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. 


  1. Thanks for this really useful post, Janelle.


  2. Excellent points. I have one concern and that is to do with the concept of ‘sameness’. You state that ‘We treat everyone the same here’

    I have to disagree, though I respectfully see it as a principled position. The concept of treating people ‘the same’ is inequitable. Treating everyone the same is unfair as it belies a strategy that we treat everyone with equal intent. This cannot be.

    The statement you make earlier is ‘We acknowledge difference.’ I understand and respect what you are saying and for fear of being seen as picky I believe your two statements are an oxymoron - ‘we treat everyone the same here’ - while acknowledging differences.

    My point is that treating everyone the same automates a response that disregards ‘difference’ and ultimately differentiated approaches. We have suffered many decades of treating students the same and only recognising differences when it is politically sensitive to do so.

    Treating people the same has led to disturbing PC beliefs and actions in the classroom and the community. Education must never be about the concept of ‘sameness’. Instead ‘we treat everyone fairly.’ This allows the acknowledgment of the differences we all have.

    The prevailing ethos of wanting to be seen as treating ‘everyone the same’ has unfortunately been thrown around by schools and support agencies as an accepted and sound pursuit. Treating students the same sounds and feels right because it’s part of our mindset about equitable approaches. If we want personalised and personalising learning then being treated the same by teachers is not what we want. Let’s not use the word ‘same’ – it is a word that does not transmit what we really mean.

    Taking it one step further; if the MOE treated schools fairly then funding formulas and resourcing would truly be equitable – suited to the diversity and needs of a school and community. The greatest folly of ‘sameness culture’ is the trumpeted mantra ‘that one size fits all’ which is always underpinned by the political miss-information that we should be proud of the fact ‘that we covered everyone’.

    Treating everyone the same is not an inclusive practice. Being inclusive is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Unfortunately it is portrayed that way.

    You state, ‘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.’ Absolutely I agree, therefore I see ‘treating everyone the same’ as being ‘character neutral’ - achieving the very opposite of inclusion. Being treated the same will deny who they are and we both don’t want that.

    You state ‘Know everything there is to know about me and respond accordingly.’ Absolutely, what I know about one student and what I know about another allows me to treat them fairly; not the same.

    My teenage children will often complain that their parents don’t treat them fairly (usually because one has received something which is perceived by another sibling to be ‘unfair’ because they didn’t get the same.)

    Fair must never mean ‘same’.

    We all want to be treated fairly. (more powerful than being treated the same.)


  3. Kia ora Tony for your comments - I appreciate your insight and opinions. I couldn't agree more with your sentiments about 'sameness' and in fact your comments support what I was trying to portray in my blog post - it's not ok to treat all students the same because they are not the same. I was trying to promote Culturally Responsive practice as being the next step up from Culturally Inclusive practice and the place where I hope all schools get to. I do think it's a continuum and everyone will journey up the continuum at a difference pace - the important part is the journey. I may not have conveyed clearly what I was hoping to which is exactly how you have worded it - see colour, know each of your students well and respond to all of their needs - including their cultural needs. My comments related to 'sameness' were to provide a comparison between inclusive and responsive practices. Thanks again for supporting my ideas and thinking. Ngā mihi.

  4. Kia ora Jaye - ka nui te mihi ki a koe kua whakatakotoria ōu whakaaro e pā ana ki tēnei kaupapa tē tino māramatia e te katoa. Te tokomaha hoki e pōhēhē ana he kaiako/tangata "culturally responsive" ia. Heoi, ki tēnei tuhinga nāu, kua kitea ngā rerekētanga kia mārama, kia mōhio, kia arotake whaiaro hoki. Whakaae ahau ki ō whakaaro - ki Aotearoa nei ko te ahurea matua nō te ao Pākehā, ka whai tonu ana te tirohanga Māori, te whakaaro Māori, te reo me te tuakiri hoki. Heoi i roto i ngā tau 20 kua pāhure ake kua kitea te panoni haere o te āhua, ahakoa he pōturi ki a au. Mēnā ka whakatere haere taua āhua, ka tika me mōhio ngā kaiako katoa, ngā tāngata katoa. Kia kaha rā tō hīkoi hei ārahi i te tini me te mano kia eke pānuku, kia eke Tangaroa ā tātou nei tamariki mokopuna. Mauri ora.

  5. Tēnā koe e te tuakana Deanne. Nā korua ko Wharehoka i arahi i a matou haerenga. Nei ra te mihi aroha ki a koe.