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.


  1. Thanks Janelle - great honest blog post. I've shared with our cluster schools. Andrea Wylie

  2. Ngā mihi e hoa - what a great blog post - love the internal checklist too. So true, the default switch always ends up being happy kids, happy whānau however you are right - E tū whānau. Being a part of the curriculum design in the school is a great place to start - the magic that is sitting in your backyard is your whakapapa. Start there, By sharing the absolute uniqueness that resides there, is the start to inviting schools to be culturally responsive.