School-wide reform

So far in this module, we have discussed the fabric of New Zealand society and in doing so have explained the social context within which we all exist.

We have provided evidence of the educational disparities that have transpired out of this context and the policy response that is focused on eliminating these disparities.

A range of leadership perspectives that school leaders can draw from to support them in their endeavours to reform schools have been presented for consideration and GPILSEO, as a model for sustaining and scaling school-wide reform has also been discussed.

In this next section we explore what collaborative and participatory school-wide reform can look like in practice. We propose Etienne Wenger’s (1998) concept of a community of practice as one approach for leading transformative change in schools.

As previously mentioned a community of practice has three main elements: a community of practitioners, a domain of knowledge and a body of shared practices.

Schools as Communities of Practice

As has been discussed previously, education reform that is focused on eliminating disparities requires school leaders to critically consider, on an ongoing basis, the fabric of society and how this is supported or mediated against by the practices and domain of knowledge supported by the school.

School leaders can use the GPILSEO framework to assist all members of the school community of practice to understand and work towards the common domain of knowledge or vision of the schools’ goals for raising Māori student achievement.

Importantly, it highlights the need for all members of the community to understand the roles and responsibilities that they each have in achieving this goal.

The notion of interdependence and coherency found within Wenger’s (1998) communities of practice, might be described in terms of Māori metaphors as “all singing the same waiata” or “everyone in the waka and paddling in the same direction”.


Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) proposes that communities of practice are:

...groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.......as they spend time together, they typically share information, insight and advice...they ponder common issues, explore ideas…

...they may create tools, manuals and other documents – or they may simply develop a tacit understanding that they share...(p 4-5).

As we conceptualise a school as a community of practice, it is important to consider the school as a whole community as well as the smaller communities that reside within the wider school context.

This framework also requires us to consider those communities that exist beyond the physical school setting but are connected to the school by the common body of knowledge and/or the shared practices of the community.

Communities such as these include the parents of the students that attend the school.

For Māori, this also includes wider whānau, hapū and iwi.

Community of practitioners

The practitioners that make up the community may exist within a constellation of communities that are “bound together by the overall institutional enterprise(s)” (Wearmouth & Berryman, 2009, p.8).

Wearmouth and Berryman (2009) further suggest that each of these communities are surrounded by boundaries which are usually defined by the practices of each community.

Importantly, students are considered to be practitioners who have a valid contribution to make to the overall institutional enterprise, rather than being mere passive recipients of transmitted knowledge.

Furthermore, community practitioners such as students, teachers, and leaders might be members of more than one community.

A senior leader, for example, is a member of the senior leadership team, however, they could also be a teacher of a class and they might also be a parent and, therefore, a member of a whānau community.

The inclusion of the whānau community and other communities such as hapū, and iwi is important because as mentioned, when schools are conceptualised as communities of practice, communities that are literally located outside of the physical boundaries of the school are metaphorically also located inside the school community of practice.


This repositioning of whānau is significant as it serves to deconstruct traditional notions of separation between ‘the school’ and ‘the home’ that have perpetuated a situation whereby Māori communities have been disempowered and their voices have been effectively excluded from the school setting.

However, within a community of practice, transformative leaders can work to ensure that power is shared and interdependence and interconnections are emphasised.

This means that Māori communities are considered to be valid and legitimate practitioners within the community or more specifically they can participate in and contribute their knowledge and experiences to the conversation as opposed to being the absent subject of the conversation.

People with dual or multiple memberships can act as ‘brokers’ and cross boundaries from one community to another in order to transfer understandings and procedures across the wider school community of practice. Brokers can cross boundaries or experience a ‘boundary encounter’ in different ways. This might take the form of one member from one community engaging with a member of another community, or a member from one community might immerse themselves and enter into another group, or delegation might occur where “subsets of each group meet each other” (Wearmouth & Berryman, 2009, p.17).

Transformative leaders seek to strengthen interconnectedness across the community of practice and they therefore engage in determined acts of brokering themselves.

They also ensure that there are brokers positioned across the range of communities and that boundary crossing or the transferal of understandings is facilitating the development of the domain of knowledge.

