Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Engaging Māori students and whānau in Future Focussed Education (Live Blog of my ULearn 2016 Breakout)

Author: Nichole Gully  
retrieved from:  
Janelle Riki
Educators from around Aotearoa descended on the Janelle Riki’s uLearn session to wānanga (discuss) the same sorts of questions. How can we better engage Māori learners and whānau in future focused education? As our schools are transforming, how do we ensure our whānau and Māori students feel empowered? How can we ensure that our schools are truly bicultural and breathing life into the Treaty of Waitangi? How can be inclusive of all learners and create pathways to success for all? How can pedagogy and practice in a modern and innovative classroom align with the values and practices of Māori? This presentation discussed this and a lot more providing examples of how a transformative journey to innovation in education will be more successful if everyone is on the waka together.
Janelle talked to the audience as much as a māmā bear of a blended whānau of 5 as she did as an educator.  She prefaced that the next hour and a half that people would probably feel uncomfortable and she did this intentionally, from a place of love, in order to renew our perspectives and invite change.  
So forewarned, Janelle launched into an emotional raw story of her 16 year old’s journey through education. A journey fraught with deficit views of his intellect, behaviour and motivation. Labelled as the ‘typical’ Māori boy, more interested in being the naughty off task kid than focusing on reading, writing and rithmetic. Report after report after report states “lots of potential but…, lots of potential but…”.  The negative perceptions of his teachers is the antithesis of who Mr16 is at home. A teenage boy with the biggest heart for his siblings and cousins, respectful to his elders, a talented sportsman, a strong orator and an extremely hardworking perfectionist. So how is it that in a lifetime of schooling, none of these qualities have ever been noticed, fostered and leveraged? 
Russell Bishop quote
Is what we focus on is all we see? As teachers, are our perceptions of kids shaping their experiences? If this is the case, if we see them as capable, driven, intelligent learners, how might this transform their experience in education? Janelle went on to talk about Russell Bishop’s research asserting “what works for Māori in education, will work for ALL kids.”  Why? “Because it is all about good practice”. She warned though that it doesn’t go the other way, what fits all, doesn’t necessarily fit Māori. And the stats talk for themselves.
Transforming educational outcomes for Māori like Mr 16 starts with knowing who they are and teaching to who they are. Valuing them. So who are these Gen z Māori really? Janelle says, “they are really easy to love, but really hard to like sometimes” but if you make the effort, the payoffs are innumerable. And so she unpacked who these kids are starting with their language, Gen Z Māori lingo.
  • Skux / Steezy (cool, keep doing what you are doing)
  • Salty (grumpy, so smile)
  • Snake (men who befriend lots of girls)
  • ACTUAL (truth be told, for real)
  • On the grind! (Getting fit, training, they actually value hard work)
  • TBH (to be honest)
    Maori learners
And it is this last phrase which really highlights the values that Gen Z Māori boys have. TBH – to be honest.
  • TBH u look skux
  • TBH u r a mean league player
  • TBH ur awesome at haka
  • TBH u smashed that exam
Their social media posts to their mates are splattered with positive affirmations of things they notice about each other and they share them freely and publicly. What generation has ever done that?  What would happen if teachers took this into the classroom every morning and everyone had a TBH session. TBH loved your writing yesterday, TBH your art inspired me to try new stuff, TBH…  Normalise making mihi (positive affirmations) cool!
In these Gen Z Māori, we are seeing an emergence of kids connected and wanting to connect to their culture. They are smart Gen Z. They can process huge amounts of info really quickly. They can skim, not read line by line by line. Does that mean they know what to do with that info? No it doesn’t. So we need to teach them how to analyse the reliability and validity of that information, summarise and repurpose it.  What do the oldies think and FYI, 25 and above is OLD to them. We think they are anti social, have poor literacy skills and think they are self absorbed because they take lots of selfies. We could interpret it as self absorption or we could interpret as confidence and self expression. We make really quick assumptions about these kids.
