New Zealand is in a period of “educational rebirth” according to Visiting Fulbright Global Scholar Professor Alan J Daly, and he’s “tremendously optimistic” about the country’s potential to come together to solve complex education issues through collaboration and genuine and authentic relationships.

“There is vast set of resources and expertise within New Zealand,” Dr Daly says. “This needs to be honoured and listened to – including the expertise not only sited at universities, but also the expertise that resides in the many cultural, social, and intellectual assets of educators, youth, parents, and communities.”

Fulbright Global Scholar Professor Alan J Daly

A teacher, psychologist, principal and now an academic at the University of California, San Diego, Professor Daly is in New Zealand for three months, based at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work, researching how New Zealand uses connectivity and networks of relationships to improve classroom practice.

In its education reform, New Zealand needs to look to its own strengths and build from that, he believes. It’s too easy, he cautions, to turn to other countries like Finland or Singapore for solutions. Instead the starting point for reimagining and retooling the future of education should be identifying and rigorously examining the strengths and sources of expertise within New Zealand and building on those assets as well as thoughtfully spreading them across the country. “New Zealand’s strength is in its connectivity and high quality relationships,” Dr Daly says. His research topic is about how networks and relationships are vital to improving education sytems.

The New Zealand system of Communities of Learning or Kāhui Ako, is a positive initiative, he says. Too often, in the past teachers around the world were in classrooms toiling alone trying to improve children’s educational prospects. Communities of Learning recognise that knowledge sharing and deep meaningful relationships are critical to devise solutions, generate context specific approaches, and ultimately improve student outcomes.

“Many educational reformers think everything is a knowledge problem – the idea that if we only provided more training all will improve. However, the process of change and growth is far more complex and in my work I am focused on promoting the idea of knowledge sharing through relationship building, which is often overlooked in reform in favour or of technical fixes. There’s a growing recognition that high-level trusting and caring relationships support the type of collaboration that is necessary to solve complex problems.”

Another important concept is that of “vulnerability” – education leaders need to admit that they don’t know everything, and to be open to new input and ideas. “Emotions of leaders are very contagious. When leaders model being vulnerable, schools, teachers, communities, and policy makers can co-create and co-design the type of futures they most desire.”

Dr Daly cautions against quick fixes or technical fixes to complex adaptive problems. “These quick solutions might stop people using their ability to wrestle with problems in deep and meaningful ways.”

Professor Daly noted that, “Coming together to recognise and access diverse perspectives is more important than ever. Although, many messages of divisiveness are being spread, Dr Daly is hugely optimistic about connectivity worldwide to solve complex social issues. “Rather than being defined by our differences, we should be strengthened by them.”

Alan J Daly, PhD, is Chair and Professor of the Department of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego.  He is also the Executive Editor of the new Open Access Sage Journal Educational Neuroscience. To learn more about Alan’s work:

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