Languages Strategy showcased on a national stage

After two and a half years of collaborative work, it was exciting to finally present the final draft of the Tamaki Makaurau Auckland Languages Strategy at the Office of Ethnic Community’s Lining Up Languages: Navigating Policy and Programmes forum last month.

Joris de Bres (of Multicultural New Zealand) and I were invited as representatives of the Auckland Languages Strategy Working Group to discuss our strategy, and how it might feed into policy at a national level.

Our presentation fit perfectly with the forum’s focus around government policies and initiatives to promote the use and learning of languages in New Zealand. There were well over 100 people there, from a wide range of language backgrounds and organisations, and the presentations covered a good cross-section of services and policy positions around languages.
Joris and I used some of our presentation time to get people to write their responses to two questions:

1. What is the most important action New Zealand should take to support languages?
2. What is one low-cost or no-cost action that would support languages in New Zealand?

In all, 85 people contributed their ideas. There were some clear trends in the responses, as you can see from the most frequently-mentioned actions below:

Most important actions

  • Make language learning in schools compulsory 19
  • Establish a national languages policy 17
  • Publicly recognise the value of languages 15
  • Teach languages in school from year 1 12

Low- or no-cost actions:

  • Support community language learning 13
  • Encourage parents to use their mother tongue at home 12
  • Use community members to teach language and culture in schools 12
  • Value languages – champions, public campaigns 10

If you’d like more details on the ideas participants put forward, you can read the full summary here: NZ Languages_Feedback_ALL.

Based on the above feedback from forum participants, on listening to the presentations and discussions across the two days, and on other feedback received since our last draft, we have developed an updated version of the strategy, which you can check out here: Nga Reo o Tamaki Makaurau Draft Action Plan – revised draft updated March 2015 3.

While we are developing this strategy at a regional level, it was exciting to hear comments that our strategy could be seen as a possible starting point for a national languages policy. If that happens, it could be a game-changer in supporting a multilingual Aotearoa.

The next step for us is to gain formal endorsements from language organisations – which will help us gain credibility for the strategy at Council and government levels. All we need is an email from the organisation, stating that they endorse the Auckland Languages Strategy. If you have connections with any relevant organisations, please can you either approach them for endorsement yourself, or email me at susan.warren@cometauckland.org.nz so that one of the writing committee can arrange a meeting with the appropriate person, to request endorsement.

Meanwhile, here are a few links to recent news stories relating to the strategy:
Auckland Council gives regional languages strategy thumbs up
• Celebrating Auckland’s diversity through language
Radio Waatea: Auckland Languages Strategy accepted by Auckland Council

24 hours to go to support education in Auckland – make your submission on the Unitary Plan

Submissions on Auckland’s draft Unitary Plan are due in just 24 hours – the deadline is 5pm, May 31st.  If you’re an Aucklander who cares about education, and you haven’t already made a submission, check out ours here: 068 Submission on Draft Unitary Plan.

Our main points are:

  • The Unitary Plan needs to support the education and skills goals in the Auckland Plan by making it easy to build new learning facilities, through planning for land use and smoother consenting rules
  • Early learning services should be defined as education facilities, not as care centres
  • PTEs should be included in the list of education facilities
  • We welcome the establishment of school precincts to enable community use on school sites
  • Rules for public open space need to be altered to allow early learning services to be established on the edges of parks where appropriate
  • The limit of 200 square metres for easy establishment of an ECE in a residential zone should be increased to at least 250 square metres so the services are economically viable
  • Parking requirements need to be reduced
  • New subdivisions should be required to set aside land for learning facilities

Please feel free to copy and paste any sections of our submission you agree with, to use in your own submissions.  Failing that, send us a comment here and we’ll pass it on to the Unitary Plan writing team.

Defining Early Learning – does Auckland’s draft Unitary Plan get it right?

Many educators were excited to see the strong recognition in last year’s Auckland Plan that education and skills are a crucial ingredient in shaping our city’s future.  The Plan includes a commitment to “put children and young people first”, and it sets challenging goals around ensuring all children have access to quality early learning, and that young people leave school with a qualification that will equip them for further learning and employment. 

Now the first draft of the Unitary Plan has come out for consultation.  This document creates the rules and plans that determine how land is used, and what types of buildings and infrastructure is needed in each area, over the next 30 years, so it’s crucial to make sure that these rules and plans support the education goals in the Auckland Plan.

Last week we published a blog outlining the key implications for education in the Unitary Plan, and encouraging educators to have their say.  I hope you are well on the way to writing your own submission, and that our summary is proving useful in helping you do that.

One of the things we will be commenting on in our own submission is the definition of early learning services as “care centres”, rather than as part of the “education facilities” category. This may have been done just to enable different zoning rules, but I am concerned that it is misleading and does not reflect the main purpose of early learning services.  What do you think?

To me, the categorization of early learning services as “care centres” perpetuates the myth that early childhood services are more about care than learning, which is inconsistent with the actual purpose, ignores the Auckland Plan recognition of the importance of early learning, and risks a reduced focus by Auckland Council on support for early learning. 

