Opportunity to learn: a collaborative learning community

Published: 04 Sep 2017
Professional capability
Evaluation indicators
Equitable outcomes
Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua


“You can be wrong…quite often the misconceptions that we have are the misconceptions that the children can have in their learning.”

In improving the teaching and learning of mathematics, leaders and teachers are working to develop safe, collaborative environments where every learner (teachers and students) can access the thinking of others to strengthen their knowledge and understanding.

Key messages:

  • Building relational trust enables teachers and students to develop the confidence to acknowledge learning needs and seek help
  • Encouraging questioning and challenging of one another within a collaborative learning community builds confidence as mathematicians
  • Teacher only sessions are supported by in class interactive mentoring with the children
  • Students value seeing teachers working to improve their practice

Things to think about:

  • How well does the interpersonal environment, and approaches to professional learning, support the development of deep understanding and changes in practice?
  • What else needs to happen?

The evaluation indicators this video illustrates

  • Domain 5: Professional capability and collective capacity 
    • Evaluation indicators
      • Systematic, collaborative inquiry processes and challenging professional learning opportunities align with the school vision goals and targets
      • Organisational structures, processes and practices enable and sustain collaborative learning and decision making  
  • Domain 2: Leadership for equity and excellence
    • Evaluation indicator  
      • Leadership builds relational trust and effective collaboration at every level of the school community

This video is part of a series

This video is part of the series Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua. We created this series to inspire schools with examples of success in action. These examples highlight the benefits of fulfilling the evaluation indicators we use to review schools.

Remote video URL

(The video opens on a close-up of a pair of hands as they point at a maths problem on a piece of paper. Text along the bottom of the screen reads, “Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities”. The camera then zooms out to show their owner, a boy in a school uniform, sitting at a table with several other students. A teacher leans over him to see, and the boy speaks.)


If you did anything more than 1, like 2, it would go into the 70s.

And then—


(The camera zooms in on the boy's face as the teacher replies.)



(The camera zooms back out to show the teacher, then shows several other students working and talking amongst themselves.)

I like the way that you've used your number knowledge and your number sense to eliminate that number, yeah?


(The boy points at the piece of paper with the maths problems as he explains to the teacher.)

I thought about going 2 and 6.


(The teacher walks away from them as he responds.)

Cool. Looks like you guys are on the right track.


(The teacher speaks in voiceover as we see him approach another group of students.)

When we walk in on the first day of the year,


(As he says “thinks” the video now shows him sitting along in a classroom, speaking into the camera. A large world map lined the wall behind him. Text along the bottom of the screen reads, “Ryan King, Teacher, Otumoetai Intermediate School”.)

I say to them: who thinks they're good at maths? And you'll have a splattering of hands go up, but the majority will keep their hands down.


(His voiceover continues as the video returns to the classroom, zooming in on a boy as he works. As he says “realising” the camera shifts to show a close-up of Ryan’s face.)

And it is trying to motivate the students into realising: actually, I can do this.


(Pointing at the papers on the table, Ryan speaks to the students.)

Cool. Well done. Good listening.


(The camera returns to Ryan against the map, closing-up on his face. As he says “share” it returns to the classroom, where the class watches as a boy writes on the whiteboard. It zooms in on him.)

The beauty of the way we do maths currently is that when students share, other students are able to challenge them.


(We see a girl at the back of the class say something to the boy.)

They generally will stop them and say: look, I don't understand that, or: I don't agree.


(The camera shows the boy at the whiteboard once again as a child’s voice speaks in voiceover, then zooms out to show Ryan at the back on the glass say something to him. As the voice says “question” we see the speaker, a young boy standing outside against a backdrop of green leaves.)

Instead of doing independent work you're, like, as a group - and if you're stuck you can ask your group mates questions that you don't understand about it.


(The video cuts to a girl speaking into the camera.)

When you ask the question, then your group can explain to you what's going on.


(Another girl now speaks with the green leaves behind her.)

I'm quite used to it, because we always do it all the time in class.

So I am comfortable with asking others for help.


(We return to the first boy against the leaves. As he says “found” the camera changes back to the classroom, where a girl now writes on the whiteboard in front of the class.)

At the end when you've got the answer, you feel pretty good and you've found a new strategy of working it out.


(A woman’s voice now speaks over the scene as the rest of the class listens to the girl in front of them.)

The mathematical knowledge is improving, but we did have a lot of staff who hid it.


(As she says “can’t” the video shifts to show the speaker, who sits in an office front of a bookcase filled with documents as she speaks into the camera. Text along the bottom of the screen reads, “Lynne Hutchinson, Deputy Principal, Otumoetai Intermediate School”.)

But in actual fact, in the mathematical learning community you can't hide it.


(As she says “discussions” we return to the classroom, where Ryan now sits with a group of other adults.)

It becomes very obvious and very evident through the teacher contributions to the children's discussions, that their knowledge is not where it needs to be.


(Ryan speaks in voiceover, as the camera zooms in on his face at the meeting.)

