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Leadership - Growing Tomorrow's Schools Today: *

At the tiny remote Te Whaiti school in Te Urewera they have a saying "A Kumara never calls itself sweet, that's for the eaters to say," So even if you could visit today to see the sparkle in their children's eyes, and witness the enthusiasm for learning of all the students, the team and community there, it would be hard to comprehend the extent of their achievements. These people are an oral people - their processes are defined by stories. A group of AUT Communications Studies students and others are helping them share their learning with others. This is their story.


This once vibrant community was in turmoil, unemployed and in depression as a result of native logging being stopped to save the Whirinaki Forest. There were no compensatory regional development payouts. The people were just left to fend for themselves.

On Unemployment and Dependency

All we were was just workers and when they took that from under us, the people - we were just so dependent on it that we did not know how to look after each other…We had relearn to use the foods of the forest for survival. Some said that we were the cause of some of the native life disappearing, but the real reason was that the State Forestry, the Government, had cut down their home for timber and profits. Andy Kohiti - Kaumatua


In 1996 the Education Review Office visited, found 21 major non-compliances and left a scathing report. The local school was threatened with closure. Under "Tomorrow's Schools" the Board of Trustees and this decile one Maori community had to look to themselves for solutions to the problem; their answer was revolutionary.

On facing the situation

We had no delivery of curriculum, we had no assessment procedures in place, our governance was in dire straights. We had a real bad ERO report…When you are a small community the community looks at us and we were voted on to do the job, so a bad ERO report reflects on us as well…Rural isolation and high unemployment are not an excuse any more. We decided just to get on with it - we thought: "Let's do what we can." Chris Eketone - Current Chairman

It was really scary stuff and people would say, just normal people, bushmen and that, "No I can't do that, I don't know anything about that." James Doherty - Board Member

On Building a team:

It would have been very easy for us to just turn around and say leave it to someone else - "I'm hopping off the Board" - but we took another approach, we decided to take it on. We formed a circle, a very tight circle. We said we will work hard and play hard and the circle will be so tight that if anyone wants to get in they will have to fight to do it. Because we will make sure we succeed and will enjoy ourselves doing it, and what it will create is that other people looking in will say What's happening?, What's Te Whaiti doing? and they will want to come in. That's how we did it - we had ourselves, our spouses and our children and worked it. We played - and it created an environment, and other people started to look, and say; Can I come in for a look? - and that started the ball rolling. Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

On Innovation:

I think if you looked back at schools then, those new schools, Tomorrow's Schools - the Ministry said if you don't know how to do it go and look at another school and take that model. That was taking a structured model that maybe worked in one school and trying to adapt to that…We said that does not fit what we want to do here, so that meant that we had to develop what we wanted - and quite often it was not what the Ministry wanted. They had a lot of difficulty with it, it was outside the square, very much outside the square, but because we made it work, because it worked they had to come on board.also - and when they came on board they had to make the paperwork fit it. It took lots of years, we had a lot of hard stuff leading up to it, so now all of us have now opened up our way of seeing things. Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

On Board Courage and Self Examination

In those early days we got used to being tagged over the head and people saying: "You're not doing that right," all the time. It was that insidious negativity that you don't even realise is happening…but it's different now. Now we don't go away and say: "To hell with your legislation," but we go away and think: "Well, how can we do this together?"

There wasn't much information regarding Board of Trustees (BOT's) in those days, so there weren't many doors we could knock on - so it was hit and miss and we missed a lot of times.

We saw it a different way, we saw the environment as an issue - unemployment 99.9% You are getting children that don't have that preschool experience. They don't have an educational environment at home. You've got young parents 15,16,17 having children, so they are learning to grow as well. To us, all these contribute to build up and become a big issue for us.

We had to look at ourselves as BOT members and staff members and honestly look at our own performances. Are we doing what we should be doing and if we aren't how can we improve that?

We met together, we spent the weekend at the school sleeping here. We asked ourselves Why are we here? and said "We are here for the children and to contribute the best we can for their education. And are we doing that?" Most of the time the answer was "no." So what can we do about it, and should we be here? Some said it's not for me, and some like myself thought it was going to be like a monthly netball meeting, just turn up once a month and that's it. These were the things we had to face - so we did that and dealt to it. Those that decided to stay, and most of us did, went out to develop the skills we needed - and that's how we grew. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman

On Board Member Development.

