Pedagogies of hope; dialogical professional development

Introduction Students in poverty often do not reach their potential in New Zealand’s education system; this is largely due to reasons outside of schools’ control (see Snook and O’Neill chapter)….



Students in poverty often do not reach their potential in New Zealand’s education system; this is largely due to reasons outside of schools’ control (see Snook and O’Neill chapter). Inequality between rich and poor is increasing, and inequitable distribution of the nation’s resources means that poorer families struggle even to survive, let alone to support their children’s education (Rashbrooke, 2013). Troubling issues such as hunger, sleep deprivation, inadequate clothing, substandard housing, transience, inadequate English language skills, minimal, if any, access to ECEC, and poor health all impact on what is, and is not, possible in education.

While there have been small and positive changes in levels of achievement amongst children in poverty, progress overall has been minimal. Such a situation is intolerable. Academic potential and achievement is not the prerogative of the middle or upper classes. Rhetoric, including government policies, implies that every child will be taken to her/his potential in our education system, not just those children with particular cultural, linguistic, social or economic capital. As well as the necessity for more equitable resource sharing within the wider society, schools and teachers have an important role to play concerning students in poverty.

The focus in these pages is on the work and potential of classroom teachers in relation to children in poverty. After briefly examining the wider context of such students with an emphasis on neoliberalism and its worrisome effects, the chapter addresses how teachers can be, and sometimes are, part of the achievement problem. Little research has been done regarding this – it is interesting to surmise why this should be the case – and some research findings are shared. The chapter then moves to what successful teachers, and in particular low-decile school teachers, take to their professional work: themselves, their values, and their pedagogical styles. The emphasis then shifts to empowering forms of professional development (PD) for low-decile school teachers. High-quality generic teacher PD is essential for all teachers. The argument here is that teachers in low-SES areas need to have rightful and funded access to generic PD, but also that they need opportunities and encouragement to be involved in additional, bottom-up, context-related forms of PD -described here as “dialogical PD”.


Since the late 1980s when NZ first began implementing neoliberal policies, through to today, the number of children and families in poverty has increased (Blaiklock, Kiro, Belgrave, Low, Davenport & Hassell, 2002; Boston & Chapple, 2014; Dale, O’Brien, & St John, 2011). Neoliberalism (Harvey, 2005) has undoubtedly impacted on the high poverty statistics. Its policies emphasise the role of the individual, choice, competition and the market – privatisation and user pays are prioritised, and the welfare states redistribution and equity-based policies are decried.

Neoliberal policies in all domains, including education, have influenced the widening achievement gaps between students from low- and high-decile schools. In recent decades, government-sourced state school funding has declined in real terms, schools have had to compete with other schools for pupils, and the professional status of teachers has been consistently under attack (Alcorn, 1999; Codd, 2008; Compton & Weiner, 2008). Neoliberal environments enable and encourage wealthy parents to contribute financially to advantage their own children’s schooling. Parental funding, combined with  various forms of supplementary funding permissible from the wider community (including businesses), means their children’s state schools are likely to have up-to-date, quality buildings; a wide range of extra-curricular activities; a wealth of IT and other resources; and experienced, stable staffing. The poorer the parents, the more likely their children’s schools will have to work within tight budgets: IT and other resourcing will often be philanthropy-dependent; extra-curricular activities can be unaffordable and therefore not offered; school maintenance is a struggle; and appropriate and quality staffing can be hard to attract and to keep. The recent introduction of charter schools and the extra per-capita funding they attract further “muddies the waters” causing tension within the teaching profession, and a strong level of union resistance (by PPTA in particular). At the same time private schools have received increased levels of funding. Even with well-intentioned TFEA1 funding policies there is not, at this time, a “level playing field” in NZ’s school system. The teacher unions (NZEI and PPTA) and the Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC), a lobby group which aims to promote education as a basic human right available to everyone through a quality public education system based on social justice and equity, are strong advocates for more equitable and fairer funding of NZ’s education system.

Recent discussions with low-decile school principals and teachers indicate that schools and teachers are under considerable pressure; a range of structural, financial and cultural issues contribute to stress, and it appears that fewer applications are being received for advertised teaching positions. The New Zealand Council of Educational Research’s (NZCER) 2013 primary and intermediate schools national survey of teachers, from a representative sample of all schools, indicated that only 49% of teachers found their workloads manageable, while 55% would like more time to reflect/plan/share ideas2. Stressed teachers with little time to reflect seem unlikely to be able to have a huge effect on closing NZ’s achievement gaps

Reproduction and its causes

Something is seriously wrong; despite the rhetoric and whatever the cause, NZ’s education system is reproducing society. Education makes little impact on upward mobility for those in lower-SES groups, and contrastingly provides positive impacts for higher-SES groups who, through the compounding effects of education, find their life chances enhanced. This situation has changed little since 1877 (see Introduction chapter); neoliberal policies have simply exacerbated and worsened an ongoing and inequitable situation. Teachers, principals, teacher organisations, communities and parents, BOTs and policy-makers all share concerns related to inequitable achievement outcomes. What varies are the espoused causes and advocated solutions.

