2023 Speakers

Take a look at the amazing lineup of NZSL tutor professionals from around the New Zealand and Australia. We can't wait to see what insights, ideas and inspiration they can share within our NZSL teaching community.


Teaching NZSL Online during the Covid19 Pandemic

The Covid 19 pandemic in 2020 pushed many NZSL classes to go online. Teaching/learning NZSL on-screen instead of in-person presented unique challenges for everyone. Teachers had to quickly develop new technical skills and ways of teaching.

In this presentation, we will share our research about how NZSL teachers adapted their teaching methods and materials for remote, online teaching conditions.

In 2022, we held interviews (on zoom) with small groups of NZSL teachers to explore their experiences and perspectives about online teaching during the pandemic. We wanted to find out, for example - how did teachers change their materials, curriculum and activities to suit zoom classes? How did teachers manage turn-taking and give individual feedback in an online class? How did online teaching affect student participation and learning?

We will share a summary of what teachers shared about their experiences. It is valuable to record information about adapted teaching practices so this knowledge can be shared among NZSL teachers, and to include in the training of future NZSL teachers.

Sara Pivac Alexander

Sara Pivac Alexander

Sara is a Senior Lecturer at Deaf Studies Research Unit, Victoria University of Wellington. She teaches ‘Certificate in Deaf Studies: Teaching NZSL’, and NZSL courses.

Sara is involved with research on teaching and learning NZSL, and documentation of NZSL including the NZSL Online Dictionary. She authored TeachSign and Learn NZSL websites, and TeachSign Level One and Level Two curriculum.


Rachel McKee

Rachel McKee

Rachel McKee is an Associate Professor in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. With her husband David, Rachel established training programmes for sign language interpreters, Deaf NZSL teachers, and adult learners of NZSL at VUW. Her research includes dictionary and grammar of NZSL, sociolinguistic topics, interpreting studies, and language policy.



The unique challenges of family based NZSL education (First Signs)

We will cover the unique challenges of teaching in the home with families and whānau. The level of engagement / disengagement of the service and how that impacts upon the work we do and the need for the Deaf community to support our families to create a thriving NZSL community for them to learn in and alongside.

As a team we all bring our unique journey into the Deaf world.

Natasha Cloete – Manager

In 2014, Deaf Aotearoa established First Signs, it started with 4 First Signs facilitators Wellington and Auckland. Natasha herself is Deaf and was one of the first facilitators conducting home visits and supporting families with Deaf/hard of hearing children 0 - 5 years old. Since then, Natasha has moved into a manager role, overseeing all staff and meeting the growing demand for our service.

Liz Kay – Team Leader

Liz brings a wealth of experience to this role - as a CODA, NZSL interpreter, teacher, and Parent to three Deaf Children, Liz is working with the team of Facilitators to better meet the needs of the families in our service raising their children to be bilingual/bimodal.

Cheryl Spykerman – Team leader

Cheryl, is another Deaf member of Deaf Aotearoa's Leadership team. Cheryl has experience working in the role of Facilitator in the Employment, Hauora, Youth, and First Signs services. Cheryl's experience of being in the Facilitator role informs how she now leads and supports her team of Facilitators to meet the needs of the families they are working with.



The Māori Perspective: Creating a Culturally Responsive NZSL Class

Māori are the tangata whenua (indigenous people) of Aotearoa and we represent 17.4% of the total New Zealand population. Most NZSL teachers are non-Māori and this means Pākeha culture, as well as Deaf culture, is dominant in our NZSL classes.

How can we better support our Māori students so they can feel included and comfortable? Rachel Walker shares some ideas from a Māori cultural viewpoint to make our classrooms more culturally responsive.

Rachel Walker

Rachel Walker

Tēnā korua katoa,
My tribes are Te Whanau-A-Apanui, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Porou, Ngati Koroki, Ngati Maniapoto, Tuwharetoa, Ngati Kahungunu and Whakatohea and Waikato. My parents and both my grandparents are Māori so I immersed Māori culture from them. I was invited to do Adapt Māori in TeachSign workshop in 2019 and found this is significant for Aotearoa to learn sign language.

