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

What I learned from writing my PhD proposal

IMG_4673 (1)Just before Easter I handed in my PhD proposal. It was a major achievement for me, and I felt stoked. For those of you not familiar with PhD study, at my university the process is as follows: when you first enrol, you are really only a ‘provisional’ PhD student. Your first major job is to write a proposal. The proposal should outline your area of study, the key literature relevant to your field, the theoretical lens(es) through which you will view your study, and some of the specifics of your research design: research questions, methodology, ethical considerations. It’s about a 10,000 word document. (Or 10,700 if you’re me…) Your proposal is formally reviewed by a small committee, and, if it’s accepted, then, Pinocchio-like, you’re then a ‘real’ PhD student.

Now that I’ve submitted my proposal (yay!) I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from the experience of drafting, writing, reviewing with my supervisors, editing, re-writing.

  1. Diagrams and tables are your friend. As a former English teacher, and holding an MA in English literature, I prefer to express myself in words. However, my supervisors encouraged me to incorporate tables and diagrams to help convey ideas. Woah. That helps to keep the word-count down, and really helps me to be more succinct. It also helps break up long chunks of text for the reader. It was good advice.
  2. It’s hard to read 10,000 words in one go and keep in mind the overall argument and structure. I’m thinking about this from an editing point of view, but also if I, as the author, finds this challenging, then the reader is probably too. Sub-headings are another friend for both the writer and reader. I also found it helpful to think about each section as an essay: writing an introduction, body and conclusion. I then started to think about each paragraph in these terms. A seminar I went to on editing your own writing gave a tip which I used: go through your writing, reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. Focusing on topic sentences to make sure these are in a logical sequence and capture the unfolding argument was a useful strategy.
  3. Taking on feedback. Hmm. I’m not always that good with feedback. I freely confess I can take criticism personally and get defensive. Here is where I think I’ve been gifted with two awesome supervisors who couch their feedback in ways that support me to write better. I think it also helps that I have a clear sense on the aspects of my work that I am strongly committed to, and which areas I am happy to amend. For example: I triumphantly sent off a near-complete draft to discover that my supervisors really didn’t like one of the theories I was planning to explore. I wasn’t wedded to it, so that work went. I didn’t find it painful or crushing. Select the section, hit delete. New material went in to replace it. Perhaps this is a revised perspective on ‘holding your ideas lightly’: know which ideas you want to hold tightly to, and hold to those – this is your research after all – but those other ideas? How central are they? Maybe they can go.
  4. Finished is better than perfect. This is a big learning for me. For once, knowing that this work isn’t going to be graded, it will either be fine, need some revisions, or need major re-working, has released me from the tyranny of my A-type personality. I figure that my supervisors wouldn’t let me submit a proposal that was woefully sub-standard, so if they’re okay with it, then I should be too. Reading the piece through for the nth time to change a ‘thus’ to a ‘therefore’ will not a better proposal make. Get it finished, get it in. Job done.

So what do I still need to master? Aside from everything, I want to be able to capture my PhD in a snapshot, to be able to give the ‘elevator pitch’ I guess. In my faculty, once the proposal is accepted we have to deliver a 20 minute presentation on it. I’m hoping this will help me to distil the key aspects, and then to be able to give an overview to a layperson in ways in which they might find my work interesting. Or at least not boring. High hopes.

Teacher Learning

Image source: Roman Kraft, CC0

As a facilitator, and as a PhD student of education, I spend quite a lot of time thinking about teacher professional learning and development. Wearing the first hat, I think about the content a principal or leader has asked me to convey, and I think about how best to do that – in particular what activities teachers could do to get them grappling with the content at hand themselves. Wearing the second hat, I think about conferences for teacher PLD, including how conferences are designed, and whether this matches with what we know about effective PLD and with what teachers are actually asked to do in their classrooms.

What I haven’t ever thought about, until now, is the ideas about how teachers learn that underpin my thinking, and the thinking of others who design and support teacher PLD. This is known as ‘teacher learning’, and research suggests that how leaders (facilitators, principals, administrators, etc.) believe teachers learn directly influences their leadership practices, their interpretation of policy, their allocation of resources, and their design of PLD for teachers (Coburn, 2005; Nelson, 1998; Spillane, 2000).