A lot of the stuff we developed ourselves because there wasn't much out there and most of what was there we did not understand - the language again. We had to be everything and we were not lawyers. Many of us did not get past the fourth form at school, so we got onto some training providers that were delivering in language we could understand and hooked up with them. To be honest, that was one of the best moves we ever did. We had to go away and research the information ourselves - It was "do it yourself" type of training, where they just sat in the back and gave us guidance when we needed it. At the end of the day we had to do all the work. We had five or six schools in our cluster and we met once a month,. We had six different things being addressed each month, and you had to present your homework. You had to go back and research and find out what the policy meant, then you brought it back to the big forum and each one contributed. That way, then someone might be doing Health and Safety, so you grab that and take it home then cut and paste it where you can. So without knowing it, we were actually helping each other - and six people, six heads, are much better than one! Chris Eketone - Current Chairman


When ERO visited again in 2000 they only needed to stay for two days. They found a changed school…

"The principal's relationship with the board has enhanced the governance and management relationship. Her approach has empowered trustees, as she has supported and encouraged them to further their skills. Board members have extended understanding of their roles, and gradually taken greater responsibility for school governance. As a result there is a shared responsibility.

Sound and regular communications ensure that all trustees are well informed about all aspects of school operation. All decisions are made in full consultation with staff and board. There are positive and supportive relationships with the community, whose input is valued. These factors all contribute to the atmosphere of trust, respect and goodwill which exists."

On Financial Management:

We knew that people would be looking closely at how we managed our finances, so we had to get that right. I told the Board that I will support them totally in all actions obtaining and using funds if they are for the well being of our kids. If any funding goes into our own pockets then that's the end of the road! Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

On policies:

The legislation told us that we had to have a system in place to regularly review each and every one of our school policies. That became a nightmare, so we wrote them down in simple language in five coloured books. These are living documents that we update as we go, so to satisfy the regulations we only need to check that they are up to date. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman

On Assessing School Performance

The biggest thing for us from a board perspective was getting to know whether our children were getting to grip with things. In the past we just said what the principal said - and I think that most schools still do that - but now we take an interest in what is happening. We have benchmarks, we have a national benchmark and we also have our own as well. We don't need to know all the detail, but we do have a broad sense, so if John gets 10 in maths we know how its marked - so if Peter gets five, then we want to know why and what's being done to bring him up to speed. So that was the big difference on our path. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman

On Managing New Projects;

We had trouble with our community water supply which was unsafe. Experts came in and spent tens of thousands of dollars digging deeper and deeper bores only to find rusty water. We had milk tankers delivering water from outside. In the end we said "Let us handle this," and Earl, being a farmer, did some research and soon, with the support of the local community, we had a new dam structure and pipeline that solved the problem for everyone. We could have done lots for our children with all the money that was poured down that water hole!

When you live in remote places you have to learn to apply yourself to anything. It costs too much to call people in every time. On our new administration building we ended up doing all the project management work with the builder as we were on the spot, so we said why are we paying a Project Manager in Rotorua? We decided it was really our money we were wasting and could use it instead for our children. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman/ Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

On Strategic Planning and Mergers:

I'm no longer involved on the Board, but I would like to see the merger take place with the two schools. There have always been two schools with not enough resources to run them, so I think that is a good step. Build that, then extend that to that to make a wharekura and extend to secondary school. Extend and keep building on it. It's a growing thing - like we've come a long way and the people that are involved have grown. Just keep extending out and it will grow, that's what I'd like to see. Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

On Fast Track Implementation Planning

In 2001 the parents of both schools in the valley decided that they should combine; to deploy the resources and facilities on both sites more effectively for the benefit of their children. Coincidentally, I happened to be present as a "fly on the wall" at the end of a meeting on September 6th 2001 when the two BOT's met to plan an extraordinary fast track merger that would allow them to get the benefits of this in the 2002 year They planned a "live in" at the school the very next weekend where all BOT members would meet to do a SWOT analysis to identify the best assets, practices, policies and procedures of both schools and combine them to create a new and even better school - Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. Within a few short weeks they submitted a detailed strategic plan for education in the valley to the Ministry of Education. A plan that would give much better outcomes for their children much more effectively than operating the two existing schools independently. Peter Goldsbury (1950's student of Te Whaiti School)

On Thinking outside the square.

Our new school will have five classrooms - they will be interconnected by a nine kilometer school driveway! James Doherty - Board member, after the efficiency of operating on two sites was questioned.

