What were the main aims of the initiative?

This postgraduate qualification equips experienced educators (teachers and other professionals working in early childhood services and primary and secondary schools) to gain further skills and knowledge to work alongside teachers, parents, students and other professionals to improve educational outcomes for all children and young people. The programme is concerned with equity and diversity, and has an inclusive education framework that prepares educators to work together in an inter-professional community as culturally responsive, evidence-based, ethical and reflective practitioners. Educators typically undertake their study part-time across two years while continuing to work in early childhood services or schools.


New Zealand’s education policy Success for All (Ministry of Education, 2010) specifies inclusive education as a goal. The New Zealand Education Act 1989 (New Zealand Government, 2004), the New Zealand Disability Strategy (Minister for Disability Issues, 2001) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) all uphold New Zealand children’s rights to an inclusive education in their local school. The two-year, part-time postgraduate programme for resource teachers operates within this policy and guidance context.

The programme provides a learning environment for teachers and other professionals to gain skills and knowledge to work alongside classroom teachers, other professionals and families to enhance the presence, participation and learning of a diverse group of children and young people in their local early childhood service or school. The majority of students in the programme are experienced teachers; a small number work in other fields, such as educational psychology, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

The focus of the programme is learning with, from and about each other to develop a strong emphasis on learning and practising ‘inter-professionally’. This emphasis on the collegial sharing of knowledge provides students with a collaborative and ‘learning community’ orientation in both their coursework and their work in early childhood services and schools. While most papers in the programme require that students work together ‘inter-professionally’, students also choose to develop an in-depth understanding of, and expertise in, one of seven endorsement areas. These include: autism spectrum disorder; blind and low vision; complex educational needs; deaf and hard of hearing; early intervention; learning and behaviour; and gifted and talented.

The programme is underpinned by a set of key principles for professional practice. Reflective and ethical practice (Argyris and Schon, 1974; Bourke and O’Neil, 2012; Newman and Polnitz, 2002); evidence-based practice (Bourke, Holden and Curzon, 2005); culturally responsive practice (Macfarlane, 2012); inter-professional practice (Mentis, Kearney and Bevan-Brown, 2012); contextualised practice (Bowler, Annan and Mentis, 2007); and professional practice are the six competency domains through which students begin to web their professional identity as educators.

In New Zealand, culturally responsive practice acknowledges the unique bi-cultural aspect of New Zealand. Students gain confidence and competence to work with Māori (Indigenous people of New Zealand) and Pasifika (a term coined by New Zealand government agencies to describe migrants from the Pacific region and their descendants, who now call Aotearoa/New Zealand home) professionals, children, young people and families in particular, but also to work generally as culturally responsive practitioners. Students are supported to develop a deeper understanding of te reo and tikanga Māori (Māori language and culture) to enhance their own and other’s capacity to provide culturally appropriate support for Māori students, and to engage with whānau (extended family) in a spirit of partnership.

The Māori term Māwhai, meaning web or net, is used as a metaphor to describe the overall goal for each student of developing a strong professional identity (both within their own endorsement area and beyond this to their larger inter-professional community of practice). As students develop their skills and knowledge in the six competency domains, the aim is to enhance their capacity to practice inter-professionally as confident, competent agents of change towards equity and inclusion in education. Educators web their learning and professional identity through networked (both online and face-to-face) interaction with each other across the different areas (learning with, from and about each other). This approach of learning through an inter-professional orientation enables a more collaborative and team-orientated practice that is central to their work in early childhood services and schools.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

Target groups, geographical location and setting

The programme emerged out of a request by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2009 for a postgraduate qualification that would build the professional capacity of resource teachers to ensure the provision of high quality education for children and young people ‘…with disabilities and special educational needs’. The programme is offered conjointly by two universities, Massey University and the University of Canterbury, and is delivered nationally to approximately 150 students annually. Its current title is the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching. While this title was used by the Ministry of Education when the programme was initiated, the language does not reflect the overall orientation, which is to move away from notions of ‘special’ and ‘specialist’ to recognise (1) children’s and young people’s rights to be part of the group of all children/young people in their local school; and (2) that knowledge to support equity and inclusion in education contexts is shared amongst practitioners, children and young people, and family/whānau. We have therefore used the term ‘Postgraduate Programme for Resource Teachers’ in this document.

