Culturally Responsive Teaching

The holidays provided me with some catch-up reading time and one of the themes that had me reflecting was that of culturally responsive teaching.  I wanted to extend my thinking, and to consider more about what this looked like in practice, particularly for children and their families.  Many teachers take care to learn simple phrases of children’s home languages, obtain stories about legends and traditions of the culture, learn what protocols are important – the list could go on – but is this enough?

I wondered about other ways in which culturally responsiveness can be seen.  In particular, learning stories and assessment came to mind.  How is a child’s identity and culture reflected in these important documents?  Do the learning stories go beyond the language element of the child’s identity to other aspects of identity? When acknowledging a child’s competence in a social group, what elements from the home culture are acknowledged?

Hall (1976) talks about a continuum of high-context and low-context cultures and the differences that this has upon how social competence is viewed   Cultures that favour the low-context end of the continuum tend to be western countries such as USA, Canada and Australia where identity is more about the individual, leadership and personal interest is valued and verbal exchanges are encouraged.  Whereas high-context cultures such as Japan, China, and Russia favour social identity and group interest, respect and compliance is valued and non-verbal cues are more prevalent. The context that forms our identity will influence the way we interact socially.

I was reminded of my Intermediate and early College years when my family and I lived in Samoa (a truly wonderful experience).  During this time, my awareness of culture started – I had come from a mainly mono-cultural small South Island town to a very different, high-context culture. In Samoa, one of the first questions I was asked was when meeting someone new was “who is your family and where do they come from?”  I realised that aiga (family) is an important part of identity.

Hans and Thomas (2010) advocate for early childhood teachers to enhance their cultural responsiveness. In their article, Hans and Thomas review a number of works in relation to the topic, and ask teachers to consider through whose lens they assess the child’s social competence – through the values and identity of the teacher, or that of the child?

I thought back to the learning stories I have written. These assessments about children tended to acknowledge the values that I held important rather than those of the child and their family.  For example, when preparing a learning story on a child’s social competence, I would often comment on the child’s verbal exchanges in groups while not noting the non-verbal exchanges that were occurring.  Thinking about it now, did these learning stories have as much meaning for the child and their family as they did for me.

There are many essential components to being a good teacher.  In my mind understanding a child’s identity, language and culture is certainly one of the most important. It involves knowing the child and their family.  From this understanding true teaching can begin including caring, responding, scaffolding, assessing and connecting.

As we start this new year, I ask you to think about how you recognise and acknowledge your own culture, and that of each child you teach.

Written by Tara


Han, S. H. & Thomas, M. S. (2010).  No child misunderstood:  Enhancing early childhood teachers’ multicultural responsiveness to the social competence of diverse children.  Early Childhood Education Journal 37, 469-476.

Hall, E.T. (1976).  Beyond Teaching.  Garden City, NY:  Anchor Books

Shifting focus

Earlier this year, I became aware of the Sussex Council’s advertising campaign to promote the wearing of seat belts.  The importance of wearing seatbelts when travelling in a vehicle is not a new message but the way in which the message was delivered is new.  Rather than a graphic ‘shock and awe’ style campaign showing what could happen in the event of an accident, this message takes a different stance.   In it’s simplicity, the campaign focuses on life.  It evokes emotion.  It is personal.  And the campaign is having an impact.

This campaign has made me question about the messages that we send as educationalists. What messages do we send, and why?  Are there new ways to communicate information with parents, whanau and communities?  Do we need to shift focus on the delivery of our messages?

As 2010 comes to a close, I will be reflecting on the messages that our sector sends, teachers send and I send.

Written by Tara

Are you Listening?

Thanks to my colleague Tara Fagan, I have discovered this book written by Lisa Burman.

It has really made me stop and reflect on my practice as a teacher, a person and a mother! Am I truly listening when children talk to me? Sadly, the more I read the more I realise I need to really work on my listening skills! Isn’t it funny that as a teacher we are often focusing on developing listening skills in children and I wonder if we are role modeling good listening skills ourselves. How many times when children are trying to engage us in conversations are we actually doing other things, thinking about other things or saying “hang on a minute…” In my role as an Early Years Facilitator for Core Education I have had the opportunity to delve deeper into this question with many teaching teams. As incredibly reflective practitioners we have all walked away with new ideas and strategies for truly listening to children.

When children are telling us their stories it is giving us an amazing opportunity to learn about their interests. It is also giving us an insight into the knowledge and experiences they have. By gaining this knowledge we are able to offer experiences to further inspire, motivate and challenge their thinking and learning. I have found these 5 tips (from Lisa Burman’s book) to be very useful for teachers to reflect on their practice.