On Barriers to Learning and Opportunities;

When the government allocated special funds to help remove 'barriers to learning' we came up with a list as long as your arm. Transport was a key one, as small children left home very early in the morning and returned late; our teachers had to supervise them all day. We applied for funds to help us buy our own bus. Our bus is a resource that opened up many opportunities for all. Now we can take the children to explore outside. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman / Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman


The 2000 ERO team reported:

"The principal provides strong professional leadership. Sound curriculum knowledge and an in-depth understanding of the principles and practices of assessment have supported staff through recent curriculum developments. All teachers have been involved in the development of curriculum plans, and are actively encouraged to seek professional development over a range of areas. Collegial and supportive relationships with staff encourage co-operation and team work, which is reflected in high staff morale."

On School values

The full name of this valley is Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. Toi was a powerful leader in times of peace. He was a courageous explorer and adventurer. He knew real strength was in the mind. He shared his knowledge and technology. Wherever he went he left strong inclusive communities that traded resources with each other. We said to ourselves - these are the values that we want our children to take from the school. These will be our leadership values too. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman

On School Leadership

I think it probably helped that I went to this school as a child, so I had a connection and identified with the dilemma that the school was in. Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)

On Roles:

Yes, we each had our own roles to play and areas to be responsible for, but because we worked closely as a team it was quite OK to step into someone else's patch and help. At first some of us found that hard to accept, but soon found that by loosening the boundaries and sharing information we all became more effective. Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

On Sharing Leadership:

Leadership is not the same as "the leader" - it can float around. We share it. Sometimes visitors have trouble working out who the principal is! Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)


After decades of education that has not delivered outcomes for a large proportion of Maori, it seems that Te Whaiti School has learnt what really works - for their students at least. In this bilingual primary school all students sit and pass School Certificate Maori with top marks before they leave (the youngest last year sat at age 10). This school doesn't seem to understand the "normal distribution". All 17 of their senior class who recently sat the NSW mathematics exams (2 others were away) received distinction awards ( top 10 %ile). They embrace Information Communication Technology (ICT) and have won awards in ICT competitions. Their children explore their world via the internet. They are self-confident and take responsibility for their own learning.

The community, many of whom were once strapped for speaking their language at school were also insistent that their children should recapture the strength of their rich heritage and language.

On Te Reo.

Initially we went down the total immersion path, but then we asked ourselves- What if just one of our students wanted to move outside Te Whaiti? - That's when we decided on a strong English, maths and technology path too. Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

The junior school is total immersion, but in my senior classes we are bilingual. On Monday, Tuesday and Friday we teach in Maori, and on Wednesday and Thursday, English, though at the moment we spend Thursday on Kapahaka training. Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)

On Student Achievement:

There has been a history behind members of the community not achieving qualifications at high school. Prior to this being an immersion school it was mainstream and students then had difficulty. The key has been to find something that the students could be successful at that looked impossible, because if you can overcome a hurdle that is really difficult, that opens the door. We decided to use School Certificate, to find a subject that they could achieve in and take it at a young age. That success generates confidence and that has really been the key to it. You are always going to have trouble if you are lacking in confidence. Once your attitude changes and you become more positive, and you become more confident, that learning becomes a little easier and you more successful in it - Success breeds success! Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)

On keeping focused:

When we got our student's results back for the NSW mathematics exams we were quite blown away. We had a quiet smile to ourselves and said "now lets get on with the next challenge" Chris Eketone - Chairman

On getting parents Involved:

The parents were so amazed that their primary school students could pass School Certificate and pass well, that they became much more supportive of their children - they started encouraging them in their schoolwork, and taking an active interest in their work Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)

Our parents helped us convert the old school bus shed into another classroom saving at least $10,000. But even that is hard. In prosperous communities parents come along to working bees with tractors, equipment and materials. Here we have to provide everything, including the shovels. Earl Rewi - Previous Chairman

Our bus has been important to the community as we have no shops or public transport. Each Saturday all our sports teams and supporters travel to Rotorua to play, and after the games call into the supermarket for the week's groceries. Our teachers are not involved in any extracurricular activities nowadays - the parents do all the sports team coaching and fundraising. That's the kind of win-win opportunity we look for. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman / Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)


Despite their school's remote bush location, the people here are already active participants in the global knowledge economy. They have been awarded Ministry of Education contracts to develop curriculum material and to do ICT training for other schools in their cluster group. They build and maintain their own computer network. They have automated most of their school planning and assessment processes. They are impatient for the day when they will have higher and more reliable outward bandwidth so they can team with other schools and share more of their resources and lessons to save slow trips over their narrow winding roads.

