Wendy is the Director of the Educational Leadership Project (Ltd), a professional learning provider for the early childhood sector in New Zealand. Wendy has been involved in early childhood education (ECE) field over the last 45 years as a teacher, tutor, lecturer, manager, professional development facilitator and researcher.
Wendy has collaborated with Professor Margaret Carr on a number of research projects including:
During this period she was Co Director with Margaret of the National Early Childhood Assessment and Learning Exemplar Project that developed the Kei Tua o te Pae books on assessment for learning for the NZ early childhood sector.
Wendy has a deep interest in curriculum, advocacy and leadership issues in ECE. She is very enthusiastic about the power of documentation to strengthen the learner identity of children and is passionate about the importance of the outdoors for all children.
She has presented at conferences on ECE curriculum, leadership and learning stories throughout the world, including the Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Japan, Iceland, Belgium, the USA, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia and Sweden. Wendy has been working with teachers and government officials all over the world, sharing the work of New Zealand early childhood teachers for over a decade.
As an indication of this work, over the past two years Wendy has worked in the following places:
During this period she also provided several keynotes and lectures in New Zealand including:
Wendy believes that at the heart of teaching are relationships. Te Whāriki states this as a central principle and goes on to describe, within Ngā Hononga (Relationships), the following: ‘Adults provide encouragement, warmth, and acceptance. They also provide challenges for creative and complex learning and thinking, helping children to extend their ideas and actions through sensitive, informed, well-judged interventions and support.’
A successful, accepting teaching approach through relationship building may be a main foundation to optimising a child’s learning environment, but Wendy also believes that teachers must reflect upon and understand themselves in order to succeed. How do we ensure that, as individuals, our power as a teacher/educator is optimised? What do we need to do to ensure that we are the best we can be? Wendy is interested in exploring what it means to be a teacher and encourages teachers to explore what theories influence their practice and whether they use these in an intentional way. Understanding our own pedagogy, our beliefs and values, and how these are constantly influencing our teaching, is in Wendy’s opinion central to the inspirational teacher. She has recently co-authored a book on Te Whariki entitled: Understanding the Te Whariki Approach: Early Years Education in Practice.
Leadership and Organisational Culture
The literature on leadership is vast and the question has often been asked “what do leaders need to know?” Wendy has discussed this question with many teachers and has come up with some powerful indicators of strong and rich learning communities that she believes strongly impact on the leadership in an early childhood setting. She believes we need committed and responsive leaders at all levels and we should be concerned with both personal and professional qualities to meet the challenges ahead. In summary some of her ideas are:
Conjure up close collaboration and partnerships in your early childhood setting and recognize the importance of teacher presence. Transform relationships with children, parents and teachers to make them reciprocal, authentic and effective.
An organisation is strengthened when everyone feels there is a strong sense of moral purpose (courage, justice, caring and excellence). Many teachers enter teaching because of strong altruistic goals to make a difference in children’s lives
Change the organizational culture of your early childhood setting with a strong focus on positivity. Nurture children’s, parents and teachers passions taking account of the holistic nature of learning and teaching. Above all, experience joy!
Leaders who are eloquent, persuasive, strong, energetic and willing to contribute to the community nurture democracy and create social justice. It is important that every teacher, child and parent find their ‘voice’. Every teacher, child and parent has the right to be engaged in leadership.
Wendy believes that we now need to bring magic into every early childhood setting, more than ever before. We need to articulate and make visible our morals and ethics in our efforts to make a difference for children and families. We need to have the courage to mobilize our ideas and the value of learning in the wider community and we should take the risk to be playful and promote merriment. These attributes are needed to build communities where people are encouraged by shared spirit, passion and effort to be the very best they can be and to realize possibilities they have never imagined.
Learning Stories (Assessment and Planning) and Communities of Practice
Learning Stories are a philosophy for assessment, not a format! They provide a valuable opportunity to document and weave connections from prior experiences to future learning, and form most of the content of children’s portfolios in New Zealand early childhood settings. Wendy has written for and talked with teachers in many countries about the value of Learning Stories as a mode of formative assessment. Learning Stories show progress and make learning visible to the child, the family and the teaching community. They also explore how to document children's learning in a way that is meaningful, effective, and inclusive so that it makes a real difference. As a celebration of children's learning, ELP has found that Learning Stories are fit for purpose! Wendy has co-authored a book on Learning Stories with Margaret Carr “Learning Stories: Constructing Learner identity in the early years”.
In February 2017, based on readers' feedback, major educational book publishers' recommendations and a group of expert judges' opions, two of the books that Wendy has co-authored were chosen to be translated into Chinese. Click here to read more.
