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.