How can we use existing evidence when working with highly capable, but time-poor tutors?


Draft Professional Standards (3)

Let me tell you something you probably already know.

  • Sometimes, our best foundation education tutors are already the ones doing everything else as well.

You know who these folk are. Their students love them, they’re coaching their kid’s rugby or netball team on the weekend, they’re looking after extended family and more.

If they’re lucky they’re paid well. But most are not. Working conditions are tough. Some have the right professional qualifications and experiences. Others do not.

They have strengths. Sometimes they have tremendous expertise. And a few demonstrate amazing – and often humble – leadership in the work they do.

When you ask these tutors to engage in professional development and training, it adds another layer of complexity to their already busy lives.

It’s about time we gave serious thought to some better ways of working with our best tutors.

The system is kind of set up for this. But we’ve made it too complicated. It’s time to redesign and perhaps co-design how we want this work.

For example, if, as a tutor, you already possess skills and abilities, and you have the evidence to prove it, these should be recognised within the system that we use.

Let’s try and put it in context. I’ll use myself as an example. The boss comes to me with a professional development plan. Aside from the extra time costs, here’s what’s going through my head:

  • Don’t send me off to get training on how to use the Assessment Tool if I’m already using it with my own learners. I already know how to use it. Instead, can’t you use the evidence already generated by the system to attest to the fact that I’m already competent in this area?
  • Likewise, if I’m already delivering results working with my Pasifika learners, then let me show the evidence for this. Can’t we just acknowledge this in some way? Don’t send me off for cultural competency training.

But if there’s an obvious gap in my knowledge or experience, then it’s a different thing. I’m still busy but perhaps we should explore some different options. For example:

  • It’s clear to me that I lack confidence embedding numeracy into my vocational training. Why can’t you hook me up with some training that will allow me to become a better maths person and explore some different ways to work with numbers in the context of my training? Do I need to complete a whole other qualification?
  • Most of my learners are Maori. If I’m honest with myself, I can see that I need to know more about what works for my Maori learners. Perhaps I do need some mentoring in this area. I’ll take time out of my busy week and attend some workshops as long as I know they’re targeted towards the support I need. Perhaps I should even complete an online micro-credential that attests to these new skills.

None of this is to say that we should do away with professional qualifications for tutors.

But I think we need to acknowledge that we need some new and creative ways of recognising tutor competencies where we find them. And then designing bespoke approaches to training and micro-training where there are gaps.

And then let’s see how this connects with the qualifications.

What do you think?

Lifting our game: What goes into a capability framework for trades and vocational tutors?


Draft Professional Standards (2).png

By February next year, we’ll have a draft set of professional standards for tutors teaching foundation-level courses in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We’ve got some initial ideas about how and where to get started with this work. And we know why we need to take this next step.

But we still need to design this framework. This brings me to the next question:

  • What goes into a capability framework for trades, vocational tutors and others delivering foundation-level training?

It’s really up for grabs at the moment. But we have made a start on a structure. And we’ve started talking about some of the detail.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve been meeting with and talking to representatives from key organisations and agencies to make sure we get the starting points right.

This has included groups and individuals in government agencies such as at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) and the National Centre for Adult Literacy & Numeracy (NCLANA).

This work is contracted through Ako Aotearoa, so we’re in regular contact with people and teams there as well.

Now we’re at the point where we need to cast our net wider and seek feedback from interested organisations and individuals in the tertiary sector.

If that’s you, here’s some further detail about the kind of structure that we’re looking at.

  • Four capability domains that encompass the professional knowledge, teaching practices, ability to engage with others and cultural capabilities that are relevant to tutors and others involved in foundation-level teaching.
  • Four levels of professional standard. Imagine a poutama or staircase with four steps. The first step describes knowledge about foundation teaching. The second step describes the application of this knowledge. This connects with some of the entry-level qualifications we have including the NZCALNE (Voc) and NZCATT at level 5 on the qualifications framework. Step three describes more extended capability and expertise. And the top tier describes expert tutors providing leadership in different contexts and capacities.

As a sector, we know quite a lot about what kinds of skills, competencies and other outputs we expect from our tutors with regards to the first two steps above.

But what we need to know more about, and where the really exciting work is, relates to our best tutors. And this means the top two tiers of our proposed structure.

