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A class act: *

How an isolated school showed the way forward to the knowledge economy: (2002)

By Ruth Wynyard and Karen Laugesen - Communications Graduates AUT 2001
Photos by David Somerfield

An impressive turnaround by a decile-one rural school in the isolated Whirinaki valley means a glowing Education Review Office report is now proudly published on its website.

Following a scathing 1996 ERO evaluation, the Te Whaiti School Board of Trustees and community in this zero employment area (native milling was stopped a generation ago) decided that they had a challenge: "To give our children choices for their future that some of us may have missed out on."

Current chairman Chris Eketone says one of the first things members had to do was stop using excuses for failing to meet with 21 ERO criteria and become responsible for student learning outcomes.

"Rural isolation and high unemployment rates are not an excuse anymore.
We decided just to get on with it - we just thought: 'Let's do what we can'."

Following the sobering report, board members and parents discussed key issues facing the school in a marae-style environment. They came up with 28 barriers to learning at the school, including isolation and transport difficulties, and decided to tackle these head-on.


Parents were insistent that their children should recapture the strength of their rich Maori heritage and become fluent in Te Reo. As a result, juniors now start with total immersion and migrate to bilingual classes in the senior school.
All students sit School Certificate Maori in form 1 or 2 and start their secondary schooling with a top grade SC pass.

A school bus was bought because many of the 56 students were having to leave as early as 7.00 am and not getting home until 6.00 pm on the local high school bus.



This example of removing barriers to learning has brought with it many other benefits to this isolated community. A big band of whanau now accompany school teams competing in Rotorua on Saturdays - providing a day out an doubling as a supermarket stop for the shop-less Te Whaiti locals.

This example of removing barriers to learning has brought with it many other benefits to this isolated community. A big band of whanau now accompany school teams competing in Rotorua on Saturdays - providing a day out an doubling as a supermarket stop for the shop-less Te Whaiti locals.

The leased laptops were chosen to minimise funding, ensure equipment was up to date, and to conserve space - regular PCs would have required a new classroom costing around $200,000 to be built.

Ms Doherty says that the Internet has given the pupils access to the outside world that they were previously denied.

"Now we can just hook up on line if we can't afford to go to a museum for example."

The computers have brought additional benefits. Last year one Te Whaiti school pupil won an award for information technology at an Australian competition.

"It was nice to be recognised externally… that it wasn't just us saying that our kids could do it," say Te Whaiti teachers.

Board members believe that the school's success is directly proportionate to the level of involvement of parents and the wider community.
The 1999 ERO report backs this up:

"Parents expressed their expectations for the children at a community hui. The values by which they live were outlined…the achievement statement was devised from this and reflects values the community believes important for its children to develop."

Principal Genevieve Doherty sharing local wisdom with AUT 2001 Communications Graduates Ruth Wynyard and Karen Laugesen

Ms Doherty explains that parents are spending more time at the school and are becoming more involved. A number of them are taking up study again.

"They didn't really feel like it was their place before, it was an institution removed from them," she says.

Now the staffroom rarely shuts before 6.00 pm, and parents often drop by for a cup of tea and a chat.

Energetic parents have also been responsible for converting the old school bus shed into a classroom - which would have cost the school at least $10,000 without volunteers. Past board of trustees chairman Earl Rewi reflected on the scale of this achievement: "In prosperous communities parents come along to working bees with tractors, equipment, and materials. Here, we have to provide everything including the shovels!"

Getting funding for new projects has been a challenge, but board members say that they have learned to believe in themselves, and work as a team in partnership with the Ministry of Education.

"In the early days we got used to being tagged over the head and people saying: 'You're not doing that right,' all the time. It was that insidious negativity that you don't even realise is happening…but it's different now. Now we don't go away and say: 'To hell with your legislation,' but we go away and think: 'Well, how can we do this together'."

This togetherness includes the Tuhoe Education Authority - a cluster of similar remote schools in the region that share their heritage, language, knowledge and resources for the mutual betterment of their people.

It is this kind of lateral thinking and community cooperation that has generated widespread interest in the Te Whaiti school.

The lessons learned now extend well beyond Te Whaiti. Inspired by their innovative processes, ex pupil Peter Goldsbury, Project Management Consultant, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has helped them publish the Tipu Ake Lifecycle - A leadership model for innovative organizations, which was recently launched on their marae.

" I feel immensely privileged to have had Ngati Whare and the people of Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi share such powerful wisdom with me", he says. "Already other proactive organisations use Tipu Ake to help them emulate the school and grow their own places in the knowledge economy."


The full name given to the model is "Tipu Ake ki te Ora - Growing from within ever upwards towards wellbeing", and it uses the image of a giant totara swelling from a tiny seed. The pupils, school and community at Te Whaiti certainly know about that!


A spokesperson for the Education Review Office declined to comment on the school, saying it was policy to let their report speak for itself.






Related Websites:

Te Whaiti School: www.tewhaiti.school.nz (includes their 1999 ERO report)
Tipu Ake Lifecycle www.tipuake.org.nz (model downloadable here)
W orkshops previously run at AUT Leading Projects and Innovation in your Organisation (first use of Tipu Ake)

©2001/2 Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. In the knowledge sharing tradition of Toi the Tipu Ake Lifecycle is in shared with the world to be used for the wellbeing of its future chldren. For a copy please see the website. www.tipuake.org.nz In return a koha (gift you can afford based on its value to you) to help further voluntary education and community development in the valley and beyond is appreciated.

Editors wishing to publish this story please contact Peter Goldsbury pgoldsbury@stratex.co.nz. It must be footnoted with the following copyright statement:

Tipu Ake Lifecycle - A leadership model for innovative organisations. (c) 2001/2 Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi, see www.tipuake.org.nz

* This article was first published in part in the NZ Listener Feb 2 2002


If you are a teacher or have other skills (particularly secondary school level Science, Maths, Environment, Technology, Multimedia, Film and Television etc) and would like to work as a volunteer for a month or two alongside our teachers to help them raise the bar for our children and open the learning opportunities our natural environment offers them, then please contact The Chairman, Te Kura Toitu o Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi, PO Box 3013, Te Whaiti via Rotorua. Ph 07 366 3221. We can provide accommodation for the right people and offer a unique opportunity for you to help us pioneer the development of some innovative experiential learning programmes and resources that we want to be able to share with the world via the web. See our community's planned "Whirinaki Interactive" Project




1. NEW "Lifelong Learning - Nature's Way" - Tipu Ake as a learning model
2. UPDATE " New Tools For Growing Living Organisations and Communities" Radical tools for program management in a world of complexity and inter-dependence - builds on our paper at PMI Global Forum, Anaheim. Nov 2004
UPDATE Downloadable Tipu Ake Model now includes "The Leadership Tripod" and Mycorrhyzal Fungi Networks - Partnerships below the ground level.
4. PODCASTS Listen to Stranova and Living Systems Thinking interviews - Blog
5. VIDEO: Visit Downloadable Video Libary, interviews, stories, apply Tipu Ake
6. Thanks to those who participated in workshops "Tools for Growing Living Organisations" run in New York, London, Mid Wales UK, Finland and San Francisco during August 2005 click here for report

Helping New Zealanders and the world grow from within
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(c) 2001 onwards Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. All intellectual property protected under the provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Adopted by General Assembly 13 Sept 2007) - details www.tewhaiti-nui-a-toi.maori.nz
The Tipu Ake Team thanks AUT for helping incubate this model and in particular the many student teams, staff and other local and international volunteers that have helped it germinate in many places around the world.
Click for details