Dr Maria Cooper

PhD, MEd (1st class hons), PGDipEd, BCom, DipTchg (ECE)


Maria Cooper teaches and researches early childhood education in the School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice. Her doctoral study explored the phenomenon of collective leadership as an inclusive, everyday practice in the context of infant-toddler education and care. Her research/teaching interests include educational leadership, infant-toddler curriculum and pedagogy, Pasifka/diverse learners, and teacher-family collaboration. Maria is current co-editor of The First Years Ngā Tau Tuatahi NZ Journal of Infant and Toddler Education and co-director of the Early Childhood Seminar Series. She is also a fully registered teacher and experienced teacher registration/certification mentor. Maria is of Samoan/Czech heritage, has three children and was born and raised in New Zealand.

Research | Current

Maria's research specialisations and interests are early childhood education, educational leadership, infant-toddler pedagogy and curriculum, and equity-driven practices in mainstream settings. Her research projects are largely based on qualitative methodologies and sociocultural/cultural-historical activity theoretical frameworks, inspired by the work of Lev Vygotsky, Yrjö Engestrom, and Anne Edwards.

2018 - current: FDRF research project "We can't lead where we won't (first) go" (with Dr. Esther Fitzpatrick [lead] and colleagues).

2018 - current: SEED grant for innovation in teaching: “Who are we as bicultural educators?: A module for CANVAS” (with Dr. Esther Fitzpatrick [lead] and colleagues).

2018 - current: Pedagogies of care in four countries - exploring the nature of pedagogical care for one-year old children in diverse early childhood settings through a Froebelian lens (with Professor Sacha Powell [lead, England], Professor Mary McMullen [America], Dr Tik Sze Carrey Siu [Hong Kong], and Honorary Academic Jean Rockel [NZ])

2018 - current: High expectations, remarkable outcomes (HERO) project - embedding high expectation principles in early childhood education (with Professor Christine Rubie-Davies and Dr Lyn McDonald)

Teaching | Current

Maria teaches within the Faculty's early childhood programmes at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. Current courses include:

  • Infant Care and Education (undergraduate - course director)
  • Te Whāriki for Diverse Learners (undergraduate - course director)
  • Early Childhood Assessment (undergraduate - lecturer)
  • Early Years Curriculum (graduate - lecturer)
  • Learning and Teaching in the First Years (postgraduate - course director)
  • Early Childhood Leadership (postgraduate - course director)

Postgraduate supervision

Postgraduate supervision topics:

  • Teacher leadership in early childhood education in Aotearoa
  • Teachers’ beliefs, perceptions and experiences of educational leadership and leadership identity in ECE
  • Kaiako understandings and views of leadership in teacher-led early childhod services in NZ
  • Early childhood teachers’ and parents’ recognition of, and responses to, toddlers` expressions of empathy
  • Infant Resilience in early childhood settings
  • Exploring the transition from early childhood teacher to leader
  • Sociocultural assessment and the use of ePortfolios in ECE
  • Pedagogical strategies and curriculum implementation to support children's learning dispositions in ECE
  • The role of emotion for parents and teachers in ECE settings engaged in educational change
  • Children's anxiety in new entrant classrooms
  • Leadership and management in ECE
  • Quality education and care for children up to three
  • Leadership and emotional labour in ECE
  • Chinese immigrant families' aspirations in ECE
  • Teaching practice for Chinese immigrant children’s learning in NZ ECE
  • Children's transition anxiety in early childhood education
  • Happiness in the infant-toddler context
  • Infants and toddlers as capable and comptent contributors in a mixed-age setting
  • Nature pedagogy in early childhood education on Waiheke Island
  • Teacher expectations for Pasifika students learning NCEA Level 1 Science


  • 2018 Received Judith Duncan Award for Early Childhood Research for notable contributions to the field of early childhood education and care through the conduct of high-quality research.
  • 2018 Awarded a place on the (Graduate Studies) Dean's List for excellence achieved with PhD
  • 2015 Received Faculty of Education and Social Work Teaching Excellence Award (Innovation in Teaching)
  • 2013 Received NZ Association for Research in Education Rae Munro Award for an excellent Masters' level thesis with implications for teaching practice and teacher education (citation)
  • 2013 Received Faculty of Education Outstanding Teaching Award (Early Career)


Teaching, research, and service

Areas of expertise

  • Qualitative, interpretivist methodology/methods
  • Case study research
  • Cultural-historical activity theory, sociocultural theory
  • Early childhood education (ECE)
  • Educational leadership (ECE)
  • Infant-toddler pedagogies and curriculum
  • Sociocultural assessment in ECE
  • Early years curriculum

