Thursday, 1 May 2014

Early Morning Thoughts: Te Kotahitanga

A colleague on twitter linked a report about the importance of students having a positive relationship with their students. The kaupapa was clear - kids at kindy had an easier time testing because they had a close connection with their teachers. Primary school kids were less affected, partly  because the same testing was done only months with the new teachers. The report said that high school students were as sensitive as kindy kids when it came to their learning and development.

I completely agree.

When it comes down to it... Te Kotahitanga works. You may not buy in to the reasoning behind it but it works. It works for everyone. Not just for Maori kids either. Of course we are trying to uplift our Maori students from generational entrenched educational imprisonment... it looks and sounds a mouthful but without getting into a rant and finding my mighty friend the soapbox... that will do for now. Our maori students are the way forward. They need to feel like their voice is heard and that they are important and ultimately... that they can achieve. And yes you may say... thats what I want for all my students.. and thats great because Te Kotahitanga approach and way of living, breathing, teaching - affects everyone. It just depends whether you're whakaehi-ing your students or whakaawhi-ing them - positive or negative reinforcing in one quick moment is a sure way to kickstart or fail a ss relationship straightaway.

I once knew a teacher who split her class up into maori on one side and everyone else on the other. Albiet to say her first impression of the maori kids wasnt great because they didnt pay attention to her, they pushed her buttons the wrong way to get her attention and ultimately did what any kid does to test you and see what you're made of and where the boundaries lay. Unfortunately she didnt rise to the occassion.. she typecasted them and decided to only teach "the good ones - the ones that listen to me." Anyone else seeing alarm bells here? There is a lot more I could say but without giving away her nationality and trying to be as proff as poss ... thats where I'll leave that anecdote...

My point however is that there are still teachers out there who think this is ok. That this is acceptable. There are, and hopefully wont always be, racist teachers out there. It is those teachers TK is the best teaching style for. Because they begin to see their effect on the students and listen to student voice. But to have any engagement with any style of PD you actually have to put it into practice and buy into the kaupapa.

Personally, at high school there were a number of teachers who stood out. Of course I had inspirational teachers at primary school of which I will post about another time...

There was the old wood materials teacher who had taught both my parents before me who would tease and mock me like my own Grandfather, who was jokey and made me laugh. Who told me off kindly and helped me at 13 understand much about building and how to create effectively without too much waste. He passed away a couple of years later and we sung for him at the funeral that was held at school. He will always be remembered.

There was the history teacher who took us to the Bay of Islands to see and feel the history we were learning about in Y13. I was and still am stoked he taught us relevant history... none of that 18th century monarchy stuff.. well a little... but our focus was on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Maori Land Wars. He essentially inspired my thinking and belief systems and is the reason I now have my Honours in History.. mainly in Maori histories, public and oral histories. He also laughed and joked with me and let me be naughty while still maintaining boundaries so I knew where the line was. He had a fabulous class set up because he didnt have single desks.. his class was made for group work. And thats how I learn. He wrote in different coloured pens and would take us outside of the class to think about the world around us. He drew hilarious pictures of the characters in history we were learning about and is the reason I will always picture Chamberlain as a walrus. Not because some old historian once penned the term because of his beard.. but because my teacher chose to have an awesome selection of stuffed toys sit atop his whiteboard- one of which was a walrus... and whenever he would discuss Chamberlain, he would draw a man with a hilarious moustache that of course looked like tusks. Im a visual person and his style of teaching worked with me.

And then there was my English teacher. He always joked with me and my best mate. Id get jealous at the attention he gave to other brighter and sometimes more popular kids... but when he talked to us I absolutely shined. I tried my hardest in that class because he had such high expectations. He would comment on my work and always tell me what I needed to work on. We once stole his desk on April Fools day and hid it in the school. He loved us. We know that. We thought it then too. We thought ourselves his favourites merely because he'd laugh with us and tell us we were doing well. We loved his accent and enjoyed teasing him because when he got angry he got red in the face and had a hilarious yell. We didn't do it often but when someone did something we just sat back and watched. He taught me how to be analytical and how to dissect a film to the point where I didnt hate it but loved it more for all of its intricacies and sub plot and directors purpose. He taught me to see the world for what it was and recognise my role in it and think how a mere person could have an effect on it.. well both him and Mr. J taught me that. My English teacher is the reason why I'm teaching. He made me feel like I knew stuff. That I was smart. He's the reason I have a double major in not just history but in English too.

Lastly there was my student teacher in Y11 who became a permanent teacher the following year at our school. She was the first female Maori teacher I truly connected with. She helped to begin to erase the hurt and pain caused by a stupid and ignorant fellow student in Year 9 who pushed me against the wall and told me I was too white to do Kapa Haka... even though I'd been doing it since I was 5. Even though as my Pakeha mum said, "You've probably got more Maori blood in you than she does... doesnt mean she does because shes darker than you." That was my first encounter with racism as Maori. From another Maori. (Not including whanau based thinking and speaking without thinking and realising I'd be inherently affected by their words.)

This student teacher made me feel happy to be me. Proud even. Because she was ma too. Thinking back she must have had similar reactions to talk to me like that. I dont really even remember her teaching us while she was on prac though I do remember her style of teaching as a director the following year in the school play. But that one moment in time boosted my confidence and began to heal that inner part of me telling me I wasnt good enough. That self doubt that had always been there but was enabled by a silly girl probably spouting her whanau thinking about me.

There were of course many others but these four consistently stay in the back of my mind as teachers I have chosen to emulate within my own teaching style. I may not be as witty as them or as quick with a response to get the class to shush or listen or pay attention or to make one particular student pipe down... but I try. I may not be as talented with drawing images that stick in kids' heads but the ones I do draw definitely get a reaction of laughter so I assume they may stick in 9 years time when they too reflect. I may not be as good at accents but I can hear a pin drop when I do try which I assume is a good thing... and as a result of him I think I'm a good storyteller. I teach film incredibly well but still struggle finding the best way to teach novels... not a problem with his teaching but because I'm always trying to find a better way. I laugh with my students and can take a joke when they steal my chair. I was stupid this year and told my Y11 class (who I teach V for Vendetta to as well!) about when we stole his table for a prank. I will be buying some strong padlocks come April Fools next year. Miss G taught me to be proud of who I am, who my ancestors are.. and that it was ok to be proud. She showed me compassion is important and so is listening when a student is offloading or trying to get advice in a roundabout way.

The point though... is that these teachers were being Te Kotahitanga teachers before it even became a national mode of teaching. Of course I had negative teachers... which is why I'd rather focus on the four (there were more) that truly encapsulate the way I now teach.

If we all take time out of our busy days to think about what our impact is on our students... then perhaps we might have a better chance of seeing their success.

I will post the key concepts of TK in a following post.

Nga mihi nunui ki a koutou katoa. Mo nga aroha nga wairua nga tautoko nga awhitanga. Kei te kaiako au I tenei tau ia ra ia ra ia ra. I te ako au. There are many other ways I could say thankyou to you four but you truly lit the path to where I am today and I will be forever in your gratitude. Arohanui ki a koutou katoa.