Monday, 6 June 2016

Cleaning Our Cultural Lenses

My Week 28 and fourth post for Applied Practice in Context: indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice.
cc attribution
It’s pretty hard to keep your cultural lenses clean of preconceptions and your own cultural beliefs. I know that because I try and either get flack from some others in my inner circle (including family), or pull myself up when I realise that even though I haven’t said it out loud, I'm thinking something that is at the very least, thoughtless and at worst, xenophobic.
There, I've said it.  But I know I'm not alone.  It’s pretty much how humans have been right through history, dividing and conquering each other on the basis of difference and dominance, and now, in this new era of globalism we are only allowed to play out these innate feelings on the sports field. It’s about our need to belong and why we kowtow to fashions in clothes, sayings and activities.
I remember when I learned that it was polite to belch after your meal in Burma.  That was pretty much my first acknowledgement, in Form 2 Social Studies, that people didn't do things all the same.
But don’t judge me as a white middle class, middle aged pakeha female from the suburbs. Because yes, I’ve been a victim of that. I loved listening to Taiye Selasi’s Ted Talk about being judged by her ethnic origins instead of as an individual.
I'm a first generation Kiwi with and English mother and Dutch father, who lived in Jamaica for four years; at ten, my parents split and my mother, a sickness beneficiary, moved us in with her elderly mother in Christchurch. I benefited from a free education and subsidised university.  Most of all I believed I would go to university because my parents did.  I believed that was my path.
I can’t speak Dutch because my father believed that it was more important to be accepted as an enzed European, as many immigrants in the sixties did. I've listened - and laughed - when others have told me that Dutch people are all tight with money and have poor table manners. Did I mention that my father’s mother was German, had an illegitimate child and a brother who was potentially a Nazi?
I moved from the South Island to Kawerau in the mid 1980’s and it was like moving to a new country; instead of school houses called after the first four colonising ships, they were called after maunga (what?) and I was in Maungawhakamana. Panic; I couldn’t say it.  People played guitars at parties and the dialect was way different.  When someone died, the whole school closed for the tangi. I was in culture shock.
So I'm an individual with a rich cultural background, no better or worse than any other.  I share some things with those around me, and I bring some differences to the table. And I bring those differences into the learning environment.  My new learning is built on my previous experiences and it is the varied experiences that we must think about when we design learning activities for the class of individuals trusted to our care.  
Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, in the video, Teaching Tolerance, reiterates that our students are not “blank cultural slates” when they come to us.  Geneva Gay, in the same video, reminds us that, like Taiye Selasi, they are individuals with a range of experiences, local and socio-economic, that they bring to the classroom.
Like Russell Bishop, in his Edtalk on cultural responsiveness, they remind us that relationships are “paramount to education”. We must care about people and care that they learn; that is culturally responsive pedagogy.  Māori students, like other ethnic minorities world wide, have suffered from “deficit theorising;” the idea that some ethnic groups are less intelligent than others. It’s time to throw that nonsense out.
So what does cultural responsiveness look like in my school? We are an intermediate school in Rotorua, that draws from a mix of schools in the eastern suburbs.  Our student body is predominantly bicultural with a pretty even mix of Māori and pakeha and the full gamut of socio-economic backgrounds.  We also have students who identify with at least eleven other ethnic groups - probably more.
In the last five years that I have been there, work has been done to ensure that our strategic goals and “how we do things” match our vision, which includes the phrase: “Te Kotahitanga concepts as key to facilitating effective student engagement and achievement.”
This mahi includes time spent talking with local elders from our haukāinga, Te Roro O Te Rangi, as a staff and Board, about tiro ā-Māori ki tōna ake ao and our local stories.  At our marae at the beautiful Hinemoa Point, we were gifted a pepeha for our school and learned about the importance of our children understanding their connections and relationships so they don’t feel adrift as “tamafreakies”; the concept of tangata whenuatanga.  It is no coincidence that placenta is also “whenua.”
As a staff we unpacked “Tātaiako: Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners.” We discussed the concept of manaakitanga in detail and talked about the protocols we wanted to have in place, like always welcoming guests with a pōwhiri or whakatau. Our rumaki teacher, with students, demonstrated the kaupapa Māori of her room and the students talked about the elements that confuse and frustrate them when they go into other learning environments: people sitting on tables, food placed under chairs.  
I shared my learnings from my NAPP2012 inquiry on Māori student achievement: tuakana teina and the importance of being able to revisit new learning as is done in kapa haka.
Whakapapa right back to Ranganui and
Papatuanuku on which every rumaki student
can find their ancestoral line
Most important is respecting the language and learning correct pronunciation, essential when building relationships with students.  I get this completely.  My name is Annemarie, pronounced Ann-eh-marie, but I have people tell me I'm wrong! They have no idea how important this is to me, because I have inherited this name through my European origins from people who meant a lot to my parents. Twenty six years ago I remember a colleague standing up in a staff meeting to challenge the principal who continued to pronounce whānau as “far-now”, rather than “far-know”.  We hear these mispronunciations daily; ironically, even Mike Hogan makes this error in his Edtalk on cultural responsiveness.
This year when we appointed the new rumaki teacher we called on Te Roro o te Rangi kaumatua to help with the selection.  They are represented on our committees and on the incoming Board as a coopted member.
Are we doing as well in our classrooms? We have had a large staff turnover in the last year and obviously we need to revisit our previous learnings.  While we include certain kaupapa as “the way we do things here”, I know that there is a lot of variation within the staff because of the cultures they come from.  We include He Reo Tupu He Reo Ora in our learning programme and I believe our teachers are good at making relationships with students.  I love what our rumaki teacher is doing but there are Māori students in other classes and those from other ethnicities, including those with little English, in the school.  This term we held a whanau engagement meeting to bring in families of our target writers so they could create shared learning maps. We are on a journey.

This statement from Milne should make us stop and think:  

The model of education that exists in New Zealand is that white page.  It is important for our children that we start to create our own “colouring books” in our communities.  We come to the conversation with the lenses of our own cultural background.  We need to try to clean those lenses and focus clearly on each of the students in our care.

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.
Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. [video file].Retrieved from
Edtalks.(2012, May 30). Mike Hogan: Culturally responsive practice in a mainstream school. [video file].Retrieved from
Findsen, B. (2012). Older adult learning in Aotearoa New Zealand: Structure, trends and issues. Presented at Adult Community Education (ACE) Conference.
Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2),106-116.
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, 39(3), 183–198
Shaw, S., White, W. & Deed, B. (2013) (Ed.). Health, wellbeing and environment in Aotearoa New Zealand.South Melbourne, Australia:Oxford University Press.
Teaching Tolerance ( 2010, Jun 17).Introduction to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.[video file]. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. Hi Annemarie,
    This is a beautifully written reflective story. I think it's so important to know where you come from as a starting point to be able to think about how you approach different learning conventions and as you say "clear your lense". To be culturally sensitive, one does need to take a step outside of yourself and come into the community from the child's point of view. I agree that cultural performances and especially language play a huge part in inclusivity. That relationship is key to understanding the part that the child needs to play in their learning. What I mean is that when you know the person and care about their interests and wellbeing, you are better equiped to plan for engagement their way as the Te Kotahitanga article sugests (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh & Teddy, 2009) Thank you so much for such a lovely read... Kind regards Kim