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The Song Book – A metaphor for understanding collective vision and our place in it.

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Recently I was approached by a colleague of mine about the mahi our team was doing. They asked, “Are we all doing the same thing across our whanau classes?” It was a valuable question. Whilst I want to encourage my team to have a united approach to what we do, I also want to encourage their own unique way of working. I answered, “Look, we are all singing from the same song book but feel free to harmonise.” Since then, I’ve contemplated this metaphor of the song book and how it might better help us understand collective vision and the role teachers play in enacting our schools’ Kaupapa.

I hope that the metaphor of the song book might provide an answer to teachers’ frustrations about school PLD programmes and the constant rollout of education changes. I hope that it enables you to see where you might fit in the bigger picture and helps you to understand your role in the mahi at your institution. I hope that it acts as a catalyst for culture change.

There’s little doubt that teachers are tired of the endless rollout of programmes that ‘work’. Whether it’s restorative justice, PB4L, or NCEA curriculum change, we become attuned to the white noise of initiative after initiative being sold to us and we’ve stopped buying in. We are initiatived out.

Here’s the thing, it’s not that these initiatives do not work. It’s not even that they are bad. All the aforementioned programmes hold significant value, it’s just that they are merely programmes. They are not culture change. Part of the reason for this is that we’ve forgotten the whole of the song book.

The Song Book

The song book represents our collective understanding. It is our Kaupapa, our vision, where we are heading. Often reflected in our schools’ vision, the song book reminds us of the need to see the big picture and the individual part we play in it. Each action, programme and initiative are essentially lines of music in the songs. When we sing together towards a common purpose, we can make beautiful music.

So, what does it look like to apply this metaphor of the song book to our own work? What might it mean for us? Here are three reflections on the songbook and some action steps you can take in response.

You cannot sing on your own

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard alto or baritone harmony lines, but they sound bizarre on their own. When you sing a part alone without other people supporting you, you’re destined to struggle. My question is: how many teachers are out there, singing by themselves, learning their parts in isolation? It’s important that we ensure support for our colleagues who need support in learning their line and to make sure we are partnering with those who know our parts.


  • Reach out to a teacher and offer support

  • Share a resource with a beginning teacher

  • Plan a collaborative brainstorming session

Remembering the whole.

We need to know our songbook. Part of our frustration with initiatives is that we don’t know how they fit into the wider picture. When we sing on our own without an understanding of how the work adds to the wider vision, not only can we quickly become disillusioned, but we may also be singing the wrong thing. Ultimately, when we cannot hear the end goal, we are bound to mess up our part. Understanding the wider purpose of the work that we do, allows us to find purpose in our individual actions. It realigns us to the song book and reminds us of the critical role we play in making music.


  • Return to your school vision. How does your pedagogy align with that vision? How do the programmes, initiatives and PLD you’re running support that vision?

Embrace your harmony

I’ve talked previously about the need to be YOU in the classroom. It’s important that you bring your own kete to the classroom. Whilst you’ll learn from those around you, it will be your unique harmony that makes the most impact, the best music. Whilst singing in unison is sometimes required, it’s the depth and contrast of beautiful harmonies that make beautiful music.


  • What is the diversity you bring to your school?

  • How is diversity shown in your practice?

  • Where are the spaces for you to harmonise?

Another helpful metaphor that we use at our school is weaving. Each teachers’ actions represent an individual strand. When we begin to make the relationships between strands, we start to weave a clearer picture. With each connection, each action, we form a strong woven braid (our vision).

I’ve also found it helpful to view this metaphor through Solo Taxonomy. We begin by picking up only one or several unrelated aspects of our vision (unistructural & multistructural). As we learn how to integrate them into a whole (relational), we are finally able to apply them to yet untaught applications (extended abstract).

Whatever metaphor you find helpful, what remains crucial is the need to embrace our roles in the wider vision. We need to ask, “Am I working alone? What vision am I aligned to? and What will allow me to bring my individuality to the environment I work in?” When we begin to do this, we should begin to see initiatives as part of the songbook – an important part of the music we’re making.


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