“With this generation of ‘digital natives’ education can be more real, rich and relevant; we have the opportunity to embed life-long learning.” – Peter Tootell, New Zealand

By most measures, including PISA results, New Zealand does a very good job of educating its citizens. But what the test results don’t show is that not every New Zealander has had the same opportunities to succeed, and that the indigenous Maori students have had a particularly tough time. High school principal Peter Tootell is working to change that. Tootell’s Trident High School has a large Maori population, and those students have often disengaged from the formal education system. The solution?  Trident High School has been instramental in establishing one of the first New Zealand Trades Academies led by a secondary school.

Working with a local technical college, Tootell and his school initiated the successful collaboration, enabling students from 10 schools – three-quarters of them Maori – to study one of nine different trades. They’re earning high school credits while becoming “employment-ready” and the program has been a tremendous success. According to The New Zealand Institute, “Too often, deficit theorizing is at the core of this under-achievement, but at Trident a culture of high expectations and a ‘can-do’ attitude are a feature for all students.”

Today, Tootell shares more details on the program  (including some impressive results), along with his philosophy on creating a strong school culture.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

Trident High School has established itself as a high performance school striving to attain excellence in all we do. This has been acknowledged by the Education Review Office, which audits every school in New Zealand. Our academic, sporting and cultural successes are underpinned by a very supportive culture in the school. Our ethos is built around “Quality Work” and “Respect for Others” and our school motto is the Maori saying “Kia Manawa Nui,” which means “Have Courage” to stand up for what is right. Our vision is built on the premise that to serve our students well (our focus is on the student, the learner), we need to be at the “cutting edge” of 21st century education by being innovative and collaborative and by providing:

1. High quality staff.
2. High quality pastoral care and support for students and staff.
3. High quality teaching and learning through effective pedagogies.
4. High quality academic programs.
5. High quality infrastructure and resources.
6. High quality co-curricular opportunities.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Our school enrollment has increased from 600 to 1200 over the past ten years – a reflection that, according to our community, we are doing the right things and doing them well. Our students are high achievers in academic, sporting and cultural pursuits…the best in this region of New Zealand.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Develop a school culture that has pastoral care – the well-being of the students – as the basis for success. Positive relationships and high expectations are the key. Systems and practices, focusing on student learning and success, that are embedded school-wide through a collaborative professional learning community can only enhance what schools are doing. It is not about a focus on “change”; it is not about waiting for a panacea from the outside! It is about continual self-review to enhance what we do in schools, using the research and the knowledge and skills of the practitioners within your school to focus on student learning and make a difference.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

By encouraging teachers and students to embrace new technologies to enhance learning we have seen greater engagement of students. For example, the development of online learning through video conferencing with a cluster of 12 secondary schools known as The Volcanics. There is a direct collaboration with these schools and there is the opportunity for learning and teaching nationwide and globally. The program allows students to study in curriculum areas not offered by the school. We also provide teachers for the program, currently in Japanese and Digital Photography.

We’ve also created the school’s “My Waka” site which is a Moodle-based site accessible by staff, students and parents and contains a wealth of information ranging from learning programs to attendance. And we’ve developed the web-based “My Portfolio” which gives teachers and students an individual learning site, further personalizing learning.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

This region, the Bay of Plenty, has the highest proportion of Maori (indigenous people) and unfortunately, when analyzing the statistics across New Zealand, Maori are under-achieving compared with NZ Europeans and they cluster in the lower socio-economic group.  PISA, the OECD assessment of learning, ranks NZ seventh in the world. When we disaggregate the data, NZ Europeans are second and NZ Maori are 24th. In 2009 New Zealand was ranked 5th out of 34 OECD countries for mean PISA scores across reading, mathematics and science, noting:

“New Zealand’s overall strong performance in PISA masks three important problems.  First, wide disparities in student achievement exist between ethnic groups.
Māori and Pacific peoples’ average PISA scores are much lower than the average for Pakeha/European students.  The gap has not been narrowing fast enough over the years for Māori and not at all for Pacific peoples. Over the seven years from 2004 to 2010, Māori and Pacific candidates for NCEA (a national examination) at all three levels and for university entrance were consistently less successful than European candidates.  For example in 2010, 61% of Māori candidates gained NCEA Level 3 compared to 79% for NZ European candidates.

Second, wide performance disparities exist for students from different socio-economic
backgrounds.  In Education at a Glance 2011, New Zealand is shown to have the greatest difference in reading performance between students from different socio-economic backgrounds out of all OECD countries.  Although the relationship between students’ background and school performance is evident in all countries, New Zealand is the least successful at mitigating the effect a student’s background has.

Third, too many young New Zealanders are becoming disengaged and not remaining in
education as long as their OECD peers.  In the Māori Education Strategy Ka Hikitia, the Ministry of Education recognizes that more of New Zealand’s 14 to 18 year old students have disengaged from the education system than in many comparable countries.” The New Zealand Institute – NZ Ahead.

What is your school doing right to support education?

