"Before imagination becomes three dimensional, it usually needs to become two dimensional." - Glennon Doyle.
So here goes my dream for being the mum I want to be.
I create a safe home where my children all feel loved, secure and nourished in every sense: spiritually, emotionally, physically.
They bring their friends and we laugh together and I am relaxed because I also feel spiritually, emotionally and physically safe and nourished in this place.
We respect each other's boundaries and respect the sacredness of this place we all call home.
We enjoy the company of each other and our special friends here.
As they grow older, my children and their friends will come and go, but they want to be here because of all of this.
I spend time with each of my children, sometimes just quiet cuddles, sometimes action-filled adventures. We have shared experiences together that bring us growth and joy.
We are accepting of our differences.
We support each other's challenges with kindness and respect. We help each other.
We look after our dog and the birds in our garden.
My children want to spend time with me and speak freely and honestly about whatever they need or want to share.
Our love for each other is demonstrated every day.
I am present for my children, and they are present for me.
A never before told story of a warrior who ran to warn tribes of the arrival of Captain James Cook’s Endeavour is being played out 250 years on through the hosting of an adventure race across the Coromandel Peninsula.
The adventure retraces the journey of Ngāti Hei warrior Te Oma Karere as he traverses the Coromandel on a race to get ahead of Lieutenant James Cook and tell other tribes of the HMB Endeavour’s arrival.
It's a story that came to light during my work on a book project with the Te Whanganui o Hei 250 Trust. With the full support of Ngati Hei, the Trust had decided to collate and retell the experiences of this tribe and of Cook and Joseph Banks, who spent 12 days on the Coromandel on his first voyage of discovery in 1769.
Cook gave European names to many places on the Coromandel, and these remain. Cooks Beach is where he witnessed the Transit of Mercury moving across the sun - allowing the great navigator to accurately chart Aoteroa-New Zealand on world maps for the first time - and he named the tribal rohe (area) of Ngati Hei 'Mercury Bay'.
For me, it was an honour to hear the oral history of Ngati Hei from kaumatua Joe Davis, and find out more about the original names of places on the Coromandel Peninsula, and what these names reveal.
While working with Joe, the story of a Ngati Hei messenger, Te Oma Karere, came up.
It was obvious that there were opportunities to bring this story to life through a race regularly hosted by another of my clients, the Spirit of Coromandel Trust.
This Trust has been working toward establishing an outdoor pursuits centre for young people on the Coromandel for many years, and hosts three large sporting events a year to raise money towards this goal (the ARC Adventure Race, the Great Kauri Run and the K2 Cycle Race).
You can find out more on their website www.arcevents.co.nz
Trustees Andy Reid, Keith and Rita Stephenson embraced the Te Oma Karere story, and hope to draw international teams as well as more Maori teams for their February 2020 adventure race, retracing Te Oma Karere's incredible journey across the Coromandel Peninsula.
“We have hosted our adventure race every year for almost two decades, but with the anniversary of Cook’s arrival this year, we decided that in 2020 we would theme it around the true tale of 250 years ago, and the journey of Te Oma Karere,” says Andy.
In a spirit of team work, competitors must kayak, abseil, mountain bike, trail run and boulder hop through Coromandel terrain that’s rarely explored while following clues revealed through this story.
Ngāti Hei kaumatua Joe Davis says Te Oma Karere was the son of a Ngāti Hei paramount chief called Tōawaka.
“When Cook sailed into Mercury Bay in 1769 he met with local Maori including Tōawaka, who paddled off the HMB Endeavour and sat watching as the initial trade and relationship-building between these strangers and Maori took place.
“Tōawaka, when invited onboard, then drew with charcoal on the timber deck of the ship, a map essentially explaining to Cook and his crew where they were and the layout of the Peninsula. His son Te Oma Karere was quietly instructed by Tōawaka to warn the other tribes on the west coast about these visitors and their ship.”
Ngati Hei is commemorating the 250 years since their people met Cook and were introduced to European culture for the first time, with a series of events beginning in November this year as part of the Tuia Encounters national commemoration.
In Tōawaka and Cook's day, writing did not exist in the Māori culture. Te Reo Maori was an oral language, and skilled orators (Joe is among them) would keep traditions and knowledge alive through the telling of stories, and through the arts.
