to do with professional responsibility. This is meaningful planning. When we think of planning like this, it is only natural to want to share this across our team. Reading these to each other at team meetings invigorates these meetings with purpose and positive energy. The thoughtful analysis that each teacher writes is the kind of reflection, when shared at team meetings and other informal moments, gets translated into practice. This means we are continuing to build shared understandings of what ‘wise practice’ looks like and improve not only our writing abilities but our sensitivity to respond in meaningful ways. Everyone grows as a result. 

Teachers often make decisions in the moment as happened when a whole lot of cherry tree branches were dropped off to the centre and everyone helped to construct a teepee. No amount of staff room planning could have predicted this opportunity arriving on a door step.

Practical ways to ensure teachers’ professional growth

The time we spend thinking and writing about our children’s learning is valuable time indeed. Non contact (teacher research time, let’s call  this time for what it is because we get what we focus on) means one teacher receives some quality time (Supportive employers schedule this time fairly and do not expect teachers to write these at home) to reflect on a child’s learning in the context of that learning. That teacher also considers how this learning might be extended. This is planning in action. A draft copy is printed and a team member edits this. It is most profitably an opportunity to have feedback, is evidence of collegial, professional conversation and so very useful for a range of purposes. These draft copies are kept for Teacher Registration criteria/staff appraisal and self review folders. Nothing is wasted and instead of, often tedious reflections on practice, away from the context of a child’s learning, the annotated Learning Stories are incredibly valuable. This is what we call working ‘smarter, not harder’. There is no need to write additional material to make teachers’ practice visible when thoughtful Learning Stories are shared and documented in this way. Try this and see the stress evaporate and the wasted time disappear! Management expectations for additional reflective work that sits in a cupboard, for the most part, are often too high. Using the Learning Stories you write every day are much more powerfully situated to change teachers’ practice and improve outcomes for children. Teams who work like this have synergy, purpose and shared understanding and it shows in the culture of learning and teaching that happens in their setting.

Group Planning/ Community Stories of Interest 

As teachers see links across children’s stories, through the interests and dispositions they write about, teachers move individual planning into community planning (planning stories/stories of interest). When we see all of these areas as a connected whole, we are truly working as a team of teachers and learners inside a community that values everyone’s efforts to stretch their abilities; children and teachers. These threads of interest may be about traditional curriculum areas like literacies and they may be about dispositions like leadership and curiosity. Most essentially these track an exemplar of the kind of learning that happens in an ongoing way in that setting. They are a ‘slice of the pie’ as it were. Margaret Carr has said there are around 900 planning moments each day. It is impossible to record each of these and why would we want to? Using teachers’ thoughtful learning stories to record learning interests, knowledge, skills and dispositions however, give real insight into the learning community. Compare this with a more traditional planning sheet where teachers ahead of time plan a series of activities. Half of this never happens and the exciting things that do occur, as responsive teachers engage with children, rarely is added to these sheets. This is time wasting for some imagined accountability expectation based in the 19th century!

The primary effort is to advance opportunities for children’s learning, draw families into teachers’ thoughtful reflections and give children a chance to revisit their learning. It tracks the continuity of learning and makes the depth and width of this learning visible. This means we are continually improving learning opportunities for children as many people inside the community of learners know where children’s interests lie and can support these in a wide range of conversations, resources and experiences. This shared understanding takes time to gel together and most of all it relies on everyone moving together so that we all keep improving.  The progress in teams who work this way is phenomenal. Overtime these teams consolidate this learning, enjoy each other’s perspectives and help each other through their feedback. The evidence is most particularly in the vibrancy of the learning culture. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Marie Bell, Visionary Educator dies at 90

I was very sad to learn of the death of Marie Bell. She was an exceptional advocate for children and their families throughout New Zealand. Her work, initially with the establishment of Matauranga School in the 60's, and then in early childhood education, particularly as a lecturer of kindergarten teachers, made an outstanding contribution to education in New Zealand at many levels. She was totally committed to a democracy that ensured that children's rights were both protected and supported.

I have many warm memories of times with Marie, and one that stands out, is when we both shared time with Urie Bronfenbremmer beside the shores of Lake Rotoiti. They were both very tall ‘totaras’ in education, each making very important contributions to early childhood education. 

