Te Kōtahitanga Phase 2: Towards a whole school approach

Publication Details

This research project builds on the Te Kōtahitanga research and professional development project. It examines what happens when the professional development project is implemented in the whole school rather than a small number of teachers in a school.

Author(s): Russell Bishop, Mere Berryman, Alison Powell and Lani Teddy, Māori Education Reserch Institute (MERI), University of Waikato and Poutama Pounamu Research and Development Centre.

Date Published: March 2007

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Executive Summary

Te Kōtahitanga Phase 1: The experiences of 7ear 9 and 10 Māori students in mainstream classrooms

In 2001 and 2002, the first phase of the Te Kōtahitanga research project was undertaken by the Māori Education Research Institute at the School of Education, University of Waikato and the Poutama Pounamu Research and Development Centre in Tauranga (funded by the Ministry of Education’s Research Division). This research project sought to investigate, by talking with Māori students (and other participants in their education) how a better understanding of Māori students’ experiences in the classroom and analyses of these experiences might lead to improved policy and teaching and learning that would ultimately result in greater Māori student achievement. It also sought to identify those underlying teacher and school behaviours and attitudes that make a difference to Māori achievement. Overall, the research was concerned with finding out how education in its many forms could make the greatest difference in raising the educational achievement of Māori students.

The project commenced with the gathering of a number of narratives of students’ classroom experience by the process of collaborative storying from a range of engaged and non-engaged Māori students in five non-structurally modified mainstream schools. It was from these amazing stories that the rest of this project developed. In their narratives the students clearly identified the main influences on their educational achievement and told how teachers, in changing the ways they related and interacted with Māori students in their classrooms, could create a context for learning wherein these students’ educational achievement could improve.

On the basis of these suggestions from Year 9 and 10 Māori students, the research team developed an Effective Teaching Profile (see Appendix 1). Together with other information from the literature and narratives of experiences from those parenting the students, their principals and their teachers, this Effective Teaching Profile formed the basis of a professional development intervention, that when implemented with a group of 11 teachers in four schools was associated with improved learning, behaviour and attendance outcomes for Māori students in the classrooms of those teachers who had been able to participate fully in the professional development intervention.

A full account of this first phase of the project is presented in a report: R. Bishop et al. (2003) Te Kōtahitanga: The Experiences of Year 9 and 10 Māori Students in Mainstream Classrooms.

Te Kōtahitanga Phase 2:  Towards a whole school approach

In 2002, this second phase of the Te Kōtahitanga research/professional development project commenced at three different schools; 2 secondary and 1 intermediate. This phase was funded by the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Teaching and Learning Group as a sub-contract to work with three of the schools who were participants in the Te Kauhua: Māori in the Mainstream Project. The aim of this phase was to identify what happened when Te Kōtahitanga project was taken to scale in a whole school.

This report covers the period in-schools from April 2002 until July 2003.

Moving to a Whole School Setting

In Te Kōtahitanga Phase 1, only a very small number of teachers were involved in the project in each school. As a result, these teachers tended to become somewhat isolated enclaves within their respective schools. It had also been identified that students had changed their behaviours, reduced their absenteeism and in most cases had improved their educational achievement in the target teacher’s classrooms. However, in their other classes taken by non-target teachers, it was reported anecdotally, that their behaviour had in some cases worsened, selective absenteeism (wagging selected periods) had increased and the general level of frustration of all concerned had risen.

Consequently, we had identified that the focus of the professional development intervention in future should be the whole staff. This would see changes taking place in the teachers’ classrooms throughout the whole school and create a ‘cultural change’ in the school so that all teachers were supportive of and knowledgeable of the new approaches. In addition, it would allow their students to experience consistency across as many of their subject classrooms as possible.

Further, in one of the four schools in Phase I, we had been able to arrange for one target class to be taught by three target teachers. Of all the classes that we observed in the four schools, the students in this class appeared to make the greatest progress from their starting baseline on a range of variables. This indicated that the whole school approach (and our working with as many teachers of one class as possible) was a better way to proceed than working with teachers in isolation.

In-School Support

As there was a greater number of teachers involved in the second phase of the project than the first, it was necessary to involve more people in the school to provide support. Hence the adoption of the in-school facilitator model in this phase of the project. These facilitators were staff, released from their usual teaching duties, to undertake training and to implement the project in their schools. RTLBs and school advisory staff were also included as part of the implementation teams in schools and were trained to use the observation instrument and to conduct the follow-up sessions in their respective schools.