Whilst huge amounts of material has been written based on the journals of Cook, Banks and others onboard the Endeavour, there had rarely been any sharing of the experiences from a Ngāti Hei perspective.
And 250 years on, surely, it is time.
Te Oma Karere’s name translates as ‘the messenger’, and he ran through ancient Maori trails over the hills from Mercury Bay to Thames, where he told the Ngāti Maru tribe on the pa at Totara of the Endeavour’s impending arrival.
Joe reflected on the importance of the message being conveyed, and the need to send a man of mana (prestige) so that his unbelievable message would be taken seriously by the other tribes.
The selection of the man was particularly important, given that the Coromandel at this time was a place of unrest and weariness among tribes.
Te Oma Karere would then have run up to the Tupuna Ariki (sacred mountain) of Moehau, to see Cook’s ship sailing around the tip of the Peninsula.
The Endeavour, as we know, sailed down to the Waihou River. Cook and a party including Joseph Banks came ashore here and measured the huge trees, though they did not record the mighty kauri tree. This would be reported upon some years later by subsequent navigators to our shores and the devastating consequences for the forests of northern New Zealand are still being felt.
But this is another story.
Those taking part in the adventure race of Te Oma Karere will actively bear witness to Te Oma Karere's feat.
On Anzac Day, after a morning in which I drank coffee watching the sun rise over our peaceful beach - then sat by as my children went surfing - I reflected on the part my grandfather played in WW2. My Grandad won numerous medals but these have been lost, sadly. I am one of the world’s privileged ones, as my morning demonstrates. I’ve had no experience of war.
My dad lived in peacetime too, but was a paratrooper in the Airborne Division in England during the sixties. He died before I got the chance to ask him about his experiences. Dad loved to read, and would return from the library with eight books, mostly about the WW1 and WW2 soldiers who served for our freedom.
Maybe my interest has come from dad, but on my own book shelf is this book – Voices From D-Day, Eyewitness accounts of the Battle for Normandy. It was edited by Jon E. Lewis but written in the words of the soldiers themselves. I’ve doggy-eared the page by BBC war correspondent Chester Wilmot, who was attached to the 6th Airborne Division.
There are many stories in this book that are moving, but this one resonated because of my dad’s years as a paratrooper. What hit me was the occupations of the men who were thrown into this indescribably traumatic burden of responsibility to defend in the name of freedom.
Great journalism is hard to come by these days. So on Anzac Day in 2018, this is not about the ANZAC soldiers, but it is journalism that paints a picture surely worthy of a moment of our time.
By Chester Wilmot, BBC War Correspondent of 1944
On the evening of 5 June 1944, as the last glow of twilight was fading from the western sky, six R.A.F Albermarles were drawn up on the runway of Harwell airfield. Gathered around them, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes, were 60 men of the 22nd Independent Parachute Company, pathfinders who were to guide the 6th British Airborne Division to its landfall behind the Atlantic Wall near Caen. Their faces and equipment were smeared with brown, black and green paint, and over their uniforms they wore camouflaged jumping smocks. Every man was a walking arsenal. They had crammed so much ammunition into their pockets and pouches, so many weapons into their webbing, that they had found it difficult to hitch on their parachute harnesses. Grenades were festooned about them; they had fighting knives in their gaiters and clips of cartridges in the linings of their steel helmets. No man was carrying less than 85lb; some more than a hundred, and in addition each had strapped to his leg a 60lb kitbag containing lights and radar beacons with which to mark the dropping and landing-zones for the rest of the division.
