Sunday, 2 October 2016

He aha te mea nui o te ao, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata

He aha te mea nui o te ao 
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
(Maori proverb)

A few years ago I travelled to see Uluru.  It was breath-taking.  What really interested me though was the short tour I was able to go on with a local Aboriginal guide.  He spoke of the cultural significance of Uluru, told us the local legends of the area, and then he spoke about how he was working to put together a curriculum for schools to teach students about their local Aboriginal culture.  That really knocked me for six - it was 2013 and there was no curriculum for learning about Aboriginal culture?

Not long after that trip, I met with my aunt who was visiting my parents.  I was wearing a t-shirt with
the colours written in Maori (as seen on the right).  When she asked me what it meant, I told her it was "the colour song" which she replied, "What song?"

This made me wonder if our curriculum was effective - were we really giving the Maori culture and language a fair go in our classrooms and in our society?

I teach at a small school that has predominantly Maori and Pasifika learners ( 57% and 36% respectively).  It has been a focus of our school to make sure we are including our student's cultures and language into our everyday programmes, and to create relationships with our students, parents and whanau.

In his video, Russell Bishop spoke about the teachers who can make a difference for Maori learners.  He spoke of teachers who have agency - teachers who understand themselves and are able to incorporate all of the necessary things to create a learning context where Maori students can bring themselves and their knowledge to the conversation, and reject deficit thinking/theorising.  Russell Bishop also spoke about how these teachers are not enough by themselves, they need support from their schools and the government, they need professional development to be able to carry on their work.  This is the type of teacher that I strive to be.

This year our school has begun working on the PB4L contract.  Through this work, we have had to closely look at and discuss our school values, goals, and vision.  What I believe has worked well so far on this project, is the inclusion of the students' thoughts and opinions.  The students are becoming more involved in the process and what is happening around the school.

One way that we have found that makes students feel a sense of belonging is our House groups.  We have four 'houses' that are made up from our student and teacher population.  We foster a sense of whanaungatanga with these houses.  Students are encouraged to participate for their house.  Families are kept together in the same house, and older students are encouraged to look after the younger students in a familiar way.  Over the past few years we have found that students have become more willing to help others, particularly those younger than them, in the playground - which I believe stems from the fostering of whanaungatanga.  This system appears to be working well for us, however it is under constant review to see if it can be any more effective.

Another way we foster whanaungatanga is through collaborative learning.  In the senior school this year we have started Robotics groups.  Each group consists of students from Years 5 to 8.  The interaction between the students is interesting to observe.  When the groups began the older students tended to take over, however as time has past you can see most groups working effectively together with age not being a barrier.

It is my belief that all teachers have a responsibility to include culturally responsive pedagogy into their everyday teaching practice.  Our students have an amazing amount of knowledge to share with us and each other.  It is important that they have the chance to share that knowledge and have it valued.

Photo credit:


Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. [video file].Retrieved from