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Tapatoru – professional learning at Edgecumbe College

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Mandy Irwin explains Tapatoru, the professional learning process that supports the community of practice at Edgecumbe College.


Tapatoru is our vehicle for our appraisal but, more importantly, it’s our vehicle to create a community of practice. It came from things that I’d heard about and read about happening in other schools in New Zealand, and outside. I drew them from assessment for learning. I drew them from social constructivism. I drew them from teaching for social justice. I drew it from inquiry, and I drew from Ka Hikitia too.

Seeing the student as an individual, where identity and culture count, are valued and respected - that they bring with them a wealth of knowledge; that the community has a wealth of knowledge, [which] we as teachers can draw on for learning activities, is something that’s integral to Tapatoru.

Our goal is to improve teacher practice through critical thinking, with the aim, I guess, to improve or serve the needs of our students. Using that as, if you like, as a pivot focus, we then moved it down through into departments, where departments using that thought about what goals they needed for their department. Having the big picture goal, that is then linked through to department goal, which is then linked to teacher's individual personal goal, provides us with a nice flow. Even though people are taking different pathways to get there, we’re all trying to work towards one outcome, which is improving our teacher practice to serve the needs of our students.

The teachers work in groups of three, they are self-selected, cross-curricular. There is some sort of linking, for example, one of the groups has the heads of PE, music, and the Māori performing arts teacher in it, and they all saw things they could support each other in their own teaching practice by working together.

We come together as a whole Tapatoru community, and then we break off into our little groups. They establish a period that’s available to all three of them where they observe, and be observed, at least twice in a term. Each of the teachers has a specific learning focus or strategy that they want to be observed. The observer observes the class, they also talk to the students and they have a learning conversation. They get given the observer’s notes and the feedback from students, and it gives them the opportunity to really ask some hard questions of themselves. When we first started it, that was the biggest fear, was asking those hard questions of yourself. It could be the hardest question was often ‘Well why did I choose to do that?’ That was really challenging, especially for a secondary school where you’re so driven by curriculum needs and demands, and the acquisition approach to learning, that having to step back and go... ‘But what was the learning that I wanted from that, and what did the kids learn from it?’

We talk about celebrating our mistakes, and the reason we celebrate our mistakes is that they are an 'aha' moment - they are that opportunity to learn.
It was good to see teachers thinking and taking risks, and watching people work together. We’ve become more focused, we’ve become a more reflective staff, and the kids have begun to see themselves as part of that process. That their opinion is actually valued as a voice about what learning looks like, and how it should look, in the school.

In my group, I had a PE teacher, an art teacher, and myself. Chris did something with his PE year 11 class, which I just thought was absolutely fabulous and I said, 'you’ve got to break this down for me a bit more'. So he helped me plan a lesson, and we kind of had the same kids, and he came and observed me with that lesson. It was a really good - it was one of those 'aha' moments because some of it didn’t work, and we talked about why it didn’t work, why had translation from PE not worked into English, for example; what are the things that we could change?

Published on: 18 Jul 2011