Ethics as manaakitanga II: Ethics in the classroom

A few weeks ago I wrote this blogpost about ethics as an expression of manaakitanga. It is more pertinent to those conducting reasonably formal research in an education setting. So that got me thinking: What might ethics as manaakitanga look like for teachers at the ‘chalkface’?

Just as with research, we talk about data in teaching. We can mean a myriad of things by this word ‘data’. It could be test results, the oral or written feedback teachers offer on a piece of work, pastoral care notes, the stories we hear as we learn more about the young people in our care. Because teaching does deal with data – both in its quantitative and qualitative forms – I think we should engage in thinking carefully about how we collect this data, what we do with it, and, significantly, whether our young people are informed about these processes, as ultimately the data is theirs.

Image source: Eco Warrior Princess, CC0

Let’s start by thinking about collecting data. As teachers, how do we collect data, and what do we do with it? For example (and I have been guilty of this one myself, which is why I include it): at the conclusion of the weekly spelling test, going down the roll and asking students to call out their result. This is an efficient way of collecting this small amount of regular data. But now I wonder how this upholds the mana of the ākonga who hasn’t done as well as they might have hoped. Publicly announcing their number isn’t going to make them feel great, and no longer feels to me like a respectful or responsible way of collecting data.

Thinking further about data collection principles, I wonder whether our ākonga and their whānau know what data teachers collect, and what we do with the data once it’s been collected? Is the data for teachers to support them to reflect on their teaching practices? To support teachers and learners to identify next learning steps or goals? To help teachers to generate report grades?

Now let’s think about sharing data: whose data is it, and how do teachers use it as an individual classroom teacher, and / or collectively as a teaching team or as a whole school? For example, I have been into a number of secondary schools’ staffrooms and noticed a list of young people at risk of not achieving Level 1, 2, or 3 NCEA on a central board. I agree that this can generate a sense of collective responsibility for the success of these ākonga. But I also wonder if these ākonga and their whānau know that their data is being used in this way. Have they consented to this? How might they feel if they learned about it?

Outside of these uses of data as teachers, I’m also thinking about the place of data collection in Teaching as Inquiry practices. There is currently a spotlight on inquiry and appraisal in New Zealand, so perhaps this offers us a good opportunity to think about these processes. For example, if we are inquiring into our practices to support the success of a group of ‘target’ learners, how do we select these young people? How do we ensure our selection is as free from bias as possible? How might we invite the participation of these young people, and should we? Indeed, do ākonga have the right to know of our teaching as inquiry foci, and to be invited to be involved? Where might the work of the Children’s Commission support us in thinking about these issues?

If we value manaakitanga by looking after our young people; upholding their mana and right to self-determination, then I think we should be engaging in thinking carefully about how we are ethical in our practices and processes, for example, around data.


Ethics as manaakitanga

This blogpost draws heavily from this brilliant post by my CORE Education colleague Te Mako Orzecki. I am indebted to his unpacking of the concept of manaakitanga. Mauri Ora!

In the past few months, I have been involved in ethics processes around education research. The first context is supporting our wonderful 2019 Dr Vince Ham CORE Education eFellows to gain ethics approval for their action research | rangahau. The second has been completing my own ethics application for my PhD research.

I totally get that people can find applying for ethical consent time-consuming, nit-picky and wordy. Particularly when the research context is low-risk; presenting little opportunity for harm to occur. My own research, for example, involves no youth, I do not wish to pry into anyone’s personal lives, every research participant will be invited and therefore have the opportunity to decline, there is no deception required… etc, etc. And yet, my application needed to be supported with 15 separate documents, and that’s on top of completing a 50 or 60 question form.

Because I have a bit of an eye for detail, and feel completely comfortable in expressing myself in writing, I didn’t actually find completing my ethics application that challenging. In fact, I find it quite interesting to think about issues from different perspectives, in particular, in this situation, thinking about how it might feel to be a participant in my own research, and what barriers / concerns / questions I might have.

But it can be hard to justify the paperwork of an ethics process to a busy teacher / kaiako. Words like ‘risk’ and ‘harm’ seem to imply that research is a painful undertaking and that the researcher has nefarious motivations.

Instead, I wonder if it mightn’t be useful to think about an ethics process as one which ensures that a researcher has truly grappled with all of the ways to embody the values of manaakitanga.

In English we often translate ‘manaakitanga’ to mean hospitality, and certainly, that is one meaning of the word. But in this context, I’m thinking about it more broadly.

As my colleague Te Mako Orzecki says:

Within te reo, a word has many dimensions, layers, and depth. Looking at ‘manaaki’ and the parts that form this word, provides some deeper insights:

Manaaki    (to protect, look after, and care for something or someone)

Mana-aki   (to encourage or to enhance one’s authority)

Mana-a-kī  (to be true to your word and what you say)

I think this is highly relevant to the ethics process of conducting research.

  • How will you invite participation from people in ways that are respectful, invitational, clear, and leave open the opportunity to comfortably decline?
  • How will your research participants know what your research is about, how their role will support your research, how their stories (data) will be collected, stored, analysed and shared?
  • How will you respect the stories that participants share with you? How will you do justice to their words, their voice, their opinions, their worldview, their community?
  • How will you ensure that you are seeking diverse stories, and not just looking to confirm your own assumptions and biases?
  • How will you represent the stories of others in ways that are truthful to the intent of the participant, and the context of their lives?
  • How will you keep yourself honest to your research intentions and questions?
  • How will participants know that they can withdraw from your research, and/or complain about your conduct as a researcher?

And I’m sure there are many other questions that could be added. (Do you have some suggestions? Add them in the comments below.)

As a qualitative researcher, my data are the stories that others choose to share with me. This is an act of trust and mutual respect, and, as such, deserve to be treated with care and attention. How I go about asking for these stories, gathering these stories, keeping these stories safe, analysing these stories, and then sharing these stories as part of the narrative of my research, are all ways in which mana can be upheld or quashed. They are acts of manaakitanga.

Image source: Jeremy Yap, CC0