Later in life, Marie was an inspiration to us all in what it means to be a life long learner by completing a PhD while in her 80's. She presents to all of us such a powerful model of what it means to lead a full life and be a life-long learner. It is one thing to talk to others about the importance of life-long learning, it is another to powerfully enact in your own life.

My eldest brother’s family are also sad to be out of the country at this time as they also had a special relationship with Marie and also felt the power of her inspiration. For them, not only was she a wonderful educator, but she was also the guiding light and strength for her wider family. They will all miss her very much and the foundation she built for her grandchildren will give them the best start in life. We will all miss her.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Emotional Literacy

I am in the middle of reading a wonderful book called, 'Roots of Empathy: Changing the world child by child' by Mary Gordon(2009).  The title of this book really caught my attention as the idea of changing the world one child at a time is something that I feel teachers have the ability to do.
I had intended on reading right through the book and then putting some feedback on the blog but I have just read the chapter on emotional literacy and thought no I just cannot wait I want to share some of this book now.   So here it is, I know that we all know this but there is no harm in a little re-visiting what we know and also maybe provoking some extra thought about emotional literacy.
"The illiterate of the next generation will not be those who don't know how to read, they will be those who don't know how to relate."  Being able to relate starts from birth it is those warm caring looks from the family and caregivers that invite responsive reciprocal relationships.  I was at a centre yesterday talking with an unqualified centre owner, who I am sure would not mind me telling the story.  We had been in the children's room and were discussing exer-saucers, bouncers, jolly jumper and highchairs and there place in ECE.  Later we were standing in the office and she said to me, "sometimes children feel safer though when they are up high and out of harms ways, it is just like being in their mothers arms - up high and safe."  I said nothing and just waited.  "Oh", she said, "they (the babies) should be in a teacher's arms shouldn't they because it is about relationships."  Her light bulb moment made my day as I thought of the wonderful outcomes for children as her thinking developed through the conversations  we have.  She did say to me that she is like a sponge that is absorbing all the information.
"When we deny children the right to their feelings, such as when we repeatedly tell a child "there's nothing to be sad about" instead of acknowledging the sadness, she will stop sharing her feelings.  The feelings will go underground, communication is thwarted, and the child's ability to seek out solutions to the problems that led to her fear is blocked.  It is like living in an oppressive environment where you can't speak the language or aren't allowed to practice your religion."
Imagine the feeling of not being able to speak the language particularly if the adults around you are able to use the emotional language they know - acknowledging feelings of having a bad day, being sad or frustrated.  This chapter in the book reminds me of the importance of the non-verbal communication for our younger children particularly as "emotion is an infant's first language".    The book talks about the importance of the ongoing use of nonverbal communication that children uses even after language acquisition.  These cues become an integral part of their communication system.
Finally, my last quote from this chapter, "Emotional literacy gives us the tools to take these innermost feelings and beliefs and give them voice."  This makes me consider how am I allowing children to share their feelings, is there the time and pace in my day to stop and deeply listen with my ears, eyes and heart to what it is that children are saying?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Three Myths about Child Poverty

Jonathan Boston: Three myths about child poverty
8 October, 2012

After reading this article from the NZ Herald you may wish to make a submission to the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, established by the Children's Commissioner, has been assessing the best available international and domestic evidence on how to reduce child poverty and mitigate its effects.

The writer of this article, Jonathan Boston is the co-chair of this group, together with Dr Tracey McIntosh, of the University of Auckland. In late August they issued a discussion document outlining their initial proposals. They have also prepared 20 Working Papers on a multiplicity of policy issues. These are available on the website of the Children's Commissioner.

This group would greatly welcome your feedback on our ideas and proposals. In particular, they would like to hear your views on what you think can make the most difference.
They have stated that they will take outsider views into account as they prepare their final report.

Why some widely held beliefs on the causes and solutions are wrong and why it matters to put things right.

Photo / Getty Images

There are well-established, internationally recognised methods for measuring poverty.

