Education – Let’s make sure the best stuff works for everyone

Julia Westera Julia Westera

There has been much talk lately of the decline of the New Zealand education system and the achievement of our students. However, it is not talk that our tamariki and rangatahi need, it is action. 

To reverse the tide, we need educational tools (and teachers who are trained to use them) that ensure all our tamariki develop into confident and capable lifelong learners who can lead us together into the future.  Many of these tools already exist but are overlooked or are not widely implemented. One of these is Reciprocal Teaching - RT3T™. 

Reciprocal Teaching - RT3T™ provides much of what is needed. RT3T™ is a proven approach that has been shown to reverse downward trends in education and wellbeing within our schools and their communities.

Our children will be our future citizens and thought leaders. RT3T™ enables them to think confidently and critically for themselves and with others, handle challenges, be able to hold a reasoned point of view and enjoy warm and open relationships together. 

I first encountered Reciprocal Teaching (RT) in the early 1990s. At the time I was working as a school psychologist in multicultural West Auckland and had been shocked to discover there were no Māori or Pacific Island students in the senior assembly in one of our largest secondary schools, despite them making up close to half the student population. I was also disturbed when some Māori students told me: “but miss, we’re not nerds, we’re dorks’’. I reacted by going on a search for an evidence-based way of addressing this appalling state of affairs. 

Blown away by when I saw Reciprocal Teaching in action and learnt more, I have been passionate ever since about schools getting Reciprocal Teaching right for everyone.

We have known for a long time that when well implemented as a whole school strategy Reciprocal Teaching is transformational. 

Students and teachers quickly develop a safe and cohesive learning culture that supports inclusion, well-being, and open critical dialogue, with students becoming focussed skilled readers, learners and leaders.

My PhD and other research in the 1990s were about transforming Reciprocal Teaching  into a high impact and inclusive approach in both primary and secondary schools, and kura. Since then, I’ve repeatedly swung between being excited about seeing RT3T™ in action, and shocked by the lack of urgency at a national level and by the number of opportunities lost. Repeatedly.

Excited, when in 2012, 20 years after I first came across RT, I was asked to co-write BES Exemplar 4: Reciprocal Teaching

Shocked, because when I checked with leaders from 30 schools at a cluster meeting, asking who knew of anyone using RT, only one leader knew of only one teacher.  

Excited, when in the following year I teamed up with Massey High School leaders to make a two-hour presentation to 23 senior leaders in the Ministry of Education. It was titled: ‘Reciprocal Teaching: a No. 1 smart tool to accelerate achievement across the curriculum for all students’. Shocked, because there were no outcomes from this meeting that we know of. None.

Shocked, I resigned from my job as an educational psychologist within the Ministry to work on an updated approach to Reciprocal Teaching. This new inclusive school-wide strategy, which I named Reciprocal Teaching- 3 Track (RT3T™), drew from working together with and for our ākonga, whānau, kaiako, leaders and specialised facilitators. When I resigned my colleagues said it may take 3 years to get a national strategy. Principals said it will require an expert team at least 3 years. We’ve now been on the sideline for 10 years.

Excited, that, despite the setbacks, my work has shown that when well-implemented, RT3T™ transforms how teachers teach and students learn. This led one leading educator to state “it’s the only thing that works”. This metacognitive, collaborative, and culturally responsive pedagogy now has a 35+ years track record of results within NZ, and 40 years internationally. For an update on results, see: What's New | Education Counts

Excited, because RT3T™ can cut away the glass ceiling for our most challenging kids. In two of our low decile high schools kids would excitedly greet me with “Hey, Miss, we love RT3T™.” At Aorere College the then Head of English, Keir Whipp, has also repeatedly said “it’s the only thing that works”. 

Excited, because this year this pedagogy was selected as one of 3 proven practices that can improve outcomes for everyone by fostering inclusive learning cultures in Kōkirihia – The plan for removing streaming from our schools.  Last year we saw intermediate students reminding each other not to do any mocking as soon as anyone goes through the door into the classroom. RT3T™ also provides a proactive approach to countering bullying. This is important because NZ has one of the highest rates of student bullying in the world, highlighted by recent instances of bullying reported in the media.

Shocked, that despite the overwhelming evidence that it works, there’s never been a comprehensive plan in NZ to enable Reciprocal Teaching to be implemented across the motu with integrity so that everyone benefits. 

Here we are, experiencing the far reaching impacts of Covid, along with bullying and declining achievement in our schools while this proven pedagogy has been left on the back burner, and has had no investment to enable fast forwarding. 

More than 35 years of opportunities lost…