Students come with a range of background experiences and practice in various educational contexts (e.g. schools, early childhood services, early intervention services and Ministry of Education settings). The programme provides for this diversity through self-directed and inquiry-based learning where students design and meet their own learning goals against the core competencies.

Scope of the work

Inquiry-based inter-professional learning and communities of practice

The programme offers a sustainable professional learning environment through the building of a strong inter-professional, inclusive education community of research and practice across New Zealand. Communities of inter-professional practice are developed through the following course elements:

  • Three inter-professional papers which all students complete. These include:
    • the Core Theory and Foundation paper (year 1)
    • the Inter-Professional Evidence-Based Practice paper (year 2); and
    • the Practicum paper (Year 2)
  • Social networking opportunities
  • Regional whānau groups
  • A tiered supervision and mentoring model in the Practicum paper which includes inter-professional mentors (e.g. former students from all endorsements) and field advisors within endorsement areas who practice outside of the programme
  • Opportunities for students to collaborate on research, present at conferences, write journal articles and create evidence-based assignments.

Blended learning

The programme employs a blended (online and face-to-face) learning environment that provides a range of flexible learning options for all students to learn anytime, anywhere, regardless of location. Online learning and interaction take place through Moodle (e-learning environment), Mahara (e-Portfolio) and, where needed, Adobe Connect, Skype and email. Face-to-face learning occurs through two block courses twice a year and in regional whānau groups, where students share their learning experiences and provide each other with collegial support.

Blended learning in this programme includes blending inter-professional with specialised course content across endorsement areas; self-directed with teacher-directed learning; casework scenarios with authentic real-life practicum; synchronous with asynchronous learning; formal with informal learning opportunities; and individual with co-operative learning opportunities.

An inquiry-based and inter-professional learning model provides for flexible learning pathways. Students are able to learn at a time and place, and in a mode that suits them. The model also allows students to align their learning with their own needs and practice, and with 21st-century learning and new media literacies.


What issues/challenges does the example address?

Despite support in policy and guidance in New Zealand for inclusive education, there is evidence of wide variations in practice, particularly regarding children and young people with disabilities in the compulsory education sector (IHC, 2015; Human Rights Commission, 2008). The programme is a response to the Ministry of Education’s request for professional education programmes to support the development of inclusive school communities across urban and rural areas of New Zealand. Students completing the course play a key role in building capacity in early childhood services and schools to enhance the presence, participation and learning of a diverse group of children and young people.

The programme also needs to respond to students’ diverse backgrounds and present contexts. Consequently, a student-centred approach supports students to set their own learning goals and achieve competencies in the endorsement areas that are relevant to their own practice. Rather than a one-size-fits-all didactic programme, students themselves define their own learning goals, enabling them to develop a strong sense of agency (Timperley et al., 2003).

While some papers offer endorsement-related content, students primarily work together within a networked community of practice that actively breaks down silos of traditionally held knowledge based on disability labels and notions of ‘special’ and ‘regular’ in education. This inter-professional approach emphasises that, rather than being held solely by ‘experts’, knowledge of teaching, learning, equity and diversity is shared and co-constructed within a wider community of practice. In addition, an evidence-based approach encourages students to locate their practice at the intersection of three circles of evidence, which includes evidence from theory and research, from practitioner knowledge and experience, and from the child, young person and their family/whānau (Bourke et al, 2005). The practitioner circle, for example, recognises, values and includes classroom teachers’ curriculum and pedagogical knowledge and experience. The child/young person/family circle also upholds children’s participation rights to be consulted and heard in matters relating to them (United Nations, 1989), and positions them and their families as knowledge holders and active contributors in their own right.



