New Zealand Story

A Leadership Adventure – Five New Zealand Schools Collaborate to Create a Model for the Future.

He aha te kai o te rangatira?
He Korero, he korero, he korero
What is the food of the leader?
It is knowledge.
It is communication.

Five Dunedin schools have reimagined their view of curriculum and leadership.

With a change of government in New Zealand, has come a change in educational policy. National Standards was a controversial policy that over the last eight years was unpopular with teachers and caused a predicted narrowing of the curriculum.

Through a shared view of STEM, design thinking and problem-based learning, the schools have designed a model for curriculum and professional development. Integrating the New Zealand draft Digital Technologies Curriculum, the cluster of schools have identified opportunities for developing teacher confidence and capability. Building teacher knowledge and skills through collaborative opportunities and targeted professional development has enabled schools to push the boundaries on curriculum design and content.

The shared vision of the five schools and the collaboration of leaders has created a new level of professional support and discourse.

The cluster have re-imagined their vision, leadership and practical implementation of a new way for schools to work together to bring about positive change and work towards the following goals.

Key Outcomes

  1. Improved professional knowledge and practice of teachers in Project Based Learning and STEM education.
  2. Student access to Project Based Learning and STEM based activities and programmes.
  3. Provision of STEM learning resources to support programmes.
  4. Increase in student confidence and capability in Project Based Learning and STEM programmes.
  5. To develop links between schools and business or other learning organisations.

The world’s workforce is changing and by 2035 (as our current five-year-olds start to enter the workforce) we seek to provide them with the confidence to contribute positively to our society. Project Based Learning (PBL) is a methodology which uses a constructivist approach to learning whereby students learn by investigating and responding to authentic challenges.

We wanted to focus on developing the student’s essential skills of the 6 Cs; Curiosity, Communicating, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Cross-Curricular Connections through the context of Project Based Learning, STEM and Design Thinking.

Current educational thinking places greater emphasis on the development of skills and attitudes rather than content knowledge. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programmes will help drive a future-focused learning pathway for students to be successful in a changing world.


The cluster of schools have fostered greater collaboration between each other. The five principals meet regularly to focus on teacher’s professional development and student achievement. Teachers are welcomed into each other schools to watch and work alongside our best teachers raising the standard of all teachers. We have employed an expert facilitator and created lead teachers in all of the schools. The facilitator also works with the management team to change the school’s vision and direction so that all five schools are moving in the same direction.


An essential component of the success of the project has been sourcing independent funding and ultimately being awarded a significant “Innovation Grant”, the first of its kind in the region. The Grant was provided by the Otago Community Trust which is a philanthropic organisation that applies its Trust funds for charitable and other purposes which are of benefit to the community. They provide grants to not-for-profit community groups and projects that make a positive contribution to Otago communities.

Makerspace Chart

This grant provided $310,000 over three years. This has allowed us to purchase STEM hardware including 3D printers, VR Googles, Makey Makeys, Edison Robots, electronics consumerables and a drone at a cost of $50,000. Many schools have set up a Makerspace but we are quickly seeing a transition from these spaces to more flexible makertrolleys. This has a parallel to the old computer suites transition to technology becoming ubiquitous. We have also been able to identify and remunerate key staff both internally and externally that will challenge teachers practice and raise the outcomes for all. We have created many models of professional development including;

  • • Jumbo Teacher Only Day for all teachers in the Cluster
  • • Releasing all teachers for three days per year to visit teachers in other schools.
  • • Releasing lead teachers to work with the facilitator to upskill themselves (especially around PBL) and then work within their schools with teachers through staff meetings
  • • Teachers completing Action Research or Micro-credentials
  • • Expert teachers providing STEM based workshops for other teachers


What is most important is the impact the programme is having on students. The project is at a very early stage as most of the focus has been on improving teachers confidence and capability but we are starting to see a positive shift in the programmes the teachers and schools are providing for their students. The cluster of school is working collaboratively with the University of Otago to monitor the entire project but is also using action research and micro credentials to acknowledge the work of teachers in the project.  From this data and other forms of information collection such as the Stanford Design School scenarios we know that most children will use traditional crafting materials when provided choice and don’t naturally think to present their ideas using STEM based tools.

We feel that 2019 will be an important year for the project as we shift our focus on upskilling the teachers to upskilling the students but it has been an exciting and invigorating adventure so far having been freed by the shackles of the Ministry of Education constraints on what they think learning looks like.


Read more about their progress and goals in the June 2018 Hills Cluster Milestone Report (pdf).


Simon Clarke (@KaikoraiPS): Simon is the principal of Kaikorai School in New Zealand.

Brian Filipo: Brian is the principal of Halfway Bush School in New Zealand.

Verity Harlick: Verity is the principal of Maori Hill School in New Zealand.

Andrew Hunter (@andyhunternz): Andrew is the principal of Balmacewen Intermediate School in New Zealand.

Chris Smith: Chris is the principal of Wakari School in New Zealand.

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