For example, how can we describe the capabilities of expert tutors who are more experienced, who can demonstrate extended knowledge and application of foundation teaching skills?

This is where we need to ask a lot of questions. For example:

  • Who are our high-performing and best tutors? And what makes them better? What kinds of evidence can we point to?
  • How can we unpack the skills and capabilities that great tutors already have in a way that helps us inform the design and development of this framework?
  • What about tutors who demonstrate the ability to provide leadership, guidance and mentoring to others? What does that look like in practical terms?
  • What are the findings from current research and best practice about how we should be working with priority learner groups including Maori, Pasifika and youth?

Once we can articulate this in a clear way we can do a couple of things.

One is that we’ll be able to describe tutors with a range of skills and abilities when we need to. This includes new tutors, expert tutors, and – yes – tutors who might not be letting their light shine as brightly as it could.

So organisations will be able to highlight their strengths and needs in terms of tutor capabilities.

The second thing is that we’ll have a set of tools to design bespoke approaches to professional development where we do identify gaps and needs. And by we I mean you.

And this should apply at both the level of the organisation as well as with regards to individual tutors.

My vision for this is that it becomes something that empowers tutors to go from good to great. And creates clear pathways for professional and career development.

It’s time to lift our game: building tutor capability in foundation learning.


Draft Professional Standards (1)

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the government has invested seriously in building an infrastructure for embedding literacy and numeracy into trades and vocational education since 2007.

And as educators and tertiary organisations we’ve all invested as well. Sometimes this has been our time, but often it’s included our money as well.

The infrastructure has included professionalising the workforce as well as a suite of tools and resources for tutors, trainers and adult educators to use.

If you’ve contributed or participated in some way, whether small or large, you should give yourself a pat on the back. Ka pai e hoa…!

And now, we’re at the stage that we have to look at how to lift our game once more.

Ten years on, we have a much better idea of what is working and what isn’t. And we know that just about everything that we touch – or that touches us – in the sector has evolved.

This includes policy, the needs of educators and organisations, and research not to mention the knowledge base that underpins professional development in the foundation learning sector.

From here we need to improve our current system of professional development and capability building, be better connected, work more effectively and do all of this with greater coherence.

We know that some of what is offered for tutor professional development is not working as well as it could. At least, we not seeing the deep changes that we want to see in our tutors and education organisations.

That is not to say that we haven’t seen positive change. There is certainly tremendous and ongoing work happening around the country.

But here’s the thing.

Some tutors, even despite performing well when they are completing professional qualifications just go back to the way they were after they finish the training.

I’m not saying everyone is like that, of course.

In fact, we all know plenty of tutors who complete a programme like the New Zealand Certificate in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education (NZCALNE) and have a classic lightbulb moment (or two or three).

But some tutors and organisations are just sitting on their hands. Others are stuck. You know who I mean.

And there’s more to it than that of course… it’s a complex eco-system.

As a country, we are super fortunate to have a suite of high quality, entry-level professional qualifications as well as resources for our trades, vocational and workplace tutors.

However, as a recent review commissioned by the TEC suggests, we need to figure out how to take it to the next level.

In other words, we all need to lift our game. And this means providers and those of us involved in delivering professional development as much as tutors and trainers.

Developing a professional standards framework that describes tutor capability is a big step in this direction.

The intention is that a framework like this would help us do a couple of things.

One is that it would help us identify strengths and needs at both an organisational and individual tutor level. And the other is that it would help inform coherent professional development pathways and new capability building opportunities moving forward.

What I’m talking about here is bespoke approaches to ongoing capability development.

This last part is important if we want to be pragmatic about designing meaningful professional development. This is the age of customisation, of the 3D printer. Not the factory.

We know it intuitively, but we need to recognise explicitly that organisations are not the same. Working in industry as a trainer is not the same as working in a Polytech.

Individual experiences and prior knowledge are not the same either.

Maori learners are not the same as Pasifika learners. And for some, classes might feel like they’re more representative of the United Nations.

But hopefully, and with your help, a robust framework like the one we’re talking about here might be a way to bring coherence to how we stitch all this together.

That leads me to my next question:

  • What goes into a capability framework for trades and vocational tutors?

Feel free to chime in if you’ve got something to say.