Should the Key Competencies be integrated into teacher professional learning?

10191190673_2cba7027f9_zI’ve been working on a workshop for use in a school around integrating the key competencies (KCs) into learning using digital technologies. This got me thinking about whether I should be purposefully considering the KCs in regards to teacher professional learning.

Question: Should the Key Competencies be integrated into teacher professional learning?

  • Are the KCs only relevant to school age students?
  • As a lifelong learner, shouldn’t I also be wanting to continue to develop these competencies in myself?

The Key Competencies page from the New Zealand Curriculum website states (emphasis mine):

People use these competencies to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities. More complex than skills, the competencies draw also on knowledge, attitudes, and values in ways that lead to action. They are not separate or stand-alone. They are the key to learning in every learning area.

The competencies continue to develop over time, shaped by interactions with people, places, ideas, and things.

Let’s take a look at the KCs… (all quotes below from Key Competencies page on NZC website)


Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. These processes can be applied to purposes such as developing understanding, making decisions, shaping actions, or constructing knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency.

In teacher professional learning, I don’t want teachers to take everything at face value. I want them to think, to question, to critically examine what is being suggested/demonstrated. I want them to question their own ideas, beliefs, philosophies and practices. It sounds obvious, but teachers have got to continue thinking critically. It’s a part of growing professionally.

Using language, symbols, and texts

Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed. Languages and symbols are systems for representing and communicating information, experiences, and ideas. People use languages and symbols to produce texts of all kinds: written, oral/aural, and visual; informative and imaginative; informal and formal; mathematical, scientific, and technological.

Teachers do this daily. Not only do they support students to make meaning of the codes expressed in learning material, they also have to interpret the codes given through student body language, sometimes jumbled ideas/questions and more. In teacher professional learning it’s important for teachers to be able to make meaning of what is being shared within their own contexts for their particular group of students and their needs.

Managing self

This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners. It is integral to self-assessment.

If I’m running a teacher professional development workshop it is usually made quickly clear to me those teachers who don’t have a “can-do” attitude (at least towards the digital technology I’m using/introducing). They are nervous, and quite honestly, some of them don’t appear to see themselves as capable learners. Until now, I’ve always considered this as simply a lack of confidence but perhaps it’s more than that? It makes me wonder what I can do to help teachers manage themselves and boost their self-motivation.

Relating to others

Relating to others is about interacting effectively with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts. This competency includes the ability to listen actively, recognise different points of view, negotiate, and share ideas.

Going into different schools is straight away putting myself in front of a “diverse range of people in a variety of contexts”. So I can see this important to me. For teachers in those settings, I guess I make that context change. Our teachers though will always have a diverse range of people in front of them and (at least) each year will have a different range of people as classes change. While the context might seem the same each year (it’s their classroom after all), the fact their is a new range of students means that the context will change. Those students have different needs and it’s so important that teachers continue to be able to relate to others.

Participating and contributing

This competency is about being actively involved in communities. Communities include family, wh?nau, and school and those based, for example, on a common interest or culture. They may be drawn together for purposes such as learning, work, celebration, or recreation. They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity to contribute appropriately as a group member, to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

This is big for me. When in a teacher professional learning situation it is quite important that those in the room are able and willing to participate and contribute otherwise the session can fall flat very quickly. Yes, there is a need for good facilitation, but the active involvement is also critical. It’s also important that teachers don’t wall themselves off in their classroom but become involved in their school community both on campus and with the wider community. Being actively involved in subject associations, as well as professional learning networks (PLN) is so important to help ensure we continue to be lifelong learners and continue to think and question what we (and others) are doing for our students. How can we grow effectively without making those connections to others?

My challenge

So now the challenge to myself is to ensure that I purposefully consider how the KCs can be integrated into the professional learning workshops I facilitate. I need to think about how I am helping those I’m working with grow professionally.


Image source: Flickr – Denise Krebs CC BY 2.0

Looking back ~ Looking forward

I didn’t want to write one of those cliche reflect on last year, set goals for this year blog posts but I think that’s what I’m doing. I wanted my focus to be on looking at what might be ahead this year. Reflecting on last year is an important part of that.

Looking back – 2014

Looking backPersonal highlights

2014 was an eventful year for me both personally and professionally. Some of the highlights include:

  1. Celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary.
  2. Completing and submitting my Master’s thesis. This was the end of two years work and boy was I glad to get this done!
  3. Accepting a new job with CORE Education. An exciting and challenging career move for me which also includes now working alongside some of the people I have looked up to in regards to e-learning and education.
  4. Getting a passing grade on my thesis. I found this out in the same week as being offered and accepting my new position. It was a good week!
  5. Having the opportunity to be involved with some great PLD through Virtual Professional Learning and Development, Ulearn, Connected Educator Month, and Twitter (including #edchatNZ).
  6. Graduating with Master of Education in E-Learning with Merit.