The government appears to place the blame for inequitable outcomes largely on schools and teachers. Its solution, through the Ministry of Education, has been to instigate a range of national schemes to raise achievement levels. There has, for instance, been a recent emphasis on state-provided teacher PD which requires the learning of technical skills to support a top-down curriculum with its prescribed standards. At the same time, state funding has been withdrawn from wider curriculum subjects and redistributed to targeted initiatives which focus on numeracy and literacy. This is to the detriment of other subject areas such as the arts (see O’Connor chapter, this text). Intended PD (Investing in Educational Success [IES]) will be targeted through forms of leadership, with the assumption of a trickle-down effect. With minimal resultant change in achievement differentials, policies in action, to date, appear to be more of an obstacle than a solution.

Critical theorists and educators share concerns regarding outcomes for students in poverty, and we also search for causes, and support promising solutions. Looking “below the surface” it is obvious that NZ’s system mirrors those of other Western capitalist nations: the problem is entrenched; our teachers are mainly white and middle class; the “failing” students tend to be those in poverty; economically poorer students are generally non-white (usually Maori or Pasifika); and we have tinkered, or intend tinkering, with similar Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) based solutions to those experimented with in the USA (NCLB, charter schools and league tables) and the UK (curriculum reform, national standards, national testing). Premised on the argument that top-down PD, performance pay, expert and lead teachers, national standards, partnership (charter) schools, and assessment-based league charts are unlikely solutions if more equitable outcomes are genuinely desired, the focus in this chapter is on empowering and supporting teachers.

Any solution to inequitable outcomes in education must involve teachers. Teachers are part, but definitely not all, of the problem, and part, but definitely not all, of any solution. Major change in the distribution and sharing of our country’s resources is necessary, and GERM policies must be questioned and resisted. At the same time, teachers’ daily work remains central and crucial.

Teachers can be part of the problem

Not all teachers have, or have developed, the dispositions and expertise which are vital for successful teaching in high-poverty contexts. For example, Haberman’s “Pedagogies of poverty” (2010) are sometimes evident in NZ’s primary and secondary schools. Pedagogies of poverty focus on “giving information, asking questions, giving directions, giving tests, reviewing tests, assigning homework, settling disputes, punishing noncompliance, marking papers, and giving grades.” (Haberman, 2010, p.81). In such a scenario, a teacher might be considered a good teacher largely because she/he has control of the students – the pupils are quiet, on task, and their book-work is neat and tidy. In reality, the pupils may be learning very little apart from the rules of conformity. Pedagogies of poverty teach a hidden curriculum of obedience and subservience, with limited intellectual challenge3. Such pedagogies are more likely to be evident in low-SES communities’ schools.

In her classic study about the hidden curriculum and work, the late Jean Anyon (2008) found such practices in schools which served the children of New Jersey’s working class. Despite a common core curriculum, the “hidden curriculum of work” meant that the wealthier a child’s community of origin, the more challenging the teacher’s interpretation of curriculum, and the more creative and permissive the classroom. In contrast, children from economically poorer areas learned how to behave like factory workers; their school days revolved around rules, rote learning, and passing tests. Despite the rhetoric of education opening doors and enabling upward mobility, Anyon’s schools were reproducing existing society; there was a correspondence between school practices/teacher pedagogy and workplaces (Bowles & Gintis, 1976).

Alison Jones’ (1991) study, “At school I’ve got a chance”, found a similar scenario here. Working-class Pasifika girls at a streamed Auckland all-girls secondary school were encouraged in their senior years to make written copies of notes (despite their limited understandings of content) and to rote learn them. At the same time in the same school, and with identical examination goals, middle-class (mainly Palangi) girls refused to copy notes, expected hand-outs, and demanded explanations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the working-class girls failed their external examinations, while the others passed. Jones theorises that the working-class girls were recipients of Bourdieu’s “symbolic violence”.

More recent findings are from the Education and Empowerment Project (EEP) (Carpenter, 2011). This ethics-approved project involved 28 postgraduate students each interviewing a person of a similar ethnicity about their schooling experiences in NZ’s low-SES communities. Many interviewees were Pasifika or Maori, and all were educated in NZ, in low-decile schools, at some time during the past four decades.

While all 28 EEP interviewees discussed good school experiences, 65% (18 people) also shared negative recollections. The latter spoke about the pain they said they still feel due to teachers’ actions, low expectations, racism, unfair punishments, sarcasm, student put-downs, choice of irrelevant curriculum content, teachers’ inabilities to motivate or manage students, and teachers’ “bad moods”. It is not often that ex-students speak ill of their teachers. The insider status of the interviewers, due to their ethnicities, perhaps gave permission for this level of honesty and openness4.

