In May 2014 Nu’ualofa Playgroup, an early childhood facility for Pacific Nations families, opened in Rowley Avenue Primary School in Christchurch. This is the story of how we, as two Palagi teachers, worked with a school and its local community to bring this collective vision to life.
Where it all began
Our journey began in 2014 when we were lucky enough to participate in a Pasifika Leadership Professional Learning programme offered by the Ministry of Education (MOE), through CORE Education and facilitated by Ruta McKenzie and Justine Mason. We went into this feeling completely out of our comfort zone yet knowing that we could be better supporting the Pasifika learners enrolled in our Home Based Childcare Service. Over eighteen months we attended a number of two-day fono and monthly network meetings with the Pasifika Leadership group. It’s been the best PLD we’ve ever experienced.
Through the Pasifika Leadership programme we also learnt of the opportunity to apply for CORE Education’s Pasifika Education Grant. We were fortunate to be awarded one of these. This provided us with funding for a supported inquiry that enabled us to tell our story through video of what we have learnt and developed as a result of our PLD. Our advisors for this project were Ruta Mckenzie and Keryn Davis.
The support, learning, camaraderie, and connections we made during this PLD, gave us the courage to stand strong for what we believed we could offer the Rowley community. In April 2014, after discovering the people in the MOE who were able to see and support our vision, we secured a participation contract with the MOE to provide a supported Pasifika Playgroup. In collaboration with the Principal at Rowley Avenue Primary School, we engaged Laiga Tomuli (a Samoan parent at the school), to facilitate and supervise the playgroup and work in the community to encourage aiga (families) to participate.
Leading from the back of the canoe
One of the goals of the playgroup was to support Pasifika aiga participation in early years education. We believed that the key to success in reaching this goal was the community having ownership of the playgroup: the playgroup had to be theirs, not ours. Our role was to lead from behind by providing support, professional guidance, and vision. Most of all it was about listening to what the community wanted and needed in their early education service.
After much discussion, the community named the playgroup, “Nu’úalofa”. Nu’ualofa translates as a caring village where aiga gather together to connect, collaborate and learn as a community deeply rooted in their cultural norms, identity, and language.
Casting our net
In our first professional development and learning (PDL) fono we explored the Pasifika Education Plan 2013-2017 (PEP). We had never seen this before – we didn’t even know it existed.
Once familiar with the Pasifika Success Compass, which is part of the PEP, we asked ourselves, “What does successful learning for Pasifika learners look like in action?” This inspired us to explore more deeply the Pasifika values described in the PEP and to better understand what these values mean for Pasifika families. The values highlighted are:
Respect, Love, Reciprocal Relationships, Belonging, Inclusion, Spirituality, Service, Leadership and Family
Our initial interpretation of these values, came from our own knowledge, experience, and understanding, and was quite different from what we are now beginning to appreciate. In the Palagi world, these values are often positioned as separate entities while In the Pasifika world they are generally seen as strongly linked. It has taken time for us to truly experience and understand this difference between our view of the values and those we are beginning to see around us at the playgroup.
“Studies indicate that for Pasifika students, identity (language and culture) is central to learning.”(MOE, 2013)
Identity is strongly linked to the values a culture holds. While the PEP outlines what the values of the Pasifika cultures are, it doesn’t show us what they mean or what they look like in practice in relation to the learner. We have come to understand that, for Pasifika peoples, these values are an intrinsic part of who they are. For us as Palagi, we have had to learn what these mean for Pasifika peoples. We found that one way to do this was to put ourselves in the shoes of the child and aiga who come to the centre by asking, “Who am I in this place?”. This involved placing a greater emphasis on making connections with families.
Leaders as learners
While we have a leadership role as educational advisors to the Nuúalofa community we are also learners in this context. By immersing ourselves in the community, values, and culture, we have come to better understand what the PEP values mean to Pasifika peoples We have done this during sessions of the playgroup by:
- making time and space to simply be present amongst the children and their aiga
- offering information about ourselves and our families.
- using simple phrases and asking how to pronounce words
- contributing food
- developing trust with the children and families through everyday interactions
- consciously adopting a ‘watch, wait and wonder’ approach as a precursor to offering educational support and guidance.
This approach has enabled us to recognize and see the significance of these values as pivotal to our Pasifika children’s success as learners which in turn has helped us tailor our advisory support on early childhood practice for those running the playgroup. We have thought deeply about what the words Participation, Engagement and Achievement mean in relation to Pasifika success. We have come to understand this is about truly knowing the learner: who they are, who their family are, where they are from, how we can connect with them.
This video, made for our community and for other teachers, illustrates how we have enacted the Pasifika values for the benefit of the children and their aiga.
Learners as leaders
In Pasifika Leadership network meetings we heard personal stories from the Pasifika members of the group. This made us realise that we need to do more than “see” a person. Hearing their stories supports us to develop a deeper understanding of their culture and identity.
This videoof one of the younger children attending Nuúalofa illustrates how the Pasifika values can be wrapped around the child as a learner. We offer Jireh’s story as a reflective resource to guide and support teachers in their understanding of the Pasifika values in relation to the learner.
The end of this story
Our ultimate goal on our PLD journey to understand what the Pasifika values mean to Pasifika learners, has been to ensure we can better meet the needs of the children and aiga in our service.
We have been greatly supported in this journey by Ruta McKenzie, Laiga Tomuli, Julez Ausage , Taloa Sagapolutele, Keryn Davis, Justine Mason, and the aiga of Rowley Avenue School, who have all helped us to assimilate our new learning. We hope the resources we have created will be useful in supporting and guiding other Palagi teachers and people interested in Pasifika learners’ success.
“The culture of the child cannot enter the classroom until it has first entered the consciousness of the teacher.”
“In order to teach me, you must know me.”
With the Pasifika values in mind we wanted to understand what it truly means for the child and aiga to be at the centre of their learning, illustrating through a cultural lens ‘Who am I in this place?’ The PEP outlines Pasifika cultural values but it doesn’t show us what they mean to the learner or what they look like in practise in relation to the learner. We have come to understand that for Pasifika peoples the values are an intrinsic part of who they are. As Palagi we had to learn what these values mean for Pasifika peoples.
Veronica Kidd and Jan Fensom
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