Friday, 10 June 2016

Indigenous knowledge & Cultural responsiveness in my practice

My third year at University had a profound impact on my belief system about the levels of equality within education. A shift so great that it went against common opinion and is still being slowly translated into my classroom practice. It involved the heady combination of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000) and Bourdieu (cited in Szeman & Kaposy 2010looking at the cultural capital passed on by the dominant class to maintain the status quo. Smashed was my naive view that we all had an equal chance and that success was determined by effort. This was not an equal playing field and it was being maintained by the education system itself.

This is obviously something that has been brought to the attention of the education system as noted in Bishop’s Edtalk (2012). He pointed out the disparity of Māori achievement which impacts on our country economically, socially and politically. Under the Treaty or Waitangi Māori were promised equal rights, opportunities and education.

But obviously, equal access to education has not translated in equality of success. The common voice might argue that success is based on effort or innate ability and that Māori are failing because they have a cultural deficit.

Feuerstein (2010) would argue that there is no ‘deficit’ but that everyone is modifiable. The Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools report states that it is not the learners but the system that needs to be modified. (2002) Our key response needs to be to put the child in the centre.

Ko te Tamaiti te Pūtake o te Kaupapa
The Child – the Heart of the Matter

In the Te Kotahitanga research (Gutschlag, 2007) it was suggested that the teacher needs to become the agent of change for our Māori students. To achieve this there are some key changes to be made which will lead to improved learning for Maori but I truly believe they are beneficial for all.

  1. Build relationships for learning.
  2. Adjust the curriculum so it is engaging and values the Māori world view.
  3. Use assessment to provide feedback to inform learning and the social nature of co-constructing learning with and between students.

So what does cultural responsiveness look like on our school?
My initial response is to think - wow, we have a way to go in our being culturally responsive in our school of 250, with only 20 Māori students. And while that may be true, we are in the process of taking action but also have some areas of strength.

Our school vision, mission, and core values
As a school we have recognised the need to adapt our school vision to make it fit our community and be more culturally responsive. We have asked the local Marae for our Māori name and are building stronger relationships as we begin to incorporate our cultural narrative into the fabric of who we are at Springston School.
We are in the process of developing our new vision, in connection with the Taumutu Marae and with our learning community. The clear difference in our new vision is that it is all about excellence - for all.

Vision: Inspiring excellence and outstanding character.

This is supported by our goals of ...
Learner: Self motivated role models who demonstrate empathy and resilience.
Community: Leading engaged, connected school and community partnerships.
Environment: Dynamic, inspirational and nurturing learning environment.

And the final aspect weaving these concepts together is our A+ Characteristics of being articulate, accountable, accepting, adventurous and adaptable. We have the challenge of unpacking the Māori view of this wonderful representation of our Key Competencies to develop the ‘story’ behind each aspect e.g. 

Like the tuna, we know our goals and never give up when it gets tough because we are determined and persistent.

PD leading to school activities:
I want to unpack all the things we are doing well and they don’t really fit into just one category so here goes…
  1. In 2013 the whole teaching staff made a commitment to learning Te Reo and completed a year at Te Wananga of Aotearoa (TWoA), two staff then took it on for a further year. This has resulted in a confidence and use of Te Reo across the school with daily use in waitata, karakia, whakatouki and speeches at official functions.
  2. Personally I continued with TWoA with a further year in raranga (flax weaving), which has played a large role in my AKO students teaching others how to weave and preparing putiputi (flax flowers) for a teacher’s wedding.
  3. The weekly admin meeting begins with a waiata and a new Te Reo phrase to use for the week.
  4. Tracking boards are kept where Teams can track the progress of target and Māori students to keep ourselves accountable that we are meeting the needs of our Priority Learners. (2012)
  5. The Kapa Haka team performs in both the Christchurch and local Ellesmere Kapa Haka Festivals.
  6. Our whole school participated in a powhiri to welcome the new principal, as supported by our local marae, and images were included in their document to explain the protocol for these events.
  7. Personally, I begin every year with a mini mihi whakatau, where past students welcome the new ones into our learning space, talk about the exciting things that happen there and share kai on the very first day.
  8. Having a student buddy system throughout the whole school that reflects the reflecting tuakana teina relationship where the older students mentor, support and and help run ‘starting school parties’ for the little ones.
  9. Senior students are given responsibility and can develop leadership skills in the areas of hospitality, build-teams, bus monitors, librarians and other areas.
  10. Student voice and action is harnessed through our newly established student council.
  11. Our local marae is beginning to be use more frequently as a learning resource with visits to Lake Ellesmere to unpack the importance of the tuna (Longfin eel) and unpacking protocol by spending time on ‘our’ marae.
  12. Being an enviroschool and playing an active role in student involvement as ‘tamarkik tiaki’ - guardians of our environment. They work in our school garden, are planning to get chickens and have been planting native trees down at our local Chamberlains Ford.
  13. Visual evidence of the Maori culture is becoming more evident around our school with the wind garden being created by ECO Team students to represent Tāwhirimātea (god of the wind) and pou (wooden posts) with our Key Competencies engraved on them.

