Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Today as I was trolling through the National Party  website, as you do, I notice that the Right Honourable Hekia Parata is sending a delegation of New Zealand educationalists to Asia. “In anticipation of hosting the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in 2014 I have asked the delegation to investigate the characteristics of these top performing systems, and report on what can be learned, and what might be applicable to the New Zealand context,” says Ms Parata. (full article
I am prepared to take a few risks when I say “good on you Hekia”, seriously I mean it.  She does mention that NZ has a good track record on the world stage with reading and literacy. She says we cannot become complacent and that our system is not performing well for everyone, particularly our Maori and Pacifica boys.  No surprises there Hekia! Having identified that we do have issues and wanting to do something about it is the most admirable position and in my opinion to be commended.
Where I believe we run into trouble is in the professional learning system that our Ministry of Education is overseeing. It’s just not working.
Over the past 7 years I have been involved with the teaching of oral language in a variety of contexts. Most recently in the development and implementation of the TalKit Oral Language Programme for Primary Schools.  While my business is privately owned we have worked hard to get the programme running successfully in 15 schools throughout NZ, which is a great start.
So what do we know after 2 years of working in schools-
·         Oral Language is the cornerstone of literacy.  James Britton (1983) put it so eloquently, "Reading and writing float on a sea of talk". Talk-Read-Write is the progression. 
·         Teachers are struggling to find time in the day to explicitly teach oral language.
·         Teachers are under pressure to deliver to national standards in literacy and while oral language does feature in the curriculum document they just don’t know what to do.
·         Teachers do not know how to assess oral language.
·         The vast majority of schools do not report on oral language to parents.
·         Many kids are starting school with an acquired language age of 3 years. Ask any new entrant teacher.
·         Talk in the homes is on the decrease.  We talk about the importance of books in homes, what about talk in homes. Positive, constructive and meaningful talk. It’s on the decline in all socio economic areas.
·         Highest at risk are kids from marginalised homes and boys. Our system struggles to teach oral language and this impacts on their literacy development.
·         The Ministry of Education fund 5% of the primary population with assisted Speech Language Therapy. I have seen first-hand some kids waiting up to 6 months to be assessed once they start school.  Speech Languages Therapists have huge workloads.
·         There are hundreds of oral language teachers throughout NZ with the skills to work in schools and to support teachers but many of them are not recognised by the MOE.
·         Oral language skills improve thinking and problem solving ability.
·         Oral language skills build better citizens, it keeps kids out of jails!
The TalKit Oral Language Programme is working and to see what teachers are saying in our TalKit Schools check out this link
So herein lies the frustration..
FACT: I have contact the MOE via as many avenues as I can possibly consider and have had not success in getting so much as a response.  I was referred by a colleague to Dr Janne van Hees at Auckland University and  did meet with her. From my perspective Dr van Hess is doing an admirable job in the area of oral language research and has written a resource call “Expanding Oral Language in the Classroom” but is there professional development available?  Apparently there were limited workshops in the North Island in 2008. Anything current…who knows!
FACT: I have received dozens of expressions of interest in the programme from schools. Considering we have marketed in a small target area (lower North Island and part of Auckland) this has indicated the need for such a programme.
FACT: Out of these expressions of interest, only 15 schools have managed to find the funding to implement this programme.
FACT: School leaders, trust boards and teachers all recognise the importance of oral language as a keystone to educational success.
FACT: When asked why they were not able to go ahead all schools (without exception) stated lack of budget as the reason. (note: the programme is not expensive, schools don’t have the budget for anything much) the majority of professional development comes from the Ministry contracts (these are the only option for many schools who are not capable of raising funds by other means). That means choose a MOE funded programme or nothing.
FACT: The Ministry of Education does not presently have any oral language specific professional development available to schools in NZ (see
FACT: As a private educational venture, it is very difficult (impossible) to access Ministry of Education Professional Development Funding for a programme such as the TalKit Oral Language.  It is impossible to even try and talk to anyone in the Ministry about this- dead ends at every corner. It appears to be a closed shop.
FACT: The MOE are restricting schools abilities to choose programmes and providers that suit the needs of their students and communities. Why-who knows! Dame Wendy Pye of the Sunshine Book empire which provides educational resources worldwide says “the Ministry of Education (in NZ) seems to see me as a threat, to be honest with you, it’s a joke. I’ve submitted multiple papers and proposals backed up by conclusive research, but they don’t want to know. They fob me off with ‘Dear John’ letters, which say things like ‘thanks for your interest, but our contracts have already been fulfilled’ or they fail to respond. In doing so, they’re closing a door on our children and young adults. That would never happen in America”
FACT: The USA, Australia and many other countries around the world are happy to allow private professional learning providers and resources into the market. Wendy Pye- “In America, government bodies and private enterprise work co-operatively to provide the best solutions. Here, it’s a different story. People go on and on about poor levels of literacy and numeracy, particularly in certain sectors, but they don’t take responsibility. They expect the government to sort things out and are suspicious of private enterprise.”
The current government has invested millions supporting research and development across many sectors. It is frustrating to see educational entrepreneurs stonewalled and pushed offshore when we have such need here in NZ.  Our tangata whenua have an oral language history and while we work hard on our commitment educating all NZ’ers, without explicit oral language teaching in our schools we are doing a gross injustice to our kura and the treaty itself. Our focus should be on giving our students a voice. 
As a nation we have the ability, the professionals and the expertise to deliver an education that is second to none. The dozens of classrooms that I have worked in show me that we have dedicated teachers and leaders who want access to the tools to provide the education we desire for our kids. The politics and the bureaucrats are  in the way!
So what about Hekia’s delegation to Asia? Well, if I was a betting woman I would put high odds on them observing-
1.       Private educational enterprise working alongside state systems for the benefit of everyone.
2.       Oral language as a key competency in all classrooms. That the education providers of Singapore and Hong King recognise it as the cornerstone of all learning.
The cynic in my thinks that these things won’t be included in the report back to the Minister. 
It’s time that meaningful, appropriate and collaborate professional development started to support our education system in NZ.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Public Speaking the USA Way
By Del Costello
As private teachers we have a broad range of skills that we need to cover in our curriculum. The art of public speaking here in NZ is not nearly as popular as the drama class but we all know, in most cases that public speaking is a life skill that will help our students stand out from the crowd, now and in the future.
My 2013 search for professional development lead me to the National Speakers Association Convention in Philadelphia, USA. 
The National Speakers Association (NSA) is the premier organization for professional speakers. Since 1973, NSA has provided the most comprehensive resources and education designed to advance the skills, integrity and value of its members and the speaking profession.  With over 1300 delegates at the convention this year, delegates ranged from authors, to motivators, to sports people, actors….you name it they were there. What we all had in common is that we are paid to speak.  Key note speakers, trainers, presenters, tv and radio personalities all turned out to extend their professional learning.  The NSA has four key competencies:
  • Eloquence – The art of speaking and the use of powerful and persuasive presentations. This means creating the proper setting for an effective presentation as well as the concrete skills related to presenting, performing and theatrical methods.
  • Expertise – The knowledge, skills and experience in a specific area. Speakers should know which body of expertise is ideal for them and be able to effectively research and develop their content.
  • Enterprise – The purposeful undertaking of a successful speaking business venture. This includes business management, sales and marketing knowledge, as well as the skills necessary to generate income through speaking engagements and other revenue streams.
  • Ethics – The principles or standards governing the conduct of those in the speaking profession. Ethics is the foundation and summation of the three other competencies. It is about who you are as a person — both personally and professionally – and encompasses your reputation, character and integrity.  
In total there were over 150 learning opportunities, daily key note addresses, and many opportunities for serious networking.
Over the 6 days I attended a fantastic range of sessions and in the next few CUE publications I will share with you just some of what I have encountered.
Philadelphia is a long way from Palmerston North and I can honestly say that I was quite apprehensive. I was travelling for 3 days around the other side of the world solo to a convention of huge proportions. I knew no one and this stretched me to say the least.  I certainly need not have worried.  The trip was enjoyable and there are many benefits of travelling solo (compared to travelling with my tribe of a family it was a breeze).
Once at the Convention I was warmly welcomed by everyone.  Even if I had wanted to, it would have been impossible to go under the radar.  Everyone were so interested in each other.  I meet some of the most amazing people. A Mormon woman from Salt Lake City who was a famous inspirational speaker, a guy who wrote “Facebook for Dummies” and many more.  Networking was number one and it did lead me to ponder a comparison of attending such an event solo in NZ. I am certain it would be a challenge to meet so many new people and if you wanted, I think you could go a whole 5 days in NZ without meeting someone new.  Networking does not come naturally to many kiwis- a lesson we could take from the Americans. “The power is in the people”