I went to a school in [south Auckland] college where teachers, I got the feeling, weren’t happy to be there. That was reflected in their delivery of the curriculum and their classes. In some sense you got the feeling from teachers that they… well their expectations of you were low. Whether that was because of the area that we came from, and for them it just seemed like a nine to three o’clock job, I remember myself and a lot of others spoke about teachers that didn’t care. (EEP data)

[My teachers=”” were=””][/My] European, so yes. It was mostly because of a lack of understanding of the diversity of cultures that was in the class. And through not caring if they met the different needs of the class as well. And what also didn’t help was that some teachers really didn’t see building those relationships with the students as important. (EEP data)

When you walk into a class and you get the feeling, or a certain look that they are not interested in you… it has a negative effect and I think depending on the individual in the class they can either use that to their advantage and say to themselves “I am going to prove this person wrong” which is what happened in my case, which is why I am where I am today is to prove to those teachers that had little impact on me – [they][/they] probably expected me to be on the benefit or something like that. (EEP data)

In high school I honestly didn’t feel like I learnt anything. (EEP data)

Siope’s data (2011) also came from NZ-educated Pasifika students, and they shared similar dissatisfactions with their education. Nita, a Nuiean, indicated that, rather than being racist, teachers were all “messed up”:

What Nita is referring to as being “messed up” is the cultural hegemonic practices of a monocultural society, for, although these may be unseen, they become fully operational within classrooms when teachers believe discourses such as “no smiling until April”; “term 1 is about showing them you’re the boss”; “this unit must be taught by…”. When students did choose to exercise their agency and tried standing up for their rights to an education, they were dealt to severely. (Siope, 2011, p.14)

There are indications above that teacher/student ethnicity mismatch was problematic. In April 2012 there were 52,238 teachers employed in NZ’s state and state-integrated schools. Three quarters5 of those teachers were European/Pakeha, 10% Maori, and 3% Pasifika. In the same year, in decile 1-3 schools, 57% of teachers were Pakeha, 22% Maori and 7% Pasifika. While the statistics were more reflective of student populations in low-decile schools, white teachers clearly outnumbered other ethnic groups in most schools.

EEP interviewees shared the importance to them of being able to relate to their teachers. For instance, Salesi, a Tongan, valued his interactions with a Tongan teacher:

I got along with Mr XX because we spoke the Tongan language when students weren’t around and yeah, he was really friendly to me… because he was Tongan and he knew what to ask he would ask where’s my mum from, my dad and where he’s from and yeah, he was pretty much the only teacher that really got to ask me questions other [than those=”” related=”” to=”” what=”” was=”” happening=””][/than] at school. (EEP data)

Mr XX was able to connect with Salesi in a way that probably no Palangi teacher could. The same could be said of the teachers who Malua, a Samoan, describes:

[What were=”” good=”” teachers=”” like?=””][/What] Well, first of all they had brown skin and they were in a position of authority. And then the next thing was whether they were there on their own merit or whether they were going to follow a system or things like that. There were times when they would come across the traditional way of teaching and there were other times when we could understand them better – when they spoke our language, and it wasn’t necessarily speaking Samoan – it was just breaking the boundaries that we could link it to a personal experience and then we could understand the lesson. And then we felt like we learnt something, and then we understood the principle of the lesson better. Then, they walked us through the whole system. (EEP data)

Christine Sleeter, a teacher educator from the USA who often lectures in NZ, reflects on teacher whiteness:

An educator must directly confront the vested interest white people have in maintaining the status quo, force them to grapple with the ethics of privilege, and refuse to allow them to rest comfortably in apolitical interpretations of race and multicultural teaching. (Sleeter, 2004, p. 177)

Milne’s (2013) doctoral thesis is the first to address the “whiteness” of New Zealand’s classrooms (see Milne in this text). She maintains that, if the colours of the school spaces do not change, schools will be in the business of assimilation, relegating non-white children to the margins, no matter how many school-reform initiatives, new curricula, strategic plans, or mandated standards are implemented. Milne “case studies” the school she leads as an example of a proactive way of addressing the whiteness of our schooling system.

All young people, ideally, will be taught and led, at various (but not all) stages in their education, by professionals who share their ethnicity. This is not to argue that there needs to be an ethnic match between teachers and pupils for effective teaching to take place, instead it signals that all pupils benefit by sometimes (or often) having teachers who, because of similar identities, provide role models and cultural/language links into learning. What matters more than an ethnicity match – most of the time – is a teacher’s capacity to envisage walking in the shoes of the other, and her/his ability to form relationships, walk alongside students, learn from the locals, teach effectively, empower and inspire. White teachers can be effective teachers of non-white students, and non-white teachers can be effective teachers of white students – every day this statement is proven true in NZ’s schools:

It was practically like 100% attendance in [our english=””][/our]. She was just really, really nice, a nice European lady that understood us and talked to us and was open. She was so approachable it made us feel confident talking to her. We weren’t like, “Oh my gosh, I’m not going to put up my hand because all this whole thing, and embarrassing.” She was just like, “Look guys, I’m here, I’m a teacher, I get paid, use me” – and we did that. She was awesome. (EEP data)

Yukich (this text), a New Zealand teacher researcher, and Sleeter (2004) both point to the importance of white educators taking themselves out of their comfort zones, and challenging their taken-for-granted assumptions, before presuming they have the right to teach the “other”.

