Internal Evaluation with ELP
Te whāngaia, ka tupu, ka puāwai
That which is nurtured blossoms and grows
Our thoughts on why Learning Stories, Professional Growth Cycle and Internal Evaluation aligned together, offer an insightful understanding of the learning valued and practised in early learning settings in Aotearoa New Zealand
Te Whāriki (1996, 2017) is child-centred, learning oriented and deeply appreciative of children’s language, culture and identity. Our ELP colleagues have a shared vision for this. As we walk into early learning settings each day the questions foremost on our minds are:
– How do we wrap meaningful learning opportunities around our mokopuna to ensure their language, culture and identity is deeply valued?
– How do we make that difference in their learning lives that will take them forward into a successful life, both now and into an unknown future?
Lady Tilly Reedy’s words echo too:
“I believe in a freedom of the mind and spirit that is fearless yet controlled:
…a freedom that dreams and seeks answers on distant horizons;
…a freedom that takes responsibility for the footprints left behind;
…a freedom that recognises the beauty of individuality;
…a freedom that weaves nations together for tomorrow’s unity.”
With this in mind, what will our own legacy be as, moment after moment, day after day, year after year, we intentionally nurture the children in our settings, to sculpt the brain they will have for their lifetime? What impact will we have; what impact are we having?
This goes to the heart of our philosophies and deep into our practice, for neuroscience is clear: What we do really matters.
Alison Gopnik has this to say: “Our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it’s to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows.”(2016) At a core level, it is how we listen to children and enable them the time, space and resources to pursue the things that interest them. This is deeply challenging, for we must ensure children’s motivation to learn comes from deep within, and we must do this without hijacking children’s agendas, their energies, their passions and their spirits.
A measurable, meaningful and motivated pathway
Now as we think about a measurable, meaningful and motivated professional growth pathway for kaiako, the last thing we want to consider is internal evaluation and Teaching Council certification as accountability driven tasks. Instead, we want to stretch our own professional growth within a team focus. We want to contribute to an understanding of our local curriculum through involvement in learning pathways that keep us learning how to make that positive difference in children’s lives. We want this process to be one that truly fascinates us; one that makes us strive to explore to the edge and beyond because we are, just like children immersed in play, deeply motivated from within. And we want to do this in collaborative ways that nurture a sense of whakawhānaungatanga.
Do you hear me? (Carr, 2000) alerts us to the child’s right to be heard, and it is equally as important for teachers. Can kaiako explore, with curious intent and wholehearted energy, the aspects of learning and teaching that excite us? Our process is focused on ways we can engage in inquiry research, with a passion that ignites our investigative spirits, and allows us to shift our thinking, our practice and our shared understanding of what it means to learn and teach in a vibrant learning community. This is the kind of internal evaluation that excites us and it is the kind we hope you will want to learn about through working with us.
When this kind of social responsibility is generated, by every member of a team, then trust is the result. With trust, rather than judgement, kaiako will stretch themselves to that edge and beyond it and make the difference in the lives of our mokopuna that is a core responsibility of kaiako and the leaders whose work supports teaching teams.
Where does this start? We think it starts with what Lady Tilly Reedy said in her address at the twentieth celebrations of Te Whāriki (MOE, 1996): “The mokopuna is at the centre of the early learning setting.” This means wrapping learning opportunities around the uniqueness of each child. This also means tracking their learning progress from the perspective of a kaiako who cares deeply for this child, analysing this learning through dispositional and working theory frames and then stretching this learning together as a community. These are the three aspects of Learning Stories.
When Learning Stories are written with a robust, emotional connection with the child and their family, they shift the way kaiako learn and teach. Over many years now we have had the great privilege to witness teachers’ transformative practice as they have engaged in the process of writing thoughtful Learning Stories. This process makes us look at children differently and helps us see beyond the surface of skills and knowledge, into the complexity of children’s learning identities. It makes teacher practice stutter and previously unexamined ways of teaching come under the spotlight. The kind of formative assessment generated in truly thoughtfully written Learning Stories is powerful and takes practice from the ordinary to the extraordinary. This happens within teams that generate a synergy that has collective energy and well-being at the heart of all they do, as they help each other to strive to do better.
The Learning Stories we write must be gritty, authentic, emotionally connected, and offer a continuity, a golden thread, that gives the reader an appreciation of this child’s learning progress. The language we use is vital when engaging in conversations with mokopuna and whānau because it has the power to empower and transform. The feedback language we write about in Learning Stories becomes the language we use in our settings. “You are brave, you are kind, you set yourself big challenges and you do not give up” becomes the language children use about themselves. “I am brave, I am kind, I set myself big challenges and I do not give up.”
We just can’t stress enough how Learning Stories offer an insightful window into kaiako practice. The process we use is designed to take these thoughtfully constructed Learning Stories into evidence of kaiako professional growth and then contribute these, in a transparent way, into our internal evaluation process. This is research focused, collaborative work that relies on each team member’s contribution to add to a shared understanding of our local curriculum. What we choose to write about, how we write and how we consider ways to stretch learning further, are hugely indicative of the kind of learner and teacher we are. When we use Learning Stories for multiple purposes, we place our mokopuna firmly at the centre and keep our workloads efficiently and effectively focused on learning that matters to mokopuna, whānau and kaiako. And, we keep everyone’s well-being nurtured because what we do, does indeed make a difference in all of our learning lives. We hope to support kaiako with meaningful, timely, cohesive ways to engage with the myriad of external expectations on their professional life.
To learn more about how we can support you with this process please get in touch: [email protected]
The Educational Leadership Project Team