    A pic of my capping photo. #graduation #Massey
    Graduation at Massey University – 28 November 2014.
  7. Getting the #edblogNZ hashtag up and running. It’s not hugely used yet, but it’s growing. The main reason I tried to get this going is that many blog posts were being shared on Twitter and disappearing quickly due to the busy-ness of the Twitter feed or #edchatNZ stream.
  8. Being voted onto the BLENNZ school Board of Trustees. This was unexpected, but as I have two children who are supported through BLENNZ I thought it would be a good opportunity to give back to this fantastic school!
  9. It was also exciting to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday, my sister-in-law’s wedding and my youngests 5th birthday (no more pre-schoolers for us!).

Okay, so numbers 2, 4 and 6 are really all part of the same thing, but they were all separated by time and each one was a separate highlight for me.

NZ education

There have been three stand-out happenings in NZ education in 2014 from my perspective. None of them are necessarily new, but have been areas of growth.

  1. The first one is the increase in teacher-led/teacher-driven PD. This has come through a couple of avenues. Connected Educator Month certainly had an impact on this as we saw a huge amount of PD available for free during a single month. There appeared to be a huge growth in the number of teachers trying out twitter, webinars, online discussions, blogging, and more! The other BIG part of this was the continuation of the #edchatNZ Twitter chats as well as the #edcchatNZ conference that was fully run by teachers. I was disappointed not to be able to attend.
  2. The second thing I’ve noticed is the shift from looking at/implementing Modern Learning Environments to using Modern Learning Practices. This has come about a lot through many schools simply being unable to create large open plan spaces as they are limited to single-celled classrooms and/or prefabs. It also takes the emphasis off the space and the furniture and puts it back on the teacher and their practice.
  3. The final area of growth that I’ve seen is around Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Interest for this, I believe, grew through Katie Novak’s keynote at Ulearn. While it’s far from embedded, having such a well presented/facilitated keynote that demonstrated some of the principles of UDL has certainly raised awareness of it.

Looking forward – 2015

Blogging goals

Claire Amos in her recent post Reflections and Resolutions has decided to write a weekly Ed blog and has asked who wants to join her so I’ve decided to join in on this and write a #weeklyedpost.

Along with this I’ve decided to set another blogging related goal. That is to comment on at least one blog post every week. The comment must also go on the blog and not on Twitter or elsewhere.
So this is my first #weeklyedpost.


Question Everything / Nullius in verba / Take nobody's word for itI’ve noticed too that many people have decided not to have goals/resolutions for the New Year. Instead they’ve chosen one word that they will focus on/live/do for the year. So my #oneword2015 is QUESTION. I want to question more. This might be questioning people, ideas, concepts, theories etc. It might be physically questioning someone, or it might be questioning in my head. I already do this to some extent but I want to do it more, take it further, and seek out more information on certain things that I’m just not sure about or not happy with.

I also want to grow my questioning skills with people, particularly with the adults I’m working with. I want to learn to ask questions that help others to think and, wonder, ponder and perhaps question themselves and their own thoughts and beliefs.

NZ Education

In regards to NZ education in 2015, I think we’re going to continue to see growth particularly in modern learning practices and UDL. I think these two things go together so well, as MLP allows for much great student-centered, personalised learning and UDL give opportunity for students to learn in ways that are most appropriate for them at the time.

Introverts and Social Media

Over the past year or so I’ve also developed quite an interest in understand introverts more. I am one. Since I first read an interview of Susan Cain on the TED blog I’ve started to understand myself better and why I do what I do. I’ve also realised that we need to consider introverts in education much more than we do. Both students and teachers. Throughout the last few years there has definitely been an emphasis on collaboration and group work. While I think this is valuable it doesn’t suit all students all of the time (actually in my Masters research, most of the students I interviewed who liked to do group work also really liked to work on their own). I believe UDL could help with supporting the introverted student and I hope that we see more of an emphasis put on introverts throughout 2015. E-learning can help some introverts, even in group situations. I’m interested in exploring this much more and how introverted teachers like myself can manage in situations like open plan, team teaching, modern learning environments.


So that’s it! I’m really looking forward to see what comes through this year!
Have a great 2015 and keep sharing, reflecting and learning!

More on class sizes and NZ education

Below is a link to a Radio New Zealand interview with Professor John O’Neill from Massey University where he is talking about the governments plan to increase class size is based on unreliable research.

I have met Professor O’Neill this year as he is one of my lecturers for a paper focusing on issues in education. He has a lot of good things to say and I have a lot of respect for him.

Radio NZ | Professor John O’Neill


What’s going on in New Zealand Education?

