2 Approaches to Competency Implementation

There are possibly many different approaches to implementing the competencies, however I see two main approaches being implemented. Currently it seems that many schools are struggling with establishing a viable approach that empowers rather than overloading teachers.

Individual competency approach

The most common approach I observe in schools is one that focuses on each competency in its own right.
The first indicator is that school and teacher planning indicates a specific competency that is being addressed within any given lesson or over som specified time frame. During that time they are trying to address skills, attitudes, and understandings related to that competency. Alongside this teachers are also working through skills, concepts and undertsanding that are subject specific.
This approach allows teachers and children to focus on one competency at a time, however I query it because of two possible issues.

The Falacy of Competency Isolation
We have a tradition in our educational system of compartmentalising learning. For instance we place Science in a timetable spot, we develop a Science curriculum with specific learning goals that scientific in nature. We generally do this with most subjects and then try to find some way of creating units of work (at primary level) that pull content from a number of our packages so we can do some integrated learning. This compartmentalisation provides us security and comfort because it allowes us to identfy a package of content to be dlivered in some way to the students.

On the basis of this tradition, many schools have then looked at the 5 competencies and treat each one as another package that has to be delivered. This means that we now carry a focus on one competency such as 'Thinking' or 'Managing self' into a lesson, series of lessons or as a focus across a number of weeks. Based on our tradition of compartmentalised subjects this approach brings with it a certain comfort level and we naturally see it as a familiar and manageable approach.

I suggest that a single competency focus ( compartmentalised approach) includes a fallacy that is totally ignored.
The competencies do not, can not operate in isolation from each other.

I will argue the case:
How can we isolate 'thinking' from any of the other four competencies? We can't! It is impossible. I cannot 'Use Language Symbols and Text', or 'Manage Self' or 'Participate and Contribute' or 'Relate to Others' without thinking. In fact the better the 'Thinking' the better a person is likely to perform in any of the competencies because thinking empowers or actions and interactions. It is our cognition that empowers us as people.

How can we isolate the use of 'language symbols and text' from thinking, when any form of critical or analytial thinking often has us thinking in language, symbols and text? We can't!

How can we isolate 'Relating to Others' from 'Participating and Contributing'? It is logically impossible because we cannot participate and contribute without forming, shaping and building some form of relationship, nor can we create and maintain relationship without engaging with another person and engagement requires participation and contribution. These two aspects are so intertwined that it becomes mind bending exercise to separate them.

How can we do either of the two above well without 'Managing Self' in the process? We can't! If we are going to participate, contribute, relate with any form of effectiveness then we have to manage our actions, reactions, language, responses, emotions and behaviour.

The simple answer is... in reality, the competencies are inseparable. The most surprisng aspect of our tendency to compartmentalise is that we then allow it to blind us to logic and to overlook the obvious. We allow it to so blind us that we can then totally ignore the following two quotes from the NZ Curriculum.

P12: "They (the competencies) are not separate or stand-alone."
P 38 "In practice, the key competencies are most often used in combination"

The following diagram shows my interpretation of how the competencies fit and work in combination.


If a school was to focus on 5 skills, 3 attitudes and 3 understandings from each competency this would add up to 65 factors to address and focus on outside of anything that was subject specific. It appears to me that schools doing this are trading content overload for competency overload. I would challenge any teacher to sit, and without reference to paper, to outline and discuss with clarity such a collection, let alone address them meaningfully with students.

Cross Competency Approach

Though each competency can be identified as a stand alone basis, the reality is that the 5 competencies are woven together in a powerful and inseparable manner as we interact with people and the world around us as thinkers, learners, communicators, and as we participate and contribute to that world. Thinking is the central skill that empowers us as learners, makes us effective as communicators. Thinking enables us to manage ourselves effectively as we interact, build and maintain relationships. Thinking allows us to participate and contribute effectively in a constantly changing world. In fact the curriculum document states "In practice the key competencies are most often used in combination" (p38)

I suggest that the competencies combine in this manner:
Thinking is the over-riding and dominant competency for it is central to every competency.
Using language symbols and text is a close second because we do much of our thinking in language symbols and text, as well as the bulk of our communication, both receptive and productive communication.
Managing self is next, because as I interact with others, relate to them, participate with them and contribute to the communities I involve myself in them I need to constantly manage my language, emotions, interactions, responses, and behaviour. In amongst this I also have to manage the more private aspects of health, well being, time and resources.
This leads me to the diagramatic representation of the combination or inter-weaving of the competencies shown above.

Having established how the competencies relate to each other it is not much of a shift to start looking at the concept of cross competency skills rather than competency specific skills.
In approach one schools look at facilitating skills that are concept specific. For instance they will target thinking skills, self management skills, participating and contributing skills etc.
The second approach takes a different view and looks for a small set of skills that can be seen to empower a person across the competencies.

The concept is that we should be able to find a core set of skills that:

  • are central to thinking
  • enable learning
  • empower communication
  • support self management
  • enable building and maintaining relationships
  • enable participation and contribution


If we could identify a core set of skills that fit with this concept and focussed on these it seems to have the potential for being a powerful way to approach the competencies as we work with students across all socaial and learning experiences.

The schools I have worked with have established a number of skills. Each school makes their own decisions about what skills they see as being key to their students’ learning and interacting with others.

From the wider set of skills chosen by schools I will use the 6 most common for examples:
  • Identify need or problem
  • Identify, understand and use relevant contextual vocabulary appropriately.
  • Acquire, validate and use relevant information
  • Create and use relevant questions to guide thinking, and gain information. (Refers to the QuESTioning Matrix)
  • Create and critique information, argument, belief and theory
  • Make informed decisions with due consideration of possible options and their consequences and impact on others or environment