Preamble 10 Nov 16




Before I began work the field-work for this study, I was convinced my default cultural settings were responsive, as opposed to the presumed alternative; directive. Further, I would have positioned as my exemplar of responsiveness, the Indigenous women who routinely work in our wharekai kitchen at Pahaoa marae. An unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by the empirical evidence of my genealogy and by my usual modus operandi during teachers professional development provision within New Zealand’s early childhood education sectors. Thus, the subsequent identification of my committed determination to manage the production of this thesis despite the study participants rather than with them was an interesting surprise for me, but that is not where the significance of this study lies. Rather, it illuminates severe limitations in understandings of Indigenous knowledge and practices (IKP) from observations or even experiences and the facile assumptions concerning the applications of the same for professional development provision. This small study invalidates general assumptions derived from reductionist perceptions of IKP – as it is expressed throughout the operations of Pahaoa kitchen – and throughout the professional practice of early childhood education teachers. All that was needed was a Kaiwhakaara (strengths-based instigator) paradigm, rather than a merely responsive one.

What I have positioned here as Kaiwhakaara (and capitalised it) are phenomena with the following three attributes. First, they constituted an outlier, as it is located outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, they resolved apparently intractable problems. Third, in spite of its outlier status, the nature of academia required explanations for its occurrence concocted after the fact, rendering it explainable and predictable.

To summarise; Kaiwhakaara are distinguished by rarity, problem solving capacity, and retrospective – though not prospective – predictability. Kaiwhakaara explains almost everything in the Pahaoa kitchen, from the success of our food harvesting and preparation systems, to the productive dynamics within catering teams, to key elements of how we present our dishes beautifully. Moreover, ever since we reclaimed and refurbished our complex of tipuna whare, some thirty years ago, the effect of Kaiwhakaara has been increasing within our hapū. The acceleration leapt forward during the recent technological revolution as our whānau became increasingly virtually rather than actually connected, regularly employing social media rather than physical effort to publicly declare allegiance with and gratitude for our marae. Even as the sweat equity, and skills required for promoting the mana (prestige) of the hapū through the provision of actual, attractive, healthy, affordable foods for large numbers of people have become progressively underestimated. Most obviously, through consistent decreases in the frequency and value of koha to the marae from visitors, and the increasing omission of traditional speeches of thanks prefaced with a special mention for the ringawera (food preparation teams).

many others – without payment or funds for ingredients, and yet any attempt you made to assist or thank them was summarily rebuffed. However, how might you feel, if one window into the kitchen looked into a large sink with soapy water, preceded by a small stack of soiled flatware? It could be a comparatively easy step to begin stacking, scraping, washing or drying dishes with the tea towels placed on the far end of the bench. Or, what if another part of the kitchen were set up specifically to facilitate your participation in remedial food preparation tasks, alongside the ‘cooks’?

At Pahaoa the second window between the dining room and the kitchen area looks into a space usually devoted to plating, garnishing, serving or storing previously prepared food. On rare occasions it may be used for baking. Usually, if someone who is not familiar with our kitchen comes in from the dining room, and either offers to assist or asks what they can do, I will assume an attitude of gratitude and ask if they will take over whatever I am working on. I have – on occasion – been known to pretend that I need to complete a different task elsewhere, in order that they might comfortably continue where I had started. Once or twice, at other times, someone has come into this part of the kitchen and begun to work on a task similar to the one I was engaged in. Perhaps, I had been mixing a cake batter, and they had started to do the same. When examples of this kind happen, regardless of whether an additional cake is required or not, I might point out where ingredients or utensils are stored. Or if, there is no need for me to assist them, I might, say something like, “Oh, thank goodness you are doing a cake, because I really need to go and do something else,” before leaving them to it. I might maintain verbal contact, should they indicate they prefer me near, or visual contact if they demonstrate they are content to work alone. Either way, our guests are able to contribute to the work of the team in a concrete manner, whilst feeling welcomed in an unobtrusive fashion, and exercising their existing skill base. Ultimately, the goal of enhancing the mana of our guests is achieved. Without knowing beforehand exactly how that outcome will be reached.