What we're trying to do in our meetings is to build the confidence as mathematicians.


(His voice continues as the camera pans across the people sitting near him. A woman gestures with a pen in her hand and she speaks.)

We go through pretty much the same process as the students may go through, in that we'll break it down.


(The woman writes something down as Ryan says something we can’t hear. As his voiceover says “how” the camera shifts back to him speaking into the camera in front of the map.)

We'll look at every possibility as to how the students may respond to that question.


(We are now back with Lynne in the office.)

It took a long time, and we knew the teachers who were not saying: no, I don't understand. But then we did have of a couple who started to do that. Who felt safe enough to say: look, Ryan, I don't understand what you're talking about and you need to go back and explain that.


(We return to Ryan in front of the map. As he says “other people” we return to the meeting where three adults sit together talking amongst themselves.)

Initially, it's quite hard for some people to show that they're not as clued up as other people, but there's always one or two people that are willing to just put themselves out there.


(The camera pans across the table to where Ryan and three others sit on the other side. He reaches across the table. It then cuts to a woman writing as others watch and listen. Ryan then says something to the group as he writes something down.)

And over time, they get more and more confident asking questions about things they're not sure of, things that they may need to know to get the lesson prepared, or even deliver that lesson.


(The video returns to Lynne as she speaks to the camera. As she says “mathematical” we see the meeting again where a woman speaks as she writes something on the paper in front of her.)

I think that is huge for a teacher to admit that their mathematical knowledge is not where it needs to be.


(A man’s voice takes over the voiceover. At the meeting the camera zooms in on Ryan’s face.)

Ryan really encourages an environment where you can be wrong.


(The people on the other side of the table speak among themselves as a man writes something. As the voice says “because” we see the speaker, the man who was writing, sitting somewhere with educational posters behind him. Text along the bottom of the screen reads, “Jonathan Bull, Teacher, Otumoetai Intermediate School”.)

And that's going to help us out a lot with our planning, because quite often the misconceptions that we have are misconceptions that the children will have in their learning, so that really helps us break it down even further.


(As he says “break it down” the scene changes back to the meeting, the camera panning across the participants. They laugh at something.)

And it's just really encouraging that all the other teachers-- nobody's pointing fingers if somebody is wrong. It's almost encouraged that you let people know, so it's quite natural.


(We close-up on a man’s face as Ryan speaks in voice-over. The camera then pans over the meeting once more.)

The predominant technique is to use things like: oh, you don't seem convinced. Can you explain what we've just talked about?


(Ryan is once again in front of the map wall.)


Just like we would do with the kids.


(The camera returns to Lynne in the office.)


He's actually becoming quite skilled at doing that, because quite often good mathematicians-- and our kids are the same-- when you say: why have you done that? They say: I don't know. Just because.


(Lynne’s voiceover continues as we now see her at another meeting in a room with graphs covering most of the walls. She flips through a booklet on the table in front of her.)


It makes sense.


(The camera pans across the table as people discuss something, one woman writing on a large diagram laid before her.)


Well sorry, but it doesn't make sense to me. That's been huge in allowing the delivery to be supported by the knowledge that needs to accompany it.


(Very briefly we see a close-up of a woman’s face, before the video cuts to the same woman sitting in a classroom with a large map on the world behind her. Text along the bottom of the screen reads, “Jillian Johnstone, Year 8 team leader, Otumoetai Intermediate School”. Another woman sits beside her. She speaks into the camera. After she says “maths” the camera returns to the meeting, but her voiceover continues. At the meeting we see her listen as another woman talks, gesturing with her hands.)



It's also been looking at the big ideas in maths and how we can get those across to the students in the best way possible.


(The camera zooms in on a man's face as he speaks, then back to show the entire room. Jillian’s voiceover continues.)


And each time that we get more professional development on that it realise what we don't know.


(We return to Jillian in the classroom with the map. As she says ‘next step’ we see her standing in front of a class of students.)


And so it's sort of-- yeah, we get a next step and a next step from that.


(The camera shows Ryan sitting in the back of the class, saying something to Jillian that we cannot hear. He speaks in voiceover.)


When I go into a room, I go into it with an open mind, because you think you've thought of everything, but there's always something that comes up.


(We now see Ryan in the classroom with the map, speaking into the camera.)


And you think: actually, that's a really good idea.

I can implement that in my class and share it with other teachers as well.


(His voiceover continues as the video shows a group of students working in a classroom. The camera pans up to show Ryan standing over them.)


So I'm always going in for learning opportunities to see what I can implement across the school and in my classroom.


(We are back with Ryan speaking into the camera.)


We've found that like most people, teachers don't like being shown up in front of their students.


(We return to the students working in the classroom.)


But by putting it into an environment where we're seen to both be learning, they tend to be more open to the idea.


(The video shows several different groups of students working at desks.)


And it's really good for the students to hear: oh, my teacher doesn't know everything.

And I'm listening as well, and I'm learning while she's learning.


(Back to Ryan speaking to the camera.)


So it actually works both ways.