These men were the torchbearers of liberation. Like all paratroops they were volunteers, and they had been specially picked and trained for this responsible task, but otherwise there was little to distinguish them from the rest of Montgomery’s force. Beside the leading aircraft were the ten men who were due to land first. At the point of the invasion spearhead, a Berkshire hod-carrier and a toolmaker from Kent, a bricklayer from Edinburgh, a Worcestershire kennelman and a lorry driver from Dumfries, two ‘regulars’, a deserter from the ‘army’ of the Irish Free State and a refugee from Austria, led by a young lieutenant, who, when was began, had been in the chorus of a West End musical comedy. Three of them had been at Dunkirk, one had fought in Africa, but the rest were going into battle for the first time. These pathfinders were the vanguard of the force that had the most vital role in the Neptune plan – that of seizing and holding the left flank of the bridgehead – the open flank, against which the main weight of German counter attack was likely to fall as the Panzer divisions moved in from their garrison areas south-east and east of Caen. If 6th Airborne were to rail, the whole bridgehead might be rolled up from this wing before the seaborne divisions could become firmly established. The nearest of these divisions, 3rd British, was to land on Sword beach just west of the Orne. This river and the canal which runs parallel to it from the sea to Caen, eight miles inland, provided a naturally strong flank position. Montgomery wanted not merely to secure the line of these water obstacles but to hold east of them a base from which to expand the Allied bridgehead south-east of Caen into open ground where Rommel’s panzer divisions might be profitably engaged. The seizure of this base was the responsibility entrusted to the commander of the 6th Airborne, Major-General Richard Gale. Tall, spare and ramrod-straight, Gale looked a ‘Poona colonel’ every inch, but this first impression was misleading. When he spoke, the power of his blunt but lucid words revealed a man who could both devise a plan of daring originality and imbue his men with the confidence and courage to carry it out…At ten to eleven the aircrews went aboard. The pathfinders drained their tea mugs, adjusted their harnesses, stubbed out their cigarettes and clambered aboard. The door slammed behind them. The engines spoke up. A signal from the control tender and the six Albermarles roared down the runway in quick succession, lifted, circled above the sleeping, unsuspecting countryside, their red and green navigation lights twinkled like fireflies. Soon after 11.30am the swarm of lights moved in formation over our heads and faded into the southern distance.
Lest we forget. (Below far right, Grandad Cyril Smith during WW2).
The first winter in our home town was the most challenging of my life.
My daughter was two months old when we moved to Tairua in late summer. We renovated our first home with six weeks of painting and a new carpet, and moved in.
It was an adventure and a dream. We had bought our first home, had a baby, and were now living a short walk down the road from our favourite beach in the world.
It soon grew colder. With winter, dark rain clouds descended over the ocean turning it concrete grey, and the easterly winds whipped up a stormy beast that lurched itself onto shore.
I suddenly found myself hunkered down in a town where I had no women friends.
I would treat myself to a massage at Tairua Massage Clinic where I met the owner of the business, Tina Raymond. It became a six-weekly appointment that eased my aches and temporarily erased my loneliness.
Tina’s spiritual touch helped me with the grief I was going through over the loss of my dad – aged just 52 – only a year or two earlier, to cancer. After a couple of visits, she invited me to her magnificent house which overlooked the sea at Te Karo Bay.
The house was surrounded by native gardens and exquisite rock landscaping that her husband Cliff spent every evening and weekend extending and maintaining. We would drink tea and eat baking, and soon found ourselves laughing together. We are still good friends.
Tina told me about the Playcentre movement in Tairua and suggested I might like to wait until my baby was six months old, so that she was better protected from colds and bugs before I brought her along.
The day my daughter turned six months, I was there. I can honestly credit this moment for changing my life in this small coastal town. My baby seemed to find playcentre enjoyable enough. I felt embraced.
The word in Maori is awhi; to embrace, hug, cuddle, cherish. It also means to surround. A purere awhi is an incubator. From the Maori dictionary: awhi rito is the noun for leaves that embrace the centre shoot of the flax bush, the harakeke.
In Māori thought, the harakeke (flax) plant represents the family. The centre shoot is the child. It is surrounded by the awhi rito (the parents) as protection. The outside leaves represent the grandparents and ancestors.
At Tairua Playcentre beside the sea, I had walked into a garden of harakeke, alive with mums and dads caring for their children and each other. it could also fittingly be called a community incubator, where a sense of community is nurtured.
Playcentre is run by the mums and dads who attend. You do not drop your kids off and go to work or the gym or for a walk and a coffee. You stay and play. You also contribute by taking on a small area of responsibility such as looking after the library or the dress-ups or organising the storage shed.