Angus McFarlane and his colleagues talk about how schools need to allow and enable students to be who and what they are. How are we enabling our kids to be Māori? Janelle asks, what would I hear, see and feel when I come to your school that sends the message “we value and will celebrate your culture here?”. Janelle goes to schools as an educator but also wearing her mum eyes. If she entered your school, what would she see and feel as a Māori mum?  What signs would she see and what would she hear that sends the message we value and will celebrate your culture? How is she greeted as a parent when she goes to your school or your class?   What might she see on your school website or read on your newsletter that will encourage her to enrol her beautiful tamariki at your school, safe in the knowledge that they will be cherished here, as Māori?
Janelle stated that “it is not a privilege to be connected to the place you go each day. It is a right! Kids deserve to go to school and know they are home. If I was standing in your school, how would I know I was in a school in Aotearoa?  Furthermore, Janelle asked “shouldn’t I be able to chose any school in this country for my kids and expect that their language culture and identity will be celebrated and grown? This is Aotearoa and Māori are tangata whenua, Te Reo Māori is this country's first language.  This is a school where my kids should be supported to grow into the Māori leaders of our future.”
MASAMSo what is the recipe for Māori Achieving Success as Māori? We returned to Mr 16’s repeated reports, “potential but…, potential but”. But what Janelle asks? What are you as the teacher, as the school doing for him? His potential is his and it is not him that hasn’t realised it. That is the job of schools, to draw this out of our kids. He has potential but… what are you doing about it?”. What will it take for teachers to change their view, change their lens for kids like Mr 16 to realise their potential? See them in all their greatness, see all of their potential and enable them to apply what they are good at. It’s really not rocket science.
What might this look like for Mr 16? How could we tie art into learning maths and sports into literacy. Where are the opportunities for him to leverage off his oral story telling talents and working collaboratively on creative projects. Here is the box, fit in it. You don’t fit, you fail. The one size fits all approach to learning doesn’t fit him and lots of other ways of learning and presenting learning does.
Janelle asserts that “the label of failure is actually just unrealised potential.” If Mr16 was born into pre-European settlement Aotearoa, he would have been considered off the charts gifted and talented with his oral abilities, physical prowess and interpersonal skills and yet he is not in our current system. He is a ‘failure’ in the NZ education system. A system which does not see or recognise his natural abilities and leverage off these. And Mr 16’s experience is typical of many Māori in education. 
If you are Mr 16 and you suck at reading writing and maths there are very few opportunities to to shine at school and feel good about yourself. What are other ways that all kids have time to shine. One strategy is the Tuakana/Teina wall. On one side teachers and learners write on stickies with their name, “I am good at….” And post on the tuakana wall. On the teina wall they can write “I need help with….” Schools who have worked with Janelle have put this in their weekly programme and celebrate everyone’s skills. All attributes, skills and abilities are valued, not just the ones considered valued national standards skills. What other strategies could work?
PerceptionsIn closing Janelle finished with the phrase “perception is everything! Intention is nothing”. As educators, if we want to collectively transform the experience of Māori across the education system, we need to address our perceptions and actions. It takes persistence and tenacity to shift the focus from others to ourselves and we need to work with whānau to do this. It takes a big person to ask, what is my part in this? How can we then make it better. She says, the system is failing some kids and perception is the number killer. We are failing our Māori kids with our perception of them and their perception of what they think we think of them. They think teachers don’t know them, don’t want to know who they are and don’t care. Our kids have made assumptions and have gotten used to teachers having negative assumptions of them.
We have stuff in our profession we must unlearn. We have developed some bad habits and we have to learn new ones. We have to open, critically reflective, and honest in turning that mirror around as the change starts with us. She implored teachers, as a Mum of 5 beautiful Māori kids in the education system to do so, so children like Mr 16 are no longer labelled as failures and become damaged in their journey through our education system. We cannot wait, we must act now.  Our babies are too important and our future depends on us growing the very best leaders we can.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Conversations with a Gen Z Teen

