ANNIE GRAHAM-RILEY looks at a sporting initiative that has opened the doors to more collaboration and collegiality among schools. 

Bred from a desire to find an innovative way to inspire our tamariki and connect with colleagues nationwide, the phenomenon that is Role Models in Education is sweeping the country.

In 2013 the idea to hold a competitive rugby game between teachers was discussed by Ricardo Fox, then principal at Frasertown School, and David Milne, who was then at Ohuka School nearby. The conversation didn’t amount to anything formal immediately but resulted in the challenge being reset for a later date.

In 2016, with Fox’s leadership cemented at Hastings’ Mayfair School, the challenge was set. Fox, along with 39 other men and women from the Hawke’s Bay region, donned his black-and-white-striped uniform, strapped on his boots and headed to Gisborne under the name ‘Role Models in Education’ for a much-anticipated match against Tairāwhiti Men in Education.



The match was televised by Sky’s Grassroots Rugby and amassed support from students, sponsors and members of the wider community, who praised the educators for inspiring tamariki to give everything a go and take on a new challenge.

The match proved a success and served as a juncture, paving the way for more regions to come on board and create their own version of Role Models in Education, with regular games being organised between the various regional unions. Gisborne Intermediate principal Glen Udall says that, initially, rugby was used as a vehicle to bring together educators and share a passion as well as bond socially; however, many sports are now being included across the various regions. Female netball leagues are being run in Hawke’s Bay and an inaugural match against New Plymouth was played on 16 September, running concurrently with a rugby game held the same weekend.

Cricket, golf, soccer and touch have also been added to the repertoire, with a summer tournament in the pipeline for the Tairāwhiti region. The Hawke’s Bay Role Models in Education have also taken part in community events such as Relay for Life, which has been used as a powerful platform to engage with students and the wider community to raise funds for the Cancer Society. Earlier in the year a rugby match between the Role Models and the Hawke’s Bay Police was also used as an opportunity to raise money for Child Cancer.

The benefits of the phenomenon have expanded far beyond the initial ‘run around on the field’ concept. Collegiality between schools both regionally and nationally has been promoted, with male educators being able to connect in an industry somewhat dominated by women. Udall says that often  games will be aligned with professional development, and connections have been made that would otherwise have been impossible. The Tairāwhiti team has even travelled to Australia to engage with colleagues across the ditch.

“Extending professional collaboration beyond our regional confines has had a massive impact in our schools locally. We have had the opportunity to engage with principals in other regions in ways we would have been unlikely to be able to do without the connections we have made.”

“Each host [team] has sought to give visiting professionals access to schools and school leaders who are at the forefront of educational change. Through onsite visits, dialogue and presentations we have gathered an immense amount of professional knowledge, which is taken back to our own schools and has shaped how we have delivered educational experiences.”

Mayfair School principal Ricardo Fox agrees with this sentiment, paying tribute to positive experiences in Counties Manukau, where they visited Manurewa Intermediate and learned from “one of the best intermediates in the country around cultural engagement”. Fox also praised Rowandale  Primary School principal Karl Vasau for opening the doors to his school during Tongan Language Week. These experiences have been deemed invaluable by educators across the country and would simply not have been had were it not for the gateway provided by Role Models in Education.

Fox, who champions the phenomenon and continues to organise events, games and professional development nationwide, admits that the establishment of ‘RiE’ has not been without its challenges.

“It is extra for the organisers but the outcomes are amazing for educators; the positive results outweigh the negatives. With anything new and innovative, people freely and easily cast stones. One of the misconceptions is that it’s a boys’ club – Role Models in Education here in Hawke’s Bay is gender inclusive. We have our women’s netball team, the men’s rugby team, mixed touch and cricket… To truly understand the power of the RiE and MiE kaupapa, you have to be a part of the experience. Don’t knock it before you try it!”

Glen Udall agrees, adding: “We are excited where this kaupapa is taking us and the doors it is opening up. We are becoming better educators and better people through the relationships we are building and the experiences we are activating. The future holds no limits for us.”

Source: Education Review

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