The kettle was always on the boil. Sweetly sung nursery rhymes played on the CD player, but there was also the sound of hammers (adult-sized hammers – not little plastic ones) going bang, bang, bang on the outside woodwork table in the post-pincer grip hands of little 2-year-olds. There was mess, paint, spills, playdough, sticky fingers and snotty noses.
Yuck. It was wonderful.
Tidy up time had its own song, and the women would furiously vacuum, wipe, put away, scrub and tidy in a ballet of domesticity. It always amazed me how quickly we could turn the place from chaos to order with this collective, unspoken effort.
Sometimes we would decide that we’d like something additional to improve the place, like a shade sail over the sandpit. For this we would need to fundraise (emphasis on fun in fundraise). Our group whose children attended playcentre together were formidable party organisers and I’ve seen it repeated since with generations of mums afterward.
Spurred on by the excuse of a much-needed improvement ‘for the benefit of the kids’, and more truthfully the need of us mums to have a night away from the unrelenting routine of parenthood, we hosted at the Tairua Town Hall some of the funnest events ever.
Like the comically organised-disorganised ‘It’s in the Bag’ presented by bach owner-turned-local builder/celebrity Cocksy – with thousands of dollars in prizes and myself as his lovely assistant.
As our children grew slightly more independent and would tolerate free play without constant watch, we took them along to working bees and gave our precious extra hours away happily to organise these fundraisers...until a time for each of us, when either our kids left kindy or it began to feel like a chore.
For me, the age of work and parenthood had begun. Besides, life had become full again. There was friends, family, community. I was not lonely anymore. (Picture: Starring role in It's in the Bag with newfound friend Sophie left, and Mum, right, and below, the harakeke).
I am planning a trip to the UK with my family. I am not a great planner. My preference is to see what the swell is doing, what direction the wind is, and if the snow is dumping before booking anything. Last minute? You get some deals. But when you will be travelling with four surfboards, three kids and a husband who asks ‘what are we doing now?’ more than the kids, you kind of have to channel your inner organiser. I would normally see people like this as officious and boring. Like, OMG look at her, knowing exactly where to find her travel documents in her suitcase (rolling of eyes). But I’m trying to take onboard advice from more seasoned travellers than me – like my mum for example – who has told me things like I should get a letter from my car insurer which will save money on car rental in the UK. And I should look up my NI number (national insurance) because it’s the devil’s mark that proves I really exist. Where would we be without numbers? I have such a devil’s mark, apparently, because I was born in the UK. I don’t know how this will actually help me in my travels, but I am going to look it up somehow. I am also going to get a British passport again. I have been away from the UK for so long that I don’t even know if they’re part of the EU anymore? And what that will this mean for us British passport holders? However I figure it’s always a good feeling when you have the right to stand in the local’s queue.
I remember travelling in Amsterdam in my early 20s. I’d been on the road for almost six months and was starting to get a bit tired of the effort of putting up necessary defenses against being a stranger to a land, and a tourist. I’d worn baggy jeans with big pockets and bought a cheese cutter cap. As I stood at a supermarket queue to buy some fruit and biscuits, the shop lady spoke to me casually in Dutch. I am monolingual. My ‘schoolgirl’ French exists of un petit peu (and is always accompanied by hand signals). Later in life, when I lived in Hong Kong for three years, I could speak mini bus Cantonese. Yauh Lok M-goy! (stop here – or literally, ‘fall down’ which is what you risk every time you stand to disembark the public light buses that are the cheaper option to cabs in Hong Kong). In other words, the English language is where it begins and ends unfortunately for me. I grunted and nodded to the shop lady in Amsterdam. Who knows what she was saying but it was probably a question and my response was no doubt rude or weird. Hopefully she was saying ‘your cheese cutter looks a bit stupid’ and my grunting response indicated that I agreed with her. But for a moment I was not a stranger in a strange land. I was local. It’s the same with airport arrivals. In New Zealand the visitors’ lane is not always longer than the New Zealanders lane. But it still feels good to stride right over to the New Zealanders line with my nose a little bit higher in the air than it needs to be. This is my place, I think to myself. You guys are visitors. Sad as it sounds, it’s probably one of the reasons I decide to make the effort and take advantage of being a dual citizen. Even though I haven’t lived or visited