Lex Davis (he/him) (Te Rarawa) and Josh Hough (he/him) are the authors of Ko tātou tēnei | This is us, an action research report, supported by CORE Education, that shares the voices of Māori LGBTQIA+ students.
Lex wished that he had better opportunities to celebrate his queerness and taha Māori at school. Still, he is super happy that he is now in a position where he can make better spaces for others. The work that you are going to hear about is one way in which he can celebrate his work and personal identities.
Josh has worked really hard to explore what it means to be a partner in this work where he doesn’t have a personal connection. To do so, he uses loads of love and empathy and his skills in design, futures and pulling apart identity (and putting it back together!).
We decided that we would create a project to explore what it means to be young, indigenous and queer in our school environments. We worked with, challenged, and celebrated our Māori LGBTQIA+ youth – our rangatahi takatāpui.
The young people are the heart of this project. They are extraordinary, and so too was the space and time we spent together over a specially-designed wānanga at Living Springs. We had many people, ideas and skills in the space which challenged, pulled apart, and grew our understanding of ourselves and each other. We used cool design processes to explore how our schooling spaces could work for their peers. We supercharged this process by delving into mātauranga Māori to celebrate their identity as queer, indigenous heroes!
This blog recognises some of the learning we explored that could help our teachers transform their relationships with our ākonga. It is a story of two beautiful people at our wānanga – Mana, an amazing member of our trans community and Hera, their teacher at school.
The next blog – coming your way soon – will look at using a set of provocations to take stock of where you are at as an individual and school community. Our third blog is an opportunity to hear from the rangatahi takatāpui as we interview them.
Improving our relationships with rangatahi takatāpui
Hera and Mana (not their real names) are kaiako and ākonga at the same school. Though they had an established and trusting student / teacher relationship, the wānanga gave Hera a profound appreciation for the fullness of Mana’s identity.
Mana and Hera’s relationship as student and teacher, but also as takatāpui and cis-het*, illustrates the transforming relationships with takatāpui poutama and how it works at each of the three steps: sympathy, empathy and transformation.
As kaiako, this can be characterised by the nature of the relationships we seek to build with rangatahi takatāpui in our roles as bystanders, allies and partners. We will step you through this process as we saw it relate to the experiences of Hera and Mana.
*“Cis-het” refers to someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual.
What does it mean to be a bystander? It means, as kaiako, we implement the professional and ethical obligations explicitly required by our roles. These include our obligations to health and safety, the Teacher’s Code, and human rights laws. In other words, good teachers by the book. By fulfilling our ethical obligations, we take the steps to ensure our classrooms are safe and accessible learning spaces for all students – including rangatahi takatāpui.
One way we fulfill our obligations is to pay attention to the language used in our classrooms.
As a bystander, Hera regularly challenges homophobic and transphobic language in her classroom. Mana and other students who are sexuality and gender diverse report feeling safe when they are with her.
Ignorant slang and harmful language are an unjust reality for Māori and rainbow whānau. As kaiako, we set what is acceptable and normalised within our classrooms and it’s our obligation to step in when we hear casual put-downs and verbal abuse. This may not always feel comfortable, but courage requires vulnerability, and your actions will send a powerful message that the spaces you control are safe for all students.
As teachers, we begin with relationships. Good relationships require trust. To build trust, our classrooms need to be spaces in which students know that they are safe and can be their whole selves.
Allyship is moving beyond the obligation; acting upon what we know and learn. It requires vulnerability, self reflection, and commitment to learning about one another.
As allies, we become open to discovering more about Māori and rainbow communities and what it means to be indigenous, queer and young in Aotearoa. We learn from the stories of our students; their specific experiences and how they have shaped their identity.
To succeed in allyship, it’s important to begin with a critical awareness of our own identities. This means taking time to recognise things we may often take for granted or gloss over. This often includes examining our own experiences and relationships to uncover how these shape the views that we hold.
At a design workshop at the wānanga, Hera created a simple pipe-cleaner art piece – “I am so sorry”. Hera apologised and took ownership of the responsibility for not always using the correct pronouns – they/them. Though this was simple, it was a highly emotive moment, building trust and respect between her and Mana. Using correct pronouns is critical to Mana’s wellbeing and identity as a non-binary person.
In this one moment, Hera’s relationship with Mana transformed from sympathetic to empathetic. They were able to move beyond the surface and develop a shared understanding of Mana’s identity. It was a humbling moment for Hera, who recognised the power dynamic in their relationship and what it meant for a teacher to say sorry.
Mana later told us this made them feel safe and connected at school which made them actually want to go there and learn.
The next step in transforming relationships with rangatahi takatāpui requires interrupting the traditional teacher as leader and student as follower power dynamic. It demands growth beyond listening and understanding.
Partnership is an equitable approach where we as kaiako take action to empower rangatahi takatāpui to construct thinking, lead, and teach us as we teach them. We actively create space where rangatahi takatāpui co-construct approaches to leading and learning.
During the wānanga Mana shared their knowledge around indigenous gender and sexuality. Hera was a part of this process, as was Mana’s father. Both of these important adults in Mana’s life were able to celebrate them as tuakana in this learning. Mana expressed their pleasure at holding this space and the mana this gave them. They were also going to use this as an opportunity to take an active role in sharing this with others back at their school. Hera will support this by co-creating space through her roles as social studies teacher and supervisor of the SAGA (sexuality and gender awareness) group.
This example illustrates Mana’s shift from participant to leader – co-constructing their learning and relationships with their teachers.
No matter where you sit on the bystander-ally-partner continuum, there will be challenges which require you to lean into vulnerability. You won’t always know what to say or how to say it, and sometimes it won’t go quite right. But, it is the conscious choice and the courage in these choices that demonstrates your commitment to your students.
As you read about and recognise the importance of relationships, what stories from your own life do you have where you have been a bystander, ally or partner to your students?
Share your thoughts with us on Twitter by tagging @coreeducation and using the hashtag #HearTheirVoices