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Our Patrons

Our Patrons

Teach First NZ: Ako Mātātupu is honoured to have the support of our Patrons. These outstanding individuals exemplify our alumni vision, having worked initially as teachers and - as part of their broader careers - to address the factors impacting on educational inequality.

Sir John Graham

Sir John Graham is one of New Zealand’s most respected and inspirational leaders. He has demonstrated excellence and delivered positive change across educational institutions, sporting fields, and board tables.

Teaching for Sir John was a vocation. In a career spanning 35 years he taught in schools in Christchurch and Auckland and was Headmaster at Auckland Grammar School for twenty years. In 1997 he was appointed as commissioner of Nga Tapuwae College (now Southern Cross Campus) and, with support from leaders in the Maori community, transformed the school into a strong centre that valued diverse cultures and supported ongoing learning.

Sir John espouses the model of teaching as leadership and sees a natural progression in classroom teachers, who lead 120 or so students per day, to develop into school leaders and in turn leaders in the wider community. With an immovable belief in the potential of young kiwi students, Sir John shaped staff and students alike by setting high expectations of every student's ability to achieve. He expected nothing less than the best for teaching and school standards, and with these core values he has left an indelible mark on the New Zealand education landscape.

"A good leader will always keep in view the necessity for all to uphold honourable principles - justice, compassion, temperance, prudence, fortitude and courage."
- Sir John Graham

Outside the classroom Sir John had a distinguished sporting career. He was an All Black from 1958 to 1964, captaining the New Zealand Rugby team in three tests. Additionally he managed the New Zealand cricket team from 1997 to 1999 and was the President of the New Zealand Rugby Union from 2005 to 2007. In 2007, he received a Halberg Award for Sport Leadership. 

His involvement in education continued beyond his tenure in teaching and in 1994 he co-founded the Academic Colleges Group, where he remains actively involved as a member of its Education Council. Sir John was also a member of the University of Auckland Council from 1994, the Chancellor from 1999 to 2004, and received an Honorary Doctorate from the University in 2005. He has served on the Board of the University Bookshop Ltd and as Chairman of the New Zealand Education & Scholarship Trust. 

Outside the education sector Sir John has held many business directorships, including at IT distributor Renaissance Corporation and Owens Group Ltd.

For the past 20 years he has been the Chairman of not-for-profit organisation The Parenting Place which aims to equip and encourage New Zealand parents. Sir John has also served as a Trustee of the Woolf Fisher Trust, which has a mission to “recognise and reward excellence in education”, in part through the provision of fellowships for outstanding school principals and teachers. The commitment to education and social improvement Sir John has shown throughout his life embody the core values Teach First NZ hopes to instil in its alumni. 

In 2009, Sir John Graham was awarded Distinguished Citizen of Auckland Award for his contributions, leadership and service to education, charity and sport. In the 2011 Queen's Birthday Honours List, he was knighted for services to education and sport. He also received the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award in 2012. Sir John and his wife Lady Shiela have three adult children.

As Patron, Sir John believes Teach First NZ is the most significant innovation in New Zealand education in the past ten years. 


Dame Lesley Max

Dame Lesley Max has dedicated her life to advocating for the welfare of young people in New Zealand, and her efforts have been acknowledged internationally.

In her early twenties, Dame Lesley Max taught at Hounslow Manor Comprehensive, a secondary school in West London, during which a deep interest in the subject of children’s welfare and educational opportunity grew. Upon returning to New Zealand in the 1980s, Dame Lesley began to write for the newly established Metro Magazine, penning articles which focused on children’s wellbeing. She wrote many cover stories during her thirteen years of contributing to the magazine, and came to wider public attention after writing “ A Children’s Story”, a myth-puncturing piece that challenged New Zealand’s reputation as “a great place to bring up kids”. Dame Lesley then went on to write “Children: Endangered Species?”, published by Penguin in 1990. In the same year, Dame Lesley co-founded Great Potentials Foundation, formerly known as The Pacific Foundation, a social enterprise agency that works to help address many of the same challenges she wrote about, including breaking the cycle of disadvantage. 

The most notable strategy the Foundation introduced is HIPPY,  the Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters. The programme, which has benefitted many thousand New Zealand children and their families in poorer communities across the country since 1992, works by unlocking the latent potential of parental teaching in the home setting as a way of boosting children's learning achievements.

“Creating awareness is one thing. Creating solutions is another.”
Dame Lesley Max

Dame Lesley’s first major initiative, where HIPPY was trialled, was developing the Family Service Centre model, in 1992.  It is a one-stop-shop for health, education and social services in disadvantaged communities.  Seven such centres are now operating in New Zealand.

In 2002 a further initiative was established, the programme known as MATES, the Mentoring and Tutoring Education Scheme, which matches university student tutor/mentors with younger learners, those making the transition from intermediate school to secondary, and those making the transition from secondary to tertiary study.  Again, the programme is provided for students in low decile schools, to provide opportunity otherwise not available.

In 1993 Dame Lesley Max was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship and a year later she was made a Member of the British Empire [MBE] for her services to children.
In response to new scientific evidence on the impact that experiences in the early years have on the brain development of a child, Dame Lesley assisted in the establishment of the Brainwave Trust in 1998, to enable relevant knowledge to be disseminated in presentations around the country.

Dame Lesley’s government appointments have included terms as a Director of the Northern Regional Health Authority and as a member of the Family Violence Advisory Committee. She was a member of the Family Service National Advisory Council (FSNAC), is co-patron of the Family Help Trust, is patron of the National Council of Women and now Teach First NZ.

Dame Lesley and her husband, Robert, have four grown-up children, living in Auckland, Melbourne and New York, and five grandchildren.