Wendy Kofoed – Accelerating Māori and Pasifika students

Wendy Kofoed, principal of Newmarket Primary School, Auckland describes how she introduced teachers to the teaching inquiry process, with a focus on raising the achievement levels of Māori and Pasifika students in her school.


My leadership goal focused on working with staff, to look at strategies to accelerate Māori and Pasifika students’ achievement, particularly those students that were underachieving in reading. When I first planned the inquiry – my own inquiry – I was interested in working and trialling practice analysis conversations. But it became very evident as I moved into my inquiry that this was not the focus that I needed to spend my energy on. The focus was actually on the strategies for acceleration. I sat in several team meetings and it was evident that teachers were struggling with the notion of acceleration, what that might be in relation to their own practice. And after the second conversation where I had people sort of looking at me for the answers I thought ‘I don’t know what these answers are I need to do do some research about this’. And rather than focus on the strategy of a practice analysis conversation, I narrowed my focus to look at acceleration of Pasifika and Māori students achievement, any student achievement.

The key action was to look at myself as a learner first. As a learner I needed to set a clear goal for the focus on acceleration. I needed to plan and look at the steps I would take as a learner to get a rich outcome of the inquiry. The planning aspect was certainly challenging. I used an action planning model (that) had quite a few iterations before I was comfortable with that process. I worked with staff. Some other senior leaders came and worked with me because again, ultimately we knew that this was going to become a staff focus - and I’ll talk about that in a moment. My initial inquiry was the model if you like. And we wanted to develop systems that we could use with my inquiry across the school. The other strategy I used was systematising, if that’s the right word, the process.

I spoke with the board and staff about the notion of inquiry and what might this mean for teachers’ practice. We used the evidence of the previous years targeting, and it certainly gave us a legitimate reason to inquire into Māori and Pasifika achievement, because the data wasn’t good. Māori and Pasifika children at Newmarket school were not achieving as well as some of our other students. So what we did as a board, we turned the traditional notion of targeting on it’s head.

Traditionally we’d report in our strategic annual plan that 96 or 86 percent of children would be achieving at or above expectation. So we turned that round and we looked at the 16 percent of students that were not achieving, and predominantly they were Māori and Pasifika. And so we had a very narrow focus on that particular group. That focus became a key driver for the following year’s charter. I found it was very important to clear the decks, if you like. This was a focus that had high value, it was going to be developed with staff throughout the school. So for that reason I made sure, worked very hard to ensure other that distractors were removed from our professional development context. In schools we tend to swamp staff with a range of professional development initiatives. So the focus on acceleration in literacy, looking at reading was very narrow. It became the key focus if you like for the year. Narrow, tight focus.

Setting up teacher inquiries

This resource outlines the steps Wendy went through to help teachers inquire into their teaching.

  1. Know what you are doing. Understand the theory behind teaching inquiry, and what it looks like in practice. You may need to engage in further professional learning to be able to lead the process. Or there may be someone in your school community who can help you to lead inquiry.
  2. Aim to build inquiry about teaching and learning into the day-to-day work of your school. Don’t think of teaching inquiry as an add-on.
  3. Set up systems to support this way of working. Remember that it will take time to learn how to inquire effectively. It’s not a short quick fix. It’s a slow, considered process that uses evidence every step of the way.
  4. Not all teachers learn the same way and at the same rate. They bring different experiences and expectations, and require differentiated support. Some may be able to offer support to other teachers while some will need much more targeted support and guidance.
  5. Follow-up. Don’t inquire in a vacuum. Use the inquiry process to:
  • Encourage teachers to share their practice with others.
  • Generate meaningful opportunities for teachers to observe others and provide feedback.
  • Build a culture where conversations about glitches and problems are as valued as conversations about what is working well.
  • Help teachers to focus their discussions on evidence rather than assumptions.
  • Demonstrate how changes in practice can be linked to changes in student achievement.

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