Sep 25, 2016

Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

In the past I have worked in some very culturally diverse schools. However, my current school is almost rural in location and as such we have very few students from other cultures in our school. Wilson (2013) states "Culture is the beliefs and priorities that drives the thoughts and actions of the people in the school” (0.54). The culture of our school is lead from the top tier of management and then the leadership team. For the most part is a collegial set up and works well with staff and students. I would like to see more ownership from the students about how they learn and what they learn, but at the moment this is contained to certain classes and teachers. We have a student council group that meets weekly with the Principal and reports back to classes. Our school also runs a values programme that supports positive behaviours (honesty, excellence, aroha, respect and trustworthy), the children do respond to this quite well and the HEART values are frequently discussed and promoted. However, I do have reservations about the way this is rewarded and how much it is related to the specific teachers opinions and attitudes to certain children. I am not convinced it is effective in the right way.
In my classroom I have 3 of the 8 Maori students in school. I have high expectations of all my students regardless of their cultural background. Bishop (2012) states that “Maori are an incredible educable population, just as easily educable as any other group in society” (3.19). I am inclined to agree with Bishop in a lot of respects, however I do feel that there appears to be a vicious circle of ‘it’s someone else’s fault’ coming from some of the students families. Which means regardless of the work we do in school it gets unraveled fast at home with no effort or support given to learning and getting to school on time, if at all. Some students are hindered by their backgrounds and a whole different family dynamics while others are encouraged by a positive mindset and supportive family life. However, I will also state this is not a cultural thing, this is across many cultures and backgrounds, not just Maori. I encourage students to share their own personal learning and we have a weekly section called Genius Hour – students can research and study their own chosen learning and share with the class. I also let go of setting ‘homework’ some years back and set ‘home learning’ suggestions with free choices added so that students have some guidance but are free to make their own choices of study also. I have also encouraged parents with certain skills that we need to support the class. Just this term we have had two parents coming in to teach the class and share their knowledge from the film and advertising world to support our film focus. It’s great when the community can gets involved in the students learning. Cowie et al states that “Teachers seeking out, affirming and incorporating student and community funds of knowledge into the curriculum sometimes challenged traditional classroom power−knowledge relationships” (p.3), this is where some teachers have difficulty in becoming the learners rather than the educators and fountains of knowledge.
We have a strong Kapa Haka and Te Reo teacher who presently revolves around all the classes doing CRT. I feel that this is the first school where Maori has had a sense of belonging and involvement and yet it's one of the schools with the least Maori in it! We are always encouraged to participate in Matariki, Maori language week, Whakamahi and termly Powhiri’s where the Kapa Haka perform and speak. Often we have morning notices that encourage to the use of specific Maori words for the day. There are also frequent Hui’s organized for whanau which celebrates community. 

Pitama, Robertson and Cram (2007) suggest that it is important to ensure all assessment tools and practices are “placed within the appropriate cultural context to ensure valid hypotheses are drawn and that potential interventions sit within appropriate cultural norms” (p.5). This is where I think a number of schools in this country are suffering greatly. Just throwing in a Maori name for a student into an assessment question doesn’t make it cultural representational or appropriate to our students and neither does it include the cultural diversity of our increasing diverse population. I would personally like to questions/assessments written by a Pacific Islander, by an Indian or even a Korean. We need to see more education in the different cultures and space in our timetables to be able to include other cultures and beliefs other than just in off hand discussions. 
Bishop (2012) “there needs to be support from the school, there needs to be tremendous support in terms of time and energy provided for teachers and most importantly very highly qualified and proficient professional development needs to be provided for teachers” (5.37). He goes on to say that wrapped around the education institution needs to be a robust education system that provides “sufficient funding and support for ongoing change” (6.06). Our school is one of the best (in my humble opinion) at providing just in time learning and Professional Development for staff. It is positively encouraged and rarely is PD turned down. Staff are always sent on courses to learn about new students with asperger’s or dyslexia etc Anything we deem as important is always supported. As Bishop stated though (and I commented in my previous post) there needs to be more funding and support given to schools to effectively promote change and provide resources that are culturally diverse and support children with different beliefs and backgrounds. This also allows for awareness within Pakeha to understand, celebrate and appreciate other cultures, particularly given the quite clouded media coverage of certain cultures in our ever changing diverse society.
Bishop, R. (2012). A Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations. Retrieved from
Cowie, B., Otrel-cass, K., Glynn, T., Kara, H., Anderson, M., Doyle, J., … Kiri, C. Te. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Retrieved from
 Pitama, S., Robertson, P., & Cram, F. (2007). Meihana model: A clinical assessment framework. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 36(3), 118–125. Retrieved from
Wilson, M. (2013). Building a Culture of Success. Retrieved from https;// 

1 comment:

  1. Claire, this has really made me reflect on the value and acceptance of cultural values at my own school. It amazes me how even small things can have a big impact if they are carried out sincerely. This year we have made an effort to celebrate all our pacifica language weeks to compliment the maori language week. This simply involves learning appropriate songs for assembly, teaching and encouraging simple phrases during the week and making sure the community was aware of the celebration. While this may seem tokenistic, it has bigger impact than we appreciated. Recently a mother approached our Principal to thank him for our efforts. She explained that she had seen a language week poster on the office window and was immensely proud to see that her language was being acknowledged, used and celebrated. It took us by surprise that such a small thing could improve the connections between our school and the community.