Mangere Central School: teachers talk

This pecha kucha and accompanying narration describes the learning journey the school’s staff have been on since they challenged themselves to sustain an unrelenting focus on accelerating student achievement.

In it, leaders and teachers talk about how supporting teachers to inquire into their own practices has helped students make accelerated gains.


Our journey

Our journey started with a simple question. How do we target learning? Our core business is learning. So we challenged ourselves to sustain an unrelenting focus on all students, while at the same time targeting the needs of specific students to accelerate their achievement. To do this we needed to support teachers to inquire into their teaching. To do this we needed to build our leaders' capability to lead learning.

Our question evolved into: how does targeting leader learning impact on teacher and student learning? Using Neil Mahoney’s model for a professional learning community, 72 students made evidence accelerated gains in writing during the first year. The next year 106 students. This year every teacher aims to accelerate the learning of at least five students in reading, writing and numeracy.

We developed a knowledge building and inquiry approach that accelerates learning by systematically targeting learning and learning talk. Similar to this worm farm, our system is sustainable and involves a range of coherent aspects. Target students align with charter targets and teacher inquiry feeds into teacher appraisals.

The changes at school and classroom level can be attributed to the growth of the middle leaders. They are the change agents in this story.

Coaching gave us a chance to develop our leadership, knowledge and practices. It was good to think deeply about what sort of leader I want to be and what that looks like in action. Other leaders observed me and gave me feedback. I know my strengths and what I want to develop.

Quality learning talk

I learned to believe in myself and be more confident. I learned to open myself to learning conversations which is a really good way of focusing discussions on learning. My team use the protocols to support one another with challenging talk and smart tools to track student progress. This means better achievement for our students.

We led change by improving the quality of our talk. We used Annan, Lai and Robinson’s (2003) learning talk model to create prompts so we could safely and respectfully challenge each other. Those prompts are visible in our meetings. So teachers and leaders ask each other ‘what are you doing that’s working? What are you doing that’s not working, and what changes are you going to make?’

Before we started I wasn’t quite sure which way I was heading. I had no idea how to support my team and I didn’t have the strategies to ask them why didn’t that work. The main thing for me is children’s learning and the discussion that goes around it. Inquiry was a scary word, but now I feel confident in taking my young team and encouraging them to probe further, like asking me about what I am doing and whether it works.

My biggest challenge in the beginning was to develop strategies to deal with my team’s deep-rooted deficit thinking. We recorded a team meeting and analysed a transcript during a leader coaching session. I took this analysis with my team and we did some professional reading. I used Hattie’s research to help teachers recognise our responsibility as professionals to take ownership of our children’s learning but also teachers’ felt empowered knowing what they do between 9 and 3 does make a difference. Sometimes it still rears its ugly head, but now I have strategies to address this.

Identity and learning go hand in hand

Our school typifies a South Auckland context - a low decile school with high priority students. We have school-wide systems in place address students' socio-economic needs such as food for the hungry. Our inquiry system lets us recognise and respond individual needs in a timely manner. As leaders we actively lead with moral purpose. We expect the best for everyone of our students – we know these outcomes are achievable.

We are committed to these outcomes. Our school culture reflects what we believe is a learning community. We talk to our kids, we know who they are and where they come from. Our Māori do achieve as Māori. Our students from the Pacific are present, engaged, and achieving. Our students with special educational needs are successful. Identity and learning go hand in hand.

As leaders we develop this culture by setting and achieving goals with our community. Tino rangatiratanga is a living principle in our school. For example as a numeracy leader I don’t just promote and lead professional learning, I build people’s capacity to do this. Here is one of our parent’s stepping up to lead a numeracy workshop during our home-school partnership forum.

Increased capacity to inquire and respond

As leaders we have stepped up to be the effective leaders we want to be. We believe effective leaders are competent so we make sure that we know our stuff. We believe effective leaders have integrity. So we walk the talk at all times. We also believe that effective leaders care about the person, not just the professional but the actual person, to rebuild genuine and reciprocal relationships.

Like this tuakana-teina relationship which shows ako in action, as leaders we create opportunities for reciprocal learning by helping each other to reflect on how our espoused theories line up with our theories in action. It is important to empower others, not to have power over others. I work with my team to make a difference for our students and I grow the leaders around me.

We create and share knowledge by moving in between structured and organic learning teams. During weeks 2 and 7 we have PLGs where we analyse and track student information and also observe teacher practice. During weeks 4 and 8 we aim to work in organic inquiry teams where we drive our own learning. We ensure an intensive focus on the teaching and learning relationship by paddling as a team.

This increases the capacity of teachers and leaders to focus on particular students’ needs and then seek support with their own professional learning needs. It may be from each other, core documents and emerging research or people who hold expertise in or outside the school. We inquire deeply because we know if we keep doing what we have always done we will get what we always got.

As the principal I am responsible for student achievement. This system makes it possible for me to be aware of the needs across the school and respond quickly. This year I noticed discontinued reading recovery students were identified as target students in Year 3. The reading recovery teachers inquired and found that the students had maintained their progress. This highlighted the need to provide professional development for Year 3 teachers which we then addressed.

As team leaders we have co-constructed smart tools which depict our new learning and shifts in thinking. We regularly seek our teachers' input which means we all understand the sound theories underpinning the tools. We all contribute to the design and so they are user-friendly. And we all grow to adapt the tools accordingly. The tools evolve and grow as we do, so there is absolute buy-in.

Our school carving shows a flow from the past to the present and the future, much like our system for our habitual inquiry. When we work together one inquiry leads to another. It is addictive and contagious. The tupo represents the children of today, so we make sure that we are inquiring into the needs of those right in front of us. We constantly ask what will make a difference for this child today?

Student voice

What makes a difference for me is having opportunities to be a leader. To me this means being responsible, relating to others, and respecting others and most importantly yourself. Also academic levels are important. I mean you cant have a leader that can’t spell their name right. In saying that I believe anyone can be a great leader.   


Annan, B., Lai, M. K., and Robinson, V. (2003). Teacher Talk to Improve Teaching Practices. Set: Research Information for Teachers, 2003, no. 1, pp. 31–35.

Mangere Central School website: Knowledge building and inquiry approach in action

Reflective questions

  • Draw up a 5 x 4 grid. Actively listen to the narration on each slide and record the main message you believe each speaker is trying to convey. What messages resonate with you and / or are relevant to your current context?
  • If your leadership team created a pecha kucha to encapsulate the essence of your leadership team or school learning community, what principles would you focus on?

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