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26.6.2024 |

Community Lead: Sarah Aiono

A life-long learner from a family of educators, Sarah Aiono is on a mission to bring children, play, and nature back to the center of the discussion in educational policy.

What is your name?

Sarah Aiono

Where do you call home?

Ahuriri (Napier), Aotearoa New Zealand

How does education fit into your life?

I live and breathe education! A lifelong learner myself, having recently completed my doctoral studies with Massey University, I lead a team of educators to inspire, coach and lead teachers across New Zealand to implement evidence-based pedagogy. As a Mum of 2 homeschoolers, we have adopted the world-schooling philosophy of learning - traveling to learn, rather than reading and writing about experiences from books alone.

What brought you to educational innovation?

As a trained teacher, it wasn’t until I met my own children that I realised just how important the ability to engage in a wide range of diverse learning experiences and formats are important if we are to truly have equity of access and outcomes in education. No two learners learn the same, (nor think the same) and our education systems around the world should reflect this by offering innovative and diverse learning experiences.

What are your biggest inspirations in educational innovation?

I am continually inspired by the teachers I meet every day in my coaching role, who despite the ‘noise’ of tradition, push back and bravely implement new and exciting ways to connect and engage their learners. It is tough to go against the tide and be different - and to meet teachers and school leaders who exhibit this courage is really inspiring. 

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Alongside her team, Sarah works to promote play-based and child-centered learning

This began with my own mother, who after nearly 40 years in the classroom, established Longworth Forest School, the first of its kind in New Zealand - and followed her own educational passions to develop a unique Forest-school learning environment for children in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. This was truly brave, and it keeps me motivated to challenge and advocate for innovative initiatives in education.

What challenges do you see facing the educational system today?

There is a continual push/pull in the need to measure and ‘prove’ the success of educational programs and initiatives. While accountability and successful outcomes are very important, sometimes the need for this ends up influencing the decisions made about what and how our children learn. It is important to remember that not all that is valuable can be measured! We need to find the balance between ensuring there is rigor and accountability in our educational system, but also recognising the human element we are working with - children with diverse needs, backgrounds, talents and abilities, that cannot be captured by simple metrics alone. The way in which we capture the success of education initiatives needs to broaden and encompass a wider variety of both quantitative and qualitative data in order to add validity to these initiatives.

What are your hopes for the future of education?

That education systems around the world lead with a strengths-focused approach. We recognise that learning is about enabling children to shine in their own way and time, and that all knowledge and abilities are valued. We need to move away from the traditional hierarchical nature of ‘subjects’ (science at the top, the arts at the bottom) and acknowledge that we need all types of skills and knowledge in order to solve some of the many problems and challenges our future generations will face. Celebrating diversity of skill and talent and raising children up is a huge hope for me.


Sarah is principal at Longworth School, which uses forest-based pedagogies

Why did you choose to become a Community Lead?

I am a proud New Zealander, and working in the international community, I recognise just how innovative we are here! I am excited to be able to raise the profile of the work underway in New Zealand, and promote innovative initiatives globally, so that we network, inspire and learn from others working in the same space.

What are your goals as a Community Lead?

To be able to promote, connect and assist others working in the innovative education space to learn from and share with others the work they are doing. Ultimately, the more connection we have, the more our future generations will benefit from the learning and understanding we develop as part of this global network.

How can our members get involved?

Reach out and connect - if you have any questions about the work underway in New Zealand, and would like to learn more, I am happy to make introductions!

Continue the conversation! Connect with Sarah.

Sarah Aiono