In summary, ethnicity matters to the extent that role modelling and culture-based relationships are important. Research is largely silent on whether today’s NZ pupils are experiencing racism or pedagogies of poverty in their classrooms – further work in this field would be invaluable.

Philosophical and pedagogical approaches for successful teaching in low-SES communities are described in a range of international research findings (see, for example, Bishop & Glynn, 1999; Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008). The following section scopes these and other material with a particular focus on their relevance for the New Zealand context.

Teachers are part of the solution

My position is evident in the following three sentences: It is both a challenge and a privilege to be a teacher in one of NZ’s low-decile schools, however, the schools and communities do not need “missionaries”. Good teachers are part (but not all) of the solution to inequitable educational outcomes; ideally low-decile school teachers are public intellectuals who impart pedagogies of hope. Not all teachers are suited to teaching in low-decile schools; those who do succeed in such contexts often have additional and specific strengths.

While we have a great deal of evidence regarding achievement disparities across school deciles (see NCEA, NEMP and PISA [OECD, 2013=””][/OECD,] results), we have very little NZ-context-based knowledge of teacher practices which might contribute to better educational outcomes. We know what works for the generic teacher in middle-class and wealthier schools, but, aside from now rather dated studies (Hill & Hawk, 2000), and some recent invaluable insights from Kotahitanga (Bishop, Berryman, Tiakiwai, & Richardson, 2003) we lack NZ-based research about effective teaching in our high-poverty contexts.

EEP participants shared their thoughts on good teachers:

[My good=”” teachers=””][/My] were passionate about teaching. It wasn’t just a 9 to 5 job. They came hoping that someone would learn and succeed in their class. (EEP data)

EEP researcher: What kinds of things did they do to show that they were passionate?

Not going by the books, so to speak. Using personal experiences to back up what they say. In English language writing, and even descriptive writing, they would share their experiences and how they put it to paper. (EEP data)

Core attributes of all good teachers

At the core of many research-based accounts of the dispositions of strong and effective teachers in high-poverty contexts are qualities found in all good teachers, such as intelligence, a strong work ethic, professionalism, respect for diverse communities, curriculum knowledge, a sense of efficacy, a willingness to learn, an ability to form relationships with school pupils and their communities, and kindness, and compassion. The check-lists in Kaiako Toa (Carpenter, McMurchy-Pilkington, & Sutherland, 2002) and the Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Quality Teaching for Diverse students (Alton-Lee, 2003) provide examples.

Looking critically at these findings a decade on, it is apparent that the lists offer attributes desired of good teachers in all NZ classrooms; in retrospect, and by themselves, they are necessary but not sufficient for effective teaching in NZ’s high-poverty schools. More is needed.

Attributes of successful teachers in low-decile schools

Scholars in urban schooling (see, for instance, Anyon, 2005; Delpit, 2006; Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Giroux, 2013; Kincheloe, hayes, Rose, & Anderson, 2006) advocate a range of critical pedagogical and teaching processes, political/economic knowledge and sensitivities, critical race theory understandings, teacher and community interaction, social-justice-informed practice, and empowerment in all senses of the word. Today’s urban scholars position GERM-based education systems as problematic, and push openly for better, more equitable, inclusive and fairer school systems and pedagogies.

Most of these scholars are informed by Paulo Freire’s ideas. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) has inspired educators worldwide to decry banking models of education (where knowledge is “poured into” pupils), and to instead use dialogical methods in collegial ways to empower learners. Freire maintains that there is no such thing as a neutral educational process; his ultimate goal is liberation for the oppressed. Reflection and action are pivotal in the learning process, and all who share in the process of dialogue are both learners and teachers (Roberts, 2008).

Delpit (2006), a black woman scholar and teacher with a Freirean perspective, offers 10 precepts for assisting teachers to transform the lives of North America’s financially poor students:

  1. teach more, not less content;
  2. ensure all students gain access to conventions/strategies essential to success;
  3. demand critical thinking;
  4. provide the emotional ego strength to challenge racist societal views about the children and their families;
  5. build on children’s strengths;
  6. use familiar metaphors, analogies and experiences from the children’s world;
  7. create a sense of family and caring;
  8. monitor and assess children’s needs and address them with a range of diverse strategies;
  9. honour and respect the children’s home culture; and
  10. foster a sense of children’s connection to community.