I live with a Generation Z teenage boy.  Aged 16 and in year 12 at secondary school in New Zealand.  He is Māori, ko Tainui, ko Ngāti Hauiti ōna iwi.  He loves sport, food, music and socialising (on repeat!)  Like many teens, my Gen Z has struggled, and continues to struggle through the school system.  On the occasion that I am able to entice him into conversing with me (in real time and face to face), I always find that he has lots of really inspired ideas and thoughts to share.  About life, school, the future and the world in which we live.  So, with his permission, over four blog posts, I will share with you some of my Gen Z teen’s pearls of wisdom.

So who are Generation Z you ask?  “They are your sons and daughters. They populate your neighbourhoods, their thumbs spastically banging out two-way conversations composed entirely of over-punctuated and under-constructed sentences.  They may even work for you.  Eventually, you will work for them.”  Gen Z are the generation after the Millennials.  Born anywhere from the 1990s through the 2010s or from the early 2000s to around 2025.  They are also referred to as iGen, eGen, Net-gen and the Digitarians.

Characteristics of Gen Z

  • Have never known a world without the internet or cell phones
  • Tend to text instead of talk face to face
  • Require constant and immediate feedback
  • Globally aware
  • Independent learners and self directed
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Collaborative
  • Tech savvy
  • Expectant of flexibility
  • Plans and commitments are often made instantaneously
  • Smart! Able to process massive amounts of information and new knowledge quickly

Great infographic about Gen Z here

Image sourced from:

Knowing and understanding our learners is foundational to supporting their educational success.  With this in mind, it’s important to acknowledge that many of our Gen Z learners are currently being taught by Generation X teachers.  As a Gen X mother, I have discovered the impact life experience and possibly the generation gap has had on my ability to communicate effectively with my Gen Z teen.  Regardless of our generation gap, sometimes I wonder if my teen and I are speaking different languages and live on different planets!

Characteristics of Gen X  born between early 60’s and early 90’s

  • Cynical, world weary and skeptical
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Educated
  • Ethnically diverse
  • Pragmatic, practical and independent
  • Tech savvy
  • Flexible
  • Knowledge seeking and sharing
  • Self sufficient, do things for themselves, handle problems on their own

So with our similarities and differences in mind, it’s important to understand and acknowledge the impact this might have on a reciprocal learning relationship.

Gen X (Teachers)
Gen Z (Learners)
Implications for Learning
Believe that “if you want something done well, do it yourself”.  If you broke it, fix it!
Believe in problem solving through collaboration
Collaborative learning experiences & problem solving
Are highly educated and see education as the necessary key to success
Believe that knowledge is power but don’t always place the same value on what Gen X deem to be the ‘stuff you need to know and be able to do’
Learning made meaningful to the learner.

Realising potential and celebrating all success and progress
Flexible but not as resilient or embracing of change
Very resilient to change as live in a world where change comes fast and furious
Learners directing own learning & using technology as an enabler
Like to plan ahead, sometimes a whole year in advance and will often make plans for others
Often reluctant to commit to what they are doing tomorrow because things change and can be resistant to plans that are made for them
Studying for a test or exam 3+ weeks out might be a challenge for some Gen Z’s.

Pre-determined learning VS spontaneous learning experiences.
Well versed in learning and memorising information that we might need one day. Used to learning ‘just in case’
Do not rely on any learnt information being correct for a sustained period of time.  Like to learn ‘just in time’
Technology gives access to the most up to date knowledge.

Could be a challenge to engage in content that is not contextualised or considered to be for an immediate purpose.

Check out this great clip - How to Communicate with Gen Z

Gen Z Teen’s Pearls of Wisdom

What do you think future jobs will be like?
“Futuristic jobs will be based around technology.  You will be able to do interviews on your phone or laptop wherever you are around the world.  People from around the world will apply for jobs anywhere.  I think there will be robots doing a lot more things like build houses coz someone will invent robots that can do all that stuff.  I think people from all around the world will apply for jobs anywhere coz they will have the same skills and they will be able to just face time people here in NZ whenever they have to.”

What do you think it will be like to be Māori in the future?
“People might not know if they are Māori coz our language is dying.  People might just think we are just another brown person who doesn’t know their language or heritage.”

What do you hope it will be like?
“That we all get our land back and we could rebuild the old Pa sites and then our old people could go back there to live without having to buy houses that are all separate from each other.  Like a Māori retirement village!  I wish our culture would be cherished in the future like a taonga.  I wish we would hear our language more and that all New Zealanders could speak Māori.  It would be real cool if there were heaps of jobs in the future where it was compulsory to speak Māori.  Then people would need to go and learn it.”

