Setting the scene
I have a passion for re-imagining what secondary schooling and especially the middle years (Years 7-10) could look like. Starting out in my teaching career, my personal educational philosophy was simple: make this time memorable for students. But what seemed like a simple task was in reality an uphill battle.
In 2009 I started teaching at St Thomas of Canterbury College where the focus was on social justice and equity in education. In 2016 I was able to lead the transition of our junior school from a traditional delivery to a more integrated model in order to support future-focused learning and teaching (Bolstad and Gilbert, 2012). Coinciding with this, our school was granted a Teacher-Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) focused on deconstructing existing systems, structures and routines to create a 21st century curriculum with a specific focus on engagement and student agency.
Throughout the two years of the TLIF project, our evidence showed that we had created positive shifts in the engagement of our students, and we were also able to uncover data that we had not seen previously. For example, even though we had begun to integrate learning areas, for example with STEM, and begun to make projects more engaging by using student voice to inform our planning, our Year 9 Pasifika and Māori learners still showed reluctance to engage.
This perplexed me and forced me to reflect on what we were doing. What assumptions were we making? I wrote myself some key questions:
- Was the learning in a context that Māori and Pasifika students could relate to?
- Could involvement of the community, specifically iwi, help engage learners?
- Were the conversations, or lack of conversations, at home having an impact on student engagement?
The Dr Vince Ham eFellowship 2020 offered by CORE Education was an opportunity to explore these questions in more depth, and so I began a new research journey.
In applying for the Dr Vince Ham Fellowship I looked to the key concepts of Tātaiako (Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, 2011) to shape my research. These concepts specifically included:
- Wānanga: participating with learners and communities in robust dialogue for the benefit of Māori learners’ achievement.
- Whanaungatanga: actively engaging in respectful working relationships with Māori learners, parents and whānau, hapū, iwi and the Māori community.
- Tangata whenuatanga: affirming Māori learners as Māori. Providing contexts for learning where the language, identity and culture of Māori learners and their whānau is affirmed.
When it came to considering my research design, I posed the following question: “How could students share their learning in STEM with parents in an authentic context?’’ But then the spanner in the works hit: Covid-19! My initial idea of having learning out in the community was derailed and for a while my project floundered until, through conversations with CORE’s research mentors, I soon realised that my question actually suggested the answer: I was focusing on the outcome without going to the source – the parents.
Through the research design process, I began to focus on exploring new methods of gathering student voice. As a college we gather student data each term to help us reflect on our practice, but often through a digital form. This method has been successful but had also in some ways reinforced the questions I was asking myself. During the TLIF, our lead researcher posed the provocation: “It’s the voices you don’t hear that matter!” I realised it was often the Māori and Pasifika learners whose voices were needed the most but were often the quietest. How then might educators gather the voice of the voiceless? On reflection, it became clear that digital feedback was not culturally responsive.
With this idea in the back of my mind, it was at our first eFellows hui that the idea of Story Hui was suggested. Liz Stevenson, herself a former eFellow, created Story Hui (Stevenson, 2015) as a story-telling process to capture the voice of students around their capabilities, engagement and well being. Straight away I could see the missing link: I could see the benefits of Story Hui and how it could make learning and achievement visible for the Māori and Pasifika learners at our college.
Talanoa, hui and oral language are so deeply embedded in Polynesian culture it made sense that we gather voice in this way, rather than the written, Eurocentric ways of digital online forms. Stories speak to us at a deeper level; they value and honour diverse ways of knowing, being and learning. Stories put a face to the numbers and help to show what’s working, what’s not and why. It simply aligns better with cultural capabilities and in my view moves documents such as Tātaiako and Tapasā (Ministry of Education, 2018) from being a ‘tick box exercise’ to living, breathing documents. Therefore I wondered about using Story Hui as a methodology to test my idea about what students felt about school and the conversations they have at home with parents, if indeed these conversations happen.
My initial wonderings had centred around the question of conversations about education at home. Did they happen? The biggest takeaway from my research blew my assumptions. Participants talked about learning almost daily! Moving into the Story Hui I wanted to unpack exactly what students and whānau talked about and their views on education, as my hunch was that this was not aligned.
Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown had brought learning into the home and for many whānau challenged their world views about education without the barrier of school. Key findings from my research included the following:
The data suggested that families talked far more than I had imagined, in most cases daily. For both parties it was seen as important to discuss learning, and particularly for students to let parents see that they are doing well. These discussions were open and honest and echoed the importance of kōrero and its relationship in improving learning outcomes.
Difference in worldviews
One parent said, “Lockdown was an eye opener on how learning happened, especially group work and use of devices.” Parents, while acknowledging much of the content they learned in school was pointless and the soft skills they use in day-to-day life were more important, often focused only on literacy and numeracy. Parents commented that during lockdown they were surprised with how much collaboration took place, while students saw this as being what they valued most about learning.
Proud to be Māori!
Whānau discussed the importance of culture being represented in learning. Students at our college report that they feel proud to be Māori, and believe culture is represented in their learning. However whānau reported that their own school experiences clearly impacted on their views. Participants spoke of negative experiences and how this had an impact on them as they tried to fit into a Pākehā | Palangi system. For whānau they wanted to ensure the experience of school was mana-enhancing for their tamariki.
My assumption is that as educators we often see cultural competencies and documents such as Tātaiako and Tapasā as merely a paper exercise to comply with Ministry requirements rather than having a living, organic system in place to enhance the voice and learning of our Māori and Pasifika ākonga.
Whanaungatanga and tangata whenuatanga cannot be achieved on paper. Schools need to have systems in place to engage with whānau outside of traditional meetings or surveys. Story Hui or other forms of Talanoa provide this.
My experience of engaging with new systems of gathering voice was that whanaungatanga and tangata whenuatanga were embodied, and enhanced the mana of both students and whānau. Schools need to be critical of whose voice they are gathering and how they are collecting it to ensure that voices are genuinely heard in the planning and implementation of learning.
- Living in a small data world: Play in secondary school, eFellow research report, Bevan Holloway, 2018
- Story Hui – A design for social good
- Story Hui Trust
- Story Hui on Enabling e-Learning
Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., & McDowall, S. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching. Ministry of Education.
Ministry of Education. (2018). Tapasā. Ministry of Education.
Stevenson, L. (2015). STORY HUI TRUST. STORY HUI TRUST. Retrieved 26 March 2021, from https://www.storyhui.org/.
Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2011). Tātaiako. Ministry of Education.