Delpit (1997) maintains that students’ own languages and styles should be valued, plus that they need to know that there is a political power game being played in the wider world. During schooling students can be taught the games, conventions and rules of those with power. Such learning will allow students to eventually participate fully in mainstream life. Ways of speaking (avoiding slang terms for example) and behaving in particular contexts are examples of possible learning. Teachers’ expert knowledge is very important; they know the rules of the game. Once students understand the games being played, there is less chance of them being marginalised and excluded. Simultaneously, it is essential that students’ various diversities are valued; students should not have to sacrifice their identities for school success. Student assimilation into a dominant cultural capital requires active resistance and this tension can make teaching a very delicate dance. Kura Kaupapa Maori provides an inspirational and indigenous alternative to mainstream schooling and the possibilities of assimilation (Hoskins & Jones, 2013).

In The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) documents the practices of highly effective teachers (black, white, and Latino) of African-American students. Like Milne, she argues that teachers must take care not to ignore colour, and like Delpit, she maintains that teachers must acknowledge and value difference. Ladson-Billings describes culturally relevant teaching. In this, teachers: have high self-esteem and high regard for others; see themselves as part of the community; see teaching as giving back to the community, and encourage their students to do the same; see teaching as an art and themselves as artists; believe that all students can succeed; help students make connections between their community, national and global identities; and see teaching as “digging knowledge out” of students rather than banking it (Freire, 1972).

Delpit’s and Ladson-Billings’ arguments differ in substantial ways to the lists shared in Kaiako Toa and BES. While urban theorists value generic teacher strengths, they make a plea for more. For example, they state that social injustices such as racism and inequities should be acknowledged and openly discussed in class, that teachers teach more than the curriculum requires, not less, and that teachers demand critical thinking of their students.

A large percentage of NZ’s children in poverty are Maori or Pasifika, and Russell Bishop’s (Bishop & Glynn, 1999) research and PD-related contributions are significant. Bishop places strong emphasis on the importance of relationships between teachers and Māori children in the learning-teaching exchange. His rhetoric deprecates deficit thinking (see Thrupp chapter, this text), and advocates that Pakeha teachers (in particular) take steps to increase their knowledge, appreciation and understanding of tikanga Maori and te reo. The recent Ministry of Education funded Te Kotahitanga programme for secondary schools (Bishop et al., 2003) took Bishop’s theories into practice.

School community links

Teachers are members of school communities and those wider contexts are crucial to the success possible in each classroom.

Although successful teaching of children of colour by individual teachers is critically important, we need, as Ladson-Billings suggests, to create whole systems of such classrooms, and this [HiPass][/HiPass] is a model which can create such a system. (Scheurich, 1998, p. 477)

Scheurich’s (1998) HiPass model describes highly successful and loving, public elementary (primary) schools populated mainly by low-SES children of colour. The researchers analysed what happened in such schools, and developed a set of core beliefs and characteristics. Central to these are five core beliefs and seven school organisational characteristics. Core beliefs: 1. All children can succeed at high academic levels – no exceptions allowed; 2. Schools should be child or learner centred; 3. All children must be treated with love, appreciation, care and respect – no exceptions allowed; 4. The racial culture, including the first language of the child, is always highly valued – no exceptions allowed; 5. The school exists for and serves the community – there is little separation. Organisational cultural characteristics: 1. A strong shared vision; 2. Loving caring environments for adults and children; 3. Strongly collaborative – we are family; 4. Innovative, experimental, openness to new ideas; 5. Hardworking teachers, but not burning out; 6. Appropriate student conduct is built into the organisational culture; 7. School staff as a whole hold themselves accountable for the success of all children.

Urban theorists urge school personnel to form close bonds with the communities they serve (Coleman, 1997; Noguera, 2001). Noguera (p. 199) describes how social capital – derived from organisation and association – can offset the relative powerlessness of low-income parents. Schools can always do more; they can be a medium, and provide links to actors who are able to provide access to resources6. He argues for greater “closure”, in the sense described by Coleman (1997) in Catholic schools. Those in poverty and marginalised have the capacity to act against their situations, especially if supported by resources and allies (Noguera, 2001). The world is not in an “unalterable state” (Freire, 1972); people can enter into it critically, and positive change is feasible.

Many NZ low-decile schools, both primary and secondary, outshine the HiPass model. Most are student-centred, warm and welcoming, led by democratic and compassionate principals, and with hard-working teachers. Their teachers honour the student’s first language and cultures, and many have close relationships with their communities.