Trident is bi-cultural, with 44 percent Maori and the balance NZ European. At Trident,
Maori are achieving as well as NZ Europeans. In 2011 our two top students were of mixed ethnicity but both identify themselves as Maori. Trident High School has been innovative in establishing one of the first New Zealand Trades Academies led by a secondary school. Working in partnership with tertiary provider, Waiariki Institute of Technology, students are able to undertake work-related training while still studying at school.  Students can attain tertiary qualifications in fields ranging from construction to business administration to automotive to forestry; nine “trades” are currently offered. Trident invited the seven other secondary schools in the region to be partners and in 2012 this has grown to 10 with schools further away seeing the benefits for their students and requesting involvement. Now over 200 students attend. Our Trades Academy has over 75 percent Maori, by far the largest proportion of any Trades Academy in New Zealand.

The engagement and academic success of many of the students in the Trades Academy is a significant feature. Students are gaining NCEA credits together with a tertiary qualification and becoming very employable. The impact on the communities the students come from is significant, especially in the remote rural and predominantly Maori communities (some travel three hours each way by bus to attend). The Academy is providing opportunities for many students in schools where the resources are limited and for some it is helping to break the cycle of generations of under-qualified and hence, under-employed or unemployed. Trident was recognized in a local awards ceremony, winning the trophy for community contribution.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Right here, right now! With this generation of “digital natives” education can be more real, rich and relevant; we have the opportunity to embed life-long learning.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Be a learner. Understand effective pedagogies and then cater to the needs of individual students. Build positive relationships with your students and encourage them to see the value of education. Have high expectations of every one of them; no deficit theorizing!

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Helping: There is a greater focus on “learning” as opposed to merely “teaching.” There is a focus on meeting the needs of each student as a learner and the importance of engagement in the learning process. There is a realization that one size does not fit all. The importance of data to inform teaching and learning.

Hindering: The attitude of “I taught it; they just didn’t learn it!” Deficit theorizing.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

The best educational tool in the world is a quality teacher; this is one who cares, believes, understands, smiles, has high expectations, supports, encourages, challenges, inspires and who celebrates every success of every learner in his/her care. Why? Because everyone deserves one.


Join the Partners in Learning Network and experience global collaboration!

Innovate in the classroom, help your students build the skills they need for the future—such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity—with Partners in Learning.

You’ll meet other innovative teachers for collaboration opportunities, get access to free teacher resources, and learn about great ways to improve your personal teaching practice using technology.

Embraced by the theme ‘Your Ideas Matter’ the Partners in Learning Network is a community for you, by you, and further amplifies the great work that is being done every day by teachers and schools around the world.  With this idea in mind, we invite you to try out this global online resource and community designed to encourage collaboration and the spread of ideas for the betterment of education worldwide.

The new Partners in Learning Network is the next generation of the global network serving educators and school leaders in over 115 countries.  To facilitate a truly global community of innovative educators, the site is now available in 36 different languages, thanks to the use of Microsoft Translator Services.

Sign in, create an account and start connecting with thousands of educators worldwide here.  


About Peter Tootell

  • Birthplace: Palmerston North, New Zealand
  • Current residence: Whakatane, New Zealand
  • Education: Principal of Trident High School, Whakatane
  • Favorite childhood memory: Playing rugby.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Prague – The Microsoft Partners In Learning Global Forum. I have recently returned from a sabbatical that covered New Orleans, Boston, New York, Toronto (Canada), Cornwall (England) and Italy.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? Reading jokes that are put up in the men’s bathroom at school – humor is good for teachers and even though they are in the bathroom they are “good clean fun”!
  • Favorite music: Pink Floyd
  • Your favorite quote or motto: 
    1. Kia Manawa Nui. – Have courage to be the best you can be.
    2. Whāia te iti kahurangi; Ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei. –  Pursue excellence: If you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain. (We are a bi-cultural school: 45% New Zealand Maori and 55% European, hence the use of Maori.)


Partners in Learning Global Forum 2012

Microsoft Partners in Learning celebrates the world’s most innovative educators and school leaders for bringing technology to life in the classroom and impacting millions of students.
Join the online Global Forum Community now and connect with the finalists on the Partners in Learning Network!

​Microsoft Partners in Learning hosts national and regional events throughout the year that recognize innovative educators and school leaders. These competitions culminate in the Partners in Learning Global Forum.

This year’s Global Forum will take place in Prague, Czech Republic from November 28 – December 1, 2012. The Global Forum – with the theme, “Your ideas matter” – will bring together more than 500 of the most innovative teachers, school leaders, education leaders, and government officials from 75 countries.


This entry was posted in Leadership and Strategic Innovation, People and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “With this generation of ‘digital natives’ education can be more real, rich and relevant; we have the opportunity to embed life-long learning.” – Peter Tootell, New Zealand

  1. Muchas muchas gracias por este sitio tan maravilloso, ahora mismo lo posteo en mi twenti. gracias.he puesto en mi blog un link a tu web. Mi blog tiene un PR de 2.saludetes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *