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Culturally Responsive Teaching - Universal Lessons from New Zealand

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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A major problem for educators globally is the achievement of indigenous learners. In New Zealand, the issue of Maori and Pasifika “achievement” continues to provide a challenge, however there have been promising initiatives that could be applied to increase success for other indigenious populations around the world.
Culturally responsive teaching practice
An initiative showing positive results for Maori learners which could be applied globally is Te Kotahitanga (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh & Teddy, 2007). Te Kotahitanga gathered student voice from a range of secondary Maori students. The result from this feedback, together with input from parents, principals and teachers, was the creation of the Effective Teaching Profile (p.140) which then formed the basis of a professional development of teachers. One of the major findings of Te Kotahitanga was that the major influence on Maori students’ educational achievement lies in the bias and approaches used by their teachers. In particular the research exposed deficit theorizing by teachers about Maori students which resulted in low teacher expectations of Māori students, and created self-fulfilling justification of failure.

Te Kotahitanga schools are beginning to show significant improvements in Maori student engagement with learning and achievement (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar & Fung, 2007, p.263). Te Kotahitanga places culture and culturally responsive pedagogy at the centre of classroom practice and creates relationships-based classrooms founded on a kaupapa Maori. Although the project is transforming practice in mainstream schools, the solution is grounded in Maori beliefs and values:
"The answers to Maori educational achievement and disparities do not lie in the mainstream, for given the experiences of the last 150 years, mainstream practices and theories have kept Maori in a subordinate position, while at the same time creating a discourse that pathologized and marginalized Maori peoples' lived experiences. (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh, & Teddy, 2009, p.741)"
In New Zealand The Treaty of Waitangi provided a platform for authentic engagement with Māori as Tangata Whenua. Anne Milne's work with Kia Aroha College’s “pedagogy of whanau“, tangibly defines the treaty in all aspects of school life. The question of ‘where’s the whanau in that?’ allows the school to keep focused on the central vision of affirming Maori student identity. 

I can see connections here to the learning I have been doing this year around relationships, where I have come to (re)discover how crucial manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are to me both professionally and personally. 
Certainly the ideas of shifting the locus of control away from the teacher, allowing greater equity of access to knowledge, and thus learning moving towards being student-centered and personalized, must allow space for relationships to be fostered and nurtured. How else might schools enable Maori learners’ success as Maori? Where’s the whanau in our mainstream schools at present?

In terms of how my school addresses cultural responsiveness in practice, one of the core values of the school is tae ana ki te hapori - an inclusive community. Meaning in principle the school community is accepting and welcoming, fostering right relationships and committed to the common good. As part of this, the school recognizes the traditional ownership and cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and welcomes them into its community, acknowledges the primary role of whanau in the growth and development of the child and provides opportunities for their participation in the life of the school. However, in planning and assessment, cultural context is not generally present.  At present, my school's assessment models are generally mono-cultural - based primarily on the United Kingdom's Cambridge International Examinations and not representative of the cultural diversity present in the school. As dual pathway school, National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) allows assessment to incorporate cultural aspects of the learner which in turn would validate the cultural identity of learners and could improve learning outcomes for Maori and Pasifika learners. However, this opportunity is not fully being taken advantage of at present. 
However, the underlying approaches outlined in Te Kotahitanga are universal and are a possible way of lifting achievement for all students not just Maori and should be considered.


Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T., & Teddy, L. (2007). Te Kōtahitanga Phase 3 Whānaungatanga: Establishing a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations in Mainstream Secondary School Classrooms. : New Zealand Ministry of Education Research Division.

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Tiakiwai, S., & Richardson, C. (2003). Te Kotahitanga: The experiences of year 9 and 10 Maori students in mainstream classrooms. Report to the Ministry of Education.
Findsen,B.(2012).Older adult learning in Aotearoa New Zealand: Structure, trends and issues. Presented at Adult Community Education (ACE) Conference.
Harrison, B. & Papa, R. (2005).The development of an indigenous knowledge program in a New Zealand Maori-Language immersion school. Anthropology and Education Quarterly; (36) 1,57-72.

Milne, A. (2009). Colouring in the white spaces: Cultural identity and learning in school. ASB/APPA Travelling Fellowship Trust.
Shaw, S.,White,W. & Deed,B.(2013) (Ed.) Health, wellbeing and environment in Aotearoa New Zealand.South Melbourne, Australia:Oxford University Press.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2008). Teacher professional learning and development.
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Guest Thursday, 27 October 2016