On Technology;

We were having so much difficulty being in an isolated school, and of course finding money to go out. Parents here are struggling to find work, so do not have the money. It seemed to make sense that technology could be used to get the children out and bring the outside in. Now if we want to take the children to a museum we just go. Genevieve Doherty - Tumuaki (Principal)


They are regularly visited by other schools and by educators from around the world - freely sharing their knowledge and learning new things from the experience. Their principal recently visited United Kingdom schools on a travel scholarship to share and learn. What the team here has achieved by their own innovation and efforts, and the new confidence that their students have in their futures inspires all who visit them. They choose to develop capacity and grow within their community in preference to hiring in external resources at high cost that sap their precious funding. They are a Tomorrow's School excelling in a place where conventional wisdom said it would never work.

On Cooperation.

We had one school visit us coming from the same failure position we were once in. The first thing we asked them was; How many other schools are there in your town? They said five, so we asked "Have you ever met with them to share some of your experiences and knowledge?" They said no - so we said "Try inviting them around for a wine and cheese or something and see what happens." We do a lot of work together with the other schools in the Tuhoe Education Authority, sharing teachers, ideas and resources. Chris Eketone - Current Chairman


The school and community's lessons extend beyond just the education sector. Their strong teamwork, innovation and leadership processes are an inspiration to many looking for more effective ways of leading organisations and unleashing "Kiwi Magic". Ex-pupil Peter Goldsbury returned after almost a lifetime away and in one year says his old school and community taught him more about how organisations really work and how they can "make new things happen" than he learnt in a long career in engineering, project, management, and organizational development roles.

Two School Board members attended a public Project Management workshop Peter ran at The Auckland University of Technology. They assessed themselves as operating at level 4-5 on a well known five level Organisational Capability Maturity Model whereas most organisations lie close to level one.

Peter found that Te Whaiti people seemed to operate on a quite different organizational plane. Not a linear one focusing on processes, but rather a cyclic one that concentrated more on behaviours. They seemed to actively seek opportunities for growth. Their metaphor was that of giant trees growing from a tiny seed in a forest where all of life is interconnected. Their organic model seemed to help them be very proactive even in a harsh, complex and fast-changing world. It seemed that this thinking was natural to both old and young - as if there was something special in the water there!

He then worked with the school and community to describe their organic processes in a radically new "Leadership Model for Innovative Organisations - The Tipu Ake Lifecycle." (See www.tipuake.org.nz). The name they gave it - Tipu Ake ki te Ora - means "Growing ever upwards towards well-being."

Tipu Ake adds three levels of self-analysis, leadership and teamwork below the process level that most conventional organisations concentrate on. More importantly, it has three levels above, that sense what is happening and build up the wisdom that ensures that processes (and Key Performance Indicator measurements) move towards well-being. Pest control is about identifying and managing those things (risks) that could cause falls to lower levels. The "Birds" represent entrepreneur actions - constantly sensing what is going on around them, swooping down to plant new seeds and to return even higher.

Unfazed by the external attention, the Te Whaiti people say "We don't know what all the fuss is about, we just went about the job in the best way we knew how." For them Tipu Ake levels are described in memes - sayings that they pass around and replicate. For example:

N When you focus on outcomes, nothing becomes a barrier
5 We have no room for Matapiko [stingy] gatekeepers - we share our knowledge
4 Taringa Whakaaro - keep your ears [and minds] open
3 Keep the processes simple
2 We leave our [organisational] hats at the door
1 A kumara never calls itself sweet - that's for the eaters to say
0 The greatest enemy is the one within us - conquer that and the rest are easy.

Some of New Zealand's most innovative organisations, particularly fast growing and internationally successful ones are already making Tipu Ake thinking part of their vocabulary. Feedback from some users (see more on website) includes:

"The thought leadership of in the area of viewing how an organisation really operates was excellent. The Tipu Ake model helps give a framework that encompasses all of life, not just work"

"I enjoyed the chance to explore new ideas and to get a framework to manage my ideas without being constrained by it - e.g. Tipu Ake."

"I'm not one for following fads or flavours of the month and as I have over the years been exposed to all sorts of leadership and project management theory and models. I am pretty sceptical. However, so far I am impressed by this model which is a synthesis of internationally accepted good practice and the approach that the Maori community at Te Whaiti took to turning around their failing school."

Tipu Ake thinking is taonga (treasure) that has belonged at the place Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi for close to 1000 years. Its levels are inscribed as patterns on the kowhaiwhai panels on the rear wall of Wharepakau - their wharenui (Meeting house). The Tipu Ake Lifecycle is but another view of it and it will also belong for all time at this place. It is shared on the web at www.tipuake.org.nz for the benefit of the world's future children.