Key questions

  1. Consider your own school context. What is the overall institutional enterprise or common vision that binds all of the members of your community of practice together?
  2. Which communities do you have membership in?
  3. What are the connections between the goals of the communities that you are a member of and the other communities? What are the connections between the goals of the communities and the wider common vision of the school?
  4. In what ways do you act as a ‘broker’ and transfer understandings across boundaries and into other communities?
  5. Who are the brokers that connect communities that are located beyond the physical school setting (whānau, hapū, iwi, other schools) and how does this broking occur?
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The domain of knowledge

Communities of practice develop around knowledge domains. Wenger et al (2002) suggest that as practitioners work together they:

...accumulate knowledge, they become formally bound by the value that they find in learning together. This value…accrues in the personal satisfaction of knowing colleagues who understand each other’s perspectives…

...over time, they develop a unique perspective on their topic as well as a body of common knowledge... (p.5).

The domain of knowledge lies at the intersection of personal interest and institutional relevance and has the potential to inspire thoughtful leadership and creative enquiry.

Transformative leaders clearly recognise the responsibility they have to promote social justice, therefore this personal interest is explicitly connected to the development of knowledge.

In the context of Te Kotahitanga, transformative leadership, therefore, focuses on developing shared understandings around ‘what works’ for Māori students, or more specifically, the focus is on developing a domain of knowledge that is fundamentally grounded in the principles of culturally responsive and relational pedagogies. Additionally, transformative leaders understand that this knowledge:

...is not a ‘thing’, an object, or something that can be bought and sold. It is living and developing as an integral part of the interactions with the community. What we might call ‘expert knowledge’ is dynamic, not static...

... it is an accumulation of the outcomes of studying, doing, thinking, and discussing that is an ongoing part of experience... (Wearmouth & Berryman, 2009, p.11)


While transformative leaders have a clear understanding about their own role and responsibilities in the development of the domain of knowledge, a community cannot thrive if other potential members are not clear about the way in which they themselves will benefit from participation in the community as they are unlikely to make a personal investment.

This implication is connected to the transformative principle of emphasising both the individual and collective good, therefore it is important that practitioners in the community all understand how they can benefit from achieving the common vision.

If teachers for example, do not see that there would be any personal gain from engaging in school reform processes that are focused on raising the achievement of Māori students they may be reluctant to participate in the development of the domain of knowledge.

Likewise if whānau do not see how they might benefit from contributing to the school this potentially compromises their participation in the community of practice and critically if Māori students do not see the relevance of the curriculum programme or are at odds with the way that curriculum is delivered then disengagement is a likely outcome.

Consequently, the issue of power sharing is an important consideration in the co-construction of the domain of knowledge. It is important that leaders provide members with opportunities to come to understand the individual and collective benefits of advancing the achievement of Māori students.

In a healthy community of practice, regular consultation around significant issues and shared decision making would be evident at all levels.

In Te Kotahitanga schools we have emphasised the point that transformative leaders understand that the domain of knowledge in their community of practice is indicative of the fabric of their school. Therefore an important function of transformative leadership is to regularly monitor the development of the domain of knowledge and to critique and review:

  • how power is shared so that all members are able to contribute
  • is the domain of knowledge grounded in the principles of culturally responsive and relational pedagogies that work for Māori students>
  • is the domain of knowledge explicitly connected to the shared practices of practitioners?


  • who is actively participating in the co-construction process?
  • who is not actively participating in the co-construction process and what needs to be done about this?
  • how the knowledge is shared and who has access?
  • how to provide new members with opportunities to contribute new perspectives?
  • how the domain of knowledge is evolving and analyse the evidence that is informing the evolution?
  • how the knowledge is advancing Māori students and, therefore, progressing the community towards the common vision.

Key questions

  1. Define the principles that underpin the domain of knowledge in your school?
  2. Who is currently involved in co-constructing the domain of knowledge in your school and how are they involved?
  3. Who else might need to be involved in co-constructing the domain of knowledge and how will you bring them into the community?
  4. How is the development of domain of knowledge monitored and reviewed and who is involved in this review process?