Myth 1
There is little or no child poverty in New Zealand.
The evidence suggests otherwise. There are well-established, internationally recognised methods for measuring poverty. These can be used to track trends in poverty rates over time and between countries.
One commonly used poverty measure is the proportion of the population living in households with less than 60 per cent of the median disposable household income, after housing costs. This is a relative poverty measure. On this measure, 25 per cent of children were in such households in 2011. This represents about 270,000 children. Such figures compare unfavourably with those in Australia and many European countries. The situation was even worse a decade ago when close to 30 per cent of children lived in poverty. Yet in 1986 the figure was only 11 per cent.
Using a more demanding income threshold, around 170,000 children or 16 per cent are living in households receiving less than 50 per cent of the median disposable household income, after housing costs. This compares with about 10 per cent in Australia.
Poverty rates can also be assessed in constant value or real terms over extended periods of time. On this basis, the children in the poorest 15 per cent of New Zealand households are no better off today than 30 years ago. This is despite a substantial lift in average real per capita incomes since the early 1980s. This highlights that economic growth alone in not enough to overcome child poverty.
Another way of measuring poverty is to consider how many households cannot afford certain items which the majority of people believe are essential. This includes keeping one's home adequately warm, possessing a phone and a washing machine, and paying important bills on time. This measure of poverty focuses on hardship or deprivation rather than income.
As the accompanying table shows, child deprivation rates in New Zealand in 2008 were around 18 per cent. This compares with rates of 6-7 per cent in the best performing OECD countries.
Worse, many children experience persistent deprivation. The international evidence suggests that such children are at particular risk of bad outcomes later in life. This includes poor educational attainment, higher unemployment, poor health and a higher incidence of crime.

Myth 2
Children are poor and deprived mainly because their parents are bad, mad, foolish or indifferent. In other words, children are going to school hungry, have worn-out cloths and shoes, and live in cold houses because of poor, incompetent parenting. Every family has enough income, it is claimed. The problem is simply that some people don't know how to live within their means.
No doubt many parents struggle to cope with life, make unwise decisions or get trapped with high debt. Some suffer poor mental health or have drug, alcohol and gambling problems. These issues are real and need addressing.
But there is little hard evidence that poor people, as a group, are much worse than rich people in their capacity to manage their finances. The primary problem is that some parents simply don't have enough income to provide adequately for their children. And this includes many people who are in part-time and full-time work.
To those who say that children are deprived because their parents are incompetent or don't care, consider the following: whereas about 18 per cent of New Zealand children live in hardship, only 3 per cent of those aged 65 years and older suffer the same fate. Why are so few older people materially deprived?
The answer, very simply, is that governments have implemented policies to minimise deprivation among the elderly. By contrast, New Zealand society has chosen to tolerate significant child deprivation. We could choose otherwise.

Myth 3
We cannot reduce child poverty simply by increasing the incomes of poor families. Throwing more money at the problem, it is argued, doesn't work. For instance, it is claimed that the additional funding for low-income families provided via the Working for Families package, introduced seven years ago, has not reduced poverty.
Such claims are flawed. There is good international evidence that increasing the incomes of poor families, especially those with young children, improves educational, health and employment outcomes. Likewise, the Working for Families package has lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty and significantly improved the financial circumstances of many other families. Broadly comparable policies in other countries have had similarly positive impacts.
But Working for Families is only part of the answer. More needs to be done, especially for the children of beneficiaries.
But what policy mix is best is by no means straightforward. There are various ways of increasing the incomes of poor families and not all of these are equally cost-effective or fiscally prudent. Moreover, while more money certainly helps, appropriate in-kind assistance is also important. This includes policies to address poor housing conditions, improve access to health care, educational and other services, and enhance employment opportunities.
How, then, can we improve the circumstances of the most deprived children in this country? How can we ensure that New Zealand is a great place to live for all our children? Over the past seven months, the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, established by the Children's Commissioner, has been assessing the best available international and domestic evidence on how to reduce child poverty and mitigate its effects.

I am the co-chair of this group, together with Dr Tracey McIntosh, of the University of Auckland. In late August we issued a discussion document outlining our initial proposals. We have also prepared 20 Working Papers on a multiplicity of policy issues. These are available on the website of the Children's Commissioner.

In sum, child poverty in New Zealand is unacceptably and unnecessarily high. It can be reduced, and it ought to be. Doing so would constitute a great investment in all our futures. But it will require public support, sensible policies, sustained effort and political will.
Jonathan Boston is professor of public policy at Victoria University and co-chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Congratulations Tasshi Marie!

As you might know, here at ELP we love to celebrate! And what better occasion than our project administrator Marie Thom's recent success in achieving her Black Belt in Taekidokai!

Back in 2010, Marie wrote this for our newsletter: "I have risen to the dizzy heights of blue belt, (to match the bruises on my arms), in my future is a black belt. I followed my eleven year old son into the sport and now my fourteen year old daughter trains as well."

