Our Team

The Upskills team is our most important asset. We’re a diverse, eclectic bunch with all kinds of different life experiences. This is a core strength. One thing all our staff and tutors share in common is a life-long love of learning and a desire to see others continue their own learning journeys. To be a part of that is a privilege and source of great personal satisfaction for each of us.

Sarah Balfour, Upskills Director

Sarah Balfour

‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Desmond Tutu

Qualifications: Bachelor of Communication Studies (Journalism), Trinity College TESOL Certificate, Masters in Health Science (Psychology), Tetramap Facilitator

Area of Expertise: Sarah specialises in helping organisations to understand and work with group dynamics and on process improvement for the business. Her mission is to enable the Upskills team to produce leadership training with emotional intelligence at the heart of the learning process.

Sarah has worked in the adult education sector for over 20 years. Highlights from her career include teaching English to Greek teenagers in a small town; training teachers in South Korea and more recently, workplaces around Aotearoa. Helping people realise the potential they have within themselves is what drives her.

Looking at her own learning journey, Sarah absorbs knowledge best by reading, reflecting on what she’s done and read, sharing experiences, talking it through with others and jumping in the deep end. She cites making mistakes as another way she learns! One of the most useful lessons has been ‘Aroha mai, aroha atu. Love given is love returned.’

When not in work mode, Sarah loves fiction, opshopping for vintage finds and Crown Lynn ceramics. Spending time with friends and whānau and anything from the ’80s are also high on her list of favourite things.

Holly Patterson, Upskills Director

Holly Patterson

‘Tangata ako ana I te kāenga, te tūranga ke te marae, tau ana. A person nurtured in the community contributes strongly to society.’

Qualifications: BA(Hons); NCALNE (Voc); RSA DELTA

Area of Expertise: Holly’s focus is on programme planning and new business development.

Prior to co-founding Upskills, Holly thrived in workplace education as a programme manager and educator. She has worked in a number of adult education roles in NZ, South America and Europe.

Holly specializes in designing and tailoring programmes according to client briefs. She loves working with tutors and course participants to see these dreams realised. A lifelong learner herself, Holly learns best by talking about ideas she’s read or heard about with people who are equally as passionate as her. The most useful thing she’s learned is to set lofty goals and believe in yourself. You never know where you’ll end up.

When she’s not working you might find her swimming laps or doing some yoga but you’ll mostly find her nose deep in a good book. Spare time in summer is spent outdoors on camping trips with friends and family.

Office Manager

Trish Lowe

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still – Chinese proverb.”

Qualifications: BSc/BCom

Area of Expertise: Trish specialises in being a generalist!

Trish started out working as an auditor in the public sector before spending 20 years in procurement. Prior to Upskills, she worked in the business support area for an NGO. She learns by doing and figuring out what needs to be done. The most useful thing she’s learnt rings true to the old cliché – you’re never too old to learn. Also gaining the ability to adapt to change and challenges with the right mindset have been very beneficial.

When she’s not working, Trish spends time catching up with friends and family and watching her boys play basketball.

Programme Manager

Janeke Fourie

‘The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill, the willingness to learn is a choice.’ – Brian Herbert

Qualifications: Bachelor of Arts (International Studies), Diploma Public Relations and Communication Management, Master in Management (Human Resource Management)

Area of Expertise: Janeke is one of our two programme coordinators. Her role is to support our directors and tutors, ensuring everything runs smoothly and that there is clear client/tutor communication.

Janeke’s background is predominately in administration management. She has worked in a wide range of sectors from legal to not-for-profit, to automotive and now education and training.

When she has any free time (that is not spent running after two little ones) she loves to read and indulge her taste buds. Janeke tells us she learns ‘just by giving things a go!’ One of the most important things she has learned is that you are never too old to learn something new. Don’t fear change. You may lose something good but you may also gain something great.

Learning & Design Manager, Tutor

Saran Read

“Poipoia te kakano Kia puawai” – He whakatauki. Nurture the seed and it will blossom.

Qualifications: BA, GradDipTchg(secondary), NCAT Level 5, NCALNE (Educator) CertIV Assessment and Workplace Training (Aus).

Area of Expertise: Saran’s speciality is mostly around business processes, systems and relationships. She also specialises in supporting Maori learners.