England in almost 20 years, I am English. It’s a minor identity crisis that I’ve grappled with over the years in Aotearoa New Zealand. My parents brought us kids to New Zealand when I was a two-year-old. I could barely speak any language then. They then returned to the UK a couple of years later and I did two years schooling in the West Midlands. By the time we returned to New Zealand when I was aged 6, I had a scary little Brummy accent. Now that I’m taking my family back to the place where I was born and where my parents were born and where their parents were born and where their parents were born (you get the idea), I will be able to stride through that airport arrival lounge like a local. On the other side of the world, far from what I’d consider my true identity, my culture as a Pakeha New Zealander, dual citizenship status will provide me with a sense of entitlement on this land. But first, there is one dreadful misery I must endure. The whole desire for dual citizenship could yauh-lok right here. Not only one but two mug shots of doom to have to carry on my person. Another passport photo. There is a local video and print shop in our home town and owner Barry is the only one willing and able, after a lifetime as a school headmaster, to follow the rigmarole of instructions in capturing one’s ‘true likeness’. I spend five minutes in the car putting on a daub of eyeliner under the eyes, a brush of mascara and a swipe of tinted moisturiser before facing the enemy head on. Deep breath, click, Barry peers at the back of his camera and concludes he’s got what he needs. Urggh. True likeness. It is quite clearly not a true likeness! I am not allowed to smile. Smiling is my makeup. Smiling is my way of erasing the jowls of 40-something. I look old. I look tired. There are no filters. No high angles. No lighting enhancement wand to tap and no black and white effects. OK it is a true likeness. It’s old me. Worst of all, every time I go through this it’s the same. Not once since childhood have I had a passport photo that I didn’t mind calling my true likeness. I look back on expired passports from my 20s and 30s and think ‘wow I look so fresh and young’. At the time I thought urghhh. Can we do that again? Footnote: If you thought I was going to include my passport photo with this blog, you can think again.
Tonight I snapped Richie McCaw doing his bit to protect our Coromandel Kauri from Kauri dieback disease by cleaning all his mountain bike and trail running gear prior to the ARC Coromandel Adventure Race tomorrow. I'm helping the organisers with their media and publicity, and met Richie over the kauri dieback cleaning brush after I'd abseiled down a 50m cliff face with one of the organisers, the wonderful Keith Stephenson. Not sure which was more of a buzz - throwing myself down a cliff or seeing the opportunity to snap a shot of Richie doing his bit to save our kauri! I had the joy of interviewing Richie earlier in the week about why he chooses to put himself through hours and days of hard trekking, biking, river crossing, kayaking, navigating and abseiling for events such as this one. I'm waiting for the right outlet to publish a full story...or would you guys be keen to read about it here? You can follow the event at www.arcevents.co.nz.
This is a poem about the (sometimes) perplexing relationship that I have with money. It's a relationship that probably deserves a little more effort now and again, and I'm starting with some positive talk...I hope it might resonate with some of you too?
No more dirty-money talk
I will speak nicely of my money from now on
I will treat it with respect,
Let it join the family and my business.
I will give my money freely
I will not cramp my money’s style
I will let money take me adventuring…
It will introduce us to new people and places.
I will be a good host to my money
It will bring its money friends home to stay.
No more negatives, only positives from now on
Between money and me.
Black, red, green, gold, silver or plastic
I have no care about what colour or form my money takes
And wherever it goes,
Money and I are on much better terms from now on.
Today I selected my most comfortable pair of high heels for a triumphant occasion. It was the final day of a challenge encouraging anyone to hike to the summit of our local mountain for 10 days straight.
The rules were simple; go from the bottom to the very top every day and post a selfie to prove to the other participants that you did it.
Well, in this small town of over-achieving cruisers, things can get competitive. Our enthusiastic dozen posted selfies announcing ever-decreasing PB times, sunrise shots (to me, getting up at 5.15am to run is the mark of over-achievement), nude shots, photos of themselves carrying backpacks full of weights, and wearing fancy dress.
In challenging myself, how could I up the ante? The answer was in the wardrobe.
As a girl, few sounds were more exotic than the rhythmic, hollow clip-clop of high heels on a pavement.
As a woman, my wardrobe is full of high-heeled shoes, an impractical collection given that I work from home in a small coastal town.
