Representing hope for the future: Te Whāriki champions

Since the early learning curriculum Te Whāriki was updated in April this year, 24 Curriculum Champions have been appointed to work with early learning services across the country in their implementation of the changes.

In April 2017 Te Whāriki – He whariki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early Childhood Curriculum was updated to better reflect the changes that have occurred in early learning services and wider society.

The update resulted in the publication of two distinct and equal pathways, Te Whāriki a te Kōhanga Reo and Te Whāriki early childhood curriculumTe Whāriki early childhood curriculum has retained and strengthened Its unique bicultural framework with updated guidance for teachers, kaiako and educators who support young children’s learning across New Zealand’s diverse early learning services.

On behalf of the Ministry of Education, CORE Education is working to support the implementation of the updated early childhood curriculum.

This support encompasses a range of opportunities for teachers to participate in workshops, lead curriculum inquiry and to champion the curriculum.

As part of this provision, 24 Curriculum Champions have been appointed and have recently started to work with early learning services across the country.

Two such champions, Caryn Deans and Erana Haerewa, share their education journey 
so far.

Uniquely Aotearoa: Caryn Deans

Caryn Deans has been teaching at Massey Childcare Centre in Palmerston North for 13 years and within her role has had many opportunities to learn and grow as an educator.

“This place and these people have made me who I am. I came here on my second year placement while studying through what was formerly Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa, and never left,” she says.

“There are just some things in life that are a perfect fit, that make your heart happy – and this place, these people, the philosophy, the programmes, the practices, the mauri and mana have meant that even after all these years I continue to grow.”

Like Erana, Caryn believes there is something special about our early childhood education curriculum.

“It’s uniquely Aotearoa; it represents the hope we have for our tamariki and our country’s future,” she says.

“Its commitment to biculturalism has inspired me, not just as a teacher but as a person.”

Caryn describes “Te Whāriki leads the way for educators in all settings, and for all cultures,” as her ‘why’ – the foundation of her practice.

“The fundamental rule of building (both in a construction and capacity development sense) is to get your foundations right, otherwise it doesn’t matter what you try and put on top of it, it will never survive the pressure of trying to survive, let alone thrive,” she explains.

Te Whāriki leads the way for educators in all settings, and for all cultures, doesn’t discriminate, every child is afforded the same rights and opportunities which isn’t something that happens very often in life. Every child comes into this world with unlimited potential, we must rise to the occasion and ensure our education and social policy can realise this potential.”

Caryn believes an ideal outcome from the recent update would be stronger links between theory and practice.

“Research shows this is an area that we need to work on in early childhood education. We need to look deeper. Sure, ‘Te Whāriki leads the way for educators in all settings, and for all cultures,’ is about numeracy and literacy, but it is also about values and beliefs. I hope it inspires a reconnection to our roots.”

Acknowledging the impact that high-quality education has on not only the early years, but indeed a person’s whole life, Caryn says the curriculum’s revision has opened a window of opportunity to look at the importance of teaching practice with new eyes.

“The updated version of the document has provided a massive window of opportunity for teachers – new or experienced – to reflect critically on its content and the role it plays in their practice.

“It’s easy to take a document that has been around for 21 years for granted, but there is no place for complacency in early childhood education.

“A fresh document needs fresh eyes – we must take advantage of and harness this momentum and keep moving. The status quo is not an option.”

Caryn is working through the updated document using her “Curriculum Champion lens”, and believes we now know more than ever about children’s learning and development.

“There’s a lot to like in the updated version, but I am especially moved by the recognition of global citizens, and the need for the curriculum to speak to our past, present and future.

“For me, this all fits in with the need to strengthen our ability to affirm identity, language and culture because while I strongly believe success is based on relationships, it’s about our relationships with ourselves that we must focus on developing first,” she says.

 Caryn hopes that early learning services will be inspired to engage the support of a Curriculum Champion.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of the process of identifying and guiding pedagogical leaders on this pathway. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I’m ready, willing and able to learn together. I hope for a strong presence of ako.

“The most effective professional development is that done over a prolonged period of time and I would like to think this 12-month programme will deepen understandings of the updated document and result in more effective implementation,” she says.

“I think the willingness to step up to the plate and participate in this programme shows your commitment to creating the best possible outcomes for tamariki, whānau and kaiako alike.”

Moments of magic and beauty: Erana Haerewa

For Erana Haerewa, being a mother of six tamariki strongly informs her work in education.