Learning Stories have provided teachers in New Zealand with many rewarding and effective ways to help children and their families see and participate in the learning process, and also provide the trace of the teacher’s professional life. It is a privilege to enter children’s lives in this way and also to document their learning in ways that will ensure that the stories hold the test of time. These are stories that will be read not only by children and their families now and in the future, but also by future generations who will witness the joy of their forebearers’ learning lives through writing and reflection. Learning Stories provide a richness of opportunity on so many levels to strengthen the identity and competence of the learner (children and teachers).
In Kei Tua o te Pae – Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars (Carr, Lee and Jones 2005, 2007, 2009), Wendy collaboratively wrote about some very important elements that teachers need to reflect upon and consider when writing Learning Stories to record and assess children’s learning. These elements provide useful guidelines for helping teachers to deepen and strengthen their writing of Learning Stories. Discussions on the elements of Learning Stories in a collaborative group of teachers is recommended as a powerful source for reflection, growth and change.
Here are some starter questions to ponder that consider these elements of Learning Stories:
- Does my Learning Story include clear goals and enhance the child’s motivation to learn?
- Is the Learning Story about learning that is embedded in everyday contexts?
- As a writer of Learning Stories, do I acknowledge uncertainty about the child’s learning?
- Does my Learning Story document collective and individual enterprises?
- As a writer of Learning Stories, have kept a view of learning as complex and is this complexity visible?
- Is my Learning Story in harmony with the principles of our curriculum?
- Are my Learning Stories making visible the culture of the child and the multicultural nature of our community?
- Do I provide opportunities for the children and their families to contribute to their Learning Stories and the assessment process, reflecting and strengthening inclusion?
Learning Stories provide powerful pathways to engage everyone - children, parents, teachers, and the wider community - providing opportunities for the community of practice to become more strongly interconnected through narrative assessment and working as a collaborative team. There are both expected and unexpected outcomes when the whole community works together creating, contributing, communicating, and collaborating. Assessment can contribute powerfully to these reciprocal relationships that enrich teaching as learning journeys. Wendy believes assessment practice has the capability to not only improve learning opportunities for children but to potentially change the culture of early childhood centres and communities.
Wendy wants to share some of the practical strategies developed by teachers throughout New Zealand and around the world, which are now changing the landscape of connections across early childhood communities. Communities of practice are being nourished with ideas and reflections that build a commitment to each other and bring into view the power of listening deeply; being present; and creating opportunities to connect, communicate, and contribute.
Stories of Interest/Planning Stories
Wendy is very interested in how Stories of Interest/Planning Stories can provide robust, documented evidence of teaching and learning outcomes in an interesting and accessible way. Wendy is committed to looking closely at planning in this way for individual children, as well as groups of children. She has a deep interest in the development of both 'Stories of Interest' and 'Planning Stories' which draw together Learning Stories, teacher reflection and intentions, community involvement, child, parent and family voice into powerful documentation which provide rich information to grow a community and also provide effective accountability.
Wendy is passionate about Nature Education and how we go about capturing the spirit of the outdoors through our documentation. It is a time of crisis not only for the global world in terms of its environment but also, much closer to home, for our youngest citizens. Many ECE environments currently lack connection with nature and ‘beyond-the-gate’ is not explored, however, children who do not experience nature and the outdoors are very unlikely to develop an affinity for and protect the environment in the future.
Some years ago, John Bennett from OECD said ‘do not steal the childhood of the child’. For many, these words have clearly not been heard. Today’s children are largely imprisoned and institutionalised in many early childhood institutions that lack connection with nature on many levels. The culture of some settings are dominated by routines and rigid schedules, the environments are largely plastic and unimaginative. Many adults today have experienced childhoods that involved roaming our communities and exploring the natural environment, experiencing joy, wonder and delight as they freely engaged in the environment. These opportunities are not available for so many children today as irrational fear becomes a dominant discourse in raising children and screens have replaced the outdoors.
It is now well evidenced in research that children who spend time in the outdoors perform better educationally, not just in the traditional subjects of reading and mathematics but also well beyond this into the areas of life long learning. They get excited and energized about learning when exposed to the outdoors.
Leaders therefore have a responsibility to be powerful advocates for reconnecting children the outdoors. One of the most effective ways of doing this is day-to-day documentation of a learning setting’s activity. Wendy believes that Learning Story philosophy provides a powerful vehicle to not only build the learner identity of the child, but to create opportunities to be a powerful advocate for the outdoors.