Three inches of additional womanhood in the form of a pair of favourite heels would provide me with my version of the ultimate test on Day 10 of the Manaia Kitchen & Bar Mt Paku Mission.
I ran the risk of gossips calling me out on a walk of shame at 11am, and there was also a boulder-strewn final ascent ahead, but neither were a match for the sense of accomplishment from conquering the summit in these babies.
An observation on the start of my mission; Although wearing heels, I was dressed in the same daggy exercise wear I have worn to tackle the summit for the past nine days. Yet on this day as I clip-clopped up the road leading to the summit, a gentleman driver offered me a lift.
Yes, there is something truly magical about heels. Just ask Cinderella.
Ask google about the origin of the high heel and you get this: It lies with male horse-riding warriors in the Middle East who used high heels for functionality, because they help hold the rider's foot in stirrups.
Some 40 years have passed since I waded through my mum’s wardrobe and plucked from the darkness the masterpiece of footwear that, interestingly, she never thought to wear horse riding, but did so because it gives one height, calf muscles and makes you appear as though you have made a bit of an effort.
The smarter sex claimed them for our own uses, and here in 2017 I bounded, warrior-like from boulder to boulder on the final climb to the summit, momentarily pausing only to hand my phone to two tourists from Germany.
The kind Germans may have been perplexed at the choice of footwear worn by locals during hikes up mountains but obligingly took my photo with an apologetic comment rather than a question. “My balance is really bad,” the woman said as she leaned trustingly on the man at her side, “So I must take it very slow.”
As I passed ahead of this loving couple painstakingly walking down the summit at the end of my own 10-day mission, I reflected on how grateful I am for my own beautifully functioning body.
For 10 days I prioritised the exercise of it; filling the lungs with fresh air and putting the heart through the exertion of pumping oxygenated blood to my muscles. I felt fitter, stronger, happier at the end, enjoying the view from the top, in my heels.
By Alison Smith
As Generation X we knew them as classrooms.
But today they have metamorphosed into pods and modern - or innovative - learning environments, ILEs for short.
With glass walls, funky furniture and 60 children in a big open plan room where two teachers share the space, education consultants’ will explain the trend in classroom
design as an open, flexible learning environment in which inquiries are shared and interventions are devised collaboratively.
Ask some of the men and women at the coal face of the modern learning environment about their experience teaching in buildings like this, and the answer is often less complicated.
“What it is, is chaos.
“For me as a teacher, I can’t think in a noisy environment with lots of children. You cannot expect silence, but in my view a classroom should be calm and respectful of other people.”
Fiona* has taught in the Modern Learning Environment of a British-based International School, co-teaching a total of 20 students alongside another teacher.
Like several currently practicing teachers interviewed, there was criticism of the way that modern learning environments are being created in New Zealand, where numbers of students can be three times that amount and for some schools, the only thing that changes is the look of the furniture and the requirement to spend your budget only on that.
“My experience of modern learning environments in New Zealand is that there are up to 60 students, a lack of professional development for teachers within them, and you lose the opportunity for relationships to develop between the teacher and the children in your class,” Fiona says. “It may be given a positive spin, and you will have consultants talk it up, but the teachers I know all say that what they’re working in now is a place that’s loud and awful.”
In recent years, billions of dollars have been spent on developing new learning spaces that cater to growing school rolls.
The New Zealand Government is sponsoring a four-year research project out of Melbourne Australia, with independent researchers surveying principals and teachers and reporting on their views of flexible classroom layouts and teaching with others.
The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project is two years in, but initial findings of the study – according to the Ministry – say students in innovative learning environments (ILEs) where teachers have changed their teaching practice are doing better when compared with students in traditional classrooms. As the project progresses, findings such as this will be further tested.
“We know that good acoustics are essential for health, wellbeing and good learning,” says Kim Shannon, head of the Education Infrastructure Service of the Ministry of Education. “To achieve this, we have set the standards for acoustics based on international and local research, and we expect the use of all learning spaces to comply with these.”
She says schools can tailor classroom spaces to their specific teaching and learning practices.
“These spaces contain a range of features such as breakout spaces, screens and mobile partitions, that give schools the flexibility to set up teaching spaces that meet the needs of every student. We work with schools throughout the design and build process. If design issues arise following the build or upgrade of a school, we will order reviews by acoustic engineers to remedy any acoustic issues.”