How was the Initiative implemented?

Development of the Postgraduate Programme for Resource Teachers content

The programme was initially developed through consultation with organisations and individuals who have an interest in each of the seven endorsement areas. Advisory groups were established for each endorsement, comprising people with disabilities, representatives from Māori and Pasifika communities, parents, teachers, principals, and Ministry of Education representatives. Feedback from consultation contributed to the development of curriculum maps and competencies for the inter-professional papers and each endorsement area. The programme was initiated in 2010 and is funded under a contract with the Ministry of Education.

Course content is offered through online books developed by university staff, supported with references to websites, articles, videos, blogs, podcasts and TED Talks, as well as through teacher- and student-generated databases, quizzes, forums and shared resources. The online learning environment (Moodle) serves as a curriculum resource and teaching environment for students to select content appropriate for their self-directed learning goals, develop skills and share ideas as they progress through their inquiry learning.

Documenting and sharing expertise

Throughout the course, each student applies new ideas to their own practice, documenting their learning in an e-portfolio. The portfolio includes artefacts of evidence of their learning, critical reflections, professional philosophy and developing professional identity. The portfolio can be used in educators’ appraisals and accreditation. Above all, it is a resource that can be used in their practice and shared with colleagues to enhance children and young people’s presence, participation and learning.


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

The programme aims for graduates to become confident and competent practitioners who are able to create a ripple effect in the early childhood, primary and secondary school communities in which they practice and work. A key outcome is graduates who feel empowered to become agents of change within their sphere of influence, able to support the development of inclusive school communities sustained by strong professional identities and a community of practice. The interviews are included (in ‘Supporting materials’) as evidence of graduates’ developing skills of reflective and ethical practice, cultural responsiveness, evidence-based application of knowledge and ability to network inter-professionally in their practice. They know where to go, who to go to, and how to collaborate to ensure that the children and young people they work with belong and learn well in early childhood services and schools.

There is evidence that graduates from the programme see themselves as not only lifelong learners, but also life-wide learners, extending their connections to their communities and regions. A number of short courses for teachers and others outside of the programme now operate in the various endorsements as a result of graduates informing colleagues about the programme. The spin-offs include more educators having the opportunity to engage in an inter-professional, blended and evidence-based model of learning, and a broader community of professionals who are able to enhance inclusive school cultures and teaching practice.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The programme is evaluated through the following approaches, with feedback contributing to developments in course content and delivery:

  • Students in each year group complete a pre-entry questionnaire and post-programme questionnaire of their knowledge and skill base in the six key areas of their practice.
  • Annual consultation is undertaken with advisory groups from each endorsement area, and with the Ministry of Education (bi-annual milestone reports and quarterly meetings).
  • Students provide feedback through block course surveys and end-of-year online surveys, and there are on-going opportunities for students to provide informal feedback.
  • There is an independent research survey that runs parallel to the programme.
  • The programme was externally evaluated in 2014. Endorsed by the comments of present and former students, the evaluation team commended the programme for its innovative teaching approaches and highlighted the inter-professional emphasis as a particularly strong feature in students’ learning and practice.


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

The programme includes a range of developments aimed at sustaining and advancing the learning and knowledge base of graduate students and the early childhood or school communities they are part of. These include:

  • Encouraging lifelong learning through the use of e-portfolios for on-going learning, appraisals and continuing competence.
  • Maintaining an alumni community and providing graduates with continued access to the online programme site.
  • Supporting alumni to be actively involved in formal and informal mentoring of new students.
  • Developing a shared resource repository of artefacts and other student-developed resource banks.
  • Providing opportunities for students to continue in formal courses (Masters programme) and informal short courses.
  • Supporting graduates to undertake further research and to publish their work from the course.


What are the main learning points?