The Professional Development Model

The professional development approach used was very similar to that developed in the first phase of the project. That is, initially, teachers and professional developers first had planned opportunities to develop relationships, set mutually agreeable goals, outcomes, protocols and parameters for success, then all involved took part in instruction and demonstration that was followed by opportunities for teachers to perform or practice the new procedures in an authentic classroom context with in-class support. The teachers in the schools in this phase of the project were brought into the project in cohorts in the first and subsequent years. However, while this report examines the outcomes of implementing the project in 3 schools, the prime focus for analysis is School 2 because by 2003, nearly 80% of the staff of this school were involved in the project. Such a level of participation enabled us to formulate a theory and method of professional development for a “whole-school” approach. In contrast, in School 3, eleven teachers (10% of the teaching staff) took part in the project in 2002 and 2003 working with two target classes. This latter approach confirmed for us the benefits of teachers working in cross-curricular groups, examining and planning for the learning needs of specific classes.1 These two approaches, the whole school combined with the class specific, combined into a comprehensive model, informed the development of Phase 3 of the project.

Results: Observation Data

The observation data gathered in 2002 and 2003 indicate that over the period of the professional development intervention, there has been a shift from the dominant traditional pattern of classroom interaction (focusing on instruction (I) for product learning, monitoring (M) and the provision of behavioural feedback (FBB) within the observed classrooms of the targeted teachers, to a more balanced approach including more discursive teacher-student interactions that involves building upon students’ prior learning (P), responding to student initiated interactions through giving academic feedback (FBA) and feed-forward (FFA) to, in some instances, co-constructing (C) the content and process of learning with students.

The observation data also indicate that as teachers move towards a more discursive classroom, they change the way they relate to the students at the level of academic interactions, spending less time interacting with the whole class and being more available to interact with individuals and groups by changing their proximity to the students. The target teachers achieve this by extending their teaching and learning strategies

Results: Interviews with Teachers

The key points to emerge from the interviews with the teachers, facilitators and RTLBs were:

  • Participants were motivated by a desire for change in classroom dynamics, for more inclusive learning environments and to improve educational outcomes of Māori students.
  • There was evidence that teachers had been challenged to interrogate deficit thinking and their positioning within this discourse and to change their theorizing and practice. The narratives of experience of engaged and non-engaged students’ generated at the commencement of the Te Kōtahitanga project, were identified by teachers as being significant in challenging their attitudes and perceptions of Māori students.
  • The 2002 observation tool, combined with feedback, co-construction sessions was a very positive feature of the programme. Although some teachers were initially hesitant about the observations, they became more comfortable as the programme continued. Teachers were motivated to review their classroom performance and practice. Despite the positive attitudes towards the observations, there were few clear accounts from participants about the kind of interchange that could be described as effective feedback or co-construction sessions. This is obviously an area that needs remediation.
  • There was a tendency for teachers to consider a culture as tikanga, as customs, rather than as part of an individual’s sense making processes. There was much uncertainty as to what constituted a culturally responsive context for learning. This is an area that needs much clarification.
  • Most teacher participants saw the linkage between improved teaching and learning strategies leading to improved interactions and relationships with Māori students. Participants demonstrated greater awareness of the student, as a person and as a learner. This was seen as a key step in creating more effective teacher/student relationships.
  • The teachers felt that positive changes were being made and given sufficient time, student achievement gains would be seen more clearly. However, they were not sure how their teaching could change to be more responsive to the students’ learning problems. This mismatch identifies an area that the professional development programme needs to address in a systematic manner in the future. It seems that the professional development programme needs to include a systematic, institutional means of assisting teachers to change their practices so as to address identifiable learning needs of students as part of the move towards more discursive, problem solving classrooms.

Results: Student Outcomes

Due to funding and timing limitations, this phase of the project was not able to be implemented in these schools in optimal conditions. Nevertheless, Schools 1 and 2 received Education Review Office reports during the time of the implementation of the project. Both of these reports considered that the Te Kōtahitanga project had been “instrumental” in effecting positive environmental change at both schools.

In addition, the data on student participation and achievement does indicate that a number of changes have occurred in association with the professional development. These include: an increase in on-task engagement and work completion of target Māori students in target classes in both years; improvements in school attendance by Māori students (including Māori boys) overall during this period; a reduction in school stand-downs (especially among Māori girls); a shift in incidents resulting in suspensions from the classroom to external to classroom interactions; a reduction in Māori student referrals out of the classroom (indicating that behavioural problems are declining in classrooms) and improvements by target students in school generated in end-of-year examinations for 2 out of 3 subject areas compared to non-target students.

Results: Student Interviews

On the whole, the students interviewed reported some very encouraging experiences in association with the implementation of the professional development. They saw many of their teachers engaging in new classroom interactions and relationships with them and they generally felt that these changes and developments were having a positive impact on their behaviour and learning.

