Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Insights from Aotearoa New Zealand: Defining Lifelong Learning

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Click Image to Enlarge

This is the ninth article in the series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlights insights from a totally different education system about what is possible in transforming our education system. Read the first article here.

Day by day, I am developing a deeper understanding about the Building Blocks for Learning (a 16-part comprehensive framework that includes everything from self-regulation to self-direction), their relationship to modern pedagogy based on research on learning, and the ultimate goal of ensuring students are powerful lifelong learners. The Building Blocks also have implications for school design, teaching, and how learning experiences (i.e., curriculum) are designed.

The thing that I find myself worrying about is how do we hold ourselves accountable within schools to ensure that students are really developing all sixteen mindsets and skills? I can’t believe that more state level exams are the way to go. We need to figure out a better way that is grounded in schools and districts with the focus on feedback for learning — for students, educators, and organizations — that then shares a set of core data to state or regional level to provide an understanding of variation within a region. We need systems of assessing learning that are always aligned with what’s best for kids.

However, we know feedback is an important step in learning. That’s why it’s vital that schools periodically gather data that can help the school reflect as an organization and teachers reflect as professionals on how they can better develop the Building Blocks and identify possible areas of inequitable growth in each of the sixteen areas.

I am sure there are experts who have ideas or are working on solutions to this problem.The Core Districts in California are making headway in thinking through metrics. CASEL and the Collaborating States Initiative are certainly advancing part of this agenda. If I could, I would love to do an inquiry on how leading schools are thinking about monitoring the development of Building Blocks of Learning or even just some of the specific elements such as growth mindset, agency, or self-regulation.

Getting Started

While experts and leading districts sort through the land of metrics and systems of generating feedback (assessing), there is equally important work to be done by every school on the path to modernizing their schools. We need to build shared understanding in the schools that are on the way to competency-based education. We need to develop much deeper understanding within schools about the Building Blocks, the research behind them, the pedagogical approaches and learning opportunities that will support their development, and how to intervene when students haven’t developed a strong foundation by the time they are in later elementary grades and beyond. Finally, we need to be able to communicate effectively with students, parents, and community/employer partners what we mean by lifelong learning.

In writing a piece about the New Zealand education system, I revisited the document School Evaluation Indicators from the Education Review Office, the organization charged with quality assurance of schools, that outlined Outcome Indicators for four aspects of being a confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learner. The Outcome Indicators are starting points for school for internal review rather than external indicators used to assess schools. I’m sharing it here as I think it might be helpful to schools as they try to move beyond the rhetoric of college and career ready. Although these could be helpful in constructing a system of assessing how students are developing as lifelong learners, I saw the immediate value in helping to make the concepts that are embraced within the new definitions of student success more concrete. How is your district and school describing the outcomes you want for students in terms of Building Blocks for Learning and/or lifelong learning? What is similar or different compared to this list?

Outcome Indicators

1. Every student is confident in their identity, language and culture as citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand


  • are confident in their identity, language and culture
  • value diversity and difference: cultural, linguistic, gender, special needs and abilities
  • represent and advocate for self and others
  • promote fairness and social justice and respect human rights
  • use cultural knowledge and understandings to contribute to the creation of an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Māori and Päkehä recognise each other as full Treaty partners
  • show a clear sense of self in relation to cultural, local, national and global contexts.

2. Every student is socially and emotionally competent, resilient and optimistic about the future


  • enjoy a sense of belonging and connection to school, whänau, friends and the community
  • feel included, cared for, and safe and secure
  • establish and maintain positive relationships, respect others’ needs and show empathy
  • are able to take a leadership role and make informed and responsible decisions
  • are physically active and lead a healthy lifestyle
  • self-manage and show self-efficacy
  • are resilient and adaptable in new and changing contexts.

3. Every student is a successful lifelong learner


  • demonstrate strong literacy and mathematics understanding and skills and achieve success across the learning areas of The New Zealand Curriculum and/or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa
  • are curious and enjoy intellectual engagement
  • draw on multiple perspectives and disciplinary knowledge to actively seek, use and create new knowledge and understandings
  • are technologically fluent and take a discerning approach to the use of technology
  • are digitally fluent, using a range of e-learning tools to enhance learning
  • who are Māori enjoy education success as Māori
  • confidently tackle challenging tasks and are resilient and persevering in the face of difficulties and failure
  • use multiple strategies for learning and problem solving
  • collaborate with, learn from, and facilitate the learning of others
  • set personal goals and self-evaluate against required performance levels
  • develop the ability to reflect on their own thinking and learning processes
  • in primary education achieve success in relation to National Standards in mathematics, reading, and writing
  • in post-primary education achieve success at levels 1, 2 and 3 of the National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA)
  • determine and participate in coherent education pathways that connect to further education or employment.

4. Every student participates and contributes confidently in a range of contexts – cultural, local, national and global


  • think critically and creatively, applying knowledge from different disciplines in complex and dynamic contexts
  • are energetic and enterprising, effectively navigating challenges and opportunities
  • work collaboratively to respond to problems not previously encountered, developing new solutions and approaches
  • understand, participate in, and contribute to cultural, local, national and global communities
  • are critical, informed, active and responsible citizens
  • can evaluate the sustainability of a range of social, cultural, economic, political and environmental practices
  • are ethical decision makers and guardians of the world of the future

In closing, I’d like to point out that Aotearoa New Zealand has embraced a set of principles that guide their education system. Some, such as high expectations or community engagement, might be found in American districts and schools. Other principles are quite different from what I usually see guiding schools. There is of course the Treaty of Waitangi which has been recognized as the founding document of New Zealand and calls for a bicultural nation, whereas we have barely begun our journey of reconciliation for the historical oppression against Native Americans and African-American. In fact it continues through today. There is also a principle of being future focused. It includes staying up-to-date in the use of new technologies as well as exploring such significant future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation. In what way are we helping students think about their role in shaping a sustainable world? It’s certainly on the minds of teens everywhere.

I raise these as my visit to Aotearoa New Zealand taught me about their system. However, the most valuable insights was being able to develop a crisper perspective on what is and what isn’t included in our conversations about learning and education in the U.S.

Read the Entire Series: