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Leading change at Hauraki Plains College

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Principal Ngaire Harris talks about leading change at Hauraki Plains College, outlining the impetus for change at her school, as well as the challenges and rewards that change has brought about.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Developing the key competencies

"Supporting students to explore values, develop competencies, and build the knowledge and skills identified in the New Zealand curriculum requires principals to identify areas for change in their schools, consider the focus for this change, and how the change can be stimulated and sustained." 

Kiwi Leadership for Principals, 2008

  • "There is a difference between having a positive school culture and having a school culture that is positively focused on learning." Consider this statement in your own school context. Where are you at now? What are your next steps?
  • How have you promoted opportunities for teachers to inquire into what they currently do and how it relates to their students' current competencies, and how these could be improved?
  • Once you have created an environment at your school that allows for change, how are you gong to sustain it?

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Key competencies and leadership
Effective leaders create the conditions required for exploring key competencies in teaching and learning. They need to ensure that the culture, pedagogy, systems, partnerships, and networks in their school support key competency development. This section explores these ideas further.


I think it is important for the school leader to have a clear idea of where you think you are going with things and be able to present that to staff in a way that they feel secure about what is happening. Making sure that staff feel they have the skills to cope with the change, that they are resourced, that there is an action plan and review process. A lot of the issues around managing change are the emotional issues staff feel about change. So if you can allay some of those fears that does a lot to help the change process.

With a new initiative we had a whole year of discussions at our curriculum meetings and curriculum leaders take these discussions into their own team meetings and that was brought back into full staff meetings. We cycled around the discussions and eventually moved the whole concept forward. By doing this it kept everyone involved and informed.

We try and scaffold off what we have already got. We did this with the key competencies. Most people believe the key competencies are solid common sense and have a gut feeling they are right. You know this as teachers, as employers. So scaffolding these alongside our learning toolbox worked. When we looked at our learning toolbox we realized it was a good foundation to introduce the key competencies. So we take what we have already done and ask how the key competencies inform that work.

We also looked at our own charter as a staff and opened the New Zealand Curriculum document and asked how does the New Zealand Curriculum sit alongside our charter. How does it form our direction as a school? Staff felt strongly that the document informed our own charter. We went through a mapping process for how the key elements of the document mapped onto our own direction as a school. We did not start all over again we asked ourselves how the document can give more rigor for our charter and not take us in a new direction but more strongly in the direction we felt was right for our school.

I did some reading around first and second order change. First order change is small incremental steps and second order change being quite a mind shift, a paradigm shift, and being quite aware of that and managing the two types of change quite differently. I have found that even if the end goal is second order change if you can build on work you are already doing, to staff it feels more like first order change and you are less likely to get the backlash of “oh no not more new things”.

In terms of developing a school culture that is receptive to change we started by having a look at some of the theory about developing a learning environment, a school that is focused on learning as its main focus. It is fine feeling good about being at school but our core business is learning. There is a difference between having a positive school culture and having a school culture that is positively focused on learning. That took us two to three years to get our head around. I looked at the work of Louise Stohl and some of her thinking around a culture focused on learning. This was helpful in unpacking some of our structures, conversations and how we could refocus them on student learning.

As staff we started talking about what kind of learning our students would need to equip them for the 21st century. We had several months of discussion about what the 21st century was looking like and the learning our students would need. This background was important for bringing the key competencies to the fore. The more we understood about the 21st century and the learning needed the more we understood how vital the key competencies were. Then we could drill down into what the key competencies were about and how they would equip our students. The groundwork was important because we did not have to sell the key competencies to our staff they could see why they were critically important. It is not saying that some of the content in the learning is not important but the shift from content driven to key competencies focused learning was critically important.

Updated on: 12 Jun 2009