What’s the hardest thing about learning and why?
“It depends. There’s some things I like learning.  Some things you are just not interested in learning and so it’s harder.  Sometimes it just takes too much effort to try and understand.  It would be awesome if we all just had USB ports in our heads and we could just download what we want to know.”

What’s the hardest thing about learning at school?
“It depends sometimes on the teacher that you have and if they like you or not.  Also sometimes I think the teachers feed off negative energy - if they know that you don’t like them or you are not really interested in the subject then some just don’t really care if you learn or not.  The teachers that really help you and get to know you are the best and that’s when I can learn and then I send them positive energy back.  The best teachers don’t just talk to you about school stuff. They are interested in your life and who you are.”

What do you wish your school and teachers knew/understood about you as a learner?
“That I don’t just automatically know or understand everything they teach me.  I need someone to come up to me and ask me if I need help.  I wish they knew that I like to learn by watching videos or listening to people explaining things. I like to be shown how to do things, telling me things doesn’t always work for me.  I’d like them to make learning fun and be excited and pumped up about what they are teaching.  If they teach like they don’t love it or are interested in it, how are we supposed to get engaged in it?  It’s  always really good when teachers help us learn stuff by connecting it to things we are into and that kids our age like doing.  It’s also great when teachers let us use technology to our advantage. We’re used to using it everywhere else and we already know how to use it help us learn.”

Unpacking these Gen Z Pearls

What my Gen Z teen has articulated to me in his own unique way is:
  • He see’s his place in the future job market in a global sense
  • He’s concerned about the future of his language, culture and identity and sees it as everyone’s responsibility to revitalise and normalise Te Reo Māori
  • He know’s learning is hard at times but he has clear ideas about how he learns best and what will help him to learn
  • His perception is everything. Whether his teacher’s like him or not is not necessarily the issue.  What he perceives about those learning relationships absolutely is.  What  he believes about his relationships has a direct bearing on how he learns and in turn his academic success
  • He really just wants to feel that his teachers like him, believe in him, want him to achieve and will help him to do so
  • He wants to be inspired by teachers and he believes his engagement in new learning is directly linked to the way in which content is delivered, assessed and how he engages with it.
  • He sees technology as an essential enabler to his learning - simply a ‘given’.

Image sourced from:

Implications for teaching and learning

Taking all of this into consideration, I pose some provocations for us as educators and parents to consider.
  1. How are we preparing our kids for a global job market?
  2. What are we all doing to ensure the survival of our indigenous languages, cultures and identities?
  3. How do we gather student voice and use it to inform our teaching practice and learning programmes?
  4. How are we empowering our kids to direct their own learning?
  5. How can we inspire our kids to learn and to make school content relevant in the minds of our tamariki of all ages?
  6. How can we continue to strengthen our relationships with kids? Between school and whānau/the community?
  7. What opportunities are we offering our kids to use technology to aid their learning?

I know I’m biased but in my opinion, my Gen Z Teen is a genius!  I share his wisdom with you all in the hopes that we might gain insight from the generation that will lead us all into the new millennium.

Other references:

Thursday, 27 August 2015

To see or not to see - that is the question!

"I don't see colour, I treat everyone the same".

It's an admirable statement and one often made with the most honourable of intentions: to be inclusive and equitable.

My challenge to you all is to do the exact opposite - to see colour.  Why?  Read on!

Being 'race neutral' or not seeing the colour/culture of our students is actually achieving the very opposite to what we are hoping to achieve.  When I was trained as a teacher we learned about being Culturally Inclusive.  In essence, this was about ensuring that our practice and relationships with students were inclusive of everyone, no matter their race, gender, religion, first language etc.  This is something I worked hard to achieve as a new teacher.  That is until I realised, it wasn't actually achieving what I was trying to achieve which was for my kids to feel that I knew them and celebrated who they were - in every sense.

Some years later a new term emerged in relation to our practice in the classroom termed Culturally Responsive Practice.   So I set out to make sense of this new term and how I could add this practice to my own way of being and teaching.

