Imagine, if you will, a wee blonde-haired girl, loud as the day is long, aged seven, growing up on a farm at the farthest point of the South Island. She trails along behind family members, talking incessantly or singing enthusiastically, and learning the family business. Her usual attire is gumboots, a shirt and jeans, or a pair of overalls. She is often accompanied by a trail of animals, to which she clearly has a huge sense of responsibility. This Pākehā girl’s experience of anything Māori has been waiata sung by the Māori farm workers around the bonfire at tailing time, with spatterings of waiata sung at school.
Let’s move on nine years to find our farm girl at high school. She is attending a decile one school, where many students have dropped out, disengaged with the learning, and frustrated by the system. Her experience of Māori now extends to hearing friends use the odd word or phrase, but not the teachers. Her experience is not kapa haka – the school doesn’t offer this. It’s not tikanga being discussed – people even sit on the tables! Te reo is offered to students who are not doing English or Sciences. Timetabling discussions imply Māori is not a priority subject.
What about university you ask? Our wee farm girl takes te reo courses and her eyes are opened! The lecturer talks of the empowerment of fluency; he talks of how to prioritise tikanga. He models, he encourages, he empowers, he inspires. She questions where she sits in all of this.
Now fast-forward 35 years on from the start of our story, to find this wee farm girl sitting in her car outside a school, where she is about to facilitate a strong and passionate group of teachers in the Te Whakamānawa: developing cultural competencies in learning communities course. This course supports these classroom practitioners to question, reflect and collectively grow their cultural capabilities, to support the engagement and success of all students.
This wee farm girl is me. I’ll be honest; before I sat in the car that day I was genuinely questioning “How do I find myself here? Am I the right person to be supporting these kaiako and their tamariki?” I confess that as a Pākehā supporting the facilitation of a course about how to reflect the bi-cultural heritage of Aotearoa I was feeling very vulnerable. As Brene Brown (2010) would say though, “you need to be in a state of vulnerability before you can be in a state of courageousness.” I decided that my personal challenge as I worked with the teachers was to accept this vulnerability and lean into it, rather than run away from it.
One of the first key discussions the group of teachers had was around the concept of the ‘cultural iceberg’. We talked about how important it is to know your own whakapapa (to recognise how where you’ve come from and how your worldview informs your teaching practice and relationships with students and their whānau). This is a perspective that helps you to understand others. I listened to teachers in this course discuss their understandings and misunderstandings of the deeper aspects of the many cultures in their school, using their own culture as a lens. We regularly reflected on how these understandings and discussions had an impact on teacher choices, for themselves, for programmes and for individual students.
As a facilitator I wanted to clarify my understanding of my whakapapa and how it was impacting on my opinions, assumptions, bias and values. How did growing up on a farm in Tiwai influence who I am, and how I think?
Co-incidentally I was spending time becoming more familiar with the Ladder of Inference. This made me reconsider that my interpretation of experiences I had at an early age had led me to, at one end of the continuum, false/skewed conclusions and beliefs, and at the other end cringe-worthy moments about other people’s. I recognised that my bias was such that I wasn’t truly walking in others’ shoes as I first thought I had been. I was intrigued to hear teachers talking of this for themselves also.
For example, hearing the teachers talk about how they were making changes in their programmes that came from the Wero/Challenges of the course made me reconsider what actions displayed the difference between consultation and engagement with whānau. Hearing online course facilitator, Janelle Riki-Waaka talk of cultural deprivation of generations of New Zealanders made me realise “OMG that’s me! How do I rectify this?”
As I sat and listened to the teachers discussing, debating and consolidating their collective thoughts and feelings about this idea I came to recognise the Pākehā influence – historically and for the future.
This is my responsibility. This is your responsibility. This is our responsibility.