This combination of low predictability and solutions generation makes Kaiwhakaara a great puzzle; add to this phenomenon the fact that we tend to act as if it does not exist. I do not just refer to you or I, but to almost all social scientists who for over a century, have operated under the false belief that their tools can quantify the infinite variations of unfettered human interaction. For the application of the sciences of uncertainty to real-world problems has had some ridiculous outcomes. I have been privileged to see it in compulsory education and consulting. Go and ask your professional development provider for an example of their reports and there is a distinct likelihood they will supply you with a variety of enumerated measures which exclude the possibility of Kaiwhakaara. Hence a method of rationisation with no more predictive value for enhancing affects for teachers and children than astrology. This problem is endemic in social spheres.

The central idea of this study concerns blindness with respect to the depth and scope of IKP, particularly my own unawareness. Why do we, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, providers or policy-makers, tend to choke-hold Indigenous professional development with early childhood education teachers, in spite of the obvious evidence from authentically Indigenous spaces – including Pahaoa kitchen – demonstrating how a Kaiwhakaara approach scaffolds –without micro-management – the achievement of both personal and organisational goals?

Not knowing

Kaiwhakaara logic makes what we don’t know far more relevant than what we do know. Consider that Kaiwhakaara can be caused and exacerbated by their being unexpected. Think of the examples described previously: had calculating the specific intentions and skills of our manuhiri (guests) been conceivable upon their arrival at Pahaoa, their participation in our hapū kitchen would not have happened. If such a possibility were achievable, manaakitanga (a service ethos) would have dictated we provide exactly the dishes the manuhiri would prefer to make or consume, and the reciprocal responsiveness between us would not have taken place, ever. Something else may have occurred. What? I don’t know, and that is precisely the point.

Isn’t it strange to see an event happening precisely because it was not supposed to happen? What kind of control can be exercised in the face of that? Whatever you come to know (that Pahaoa kitchen is intent on enhancing the mana of our manuhiri, for instance) may become inconsequential if we do not know the source of their mana or their preferred expression of it. It may be that, in such a strategic game, what we do know can be truly inconsequential.

This extends to IKP centered early childhood education teacher professional development provision. Think about a ‘secret recipe’ for wild success in the teacher professional development business. If it were known and obvious, then someone would have already applied the formula and it would have become generic. The next innovation in the industry needs to be an idea that is not easily conceived of by the current crop of funders and providers. It has to be at some distance from expectations. The more unexpected the success of such an outlier, the smaller the number of competitors, and the more successful the provocateur who implements the idea. The same applies to any business or to research theories – nobody has any interest in listening to old news or trivialities. The payoff of a human venture, maybe, inversely proportional to what it is expected to be.

Consider the Edgecumbe earthquake of 1987. Had it been expected, it would not have caused the damage it did – the areas affected would have been evacuated, and early warning system would have alerted the populace. What we know cannot really hurt us.


The inability to predict outliers implies the inability to predict the course of IKP centered early childhood education teacher professional development in Aotearoa. But there is a widespread expectation that we are able to predict the effects of professional learning for teachers and tamariki, including mokopuna Māori. Even worse, there is an assumption that we are able to direct the effects of professional development. Today projections covering decades into the future are produced to forecast budgets and diverse prices without acknowledging that we cannot even predict these for next winter. What is so surprising is not the frequency or magnitude of forecast errors, but the general absence of awareness of the same. This is all the more worrisome when we engage in activities specifically intended to enhance the education and care of our youngest citizens. Teacher professional development is fundamentally unpredictable – and we do not own it. Owing to this misunderstanding of the causal chains between provision and learning, we can easily abort Kaiwhakaara thanks to aggressive ignorance – like a political party playing with education structures and functions to retain power.

The inability to predict in environments subject to Kaiwhakaara, exacerbated by a general lack of awareness of this state of affairs, means that a bloc of professionals, while believing they are experts, in fact are not. Based on the empirical records critically analysed in this study, they do not know more about effective early childhood education teacher professional development than the general population, but they are much better at controlling the narrative – or worse – gaming the sector with complicated mathematical models of accountability. They are also more likely to wear a suit.

