Pacific Leadership in ECE: Privileging Culture, Community and Enhanced Outcomes

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Auckland - Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2024
Project end date: 
March 2026
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Maria Cooper and Dr Kiri Gould
Research team members: 
Dr Jeanne Teisina (Akoteu Kato Kakala); Laraine Tuaputa
Research partners: 
Akoteu Kato Kakala, Otara, Auckland; A’oga Fa’a Samoa, Grey Lynn, Auckland

Intro / Project description

Our two-year project seeks a deep understanding of how Pacific ECE settings in Aotearoa enact culturally grounded, community-responsive leadership to promote equitable educational outcomes for Pacific children, their families, and communities. In this strengths-based project, we will collaborate with teachers and leaders (the practitioner-researchers), family/community members, and elders from Samoan and Tongan community-based centres to investigate the culturally-grounded collective leadership practices that make a positive difference for Pacific children, and their families/communities. Findings will inform teaching and leadership practices to enhance the educational experiences and outcomes for Pacific children, and their families/communities in these and other culturally diverse ECE settings.


Our research collaboration aims to transform the educational experiences of Pacific children (Samoan and Tongan) in Aotearoa by seeking to better understand  leadership that supports the weaving of culture, community, and enhanced outcomes – an important expectation of all practitioners stated in the national early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017). In education, dominant understandings of leadership are frequently decontextualized, based on Western ideals and norms, and obscure unique cultural dimensions and practices. Our research aims to better understand and share culturally nuanced notions of leadership grounded in Pacific worldviews and the ways leadership is and can be responsive to Pacific peoples’ priorities and aspirations to enhance Pacific learner outcomes.

Why is this research important?

Impactful leadership in education requires a deep contextual understanding of the communities it serves. Yet, there is limited research available about what leadership looks like in ECE settings located in Pacific communities and contexts. Policy and research call for deeper understanding of ECE leadership from Pacific worldviews, based on concerns that many ECE practitioners are uncertain how to promote the success of Pacific children. Our research responds to the need for Pacific research to increase understanding of Pacific leadership in ECE. The project affirms the value in privileging Pacific cultural identities, languages, and communities in education for enhanced learner well-being, belonging, and educational success.

What we plan to do

Data: Project methodologies focus on talanoa (open talk) - a dialogic form of communication that involves deep listening, learning, and immersion in oral storytelling. We will utilise talanoa (underpinned by Samoan or Tongan protocol) to collect tala (Samoan-stories) and fananga (Tongan-stories) with teachers, leaders, family/community members, and elders. During each talanoa, the focus will be on deep listening to the stories and experiences of centre-based strategies and specific practices-in-action that can be aligned with positive changes and effects on Pacific children.

Analysis: Guided by Pacific values, we will work with practitioner-researchers in each setting to co-analyse and identify enablers and constraints of leadership and the unique Pacific knowledges, values, and practices. Following this we plan to bring the two communities together in a final fono to share findings, celebrate our research journey, discuss outcomes and articulate the key Pacific knowledges, values, practices, and learning about community-responsive leadership and its impact we have uncovered.

Contact details

Names: Dr Maria Cooper and Dr Kiri Gould

Faculty of Education and Social Work
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 / Ph (09) 373 7599 ext. 48786