Saran has filled the new role of Learning and Design Manager, as part of our core team. She has spent the past 19 years in adult education, starting out as an ESOL tutor in NZ, Australia and Japan many years ago. Her journey as an adult educator has included customer service, digital literacy, financial literacy, business education and workplace literacy and numeracy in both small business and corporate environments.

Saran learns in a variety of ways. The traditional classroom environment seems to suit her. She particularly enjoys visual and interactive learning. She learns best by ‘doing’ although also picks up a lot by reading. The most useful thing she’s learned is whanaungatanga – Establishing good relationships with learners is the key to their learning success. Also that her own learning journey will never finish.

Outside of work, she likes to spend time outdoors walking her dog up Te Mata Peak or riding the cycle trails.

Tafa Iakopo
Programme Mgr, Project Ikuna

Tafā Iakopo

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” John C Maxwell & Theodore Roosevelt

Qualifications: BA in Spanish

Area of Expertise: Tafā specialises in engaging with learners from all walks of life. She finds it easy to connect with people as she is naturally relatable and interested in their journey.

Tafā has worked in the education sector for 15+ years but in NZ she has a contact centre background. This led to training and then adult education, and she has been here ever since. She absolutely loves this space!

Tafā is a visual and kinaesthetic learner. She needs to see it and then do it. The most useful thing she’s learned is that getting the whole family involved in the learning journey makes the ride even more enjoyable. Lots of laughs and takeaways.

When she’s not working, she loves to bake, spend quality time with friends and family and work on little projects around the house.

Programme Coordinator

Loma Rodan

“Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.” Claire Fagin. To not only yourself but also your whānau and community.

Qualifications: Masters in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education, Bachelor of Arts (Japanese) NZCALNE, CELTA.

Area of Expertise: Loma is one of our three programme coordinators. Her role is to support our directors and tutors, ensuring everything runs smoothly and that there is clear client/tutor communication. She loves working with tutors and helping them develop their teaching practices. She also tutors herself, working with learners who have difficulties with ESL, literacy and numeracy is her specialism.

Loma’s been working in the adult tertiary sector in NZ for about 12 years. Prior to that, she was in Japan for 5 years as an assistant language teacher. She finished that tenure by heading off as a volunteer language teacher on the Peace Boat and circumnavigated the globe over a fourth-month period. She learns best through a variety of methods depending on the task. Loma says she is typical of many students who struggle in lectures. The most useful thing she’s learned is that everyone has a right to learn.

When she’s not working Loma loves to spend time with her family and make new memories with them, especially through travelling.

Julz Tagaloa, Upskills Programme Coordinator
Programme Coordinator

Julz Tagaloa

“How can you succeed by helping others succeed? We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed” – James C. Collins

Qualifications: Certificate in hairdressing

Area of Expertise: Julz has had numerous customer-facing roles; hairdressing, teacher aiding, customer services roles, and call centre administration. She describes herself as blessed to experience Programming in Communities of West Auckland, in a secondment role for 1.5 years with Auckland Council. This grew her interest in pursuing her current role with Upskills. Although it is a new field, she is open to the challenge and willing to grow into the role.

Julz is a visual learner. She likes to get straight into doing the work and learn as she goes. The most useful thing she’s learnt is not to be afraid to make mistakes, because it’s the only way you’ll learn and grow as a person.

When she’s not working, Julz loves to spend time with her twin boys, family, friends and her ‘fur hunny’, Brucey (the dog). She loves to cook, bake, listen to heaps of music (singing and dancing!), and anything that is FUN. She is always down to try new things and go on outdoor adventures.


Hazel Balderston

‘My intent is to work with people to develop ways to make real transformations – and to have fun along the way.’

Qualifications: RSA Dip TEFLA (DELTA)

Area of Expertise: Hazel loves teaching the whole range – people who have little English as well as leaders. She enjoys coaching leadership skills and financial literacy both in groups and one to one. She has expertise in helping to develop training content and building relationships within our network.

Over the past 25 years, Hazel has worked in eight countries and set up New Zealand businesses in the hospitality, property and tutoring industries. She has been teaching communication skills to adults for about a decade. Hazel was one of the first trainers we brought on board and is also a facilitator affiliated with the Commission for Financial Capability. Hazel learns best herself by listening, talking things through, then reading, watching and doing. Among one of the most important things she’s learned, is to listen, be kind, to back yourself and other people.


