Dr Maria Cooper

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


Maria Cooper teaches and researches early childhood education. Her main interests include collective leadership, infant-toddler curriculum and pedagogy, Pasifika and other diverse learners, and teacher-family collaboration. Her doctoral study explored collective leadership activity of teaching teams in early childhood education. Maria is co-editor of The First Years Ngā Tau Tuatahi NZ Journal of Infant and Toddler Education (since 2015) and co-director of the Early Childhood Seminar Series (since 2013). She is a fully registered teacher (since 2005) and an experienced teacher registration/certification mentor. Maria is of Samoan/Czech heritage, has three children, and was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand.

Maria is currently on research and study leave until 1 July 2022.

Research | Current

Maria's research specialisations and interests are early childhood education, educational leadership, infant-toddler pedagogy and curriculum, and equity-driven practices in diverse ECE 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.

Current research collaborations:

2021 - current: "A return to wisdom: exploring leadership in ECE from a Pasifika Indigenous lens" [principal investigator] with Louise Gorst.

2021 - current: "Growing infant and toddler teachers": An Australasian collaboration [with Gloria Quinones, Andi Salamon, and Tina Stratigos]

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 - 2020: "We can't lead where we won't (first) go" [with Dr Esther Fitzpatrick (lead) and colleagues]

Teaching | Current

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

  • EDPROF 709 Early Childhood Leadership (postgraduate - course director)
  • EDPROFST 717 Learning and Teaching in the First Years (postgraduate - course director)
  • EDUC 735 Researching Educational Settings (postgraduate - lecturer)
  • EDPROFST 211 Engaging with Infants and Toddlers (undergraduate - course director/lecturer)
  • EDCURRIC 624/EDCURRIC 207 Curriculum and Pedagogy (undergraduate - lecturer)

Postgraduate supervision


  • Teachers' professional knowledge growth in kindergarten settings - PhD - Mengran Liu (main supervisor, with Helen Hedges)
  • Teacher identity and initial teacher education in ECE in China and New Zealand - PhD - Qun Ma (main supervisor, with Helen Hedges and Fiona Ell)
  • Task complexity and Chinese EFL learners' writing performance in collaborative writing - PhD - Kaixuan Wang (co-supervisor, with Lawrence Zhang)
  • Experiences of child anxiety in primary classrooms - PhD - Lisa Scrivens (co-main supervisor, with Maree Davies and Richard Hamilton)
  • Children's wellbeing during transition to school - PhD - Jong Hyun Jun (co-supervisor, with Kane Meissel)
  • Teachers and pedagogy: teachers' perspectives of how they foster autonomy in infants and toddlers - Masters - Naail Satani (sole supervisor)
  • Beginning school teachers' perspectives of culturally responsive practices with Pasifika students - Masters - Betty Lealaiauloto (co-supervisor, with Lexie Grundoff)
  • Early childhood teachers’ and parents’ recognition of, and responses to, toddlers` expressions of empathy - Masters - Holly Yan He (main supervisor, with Justine O'Hara-Gregan)


  • Infant and toddler teachers' understandings of leadership - Masters - Alice Chen Jia (sole supervisor)
  • Teachers’ views, perceptions, and experiences of leadership and leader identity in ECE - Masters - Louise Gorst (sole supervisor)
  • Teacher leadership in ECE in NZ - Masters - Hemal Manaktala (main supervisor, with Kiri Gould)
  • Leadership and management in ECE - Masters - Joanne Bagley (main supervisor, with Jacoba Matapo)
  • Kaiako understandings and views of leadership in teacher-led early childhood services in NZ - Masters - Grace Guo (sole supervisor)
  • Pedagogical strategies and curriculum implementation to support children's learning dispositions in ECE - Masters - Phuong Nguyen (co-supervisor, with Annaline Flint)
  • The transition from early childhood teacher to leader - Masters - Bharti Raj (sole supervisor)
  • The role of emotion for parents and teachers in ECE settings engaged in educational change - Masters - Iuliana Rodinciuc (co-supervisor, with Frauke Meyer)
  • Leadership and emotional labour in ECE - Masters - Natalie Donald (sole supervisor)
  • Chinese immigrant families' aspirations in ECE - Masters - Stephanie Jiafei Chen (sole supervisor)
  • Teaching practice for Chinese immigrant children’s learning in NZ ECE - Masters - Carol Wallace Bateman (co-supervisor, with Adrienne Sansom)
  • Children's transition anxiety in ECE - Masters - Lisa Scrivens (co-supervisor, with Annaline Flint)
  • Happiness in the infant-toddler context - Masters - Kim Pinto (co-supervisor, with Adrienne Sansom)
  • Infants and toddlers as capable and competent contributors in a mixed-age setting - Masters - Kylie Smith (co-supervisor, with Sandy Farquhar)
  • Nature pedagogy in ECE on Waiheke Island - Masters - Jane Walters (co-supervisor, with Marek Tesar)
  • Teacher expectations for Pasifika students learning NCEA Level 1 Science - Masters - Fiona Toloa (co-supervisor, with Christine Rubie-Davies)


  • 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
  • 2019 NZARE Sutton-Smith Award for an excellent Doctoral thesis, with implications for practice, policy and teacher leadership (citation)
  • 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)
  • A strengths-based focus on Pasifika learners
  • Infant-toddler pedagogies and curriculum
  • Sociocultural assessment in ECE
  • Early years curriculum

Committees/Professional groups/Services


  • Editorial Board Member Australasian Journal of Early Childhood (since 2020)
  • Industry rep: Early Childhood Education Programme ICL Graduate Business School Advisory board (since 2017)
  • Editorial board member: Early Childhood Folio Journal (since 2016)
  • Associate Dean Pasifika nominee: Faculty Teaching Learning and Quality Committee (since 2015)
  • 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)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Cooper, M., & Quiñones G (2020). Toddlers as the one-caring: Co-authoring play narratives and identities of care. Early Child Development and Care10.1080/03004430.2020.1826465
  • 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. R. (2019). Challenging notions of leadership in infant-toddler settings: My personal and professional journey. The First Years: Ngā Tau Tuatahi New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 21 (2), 13-20. 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

Contact details

Alternative contact

Office H311

Primary office location

Level 3, Room 311
New Zealand

Web links