Why New Zealand? A Primer on the NZ Education System

October 12, 2018 by

This is the second article in the series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlights insights from a totally different education system about what is possible in transforming our education system. Read the first article here.

As I planned my trip, I was constantly asked, “But why New Zealand? Are they better than we are?”

The simple answer is I went to New Zealand with the encouragement of Susan Patrick, CompetencyWorks co-founder and President/CEO of iNACOL. She visited several years ago and found that there were many lessons learned to be found there. However, the question of what makes an education system better than another one prompted an internal dialogue: “In what way might they be better? How do we judge the effectiveness of an education system?” It might be based on academic achievement scores but those don’t capture well-being, success in post-secondary employment, training or education, lifelong learning skills, or transferable skills such as problem-solving and communication. Perhaps we could look at the cost-effectiveness or satisfaction of teachers. Thus, I started my trip with an orientation of inquiry rather than analysis.

I am a believer in benchmarking against high performance to discover policies and practices that might bring improvements. However, I have not returned with solid recommendations for how we should replicate New Zealand. What I did find was that my expectations were lifted, my imagination sparked, and my understanding of our own education system clarified.

Below I provide a snapshot of New Zealand’s education system. In future articles, I’ll be looking more deeply at the system and the ways it can help us think about options for the American system.

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Snaps from Aotearoa New Zealand

October 5, 2018 by

This is the first article in the series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlights insights from a totally different education system about what is possible in transforming our education system. Aotearoa is the Māori word for New Zealand meaning ‘long white cloud,’ indicating one of the ways the ancestors traveling from the Pacific islands could identify land. New Zealand is on a powerful trajectory toward biculturalism. Thus, when possible, I will be including Māori concepts along the way to honor their efforts and do my little bit to return indigenous language and culture to its rightful place.

I’m just back from three weeks of school visits in Aotearoa New Zealand and trying to process all that I learned as quickly as possible. Like the Māori god Tāne who brought three baskets of knowledge to humanity, I have returned from New Zealand with three baskets of knowledge. The first is an understanding of the New Zealand education system. The second is about New Zealand’s journey of reconciliation of past injustice toward biculturalism, returning Māori culture and language to its rightful place. The third basket is full of ideas of how the first two can inform, inspire, and guide educators and policymakers in shifting toward personalized, competency-based education. (more…)

Leaving Single Cell Behind: Moving from Isolation to Flexible Collaboration

September 3, 2018 by

Denise Airola and a team of educators from Arkansas traveled to New Zealand to learn about their educational approach. Here are a few of their highlights. (Originally posted at Office of Innovation for Education on December 6, 2017.) 

I ended my last blog by introducing the New Zealand term for a traditional classroom–single-cell. The adjective evokes images of isolation for a teacher. For the learner, if the teacher/student match is positive it isn’t so bad. On the other hand, we’ve all had that teacher in our lives, the one with whom we’ve spent a year feeling like we’ve been sentenced to jail, stifled by the lack of creative expression or extreme power differential that makes taking a restroom break an act of piracy. As a parent, I’ve waited with baited breath for the class lists to get posted the Friday before the start of the school year, praying my girls would be matched with the right teacher for their learner dispositions because single-cell is just what it sounds like for the most part—a school year sentence to a single space with a single teacher. New Zealand’s ministry of education is moving away from that industrial-age concept. I’ll elaborate on how they are doing this as I describe our visit to Glen Eden Intermediate School. (more…)

A Visit with the ‘Westies’–Day 2 in New Zealand

August 30, 2018 by

Denise Airola and a team of educators from Arkansas traveled to New Zealand to learn about their educational approach. Here are a few of their highlights. (Originally posted at Office of Innovation for Education on November 17, 2017.) 

Disclaimer: When you are in the southern hemisphere it is easy to get your sense of direction a little confused, especially if geography isn’t your strong suit. That sense of confusion can be exacerbated by changing seasons as well–from fall in Northwest Arkansas to spring in New Zealand in the course of a 13 hour plane ride. Given the upheaval, my sense of place, time, and context was a bit out of sorts by the second day of school visits in New Zealand. (more…)

Freemans Bay: Honoring Diversity and Māori Culture

August 20, 2018 by

Denise Airola and a team of educators from Arkansas traveled to New Zealand to learn about their educational approach. Here are a few of their highlights. (Originally posted at Office of Innovation for Education on November 6, 2017.) 