  • Pause and reflect on the ways you listen closely to children.
  • Pause and become more conscious of the questions you ask.
  • Pause and become aware of the time you give children to think before you continue the conversation.
  • Pause and become aware of how you might unintentionally lead children to your ideas instead of exploring their own schema.
  • Pause and become a more skilled teacher by reflecting on your role as a listener to young learners.

In my daily work with children and teachers (including my own children!) I will be focusing on truly listening and sharing the ideas and strategies that Lisa Burman gives us for fostering conversations that help young children learn.

Posted by Tania

From professional learning to professional advocacy

I sometimes hear early childhood educators say that they struggle to be taken seriously by those in the compulsory sector (schools). So, it was great to be a witness to an example that runs counter to this at the recent Ulearn conference.

I was catching up during afternoon tea with Lynne Paul and Margie Meleisea, teachers from Nayland Kindergarten in Nelson who used the ECE ICT PL programme to make some significant changes in the way they viewed and implemented visual arts. They had just presented at one of the breakout sessions to an audience of mainly primary and secondary teachers and we were discussing other avenues for telling their very powerful story of teacher change when a guy came up and said to Margie and Lynne…

Excuse me interrupting – I am a secondary art teacher who came to your breakout today and I am ashamed to say what you guys are doing with four year olds to encourage creativity is far in excess of what we do in secondary schools. I will be taking what you have shown today back to my school and making some changes. (In particular, he singled out the way Nayland Kindergarten had involved artists and families in their programme and the inspiration that had given to children’s artwork.)

Lynne later wrote in an email to me, ‘We were blown away by that teacher’s feedback and it just inspires us to do more and more’.

This whole encounter has got me thinking, what were the factors that led up to these teachers’ successful advocacy for the early childhood sector? Here is what I have come up with – approximately in chronological order.

  • a teaching team who enthusiastically put up their hand for a new professional learning opportunity.
  • a teaching team who was able to turn an ‘outsider’s’ critique of their visual arts offerings into a challenge to review their image of themselves as teachers and children as learners.
  • a teaching team who read, reflected and contacted known experts in visual arts – became part of an ECE visual arts network.
  • a teaching team who was comfortable taking time (many months) on this one area because they knew this was the only way affect deep change.
  • a teaching team who was generous and courageous enough to share their findings with others in the ECE community.
  • a teaching team, who once armed with a strong, evidence-based story of change, was  confident to advocate for early childhood curriculum and pedagogy in a wider arena.

Well done to Nayland and the other early childhood teaching teams who presented at Ulearn 2010. You have all done the sector proud with your advocacy!

Posted by Ann

The new MOE Funded Participation professional development programme.

CORE Education is a provider for the new MOE funded Participation Professional Learning contracts.  MOE has determined locations throughout Aotearoa New Zealand for the implementation of this programme over the next three years. Locations have been defined as areas where participation in quality early childhood education is considered to bring the greatest potential benefit (i.e. Māori, Pasifika and children from low socio-economic areas).

CORE Education early years facilitators are now active in the following MOE designated locations:

Northern Region: Massey, Tamaki, Henderson & Eden

Central North Island: Matamata, Te Aroha, Paeroa/Waihi, Thames, Coromandel/Colville, Hastings, Flaxmere, Napier City.

Southern Region: Hagley/Ferrymead, Burwood Pegasus, Riccarton Wigram, Spreydon Heathcote, Ashburton, Waimate, Oamaru, Wallace, South Dunedin, Invercargill

If you want to know more about these programmes make contact with a facilitator in your location.

Building Capabilities: Literacy and Mathematics in the Early Years

The Early Years team held a successful pre-Ulearn conference today with the focus being on literacy and mathematics.  After a wonderful opening by Ruta, Jane McChesney shared her knowledge on mathematics with young children.  Experts shared their knowledge in a number of breakouts included digital literacy, mathematics in the environment, meaningful mathematics, early literacy and transition to school, and integrating ICT into literacy and mathematics.  The day ended with a discussion panel that brought all the topics together.

You can check out the resource wiki for the day at:

TEDxAuckland 2010: an inspiring day

When money for professional learning is scarce, it’s tempting to play it safe and choose conferences or seminars pertaining to our own field of education. But as Naketa Ikihele and I were reminded last Sunday it can be very useful to occasionally step outside our discipline and listen to the views of artists, visionaries, story tellers, social activists and those successful in business.

They have a lot to say about what is important in education and they tend to do this without the cautions, assumptions and general baggage that intimate knowledge of our profession often brings.