Inter-professional practice is a vital and central tenet of the programme, as it supports students to work effectively within communities of practice that are developed both within the programme and within the students’ own education community. We see this approach as contributing to several important outcomes:

  • Sustained by a community of practice, graduates feel empowered to become agents of change in the development of inclusive school communities.
  • Rather than feeling that they alone must be ‘the solution to inclusion’, resource teachers position themselves as part of a collaborative team working together and sharing knowledge to enhance the presence, participation and learning of children and young people.
  • Notions of ‘special’, and ‘regular’ (as traditionally applied to children/young people, teachers, teacher knowledge, teaching practice, settings, and education in general) are critiqued and broken down, as knowledge of teaching, learning, equity and diversity is shared and co-constructed within a wider community of practice focused on equity and inclusion.
  • Evidence-based practice is enhanced, as resource teachers readily locate their professional practice at the intersection of knowledge from theory and research, from practitioner experience, and, most importantly, from the perspectives and experiences of children, young people and their family/whānau.

The blended learning approach ensures that students throughout New Zealand, in remote rural communities and large cities can fully participate in the programme. It ensures that relevant and authentic learning occurs for a diverse student cohort through:

  • flexible, self-directed and inquiry-based learning where students design and meet their own learning goals against the core competencies
  • opportunities for students to apply their learning to their own practice within their own early childhood and school communities.


Are there further information about supporting materials?

This web link provides access to further details about the programme:

In this video clip, three graduates talk about the impact of the programme on their inter-professional practice as resource teachers:


Argyris, C. and Schon, D. A., 1974. Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Bourke, R., Holden, B. and Curzon, J., 2005. Using evidence to challenge practice: A discussion paper. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education

Bourke, R. and O’Neil, J., 2012. ‘Ethics in inclusive education’, in S. Carrington and J. MacArthur (eds.). Teaching in Inclusive School Communities. Milton, Queensland, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Inc., 89–113

Bowler, J., Annan, J. and Mentis, M., 2007. ‘Understanding the learner-environment relationship: A matrix of perspectives’ School Psychology International, 28, 387–401

Human Rights Commission, 2009. Disabled Children’s Right to Education. (Last accessed November 2015)

IHC, 2015. Education complaint. (Last accessed November 2015)

Macfarlane, S., 2012. In Pursuit of Culturally Responsive Evidence Based Special Education Pathways in Aotearoa New Zealand: Whaia ki te ara tika. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Canterbury

Mentis, M., Kearney, A. and Bevan-Brown, J., 2012. ‘Interprofessional learning and its contribution to inclusive education’, in S. Carrington and J. MacArthur (eds.). Teaching in Inclusive School Communities. Milton, Queensland, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Inc., 295–312

Minister for Disability Issues, 2001. New Zealand Disability Strategy. (Last accessed November 2015)

Ministry of Education, 2010. Success for All – Every school, every child. (Last accessed November 2015)

Newman, L. and Pollnitz, L., 2002. Professional, ethical and legal issues in early childhood. Frenchs Forest, New South Wales: Pearson

New Zealand Government, 2004. Education Act 1989, No. 80. (Last accessed November 2015)

Timperley, H., 2004. Teacher Professional Learning and Development. Educational Practices Series 18. Paris: International Academy of Education, International Bureau of Education, UNESCO

United Nations, 1989. Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Last accessed November 2015)

United Nations, 2006. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Last accessed April 2018)


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Programme co-ordinator

Associate Professor Mandia Mentis, Massey University

Massey University

Associate Professor Alison Kearney; Wendy Holley-Boen; Assoc. Prof. Tracy Riley; Dr Vijaya Dharan; Dr Jude MacArthur; Dr Julia Budd; Philippa Butler

University of Canterbury

Dr Elizabeth Doell; Dr Sonja Macfarlane; Dr Anne Van Bysterveldt; Dr Laurie McLay; Dr Denise Powell; Helen Mataiti

Student interviews

Teena Vincent, Yvonne Apanui and Justine Gibson

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