The remote and tiny East Coast town of Ruatoria has the highest per capita of Level 8 future-focused teachers in the country, says TIM GANDER, Gisborne Centre Director of The Mind Lab by Unitec.
When people ask me where some of the most amazing changes in our schooling system are taking place, I tell them to look no further than the North Island’s East Coast.
In 2015 The Mind Lab by Unitec opened its Gisborne hub in partnership with Eastland Community Trust, Activate Tairawhiti and NEXT Foundation offering learning experiences to support the development of the next generation of makers, doers, inventors and creators in the form of school group sessions and holiday programmes.
The Mind Lab’s Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital & Collaborative Learning) for teachers proved popular in Gisborne and we soon began hearing from schools and teachers throughout the region.
Enter the remote East Coast town of Ruatoria, population 750 – undeterred by the tyranny of distance and determined to ensure its teachers and students are equipped for the new ways of working, thinking and living that a digital future presents.
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiū o Ngāti Porou currently hosts the 36 educators from the Ruatoria area who are participating in The Mind Lab’s postgraduate programme. With this level of commitment, this gives Ruatoria the highest per capita of Level 8 future-focused teachers in the country, which is just incredible!
Once a week throughout the duration of the practical portion of the course we make the 130-kilometre trip north from Gisborne to work with kaiako on the coast to enhance understanding of the many wonders technology has to offer in the learning space, and the pedagogical perspectives of how to incorporate it in everyday teaching practice through the lens of te ao Māori.
What’s even more impressive is that many of the teachers are working to complete the course in te reo Māori, thanks to our dedicated Māori language assessors.
Looking beyond Ruatoria, most schools throughout the East Coast region have embraced the qualification and made significant changes, from alternative feedback and assessment opportunities to the way they communicate with whānau and enhance links with wider community.
At Waikirikiri School in Gisborne, students and teachers now work in a collaborative environment where everyone learns together. The idea is that instead of just having one teacher/one classroom, you can have two or three that work together, enabling a more learner-focused style.
This has seen some big improvements in the school’s social environment with students working collaboratively and using the tools The Mind Lab has given them to refresh their interest in education and learning.
We are also hearing amazing things about how students are now desperate for new assignments and chances to learn. It’s a testament to these teachers who care deeply about their pupils and will do all they can to give them the valuable tools they need to succeed.
And the fantastic progress being made in the wider area is not going unnoticed, with Opotiki Primary’s Simon Woudberg being named a finalist in the 2016 NEXT Foundation Expert Teacher Award.
Simon was recognised for his commitment to upskilling himself, and finding new ways to use technology in the classroom. Simon has been busy putting his newfound skills into action, combining his class with another teacher who had completed the course in order to engage his students in new, fun and collaborative ways.
As you might expect, the postgraduate certificate has a significant online component allowing greater flexibility for teachers, who then have the option of working when and how they want, an element Simon has found invaluable.
It really goes to show that, no matter where you are based in the country, you can access this programme to elevate your teaching practice and make an amazing difference to you and the lives of your students.