Many hours of training and a couple of bruises later (we have seen the most impressive shapes and colours of bruises here at the office), Marie went to Sydney in July this year to take part in a weekend of training (over 12 hours) followed by an exhausting grading process. In the spirit of true NZ-Australian competition, Marie was the only applicant to break her boards on the first go and even lapped all other students in the fitness line! Ka rawe atu koe!

So, at her return to Hamilton, we just had to throw her a little 'black belt' - party:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Watching the Olympics

Arriving home last week, after a few days away for work, I found myself watching the Olympics. This is a new thing for me, usually my sport watching begins and ends with the Rugby, and after just coming to the end of the Super 15, I thought my sport watching was to take a back seat until the Four Nations tournament kicks off. How wrong I was though, my partner was so enthusiastically watching, I sat down to watch and have to confess to being somewhat drawn into the ‘show.’ It got me thinking about what it is that I like about the Olympics and in particular I like watching the emotions of the competitors how they handle winning, losing, and competing.  One of the races I watched was the 400 metre sprint  final, when 19 year old Kirana James of Grenada, took the gold medal, after he won, he shook all the competitors hands and then celebrated in the usual style. To be so humble in the face of such a victory, taking the time to congratulate all of your opponents before taking in your own success. I enjoyed watching. ‘Mr Manawatu’, Simon van Velthooven cycle into a bronze and then listening to his absolute joy as he talked about coming third equal in the final, about the hard work, the team work, the people that supported and fed him, all contributing to where he was today.  And don’t forget we are all invited to that barbeque at his place on the 23 of December  at his place - “That's a Saturday you know.”
I was really impressed with the way Nick Willis handled his loss in his race, when interviewed shortly afterward, saying, ‘there was nothing left in the tank’, he didn’t blame lactic acid build up, or getting boxed in, or bad weather, it just did not come together for him on the day and he dealt with  his loss with dignity and grace, a true Olympic champion.
What a huge thing it is to represent your country at this level of your chosen sport, just to be there must be such a highlight for athletes. The dispositions we value so highly in early childhood, in particular resilience and determination must serve these athletes well for what must at times be grueling training regimes. Guy Claxton, says that,  ‘good learners have what we called resilience...they especially need to be able to tolerate the feelings of learning - apprehension, frustration and confusion - and the possibility of making mistakes, without getting upset and breaking contact with their learning too soon, or for too long.” Building Learning Power, 2002. How are you supporting children to be resilient life long learners? To have the determination to persevere when things might be tricky, or challenging. How do children learn the feelings of learning? That sometimes they will feel frustration and make mistakes, how do they learn to bounce back and keep on with their learning? This is one of  our roles as teachers, to help children to be 21 century learners and be all they possibly can be.
Jo Colbert

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Earlier this year I posted to the blog an invitation for you to share the ways in which you are using ICT in your settings, in particular I wanted to find out the following:

What digital devices (Computers, Cameras, tablets, MP3 players etc) you have in your centre and how you are using these.

What programmes do you find most useful and what are you using them for?

Do you blog or are you part of any online community? Do you use Wiki’s or Google Documents? What do you use these for?

What has helped or hindered your use of ICT?

How are children using the ICT you have within your setting?

Do you have iPads, iPods or other handheld devices that children are able to use and if so what are they using them for?

If you are using an iPad, what apps are you finding useful?

I have had feed back from a few centres, and am very keen to have a variety of centres represented to get a clear picture of the way ICT is being used within Early Childhood Settings currently.  I would really like to hear from you, this is such a good way to show case some of the work you are doing within your setting. If you have any learning stories, photos or teacher reflections I could use that would be great (I would need permissions for these).

Please email me at

Friday, July 6, 2012

Early Childhood Teachers Discuss Curriculum

I have spent a few days down south in Invercargill. It was certainly very cold as they have had some amazing frosts in the south, the hearts of the people are however very warm. Lots of very wonderful teachers, spending professional learning time together, reflecting on the ways in which they are deepening their practice around learning and teaching and Te Whariki.... 

The following is an article that was published in the Southland Times

Southern early childhood teachers went back to basics yesterday with a two-day conference focusing on delivering the curriculum in the 21st century. 

Convenor Pam Wilson, of Kindergartens South, said it was the second time the conference, held every second year, had been run in Invercargill. 