Julia Bruce-Mayne

The Living Consensus Framework represents Julia’s teaching philosophy. The framework includes shared leadership, cultural inquiry, ethics agreement, inquiry teams and reflective practice. These practices overlap and complement one another to form holistic learning environments of which learners and teachers have shared ownership.

Qualifications: Master of Education (Hons), Member of the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

Area of Expertise: Working with at-risk youth and supporting adults in their professional development as critical thinkers, communicators and leaders.

After hairdressing on cruise ships, Julia began her adult education career 26 years ago. Firstly teaching hairdressing students and then life skills to at-risk youth. For the past ten years, she has been providing professional development for adult and tertiary teachers in New Zealand, China, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. Julia is a visual and kinaesthetic learner so she likes to learn by seeing, doing and reflecting. She’s a huge fan of project and inquiry-based learning approaches. The most useful thing she’s learned is that the diversity we all bring to any group is the richest resource for learning. When not working, Julia runs and enjoys spending time with her family and mini dachshund, Daisy.


Alice Eruera

From the cradle to the grave we are always learning.

Qualifications: MBUS Honors, BBUS, NZCALNE, NCAET.

Area of Expertise: Alice specialises in training, and tourism development.

Alice has worked in adult education for the past seven years. Her career spans many roles across many industries, however, Air New Zealand was the highlight. She likes to learn by engagement, discussion and relativity. The most useful thing she’s learned is that everyone has something special to offer. Alice is very family orientated. She fosters animals for the SPCA and hosts international students.


Melissa Hori

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’ – Albert Einstein

Qualifications: BSc (Biology and Psychology) and Grad Diploma in Secondary Teaching, University of Auckland Diploma in Life Coaching

Area of Expertise: Melissa specialises in curriculum and resource design, planning innovative ways to engage learners, both in groups or 1:1 coaching.

– Skills Highway Champion Trainer 2021 – 

Our award-winning tutor, Melissa Hori has been working in adult education for a total of four years. In the last year with us at Upskills and before that two years delivering workshops to family groups and sports groups, six months at Unitec co-facilitating Te Tiriti O Waitangi workshops to staff and 18 months at the University of Auckland. Delivering a bridging programme for Maori and Pacifica students into the health programmes. Before moving into adult education, Melissa was a secondary school biology teacher and a professional teaching fellow at the Univeristy of Auckland, working on curriculum mapping and redesign of Maori health week. She also directed her own dance school. She combines her Upskills tutoring role with life coaching and teaching Pilates. She also enjoys watching sport and is an avid reader. Favourite times are spent with her new baby and two rescue dogs. Melissa likes to discuss learning, ask questions, bounce ideas, and make connections in order to learn. The most important thing she’s learnt is that no one is a poor learner, the teacher/facilitator needs to find the way that works for that learner.


Kathryn Hunter

‘Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.’ Chinese proverb

Qualifications: BSocSc, Dip Teaching, GradDipTESSOL

Kathryn has been teaching since the late 1990s. She taught in Japan, China and NZ. Mostly specialising in ESL teaching to high school learners. In the past 3 years, Kathryn expanded into work with adult learners. In her experience, everyone has a story and knows something that others don’t. She understands the importance of creating a safe space where learners feel valued, supported and able to share their perspectives. When not training she loves to travel both overseas and in NZ. Favourite activities are tramping and spending time with friends and family. Kathryn learns in different ways. Firstly she’s a visual learner, closely followed by a kinesthetic (doing) learner. She also learns a lot from group discussions. Most importantly she realises that we are all lifelong learners and that we need the courage to try something new. It is by trying new things we learn. As Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”


Mem Joe

Te Kawerau ā Maki, Ngati Whātua ki Kaipara, Te Waiõhua, Ngati Māhuta,

‘Education has the power to transform lives.’

Qualifications: MAdLitNum, BA, DipMinistry, PGDipEd.

Area of Expertise: Mem specialises in teaching literacy and numeracy to adults using an embedded approach.

Mem has been an educator since 1999. First as a secondary school teacher in Otara, then overseas in Thailand. When she returned to New Zealand she went into adult education. Mem loves cooking, swimming and is learning weight lifting. She learns by reflection and also by doing. Mem considers making mistakes as an opportunity to learn. The most useful thing she’s learnt is about people, ‘People are people are people. It is the greatest thing.’