Shared practices

As well as developing a common body of knowledge Wenger et al, (2002) propose that practitioners in a community of practice also develop common practices. Additionally, practitioners might develop common language, documents, tools and conceptual frameworks (Wearmouth & Berryman, 2009) that reflect the body of knowledge and support the implementation of common practices.

Wearmouth and Berryman (2009) contend that the provision of opportunities for practitioners, both insiders and newcomers, to learn about and become more competent in the practices of the community in order to, “facilitate multiple levels of involvement in the enterprise” (p.13) is also an important characteristic of a community of practice.

We learned from our experiences in Te Kotahitanga that pedagogical change and systemic reform were more evident in schools where leaders and teachers understood the explicit connections between the domain of knowledge (culturally responsive and relational pedagogies) and the shared practices.


This requires leaders who are focused on transformative leadership to carefully consider how their own practice reflects culturally responsive and relational pedagogical approaches and also consider how they might engage in learning opportunities that will enable them to develop these practices.

This could include undertaking observations of others and also prioritising time to be observed themselves and receive feedback on their teaching practice where applicable and/or their facilitation of meetings as well as their facilitation of professional development.

At the same time as they are developing their own culturally responsive and relational practices, transformative leaders are simultaneously ensuring that all practitioners are provided with differentiated learning opportunities that are relative to their role and, more importantly, their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978).

Learning opportunities for a Board of Trustees member, for example, might be quite different from a learning opportunity that an experienced Head of Department might undertake.

Transformative leaders also work with other practitioners to develop and then utilise documents, institutions, and tools that serve to embed and sustain culturally responsive and relational practices across the school community of practice.

This collaborative and participatory approach to leadership whereby the leader participates with fellow practitioners as a co-learner reinforces the transformative leadership principles of equity, interdependence, and interconnectedness.

The monitoring and reviewing of the domain of knowledge should not happen in isolation from monitoring and reviewing the common practices.

Transformative leaders understand that it is only through measuring the impact of the community’s practice against evidence of outcomes for Māori students that they will know if they are in fact eliminating disparities, promoting social justice and effecting deep and equitable change.

Evaluating the impact of the common practices requires that leaders and their practitioners regularly triangulate evidence of practice, Māori student perspectives, and Māori student outcomes, in order to ascertain the degree to which culturally responsive and relational practices are embedded in the school.


Transformative leaders then use this analysis for formative purposes to identify problems, implications, and areas of strength. The analysis process may actually be a series of meetings that culminate in the development of an action plan.

Importantly, it is the evidence of outcomes for Māori students that determines the actions that practitioners at multiple levels need to take. This could include a revised focus on the domain of knowledge and posing questions such as:

  • What do we understand about the theoretical basis of culturally responsive and relational pedagogies?
  • How are our understandings developing and evolving and what are the implications of this in terms of our shared practices?

Similarly, there might be a focus on practitioners. Questions in this area might include:

  • what knowledge needs to be brokered across our community? Who are the best practitioners to do this?
  • how will we know the effect of this ‘brokering’ of knowledge?
  • how might we strengthen interconnectedness between practitioners?
  • or, how well are we utilising the expertise of practitioners for the benefit of the wider community?

Key questions

  1. What are the shared practices at your school and how are they connected to the domain of knowledge?
  2. In what ways do leaders in your school participate in learning opportunities that enable them to become more competent in implementing culturally responsive and relational practices?
  3. What learning opportunities currently exist at your school that enable other practitioners to become more competent in implementing culturally responsive and relational practices?
  4. How are the shared practices across your school currently monitored and who undertakes this monitoring?
  5. At what points of the year is the impact of your shared practices analysed in relation to the impact they have on outcomes for Māori students and how is this analysis carried out?
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    • How does the analysis of the evidence of practice and outcomes for Māori students feedback into the domain of knowledge in your school?

Further reading

For further reading on communities of practice see:

Wearmouth, J., & Berryman, M. (2009). Inclusion through participation in communities of practice in schools. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Publishing.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.