Teachers and teacher educators working together in professional learning (post 2 of 4)

Professor Roberta Hunter, Dr Jodie Hunter, and Professor Glenda Anthony, Massey University

This is post 2 in a four-part series based on a symposium presented by the authors at the American Educational Research Association’s 2018 conference in New York. This symposium was supported by NZARE.

The other posts in this series are:

  • Post 1 – Joining the pieces of the tivaevae to enact strength-based mathematics learning for Pāsifika students in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Post 3 – Challenging teacher perceptions of student capabilities
  • Post 4 – Student voice: Being Pāsifika in New Zealand mathematics classrooms

Teacher professional learning is essential to ensure quality teaching and learning. This is especially important in contexts such as high poverty schools where the demographic gap between teachers (most often white, female, and middle class) and students (who are more diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, and language) is most pronounced. Without appropriate professional learning and inquiry to help teachers understand their students and their cultures, misunderstandings caused by the demographic gap can too often lead to deficit thinking and low expectations of Pāsifika students and their families.

Our high support, high challenge professional learning approach

The professional learning experiences for teachers in the Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities (DMIC) project are built on mutual respect as teachers and teacher educators work together in reciprocal relationships with an equitable power balance. Much of the professional learning within DMIC involves in-class visits from mentors who co-construct lessons jointly with the class teacher rather than being an external, evaluative oberver. There are also professional learning days and collaborative planning times where, again, DMIC mentors work alongside teachers in respectful, strength-based ways. The five Cook Island values depicted in the tivaevae modelaokotai (collaboration), tu akangateitei (respect), uriuri kite (reciprocity), tu inangaro (relationships), and akairi kite (shared vision) – support our community-oriented, respectful way of relating and interacting.

At the same time, we believe strongly in the power of a “pedagogy of discomfort” for stimulating teacher learning and change:

“the feeling of uneasiness as a result of the process of teaching and learning from/with others.”

We pay close attention to the values and beliefs that support and shape teachers’ practices in the classroom, recognising that these values and beliefs may differ significantly from those of the students. We have seen significant changes emerge from the dissonance that teachers experience when their own demographic worldview collides with those of their students. The examples below illustrate what can happen when teachers experience this profound dissonance in the context of supportive mentoring and professional learning relationships.

Views from teachers

Data from teachers consistently highlights the importance of the DMIC professional learning approach being grounded in aokotai (collaboration). By asking questions ‘in the moment’ and providing time and space for teachers to reflect, the in-class mentoring prompted teachers to rethink and reconceptualise their practices while retaining teacher ownership. One teacher recalled appreciating the mentor:

“explaining that it is MY JOURNEY, and the children’s.”

Teachers welcomed this change after experiencing previous professional learning models where facilitators simply told teachers ‘what to do’. DMIC teachers valued being encouraged to discuss, explore, and grow their current expertise through focused questioning:

“When they [mentors] come into my classroom they ask questions about what I have done but also what I am doing that I think is helping the students. This helps me see what is changing. They have also sent me many readings and slideshows that have helped my own practice.” 

“It’s the empathy; my mentors were gentle and set me up to succeed by letting me learn by experimenting, ‘fail and fix’ without feeling inadequate about learning maths the DMIC way. They shared with me similar stories when telling them about my stories of what happens in my lessons—when doing maths with my community of learners. They affirm my successes in DMIC and were very specific and precise about my next steps. I value my mentor’s honesty when giving advice after asking for it.”

Being provided with time and space to reflect and make personal decisions helped teachers to see that what they were being asked to do paralleled with what they expected their students to do:

“The mentors cause me to reflect. Putting a question back to me: ‘Do you think …? Did you notice …?’ It is always around the ways students are participating and contributing and in discussion around best practice; now with focus on justifying—’How’s that going? Would you try …? Did you think about …? What about …?’ That’s been our focus, to get the students to ask and answer challenging questions to dig deeper, so we should too.”

Uriuri kite (reciprocity) was also a key element in teachers’ interactions with teacher educators. One teacher described the exchanges they had with the teacher educator as they co-constructed the lesson within a reciprocal and respectful relationship:

“The mentor was really good in that she discreetly came in to the lesson—almost like a whisper to say, ‘Try this, say this’ right at the critical moment. Her input steered the direction of my lesson in a way that opened up more vibrant discussion and thinking between us.”

Akangateitei (respect) was evident as teacher educators outlined their thoughts on their role as they worked alongside teachers and leaders. Akangateitei (respect) was also important in shifting the values and beliefs of the teachers towards considering what strengths their students came to school with:

“It’s this thinking about culture that has made me shift. I loved it when one of the mentors used some Māori, Samoan words for things in the problem or words of encouragement for the kids. I can see how the children appreciate and value when a palagi [white] mentor speaks their lingo. I have been encouraged to do this and am thrilled to testify that I see the DMIC way of connecting with Pāsifika children lifts their status, self-esteem and confidence, cultural identity and enjoyment.”