Committees/Professional groups/Services


  • University of Auckland Women in Leadership cohort 2019
  • Chair: School of LDPP Teaching and Learning Quality Committee (since 2018)
  • Member: School of LDPP Senior Leadership team (since 2018)
  • Associate Dean Pasifika nominee: Faculty Teaching Learning and Quality Committee (since 2015)
  • Industry rep: Early Childhood Education Programme ICL Graduate Business School Advisory board (since 2017)
  • Editorial board member: Early Childhood Folio Journal (since 2016)
  • Executive co-editor: The First Years: Nga Tau Tuatahi/NZ Journal of Infant and Toddler Education (since 2015, with Dr Marek Tesar)
  • Co-founder/director: Early Childhood Seminar Series (since 2013, with Dr Marek Tesar)
  • Member: American Educational Research Association (AERA, since 2019)
  • Member: International Society for Cultural and Activity Research (ISCAR, since 2014)
  • Member: NZ Educational Leadership Society (NZEALS, since 2014)
  • Member: Te Tari Puna o Aotearoa/NZ Childcare Association (since 2013)
  • Member: Faculty Kainga Pasifika (previously Komiti Pasifika, since 2013)
  • Member: NZ Association for Research in Education (NZARE, since 2011)
  • Full teacher registration/certification with Teaching Council of Aotearoa NZ (since 2005)


  • Co-director: Leadership in Early Childhood Education Symposium, University of Auckland (2019, with Shareen Sapsworth)
  • Director: Leadership in Early Childhood Education Symposium, University of Auckland (2018)
  • Deputy Chair: School of LDPP Teaching Learning and Quality Committee (2017)
  • ECE rep: School of LDPP PGDipTL development team (2017)
  • Chair: ISATT 2015 pre-conference sub-committee (2015, with Susan Batchelar/Joanna Williamson)
  • Editorial board member: The First Years: Nga Tau Tuatahi/NZ Journal of Infant and Toddler Education (2014)
  • Member: International Study Association for Teachers and Teaching (ISATT, 2013-2015)
  • Member: Faculty Initial Teacher Education Sectors (ECE) Committee (2013-2014)
  • Member: School of LDPP Teaching and Learning Quality Committee (2013-2014)
  • School of LDPP rep: Faculty Library Committee (2012-2013)

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Hedges, H. D., Cooper, M., & Weisz-Koves, T. (2019). Recognising and responding to family funds of knowledge. In S. Alcock, N. Stobbs (Eds.) Rethinking play as pedagogy. Oxon, UK: Routledge. Related URL.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Helen Hedges
  • Cooper, M. (2019). Sooner, rather than later: Addressing leadership development in ECE-- A response to the 2019–29 Strategic Plan for Early Learning. Early Childhood Folio, 23 (1), 1-4. 10.18296/ecf.0061
  • Hedges, H., & Cooper, M. (2018). Relational play-based pedagogy: theorising a core practice in early childhood education. Teachers and Teaching, 24 (4), 369-383. 10.1080/13540602.2018.1430564
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Helen Hedges
  • Cooper, M. R. (2018). Shifting the Lens: Everyday Collective Leadership Activity in Education The University of Auckland. ResearchSpace@Auckland.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/41753
  • Hedges, H., Weisz-Koves, T., Cooper, M., & Lovatt, D. (2017). Beyond activities: Exploring real questions for deeper understandings of children’s interests. Early Childhood Folio, 21 (2), 8-14.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/43446
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Helen Hedges, Tamar Weisz-Koves, Daniel Lovatt
  • Cooper, M. (2017). Reframing assessment: Reconceptualising relationships and acknowledging emotional labour. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 18 (4), 375-386. 10.1177/1463949117742784
  • Cooper, M. R., & Hedges, H. (2017). Posing big(ger) ideas and questions. In A. Fleet, C. Patterson, J. Robertson (Eds.) Pedagogical documentation in early years practice: Seeing through multiple perspectives (pp. 159-161). London, England: Sage.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Helen Hedges
  • Lovatt, D., Cooper, M., & Hedges, H. (2017). Enhancing interactions: Understanding family pedagogy and funds of knowledge “on their turf”. In A. C. Gunn, C. A. Hruska (Eds.) Interactions in early childhood education: Recent research and emergent concepts (pp. 99-112). Singapore: Springer.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Daniel Lovatt, Helen Hedges

Contact details

Alternative contact

Office H311

Primary office location

Level 3, Room 311
New Zealand

Social links

Web links