What I am going to share with you now is my interpretation of Culturally Responsive Practice.  It is, as they say, 'unburdened by research' and it's how I made sense of it all and clarified what it truly means to be responsive.

If you imagine this image as a continuum that starts with being Culturally Accepting and moves up towards being Culturally Responsive.  

So what's the difference between each term?

We accept everyone here
Everyone is welcome
We acknowledge difference
We make sure that everyone is included
We know the race, religion and beliefs of all of our students AND
we accommodate them all
We treat everyone the same here
We celebrate difference
WE KNOW YOU: your whānau, your whakapapa, what you believe in,
your tikanga and customs, your religion and we know this because we
purposefully made an effort to
Our relationships with our kids are reciprocal in nature
We went past the half way mark, we did the work required to really know you
We don’t treat you like everyone else because you are not all the same
We value and celebrate your uniqueness

I get reminded daily from my significant other whilst he is refereeing heated discussions between myself and our teenage son that "I am the adult" in the relationship.  The same goes I think for teacher-student relationships.  It's up to us as 'the adults' to do what we need to to establish positive and meaningful relationships with our kids.  We can't expect all of our kids to be open and forthcoming in sharing themselves with us - I think that it's our job to create an environment where that can and will happen, but that takes us crossing the half way mark.

As a Māori learner myself, I can honestly say that I cherish my 'colour' on the inside and the out and if you want to help me learn - I want you to see me, hear me and know ALL of me.

Know everything there is to know about me and respond accordingly.

That right there, is the vital first step to achieving success for all of our tamariki and closing the gap for those who have traditionally been underserved by our education system.

“Our schools need to be…places that allow and enable students to be who and what they are.”
Creating Culturally-Safe Schools for Māori Students.
A. Macfarlane, et el.

To my mind there is a big difference between 'allowing students to be who and what they are' and 'enabling students to be who and what they are.'

What are you as an educator, parent, learner, leader doing to enable your kids to be who are what they are?

My answer...    whatever it takes!

Check out this interesting blog post that explores some of these topics further. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

These are the people in your neighbourhood

Just like the Sesame Street song tells us (currently on repeat in my brain...), it's important to know who the people are in your neighbourhood.  Who lives in your school community? Does your school reflect the community in which it lives or vice versa?

My son often went to school in places that were not too close to where we lived.  This sadly had implications for him socially as his mates often lived a sizeable car ride away and as a single, working Mum, it wasn't always possible to make time for playing and hanging out with his mates.

In Aotearoa New Zealand we (parents) are blessed with an opportunity to choose a school for our kids.  I've never really been one to buy into the 'this is the best school' argument to be honest. I tend to believe that this choice afforded to us as parents means we can take into consideration the needs and strengths of our kids and choose a school that will best suit them.  For some parents this might mean that you have several kids at different schools.

All schools are great at doing what they do in very different ways.  The trick is to find a school that is great at doing what you as a whānau value as being important for the education of your child(ren).

As a Māori parent I had an internal 'check list' of things I was looking for in a school.  It kinda went something like this.

  1. Will my son like going to this school?
  2. Do they offer opportunities for him to engage in things he is good at and enjoys doing?
  3. Do I think my son will 'fit in' here (are there other Māori kids and whānau here)?
  4. Does this feel like a place where his cultural identity will be supported and celebrated?
  5. Can I get him here daily?
  6. How did I feel and how was I treated when I came here?

Now I'll admit that not every school my son went to ticked all the boxes.  In some cases I was just happy to tick boxes 1 and 5!  What I will say though is that it became painfully obvious after only a short period of time the impact the unticked boxes would have on my son and our whānau.

As a Mum I wrestled with him being happy VS me being happy with the school he was at.  His happiness won out every time.  Rightly or wrongly, if my son was happy enough to get out of bed every day and go to school, I was a happy Mumma Bear!

BUT, at some point the inevitable question would emerge for me, "how is my son's school helping to grow him into the man he (and we) wanted to be.  This question still plagues me on a regular basis.

And what do we want for our Māori kids?  What every parent wants but with one very special added extra.