While some Early Childhood Education (ECE) teachers had attended the I love Teaching Conference for primary teachers, also held every two years, they had wanted to set up something specific for ECE, she said. 

The ILT and ILT Foundation supported the conference, she said. 

About 110 teachers from Dunedin and Invercargill attended the event, which finished today and was themed "Back to Basics - Te Whariki in the 21st Century". 

Te Whariki is the ECE curriculum document which was released in 1996, Mrs Wilson said.

The conference focused on rethinking the document and how it was put into practice in the 21st century.

Guest speaker Lyn Foote, director of Early Childhood Education at the University of Otago College of Education, yesterday spoke about the document, and getting the teachers to reflect on how they were using Te Whariki from a teaching and learning perspective. 

One of the biggest changes since the document was released in 1996 was the recognition of how much learning happened in the first five years, she said. 

Another change had been technology, something guest speaker Wendy Lee, director of the Educational Leadership Project, would discuss today. 

That had had a huge impact, particularly around documentation and the way teachers could share a child's progress with families, she said. They would also look at what children needed in order to express their ideas, be resilient, how to take responsibility, and how to use their imagination.

Monday, June 11, 2012

‘They should have personal masseuses’

Three days in the classroom gave comedian Rhod Gilbert a new-found respect for teachers.
Rhod Gilbert (comedian) spends time with children! It is clear, he is listening!
 Spending three days in a primary school for my television programme Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience was among the most inspiring things I have ever done.
What’s key to teaching is the element that I loved the most: imparting knowledge and information to the children, watching them learn and, you hope, becoming a force for good in their lives.  It was incredibly inspiring, moving and the most wonderful privilege.
I got a taste of it for just a few days – after a very short period, kids were coming up to me and saying the most moving things, the most inspiration things, about the impact I’d had on them.  And that was me just dicking about and having fun with them, giving them time, listening.  I can only imagine what it’s like to teach them for years.  It must be mind-blowing.
In my time at the school, I learned that it is impossible to over-estimate the value teachers have in our society.  It’s priceless.  But, amazingly, teachers are fairly poorly respected.  These people are shaping the next generation, they are having a massive influence on what society will be like in five, 10, 15 years’ time.  It’s as much down to them as it is to parents.
Yet many teachers I know are tire, stressed, downtrodden, poorly rewarded, overworked, over-examined and league-tabled to within an inch of their lives, and we as a society, as parents, as politicians, have a duty to do something about it.
So I have come up with a radical solution.  All teachers should have government-funded personal masseuses, drivers and personal assistants to massage their shoulders on the way to school, rub their feet and grant them sexual favours.  All so that, when they do into the classroom, they are excited, motivated and fresh as a daisy.  The rest of us should be doing this…or, at least, the rest of us in society who are paid pointlessly large sums of money for doing sod all.
The teachers at the school where I was placed were committed down to their very last drop of energy and passion.  They were phenomenal and the school was awesome.  Despite the piles of paperwork, bureaucracy and nonsense that seem to do little more than destroy teachers, they were still incredibly enthusiastic and undaunted – a testament to how passionate they are about their jobs.
But my time in school wasn’t as simple as me walking in to the staffroom and falling in love with the profession.  The first day I spent just taking the mick because of all the happy-clappy, modern, funky teaching methods.
The main reason for my reaction was that it was so different form when I was at school in the 1970s.  Then, a jam sandwich was considered two of your five a day and schools were made up of teachers in classrooms, blackboards and rows of kids slumped over desks, learning by rote.
In Monnow Primary, near Newport, South Wales, where I was based for the programme, it’s all independent “zones”, including the “multimedia zone” and the “thinking zone”.  For example, they didn’t do maths in the classroom, they did it in a forest.  It was like something from The Mighty Boosh.
But then, over the three days, I saw how the school’s methods engaged the kids and how they loved it, and how much fun they had while they were learning.  I became convinced that teaching has really improved in terms of learning through play.
I dicked around a lot when I was in school.  I wasn’t bad, but I just wasn’t interested.  It wasn’t my teachers, it was just me.  If we’d had the teaching methods I saw in this school, I would certainly have been more engaged.
I was only at Monnow for three days, but I’m going to go back there and help out, because I felt like I had an impact.  It was sensational.  The best thing I’ve ever done.
Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience: Teacher is on BBC iPlayer.
Times Educational Supplement Friday 11 May 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Passion and Power


Recently I was asked to speak to a group of people, not within the ECE sector, about why I choose early childhood, what my job entails and where my passions lie.  This was not going to be hard - especially because the requirement was that I spoke about my passion.  Obviously they had time to spare, this could end up being a very long night especially  as passion involves emotion and when it comes to early childhood education there is an abundance of that, sometimes very obvious and other times bubbling just below the calm exterior within myself and people I met through my job. 

