This brief article explores the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on learning in Aotearoa New Zealand and how it went beyond a centre- or school-led curriculum to encapsulate wider issues of identity, whānau and culture.

COVID-19 has led to unprecedented change and upheaval for teaching and learning in Aotearoa New Zealand. Teachers have shown incredible flexibility, innovation and responsiveness to new and different ways of teaching and learning. 

So, what has been learned while in lockdown?

The following are snapshots of learning gathered from a number of sources across the sector as teachers, learners, parents and whānau reflect and prepare to return to a new kind of normal.

Authentic partnerships – what has been revealed and what can we take forward

“Finding ways to further strengthen partnerships and value the learning that happens across the boundaries between homes and schools, seems an important step in expanding our view of what counts as quality education, making schooling more equitable and in honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi,” (Riwai-Couch, M. 2020, p.7)

The COVID-19 lockdown and the time tamariki and rangatahi spent learning from home enabled teachers to engage families and whānau in their children’s learning, as per the Code of Professional Responsibility|Ngā Tikanga Matatika, in new and different ways.

Raiha Johnson, Kaiako at Waverley School, explains in this webinar how with limited time to prepare for lockdown, there was a shift in power and mana to parents and whānau in their tamariki’s learning. Teachers, centres/kura/schools became the manuhiri in the homes of their learners and parents and whānau had greater agency and decision-making capability in their child’s learning.

The COVID-19 lockdown presents a unique opportunity to critically reflect on our authentic partnerships with parents and whānau and take what has worked best for learners and their whānau and carry it forward. Here are some provocations, wonderings and suggestions gathered from teachers and expert thought leaders:

  • Technology has been used widely for tamariki and rangatahi to connect from home to school during lockdown. We can continue this connection, but in reverse. So, learners are sharing their progress and their learning with parents and whānau from their centre/school/kura environment
  • Teachers have had to adapt and innovate to ensure learning is whanau-friendly so they can best support their tamariki learning from home. We know that whānau are a child’s first teachers and that the educational success of learners is greatly enhanced by active engagement of their families. So, continuing this approach will support sustaining partnerships and continue to benefit our learners.
  • Learners introducing their whānau to their teachers and peers online has provided deeper personal connections which can continue to be built on with a return to the physical learning environment
  • Parents and whānau have learnt even more about their tamariki, their strengths and how they learn, which provides a great opportunity to work together in partnership to plan learning for the rest of the year together

Parents and whānau have also reported they have enjoyed watching their children’s learning progress, along with understanding more about the challenges they face. Dr Melanie Riwai-Couch has discussed in this webinar how sometimes there is a disconnect between business as usual reporting and communication and what parents and whānau really want to know about their child’s learning. The COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent transition back to centres and schools provides an opportunity to unpick this further and to ask:

  • What do we know about what families want to know about their child’s progress?
  • Do we provide opportunities for families to ask questions as well as being given information?
  • Are parents and whānau “informed consumers” or are they “determined contributors” in their child’s learning?

The place of values and culture post lockdown

Associate Professor at the University of Auckland Dr Melinda Webber and Raiha Johnson, have both discussed how upholding te ao Māori values are more critical than ever in supporting ongoing collective wellbeing following the COVID-19 lockdown and as centres/kura/schools return to a new normal.      

Whakamana – teachers and leaders need to whakamana the communities of tamaraki and rangatahi and celebrate the time they have spent with their whānau, rather than focussing on the perceived loss of formal learning opportunities. Teachers could ask their learners:

  • What did you learn about your role in your whānau during lockdown?
  • What did you learn about another whānau member that made you proud?

Whanaungatanga - relationships and reconnecting together as a learning community will be key. Ministry of Education Psychologist Michelle Wood describes in this webinar how important it is that children and young people know that their teachers are excited to be with them again and that their focus is not immediately resuming the learning programme but re-connecting with each other.

Kaitiakitanga – recognises that teachers are the kaitiaki in the learning environment and are responsible as protectors and guardians of our tamariki during a time where they and their whānau may be feeling anxious.

Dr Webber went on to explain, that we already know that culture and language can ground tamariki and rangatahi during times of uncertainty and upheaval. Learners will have been talking with their whānau more than ever about their whakapapa, about Matariki. So, as we transition back to centres/schools/kura it is a good time to support learners to reflect and ask them:

  • What are you grateful for?
  • What are you working towards?
  • How might you contribute to the goals of others?

As teachers consider individual and collective views on how the transition back to centres and kura might progress, the Ministry of Education shared this webinar where teachers, parents and leaders discussed what was important for them in their learning environments.

Learning beyond the centre gates – the place of working theories post lockdown

In terms of assessment, planning and teaching, there is a unique opportunity for a stronger focus on working theories and the way in which we can better understand our tamariki’s perspective of the world and the impact of recent events in their lives. 

So how do we demonstrate, in practice, our professional capability in this theory? Helen Hedges talks specifically about working theories in this article where she reminds us of the tentative and speculative nature of a theory. We know the experience of COVID-19 has informed the thinking in the minds of our very young children in particular. Hedges suggests in this article that “young children are participating in these new ways to live and be” and asks what new meanings are they ascribing to their daily lives? What do they think might happen in the future? Hedges also referred to a blog and noted the choice of words children used to describe their thoughts and feelings about the impact COVID-19 had on them:

“We can see a number of children’s working theories about what COVID19 has meant in their lives, including about being “stuck inside”, what their parents are doing during the pandemic, that they miss grandparents, friends and schooling, that personal hygiene has perhaps become (more?) important, their pride in those who work in the medical community, and so on. Ones I find interesting too are those projecting ideas and theorising about how the world might change as a result of this shared experience.”

Post COVID-19 we have a new lens to apply when collaborating with whānau in child-led teaching and learning. We can continue to strengthen our practice around collaboration, inclusion and partnership, by maximising the opportunity to use our expertise in planning for learning that maps the voices of whānau and in particular their children and by responding to their voice with activities and challenges that mirror their current working theory, post COVID-19 lockdown.

We would love to hear from you about your experience of teaching and learning while in lockdown. Please contact us on or start a conversation on Hapori Matatū!

This article was researched and written by the Teacher Capability and Collaboration team.



Helen Hedges Working Theories

Helen Hedges – children’s working theories about COVID-19

Riwai-Couch, M., Bull, A., Ellis, B., Hall, K., Nicholls, J., Taleni, T., Watkinson, R. (2020). School-led learning at home: Voices of the parents of Māori and Pasifika students. Auckland, Evaluation Associates Ltd.

Webinar: Learning from lockdown – the voices of parents of Māori and Pacific learners

Summary Article: Dr Nina Hood – Lessons from lockdown: engaging in true partnership with Māori and Pasifika families

Ministry of Education webinar - Diverse Perspectives on Wellbeing

Ministry of Education webinar - Transitioning back for children and young people with learning needs

Ministry of Education webinar – Transitioning back to early learning services