It has been several days since I blogged about our learning journey to New Zealand and I am anxious to tell you more about our trip. I find I need to fully process what I learned to honor the impact that each school offered to my learning journey. Here is Freeman’s Bay School, the second school we visited on our learning journey.  (more…)

Identity, Relationships, and Agency: Powering Learning in New Zealand

August 13, 2018 by

Denise Airola and a team of educators from Arkansas traveled to New Zealand to learn about their educational approach. Here are a few of their highlights. (Originally posted at Office of Innovation for Education on October 30, 2017.) 

Already our week of school visits in New Zealand has passed and I am finally sitting down to pen this blog. Traveling across the international date line can prove exhausting! Also, I’ve needed some time for reflection–time to process my learning and figure my next steps to apply my learning. (more…)

Next Stop New Zealand

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CompetencyWorks is heading to New Zealand in September to try to learn from how they think about learning, schools, and the system of education to push our thinking and spark our imagination of what is possible. Based on her experiences in 2016, Susan Patrick recommended that we turn to New Zealand to help us build a deeper understanding of what state systems and approaches might look like. (Given our all-things-education-are-local approach, it’s best to focus on states with the assumption that states can work together to create regional and national structures when needed.)

As I prepare for this trip, reading everything I can about education in New Zealand, I have been working to hone the questions that will guide the investigation knowing full well that I will encounter ideas that will take me to new lines of inquiry. The focus of the investigation includes questions such as: (more…)

New Zealand Leads the Way on Competency-Based Learning — Part 2

March 22, 2017 by

New Zealand 2This post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 11, 2017. Read Part 1 here

In 2016, I was invited as an Eisenhower Fellow to the 2016 Colloquium on Competency-Based Learning and Assessment (CBLA) in New Zealand. This Colloquium explored competency-based learning and assessment systems and their impact on equity. Attendees built consensus and exchanged ideas on global education systems transformation and educational innovation for equity.

In part one of this series, I highlighted New Zealand’s educational research underpinnings, their move toward equity, how their cultural roots play a role and how a standards-based system is probably best suited to assessment for learning in real time.

Here are other takeaways from various leading New Zealand experts and thought leaders in CBLA and teacher judgment.

(K)new Approaches to Teaching and Learning

  • Mastery is levels of competency demonstrated over time.
  •  Teaching and learning focus:
    • Whanaungatanga (attaining and maintaining relationships) as a concept is a customary Māori practice enabling kin to strengthen relationships and ties between one another and entrench responsibilities as whānau (family). This is about building relationships for teaching and learning.
    • Ako – learner agency in teaching and learning practices;
    • Aro – reflective practices (including assessment, reflection and review).
  • Recognizing cultural differences in approaches to philosophy and backgrounds is important.
  • Activities for reflection include formative assessment and capturing evidence in an authentic way.
  • When we think about setting standards, we think about this is in a Māori.
  • Progressions and proficiency have evidence and judgment statements with the standards-setting bodies related to qualifications.

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New Zealand Leads the Way on Competency-Based Learning – Part 1

March 13, 2017 by

New ZealandThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 5, 2017. 

Research Underpinnings

New Zealand has been exploring future directions in competency-based learning and assessment for decades. The movement is grounded in social justice and equity. The principles of good practice which are the focus of the conversation today should realize that assessing competency in a situated learning setting is a balancing act and an activity of social learning via communities of practice while holding all students to the same high standards with articulated outcomes of what a student knows and can do with exemplars.

An important focus in New Zealand is the research underpinning competency-based learning on how students learn best:

  • Learning highlights skills that are transferable.
  • Learning is situated (Lave and Wenger: 1991; Vygotsky: 1978).
  • Learning occurs in the same context in which it is applied.
  • Learning is co-constructed in communities of practice.
  • Learning is co-operative and in a learner’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

Students work on mastery toward skills to be competent and there is an emphasis on peer-to-peer and social learning that empowers student agency. There is increasing interest in competency-based learning with an integrated approach to assessing learning. Sufficiency, timing and methods of assessment are examined in competency-based systems. Some students have control over how they are assessed (on set standards), assessments should be a meaningful part of the learning process and students (as well as assessors) are aware of exemplary work as a guide. (more…)

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