The Year 5 classroom, visually, was a feast of students’ work. Central to the displays, and hanging on lines across the classroom, were individual portrayals and biographies of and by each child. Each picture was a very carefully constructed visual art piece, using pastel and crayon, to show what was meaningful to that child. Religion and spirituality were central, with various symbols such as Om, Jesus Christ and Mohammed, and cultural backgrounds were shared with symbolic patterns and motifs. According to the teacher the works took a long time to evolve and there was huge “buy in” by most children’s families as they discussed what would be shared on their child’s display. (Vicki’s observation notes, Decile 2 primary school, South Auckland, May 2012)

The following quote demonstrates teacher honouring and respect of students’ home cultures in South Auckland; it describes a secondary school Palangi teacher who spoke Samoan, and visited Samoan parents’ homes to discuss a school trip to the Pacific Islands:

… he made the effort to come to our houses, our homes, and just explain¦”this is what’s happening on the trip, we’re wanting [to go=””][/to] to Samoa, and¦ to Hawaii” and he had the consent forms, and how he interacted with parents, and it was mainly Samoan parents and students in the choir¦ He could relate to parents, and he used the language as well… (EEP data)

High expectations

High expectations and the importance of NZ teachers’ political/economic understandings are evident in the following teachers’ actions:

In the first lesson she said “if you’re willing to try and you’re willing to do the work, I will meet you half way and I’ll be willing to push you so that you can get where you want to be’ and she did that. Every time we did something, she’d always ask us for a little bit more, and she was always pushing us she was a very good teacher. (EEP data)

They [good teachers=””][/good] had high expectations regardless of socio-economic background, or the area that you come from. (EEP data)

I remember the good teachers as being the firm but sympathetic ones that understood why, if we had problem why I couldn’t have everything because I had a big family. (EEP data)

They [good teachers=””][/good] just spoke life into me; I just wanted to learn more. I just enjoyed being in the classroom with them. (EEP data)

[The teacher=””][/The] genuinely cared about all the students in his class. He went out of his way. He didn’t just focus on the ones who were there to learn. He was trying to get the ones who were doing it just as something to fill up the day. He was trying to get them to see the value of what he was trying to teach them. (EEP data)

While models of exemplary schooling in low-SES communities are undoubtedly amongst us, the competitive market ethos which has developed in education since Tomorrow’s Schools means that, while good ideas and practices are evident in today’s schools, they are less likely to be shared (Wylie, 2012). Carpenter and Jaramillo (2013) list desirable attributes for teachers in low-SES communities. These include a strong sense of social justice, a preparedness to advocate, and willing participation in school communities.

With the assumption that all good teachers are learners themselves, the focus in the following section is on suggested PD for in-service, low-decile school teachers. The dialogical PD nurtures critical contextual and social understandings, along with hope and high expectations.

Professional Development for pedagogies of hope: dialogical PD

Dialogical methods, using bottom-up rather than top-down processes, have the potential to challenge perceptions, inform thinking, intellectualise work, and at the same time be political and empowering. In such programmes, Freire’s “words and worlds” are central, and theory and practice-based perceptions intermingle in collegial dialogue. Dialogical PD can feed the hearts and minds of teachers, and engender both agency and hope.

Teachers ideally are not technicians (Kincheloe, 2003; O’Neill, 2005). In most education systems they are hard-working and trusted professionals, and knowledgeable public intellectuals with a strong sense of social justice. Dialogical PD is predicated on such teachers working beside colleagues to develop and nurture hopeful dispositions, critical understandings and research-based strategies. Aspects of this form of PD are evident in some existing programmes (see Manaiakalini chapter, this text). What follows is a description of a dialogical form of PD, Te Whakapakari.

Te Whakapakari (dialogical PD)

Freire’s dialogical processes are fundamental to Te Whakapakari (Carpenter & McMurchy-Pilkington, 2007), the PD programme noted earlier in this chapter:

Dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s ‘depositing’ ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be ‘consumed’ by the participants in the discussion [Dialogue][/Dialogue] is an act of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one man [sic][/sic] by another. (Freire, 1972, pp. 61-62)

Mutual discussion is the heart of the method. Dialogue is simultaneously structured and creative. It is initiated and directed by a critical teacher but is democratically open to student intervention¦ dialogue is neither a freewheeling conversation nor a teacher-dominated exchange. Balancing the teacher’s authority and the students’ input is the key to making the process both critical and democratic. (Shor, 1992, pp. 85-86)

In Te Whakapakari, pedagogy is understood to be transformative action, resulting in learning, which is underpinned by a social justice philosophical positioning. Its PD both models a way of teaching and learning which can be adapted for the classroom, and involves groups of teachers and/or school leaders in forms of learning and critical reflection. The programme encompasses what has been somewhat lacking in PD for the past two decades: a high trust of teachers (a bottom-up rather than a top-down model), a respect for and valuing of teachers’ own knowledge, albeit practice- or research-based, and a high expectation of teachers’ willingness to access and take on board new and relevant knowledge and understandings.