Volunteers and many student project teams at The Auckland University of Technology and elsewhere are helping them share Tipu Ake with the world. Management retreats are being held on the marae at Te Whaiti using the school as a "live in" case study.

IN CONCLUSION - a challenge to you:

The Tipu Ake Lifecycle is a very different and very pragmatic organic model that is attracting the interest of some of the world's leading management / leadership thinkers.

Visit the website www.tipuake.org.nz and you will find a self-assessment tool that you can use to benchmark your organisational behaviours against the Tipu Ake Lifecycle model.

The people of Te Whaiti talk of "Growing the Knowledge Wave - not Catching it". They hope that you, the reader find that Tipu Ake will help you grow too. We would like to hear of your experience via our website.

Please help us celebrate, share and replicate what this tiny school has gifted us.



In January 2004, the community welcomed the then Minister of Education - Trevor Mallard, the Minister of Maori Affairs- Parekura Horomai and many officials to open their new school, Te Kura Toitu o Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi, formed by the amalgamation of the Te Whaiti and Minginui schools. This operates on two sites and extends teaching to the first two years of secondary education. This growth has been a big challenge for the school with the need to extend operations facilities and staff capability in the midst of major building rennovations and delays.

At the end of 2005 Principal Genevieve Doherty resigned to take a break and move on to other things, but not before seeing that a new short term principal and staff were appointed to carry things forward in 2006.

For 2007 we welcome our new principal Hariata Tapiata to help us continue our journey.



If you are a teacher, scientist or have other skills (particularly secondary school level Science, Maths, Environment, Technology, Multimedia, Film and Television etc) and would like to work as a volunteer on sabatical for a month or two alongside our teachers and community to help them raise the bar for our children and open the learning opportunities our natural environment offers them, then please contact The Chairman, Te Kura Toitu o Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi, PO Box 3013, Te Whaiti via Rotorua. Ph 07 366 3221. We can provide accommodation for the right people and offer a unique opportunity for you to help us pioneer the development of some innovative experiential learning programmes which we want to be able to share with the world via the web. See our community's planned "Whirinaki Interactive" Project

Related Websites:

Te Whaiti School: www.tewhaiti.school.nz (includes their 1999 ERO report)
Tipu Ake Lifecycle www.tipuake.org.nz (model downloadable here)
Whirinaki Websites www.whirinaki.org.nz

For the content of this story our thanks go to the people of Te Whaiti, who told their story to many enthusiastic AUT student volunteers with shorthand pads, video cameras, and good memories. This story collated by Peter Goldsbury with assistance from Jan Robertson, Waikato University and from the Tipu Ake 2002Public Relations team comprising AUT Students Robyn Johnston and Cherie Bray-Taylor.* A slightly abridged version of this oral history was published in the New Zealand Journal of Educational Leadership" Dec 2002.

All stories associated with Tipu Ake will remain for all time at Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. The people there are its guardians and share it with the world for the well-being of all its future childrens.

Editors wishing to publish this story please contact Peter Goldsbury pgoldsbury@stratex.co.nz. It must be footnoted with the following copyright statement:

The Tipu Ake Lifecycle - A Leadership Model for Innovative Organisations
© 2002 Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi see www.tipuake.org.nz




1. NEW "Lifelong Learning - Nature's Way" - Tipu Ake as a learning model
2. UPDATE " New Tools For Growing Living Organisations and Communities" Radical tools for program management in a world of complexity and inter-dependence - builds on our paper at PMI Global Forum, Anaheim. Nov 2004
UPDATE Downloadable Tipu Ake Model now includes "The Leadership Tripod" and Mycorrhyzal Fungi Networks - Partnerships below the ground level.
4. PODCASTS Listen to Stranova and Living Systems Thinking interviews - Blog
5. VIDEO: Visit Downloadable Video Libary, interviews, stories, apply Tipu Ake
6. Thanks to those who participated in workshops "Tools for Growing Living Organisations" run in New York, London, Mid Wales UK, Finland and San Francisco during August 2005 click here for report

Helping New Zealanders and the world grow from within
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(c) 2001 onwards Te Whaiti Nui-a-Toi. All intellectual property protected under the provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Adopted by General Assembly 13 Sept 2007) - details www.tewhaiti-nui-a-toi.maori.nz
The Tipu Ake Team thanks AUT for helping incubate this model and in particular the many student teams, staff and other local and international volunteers that have helped it germinate in many places around the world.
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