Our country is founded on a partnership between Māori (as tangata whenua) and Pākehā. Aotearoa has a unique and beautiful bicultural history and one that is reflected in our wonderful New Zealand Curriculum. Our Codes and Standards clearly say that we are responsible for righting the wrongs of decolonisation (pg 4). Te Tiriti o Waitangi Articles 1 to 4 are also reflected in our responsibilities.
It is imperative that we all commit to understanding culture (both our own and others), and that from these understandings we make changes in our schools to be responsive to cultures, therefore creating places where children recognise themselves as an important part of the school.
As a Pākehā I now see that educating myself will have a positive impact on how I educate others to bring about change. I eagerly read and share examples of how this can be done, such as:
- The CORE Education Ten Trends 2019 has a trend focusing on Cultural Narratives and the powerful enablers they are becoming in connecting our past to the present and acts to build a platform to a sustainable future.
“Cultural narratives are increasingly recognised as powerful enablers in connecting our past to the present, situating us in the context of the places we co-inhabit, and recognising the influences of people, places, time and events in shaping who we are.” (CORE Education, 2019 pg 62)
- Principal possum – challenge of bi-culturalism lies with Pakeha
- 10 decolonisation skills for non-Māori kiwis
As I reflect on the impact I saw on those strong teachers who did the Te Whakamānawa course, I admire how they leaned into the discomfort of the work, faced their shame or fear, and focused on what was needed for their tamariki to be successful.
These teachers endeavoured to engage with the whānau and iwi of the area, rather than consult, and they sought reciprocal relationships.
They collaboratively worked to ensure success for their tamariki, both by identifying their student’s taonga and by seeking student, whānau and iwi voice into the life of the school.
The collective bank of resources they have from this journey is immense – the videos, learner profiles, pepeha, the mihi whakatau practices, strategic plans are astounding. I wish I had recorded their conversations for you so that you could hear the depth of care, passion, and aroha for their children and their profession. I recall a conversation when several of the teachers talked about what giftedness is for their Māori students. I felt tears welling in my eyes as they discussed child after child, and how they wanted to consolidate tikanga practices at their school for these children to ensure opportunities for success for all.
They continue to be the influencers of change as they navigate processes they began as part of their journey on this course, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
Te Whakamānawa course has encouraged me to reconsider and truly challenge myself to grow in this area. That wee blonde haired girl seems so long ago and so naive. There is such benefit in this type of development for teachers. Specifically as a Pākehā I now recognise how I can advocate for change.
I leave you with these questions to ponder around cultural capabilities:
- How might your culture and worldview inform your teaching practice and how you engage with others?
- What responsibility do you have as a non-Māori/Māori educator in Aotearoa to uphold the mana of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to contribute to the success of all your students?
- How are you currently using your influence? And what will you do next?
Need help building cultural capabilities?
Check out these great resources
Register for Te Whakamānawa: developing cultural competencies in learning communities
Abraham, M. (2017). Challenge of Biculturalism Lies With Pakeha. Retrieved from http://principalpossum.blogspot.com/2017/03/challenge-of-biculturalism-lies-with.html
Brown, B. (2010, June) The power of vulnerability [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en#t-1200270
CORE Education. (2019). Cultural narratives » Ten Trends 2019. Retrieved from http://core-ed.org/research-and-innovation/ten-trends/2019/cultural-narratives/
Education Council. (2017). Our Code, Our Standards [Ebook]. Wellington: Education Council. Retrieved from https://teachingcouncil.nz/sites/default/files/Our%20Code%20Our%20Standards%20web%20booklet%20FINAL.pdf
[GCPE BCGov]. (2016, April 20). Cultural Iceberg [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woP0v-2nJCU
Labrie, P. Mental Models – Ladder of Inference. Retrieved from https://artofleadershipconsulting.com/blog/leadership/mental-models-ladder-of-inference/
Ministry of Education. (2017). The New Zealand Curriculum. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum
Sheron, L. (2013). Cultural Heritage Below the Water Line | OIC Moments. Retrieved from https://www.oh-i-see.com/blog/2013/09/12/culture-smart-3s-and-4s/