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Reflections from Reaching All Learners Oak Fellows week in New Zealand

I recently participated in an immersive learning experience in New Zealand alongside teacher coaches from more than 16 countries. The Reaching All Learners Fellowship provided 16 teacher coaches in the Teach For All network the opportunity to learn together through an online course that culminated in an in-person gathering in Auckland, New Zealand. To learn more about the fellowship, read the EdNC series. 

Teach For All is helping a network of 50 independent, locally-governed partners shape a generation of global leaders to drive innovation and broad-scale systemic change to ensure that all children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Through Oak’s partnership with Teach For All, more than a dozen educators from the network have gathered each year for the past four years to reflect, learn together, and reimagine learning environments for students with learning differences.

The Reaching All Learners Fellowship’s focus on metacognition (e.g., the ability to reflect on one’s own learning, achievements, and identity and to plan, implement, and evaluate strategies to meet one’s needs as a learner) mirrors Oak Foundation’s emphasis on rethinking the ways learning happens for students and better preparing adults to engage and support all students, particularly those with learning differences. Oak Foundation supports efforts that help students experience learning that builds four key attributes:

  • A sense of belonging through strong relationships that promote acceptance, connection, support, and empathy in their learning environment;
  • Mastery through engagement with rigorous content, demonstration of understanding, and critical reflection on new material;
  • Agency through their capacity and habit to form and act on intentions; and
  • Purpose through understanding personal values and their relationship to learning and long-term goals.

Connecting New Zealand’s context with educators globally

This year’s Reaching All Learners Fellowship focused on the efforts of Teach For All’s global partner in New Zealand, Ako Mātātupu/Teach First NZ, to help educators and schools more broadly understand and embrace students’ unique identities and cultures. To learn more about New Zealand’s shift to bi- and multi-culturalism, read this EdNC piece.

While there are many unique elements of New Zealand’s colonial history and subsequent efforts to achieve more equitable educational outcomes for its Māori and Pasifika learners, this year’s Reaching All Learners Fellowship trip to New Zealand elevated several important themes that resonated across the global network of educators.

  • Teaching and learning are not mutually exclusive nor are they realized through one-way transactional relationships. The Māori concept of “Ako,” which means both teaching and learning together, expresses the reciprocal and interconnected learning relationship between educator and student and affirms the knowledge, experience, culture, and identity of the student as a valuable and integral part of the learning process.
  • Positive relationships are a key ingredient for student success. When students feel valued and respected, their engagement and contributions are more meaningful. A shift from adversarial student-teacher relationships to deeper connections grounded in mutual respect and understanding characterized the classrooms we visited where teachers were investing time in getting to know their students and understand their contexts.
  • Investing in building students’ sense of pride and self is an important element of teaching and learning. In Māori culture, the concept of “Mana” signifies honor, pride, and a belief in oneself. Mana comes from knowing who you are, where you are from, and how your past, present, and future are connected. “Manaaki” is the act of encouraging and enhancing the mana of others and is an important role teachers play.

About Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme

The Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme believes that together we can build a world in which schools unlock the creativity and power of every young person and equip each one to shape more just and equitable communities. We strategically partner with and invest in non-profit organizations that improve education for students with learning differences.

We believe that every student should benefit from engaging and rigorous educational opportunities regardless of personal and social identifiers that privilege some students and marginalize others such as learning differences, race, income, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and religion.  In our work, we are particularly focused on efforts that support students with learning differences who experience further marginalization due to racism and poverty. We partner with organizations that create learning environments to support and empower the most marginalized young people globally. In each of the regions in which we work, we listen closely to parents, students, and educators on the ground to help us understand who is at the margins.

To learn more, visit our website.

Editor’s note: The Oak Foundation supports the work of EducationNC. 

Heather Graham

Heather Graham joined Oak Foundation as the Director of the Learning Differences Programme in December 2017. She comes from Education First, a US-based education policy and strategy consulting firm, where she led teams that provided strategic planning, policy analysis, advocacy, and research support to foundations, policymakers, and non-profits. In that role, she partnered with Oak’s LDP on the development of its current strategy and outcomes framework. Heather lives in Durham, NC with her husband and their two children where she teaches yoga in her spare time.