For example, Coburn (2005), examines the practices of two US principals who design, resource, and support teacher PLD in reading in light of reformed policy. One principal sees knowledge construction as the transfer of knowledge as ‘stuff’ from the head of an expert to the head of a teacher. Therefore she prioritises accessing external experts and expert materials and bringing these into her school for her teachers to learn from. Teachers are also given time, and are encouraged to try out the materials and techniques in their classrooms. The other principal sees knowledge construction as a social and collaborative activity: less about knowledge transference, and more about teachers thinking about their practice and what might need to shift. This leads to prioritising building professional learning communities and networks: making sure teachers have time to learn with and from one another.

This leads me to consider my own practices. What do I prioritise when designing professional learning experiences for teachers? I actively seek to talk from the front as little as possible. I prioritise activities that encourage and support teachers to explore ideas and reflect on what they currently know, and what they might need to find out next. I guess, to put a bit of a fancy label on it, I see teacher learning as being both individual and socially constructed (Borko, 2004).

And it makes me wonder. What do other facilitators, teachers, principals, policy makers, etc. base their PLD design on? What does their PLD programme suggest about how they understand teachers to learn?


Borko, H. (2004). Professional development and teacher learning: Mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.

Coburn, C. E. (2005). Shaping teacher sensemaking: School leaders and the enactment of reading policy. Educational Policy, 19(3), 476-509. Retrieved from  doi:10.1177/0895904805276143

Nelson, B. S. (1998). Lenses on learning: Administrators’ views on reform and the professional development of teachers. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 1(2), 191-215.

Spillane, J. P. (2000). District leaders’ perceptions of teacher learning. CPRE Occasional Paper Series.



Taking my sock off

“How’s the PhD going?” is a common question I’m being asked since enrolling at university last month.

“Oh, dipping my toes in,” is the vague, non-committal response I usually give.

Where do you start a such a huge piece of work? Luckily I know a few people who have completed, just submitted, or are about to submit a PhD, so I polled them. I was given some great advice:

‘Write first, read second,’ was one I really liked. I usually do a lot of reading. I try and read as much as possible, as broadly and as deeply as possible. But I can see the pitfalls of this starting with this approach. Once you’re on this track, how do you know when to stop? When do you start to lose track of your own ideas, and have them hijacked by the ideas of others? The more you read, sometimes the more you get lost. In a fictional context, I like this. When I’m trying to contribute some original knowledge to the world (yikes, #nopressure) I can see this as rapidly becoming an extension of imposter syndrome: losing sight of the gaps, and seeing only what’s been done. Who am I to think I might have a different perspective or contribution to offer?

‘Write a research question. See if you can answer it. If you can, write another research question,’ was another I really liked. So much so, that after the person gifted me with this advice, I went home and had a questionstorming session. I generated nearly 50 research questions. For me, I found this really useful. It was a concrete and discrete task to complete. I could do it over a short space of time (I’m only studying part-time) and feel as though I had achieved something. In a way, it’s similar to the ‘write first’ idea: start with your own thoughts and ideas first. Ground yourself in your interests and branch out from there.

I’ve also inadvertently stumbled into my own useful practices. One I’m determined to keep up is my ‘What have I done today’ journal. I have a document I write in at the end of every study day where I summarise what I’ve done, and jot down any questions or key thoughts I’ve had. Not only does this help to give me a sense of accomplishment, it’s also super useful when I put down my research on a Thursday and don’t really pick it up again until the following Wednesday.

To complement this practice, I also ‘park on a hill’ – another piece of advice from a recent PhD student – I write a post-it note to myself with some tasks I will start with the next study day. This way, I begin the day with a sense of what I’m going to do, even if I change my mind  later on in response to something I’ve read or written or thought.

I’m also grateful for the other work I have done in supporting others’ research, such as the CORE Education eFellows, and the work I have done in my own thinking and research. This has prepared me well for the familiar (but still uncomfortable) feeling of not knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, or what I should be doing. I recognise that you have to trust your brain to throw up an idea, or bring several ideas together at unexpected times. For me, this is often when I’m cleaning the bathroom. Or, as it was the other week, at the ungodly hour of 5am.

I’ve come to realise that it’s a cliche because it’s true: a mighty project like a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t have to know yet the scope and shape of the thing. At the moment, having some useful practices about how to think and work is enough. So I don’t think it’s that I’m dipping my toes in. They’re not yet wet. But I have managed to take my sock off.

Image source, CC0