Nga mihi, Rachel



Deafblindness and how it affects you and the Deaf Community


  1. To increase deafblind awareness amongst the Deaf Community.
  2. Decrease the risks of ignoring eye health.
  3. Factors to consider teaching NZSL to a deafblind person.

We will cover the four types of deafblindness and a few of the main eye conditions. Also, to consider warning signs to watch for in friends and family. Discuss how this may affect receptive communication, the types, and how to accommodate those changes. Discuss the advantages of learning NZSL as a receptive language, irrespective of the expressive language. Factors, that we as Deafblind Coordinators need to consider with our clients as to which communication method may be most useful to the person. Then factors that we as NZSL tutors need to consider when working with a Deafblind person, such as, learning process and memory, personal space. How to be proponents for Deafblind inclusion, reducing discrimination.

Jacqueline Iseli

Jacqueline Iseli

Deaf people crossed my path several times however I did not have the opportunity to start learning NZSL until 1995. I started teaching NZSL Level 1 and 2, after Penny Went interviewed and approved me in 1997 on the proviso that I took the AUT Intermediate night class. I then went on to study the Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting, graduating in 2003. Since then, I have worked with people who are Deaf, and people who are Deafblind for several years through the Blind Foundation/Blind Low Vision NZ. We volunteered with Volunteer Service Abroad and I documented a few signs of some Deaf people in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. In 2011-2012, I created a Dictionary of Deaf Ni-Vanuatu Family Signs using Word, whilst living in a remote place. In 2013, we moved to Papua New Guinea, a tough place for Deaf people. We lived in Kokopo on East New Britain, where I was invited to set up a sign language module within an Inclusive Education paper at OLSH Kabaleo Teacher’s College (now Divine Word University) with 550 students.

In 2016 I completed a BA in NZSL and Deaf Studies. Then in 2017-2018, Rachel McKee supervised my Master in Linguistics Thesis on the Ni-Vanuatu video data collected. Link: https://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/handle/10063/7957

In my work as a Deafblind Coordinator with Blind Foundation/Blind Low Vision NZ, I have a strong interest in tactile communication and Haptic Signals being used to reduce the isolation experienced by Deafblind people.



NZSL in High Schools - Strategies & Tips

Strategic tips to get a day position teaching NZSL in High Schools - who to ask, when, what to say, some rules and some ideas for activities appropriate for teens.

Mike Alley

Mike Alley

Mike currently teaches NZSL to hearing students from Years 9-13 at Freyberg High School, in Palmerston North. Mike has been at Freyberg since 2019. He will talk about teaching Junior HS SL, introduce Senior NCEA SL.

He is married to Fiona, and they have two adult hearing children in Wellington.



NZSL Business Network

NZSL Business Network was established in June 2021 to network all of the NZSL teaching businesses. The network supports each other with business administration related resources such as IRD information, Human Resources information, Employment Law, Student transfers and referrals etc.

It’s important to have a good strong backbone that supports the administration side of NZSL classes to enable thousands of people to learn NZSL.

Kim Robinson

Kim Robinson (Whangarei)
Learn NZSL with Eddie, Deaf Action NZ

Our focus is for people wanting to learn NZSL without financial barriers and teaching in places off the grid.

Having the NZSL Business Network is invaluable for us all working together to grow NZSL throughout Aotearoa.

Members of NZSL Business Network
Amber Shaw – NZSL4U
Victoria Lessing – Merge NZ
Kelly Quirke – Usign NZ
Pixie Neame – NZ Hands Alive
Kim Robinson – Deaf Action NZ, Learn NZSL with Eddie


Victoria Lessing

Victoria Lessing (Omokoroa, Bay of Plenty)
Merge NZ

With NZSL becoming so popular in New Zealand and many people are now learning NZSL, our beautiful language. The demand for NZSL learning services is rising through the roof!