Convention Center-Marriot Hotel, Philadelphia

The technology was amazing!

Not much time for sightseeing so just a few famous spots.
I did meet the two other New Zealanders at the convention-lovely, motivational ladies who make a great living in NZ and Australia speaking.  The NZ Chapter of the NSA is an active organisation and I will be looking at joining next year.
The other big difference I noted about the convention was the willingness and openness when it comes to sharing personal intellectual property.  The sessions were practical, real and engaging.  I got an insight into a White House speech writers secrets, the low down on media interview from a consultant to some very big names- she comes with a very big price tag….just to name some examples of those willing to give away their knowledge.
I asked one presenter about the reasoning behind the open approach to sharing and the response was “We share, the industry grows, we all do better, end of story. Why wouldn’t you?”.
In NZ we are more cautious about sharing our knowledge and I think it does hold us back.
Six intense days in the USA had been a highlight in my life time of professional learning.  I have joined the NSA (international) and subscribed to “The Speaker”magazine.  The 2014 Convention is in San Diego California- here’s hoping I can make it!
On the last day if Philly I spent the day at the String Theory Performing Arts Charter School. Thanks to Twitter for putting me in contact with the CEO of the education organisation.  I spent the morning with the Principal and her junior team while they were planning (it was summer vacation so no kids). Had a tour of the school and lunch with the senior managers.  A revolutionary approach to education that means they have 1200 students and a huge waitlist. This is not a fee paying school and they are opening a high school in 2014.  Check out  From my observations this was a charter schools success story.
Once again, thank you Deidre Snedden and the Trustees-another opportunity provided by your legacy.  I will be sharing knowledge with all our members in CUE and at other PDS opportunities.
“We share, the industry grows, we all do better, end of story. Why wouldn’t you?”