I had just finished reading Celia Lashlie’s book The Power of Mothers which had the profound effect of once again stirring up all the passion that drew me into early childhood.  You see coming from a social worker background where I felt like the ambulance  at the bottom of the cliff I really wanted to make a difference in the lives of young children.  Not just picking up the broken and bruised pieces.  I saw education as the fence at the top of the cliff a vehicle into the lives of people, a place where I knew that I could make a difference.  Celia Lashlie’s book reminded me of this.  Her book, written with absolute passion, provides an insight into many aspects of the criminal justice system, CYF’S and in particular women’s prisons.  Part way through Celia talks about a ministry report and writes, “...... including the recognition that it is when children are young that we can have the greatest effect in terms of increasing the chances that they won’t end up in prison (or dead) as the result of an addiction or because they can’t find their place in the world.  This is the stuff that everyone working with at-risk families knows - the stuff that teachers who watch the next generation of children from ‘that’ family come into their classroom at the start of a new year know deep in their bones.”  It is so true ‘it is when children are young that we can have the greatest effect.”  I do not believe that this is just the case for ‘that’ family but for all our tamariki across New Zealand.  For me Celia could have been writing a mission statement for early childhood as later she talks about a young man “who was attracted in the Mongrel Mob in his early teens because this gave him a sense of family - his first real sense of belonging”.  Sounds very familiar doesn’t it?  Belonging one of the strands of our curriculum, this gives a new sense of the word’s importance and just why it is there so boldly within our curriculum.

So back to my night with those that really need to hear why I am so passionate about early childhood.  I started with talking about my experiences in social work, next quoted Celia Lashlie and finally remind everyone present of the increasing number of suicides  within New Zealand.  In my own life I have personally known 5 people who have committed suicide - 4 of these young men, two of these have children.  To me and I am sure to everyone else this is an enormous waste. 

So for this reason I am passionately involved in early childhood.  I want to make sure, to the best of my ability,  that early childhood settings are places that see their opportunity to create a sense of belonging, that grow children’s idea of themselves as being valued contributing members of society, that take the opportunity to allow children to express their thoughts and feelings and finally where the well-being of the child is the driving factor behind teachers practice.  Celia Lashlie’s book as I have said, once again stirred up that passion that first drew me to early childhood.  It also reminded me of the huge responsibility  we have as early childhood teachers - what a privilege, a joy and a challenge to the an early childhood teachers in the 21st century.  We have the opportunity to make a enormous difference in the lives of our tamariki.

After passionately speaking from the heart to my group of unsuspecting people, who I am sure were unaware of the consequences of giving me free license to talk about my passion - I wondered how many of them will return home to consider taking up this rewarding and world changing career in early childhood.  As most of them were in the near to the retiring age bracket this may not be possible.  But who knows because when you allow passion and conviction to drive you you may find that the future paths may vary from where you thought you were going.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Raising quality in early childhood education

The recommendations from the ECE advisory groups; Improving quality of ECE services sector-wide and Improving quality of ECE services for children aged less than two years have been announced by the Minister of Education today.

Hekia Parata
25 May, 2012
Raising quality in early childhood education
Education Minister Hon Hekia Parata has today released a series of recommendations on how to improve the quality of early childhood education (ECE).
The recommendations are the findings of two advisory groups which were established in January of this year to focus on improving the quality of ECE services, particularly for those children under the age of two.
“I welcome the recommendations and thank the advisory groups for identifying many practical solutions that can be implemented quickly.”
“All of our children deserve high quality ECE. The pre-school years are too critical in terms of learning and development to allow anything else. Parents need to be assured that their children are attending a quality service,’’ says Ms Parata.

“I have asked the Ministry of Education to provide me with advice on the recommendations.

“This will include considering which of the recommendations can be implemented in a shorter timeframe and which will require further work.

“I plan to make a further announcement in August to outline the next steps for these recommendations.”

The full recommendations of the Sector Advisory Group on improving quality for under two year olds in ECE are available at the following link