Kaiwhakaara being unpredictable, stakeholders would benefit from adjusting to their existence – rather than naively trying to anticipate them. There are so many things we can do if we work within a space of antiknowledge, or what we cannot know. Among other benefits, providers and funders could be set up to collect serendipitous Kaiwhakaara by maximising exposure to them. Indeed, in the Pahaoa kitchen, or scientific discovery or venture capital investments there exists the possibility of unprecedented payoffs from the unknown, since typically, there is little to lose and plenty to gain from a rare event. I have seen that contrary to my fledgling – albeit determined – attempts at managerialism, almost no discovery, no technology of note came from my design and planning – they were just Kaiwhakaara. The affective methodology for this provider and the teacher/participants was to rely less on top-down planning and more on recognising professional development opportunities when they presented themselves. So, I disagree with the followers of Marx and those of Adam Smith: the reason free markets work is because they allow citizens to be ‘lucky’, thanks to recursive trial and error, as demonstrated by children in their early years, not by minutely crafted rewards or incentives for demonstrated or evidenced skill. The authentic IKP professional development strategy is, then, to tinker as much as possible and work to collect as many Kaiwhakaaro opportunities as may be.


Another impediment arises from a pedagogical predilection for the precise. What was learned from the Edgecumbe earthquake? Was it accepted that some occurrences, owing to their nature, are exempt from predictability? No. Was it acknowledged that there are structural fault-lines underpinning conventional wisdom? No. What was the corollary? Precise legislative and policy changes for – amongst other things – avoiding insurance budget blowouts (Earthquake Commisson, 1993) and strengthening buildings (Rogers, 2015). Conventional wisdom asserts that it is important to be practical by making tangible steps rather than merely ‘theorising’ knowledge. I concur. And, this study suggests the means to that end is embracing the abstract with the same zeal ordinarily extended exclusively to the practical.

Currently, early childhood education teacher professional development provision flouts the maxim that we don’t learn that we don’t learn. The problem is founded in the structure of Western ‘education’: we don’t learn rules, we concentrate instead on facts, almost exclusively. Metarules – including the tendency to not learn rules – and metaskills, such as those used in this study for questioning are not common place. Why not?

It became necessary in this study, both to invert conventional or Western wisdom and to show how applicable IKP is to our modern, complex and increasingly recursive professional development environment. But, there is a deeper question.

What is the purpose of early childhood education teacher professional development? It looked to me as if providers are using the wrong user’s manual. Our approaches do not seem made to facilitate easy and thorough thinking or reflection with teachers. If they were, identifying the effects of professional development for teachers and children, particularly mokopuna Māori might have been easier for us. Consider that thinking is often characterised as male, introspective and wreathed in “heroic isolation”, as exemplified by Rodin’s (1901) famous bronze sculpture; The Thinker. Arguments in this study reframe thinking to encompass sheroic, active, and female elements, in the tradition of Pahaoa kitchen.

A Paradox

It is saddening to think of those people who are often mistreated within an IKP approach for early childhood education teacher professional development. While this study asserts benefits for tamariki, including mokopuna Māori, and teachers, alas, the human agents at the centre of Kaiwhaakaro must necessarily be all but invisible.

They become the ringawera (cooks) in the kitchen of this paradigm. When they do their work well, there are no traces left. We do not even know these s/heroes, whom we did not even realise were making a contribution. Whilst we remember martyrs or self-promoters who acted for a cause we all know about, never those no less effective in their contribution but whose skills we were never aware of – precisely because they were successful. However, recipient ingratitude is cast in the shade by another type of thanklessness. This is a far more vicious brand of ignorance of the part of the silent s/hero. I will illustrate with the following thought experiment.

Assume that you are a ringawera (cook/helper) committed to enhancing the mana of everyone who visits the marae you are responsible to upon the occasion of a tangi, and that you are well schooled in the routines and interpersonal skills required to make manuhiri (visitors) happy. You forego three days of income, empty your home cupboards, raid your garden, fish, dive, or otherwise harvest whatever ingredients you have access to. You work from dawn to midnight alongside your peers. This may be unlikely for you, but it is just a thought experiment. These actions are not popular amongst employers as it complicates their lives. But, it certainly will contribute positively to the beneficiaries.

You will not get a statue in the town square, become internet famous or garner headlines. Rather, seeing how costly your contribution was to local commerce, how it squandered precious time resources, the general public, might well decry the waste of three days for a ‘funeral’. With a little help from a morally and fiscally bankrupt corporate media you may run the risk of losing your job. You may have created a general impression of having done nothing useful.

