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Internal evaluation our way

Rock on @ University Kids

Key points

  • Leadership plays an important role in internal evaluation
  • Whole staff involvement is empowering and motivating

Looking for ways to empower teachers, during uncertain times, led to a fresh approach to evaluating and planning for learning at University Kids.

Rock on @ University Kids was an internal evaluation with a difference. Leaders encouraged kaiako participation in an innovative, professional way that allowed for contributions across the board. Trust in kaiako to fulfil their professional responsibilities provided clear pathways for annual plans and curriculum implementation across a large team.

Getting started

Every two years the leadership team at University Kids Te Herenga Waka conducts a survey. The team look to find out what parents and whānau want to know more about and how the service can be improved for them. Just before the pandemic struck in 2020, this survey revealed that parents and whānau wanted to know more about the curriculum – what exactly were children learning and how did they learn?

At the same time, the leadership team realised that they were not feeling energised around their annual planning or looking forward to what was ahead. Things felt stagnant.

The leadership team were mindful of how busy and stressed life as a kaiako had become. They set about designing an approach that addressed the parents’ questions and provided kaiako with a clear focus and sense of achievement.

They had three criteria:

  • it had to be manageable
  • it should be enjoyable
  • it would improve kaiako practices.

Deciding on the areas of inquiry

The leadership team had lots of discussions and debates about their responsibilities, strengths, and weaknesses as kaiako. They wanted their planning to focus on curriculum areas.

After lots of debates they identified three areas of inquiry. These became known as their Rocks. A proper launch for Rock on @ University Kids made the prospect of doing the work important as well as fun.

Physical Rocks as a metaphor for the areas the team wanted to focus on.

The Rocks

The three curriculum Rocks selected were:

  • Place-based learning
  • Intentionality
  • Breadth of curriculum

They decided on place-based learning because it's a strength of their programme. This focus area provided kaiako with the opportunity to extend their great practice further. 

Intentional teaching gave kaiako a chance to revisit their practices around project-based work and working with greater purpose.

The breadth of curriculum focus was to make sure that what was on offer covered all aspects of the curriculum, not just the parts they had confidence and expertise in. They chose science and maths because kaiako didn’t feel confident about this area.

Champion groups for each rock were created. Kaiako self-selected which group they would join. They were charged with becoming experts and champions in their chosen areas.

Guiding questions

The first task for the champion groups was to evaluate current practices. They were guided by three overarching questions:

  • How much and what sort of evidence exists in the programme and curriculum planning?
  • How much, and what sort of information was shared with the parents regarding forward planning for learning?
  • How will you know that your kaiako practices are effective?

Evaluation criteria and gathering fit-for-purpose information

A significant part of the process was to establish measures or criteria for the evaluation of each of the Rock inquiries. Each group researched what was considered highly effective practices in each curriculum area. They collated artefacts and evidence to inform their analysis of current practice.

Kaiako working together with the Rocks in front of them on a table.

Across all three Rocks current kaiako practices were identified. The champion groups discussed and debated how these were meeting their agreed aims. They shared their research in two separate presentations to the wider team. One presentation was about the aims and how these were arrived at. The other presentation was about kaiako practices.

It was important to give kaiako the opportunity to showcase their expertise. Kaiako needed to feel a sense of making progress as well as a sense of fun and joy. Rock On was about working collaboratively and focusing on teaching and learning for children. 

Champion group example

As an example, the Breadth of curriculum rock team asked themselves the question, "How is information about children learning science and maths shared with parents?" and, "When you look around the room, what does this actually say about science concepts and maths in our space?"

This champion group's evaluation included baseline data drawn from resources used in the centres, documentation like learning stories and plans, and an environmental scan.

From their analysis, the Breadth of curriculum champion group came up with several ideas. These ideas showed how kaiako practices make a difference to children’s learning about science concepts and maths.

The ideas met two agreed aims that:

  • every kaiako has a working knowledge of Te Whāriki in relation to maths and science
  • all kaiako become active researchers and build competency in these areas.

Our ‘where to next?’

The Rocks process raised awareness across all three chosen curriculum areas. The presentations revealed kaiako practices that made a difference to children’s learning. They led kaiako in new directions.

The aims across all the Rocks were refined and aligned to effective kaiako practices. For example, the research done by the Breadth of curriculum champions about maths and science have moved kaiako to two new aims.

  1. Further develop exploration through problem solving experiences for the children.
  2. Strengthen practice to increase parental involvement/input.

The presentations also provided valuable information to communicate with parents about the curriculum; what kaiako did and why.

The value of the Rocks process to evaluation and planning

The value in working this way meant that kaiako had to research and decide the direction the whole service would go in. It involved prioritising and making decisions about what was most important and what would have the most impact on teaching and learning for children.

Working across the service allowed kaiako from different programmes to work together based on a shared interest in a particular curriculum area rather than age group.

Kaiako wouldn’t have reached this level of practice without having looked carefully at what they were doing. They were honest about where and how they could make improvements. It was also helpful to focus on an area where most kaiako felt there was an opportunity for real growth in knowledge and skills.

What was most successful about this way of working was the involvement of all kaiako. The champion groups led the work and kaiako grew in confidence. They decided together which direction the inquiry should take.