We want our Māori kids to:
  1. achieve to their highest potential
  2. have good manners, respect, aroha and be a good person
  3. be proud to be Māori

There are a million other wishes we have for our kids but in essence, if this is happening, we are happy Māori parents!

Now most schools focus on number 1 and 2 daily.  Number 3 is often a work in progress.  To be fair to schools, they often just don't know how to go about tackling number 3!  Sadly some schools will take the approach of "let's leave it to whānau to teach their kids about being proud to be Māori". That approach was certainly prevalent when I went to school.  

Here's the thing I want parents and whānau to know and understand.  It IS the job of your child's school to be responsive to ALL of the needs of your child. This means:
  1. the academic needs
  2. the social, emotional and physical needs
  3. AND the cultural needs
So what's our job as whānau?  Help our school's to achieve this.  Get involved. Let your voice be heard. Don't join the carpark mafia and talk about all of the things your school could and should be doing!  Effect change in your school.  Not just for your child, but for all of the tamariki at that school.

"Only one thing has to change for us to know happiness in our lives: where we focus our attention."

Please know this - schools want to do and be better and you have something to give.  Something that in some cases they don't have.  An in-depth understanding of what it means to be Māori and all of the wonderful ways in which we can celebrate our absolute uniqueness.

Kia maumahara ki tōu mana āhua ake
Cherish your absolute uniqueness

Next post - advice & guidance about how to grow Culturally Responsive Practices at your school.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Pork bones and Marmite Sandwiches

When I was a kid we would sometimes have a boil up for tea on a Sunday night.  This would inevitably mean that there were sometimes cold pork bones in our lunchbox on a Monday morning.  Now I actually love cold pork bones however I would dread opening my lunchbox on a Monday.  Why? Well despite my love of cold pork bones, I didn't love the confused stares and muffled 'eeewww's' from my classmates.  So, I learned to check my lunchbox on a Monday morning on the way to school and eat my beautiful cold pork bones as I skipped and sang my way to school with my siblings.  I was happy, the pork bones were eaten and no one was any the wiser.  No harm, no foul right?

As an adult when I think back on this memory I feel sad but mostly I feel a little mad at myself.  I wish I had been the kinda kid that was more confident and secure in my identity.  I wish I had eaten that pork bone loud and proud! But I wasn't.  I was the kinda kid that just wanted to fit in and be liked. I didn't want to stand out or be different. Those 'eeewww's' were drawing far too much attention to me for my liking!

There are thousands of kids in Aotearoa classrooms today who have cold pork bones in their lunch boxes sitting amongst a sea of marmite sandwiches.  We also have kids with roti and taro and sushi and even the odd cucumber sandwich makes an appearance!  We have a much more diverse cultural population in our communities and classrooms these days and in my opinion, we are all the better for it!

Still there will be many who are like I was as a child.  Who consider themselves not quite 'brown' enough to fit in with the Māori kids and not quite 'white' enough to fit in with everyone else.  All the while desperately just wanting to fit in somewhere they can be themselves.  The solution I came up with early in life?  Train myself to be a chameleon - to just change what I said, how I acted, even what I ate according to those around me.  JUST FIT IN.

It worked for me for some time actually.  The problem with that solution? It's really hard to turn it off.  You are so used to being a chameleon that it actually starts to become your identity.  Then later in life when you are in touch with who you are and finally begin to feel secure in your identity, the challenge then becomes how do I be who I am with those around me without looking like a fraud!

What I wish

My most sincerest hope for all tamariki in our classrooms today is that they don't find refuge and security in a 'chameleon identity'.  I wish for them to be strong and secure in their identity and to feel valued, respected and celebrated at home AND at school.  I wish for Aotearoa to be a truely bicultural society. A society that values and breathes life into Māori cultural practices, art form, history and most importantly, our precious language.  I wish that every Māori parent could walk into any school and immediately feel that this school is going to treasure and celebrate who we are, this is a school where my child will succeed, as Māori.

Stand by for more blog posts about how we can achieve this together.

Mā te tokomaha, ka kā te ahi!
By the many will the fires be kept burning.