In New Zealand, disparities exist between the indigenous Mãori and New Zealand Europeans whose culture dominates the education system (Penetito,2010; Shields, Bishop & Mazawi, (2005). Plain and simple. This needs to change.
To address this inequality in achievement in education the document Te Kotahitanga was created. Professor Russell Bishop whose research in relationship-based learning has been proven to have significantly improved outcomes for indigenous and minoritised learners is key to understanding how Mãori can achieve as Mãori.
As part of our participation in Culture Counts, Weymouth Primary School collected a range of voices from individuals representing key stake-holder groups of students, parents/families, and teachers. The data was collected through face-to-face interviews in the school. This methodological approach is aligned with Professor Russell Bishop’s technique where interviews are conversations about students’ classroom experiences and the meanings they make of these experiences.
These collated voices became the focus of robust discussions about creating culturally responsive practices in particular embedding a family-like context for learning. Relationship areas such as, agency, care and trust, high expectations, a consistently well-managed learning environment, and a shared knowledge of what the student needs to learn.
What we struggled with was, what does this look and feel like for us as teachers in our daily interactions with students? This formed the key learning for us as a group of teachers, as it is our thoughts and beliefs that need to be challenged, to begin the move forwards towards genuine, culturally responsive practices. Having Kapa Haka in the hall at lunchtimes and creating Kowhaiwhai patterns for visual art is a long way off embedding a culture. Steps we took to clarify just what inclusive culture in the classroom looks like are as follows:
1. Rejecting deficit explanations for students’ learning. Looks like - Agentic talk is articulated, students are encouraged as they succeed. Prior learning - Using activities that require learners to activate what they know already, what they may need help with, what they want to learn. Teachers use this information and other assessment data with students explicitly to inform the learning intentions and the pace of the learning.
2. Caring for and nurturing the learner, including their language and culture. Students can bring their own cultural experiences to the learning. Students’ prior learning is utilised. Looks like - Formative assessment: Feedback, feed forward. Learners are able to practise their learning and request feedback as they learn. They can articulate where they need support. The teacher is able to give feed forward – precise responses that guide the learner to their next steps in the task and indicate what might help them to check that they have been successful. Co-construction: Teachers provide models and exemplars of successful learning that support learners to deconstruct tasks and to co-construct success criteria. Learning tasks involve the learner bringing their understandings and perspectives to the learning in order to make sense of their learning.
3. Voicing and demonstrating high expectations. There are high expectations of student learning and behaviour. The classroom interactions include talk about student capability to reach short-and long-term goals. Looks like - Power-sharing - Students work co-operatively to learn. Teachers and students have opportunities to learn with and from each other. This helps create a non-dominating relationship between students and teachers.
4. Ensuring that all learners can learn in a well-managed environment. Looks like - The lesson is well organised with clear routines for students to interact and learn individually and as a group. The teachers know their subject knowledge. There are models and exemplars to support learners to know what success looks like.
Opportunities to create a family-like context for learning need to incorporate these principles otherwise we are creating token gestures and only scratching the surface and pupils are merely learning about different cultures. We knew we needed to bring a sense of our tamariki bringing their own experiences and cultural understandings into their learning and allow for engagement in learning conversations that are genuine.
As Bishop states: “It is agentic teachers who are the key to making a difference for our Maori students.” This was a new terminology for us at Weymouth and one we are moving forward with. As a school we are fortunate to have developed many positive practices through the professional development we have received. As a team, committed to change, we are continuing to develop and collect student voice in the classroom and listen to all stake-holders. We are currently in the process of promoting ‘power sharing’ as good practice and genuinely co-constructing learning. We have a way to go, but challenging our assumptions and helping teachers to ‘better respond to the reality of diversity in the student population, rather than continuing to teach to a hypothetical mainstream or ‘normal’ group of students.’ Timperley,Wilson,Barrar and Fung (2007) is our goal.
Savage,C, Hindleb, R., Meyerc,L., Hyndsa,A., Penetitob, W. & Sleeterd, C.(2011) Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: indigenous student experiences across the curriculum. Asia-Paciﬁc Journal of Teacher Education
Source: Edtalks. (2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. [video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/49992994