Now consider again the events of 1987. In the aftermath of the Edgecumbe earthquake, who got the recognition? The Prime Minister David Lange was pictured smiling in the local newspaper, (PM pledges Govt help, 1987). All he had to do was be there for the photo opportunity to support a press release.

Who gets rewarded? The Pahaoa ringawera who absents themselves to create a space for a manuhiri cake maker to receive accolades for baking? Who is valuable? The early childhood education teacher professional development provider who sends one agent to Whakatane from Auckland to spend two hours reading a series of PowerPoint slides to a hall full of Homebased service educators, and achieves all the state-contract outcomes by citing the numbers in attendance and the colour copies of the slide show distributed to them? Or, the Indigenous provider who works in situ for as many days as it takes teachers to trust her, and then chooses not to share the data she collected for an advanced degree, lest it expose the participants to ridicule by their peers or undermine the gains those professionals made by identifying the scaffolding afforded to them by the provider?

It is the same logic reversal I illustrated earlier concerning the value of what we do not know; everybody may know that you need more prevention than treatment, but few know how to identify and reward prevention, particularly the kinds arising from discretion or the protection of mana. Instead, those who leave their names on the public record are glorified at the expense of those contributors who are marginalised by the narrative makers – including funders, and accrediting agents – or by the nature of their work.


This is a study about uncertainty; to me Kaiwhakaara reside in uncertainty. This may be a strong assertion – that early childhood education teacher professional development provision needs to inquire into the rare and extreme IKP centered models in order to evolve Western ones – so I will illuminate my meanings as follows. Ordinarily, there are two most likely ways to approach phenomena. One, is to rule out the extraordinary in favour of the norm. The researcher ignores the outliers and examines ordinary cases. Another approach, is to consider that in order to better understand a phenomenon, considering the extremes is essential, particularly if, as with Kaiwhakaara, they resolve apparently intractable problems.

I am not particularly invested in the usual. When I want to get an idea of the characteristics of a teacher, ultimately I am seeking to liberate their skills for improving professional practice through changed coping with circumstances they consider stressful, rather than remaining preoccupied with those areas with which they are already fluent. Can health be understood without considering illness or disease? Indeed, it may be that the normal is often irrelevant.

Almost everything in this study was propelled or advanced by infrequent yet impactful hops and jumps. Yet, the vast majority of social science studies focused on early childhood education teacher professional development in Aotearoa emphasise the normal, including the ‘bell curve’ methods of inference telling me almost nothing. Why? Because the bell curve ignores deviations, does not attempt to handle them, yet provides an assurance that uncertainty is contained.

Contractual taxidermy

At the start of the ongoing overhaul of the early childhood education sector in Aotearoa, much of the sectors’ initial protest was caused by the government’s insistence on appointing a handpicked ‘taskforce’ to consult with services and formulate supposedly objective advice to the state. Unsurprisingly, those recommendations coincided neatly with the neoliberal stance the government had previously signalled during revamps of other social service departments including the Ministry of Health. While awaiting the findings of the Taskforce the government refused to either rollover or retender contracts for teacher professional development provision with those universities who had historically been the providers of choice. Subsequent selection processes to procure local, practical – rather than academic – experts to work directly with services which had been identified by local Ministry of Education offices as requiring support, created new problems. Critically, the notion of support had to be re/defined by the local offices, many of whom arrived at diverse understandings, dependant on their personal cultural capital and experiences. Likewise, what many other providers commodify and label as “professional learning” “development” or “deliverables” is not the same thing to me. It is not a concrete and precise cohort of knowledge. Rather, it is the opposite; it is the lack of knowledge. It is the exact contrary of knowledge, rendering the terms made for the description of knowledge useless.

What I call Contractual Taxidermy, after the practices and products of taxidermists, is professional development providers’ tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well-defined outputs, including objects like reports, or prefabricated social variables like identity, language and culture. When these ideas and crisp constructs are ratified in the collective vernacular, they are privileged over less defined or concrete objects, those with a messier or less tractable mien.

