Murray Williams: Reflections on TDA

Murray Williams, Teacher Development Aotearoa Chief Executive, sitting at desk

Murray William’s connection to Teacher Development Aotearoa (formerly Teachers' Refresher Course Committee or T.R.C.C.) is a unique one.  He was a T.R.C.C. course participant, a course director, and is now Chief Executive overseeing a new era of professional learning and development (PLD) for kaiako and teachers. As he approaches retirement at the end of 2022, Murray reflects on his work with TDA.

As a beginning teacher in the early 1980s, Murray attended a number of T.R.C.C. courses: the teaching of reading, Physical Education and Social Studies to name a few examples. The opportunities for quality PLD were many and frequent for those that indicated an interest in being upskilled.

"Beginning a career in the education sector seemed exciting at that time", Murray recalls.

"As a young teacher it felt great to be part of a system that was world-renowned.  New Zealand was visited by many groups of overseas teachers, from the likes of Japan and America, to see what was so marvellous about our system and how we taught within it."

It was an amazing feeling to begin teaching at a time when such a high standard of education was being delivered to our children.

T.R.C.C. courses had a high reputation and were funded by the Department of Education, which valued after service training that gave teachers the opportunity to take ownership of their lifelong learning.

T.R.C.C. courses were fully paid, as was teacher release time to attend them, at no cost to the teachers or schools. Lopdell House courses Murray attended were residential in nature, with meals and accommodation provided to participants onsite. The courses were taught by expert teachers, as well as members of the Advisory Service often presenting alongside university academics.  For Murray, the chance to attend T.R.C.C. courses opened doors to many opportunities. The possibilities for networking meant he was able to meet like-minded peers and keep in touch with the other participants after the fact, some of whom he is still friends with to this day.  Not only did he follow up with peers, but those that facilitated courses ensured there was in person post-course support available in the classroom and school. Courses also provided him access to staff from the Advisory Service, which he notes was “full of the best people with high support to young teachers. The concept of experts helping young teachers was a really good model..." a tradition he sees the Networks of Expertise (NEX) carrying on in a modern context.

It was through attending a Social Studies course that Murray was offered the opportunity to lead a course himself in 1988, and get involved in the Wellington Social Studies Association, which he later became president of.

With reviews of the curriculum going on that were significant, including new changes to Social Studies, Murray was keen to direct a course that showcased the relevance of Social Studies as a discipline, and tried to correct stereotypes in the way students were thinking. He wanted to foster a more open ended style of study where students were forming evidential opinions about the way people lived, worked and interacted with each other. He wanted teachers and students to see the importance of experiential learning, to be challenged beyond the textbook to think about the world around them. This was, and still is, an important feature of creating curious, respectful and engaged citizens.

For Murray, T.R.C.C. was the organisation for PLD at the time and directing a course for it was a wonderful opportunity to make an impact on teachers and students alike.

"Everyone understood teacher refresher courses (today called PLD). You attended to be refreshed in your approach to teaching and would come away more upskilled and motivated to put learnings into practice in the classroom."

As with the courses Murray himself had attended as a participant, the Department of Education controlled the planning budget with generous funding given that included the ability to collaboratively plan and organise the course, teacher release for the course director and planning team, and some funding allocated for teachers to attend.

He felt valued in his approach and hoped participants would come away from his Social Studies course feeling the same; with renewed enthusiasm, practical skills, collaboratively designed lesson plans to take away and ample time for conversations with other teachers.

For Murray, this latter point was key.

It is so important and universal that teachers reflect together. Despite decades of change, this has endured, especially with the NEX.

Murray feels as privileged today as he did as a young teacher directing and participating in T.R.C.C. courses. He appreciates that the organisation has always focused on providing for any teacher to be challenged and supported. He enjoys working in an environment surrounded by a great fraternity of creative and imaginative teachers that he is constantly in awe of.

Murray sees himself as completing the full circle of his education life and cites the reasons he applied for the job as Chief Executive "was the past experience I had at that time of my career and to finish my career in the way it started."

What Teacher Development Aotearoa stands for, 'for kaiako,by kaiako', I believed in then and still do now. Teachers always give back and it is to be admired and respected.

As Chief Executive of Teacher Development Aotearoa seeing out a 2021 rebranding of the organisation and a contract with the Ministry of Education to support the Networks of Expertise, Murray's aim is that TDA's reputation continues to be enhanced and recognized in its rightful place in the scheme of PLD and that kaiako and teachers gravitate to TDA for support, advice, guidance and opportunity.

One of Murray's aspirations for the organisation is unfolding and he notes with pride:

"We are becoming bicultural in our approach, which I think is essential for the future and enjoy seeing that take hold in the organization."

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