Learning Coach & Advisory: What a ‘Form Teacher’ was always meant to be and wasn’t.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. 

What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

For me teaching is about fostering the learning relationship and connecting with ãkonga to find their passions and walk beside them on their learning journey so that they are able to navigate their learning with support. The ‘guide on the side’ as opposed to leading with a carrot. It’s about people helping people.


In addition to the teaching & learning relationship an important element is pastoral care, which has become increasingly more important in education as we focus more on the learning relationship between the teacher and learner.

Pastoral Care As Form Teacher And Dean

My pastoral care journey as secondary school student is typical of the model in secondary schools worldwide and typical of the system that I have taught in. I had a form teacher and was part of a vertical form class. We met once a day for 15 mins and all students from year 9 -13 stood awkwardly around while the notices were read, we were reprimanded about our uniform and asked about our whereabouts from certain classes we had missed. The teacher then busied himself with jobs before his next class, I went to this room for five years and waited. I was not engaged in any learning and we all accepted this is what you did. The UK system called registration happened at the start of the day and after lunch. They were the two roll call opportunities of the day as long as you were there at these two sessions you were present for the day. It was an administrative thing. In NZ making the time longer was meant to equal better pastoral care, we were now in an identified group, we had our picture taken for the year book, I purchased one in my first year of high school. A memory of some people who I used to stand in the same room as for 15 mins. I should have taken a picture of me with the people I stood at the bus stop with, at least we took a journey together!

The issue is the form teachers role has always been a goodwill role. This is not counted as ‘contact’ time and in 15 mins how much of a relationship can we really build with each learner let alone facilitate a relationship or connections between the learners?

As a teacher I accepted this culture that this is ‘just how we do things around here‘. Our contracts discuss non-contacts etc and we all agree we are usually going above and beyond but this is OK because it’s about the kids. This is a very simplistic view but you get the point.

The next layer up from the form teacher is the Dean and this usually kicks in when things go wrong. Reactive rather than proactive and hours allocated are often more than leaders of curriculum areas. For example as an HOD I had 1 hour a week to attend to all HOD responsibilities and as a Dean/Head of House I had 5 hours per week to attend to pastoral responsibilities. This gives us a glimpse into the importance of pastoral care in schools. The main basic function of a school is teaching and learning but why are their so many more hours put into pastoral care? Because if the learners aren’t happy and supported in their learning journey then we cannot effectively teach and cater to their needs.

From another learner growing up in the traditional system I want to share their experience of pastoral care from the form teacher. “We spent 20 mins in the morning and 20 mins in the afternoon with our form teacher, plus she taught us for one subject as juniors. This meant we had the chance to establish a relationship. This was great for year 9 but as we moved through the school we had a new form teacher every year.

OK, there is some improvement in this model as there is a learning connection made. however what happened next…?

Do you think they knew you, knew what made you tick and anything about your learning? “This worked in the junior school as we were taught by this person, but in the senior school it started to wane. Big stuff happened and it was not the form teacher I went to. I didn’t really want my form teacher to know, privacy was still important & I really didn’t have the relationship with me”.

The outcome of form time is that it becomes the room you go to to wait and despite the most dedicated teachers best efforts it’s very difficult to build a connection with each learner let alone the learners building connections with their peers when they have few shared experiences at school.

So how can we improve on this traditional model of pastoral care?

Simple, distribute the responsibilities of pastoral care to more people by giving them more time also and make it count. As a form teacher you are more likely to be effective if you have the time to connect with the learners and if you know something about them as learners and are connected to the curriculum in some way. Make sure there are learning experiences and connections made.

Solution: Advisory or Learning Coach

big pic.PNGDennis Littky Co-fonder of Big Picture Learning identifies the importance of teachers being in an ‘Advisory ‘ role for the learner.  A few years ago his book “The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business” was recommended to me by a group of innovative school principals. I sat on this info for about 3 years and when I began my journey as part of the start up team for a new kura I finally got down to reading it. I thought maybe it would be irrelevant now as was over 10 years old, but it is fascinating to find that we are just getting there in NZ. His innovative ideas back in early 2000’s was a world I was just walking into.

What is Learning Advisory?

A Learning Advisor is a teacher who has a small group  of ãkonga who they work with regularly & they work in partnership with home to ensure the learner gets the necessary support and goes in the desired direction. Check out this clip which explains it. Littky emphasises the importance of small schools as in the USA there is a tendancy for schools to be like small towns with between 2000-5000 learners making it very easy to fall through the cracks. An extract from the book The Big Picture: Education is everyone business by Dennis Littky. This extract discusses the idea of one student at a time

Ako Learning Coach

In our kura we foster this relationship through ãkonga having a Learning Coach who works with them during Ako. Ako is every day for 100 mins, first thing in the morning Mon-Thurs and last thing on a Fri after lunch. During Ako learners work on Quest projects, which follow the concept of passion projects where learner have the chance to delve deeper into an area they are interested in. Or they may choose to try to learn a new skill and experience something new. Either way they write an in-depth plan and reflect on the process as they move through their learning. The Learning Coach also supports them with  a personalised reading programme. They are challenged to read a wide variety of texts and reflect on what they have read, then blog and finally read others blogs and learn how to communicate & reflect online in a positive constructive way. A bit more writing than “LOL”  or “Like” which an example of how many online interactions can go. We challenge them to think critically and go deep with this process.

The Learning Coach facilitates the learning at this time as well as developing connections with the learners and between the learners. The Learning Coach is the constant in the learners day, and the relationship will be maintained over the 5 years that the learner is in the kura. Building a rapport with home and the learner is key to the process so that the triangle of the home-school-learner partnership.


What happens to the ãkonga who doesn’t get on with the Learning Coach who they are ‘stuck with’? If the foundations have been laid the learner feels that there is a person they can go to who can advocate for them. They will have a sense of belonging and they have made a connection somewhere in the school with one staff member, if not we are not doing our job.

I see the connection demonstrated in this diagram which I created last year as the concept of Ako learning time was first presented to me. The idea that the Learning Coach, ãkonga, and whanau are consistent in the relationship and the mentor can change over time as a need arises. Therefore it is represented as a dotted line as the mentor may not come on board until a learning focus is found. This role could be filled by a sports coach, music tutor, specialist teacher, supervisor during an internship or employer at a part-time job.

Ako learning time

The Ako Learning Coach role is working well In a very short space of time it has become apparent that we know our learners very well. Through the connections made the learners are able to ask for support, be challenged in their learning and whanau are coming into school for celebrations of learning rather than reacting to negative incidents that might have happened

The African proverb reminds us “It takes a whole village to raise a child” and guess what…we got this.

Want to know more about Big Picture schools see this 15 page summary of Big Picture Education



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s