Empathy and Social Competence
Current research indicates that the children around the world are less empathic today and this has huge ramifications for their learning and for humanity. Teachers and educators now need to provide children with opportunities to develop and strengthen dispositions like empathy as part of the pedagogical outcomes in early childhood settings. Wendy endorses the use of documentation and Learning Stories to advocate and strengthen these qualities in children’s lives, as well as the revisiting of this documentation by the learning community.
Assessment cannot only influence children’s empathy and thereby strengthen their social emotional and relational dispositions in early childhood settings, but also has the power to strengthen children’s identity around empathy and improve social competence.
A Growth Mindset – Learn it! Live it! Teach it!
For some the opportunity to explore the the impact of Carol Dweck's work on pedagogical practice will be an illuminating experience. For others it is an opportunity to revisit and deepen understandings, to look thoughtfully at the ways in which you can ensure that the work of Carol Dweck is impacting not only on the lives of children but also life as a teacher and mentor. Wendy is very interested in the work of Carol Dweck who so eloquently says "A growth mindset educator is someone who portrays skills to the children as acquirable, is someone who values passion, effort, improvement, not just natural talent. They are people who present themselves as mentors and collaborators with their children and not someone who judges who are the clever ones and who are not."
At the same time Wendy likes to explore some of the potential disadvantages of such views and the implications of Carol Dweck’s work. For example Alfie Kohn once wrote the remarkable book Punished by Rewards (Kohn, 1993). In this book, he demonstrates that using rewards to get something done from people is often ineffective and even harmful and sums up ways in which praising people can be detrimental to performance. Alfie Kohn also discusses the potential risk of teachers focussing on the individual entirely instead of addressing the wider structural issues. For example, does the environment provide ‘something of interest’ for the child; are their deeply interested adults in this environment etc.
Is ICT a help or a hindrance to assessment in ECE?
Wendy is a passionate advocate for e-portfolios and paper-based portfolios because of her long involvement with Learning Stories (Carr & Lee, 2012). She believes both e-portfolios and paper-based portfolios are essential, but for different reasons. Paper-based portfolios are critical for young children, whereas e-portfolios are primarily for adults (i.e. parents and whānau). The idea of having just an e-portfolio for young children in early childhood settings is, in Wendy’s opinion, wrong and a cave-in to slick marketing and cost-saving. She believes it indicates little thought about the implications for children and their learning and diminishes the documentation of children’s learning lives through paper-based portfolios which have the power to support and construct learner identity. Developing processes that hold the test of time are important and paper-based portfolios do this. Both paper-based or a e-based portfolios are useful, but written, paper-based portfolios can be expected to promote language, build identity and endure.
Wendy is also deeply interested in developing documentation that is central to building the learner identity of the child. This is not achieved when documentation is carried out primarily to meet accountability measures. Sometimes technology hinders engagement and deep connections. i.e. Are e-Portfolios are dumbing down or enhancing roles as a thoughtful and reflective professional teachers? Has the dangers of technology for very young children been considered? Only focused and thoughtful pedagogical documentation will make a difference to the child’s learning life. If the documentation is reflective and makes visible the learning of the child, then Wendy believes it will have the potential to meet many accountability requirements while also building learner identity.
Wendy believes it is also becoming increasingly important that we make visible the joy, wonder and magic we experience as teachers to children and their families. We need to consider our moral and ethical responsibilities as we strive to make a difference for these learning communities. It will be the courage of teachers and those working directly with children that will ensure that not only are the wider values of education protected, but that everyone in the learning community has opportunities to be the very best they can be and thereby realizing possibilities that may be unimagined in the past.
Being an activist: Testing times in ECE
Wendy believes that, at a time when the NZ Government is challenging practices around assessment, it is vital that early childhood professionals are both informed and articulate about the issues of testing and how this might impact on children’s learning lives.
There is no question that assessment shapes how children see themselves and how they learn. Assessment also has an important role in building children’s learner identities. The OECD is now pushing for even younger children to be tested and baby PISA is under active development through a Field Study. Many countries have rejected participation in this Study and its development will therefore begin with just the USA and UK being involved. However, the OECD had hoped for 3 to 6 countries for the Field Study and so it seems clear that there will be a future drive to bring many more OECD countries into the Baby PISA fold.
We all need to examine the issues involved in this development and think about both the purposes and consequences of our assessment practice. This is a time when we should both share information about the current development of Baby PISA and also explore key ideas around formative assessment, keeping the principles of Te Whāriki in view as a crucial lens through which every NZ early childhood professional lives. It is imperative that teachers and managers of early childhood settings are able to inform those within their communities about these critical elements of education and especially the role of assessment in the development of children’s learning.