The manager of Te Puna Reo o Puhi says a strong desire to support her young children in their own educational journeys led to her establishing a playgroup in her rural community.

“It was there that the magic began,” she says. “Our centre was parent-led and funded by the Ministry. I coordinated a learning forum with other rural mums and ensured our children were provided opportunities to be creative, expressive, confident and happy.”

Erana was encouraged by others in the sector to study for a qualification in early childhood education, which she did when her youngest started primary school.

“On completion of my studies I applied for a head teacher role at Te Puna Reo o Puhi Kaiti immersion Māori setting. What an honour as a Māori educator to work in a setting where our language, culture and identity is proudly presented daily immersed with tikanga Māori.”

Erana has always been passionate about education and the potential of early learning in particular.

“I believe this stems from my upbringing with a grandmother and mother who created special, treasured moments of magic and beauty,” she explains.

“It is these memories I wish to provide for our children every day in our puna. Moments of vibrancy, laughter, creative expression and the arts, layered and embedded with our culture and language.”

In 2014 Erana took over the leadership role at Te Puna Reo and together with the head teacher and teaching team strategically designed a Māori learning programme.

“We provide a diverse programme embedded with our ancestral iwi matauranga,” she explains. “My journey in education has provided opportunities to draw on my passions, language and culture.

“I stand tall beside my team of kaiako and we are leading the way for Māori pedagogies and theories to be acknowledged in educational settings both nationally and internationally.

“The refreshed Te Whāriki has a capacity to establish strong and durable foundations for every culture in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and in the world. It encompasses a theory that all children will succeed in education when the foundations to their learning are based on understandings and a respect for their culture.”

Erana is pleased to be a champion for the updated curriculum, and believes sector involvement is integral to its success.

Te Whāriki leads the way for educators in all settings, and for all cultures,” she says.

“It celebrates the indigenous culture of Aotearoa and encompasses tikanga Māori. I acknowledge Te Whāriki and the principles and strands as they embrace te tipuranga o nga mokopuna o Aotearoa as it resonates with my own upbringing with the wider whānau, hapū and community-centred focus.

“I’m excited to be part of this professional development and promote an authentic forum for Te Tairawhiti leaders in education to celebrate their centres’ practice.

“The opportunity for pedagogical leaders to take part in this championing of Te Whārikiis a futuristic vision of sharing mātauranga to celebrate uniqueness of philosophies and ways of being. This is a professional forum for communities to share the great practices of their early learning settings and share their kete mātauranga with others.

“This is a lifelong journey as we all work together to champion Te Whāriki and give it the life force that it deserves.

“It’s about nurturing our future leaders to be competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge they make a valued contribution to society.”

Teaching and learning alongside each other: Kathryn O’Connell-Sutherland

Kathryn O’Connell-Sutherland is leading the Curriculum Champion project for CORE Education. She says that for her, it’s about the people and the kaupapa.

“First and foremost, Te Whāriki is a stunning, internationally regarded curriculum. I continue to learn from the update and love the way it stretches and challenges my thinking. The strong bicultural origins and new whakatauki provide opportunities and encounters for conversations with others and greater insight into a te Ao Māori world view. The rights and potential of all children as active citizens of Aotearoa is foregrounded, as well as enhancing their mana and agency.

“I am motivated by the opportunity to strengthen kaiako practice and improve experiences for parents, whānau and positive outcomes for all children. My wish is that we think deeply about our responsibilities and genuinely celebrate the identity, language and culture of all.

“It is important that we challenge ourselves to think critically about the concept of a rich curriculum for every child – so that the full promise of Te Whāriki is realised. This will be the focus of the first webinar in a series facilitated by CORE Education.

“I wholeheartedly believe in the practice of collaboration, and along with other sectors, we are working on ways to do this well. I see the benefits of building cross sector relationships for children, parents, whānau, hapu and iwi and I hope this opportunity and the update will help us to improve learning continuity.

The Curriculum Champion project is still in its initial stages, but Kathryn has been heartened by the response of the sector so far.

With close to 7,000 kaiako participating in the introductory workshops, it’s great that we are coming together to have conversations about our curriculum, our teaching and children’s learning.

“I’m excited about the potential of Early Learning Networks and the important role that Curriculum Champions will have in leading curriculum inquiry. I admire their passion and believe in the concept of ako. In this approach kaiako are teaching, leading and learning with and alongside each other.”

Find out more about Curriculum Champions and other professional development opportunities related to the revised Te Whāriki

This article originally appeared in the Education Gazette

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