For a school with a very small Māori community, I know we are doing lots of things to make connections with our environment but also, when you list them like this, the list of culturally responsive actions is quite long.The questions is…. are these making a deep and meaningful impact on helping our Māori students and whanau feel like the school is theirs and values Māori knowledge and world-view, or are these actions just superficial?
The only way to progress is to keep engaging in korereo with our Māori community and taking action to incorporate their wishes and advice as we continue this journey together.

Bishop, R. Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. [video file].Retrieved from
Bishop, R, Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T. & Teddy, L. (2009). Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5)734–742.
Education Review Office, (2012) Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools. Downloaded from 
Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, R. S., & Falik, L. H. (2010). Beyond smarter: Mediated
learning and the brain's capacity for change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Freire, Paulo. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed /New York : Continuum
Gutschlag, A.(2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioningNew Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from
Szeman, I., Kaposy, T. (20102010Cultural Theory: An AnthologyWiley-Blackwell


  1. Thank you for sharing your actions as a school to being more culturally responsive. I very much feel that what I do is tokenism, and potentially more offensive, particularity if I get any tikanga wrong, or make errors in pronunciation. It would be so beneficial for all of our staff to complete a year long course of Te reo. I honestly feel that it would give me so much more confidence when trying to fulfill the bi-cultural aspect of the Practicing Teacher Criteria.
    You seem to be doing heaps, and you should be very proud. Nice work, ka Pai!

    1. Toroa, you are so right about that fear of getting it wrong stopping you from taking that risk - the fear offending but we wnat our students to have a positive mindset..... we need to be a good role model.

      About three years ago I was doing very little Te Reo and learned heaps from a student teacher. The difference since then has been the Te Reo course at I developed a blog of resources that I made for my teaching from what I was learning with the purpose of other teachers using it as a resource too. Please feel free to use it and share it with colleagues. :)

      My challenges for you are these:
      1. Begin using 1-2 phrases every day (asking for help from your students and families).

      2. Learn a waiata and begin every day with it - use one off the internet to copy the language correctly.

      3. Sign up for Te Reo at for 2017 - it will change your classroom and outlook!

      You can do it and this huge journey begins with little steps.

  2. Hi Alana. I'm impressed by your blog. You have really covered a lot of ground in presenting this snapshot of you and your school. From your narrative it seems your school is very active in this area. Our school has a whare,a kapahaka group and a lot of representing the first face of the school in greeting new groups. It's great. But still not as active as that you've described. Our school just spent a great pd day on that. A list of nz dates completely from a Maori perspective. Somehow it shocked something awake in me and I think I'm being a more culturally responsive teacher because of it. Another aspect that I recently understood more deeply was the need for my own students - mostly Chinese speaking or Korean- to have their country of origin more systematically honoured. It'll be great when we all do our mihis with emphasis on the culture,language and history of our ancestors!Thanks Allana.

  3. Sorry. I wrote Allana but it self-corrected. Apologies

  4. Yessss! I love that Equality v Equity image! I actually used it not long ago with my class as a writing prompt during a unit we were doing on social justice. It definitely fits perfectly with the content of this post. I really enjoyed reading the 13 things your school is doing to enhance cultural responsiveness - I particularly liked 12 as it gave me ideas for how my own school could incorporate this. We too have an 'enviro' group and we link it to the catholic social justice principle of stewardship (we are a catholic school) - it would be so easy and relevant for us to make the link here to Maori culture and make it clear how the Moari notion of tamarkik kiaki mirrors and supports our own beliefs.


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