For those who grew up being taught at rows of wooden desks facing the front of the class, the first impression of ILEs is colourful plastic seats and linked together tables, swiss balls and floor cushions.
Often these environments are made possible only through the loss of multi-purpose rooms, school libraries and larger shared spaces for drama, indoor sport and assemblies.
It might also mean merging rooms with walls being removed and a combo-up of ages in one space. Although there is room for everyone, there is also not necessarily enough of each funky furniture type for each child in the class.
“For kids it’s about what’s fair,” says Rachel. “If there are some swiss balls, they all want the swiss ball, and there are aren’t enough swiss balls for everyone, as a teacher you are spending a certain amount of time working out a system to make sure that everyone gets a turn on the swiss ball.”
With the costs of rising numbers of students in classrooms, some teachers think the new classroom design and purpose built furniture is being forced upon schools and could be better spent on upskilling teachers and providing more teachers and teacher aides.
Aside from the new furniture, teachers report another, more concerning feature of bigger classrooms.
For new entrants, and children in their early primary years or with special needs, the modern learning environment can reach a level of noise and distraction that can inhibit learning.
“They suit some students who are self-directed in their learning. But you give me a five, six, seven-year-old who is self-directed,” says Grant. “Having 55 of them in there is absolutely chaos.”
Grant has extensive experience teaching children with special needs, and says the design of modern learning environments where he has taught has led some parents of children with learning disabilities to move their child elsewhere.
“Everyone is individual, but generalising for an autistic child, it is absolute sensory overload. A modern learning environment for an autistic child might be a curved wall lit from underneath not on top, and research into the individualised needs of that child.
“But a design that has lots of glass, large spaces, lots of lighting, children and noise – the sort of thing that you see in the majority of MLE’s? To a kid with special needs, it will trigger many more behaviours than you are trying to prevent.”
This is a view that’s echoed by the New Zealand Post Primary Teacher’s Association, which says while it’s good that the Ministry is doing the research, the paper seems to be missing a lot, and won’t allay fears of the sceptics.
“There are lots of different teaching and learning approaches that work for young people, but there seems to be an assumption in this research that some methods are preferred over others, without really presenting the reasons why,” says PPTA President Jack Boyle.
“What is also absent from this early research is the voice and experience of our Māori and Pasifika young people as well as those with learning differences, especially those with attention and auditory processing issues.
“The current policy to make all newly built “innovative learning environments” with “’flexible learning spaces” (open plan) feels like change for its own sake. We have to ask; why is the shape and look of a classroom being used to drive the way we teach? Putting the cart before the horse will not help New Zealand’s children and young people reach their potential.”
Not all teachers are critical of the changes, however. Katikati Primary is growing – it added a purpose-built block of three classrooms last year and this year the Ministry supplied another three modular classrooms.
Says Principal Andrea Nicholson: “Collaborative teaching has worked well for us and we have seen the positive outcomes for children, not only with levels of achievement but also in the development of skills such as collaboration; self-motivation and persistence.
“Collaborative planning encourages teachers to bounce ideas off each other in order to deliver the strongest, most creative lessons. Working collaboratively enables us to
individualise the programme for children.”
The school will be the recipient of community-wide fundraising to pay for a $36,000 sound system - $3000 per classroom – which Andrea says will ensure children can hear clearly throughout the working environment.
Andrea says the school is “delighted” that proceeds from the Katikati Avocado Food and Wine Festival this year will be donated to the school, a system which she sees now as essential for students with any from of hearing loss.
Say the PPTA: “Schools in Aotearoa are really important to their communities, and governments over the last 30 years have given them more and more responsibility for running, and even funding them. It’s natural that changes like this are going to be questioned. It’s good that the Ministry is doing this research, but this paper seems to be missing a lot, and as a result it’s not going to allay the fears of sceptics.”
These sceptics might say that rather than overhead projectors and rows of desks, it will be teachers wearing microphones that our current generation of students looks back upon from their days in the innovative learning environment.
*This article was published in the Katikati Advertiser, a community newspaper with NZME. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of teachers who contributed to this article.
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