I understand indigenous knowledge to be more than just one’s awareness of their own culture. I argue it is more than that; I suggest it is about each individual knowing and being able to thrive their identity in the past, present and future, in the classroom and in society. This is genuine equity to me. Complementing an individual’s pride and knowledge of who they are, there is a need for educators and society at large to not only embrace an individual’s culture and identity but to do everything possible to empower and grow such cultural and identity confidence.
One area where I believe Aorere College is doing well in terms of Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness is in terms of our school wide-goals. For many years, Maori achievement had trailed non-Maori NCEA achievement across all senior levels. Although there may have been many reasons for such disparity, one influencing factor in my opinion was that until the last few years, we did not explicitly and publicly target this low achievement. In 2016, we had five whole school academic goals. One of them was that “Maori students’ NCEA means (all levels) to be consistent with whole school means.” Simultaneously to this goal was the wider expectation of all student NCEA achievement to be at or above the national level. The cohesion of these goals meant that 1) teachers were explicitly aware of the goal and 2) every Maori student was now a target. By also targeting Maori students via an academic goal over a pastoral one, this ensured that teachers had to look forward and up for their students and avoid any “deficit theorising” (Bishop, 2012).
In critiquing this area via the “Pasifika: Participation, Engagement, Achievement” tool, by focusing on “achievement”, we naturally had to work backwards and ensure that our students were not only physically safe in the classrooms but also emotionally and academically. As Bishop (2012) notes, the lack of Maori students’ cultural safety was now a “global issue” and as such the negative economic, political and social impacts need to be addressed by the society at large and first and foremost, there is an urgent need to address the profound “educational disparities.” At Aorere, teachers had to be “learners among learners (Bishop p739, 2009), be more culturally responsive in terms of how they encouraged and enabled both participation and engagement and where needed, many teachers restructured their classrooms, lessons, and opportunity for student response & agency.
However one area where I believe Aorere College could do better in terms of Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness is in terms of our school’s learning activities. For many teachers not used to being in such a multicultural environment such as ours, it is often difficult to see why many learners do not participate or engage, let alone achieve in the classroom setting. However once a teacher is prepared to see through the eyes and hear through the ears of a priority learner, the need for an appreciation of Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness becomes not only highly visible but also urgent and an issue of social justice and equity. Many agentic teachers in our school now are co-designing the learning with their students, asking them how, when, where and indeed why they want to learn. In many cases, it has been (and has to be) the teachers who now initially feels most uncomfortable in the learning spaces. It took me one visit to Polyfest to truly understand the importance of culture to our Pasifika and Maori students. At this annual event, there was extraordinary participation, engagement and achievement yet the same students in the classroom were often ghosts once back in the traditional classroom.
Let our students be ghosts no more in learning, in society or in terms of their cultural strength, empowerment, and futures.
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 https://vimeo.com/49992994
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.