Professor Helen Hedges

PhD, MEd, BA (Hons), DipTchg


Professor Helen Hedges is Head of School  for the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Helen's research programme examines children’s and teachers’ interests, knowledge (both formal and intuitive) and learning in the contexts of early childhood education and teacher education. Driving this is intellectual curiosity about the nature of a co-constructed interests-based curriculum in early childhood education, particularly the decisions that teachers make about which of children’s interests are chosen to create curriculum with.

In various projects, Helen has explored the nature of children’s interests, inquiries and working theories, and teachers’ interpretations and understandings of these key curricular concepts. She has also researched the place of subject content knowledge in an early childhood curriculum. Her research and teaching are located primarily in sociocultural theories and methodologies.

Helen has contributed to theorising about children’s and teachers’ knowledge and interests through frameworks such as funds of knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005) and communities of inquiry (Wells, 1999).  She has also published about teacher research and inquiry, and research ethics. 

Helen was appointed in 2016 as one of seven members of a Ministry of Education writing team led by the Director of Early Learning, Nancy Bell, to revise and update the early childhood curriculum document, Te Whāriki. She regarded it as an immense privilege to become a kaitiaki of this precious taonga, a curriculum that has been highly regarded internationally.

Previous professional experience

  • secondary teaching: English, Geography, History and Social Studies
  • early childhood teaching, parent involvement in Playcentre 
  • early childhood professional development/learning 

Helen's secondary teaching experience occurred in both face-to-face and correspondence contexts. The challenges of building relationships with "distance" students originated there and continue to be actively developed and built on during teaching in flexible and blended modes in the Faculty currently. Helen has worked in four very different contexts of early childhood teacher education in Auckland from private provider to university-based settings and has been at the University of Auckland since 2003.

Research | Current

Research Projects

Helen was the principal investigator of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project "Inquiring minds, meaningful responses" in partnership with Maria Cooper, Daniel Lovatt, Trish Murphy, Niky Spanhake, Lindy Ashurst and Bianca Harper at Small Kauri Early Childhood Education Centre and Myers Park KiNZ Early Learning Centre. This project continues to be presented and published from widely.

Helen was also a co-investigator of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project exploring ways children learn in more than one language in the early years, a project led by Assoc. Prof Val Podmore that partnered with four centres in Auckland. Read more about this project here.

Through her involvement in these two Teaching and Learning Research Initiatives Helen has come to greatly appreciate the partnerships with teacher-researchers that result in rich data generation and analysis, and appreciation of each other's strengths and expertise.

Helen is also involved in two international collaborations using her expertise on play and funds of knowledge:

1. Evaluating quality early childhood education initiatives to improve education and wellbeing outcomes for children in rural communes in Vietnam (project leader Professor Marilyn Fleer, Monash University, Melbourne);

2. NOW Play project - including play in primary curriculum in northern, rural and indigenous communities in Canada to improve oral language and literacy outcomes (project leader Professor Shelley Stagg Peterson, OISE/University of Toronto, Toronto).


Teaching | Current

Helen's teaching is largely on courses related to early childhood curriculum and pedagogy and children’s learning, and teachers’ professional knowledge, learning and inquiry related to this.


  • BEd (Tchg) ECE – EDPROFST 204 Te Whāriki for Diverse Learners
  • GradDipTchg (ECE) – EDCURRIC 630 Early Years Curriculum
  • Postgraduate – EDPROFST 751 ECE Curriculum Issues and EDPROFST 765 Early Years Development

Postgraduate supervision

Helen welcomes enquiries about PhD and MEd thesis supervision.

  • Previous supervision topics have included:
    • The concept of intentional teaching in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand
    • Teachers’ beliefs about toddlers’ art experiences
    • Toddlers’ mathematical learning
    • Exploring teachers’ understanding of the phrase “healthy in spirit”
    • Teachers’ use of non-contact time in early education and care settings
    • Teachers' experiences and challenges of writing learning stories
    • Relationship-based early intervention with new entrants at primary school
    • Teachers’ involvement of families in assessment of infants and toddlers
    • Supporting and challenging children's working theories: Piaget's concept of disequilibrium
    • Teacher beliefs about popular culture as a source of children's learning
    • Identity growth and change in immigrant student teachers during a graduate teacher education programme
  • Current PhD supervisions:
    • Barbara Watson - Effective mentoring of provisionally registered teachers in early education and care settings
    • Maria Cooper - Conceptualising "everyday teacher leadership" in infant and toddler early childhood education settings
    • Dandan Zhou - Application of Gardner's multiple intelligences theory in early childhood education in China
    • Joanna Williamson - Conceptually-orientated teacher-child conversations in the context of story book reading in centre contexts
    • Mina Badiei - Participation and agency in the curricular experiences of under three year olds in NZ and Iran
    • Daniel Lovatt - Working theories and STEM education: A trialogical approach
    • Hailey Chan - Inter-professional collaboration between teachers and other professionals in ECE in Hong Kong
    • Amanda White - Adult-infant interactions during story telling
    • Ye Zhang - Mathematics and block play in ECE in Hong Kong
  • Current master's thesis supervision: Rebecca Mackintosh - Parents' aspirations for children in ECE


Life member Barnardos New Zealand


Head of School - Curriculum and Pedagogy / Te Kura o te Marautanga me te Ako

Areas of expertise

  • Early childhood curriculum and pedagogy, particularly in relation to partnerships between teachers and families
  • Children’s and teachers’ interests, knowledge and learning in the contexts of early childhood education and teacher education
  • Te Whāriki and children's working theories
  • Narrative inquiry - life experiences and interests
  • Participatory learning theories, funds of knowledge, sociocultural theories and methodologies
  • Qualitative case studies, with fieldwork undertaken in early childhood and home settings, and including children aged less than five years


Committees/Professional groups/Services

  • Editorial board member Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice
  • Editorial board member International Journal of Early Years Education 
  • Associate editor Journal of Early Childhood Research 


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)


Contact details

Alternative contact

Office: A232

Primary office location

Level 2, Room 232
New Zealand

Web links