In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Childhood Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Background
  • Professionalism
  • Professionalization
  • Leadership

Education Early Childhood Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand
Judith Duncan, Alison Warren
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0107


Early childhood teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand have one main criterion in common—a recognized early childhood qualification, in addition to their own school qualifications. In 2013, “[t]he benchmark qualification for New-Zealand-qualified early childhood teachers is a Bachelor of Teaching (Early Childhood Education) or Diploma of Teaching (Early Childhood Education), or an equivalent Level 7 qualification approved by the New Zealand Teachers Council for registration” (Early Childhood Teacher Education Qualifications [Wellington: TeachNZ, Ministry of Education, 2013], p. 2). Since 1996, Aotearoa New Zealand has had a unique early childhood curriculum: Te Whāriki, which literally means “a woven mat,” is a curriculum that supports each service to create its own pedagogy for children within the framework of principles and strands. This is where the similarity stops, however, as each early childhood service has its own philosophy, style of delivery, range of management, and administration structures. For example, teachers can work in kindergartens (two- to five year-olds), early childhood education (ECE) and care centers (birth to five years old), language immersion centers (Te Kohanga Reo—Māori language immersion), Pasifika (Pacific Island communities), bilingual centers (predominately Māori language and English), Montessori centers, or Steiner centers. Within the complexity of the teaching environments, all teachers are required to implement the national curriculum, engage in all Education Review Office and Teachers Council requirements, Ministry of Education regulations, and government legislation. Within this regulatory framework, teachers make daily professional decisions for every child’s learning, working in partnership with parents and whānau (an indigenous Māori term for extended family network that highlights interdependence and mutual responsibilities) and continuing to develop their own skills and knowledge as professionally developing and researching teachers. To understand the complexities of being an early childhood teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand, understanding the work of the teacher within the Aotearoa New Zealand context is a useful starting place. The research base within ECE traces the cultural and historical contexts of a colonized country, where attention to biculturalism, inclusion, and diversity are philosophies that are still to see reality in many pockets of the country. Similarly, many scholars are interested in the challenge for teachers to stay professionally relevant, active in research, and growing both as a teacher and a leader, as well as growing the sector. Interestingly, as recognition for the importance of qualifications was firmly implanted by the mid-2000s, attention turned to maintaining a growing profession. However, with the 2009 cuts to qualifications, the research has returned to why qualifications for early childhood teachers are essential.

General Overviews

The books in this overview section introduce history, pedagogy, politics, and the passions of early childhood teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand. To understand the Aotearoa New Zealand early childhood teacher, understanding the work that the teacher engages in, the context within which the teacher works, and the historical and political background, to the current context of Aotearoa New Zealand are all important. The following books provide a comprehensive introduction to ECE teachers and their work in Aotearoa New Zealand and have been chosen from the most current (post-2006) or for their seminal nature (prior to 2006). These books have been chosen for this section—as an overview—to provide a one-stop resource for thinking about Aotearoa New Zealand teachers. These books are the same resources that teachers, teacher educators, and teacher researchers themselves draw upon and demonstrate current thinking and pedagogy. Keesing-Styles and Hedges 2007 provides an overview of ECE in Aotearoa New Zealand, covering many important topics and perspectives and comparing pedagogy with Australia. The history of Aotearoa New Zealand teachers and teaching is explored in the work of Helen May (May 2009 and May 2003), New Zealand’s most respected educational historian and coauthor of the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education 1996). Since Te Whāriki was introduced, it has generated much interest internationally, and key critiques and reflections have been written from authors outside of Aotearoa New Zealand. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Nuttall 2003 was one of the first such careful looks at the strengths and weaknesses of Te Whāriki, and it has been much cited in later work. Fleer 2010 and McLachlan, et al. 2010 both present current visions of curriculum and developmental theory, presenting examples of teachers at work using best practice drawn from research and new understandings of old ideas. Both best practice and new ideas are put to the test in Carr, et al. 2010, which tracks what happens to learning dispositions over time and demonstrates the importance of teachers in both the early childhood setting and the early years of compulsory schooling. See the later sections of this bibliography for in-depth reading on the topics referred to in this section.

  • Carr, Margaret, Anne B. Smith, Judith Duncan, Carolyn Jones, Wendy Lee, and Kate Marshall. 2010. Learning in the making: Disposition and design in early education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

    These respected scholars report on an original research project of fourteen case studies of young children in Aotearoa New Zealand, exploring both the content and processes of learning dispositions. They theorize three key learning dispositions in young children: reciprocity, resilience, and imagination. They suggest important implications for early childhood pedagogy.

  • Fleer, Marilyn. 2010. Early learning and development: Cultural-historical concepts in play. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Building on her international reputation as a leading scholar in early childhood pedagogy and sociocultural theory, Fleer provides a synthesis of the latest research on teaching and learning with a progressive understanding of development theory. This is the leading text for students and scholars in ECE teaching and learning.

  • Keesing-Styles, Linda, and Helen Hedges, eds. 2007. Theorising early childhood practice: Emerging dialogues. Castle Hills, Australia: Pademelon.

    This edited book is structured to engage writers in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to explore current issues in ECE from the perspectives of each country. Commonalities and differences between the two contexts become evident in sections that address perspectives on curriculum, diversity and inclusion, and professional issues.

  • May, Helen. 2003. Concerning women considering children: Battles of the Childcare Association, 1963–2003. Wellington: Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa New Zealand Childcare Association.

    Published to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary, this is a comprehensive and robust historical account of the New Zealand Childcare Association. Insightfully written, this book includes historical New Zealand events and significant people who made a difference within ECE, supporting “child-minders” to become early childhood teachers.

  • May, Helen. 2009. Politics in the playground: The world of early childhood in New Zealand. 2d ed. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago Univ. Press.

    Following from earlier work, May traces the journey of early childhood teaching in Aotearoa New Zealand. This seminal publication describes both the history of Aotearoa New Zealand alongside the development of ECE, positioning early childhood teachers within the social and political movements of postwar Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • McLachlan, Claire, Marilyn Fleer, and Susan Edwards. 2010. Early childhood curriculum: Planning, assessment, and implementation. Port Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511844829

    This textbook is written by scholars from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand and is aimed at undergraduate student teachers in ECE. It explores current approaches to curriculum in a range of international contexts. From the theory of cultural-historical curriculum, through assessment and evaluation, to content knowledge, this book gives students a broad comprehensive introduction to theory and practice of early childhood curriculum.

  • Ministry of Education. 1996. Te whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.

    This groundbreaking early childhood curriculum emphasizes the sociocultural contexts of children’s learning. It situates learning within four principles and five strands of learning and emphasizes partnerships between all of these in children’s lives. It is a bicultural document, reflecting both Māori and New Zealand European worldviews.

  • Nuttall, Joce, ed. 2003. Weaving Te Whāriki: Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum document in theory and practice. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

    This book’s contributors present a range of thoughtful critique of the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki, ten years after the draft curriculum was released. Perspectives include historical, bicultural, inclusion of special needs, and teachers’ understandings. Three themes emerge: importance of culture, sociocultural constructivist theories, and practical challenges of implementation.

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