Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cultural Responsiveness in Practice

Throughout my teaching career I have always worked hard to create individualised programmes that centre around student interests.  In my second year of teaching in 2000 my Year 3 class and I used the old curriculum documents to plan an integrated inquiry with Food Technology as the leading curriculum area.  The culmination of this was the students running an evening for parents in which they shared their learning and talked about what they wanted to learn next.  There was also a strong focus on the use of ICT to show the learning.

In 2003 my Year 8 students went to the next stage where their inquiries were incredibly diverse and they planned their own learning timetables over a week and invited guests in to run a workshop / presentation for the rest of the class around their inquiries.  The students chose their groups, their inquiries and how they were going to present their knowledge.  My role was to teach specific skills as they were needed, to check in with the groups during the different stages of the inquiry and to learn alongside them.  This is what is now popular as Tuakana teina - learning from and with each other.  It is also ako - a concept which is both teaching and learning.

My Year 5/6 students created a motto which has always stuck by me:

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."  

This motto sums up, in many ways, my whole philosophy around learning and teaching - we learn from and with each other - and I think that is why I became so completely hooked on Communities of Practice  (CoP) as a true form of ako in many ways.  It is all about shared / reciprocal learning and valuing each others backgrounds, identities, histories and cultures.  I am really interested in ways in which CoPs could be utilised to create powerful learning environments, particularly for our Maori and Pasifika students.

Being culturally responsive requires that we not only value and respect individual students' backgrounds, cultures and identities but also that we actively do something about it to make it visible. This includes in the learning and teaching and also in the way we assess learning.  This is one of my concerns with the National Standards as I don't think they go far enough to value the different ways different cultures learn.

By our very nature of being human beings we have our own biases and prejudices that we bring into the classroom, into learning environments that for most of the past 100 years or so have been very ethnocentric and geared towards the Pakeha way of learning and that has valued Pakeha knowledge and understanding.  I wonder if we are doing enough across the board to allow for different world views.

Culturally responsive pedagogy starts with culturally responsive leadership.  The video below is from the Education Counts website and centres around Pasifika students' learning in maths.

The next section of this post looks at cultural responsiveness in practice in two areas of a previous school - the first one, 'decision making' is one which is well on the way to being embedded practice within the school and the second, 'planning and assessment' is an area where learning needs to happen.


The school had a growing number of students who identified as Maori and a few who identified as Pasifika.  The school worked hard to consult with the Maori whanau on a regular basis regarding learning for their children and certain events within the school.  Further progress on this would see a great deal more consultation around curriculum and a greater presence in the school in terms of signage.  Even in the area of consultation improvements could be made as the terms are largely those of the school rather than the Maori community.  They, like many other schools, are often the ones who decide the what, where, how and when of the consultation process.  In many ways, the 'power' remains with the school and you begin to question what you can do to make the partnership more of a genuine one.  The power needs to be shared (Cowie, Otrel-Cass, Glynn, Kara, Anderson, Doyle, Parkinson & Te Kiri, 2011).

Planning and Assessment

There are two key documents that support our learning in this area. These are Ka Hikitia and the Pasifika Education Plan.  Both of these documents come with a great deal of online support through Te Kete Ipurangi or TKI.  If we're really being honest and want to improve outcomes and be culturally responsive practitioners, how many of us have seen these documents or pulled them apart to create a deeper shared understanding in our schools?  Not many I would guess, including myself.  I have explored Ka Hikitia to a certain extent but, much to my shame, did not even know there was a Pasifika document to support Pasifika learners.  The embarrassment of the last one is that I at one stage taught and learned in a school where the Pasifika population made up more than 85% of the students.  

Being culturally responsive in our practice means a lot more than using a few phrases in Te Reo or having signs up in our classrooms or using an online programme to teach Te Reo.  Both Te Reo me Tikanga Maori need to be embedded in all that we do, particularly in our planning and assessment.  It can't be just a token gesture if we want to really accelerate the progress of our Maori and Pasifika students.  As the tangata whenua of Aotearoa/New Zealand we need to make sure that first and foremost we work to change planning and assessment to meet the needs of our Maori learners.

Evidence of this needs to be clearly shown in the way we plan our learning.  Who owns or decides on the learning that is to happen?  Do we offer the students opportunities to decide on and plan their own learning with guidance from the teachers?  For some teachers co-constructing the knowledge and the learning and teaching, ako, can be quite confronting as they feel they are not 'in charge'.

Our planning needs to show that we take opportunities to involve the community and sometimes let them lead the learning.  For example, during Matariki (the Maori New Year), we could be utilising the skills within the community to share what Matariki means to them.  Science is also a perfect opportunity to involve the community more in what we do and include a Maori perspective in the learning.  Ka Hikitia has many more ideas and ways to include Maori in the learning partnership.

Ka hikitia! Ka hikitia! 

Hiki, hikitia! 
Whakarewa ki runga rawa 
Herea kia kore e hoki whakamuri mai Poua atu 
Te Pūmanawa Māori 
He Mana Tikanga 
Me Te Uri o Māia 
Poipoia ngā mokopuna 
Ngā rangatira mo āpōpō 
Ka tihei! Tihei mauriora! 

Ka hikitia! Ka hikitia! 

Encourage and support! 
And raise it to its highest level! 
Ensure that high achievement is maintained 
Hold fast to our Māori potential Our cultural advantage 
And our inherent capability 
Nurture our young generation 
The leaders of the future 
Behold, we move onwards and upwards!
                                                                         Ka Hikitia, 2013


Cowie, B., Otrel-Cass, K., Glynn, T., & Kara, H., et al.(2011).Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Wellington: Teaching Learning Research Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.tlri.org.nz/sites/default/files/projects/9268_cowie-summaryreport.pdf

Education Counts. (nd). 14 culturally responsive pedagogy: Developing mathematical inquiry communities.  Retrieved from https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/topics/BES/developing-mathematical-inquiry/14-culturally-responsive-pedagogy

Ministry of Education. (nd). Educational leaders: culturally responsive leadership.  Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Tag-results/(tag)/Culturally%20responsive%20leadership

Ministry of Education. (2013) Ka Hikitia - Accelerating success - 2013 - 2017. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education, (2013). Pasifika education plan - 2013-2017. Retrieved from http://pasifika.tki.org.nz/Pasifika-Education-Plan

Ministry of Education. (nd). Te reo Maori in English-medium schools. Retrieved from http://tereomaori.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-guidelines/Teaching-and-learning-te-reo-Maori/Aspects-of-planning/The-concept-of-a-tuakana-teina-relationship

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