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Educator extraordinaire

Saturday 21 January 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Go Local

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Educator extraordinaire
Tania Morgan served as principal of Tereora College from 2015 to 2022. SUPPLIED/23012039

After 19 years of being an educator at Tereora College, including the past eight years as its principal, Tania Morgan stepped down last year to take on a new role as the director of the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute.

In an interview with senior journalist Melina Etches, Morgan shares some of the milestones of her career at the National College and her passion as an educator.

Tania Morgan started her teaching career in 2004 at Tereora College after graduating from Waikato University. She taught for a year in the mathematics faculty, then became head of mathematics for a number of years, was the NZQA Quality Assurance, deputy principal and principal in 2015.

As a principal you need to be held accountable, says Morgan, “and be open and transparent in what you do”.

“I was lucky to have been exposed to different leadership styles,” she adds, acknowledging former Tereora College principals during her time as a teacher – Keri Herman, Darryl Waiti, Vae Unuka, Sharyn Paio, Teaea Parima and Bali Haque.

During her tenure as principal she has kept in close contact with some of her predecessors bouncing ideas off them, “because you need that sounding board, you’re having to make decisions”.

“When you’ve got a number of people you are responsible for, at the end of the day you have got to be making the best decisions. 

“It was always, who do I have responsibility for at the end of the day – it was our children, our students and they were our number one priority.”

Morgan considers herself lucky that she “came from the inside” and knew the systems inside out. She knew which systems were going to work, and perhaps what needed developing and got on with carrying on the good work.

Morgan says she was also fortunate to have teachers and staff of same mindset where they all grew together.

Any decisions that were made were in the best interests of the students, “because they are our number one”.

Morgan acknowledges the strong support from the College PTA (Parents and Teachers Association) – former chairs Garth Henderson, Louis Enoka and current chairperson Tepaeru Herrmann.

“They also gave us the autonomy to do what we do, they were, and have been very good,” acknowledges Morgan.

Students were not the only ones Morgan thought of in their best interest, there were also the staff to consider.

Back in 2018, Tereora had raised concerns about pay parity for local teachers in talks with the Ministry of Education and other government agencies.

Local teachers were leaving the profession in droves because their pay was too low, even though they had the same qualifications and in a lot of cases, many more years of experience.

Some of the teachers who had been teaching for a very long time had put themselves through further education and achieved higher learning – but were still sitting on the same salary, whereas teachers from overseas with less experience and the same qualifications were placed on higher earnings.

“That hurt so much, that we could bypass our Cook Islands people who are loyal and have upskilled themselves and still not being acknowledged … it was very upsetting,” recalls Morgan.

“They are a wealth of knowledge and have the inside knowledge, they are the ones we need to put up on a pedestal.”

Since the pay parity discussions were still ongoing between various Government agencies, in January 2020, the Tereora College staff and PTA brought the issue for its “committed long serving teachers” to the forefront.

In August 2021, the Tereora College staff and PTA issued a notice putting on hold its support classes.

Later that month, the Ministry of Education and Tereora College reached an amicable agreement on a position that addressed pay parity of the collective teaching workforce across all schools.

The position was ratified on Friday, August 27, 2021, and the subsequent policy to uphold teacher remuneration began its roll out in September, 2021.

Morgan says during that period she wasn’t sure whether people understood “what we were fighting for”.

“We were not fighting for a pay rise, we were fighting for pay parity … and we were able to get that over board.”

At the Tereora Christmas 2022 break up, the college was able to acknowledge its long servicing staff members.

“It was lovely to be able to do that because they deserve that acknowledgement.”

Morgan worked under former principal Bali Haque, who she says, had left a footprint.

He came from New Zealand from NZQA and was very heavily involved in the qualifications side of things, being able to marry up the academic side with the culture of the school.

At that stage the college was very heavily embedded in the “anau” system which Morgan says they knew was going to work.

Becoming principal, Morgan says she had a very good team behind her that was able to carry on the good work to drive that forward.

The college saw their academic levels rise, she adds.

“Our community judges us by the qualifications and what the students are achieving and that certainly has been a focus.”

With the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) results being released this week, Morgan is confident the results from last year will be very good.

One of the unforeseen challenges as principal was when the Covid pandemic hit.

Tereora had to change the way in their delivery, says Morgan adding “we were very lucky, I think our students were quite resilient coming through that period”.

“Although, obviously there were road blocks for some students, as a whole generally the college was able to get through it.”

Morgan says the country was quite lucky that Covid didn’t hit in the way it did in other countries. She also praised the way the country through Government and Te Marae Ora responded to the pandemic.

“I think there was that layer of protection for us, and we were able to navigate through, that way we were quite lucky in some aspects.

“We have been able to work through NZQA and NCEA and navigate quite easily and we have been able to keep up with the changes.”

The teachers didn’t have the opportunities to go to New Zealand and have professional development but that made them a lot more resilient and resourceful in terms of what they needed to do, says Morgan.

Online learning opened up for Tereora, she says, adding the accountability was back on the staff on how they were going to navigate through.

“So, they were very good in terms of being resourceful enough to source the development that they needed, so we grew as a staff and we became a lot more resourceful.

“We had so much knowledge here with our people that we were able to lean on when we needed to.

“Building up the capacity with our Cook Islands people was really important and I think we had a very good base at Tereora and Education (ministry) as a whole, as we were able to rely on each other.”

“That’s not to say that the people coming from New Zealand didn’t have things to offer, because they did. But what we found was that there was a big turnaround from years previously where we had relied on the expatriate teachers that were coming from New Zealand and further afield to be the experts … we flipped it.”

Morgan says the Cook Islands teachers became the experts in what they needed to be, adding “that may be one of the biggest changes to empower those we have here”.

Over the years, the Tereora College roll number certainly increased and has now reached 750 students.

Morgan believes people need a good foundation to get anywhere in life, acknowledging that there are a number of people that may have not come through the education system who have done well for themselves.

“But, as an educator, to give you more opportunities, you are better off to stay in education for as long as you can and became a life-long learner. There’s always opportunities to learn but I think to give yourself the opportunities that are out there is to remain in education.”

Recognising the education system has changed, Morgan is certain people do need to change as educators.

“We do need to have a look at the styles that our students are learning because it is different and we don’t want to be the roadblocks to them learning because they are learning in a different space.”

“So, as educators we do need to be flexible enough to change in the way in which we deliver because that way we will get the best out of the students.

“I think that’s a journey people will be taking, they’re learning in a different space.”

Morgan has noticed the actions of the Year 13 students, who want to become adults but still want the teachers to help them navigate their way.

“They are in that transition period where they are wanting to be adults but actually want to still be held on to because it certainly changes once you get out into the big world.”

Last year Morgan resigned due to personal reasons.

“I was so connected to Tereora,” she says, but when a health crisis happened within her family, she thought it was time to let go.

“I love Tereora College and it will always be a big part of me… but there are other opportunities.”

This year Morgan started in her new role as the director of the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute (CITTI).

Her 19 years of experience and exposure in secondary level education will be an incredible asset to CITTI.

“I’m still in education but in a different area, and where I still need to challenge myself,” says Morgan.

Morgan appreciates everyone who has been a part of her journey. “I am so incredibly lucky to have had something that makes saying ‘aere ra’ so hard. Kia Toa, e Kia Manuia.”

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