The case of Tapatoru: Building the capability of Foundation educators through professional standards

Author: Anne Alkema

The case of Tapatoru: Building the capability of Foundation educators through professional standards

Anne Alkema
30 November 2021

Alkema, A. (2021). The case of Tapatoru: Building the capability of Foundation educators through professional standards. (A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the degree of Doctor of Professional Practice at Otago Polytechnic).


This thesis is a story within which many stories are told. The central character is Tapatoru – a professional standards framework for foundation level educators. Tapatoru’s development, introduction and use are examined through several peoples’ stories – those who informed it, those who developed it, those who introduced it, and those who used it.

As this is a Doctorate of Professional Practice (DProfPrac), this thesis is also the story of my practice as a professional researcher. Telling this story has been more difficult than telling the stories of others as it is about what I research, how I research, why I research, and the reflective and reflexive processes used. It has been challenging to look inside myself and in the DProfPrac journey show this inside to others. He kokonga whare e kitea; he kokonga ngākau e kore e kitea – a corner of a house may be examined; not so the corners of the heart.

Launched in late 2018, Tapatoru incorporates three dimensions: Ō Tātou Uara – what we value; Ō Tātou Mōhiotanga – what we understand; Ā Tātou Mahi – what we do. The framework builds from work overtime in Aotearoa New Zealand and provides a clear and succinct articulation at the national level of the dimensions that contribute to foundation educator practice. Further it is the cultural underpinning and the placement of values at the top and the learner at the centre that makes this a distinctly Aotearoa New Zealand framework.

Given Tapatoru is new to the tertiary education sector, this research project provides the opportunity to gain insight into the contribution professional standards make to guiding, informing, and attesting to foundation-level educators’ capability. This was discovered through an exploratory case study with data drawn from literature, observations, interviews, artefacts, and ongoing personal communications with the developer and deliverer of Tapatoru.

Tapatoru was introduced at a time of uncertainty in tertiary education. Firstly, the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) and then COVID-19 arrived. Both these factors, along with the challenge of getting the sector to understand what a professional standards framework is, have contributed to lower uptake than anticipated.

However, the stories of the early adopters told in this thesis show the value of Tapatoru to them. Firstly, their recognition and articulation of Ō Tātou Uara – the values of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, wairuatanga, and aroha and the ways in which these values allow educators to think about, build towards, or affirm their cultural capability. Secondly, the extent to which going through Tapatoru has enabled deliberate reflection-on-action, and for some, reflection-in-action in relation to their knowledge, practice, and values. Thirdly, the reflective commentary process for Tapatoru allows for articulation of practice in a way that has not been asked for previously. Combined, these three factors have enabled a broader understanding of what it means to be a professional in the foundation education sector in Aotearoa New Zealand. Given these findings, the value of Tapatoru to educators and organisations is in its use as a professional practice framework.

Keywords: Foundation education, culturally responsive pedagogy 

Anne's research was supervised by Martin Andrew and Margy-Jean Malcolm.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.

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