My star sign is Libra. The scales. Justice, fairness, equality. These values are dear to my heart. So I have been enjoying wrestling with the challenge presented to me via amazing educators Ann Milne, principal of Kia Aroha College, and Deanne Thomas, of CORE Education, to think more about social justice and equity with regards to The Treaty of Waitangi and the success our Maori learners experience in New Zealand schools.

  Image Source

The Ministry of Education strategy for increasing Maori achievement in schools is called Ka Hikitia and is now supported by the professional learning development of Kia Eke Panuku. These documents refer to Maori enjoying success “as Maori“. But what does this mean?

The highlight for me at ULearn15 was Ann Milne’s presentation entitled: “Leadership and achievement through culturally responsive, critical, social justice pedagogies”. This was exactly the kind of confronting, crunchy learning I love from ULearn. While I can’t say yet I fully understand all of Ann’s talk, nor can I say I necessarily agree with some of the specifics of her message, I can say, totally in line with my word for the year, that the learning was powerful.

In her presentation, Ann unpacked the concept of “as Maori”. She was superbly supported by the action research of her “warrior scholars” who have dived into this morass. Some of the ideas she raised really had an impact on me and resonated with me. I was particularly struck by the idea that learners shouldn’t have to leave their identity at the door – that Maori (and, I would argue, all learners) have the right to an education that affirms who you are. I wonder what I have done as a teacher to support Maori learners in their identity as Maori, and whether I have positioned Maori identity as an asset and as a key to success. I frankly acknowledge that I have a lot to learn about tikanga Maori and te ao Maori, but this is learning I am excited to engage with.

Ann spoke of Kia Aroha College’s “pedagogy of whanau“, which has been fully unpacked to tangibly define it in all, and I mean all, aspects of school life. The question of ‘where’s the whanau in that?’ is a great tool to keep focused on this central vision. It is powerful in its simplicity and complexity.

I can see connections here to the learning I have been doing this year around relationships, where I have come to (re)discover how crucial manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are to me both professionally and personally. And I wonder, building on the session Deanne Thomas facilitated for us 2015 CORE eFellows, how digital technologies/eLearning/future-focused learning might support and enhance tikanga Maori.

Certainly the ideas of shifting the locus of control away from the teacher, allowing greater equity of access to knowledge (but in Te Reo?), and thus learning moving towards being student-centred and personalised, must allow space for relationships to be fostered and nurtured. How else might schools enable Maori learners’ success as Maori? Where’s the whanau in our mainstream schools at present?


This one’s for you, Dad.

One of the really important things my Dad has taught me is that you should treat everyone the same. For him, he sees no difference between the farmers, the scientists, and the academics he works with. Everyone has their own story and their own experience and thus are due respect.

I think this kind of appreciation for the individual is part of what makes up manaakitanga. During our most recent eFellows hui in Wellington, Deanne Thomas presented us with several challenges, one of which was around what manaakitanga and whanaungatanga looks like in schools, and looks like in a digital environment.

A seed of an idea has been slowly growing in my mind since then, and it wasn’t until last week that it finally sprouted a bit.

On Friday I had the great privilege of visiting Paraparaumu College and meeting its inspirational principal, Gregor Fountain. He was able to clearly articulate for me his vision for the College. This vision, to me, captures in a coherent and compelling way the connection between e-learning, culturally responsive practices, and nurturing positive relationships: relational pedagogy.

And these weren’t just edu-babble buzz words, either. The commitment to this path, and the care and respect for each individual in the school was immediately obvious to me. Gregor knew the name of each student we came across on our tour of the school, and asked each one something particular to them which showed me he knew them. The same thoughtful and respectful nature was extended to me, as a visitor, and to his staff. This genuine interest was sincere and natural.

It reminded me of my Dad. It made me think about manaakitanga. And it made me reflect on my own learning journey this year.

Image source

e-Learning is not about technology, it is, among other things, about access to information. Teachers are no longer required as content experts. Their job is to work alongside learners to help them navigate knowledge for themselves. Some teachers might find this threatening or confronting. That is understable. But instead of viewing ourselves as redundant, we should view ourselves as more important than ever, because what is left when we take information out of the teacher-student equation? Relationships.

In a similar kind of way, my exploration of design thinking this year as part of my eFellowship inquiry has led me to the same conclusion. I started with a hiss and a roar, wanting to inspire teachers to take arms against the education system and to transform it, one classroom at a time. I wanted a bias towards action. How to spark this revolution though, was at odds with who I am as a practitioner, and as my father’s daughter. It is rude to assume I know better than others. Disrupting with humility and respect was much more authentic to me. The emphasis shifted to where it should have been all along: empathy. Design thinking is first and foremost a human-centred approach.

And this is what my Dad has been teaching me, and this is what I witnessed at Paraparaumu College last week. As I have previously stated, to me big picture is really small picture. Systems must keep the individual firmly at their centre, otherwise they become bureaucracies only interested in sustaining themselves. In order to do this, a system must be flexible, adaptable, responsive. It must put the emphasis on relationships, on manaakitanga, on whanaungatanga.

He aha te mea nui?

He tangata

He tangata

He tangata

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? 
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? 
It is people! It is people! It is people!

 Reflecting on my ULearn14 experience, for me the overarching theme of this year’s conference was relationships. Everyone is a learner – teacher and student alike – and all learners should be at the heart of what we do. I could see this message coming through from every speaker I heard:

  • Yoram Harpaz’s keynote argued for three ‘meta-ideologies’ in education. I align myself mostly with ‘individuation’ – the fostering of autonomy and honouring the authenticity of the child.
  • Mark Osbourne’s breakout highlighted to me the learning that teachers can experience in a MLE (Modern Learning Environment) is as powerful as the learning the students can experience.
  • Tom Barrett’s breakout on design thinking: curiosity is the start of everything; it’s about questioning the world
  • Adam Lefstein’s keynote on teacher professional discourse and learning: the kinds of conversations we have as professionals can help or hinder our practice
  • Katie Novak’s UDL keynote: when we host a dinner party, we serve the food we love to eat. In what way do we address others’ dietary needs? We certainly don’t try to fix the diners’ problems; we cater accordingly. This is what UDL asks us to do for our learners.
  • Derek Wenmoth’s breakout: MLP (Modern Learning Practice) requires rethinking content, learners, teaching, learning – we need to be adaptable and flexible
  • Jo Wilson’s breakout: Professional Learning programmes should allow staff to grow into the roles they seek, allow them to be great leaders.
  • Steve Mouldey’s breakout: creativity enables you to create change in the world around you.
  • Quinn Norton’s keynote asked: What’s the MacGuffin of our generation? We probably won’t know until we’re scrambling to catch up, so learning to build relationships is an important future-proofing skill.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to present at ULearn on the staff professional learning I co-lead in my school. Although it was a small (but perfectly formed!) group, it was a satisfying experience. Tuning into myself as we were speaking, I realised how much staff had moved in their skills and that there is a growing appreciation and awareness for the need to embrace future-focused pedagogy. (Presentation here)

Oh, and I got named as a CORE eFellow for 2015. What an amazing, humbling and gratifying moment. I only hope I can do the opportunity justice. I so look forward to the learning to come, and the relationships to be forged with the other eFellows.