This is how I see it…

In 2007 the New Zealand Ministry of Education released the revised New Zealand Curriculum document. I believe this was a game-changer in education. It focused on the inquiry learning model and encouraged creativity, collaboration, participation and more. The Key Competencies were a great new addition where students would also be taught and/or guided to Think, Relate to others, Use language symbols and texts, Manage themselves and Participate and contribute – all important skills for students to learn as they grow up into adulthood and become global citizens that can contribute to society.

In came the National Party and National Standards for Years 1-8. It seemed like this was a National Party initiative, however as far as I’m aware (and hopefully someone will correct me if I’m wrong), the idea of National Standards actually come from Labour but were not quite ready while Labour was still in government. National then came into power and seemed to rush through the legislation. The problem that I see with National Standards (coming from a secondary school teacher, but being on the Board of Trustees at a primary school) is that there is nothing ‘standard’ about them. Even the Minister of Education at the time, Ann Tolley, admitted that they were ‘fuzzy’ standards. Huh?! How can you have a ‘standard’ that is ‘fuzzy’. It is open for interpretation. One of the other really big problems with National Standards is that none of the tests that have been used for quite some time that show at what level students are working at do not match to the standards. It is an average system at best that is being used alongside very good, well researched systems.

So why were National Standards introduced. Well, I would say that is probably for a variety of reasons – possibly including ranking schools/teachers (particularly with one of the latest ideas of performance pay for teachers coming back to the table – more on that later perhaps). The government of course says it’s to help our well-mediaised (no, I don’t think that is a word, but I’m using it) ‘long tail of under-achievement’. It’s well known that in New Zealand, 1 in 5 kids is not achieving. I think that is high, but I haven’t tried to compare it to other countries myself.

One thing National Standards has done is made the focus of education at these levels on literacy (specifically reading and writing) and mathematics. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing, but it has made teachers and schools focus so much on this that I believe schools are not being left in a position to focus on the broad nature of the curriculum and inquiry learning. Even school reports talk about reading, writing and mathematics and then seem to lump everything else into a short statement on ‘topic studies’. I would love to see these ‘topics’ expanded on in reports and maybe having a brief explanation of what the topic is and what sorts of things were covered educationally. These topics in my view could be where the bulk of teaching and learning occurs – including the reading, writing and mathematics. It’s where students can start exploring (or finding) their passions and learning those skills that are mentioned in the curriculum document.

Back to the ‘long tail’… This ‘long tail’ is the reason for the new initiatives of the current National Government. Firstly is performance-based pay. I’m not yet sure how definite this one is, but I would say with NZEI and PPTA (the teachers’ unions) going into negotiations for new collective agreements later this year, that I think it may be difficult to push this through without too much strike action. Performance-based pay has not worked well overseas, so why would it work here? At primary schools, this method of reward would most likely have to relate to National Standards results. The problem here is that even if students are clearly progressing – test results do not always show this. If a teacher has worked hard with students and brought them up from ‘well below’ the standard’ to ‘below’ the standard (which could be a remarkable achievement for some students) then will this teacher be reward with more pay? Or because their students are still below the standard, will they then be regarded as a poor teacher? The same applies in secondary school with NCEA. Some students will always struggle to achieve the standards. Does it mean that the teachers are bad?

Along with this, the government in all it’s wisdom has decided that increasing class sizes, will: 1. Save money; 2. Increase teacher performance; and 3. increase student achievement. I’ve been told there’s a lot of research that shows that larger class sizes does not affect student outcomes. I did a quick search yesterday (I did not search or read in-depth) and I found that there are some articles that say that class size does not have a great affect on student achievement, and there are others that say that smaller classes can help increase student achievement. Anecdotally, I can say that smaller classes increase the time the teacher can spend with individual students and therefore the likelihood of the level of higher achievement increases. It makes sense. Smaller class sizes are also important if we want to focus on the key components of our current curriculum document and encourage creativity and innovation in our students (something that New Zealanders are very proud of in general – Kiwi ingenuity). Interestingly, the Prime Minister himself, sends his kids to a private school because smaller class sizes help increase student achievement – I’m sure that’s not the only reason, but it is one reason. Some private schools are even openly declaring that they have policies for smaller class sizes as they believe this can have an influence on achievement. I don’t think for one moment that smaller classes is the only thing that influences student achievement, but I cannot believe that increasing class sizes will help raise achievement.

The final thing that the government is trying to push through is an introduction to charter schools. This was a post-election promise, essentially with one man, MP John Banks, as part of a political agreement. I’m not sure why this one person has so much say. I won’t admit to knowing much about charter schools, because I don’t. What I do know is that in the US and UK where there are a number of charter schools, there is little evidence that they are helping increase student achievement.

I think the New Zealand government needs to be careful right now as they’re trying to make serious changes to one of the best education systems in the world. Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.