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 research/teaching interests include educational leadership, infant-toddler curriculum and pedagogy, Pasifka/diverse learners, and teacher-family collaboration. Her doctoral study explored collective leadership activity of teaching teams in the context of infant-toddler education and care. 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 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 Auckland, 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:

  • Young Children and Early Learning Environments (undergraduate - co-lead/lecturer)
  • 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)
  • Curriculum and Pedagogy (graduate and undergraduate - lecturer/tutor)
  • Learning and Teaching in the First Years (postgraduate - course director)
  • Early Childhood Leadership (postgraduate - course director)

Postgraduate supervision

Masters and Doctoral supervision topics (current and past):

  • Teachers' professional knowledge growth in kindergarten settings (PhD)
  • Experiences of child anxiety in primary classrooms (PhD)
  • Infant Resilience in early ECE settings (PhD)
  • Sociocultural assessment and the use of ePortfolios in ECE (PhD)
  • Local curriculum: teacher provision of culturally relevant learning experiences for Year 7 and 8 Pasifika students in mainstream classrooms
  • Beginning school teachers' perspectives of culturally responsive practices with Pasifika students
  • Teacher leadership in ECE 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
  • Exploring the transition from early childhood teacher to leader
  • 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


  • 2019 NZARE Sutton-Smith Award for an excellent Doctoral thesis, with implications for practice, policy and teacher leadership (citation)
  • 2018 NZARE 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 Dean's List for excellence achieved with PhD
  • 2015 Faculty of Education and Social Work Teaching Excellence Award (Innovation in Teaching)
  • 2013 NZARE Rae Munro Award for an excellent Masters' level thesis, with implications for teaching practice and teacher education (citation)
  • 2013 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
  • Early childhood education (ECE)
  • Educational leadership (ECE) and related theory
  • A strengths-based focus on Pasifika learners in ECE
  • Infant-toddler pedagogies and curriculum
  • Sociocultural assessment in ECE
  • Early years curriculum

Committees/Professional groups/Services


  • Faculty Pacific Success Strategy Governance Group (since 2019)
  • Chair: School of LDPP Teaching and Learning Quality Committee (since 2018)
  • School of LDPP Senior Leadership team (since 2018)
  • Industry rep: Early Childhood Education Programme ICL Graduate Business School Advisory board (since 2017)
  • Associate Dean Pasifika nominee: Faculty Teaching Learning and Quality Committee (since 2015)
  • 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)
  • Faculty Kainga Pasifika Committee member (previously Komiti Pasifika, since 2013)
  • Co-founder/director: Early Childhood Seminar Series (since 2013, with Dr Marek Tesar)
  • Member: Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association (PECERA, since 2020)
  • Member: Early Childhood Australia (ECA, since 2020)
  • Member: American Educational Research Association (AERA, since 2019)
  • Member: NZ Educational Leadership Society (NZEALS, since 2014)
  • Member: Te Tari Puna o Aotearoa/NZ Childcare Association (since 2013)
  • Member: NZ Association for Research in Education (NZARE, since 2011)
  • Full teacher registration/certification with Teaching Council of Aotearoa NZ (since 2005)

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Cooper, M. (2020). Management, leadership, and governance of early childhood education (New Zealand). Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies10.5040/9781350996496.0009
  • Cooper, M. (2020). Teachers grappling with a teacher-leader identity: Complexities and tensions in early childhood education. International Journal of Leadership in Education10.1080/13603124.2020.1744733
  • Cooper, M., Hedges, H., & Williamson, J. (2019). Reconceptualising professional learning as knotworking: Actualising the transformative potential of Te Whāriki. In A. C. Gunn, J. Nuttall (Eds.) Weaving Te Whāriki: Aotearoa New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum document in theory and practice (pp. 57-70). Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER. Related URL.
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Helen Hedges
  • 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.
  • 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. (2018). Commentary on ERO’s evaluation indicators for early childhood services with a focus on infants and toddlers. Related URL.
  • 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

Contact details

Alternative contact

Office H311

Primary office location

Level 3, Room 311
New Zealand

Web links