Contractual taxidermy is a means for the most powerful stakeholders in early childhood education teacher professional development to convince ourselves that we understand more than we actually do. I am not asserting that this happens in every case. I am not saying that models and constructions, or any other intellectual forms of reality are always wrong; they are wrong only in some very specific applications. The difficulty I have routinely encountered is taxidermied models require a great deal of work to present a convincing and tidy approximation of reality, when in fact they are only trophies intended for display to validate the settings inhabited by the most powerful players in the professional development diorama, which can lead to severe consequences – particularly for the less powerful stakeholders in professional development provision. These models or skinned and preserved effigies are like potentially helpful medicines carrying random yet mortally severe side-effects.

Contractual taxidermy is the plastic boundary where the taxidermic mindset interacts with messy reality, where the gap between what providers see, hear and assume and what they report to the state/funder becomes dangerously wide. It is here that the Kaiwhakaara in this study were produced.

The Academy

This is a study expressing a primary idea. Put up or shut up. For all their intellectual appeal the vast majority of academic arguments have no serious implications in the workaday week of early childhood education services. People in possession of the podium or pursuit of Performance Based Research Funding (PBRF) not having faced regular and recent authentic situations of teaching in the flux of an early childhood education service, do not realise what is important to teachers and what is not – even those who are scholars of uncertainty or early childhood education. Thus, I rail against the sterile fatalism of the kind actual teachers can do nothing about. I am also vehemently opposed to the language problems or theoretical hair-splitting that has served to make the modern academy largely irrelevant to early childhood education teachers. Today, the academy is populated with labourers who depend on one another’s opinion, without external checks, generating the inevitable pathological results of turning their efforts into rarefied beard pulling.

There is a contradiction in this study. It is primarily concerned with the telling of stories. Yet, I prefer to use stories and vignettes to illustrate gullibility around stories and the academic preference for the sterilisation and compression of narratives.

A story is the only creature which displaces another story. I consider metaphors and stories to be far more potent than ideas. They are easier to remember and more fun to engage with, ask any pre-schooler or early years teacher. When I made the decision to put up or shut up, I also decided to contest the dominant narratives around early childhood education teacher professional development with narratives from teachers, children and myself. Arguments come and go, stories are forever.


I embarked upon this study with the fullest intention of subverting the tidy, clinical thesis offerings routinely produced by standardised mainstream educative factories. I was not just determined to ignore bell curves, the glamour magick of statisticians, and the contractual taxidermies used to hoax funders. Thus, I am not relying on the dubious method of collecting selective “corroborating evidence”. I am subverting this faux empiricism – or anecdotes designed to show me in the best light, or present a smoothly impervious narrative arc. Kaiwhakaaro is based on the notion of randomness as empirical reality for human agents.

To summarise: in this personal study, I stick my head above the parapet to assert, against most of the tenets of accepted wisdom, that early childhood education – and by extension – teacher professional development provision is dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable – and all while powerful stakeholders are engaged in an endless rodomontade focusing on the known and the repeated. I also make the claim that early childhood education teacher professional development will become increasingly less predictable, while powerful stakeholders will collude to hide that reality from the majority of the rest of us.






Earthquake Commisson. (1993). Changes to disaester insurance in New Zealand. Bulletin for the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 26(4), 437-444.  Retrieved from


PM pledges Govt help. (1987, 9 March). Whakatane Beacon Whakatane New Zealand.


Rodin, A. (1901). The Thinker ( Le Penseur).   Retrieved from


Rogers, N. v. B., S; Williams, K;  Johnson, L;. (2015). Considering Post-Disaster Damage to Residential Building Construction – Is Our Modern Building Construction Resilient? Paper presented at the 6th International Conference on Earthquake Geotechnical Engineering, Christchurch, New Zealand.



Teacher Professional Development That Works


So, professional development (PD) or professional learning is a chore and a bore and you’ve just about given up on the whole idea at this point.

Seriously, what’s with working on your professional practice during lengthy workshops, courses, or lectures; in your own time, at your own cost, right? What about the professional learning you are achieving on the job, every day, everytime you are working on teaching tasks? What about documenting that; quickly, cheaply and easily? Allowing the normal evolution of your professional progress to be captured, collated, reflected on, extended and evidenced? 

