A tātou kura

Atawhai ngā rito, kia puāwai ngā tamariki.

Ako i ngā tamariki, kia tu tāngata ai, tātou katoa.

Cherish and nurture the shoots, so the children will bloom.

Learn from and with these children, so that we all can stand tall.

Over the last few months, I have been observing teachers on the TER programme and so I have visited a lot of schools. After having heard Janelle Riki-Waaka talk about what schools look like, sound like and feel like a few years ago, I have made a point of trying to enter each school and see it through the eyes of a Māori parent.

The ‘look like’ part of it has definitely improved. Most schools have a whakatauki, many have the school motto in te reo now, though an alarming number have Latin mottoes. I wonder how they came about and whether anybody understands them? Some have their values either entirely in te reo or a mixture. It still grates when I see schools trying to force their values into a word so that they are easily remembered which often means that the Māori value is there just to get a letter to make the word – I saw one the other day that had all the values in English except the last one which was ‘Manaakitanga’ so they could spell a word.

I like how one school I have visited links qualities to the people whose names they used for their ‘House’ names and uses them as their values. Of five people, 3 are male, 2 female and one of the females is Māori. I’ll leave you to ponder on that mix.

I make an effort every time I enter a school of saying ‘Tēnā koe’ or ‘Kia ora’, or ‘Mōrena’ or any other appropriate greeting. So far, I can probably count on one hand the number of times the reply has been in te reo Māori. The majority of receptionists are white females. They are generally lovely, smiley, warm people. I wonder how much office staff and other ancillary staff in schools are included in professional learning about culturally responsive practice or learning about partnership and te Tiriti? As I walk around schools, I often come across cleaners, support staff and groundsmen. When I greet them in te reo, I frequently get a ‘kia ora’, or a ‘mōrena’ in reply and a beaming smile.

Once I get into classrooms, what do I see, hear and feel? In many classrooms, I see the date written on the board in te reo Māori, there are numbers, and greetings, I see the school values if they are in te reo Māori already displayed for all children to see. I sometimes see key kupu – the names of subjects or the words that are related to a unit of learning, there may be posters of the kara, tinana, ngā rā o te wiki, karakia for kai and karakia timatanga. In a few schools, I have seen the school pepeha beautifully presented as a poster. What haven’t I seen? Any student work in te reo Māori on the walls.

What do I hear? If I am there at the start of the day, I sometimes hear the children saying a karakia. I may hear the teacher greet the students with ‘kia ora’ or ‘mōrena’, give basic instructions such as ‘E tū’ or ‘E noho’ or “whakarongo mai’, ‘titiro mai’. Some teachers maintain and build on thos instructions, for some, it happens sporadically. Sometimes, I see and hear no te reo Māori in the classroom at all.

What do I feel? In nearly all schools I feel a sense of belonging, of children being challenged, nurtured, supported to be who they are and learn in ways that are appropriate to their needs. In most schools, children have choices about how they learn and have opportunities to share and lead learning with each other. Relationships are strong, both between kaiako and ākonga and between tamariki.

What I don’t see, hear and feel is well-developed, holistic environments in which te reo Māori and tikanga is integrated and normal.

I am interested in the local elections that are being held later this year. There is a real need, in Kirikiriroa at least, to get more people out to vote. Only 30% of those eligible to vote turned out last time. More than 50% of our eligible voting population is under the age of 35. The majority of those who voted last time was over 55. The Council is made up of mainly white, middle-aged men or white middle-aged women. A group of people, united through Twitter and the hashtag #lovethetron are looking at ways to motivate ‘millennials’ to vote. We already have several ‘millennials’ standing either for Mayor (Louise Hutt) or for council positions (Anna Smart, Tim Young are two of them), the challenge now is to get the youth out to vote.

There is a group called Seed Waikato….

Seed Waikato is a movement that brings millennials together to improve their wellbeing. Led by millennials, we run inspiring events, workshops and digital education that empower you to dream big and take action.

I went along to one of their events a couple of weeks ago. (I know, I’m not a millennial but I have given birth to two!) and as they say, they’re very inclusive and as I heard on the night ‘if you don’t have a connection with a millennial you are likely to quickly become irrelevant.’

We have also been having coffee over political kōrero in a local coffee shop. This came about through the twitter chat when we decided that we really needed to know more about the issues that might be important for the local election and start to get to know the candidates and what they stand for. So far there have just been two of these kōrero and you really need to be on Twitter to get to know about them so although anybody is welcome, the scope for getting to know about them is narrow. Nevertheless, it’s a start and we’re looking at ways to branch out.

So what’s this got to do with Culturally Responsive Practice?

I guess, that both these things just aren’t culturally responsive. They are ‘white’ constructs – the idea of coffee mornings or afternoons or even evenings – are they a te ao Māori sort of thing? Where do kōrero about politics happen and how and where would we engage with Māori. My guess is that they happen at the marae over kai, in the kitchen or at hui that don’t really have a fixed start and end time. I asked yesterday on Twitter, what proportion of Māori voted at the last local elections. I’m supposing that, just like the youth, they didn’t. Because they don’t see themselves in the ‘system’, they feel like decisions will be made anyway regardless of what they think or say because they don’t have a voice.

Interestingly, Hamilton City Council has decided to have Māori representation on some Council committees. The jobs were advertised, local iwi were asked to nominate candidates and 5 worthy people were selected. This is a positive start but my wondering is what the selection criteria were, who applied, how well do they represent ordinary Māori in our city? Is it time to have Māori seats on Council so that we ensure fair representation? Boards of Trustees in schools co-opt Māori and Pasifika reps if nobody from the community stands or is elected to ensure that our treaty commitments are upheld in all decisions made. Why not Councils?

So coming back to schools. There has been some robust discussion recently regarding the compulsory teaching of NZ History and Te Reo Māori in schools. Aotearoa, New Zealand is a bi-cultural nation with 3 official languages, which I believe should be spoken at least at a basic level by all citizens. It’s a fundamental part of our commitment to te Tiriti o Waitangi. Knowing our own history – all of it not just one side of it is absolutely necessary to be able to move forward together. If we are to see, hear and feel that commitment in our community and society as a whole all our ‘institutions’ white constructs or not need to work harder at their commitment to honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Kids need to see, hear and feel it everywhere they go but school is a place that they spend a huge amount of their time in, so we have to get it right there, right from the beginning.