This is the first blog post in our ‘governance as inquiry’ journey. I don’t know how many more there will be or exactly where we will end up – this is both an unnerving and exciting feeling as we move into the unknown…


During the last three years the Taupaki school board has focused on ensuring robust systems and structures were in place. This included the creation of a Governance Manual, a Work Plan and using modified ERO BAS assurance indicators as a way of ensuring compliance and quality policy delivery.

With good systems and structures in place and working well, we sought to look at how we could deepen our practice. We wanted to improve and deepen our curriculum reviews and self review. What we didn’t want was a tick box compliance method where standard industry questions were asked and existing evidence is found to show compliance. This type of review typically does not result in deep changes in practice, it often results in minor tweaks and more of the status quo.

I remembered a tweet from Claire Amos that said the words ‘governance as inquiry’. This provoked a lot of thought on how this might look and if we could use this idea to deepen our practice to benefit our students. The first question I asked myself was why inquiry? I believe inquiry is a method for delving deeper and pushing out of comfort zones.  Inquiry cycles pull focus and give process to asking good questions, using research to find answers and using information gathered to reflect and make changes to improve the way things are done. Teaching as inquiry is used to deepen reflective practice and so why not at governance level!

So the next step was to look at current inquiry methods. We looked at several including, spirals of inquiry, SOLO, Get it, Use it, Sort it and the HPSS Learning Design Model. The one we took the most inspiration from was the HPSS model and so I drafted a quick concept to take to the board. Taupaki school Governance inquiry model

This is a prototype which has gone out to staff for input and feedback. There will be many iterations as we get a handle on it and seek feedback from our community and other interest parties – this is our ‘rough first draft’.

At the centre of the inquiry cycle is the question “ how will this action help our students?”.  This comes from our belief that at the heart of of all we do are our children and our people. Lifting student achievement and cultivating a nurturing, inclusive and collaborative environment must always be at the forefront of our minds.

The first circle is named INQUIRE This is where questions are formulated and the focus of the review or activity is defined. For us we would be drawing on our vision documents as well as the NZ curriculum.

The next circle is FRAME This is where the purpose is defined and what methods we will be using to collect data and the voice of our community.

The next circle is GATHER This is where all the information is gathered (data, research etc..)

Next is ANALYSE This is where information is sifted, sorted and made sense of by reflecting on the the first two circles.

Next is SYNTHESIZE This is where findings are discussed, conclusions drawn and next steps proposed.

The next circle is SHARE This is where we share what we have learnt with all stakeholders.

Share feeds into the next circle which is REFLECT This is where we reflect on what has changed as a result of our actions. Is there a need for continuous action (prototyping) or are we happy with the changes? What did we do well (what worked) and what did not work so well?

Reflect then feeds back into INQUIRE because we want to use our past experiences to inform our future actions. Sometimes the inquiry will be small and sometimes it will need to be big and we use past action in this area to determine the need and focus of the next inquiry.

Each circle will need to be fleshed out more and unpacked. There will need to be a shared understanding of the wording and above all it needs to be practical and functional to give rise to school wide improvement.

At the moment we are starting small and focusing on using governance as inquiry for our reviews in our Work Plan. This includes curriculum review and how we review ourselves. In self review we are thinking of inquiry over a year long period. One idea the board is looking into is an inquiry around community engagement and collaboration. How this will look will need to be unpacked in our meetings set aside for strategic thinking in our Work Plan.  Our next steps will be looking at how can we embed inquiry into all our practices, including our approach to policy.

One of the challenges we will face is time because good inquiry takes time and we cannot presuppose the questions that will be asked and the outcomes we will get. As a board we need to be flexible, responsive and able to adapt to change. We will need to accept that there will be failure and we will need to be creative with problem solving.  We will need to be collaborative, we can’t do this alone, we need all stakeholders to come on board. We give thanks to Claire Amos, Stephen Lethbridge, Andrea Wylie & Rebbecca Sweeney for the critical conversations had so far – We value collaboration and any suggestions!


12. March 2014 · 4 comments · Categories: Opinion

When the word hacker is mentioned it often conjures up the image of a nerd gone bad breaking into computers and stealing data. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hacker as: “hack·er noun \ˈha-kər\computers : a person who secretly gets access to a computer system in order to get information, cause damage, etc. : a person who hacks into a computer system”. 

 Photo by Adam Thomas

Photo by Adam Thomas

When you look further down at the full definition of hacker one of the definitions reads: “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer”. It is this definition that I want to stretch out and expand on.  In a blog post on innovation reflections from ICOT I suggested that in order to be innovative we could explore developing a hacker mindset.  What I meant by that is students developing skills and dispositions to find workarounds for existing systems – it is a way of thinking that is opposite to the traditional ‘create from ground up’ and is more ‘top down’.  Top down involves breaking things apart which allows a person to gain a deeper understanding of how things work, which in turns allows them to use these things in new ways that were not originally intended. A good example of top down and finding workarounds to existing systems is Johnny Lee, who turned a $40 video game controller into a digital whiteboard, a touchscreen and a head-mounted 3-D viewer.  The TED talk: Free or cheap Wii Remote hacks shows the potential of the hacker mindset when used for creating and not damaging.

The future will a be planet that has less resources and more demands upon it. Having people in it that are innovative and have extreme problem solving skills will be a useful asset for future generations. I don’t think hacking should be solely synonymous with computing either.  The term Life Hack emerged around 2005 and refers to solving problems in non-obvious ways.  In April 2013 a New Zealand initiative called Lifehack ran a weekend where a bunch of lifehackers used their skills to create new technologies and media solutions to tackle mental health. This isn’t the only place where the hacker mindset is being used to create new and innovative ways of doing things.  The leadership team at  Hobsonville Point Secondary School spent numerous hours hacking the NZ curriculum resulting in an exciting new approach to schooling. You can read more here.

I also like Zarino Zappia’s take on hacking that has hints of challenge and persistence in it:  “hacker /ˈhækər/ n.  A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. […] One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations”.

So I would like to propose another definition of what a hacker is: A person who changes existing systems in any field by using extreme problem solving skills that result in new and better ways of doing things.

It is a shame the term ‘hacking’ has such nefarious connotations when it can also have such productive and creative outcomes.  We shouldn’t be scared to teach our kids how to think outside the box by employing some of the thinking skills displayed by hackers.  We encourage our children to be creative by ‘building and inventing’ but I think there is a lot to learn from breaking things down and figuring out how stuff works by finding alternative access to seemingly impenetrable things. What if hacking looked like this:

Photo by Peter Huynh

Photo by Peter Huy

At Taupaki school the year 7 and 8’s are using Hackasaurus as part of their digital citizenship focus. This is a great proactive approach to guiding students to hack in responsible productive ways to produce creative outcomes.

A hacker mindset is another tool in the thinking tool box. Hacking is being creative – it is being innovative – it is extreme problem solving.  It takes persistence and courage to keep playing, tinkering and trying different things until something works – that is the hacker mindset.