We both attended the Auckland TEDxAuckland 2010, an independently organised live spin-off from TED Talks (a must to follow if you don’t already). For almost 8 hours we listened to speakers who were given 20 mins to respond to two words: ‘What if”.  All were interesting and some like Team One Beep, and StarJam were truly inspirational.

So with our early childhood education lens, what were the messages we took away?

  • Value, value, value creativity
  • Encourage playfulness
  • Great things will happen when you expect and demand excellence
  • Act with intelligent naivety, ie be open, curious and keep the familiar strange (great message for teaching)
  • Youthfulness is a mindset not a life stage (another great message for teaching)
  • Encourage risk taking
  • If you haven’t made mistakes you haven’t dreamed big

I came away from the day professionally invigorated and convinced that we need more playfulness in early childhood centres, not more mat-times!

If you live in Christchurch there is a TEDxChch coming up on 22nd of October. It might pay to check it out!

Posted by Ann

Junior Class Blogs

Over the years I have enjoyed looking at junior classroom blogs to get an insight into the daily life of those young children who were once our ‘big kids’.  Recently, I have come across a range of awesome blogs that are just inspiring.  Needless, to say there are probably a whole lot more, but these in particular have captured my  interest (and consequently my subscription).  Take a look at them (click on the images) and be sure to leave them a comment.

Written by Naketa

Back to ‘normal’? Helping children settle back to school or ece settings

Fence damaged by falling bricks

With the likelihood of children returning to early childhood settings and schools soon, teachers will be looking for ways that they can support their students. For some children, recovery is likely to be a complex process that can take varying periods of time to work through. Teachers will also be experiencing their own feelings and fears about what has happened.

Where to go for advice

The Ministry of Education provides advice about the importance of regular and ‘normal’ routines and ways of helping children to gain a sense of control over their fears, as well as downloadable resources that will be helpful to teachers and parents who are supporting children who might be unsettled and upset. Their downloadable ‘Tips’ sheets (Tips supporting Toddlers, Tips supporting Children, Tips supporting Teenagers and Tips Supporting Adults) will be very useful to teachers and parents alike. Making them available to both teachers and parents may be one powerful way that you can support children and their families.

For Schools and centres that might need help

The techie whiz-kids at CORE Education have created a new website to enable centres and schools that have been damaged to request assistance from the wider community. If you have damage to your buildings and equipment go to the website and enter the details of your school or ECE service and the kind of assistance that you require. People and businesses who are in a position to help will respond via the CORE website. This initiative will help to bring together the army of people ‘out there’ who are ready, willing, and able to help, and the schools and services that need help.

Helping children with their fears and memories

This article in the NZ Herald ‘Parents call for help to comfort kids terrified by Christchurch earthquake’ also has some useful advice for helping children who are struggling with memories and feelings after the earthquake:  Clinical psychologist Sarb Johal said that children needed to make sense of things that happened and when they didn’t have all the facts, they used their imagination to fill the gaps. “Often this results in misunderstandings, which they may keep to themselves, especially if they are frightening. What they imagine is usually more frightening than what really happened.”

In the same article, Dr Lyndy Matthews, chairwoman of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ New Zealand committee, said earthquake victims might be affected by shock, grief and loss and it was important that help was available to them in the aftermath.She said a lot could be done to help, but caution was required in revisiting the traumatic events through “debriefing”, as it could compound the trauma.

Herald Article link:

Ministry of Education link:
CORE Education Website for reporting damage or offering help

Image flickr: (Creative commons share-alike license)

Written by Elaine Newton, Early Years Facilitator Hauraki/Thames/Coromandel

New MoE funded programmes

CORE Education has recently secured professional development contracts with the Ministry of Education in both Leadership and Infant and Toddlers. These programmes will run until June 2013.

Leadership Programme

This programme focuses on strengthening pedagogical leadership in the following focus areas:

  • Literacy and numeracy
  • social competence
  • infant and toddlers
  • transitions

On our Early Years website you will find out where we are running clusters in 2010-2011, what the focus areas will be and how to register interest. There will be a selection process.

Infant and Toddler Programme

We are in the process of creating a website offering readings and visual resources, online workshops, examples of good practice and discussion spaces. It will be accessible to any individual or centre interested in the care and education of infants and toddlers. The website will go ‘live’ in early 2011 and be supported by seminars around the country.

CORE Education is one of two providers for both these programmes. Educational Leadership Project. (ELP) is the other. We will be working collaboratively so that we are not both in one location at the same time. You may like to check out their programme too by going to their website.