Teachers work in small “learning circles” based within their own school or with colleagues from surrounding and similar schools. An ideal group size is up to 10 people. Initial facilitation by expert teachers already teaching, or who have taught successfully in low-decile schools, is vital. Facilitators access readings and experiences in the early stages, and they encourage and enable critical dialogue. For example, as pre-reading for the first session the facilitator might circulate Haberman’s (2010) “The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching”. Dialogue could centre on the relevance of the writer’s ideas for participants’ classrooms and communities. Discussion could include critique of the paper, and links to teachers’ pedagogical work. A further reading in the first session could be a newspaper article where the school community or education per se, in some way, is either praised, maligned or ignored. What matters are that those in the learning circle contribute in whatever way feels right for them (some may prefer to be silent), that words and worlds are shared, and that all are learners. From the initial session, those within the group begin to steer the direction. A series of sessions may be pre-planned, and in some cases meetings could evolve into weekly learning circles.

In an ideal scenario, the “leadership” of the learning circle can change from moment to moment – all are teachers and all are learners. Participants take their understandings, experiences, reflections and challenges to the circle. Through such processes, dispositions evolve, and a deeper understanding of the complexities of students’ and their own lives, and their possible agency within such situations becomes possible. This kind of PD can be only minimally planned in advance, and never in great detail. Every circle has its own histories and contexts, and different people bring unique understandings and experiences to the dialogue.

For instance a group in Circle A, after reading and discussing a range of readings and their own work-based issues, might become interested in research and theories relating to school/community links. The group might access readings such as Carpenter’s (2005) paper on Takiwa school and its playcentre-based initiative, Thrupp’s (2006) paper on policy and community challenges for NZ’s poorest children, McKinney’s Hokianga-based perceptions on whanaungatanga (this text), and Nakhid’s (2009) research on the meaning of family and home for young Pasifika people involved in gangs. In discussions, the group might critically reflect on: the writings and their authenticity; how well the research findings support the writers’ arguments; whose interests are served by the models advocated; what theories underpin the ideas; and how useful the messages are for their own practices in their environments at that time. Sharing of pedagogical practices and concerns will inevitably happen.

Circle B, after reading and discussing a range of readings and their own work-based issues, might decide to develop a deeper more critical understanding of the lives and languages of the Pasifika students who form a large percentage of their school populations. They might access readings such as Siope’s (2011) research report on the secondary schooling experiences of Pasifika students, Coleman’s (2011) paper about engaging secondary school Pasifika boys in drama, Mara’s critique of schooling for Pasifika (this text), or Mila’s (2013) chapter in Rashbrooke’s recent book. After some dialogue the group could decide to approach Pasifika networks for advice and guidance. Circle B’s PD could evolve into spending time at local markets and churches, or participating in community meetings. Essential are the dialogical discussions within the circle which enable participants to experience praxis – the critical merging of theory and practice. The circle meetings provide the opportunity to ask “so what?” and they enable the exploration of ideas in what should be a very safe environment.

In the final example, Circle C, after reading of some action research projects, might decide to look into action research as a method for enhancing their practice. Readings might include examining various action research projects as described in SET (NZCER research information for teachers) and other journals, for example Educational Action Research, plus readings related to action research methods and critical understandings. Examples might include Cardno’s (2003) study on a developmental approach to action research, McNiff, Lomax, & Whitehead’s (2003) guide to completing an action research project, the teachers as postgraduate researchers section from this text, and Carpenter and Cooper’s (2009) description of critical action research undertaken by the principal in an Auckland intermediate school. All do not have to be involved in a hands-on way in action research, but all are included in the dialogical discussions which surround the research processes, and critical reflections/theorising on research outcomes.

EEP (also dialogical PD)

The EEP research project is underpinned by ideas first formed in Te Whakapakari. The student research (data quoted throughout this chapter) was completed as course work in a postgraduate paper I developed at the Faculty of Education, in the University of Auckland. The Freirean-style dialogical classroom pedagogy is central to EEP’s success. Critical theory from “urban writers” such as Haberman, Thrupp, Freire, Roberts, Bourdieu, Vincent, Reay, Anyon, Kincheloe, Duncan-Andrade, Codd and Shor provides springboards for reflective discussions. Various invited speakers (for instance from Starpath, QPEC, Child Poverty Action Group [CPAG][/CPAG], Tapu Misa (New Zealand Herald journalist), low decile primary and secondary school teachers and principals, and the Education Review Office [ERO][/ERO]) enable critical and often practice-based insights. High numbers of course participants are Pasifika or Maori; all bring personal and experiential learning insights to share, and learning is collegial and empowering (for further discussion on dialogic pedagogy within the taught paper see Carpenter, 2010, 2011).

The popular and highly evaluated EEP postgraduate course is usually oversubscribed by primary and secondary school teachers and leaders and by other educators. Many course graduates continue on to thesis-based work concerning education and poverty (see Mansill, Maybury, Hards, and Longbottom, this text).