Matilda Koria

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” — Benjamin Franklin

Qualifications: ATT, NCALNE, BBus,

Area of expertise: Matilda is experienced in curriculum planning, resource and assessment development and delivery. She is goal-focused but with a heart for the people and focuses on literacy and numeracy skills development. Always sensitive to students’ learning, language, and emotional challenges, she has a flexible approach and tailors lessons to suit learners’ needs to achieve their goals. 

Matilda is a passionate, skilled educator with 10 years of experience in education including teaching, assessing and administration. She takes the time to get to know her students as individuals. She strives to foster strong relationships with all students. Fluent in English and Samoan, Matilda is an energetic and goal-driven instructor who is dedicated to helping each and every student reach his or her full potential, regardless of their academic capabilities or challenges. 

Matilda is passionate about teaching and learning. Being a Samoan woman raised in Aotearoa has given her a diverse outlook. Teaching has opened doors and opportunities where she can interact and cater for all ethnicities and meet diverse learner needs, such as dyslexia and autism. She can screen for learning needs, preferences, and learning challenges.


Jeanette Lask

‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Nelson Mandela

Qualifications: BA (Hons) Combined Studies – English, Drama and Theatre Studies. CTEFLA, NCALNE, IAEBP.

Area of Expertise: Jeanette specialises in leadership and communication for all levels of learners.

Jeanette has been tutoring now for 10 years. She started teaching EFL in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, England and New Zealand. In Africa, she helped train the teachers for an upgrading system the Government had put in place. Jeanette oversaw some development projects and set up a Participatory Resource Network Centre. She worked in television post-production for ‘Family Affairs’, then film, ‘The Two Towers’ – Lord of the Rings. She has also owned a café and is a hypnotherapist, a Thrive consultant and celebrant. Jeanette is a visual learner but loves to read as well. She likes to take time to process the material and then do it. The most useful thing she’s learned is that you learn something new every day! When not working you’ll find her looking after her Kuni Kuni pigs, Peppa, Georgie, Blackie and her hand-reared piglet Katie, Elan the rescue dog, Charlie the goat. Chickens, Wags and Choppy the claves, Chuzzle the cat and of course her husband and son.


Doreen Montesclaros

Ngāti Tūmatauenga

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata – What is the most important thing? It is people, it is people, it is people!”

Qualifications: Bachelor of Ed, PostGrad Dip Ad Ed, Cert Youth Social Work, Cert in ESOL, Certs in Flipped Learning.

Area of Expertise: Doreen specialises in Montessori Education, learning and development across the lifespan, and pedagogical leadership.

Doreen has been been a learning professional for the past 14 years—working in the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. She spent the last six years working as a Learning and Development Specialist (Commissioned) Officer in the NZDF, collaborating with our Five Eyes partners to facilitate learning/training outcomes across Australasia.

Doreen learns best through deliberate and purposeful engagement. When she is clear on the learning outcomes, there is no learning context or experience that she can’t adapt to and make the most of. The most useful thing she’s learned is that learning and development enable and empower her to live her best self, as well as to live her best life.

When she’s not working, Doreen’s hobbies include, eating, reading books and journal articles, watching anime, roller derby, hiking/tramping, indoor and outdoor bouldering/rock climbing, circus and aerial arts, and martial arts. She also really enjoys building/creating things, playing board games, and engaging in philosophical discussion or ‘real talk’ with friends and family.


Shelly Pathak

‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give.’ Maya Angelou

Qualifications: BSc (Hons) Sociology, CELTA. Currently studying for NCALNE.

Area of Expertise: Shelly particularly enjoys teaching English as a second language and this is something she’s pleased to be able to incorporate as an Upskills tutor.

Shelly Pathak has enjoyed most of her career in the education sector. She has conducted research in schools and managed research in the Department for Education and Employment in the UK. She started teaching English as a second language in the UK and continued when she moved to NZ. She has been teaching workplace literacy and numeracy with Upskills for a year. Shelly is a board member at her local intermediate school. She spends her spare time knitting, sewing quilts and is currently learning to sew her own clothes. Like most of our tutors, she’s a big reader. The rest of her time is taken up with watching her two sons play football for the local club. A visual learner first and foremost, Shelly best processes new information and knowledge by talking it through. She continues to learn new knitting and sewing techniques by watching YouTube videos and through groups. The most important thing she has learned is to listen!


