Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Applied Practice - Week 28 - Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice - (Activity 4)

Have just been looking at the Unitec's framework for embedding Te Tiriti o Waitangi into their courses. Absolutely beautiful use of a Poutama. I don't think I've ever seen anyone use it like that before. 
The poutama is a three way progression to step towards the stars, enlightenment, the end journey. 
As a reflective practitioner my journey as a teacher always seems to have a series of lessons, new learning, challenges and opportunities to show my learning. I like it purely because I'm learning from myself, my own decisions and choices and constantly think about the kind of teacher I want to be and the kind of person I want to be for my students - and for myself at the end of the day. 
Within the Unitec Poutama was the consistent use and embedding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Absolutely beautiful. I wonder whether other tertiary institutes have thought about this in as much depth as Unitec has. 
I studied at Waikato - through the courses I chose, the networks I worked in as the history and Ingarihi Kaiawhina for Te Aka Matua in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the friends I met - I was able to be tuturu Maori. The campus itself had bilingual signs - something many universities in NZ didn't have apparently. Being able to ask for help from Maori was crucial. Seeing Maori in positions of authority and power - as senior lecturers and head of departments was vital in my belief that I too could be who I was in a world dominated by a colonised worldview. 
I was lucky at Waikato to be taught by Jeanette Graham in my first two years at uni while studying my BA in History and English. Like my history teacher at high school, she showed both perspectives - from a Maori worldview, and Pakeha. What I loved the most about her was her purposeful talk about WHY we had to discuss these things - and more importantly how the 'loser' of the war was often silenced - and as such - it is always vital to hear their side of the story. 
The power dynamics in NZ are still the same. Maori are still fighting to be recognised for the effects on us as a whole as a result of colonisation. Pakeha continue to forget that we have white privilege and that we are consistently in the role of power. There is no shared power. Not truly. There is ongoing racism and disgusting examples of prejudice and pre-positioned perspectives particularly in regards to our justice system. Maori are constantly on the backfoot. 
For all the talks about how far we've come - and bloody hell have we what - we haven't gone far enough yet. 
For many people who come to NZ as tourists, they absolutely adore our Maori culture. They embrace the reo. They are quick to learn and follow simple tikanga and are overwhelmingly interested in the dynamics between Maori and Pakeha. 
Having studied four years of Maori and Pakeha issues, histories, stories, perspectives and knowledge around the disproportionate effects on Maori as a result of the interaction between Maori and Pakeha -  having lived my life as both Maori and Pakeha - having taught in both bilingual units and mainstream - there is a massive difference. 
For those who can't see it - I call them blissfully ignorant. There are many Pakeha in NZ who empathise and support Maori in this battle. There are many more - who do not. And those people are very very vocal. 
I've talked previously about the importance of being culturally responsive - here, here, here, here and here - so I will refrain from doing that in this post (even though that's the point in this particular post - but it's an issue close to my heart that needs years and years of reflective posts and discussions that one post just can't do enough credit...).
Instead - I will discuss how we as a school are culturally responsive:
At Western Heights High School we have roughly 70% Maori students. The other 30% are Pakeha, Polynesian, Asian or classed as other. 
It is imperative - in any high school but particularly at ours - to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi in all that we do. 
Our new principal Jim Gemmell is a matakite - I'm calling it now because I already see a clear vision in what he is trying to do at Heights.
In a few weeks we are introducing a trial for an extended house tutor group class. Our HTG's are vertical forms - so within this each class has a handful of each year level and the idea was to create a community. Not all HTGs are like this however. Mine is. I was VERY careful about creating this sense of community and whanau from the very beginning - I was lucky in that I started at Heights the year that they brought HTGs in. Prior to that it was horizontal form classes that apparently had become quite chaotic and in some classes cases a bit toxic. 
From the get go I focussed on manaakitanga and supporting my students the best way I could. Over the last four years though - the amount of paperwork, pastoral care, attendance issues, academic tracking, academic counselling etc has gotten a much bigger job than the 15 or so minutes we see our students each morning. 
So - we are heading into our new trial of a 40 minute extended house tutor group. I am absolutely excited about this. My own HTG KAL (Kowhai House, My initials) understand why we are doing this. They know that I can only just get through the notices each HTG. They know that I barely have any time to actually ask them how they're going, let alone check ongoing attendance issues, do the roll, sort out uniform issues, have individual conversations with students to check in to see how they're going - both hinengaro and tinana -wise. They get it and for KAL - they look forward to it - mostly because they know that ever second Wednesday I get paid and we can have a bit of a shared kai before that interval haha. 
For other students that I teach - their questions begin at the WHY - which they then understand once I explain from my perspective about actually being able to do my job as a house tutor teacher better, and then their questions turn to statements about how boring their classes will be for that 40 minutes. Something I just don't understand as the point of thesr HTGs was to create a sense of community. I know I'm not the only teacher at Heights who has made our students feel comfortable and safe. I worry though that the teachers who aren't going to use this time effectively, may be the ones that aren't being culturally responsive in the classroom. 
The next very cool new initiative that our principal has initiated is the goal setting and interviews for senior students on the 27th June. 
The idea is that students identify the areas of strength and weakness, we discuss how they're doing academically at school and talk about setting realistic goals with them and their whanau. 
What this means for us is that we need to ring each whanau, make contact with them and book an appointment. Our interview day goes from 8.30 am to 5.30pm. Doing this will allow whanau time after school and before school to come and see us. Students must be there - for their interview so it is a shared decision and building on success. Creating achievable goals and identifying areas of improvement.
Lastly - at Heights we have just launched our new WHHS app - available on the app store for both Android and iOS. This is a key mode for communication and connecting with whanau. 
At Heights - we have many teachers who aren't Maori - this can be an issue for many students who are trying to find strong Maori role models in their lives. It wasn't til I went to University that I found these role models. For our Heights students - having strong role models is absolutely key to their success. Whether they are Maori or not - having strong role models can make or break a student. As such, going through our Kia Eke Panuku training has shown us the many ways we all need to up our game and improve our modes of being transparently culturally responsive as well as being aware of when we AREN'T being culturally responsive and how to change this. 
One particular area of focus for myself is creating more opportunities for shared decision making in class - more co-construction in the learning and more opportunities to make the learning relevant. 
We had a discussion in social studies the oher day about the importance of saying names correctly. It is my biggest bugbear when people say names incorrectly. Names hold mana. They are incredibly important and we should do our absolute best to learn how to say them correctly. I always tell my students to tell me off if I've said a name wrong when I first meet them. 
I try my best to learn their names as fast as possible and as correctly as possible. It irritates me beyond belief when a student asks a teacher to say their name correctly and the teacher refuses. It is absolutely different if the teacher is actually trying to say it correctly. 
However - the inherent and institutionalised racism in NZ shows through time and time again. Under the Treaty of Waitangi it is absolutely critical that we learn names - as they hold mana - it shows shared power and tino rangatiratanga.

Update (20th June): Today I talked more with the kaiako I had been told who refuses to say Maori names correctly. I actually don't know how to deal with this. The issue around collegiality and professionalism is having serious discordant issues with my need to assert that student's mana and tautoko her. Seeing her with her students - it was interesting today. To say the least. 
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Class Notes
Further Reading:
Bishop, R, Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T. & Teddy, L. (2009). Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5)734–742.