USA example of dialogical PD

Duncan-Andrade (2004) developed a similar form of teacher PD in the USA. His goals were urban teacher retention, and professional support and development. He described how seven teachers formed a critical teacher enquiry group and met bi-monthly. They used critical reflection, underpinned by shared readings in social and educational theory, to discuss and address school- and community-based issues of inequality and oppression. Dialogue was teacher-centred, and the teachers “pushed” each other to address issues.

According to Duncan-Andrade, the Left’s critique of education for those in poverty is not enough; accounts are published by the bourgeoisie (usually academics) who are too comfortable themselves and too far removed from the problems to really push for change. He argued instead for alternative, pragmatic and real alternatives.

In summary, Te Whakapakari and the EEP postgraduate course demonstrate that many NZ professionals hunger for theory and deep understandings, and opportunities to discuss, reflect on and address issues they face daily in their low-decile school environments. As is evident from all three descriptions above (including Duncan-Andrade), there is no one way to undertake dialogical PD. Each community of teachers will find its own best way forward. What is common in dialogical PD is the respect teachers and their knowledge/expertise are given, and the processes whereby teachers learn from theory, and from each other, in mutually respectful discussion.


Macro-level economic changes are long overdue in Aotearoa New Zealand; a much fairer distribution of the state’s resources is essential. This chapter suggests that macro-level equitable redistribution and well-resourced schools should, ideally, be combined with the pedagogies of intellectual teachers whose work is highly valued and supported through both generic and, especially, dialogical, forms of PD.

Collegiality and bottom-up dialogical PD can contribute opportunities to close cultural gaps, broaden and deepen cross-cultural understandings, enhance political understandings and empathies, improve teaching practice, and significantly raise teacher hopes and expectations. Dialogical PD is likely to enhance low-decile school teacher pedagogies; critical reflection can become even more vital to practice. Critically reflective teachers ask the “so what” question of all ideas, PD, policies, readings and interpretations. Readers of this chapter, for instance, might ask: Whose interests are served by dialogical PD? How relevant is it to NZ’s education system, or to my school and teaching? Could it be? Can I dialogue about the ideas in this chapter, read more widely, and then continue the dialogue? If the ideas seem viable, what adaptations/deletions/additions are required to make them work in my context? How will I know if what we are trying has worked? How can we share what we are doing? Dialogical PD can lead to teachers using more democratic and empowering practices in their classrooms (for examples, see Grant and Sleeter, 2009, and www.grassrootscurriculum.org). More inclusive practices and closer teacher/pupil/community relationships are likely to impact positively on student achievement.

Low-decile school teachers and leaders have every reason to take pride in their work; far more than what is asked of other teachers is asked of them, and far more is given. Teachers’ daily work in low-decile schools results in the development of skills and attributes which mean they are likely to be effective teachers in a wide range of contexts7. This situation is both a blessing and a curse, as arguably, the last thing low-decile schools need is to be a training ground for teachers who intend to move on.

The 12,000 hours pupils spend in compulsory schooling are even more precious when circumstances outside of school severely disadvantage large sections of the population. To date, carrots-and-sticks-style PD has had little positive effect on student achievement. Genuinely trusting and supporting teachers is more likely to engender pedagogies of hope, and higher achievement levels, in NZ’s low-decile schools. We are all in this together, whether we are students, politicians, academics, parents, BOT members, bureaucrats or teachers. We share deep concerns about the inequitable educational outcomes of children in poverty in our schools. What we do not share, sadly, is enough common ground on ways to best involve teachers as part of the solution. Pedagogies of hope emanate from teachers who are trusted, supported and empowered. Enabling dialogical PD is one way to do that.


The EEP data shared in this chapter was gathered by Postgraduate students in my Education and Empowerment classes, University of Auckland, 2010 and 2011. The data gathering and report writing were part of an assessment task. Our classes were modelled on Paulo Freire and Ira Shor’s approaches – dialogical discussions were central. My heartfelt thanks to all involved, I learned so much from you.


  1. Targeted Fund for Educational Achievement – an equity-based funding formula used by the Ministry of Education.
  2. See www.nzcer.org.nz/research/national-survey
  3. It could be argued that teachers are being encouraged to work in this way with the recent emphasis on national standards and formative testing.
  4. EEP research methods often mirrored those described in Linda Smith’s ‘Decolonizing methodologies’ (Smith, 1999).
  5. Statistics have been rounded to closest full percentage. Percentages do not add up to 100%: Asian, ‘other’, and ‘unknowns’ are not included. See www.educationcounts.govt.nz
  6. My twenty-plus years of teaching were mainly in low-decile schools. Most guests in my house were also visitors to my classrooms. Teachers in low-decile schools are very adept at accessing free or cheap resources for their classes.
  7. The corollary is not always true – successful teachers in mid- to high-decile schools often cannot successfully transfer their skills to the low-decile context.


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