Other teachers talked about the practical support they were provided with as they learned to incorporate appropriate cultural contexts:

“The mentor reworked my problems with me to make them more challenging, more authentic and culturally responsive. She has encouraged my attempts to build greater cultural responsiveness into my maths program and that is good because the students need to be the experts and the cultural context for the problem is an important part of this, but I did not know where to begin.”

Views from teacher educators

Like the teachers, the teacher educators recognised the importance of aokotai (collaboration) in their role and building tu inangaro (relationships) over time. As one teacher educator explained:

“What I really enjoy is the building up of those relationships with the teachers. I have really enjoyed when I see teachers making progress or when I see teachers have those real lightbulb moments. Them trying something out and getting it and improving in their practice is really exciting.”

The teacher educators also recognised the role of uriuri kite (reciprocity), akangateitei (respect), and the development of akairi kite (shared vision). For example, when asked about how teacher educators saw their role within dynamic mentoring and co-constructing a mathematics lesson together, one teacher educator drew on her own experience in being mentored as a classroom teacher and reflected on how this had scaffolded her into her current role as a mentor:

“I think that is when it is really powerful. When you are working together, and the kids really like that as well. When Bobbie (teacher educator) was down…the kids in my class would be like watching a tennis match and they would be watching her when she was saying something and then back to me. They were quite mesmerised that we could have this conversation about teaching and learning. It opens it up and is something we do talk about, that we are all learners, and I am improving my practice and that Bobbie is here to help. I really like the feel that it gave the class. Not, ‘I’m the teacher, I’m in charge, you be quiet and listen.’ It was more that we were all learning together, it was a real bonding experience and it was very powerful. I think that the mentor in class is fantastic and especially once you have built up that relationship that you are working together. I have drawn back on this to do my role now.”

This teacher educator’s statement illustrates how important the learning for all participants within the classroom setting was and the significance of tu inangaro (relationships).

The teacher educators also illustrated their own learning journey as they worked with teachers to construct an akairi kite (shared vision). As one teacher educator explained:

“This has been phenomenally useful for my own teaching, because every time I go in there I either think of something, or learn something or it’s either confirmed, I just learn all the time, so it’s been really good for my own practice. I consider myself to be very fortunate that I am in a position of being able to do this.”

Another teacher educator drew similarities between ambitious teaching (which DMIC emphasises) and the role that she took in the classrooms working alongside teachers:

“I think what we do is more in line with ambitious mentoring. It’s like ambitious teaching, but its ambitious mentoring of teachers and school leaders. An approach that I take is a non-deficit one so looking at what teachers can do in their classrooms then that will automatically give us what their next steps are. Instead of looking for what they can’t do, look for what they can do and affirm those things and then look at what the next steps are. Those are the sort of things I would respond to in class and give some advice on what they can do as next steps. A lot of what we do in the class is get them to reflect so if I notice something I need to respond to in the moment I might even ask the teacher a question to get them to reflect on their practice. It might be asking them questions about what is coming up in the lesson, so we are not seen as experts coming in and telling teachers what to do, so it is more of a co-constructivist approach where we are co-constructing lessons with teachers.”


From moment-to-moment, the DMIC mentor’s role shifts from questioner to answerer, from coach to nurturer, and from a resource to a model – but always in the context of a strong and responsive mentor-mentee relationship. This dynamic, adaptive and flexible ‘in the moment’ mentoring model has been highly successful at causing dissonance which has led to changes in teachers’ practices and opened new areas of reflection while simultaneously enacting the tivaevae values to ensure teachers feel safe, supported and in the driver’s seat of their professional learning.

The  next post in this series (post 3) delves deeper into the impacts that this type of professional learning had on teachers’ fundamental beliefs about their students. The final post describes the students’ experiences and responses.

Other posts in this 4-part series:

  • Post 1 – Joining the pieces of the tivaevae to enact strength-based mathematics learning for Pāsifika students in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Post 3 – Challenging teacher perceptions of student capabilities
  • Post 4 – Student voice: Being Pāsifika in New Zealand mathematics classrooms

BobbieRoberta Hunter is a Professor in the Institute of Education at Massey University. She developed her love of maths through watching her Cook Islands mother measuring and making geometric patterns for intricate tivaevae (fabric art) patterns. She originally developed the pedagogical approaches used in the Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities (DMIC) project for her PhD and since then has overseen implementation of DMIC in low-decile schools across NZ. 

JodieJodie Hunter is a senior lecturer in the Institute of Education at Massey University and teaches papers in the area of Mathematics Education and Pāsifika education. She has previously worked in the area of mathematics education at Plymouth University, UK, and worked in the US as a Fulbright New Zealand Scholar. Jodie’s current research interests include effective mathematics teaching and culturally responsive teaching for Pasifika learners, including within the DMIC project.

Glenda picture 2Glenda Anthony is the co-director of the Massey University Centre for Research in Mathematics Education. Her research interests include effective mathematics teaching and professional learning. Glenda’s current focus on equity of access and participation for students involves research in the Developing Mathematics Inquiry Communities project led by Roberta and Jodie Hunter.


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