  • While the students knew that being Māori automatically engendered an array of negative experiences from both within the school (from teachers and other students) and society at large, junior students reported more positively about their experiences of being Māori.
  • While the students indicated that they were not informed formally about the professional development, they were very aware of its occurrence and were appreciative of the changes that it had brought about and of the extra efforts to which their teachers had gone to enhance their learning. These are indications that bringing students into the loop of information in a more formal way could be beneficial.
  • While most students reported that their culture was taken care of in arenas outside the classroom and outside the school, one student liked the way teachers used Māori examples to capture the attention of the class. Nevertheless, for a number of other students ‘culture’ was taken care of when teachers treated them well, challenged their learning and listened to them. Overt representations of things Māori were not as essential to these students as their being in an environment that took care of their learning in a way that allowed them to be comfortable as Māori students in the classroom. Students felt the most important aspects of their education centred around being challenged in the classroom and being assisted in achieving beyond basic curriculum and teacher expectations. The majority of students interviewed had high expectations of what they could achieve and this was often fuelled by the high expectations of target teachers. Feedback and feed forward were essential elements of the learning process as these reinforced students’ expectations of themselves when they felt they had not achieved to their full potential and enabled teachers to give assistance to those students who felt they could not ask for help.
  • For the students, the most obvious manifestations of the professional development in the classroom were the ‘group work’ sessions described by students who felt this style of learning was beneficial; their participation was unavoidable yet enjoyable, it was easier and more memorable to learn off their peers, workload was shared amongst the group and asking for explanations of skills and concepts not understood was easier in a small group. Students also felt that group work sessions gave them more control and input with regard to their learning.
  • For students who had a lot of contacts with target teachers, relationships with these teachers were particularly positive, such that the students felt inspired to learn and achieve.


The process of creating, trialling and evaluating a professional development programme that can assist and support teachers to develop what Gay (2000) terms a culturally responsive context for learning is time consuming. Nevertheless, there are indications that there are associated benefits of this development in terms of changes in teachers’ behaviours, levels of satisfaction with teaching and student behaviours and learning outcomes. However, it is important to remember that the development of a specific context for learning will not necessarily bring about changes in the academic achievement of Māori students.

We are mindful in the next phase of Te Kōtahitanga of the need to avoid the emergence of what Timperley, et al. (2003) refer to as professional communities of teachers who solely focus upon themselves and their teaching, rather than developing professional learning communities that focus on improving student learning and achievement. In many ways, the results of Phase II indicate that our preoccupation with sequence and working with teachers and the context for learning they created has resulted in the development of the former rather than the latter.

It would appear that the co-construction meeting as the place where staff, who are foc uss ing on the learning needs of the same class, can critically reflect upon data gathered concurrently for formative purposes pertaining to student participation and achievement and then identifying what changes in practice are necessary to ensure progress is a further step in creating a professional learning community. The development of the process of observation, feedback and individual goal-setting that then feeds into the collegial co-construction meeting where collegial reflection based on a range of evidence, and goal-setting is located around a class of students, rather than curriculum areas, followed by supportive in-class shadow-coaching, has much to offer teachers who are seeking to approve student learning.

Such a process is capable of being added to so that other formative activities can take place within the very process. Indeed, in phase 3, we intend to trial the inclusion of data on student achievement (individual, class and nationally related) and participation (absenteeism, engagement, stand-down, suspensions) to focus the reflective practice of a group of teachers with regard to a target class.

The sustainability of the process will involve the institutionalisation of such a pattern where annual school run professional development hui progressively brings new staff into a continuous programme of observation, feedback, evidence-fed co-construction meetings and shadow-coaching which is conducted by trained and proficient in-school facilitators. These in turn are supported by professional development support staff whose job it is to maintain the integrity of the programme in the schools.

Once again the value of teachers challenging their own and others deficit theorising has been underscored. One of the major findings of the first phase of the Te Kōtahitanga project was that the major influence on Māori students’ educational achievement lies in the minds and actions (positioning within discourse) of their teachers. The narratives of experience on which this project was based clearly identified that teachers who explain Māori students’ educational achievement by positioning themselves within a deficit discourse that explains achievement in terms of the students’ deficiencies (or deficiencies of the structure of the school) are unable to offer appropriate solutions to these problems and also abrogate their responsibilities for improving the achievement levels of Māori students. Such deficit theorising blames others and results in low teacher expectations of Māori students, creates self-fulfilling prophesies of failure, and leaves teachers further bewildered as to how to make a difference for Māori students. Changing this theorising by teachers re-positioning themselves within alternative discourses, including different practices as well as theorizing, is therefore a necessary condition for improving Māori student educational engagement and achievement. The development of an institutionalized means of teachers collaboratively reflecting upon and changing their practice in light of a range of evidence of student participation and achievement, from a range of measures, provides the sufficient condition.


  1. This school proceeded to Phase III of Te Kōtahitanga with the inclusion of additional teachers (2003/2004).

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