It also seems strange to group early learning services in with day-stay centres for elderly and people with disabilities. 

Another potential hitch is that the wording of the definition of early childhood services requires them to be “licensed” under the 2008 regulations, would seem to exclude playgroups, and which is likely to be a barrier for any new early learning service, because the Ministry of Education does not license services until the building is complete and can be inspected.  This means that at the time of application, no early learning service will be licensed. 

One thing I do like about the definition, though, is the specific reference to the broad range of services that come under the early learning umbrella.  The definition lists playgroups and kohanga reo as well as more traditional services such as kindergartens and playcentres, and it’s great to see this official recognition of the value of all these ways to support young children’s learning and development. 

I’ve had the opportunity to talk all this through with a great group of early learning leaders who have given me their views to inform our submission.  I’ve also been able to discuss it with some of the Unitary Plan writing team, and it’s been good to see the openness to make changes so this plan really works for children.

I’d love to hear your thought on the definitions, or on any other aspect of the Unitary Plan, so we can feed that through to Auckland Council. 

So – what do you think?  Are you OK with the “care centres” definition, or do you want it changed, and if so, what do you think the new definition should include?

Inspiring our youth – reflections from an awesome Paul Simon concert

Been to a concert recently?  I hadn’t been to one for years, but Paul Simon’s one night in Auckland was hard to resist for this ageing rock chick.  As it turned out, the Vector Arena was full of people like me – those who had followed Paul Simon’s career since the 70s, and had the grey hair and defiantly still-tight jeans to go with it. 

The concert was nothing short of awesome – Rufus Wainright did a superb job of opening, and Paul Simon and his team of 8 musicians brought such depth of expertise and love of music, they had the entire place alternately motionlessly enthralled and rocking, stamping and yelling along with them.

Paul Simon concert pic 1

For some reason, we had front-row seats, so we had a close-up view of the way Simon led his team, and how they all engaged with each other as they played, riffing on a theme and adding just the right sound at the right moment (sometimes with obviously home-made instruments designed for just that purpose).  They must have played these songs thousands of times before, but each one sounded fresh, and they looked completely engrossed.

The evening was perfect, but for one thing.  By the second song I was longing for a group of young people to be there – aspiring musicians from our city’s schools and tertiary organisations – so they could be inspired, and so they could see what life as a professional musician can be about. 

Imagine if, every time one of these musical greats comes to our city, we made sure there was space (up-front if possible) for a group of young musicians to be there.  And as we’re dreaming, what about if those young people could have a few minutes with the performers, to ask them about how they got where they are today, what keeps them engaged, what skills they need to turn out top-of-the line performances in city after city, year after year.  Maybe it’s a dream, but perhaps there are ways to make it a reality – any thoughts?

Calling all Auckland educators – have your say on the Unitary Plan

Auckland’s draft Unitary Plan has just been published, and as citizens, we’re being asked to have our say about how our city will function over the next 30 years.

It’s important that as many Aucklanders as possible send our comments in, so Auckland Council can take all views into account as they finalise the Plan.

That’s all well and good for us all as citizens, but what’s it got to do with education, you ask?

In fact, the Unitary Plan will have profound implications for education in our city.  For example it will affect:

  • how much land can be made available for learning institutions like ECEs and schools
  • how spaces in Council buildings (like community centres) can be made available for learning activities like playgroups or adult education classes
  • whether transport routes work to get learners to tertiary education campuses
  • how easy it is to get new buildings (for ECEs, schools, tertiary institutions…) through the consenting process
  • how many libraries, sports fields, museums and other public learning spaces we have, and how well they are maintained and updated

In the next few days we’ll be creating a summary of the education-related provisions in the draft Unitary Plan.  We hope you’ll find that useful as you put together your own submission.

It’s important that as many educators as possible have their say on the Unitary Plan, so the council can take education needs into account as they plan for Auckland’s future.

Are you planning to make a submission?

Collaboration: Staying on track

However well you set things up for working in partnership, there will be ups and downs along the way. Staying the course and achieving collective outcomes is all about focus, persistence and trust. In my experience, these three are all inter-related, and trust is the centre – it’s often the hardest to achieve, but if it’s lacking, everything else falls apart. Trust doesn’t happen automatically or quickly, and it takes work.