The picture I’ve used here came from a teacher’s portfolio of practice. These are an archive demonstrating your unique professional capacities, competence and culture. They were recently recommended by the founder of the Khan Academy. He suggests they should be standard in higher education. It could be a record you would use to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in;

  • a performance appraisal,
  • an external assessment of the service you work for,
  • teacher registration,
  • a job interview,
  • a course assignment task,
  • your own business,
  • or to communicate  how and what you are teaching to parents and whānau.

How about using your teaching stories to show a direct link between your professional practices and the achievements of the children you are teaching? Wouldn’t that be satisfying? A healthy lift for your feel-good system?

Used to be that teaching stories were touted as the means to achieve these things. Just as, learning stories were assumed to provide the same benefits to children. Except that, the rapid expansion of the early childhood education, nursery or preschool sector worldwide, a recent overhaul of government policies around professional development here in Aoteaoroa/New Zealand and the genesis of so many different kinds of services, means there hasn’t been a standard, practical, cost effective, and fast to use, set of guidelines to follow. Now, who even knows what teaching stories are?

What is a Teaching Story?

teaching story pic

If you put a couple of pictures of you working, and write an explanation in the same way you might have done to make a learning story are you creating a teaching story? If your boss asks you, “how are things going today?” is whatever you reply a teaching story? If an assessor asks you to keep a journal of your workaday life, is that a teaching story? It’s not been universally decided – and so teaching stories have become largely ignored. I created my own model and templates, you can see a sample in the picture above. Sadly, like early childhood teachers generally, self-determined, sector-wide, efficient documenting of actual practice has been sidelined, having been edged out by a lack of mana, money, and appropriate advocacy. Why is that?

One of the reasons, is teachers on-the-floor have said by their actions and willingness that they don’t need the formality of an appropriate professional development investment from their paymeisters to give up their time, the privilege of their skills and sometimes even their health. We’ve become a global sector of non-takers and, judging by the masses of unappreciated teachers that I hear from and about, I’m guessing the whole no teaching stories thing’s not going so well. It’s too unprofessional, too casual, too expensive, too much grey area, and not enough black and white.

Teacher-led, accurate, timely, cost effective, and child affective PD using teaching stories is an untapped mother-lode. Moreover the practical expertise and systematic appreciation of early childhood education teachers has been neglected long enough.

All About You.

It’s time for a change and, aside from teaching stories, the only other PD option would be hoping things will get better by themselves. Or, that the academics who have traditionally gorged state PD funding in Aotearoa, without demonstrating conclusively that they are improving outcomes with children, suffer a violent attack of conscience and regurgitate all those taxpayer dollars. So it seems like now’s the time to figure out how to use teaching stories again, because you may not like crossing your fingers and holding your breath indefinitely.

You obviously care about yourself and your work, because you’ve come to this blog and are considering the idea of putting yourself right back at the centre of your professional development; for that I congratulate you. Yaaay a warm fuzzy! But wait there’s more. This is not a “I know everything, and you know nothing” kind of blog. This is a “you know more than you know you know,” kind of blog. I have made my living assumming that learners are the experts on themselves, and this has proved to be the case in my early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary teaching and leading. It’s also the rule of thumb that applies in both Western and Indigenous contexts.

This blog is a ‘you know you best’ zone. Unlike other approaches that are based on an unspoken assumption that the people in possesion of the podium are better at early childhood education teaching than the PD participants, I assume you know what you want from your PD, and that you know how you want to achieve your PD. That means the bulk of the leg-work is yours, it also means there is no setting you up to give ‘wrong’ answers so you must defer to the almighty me, and there is no making you a guinea pig for a great, unproven, brainwave I had one day in a fit of righteous wrath, and a desire to avoid the vaccuming.  Everything here is based on sound research by much brighter persons than I, and has been borne out on-the-floor where teachers like you have tried and tested it. Now is the time to rediscover exactly what kind of teaching skills and strengths you have, at the same time you are generating the evidence to prove it.

Next Monday, I’ll be describing my two minute technique for writing your personal philosophy of teaching. It’s the ideal way to start building your unique portfolio of teaching stories. Awesome. And, this Thursday, my post will focus again on illustrating the humanity that makes each of us the teachers we are; personal stories to remind us teachers are people too, with all the rights and joys that implies.