We, as NZSL social/business entrepreneurs have faced many achievements as well some challenges. Some challenges, which we sometimes face in this business world and we as a developing team share our issues within the group. This is our safe place to get support from each other and share our perspectives, knowledge, and experiences in Deaf cultural way.

We believe that having new NBN (NZSL Business Network) gives us a great deal of independence and we are looking forward to grow our foundation stronger than ever.



NZSL Online Teaching strategies

Since 2017, Merge NZ has explored different ways to teach NZSL online to over 2,500 students. Our team have faced challenges as well as opportunities with our MySign - NZSL Online teaching.

Teaching NZSL online has given us extra effort to think and teach differently from onsite (face to face) teaching. This including curriculum preparation for students, NZSL online teaching activities, teaching techniques, technical aspects and extra learning support for students.

This presentation will include some video clips from actual NZSL Online teaching work and practical tips. Also, this will offer conference participants to explore new teaching ideas and ways to strengthen NZSL online learning experience for all NZSL students nationwide.

Victoria Lessing

Victoria Lessing

Victoria has passion for NZSL teaching work and has been involved in NZSL teaching for the past 20+ years. Currently, Victoria is managing several NZSL onsite and online courses through her social enterprise company Merge NZ, which employs about 25 NZSL tutors from different parts of New Zealand. Victoria has been teaching NZSL online for the past 6 years and wishes to share some perspectives and findings from NZSL students, who have been learning NZSL online.



Learning through engaging games

Kerrie Taylor

Kerrie Taylor

Kerrie Taylor is an experienced Auslan classroom teacher from Australia, and the owner of Auslan Hub. In her upcoming presentation, Kerrie will provide teachers with valuable insights into effective strategies for engaging students in learning Auslan. Through a series of fun games and activities, participants will discover practical methods to enhance and develop students' signing skills and knowledge. Kerrie's expertise in the field makes her presentation an invaluable resource for educators seeking to create dynamic and engaging learning environments for their students.



Deafblind Communication Methods

Jacqueline Iseli

Workshop presenter: Jacqueline Iseli


  1. To learn various fingerspell communication methods.
  2. To learn some Tactile signs.
  3. To learn some Haptic signals.
  4. How to approach and communicate with a Deafblind person.


The workshop will review briefly the four types of deafblindness and eye conditions. Focussing on which of the receptive communication methods and approaches we might use with Deafblind people and practise these. Then learn about the needs for bespoke communication, including Print on Palm, Deafblind Manual Fingerspelling, Tactile Signs. In addition, Haptic Signals which are an essential extra that makes the environment more equitable.



How does New Zealand Sign Language grow?

Sign vocabulary is continuously expanding as NZSL is used in new situations. DSRU documents (records) new signs as part of Online Dictionary work. 926 new signs (neologisms) were documented in the past five years, from Deaf community contributions and educational curriculum sign projects. We analysed these 926 signs for topics and strategies for how they were created – based on linguistic resources within NZSL or borrowing from outside resources (eg. other sign languages, written words). We found some differences between ‘planned’ (curriculum) signs and community-made neologisms (new signs). We also found a lot of variation in ‘new concept’ signs, suggesting that spreading and standardising new signs takes a long time. In this presentation we will spotlight how changing use of NZSL in society pushes vocabulary expansion and we will share some interesting details about strategies for new sign creation.

David McKee

David McKee

David McKee is a retired Senior Lecturer in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. With his wife Rachel, David established training programmes for sign language interpreters, Deaf NZSL teachers, and adult learners of NZSL at VUW. His research includes dictionary and corpus of NZSL, variation in NZSL and comparison of sign languages. He’s Consultant Editor of Online NZSL Dictionary.


Rachel McKee

Rachel McKee

Rachel McKee is an Associate Professor in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. With her husband David, Rachel established training programmes for sign language interpreters, Deaf NZSL teachers, and adult learners of NZSL at VUW. Her research includes dictionary and grammar of NZSL, sociolinguistic topics, interpreting studies, and language policy.