Here are my thoughts on how to build trust, and simultaneously develop an effective collaboration:
Focus on the “main thing” –regularly bring everyone back to the outcomes you’re collectively trying to achieve, and ground every decision first and foremost around what’s best for the people you’re all trying to serve.
Demonstrate impact – measure progress towards outcomes and get feedback from participants as you go along, so decisions can be evidence-based, achievements can be celebrated and any issues can be identified and addressed early.
Communicate – keep all partners informed about every aspect of the project, bring differences into the open, and operate a “no surprises” policy, especially around risks or bad news. Be aware of the tension between keeping everyone informed and overloading people with constant communication.
Be flexible – be open to compromising, changing plans, and altering your usual way of doing things, to fit with changing circumstances or partners’ needs, provided that the changes don’t compromise outcomes.
Respect each other – recognise each others’ area of expertise, treat partners with courtesy, take time to know each other as human beings, be sensitive to culture, see things from the other person’s viewpoint, and assume good intentions unless absolutely proven otherwise.
Be dependable – deliver on what you say you’ll do (or let people know in advance if you can’t), fulfill your role with commitment and excellence, stay calm and focused in the face of change.
Be persistent – hang in there through setbacks and work together to solve each problem as it comes, no matter how many problems arise. Know that it takes time to build trust and to understand different organisations’ viewpoints, so don’t get discouraged by slow progress at first. Be prepared to do “whatever it takes” to bring about positive outcomes for the people you’re serving.

After all this, you may be asking “why bother”? The answer, from our experience, is that the results you get from collaboration are absolutely worth the effort, and as a bonus, all organisations in the partnership benefit through learning from one another. Yes it’s hard, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

For more detail on what it takes to make collaboration work, see the recent paper by Kail and Abercrombie (2013) – “Collaborating for impact: Working in partnership to boost growth and improve outcomes” – http://www.thinknpc.org/publications/collaborating-for-impact/#.UQ1f-BAKBks.email

Collaboration – before you start

This is the second in a series of three blogs about “what we’re learning about collaboration”. This one looks at the things we’ve found we need to do before beginning collaborative work with another organisation.

Before beginning a collaborative project, it’s worth stepping back and asking some hard questions together, so everyone has the same expectations, roles are clear and obvious risks are identified and mitigated. Here are a few things to sort out up-front, to reduce hassles later:
• Agreeing goals and outcomes – common ground on these is an absolute essential, so just walk away if you can’t agree on at least one or two jointly-valued goals
• Being clear about budgets – this doesn’t mean total transparency, it just means each organisation knowing reasonably accurately what the work will cost them and what funding they have or need
• Clarifying roles – which organisation is responsible for which parts of delivery, who owns what intellectual property, who can say what to media and stakeholders, who makes which decisions, and how you’ll reach joint decisions
• Talking through contingencies – what happens if the funding is cut, if one partner wants to publish research, if the partnership ends…
• Writing all this down – either in a formal contract/MOU or at least in a project plan or meeting minutes

Remember though, you can never anticipate everything, so be prepared to make adjustments to all this as you go along.

What preparations have you found to be important before getting into collaboration?

What we’re learning about collaboration

At COMET Auckland, we have a set of principles that underpin the way we work. One of them is “never alone”, meaning that every project we undertake is always a collaboration or partnership of some sort. This is a choice, and also a necessity – there’s no way a small organisation like COMET Auckland can have all the expertise needed to achieve our big goals for education and skills in Auckland, without teaming up with other organisations that are moving in the same direction.

Sometimes our collaborations are simple, short-term processes, such as bringing together a committee of practitioners to organise a one-off workshop. Other times they’re more complex, like creating a long-term partnership between a tertiary provider, a school, an early childhood service and a community organisation to support a group of parents through their first-ever qualification.

Either way, there are some basics that we’ve found are essential to making it work – for us, for our partners and most importantly, for the people we’re trying to serve. I call them basics because they sound obvious and we all think we do them naturally, but what we’ve found through hard experience is they take real focus and effort to do well – and that’s what it takes to get real gains from collaboration.

Over the next couple of days I’ll be posting my keys to successful collaboration – both in the preparation stage, and to keep things on track during implementation.

Meanwhile, it would be great to hear the things that have worked for you, and the fish-hooks you’ve found and conquered on the way.

Read our submission on charter schools

What are your views on the NZ government’s plan to introduce charter schools? Did you have any thoughts on the other changes included in the draft legislation, like the requirement for all school boards to “ensure that every student at the school is able to attain his or her highest possible standard in educational achievement”?

Like many other education organisations, COMET Auckland made a submission on the Education Amendment Act, which included charter schools. You can read our full submission on our website, here.

Let us know your views – or better yet, provide a link to your own submission.

Last days to have your say on charter schools

Tomorrow is your last chance to have your say about one of New Zealand’s most controversial changes in education.

Submissions on the Education Amendment Bill 2012 close tomorrow (January 24th). The main purpose of the Bill is to set out the provisions for Partnership Schools, Kura Hourua, more commonly known as “charter schools”. Many of these provisions are the same as for other schools, but some (such as exemption from the Public Information Act, and freedom to employ some untrained and unregistered teachers) have been quite controversial.

The Bill also makes some other changes, including:

  • Greater flexibility for state schools to run multiple timetables
  • Formalising teachers’ surrender and retention powers
  • Allowing student numbers to be issued to children who are not in ECE
  • Requiring all school boards to act in such a way as to “ensure that every student at the school is able to attain his or her highest possible standard in educational achievement”

If education is important to you, make a submission to give the government your views on how this Bill can best contribute to learning, especially for students who are not currently achieving well in our education system.

You can download the Bill, and have your say on it, here.