Sharon Pheasant

‘Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.’ George Washington Carver

Qualifications: BA, Trinity Cert. TESOL, Cambridge DELTA

Area of Expertise: Sharon now specializes in designing learner-centred lessons focused on individual needs within the group.

Sharon returned to NZ in 2016. After 15 years of teaching and coordinating in the EFL and EAP sector, she transitioned into the adult workplace training field in 2018. When she’s not working or being a mum, she loves to read. Sharon is a visual learner, she always appreciates seeing a model or demonstration before being given lots of opportunities to practise. Among the most useful things she’s learnt is that even seemingly insurmountable challenges can often be completed with a bit of adaptability and determination.


Peter (Fritz) Renk

Learning is as much about being part of the Human race as it is to be an individual, it is one of the essential spices that make Life truly the wonder it can be!

Qualifications: NCALNE

Fritz has worked in four countries (and volunteered in a further two). He’s enjoyed many different roles, from working in the laboratory to chauffeuring, to chainsaw sharpening with, he says, ‘a bit of teaching thrown in there too’. In fact, he’s been working in the adult education sector for the past five years. Life has taught him that all people are both learners and teachers. He genuinely enjoys the company of the inquisitive. And if at first, his learners appear not to be inquisitive, Fritz knows the art of finding their spark. Fritz was born of parents who were ever curious as to what was over the next dune, hill or mountain. He found a girl who loved photography, him and to make her Morri ’55 fly! Now he says they both look over the hill together. (Pun intended.) His own learning style is to carefully pull the content apart, grasp the reason for the design of its individual parts and put it back together so that it works. The most important thing he has learned so far is that he has so, so much more to learn. Looking back, he realises how little he knew. It’s humbling but in a warm way.


Karen Richards

“Having witnessed first hand the difference even a small amount of education can make to a community, I believe that education doesn’t just impact and empower the learner, but also the wider community and future generations.”


Diploma in Vocational Education and Training (Australia)
Diploma in Training Development and Design (Australia)

Area of Expertise:

Karen has experience developing training programmes and assessment tools and delivering flexible learning programmes to cater to the learners’ needs.

She returned to New Zealand in 2020 after working in the vocational education sector in Wollongong, Australia for nearly 12 years. Her role involved curriculum and assessment development for certificate level courses, as well as teaching and mentoring in the areas of training and early leadership.

During her time in Australia, she was also involved with a relief and development organization, providing community development and primary healthcare education programmes in Thailand and Myanmar.

Karen likes to learn by researching, reading, collaborating and asking people questions. But her greatest learning experiences have come when she actually gives it a go and reflects on how it could be done better next time!

The most useful thing she’s learnt is that nothing ever goes quite the way you plan, so it’s important to be flexible and responsive in the moment.

When not working, Karen loves getting out in nature and spending time with her family.


Junita Tupai

“The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed” Adam Grant


Mcdonald’s level 5 cert – Food and beverage management, Hospitality management control systems, and Supply chain in management.

Currently completing NZCALNE.

Area of Expertise: Junita worked for Mcdonald’s for over 20 years. She spent the last 12 years as a Restaurant Manager in different locations around Auckland.  This equipped her with excellent people and management skills that transfer perfectly to adult education.

Juanita loves to learn face-to-face by being hands-on through reading and practical experience. The most important thing she’s learnt is that learning never stops, you learn something when you least expect it.

When she’s not working, Juanita loves to bake. Particularly recreating cultural foods. She loves spending time with family and her fur babies.


Tania Vuletich

In learning, you will teach. In teaching, you will learn.”

Qualifications: TEFL, NCALNE, TESOL NZ

Area of Expertise: Tania specialises in ESOL across all levels including IELTS, assessment development and moderation.

Tania has been an ESOL tutor for 18 years, loyal to two organisations that provided excellent professional development. Four years ago, she became a senior tutor, faculty administrator and assessment coordinator. She’s worked in both New Zealand and England and is new to the adult literacy field. She feels that bringing her ESOL experience to Upskills has been a huge benefit already.

As a learner herself, Tania is a ‘doer’, she is very visual. Tania loves to learn from getting out there and immersing herself in what she’s learning. She also likes to be in an environment where she can learn from others (workshops, courses etc). The most useful thing she’s learned is to be curious, not judgmental.

When not working, Tania loves to be in, on or around the ocean. She has been part of the United North Piha Surf Lifesaving Club for over 5 years, mainly organizing junior surf events. She is also a keen surfer.

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