How might we be more explicit in honouring our bi-cultural heritage in our leadership and teaching?

As I have shared in the past, at HPSS we encourage all staff to create a Personal Professional Learning Plan where we create a number of professional teaching goals which are aligned with our school principles: Innovate through personalising learning, Engage through powerful partnerships and Inspire through deep challenge and inquiry. The goal I have developed for better engaging in powerful partnerships is this:

How might Claire be more explicit in honouring our bi-cultural heritage in her leadership and teaching?

The reason for choosing this is as my topic is the result of some serious reflection on my past and my practice. For many years I feel like I have "ticked off" Registered Teacher Criteria no. 3 "demonstrate commitment to bicultural partnership in Aotearoa New Zealand", which has the key indicator "demonstrate respect for the heritages, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi" without being entirely convinced I am doing so, at least not explicitly.

I suspect my background and experiences will be similar to many in New Zealand. Educated in a school that was for the most part extremely monocultural, with knowledge of Maori heritages, languages and cultures being limited to the occasional Social Studies or History class. Te Reo was not offered, yet funnily enough Indonesian was (odd priorities for a very large NZ high school). When I went to university I did start feeling like something was amiss and did attempt to learn Te Reo, but due to a combination of general second language learning crapness and some deep seated middle class white girl shame and paranoia I struggled to even step foot into the Maori dept without translating my insecurities into believing they didn't want me there anyway. I attempted the Level One course twice and failed both times - on reflection this was more a result of my own mental blocks rather than anything to do with the course or the people delivering it.

I continued on my path through university, teachers training college and back in to school, returning to my own school where I continued to blinkered about the need to genuinely doing anything like honouring our bi-cultural heritage. For the most part this wasn't a problem, as it turns out much of what I did due my personal values actually seemed to work for most students. I have always had very high expectations for all my learners and have looked to meet them where they are at and have always encouraged them to bring their interests and culture into the classroom.

To this end even when I began to engage with research coming out of Te Kotahitanga and Ka Hikitia I could continue to pat myself on the back. I mean, I had high expectations, I have always valued what I soon started referring to as Ako, where the educator and the student learn from each other in an interactive way and I have always recognised that identity, language and culture counts and that students do better in education when what and how they learn builds on what is familiar to them, and reflects and positively reinforces where they come from, what they value and what they already. know. So whilst my practice in many ways has shown respect for heritages, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi, simply because my pedagogical approach has always been guided by the desire to be inclusive, I haven't actually done it purposely or explicitly, or at least not explicitly enough.

I feel like I have, in many ways, (as many probably do) settled for implicit being good enough.

Being at Hobsonville Point Secondary School and participating in the National Aspiring Principals Programme has also made me reflect on this topic more closely. Maurie Abraham (my Principal) is actually my first Principal in 17 years who has actually demonstrated what explicit respect for the heritages, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi could look like. He is a pakeha leader who has made it his business (and priority) to know the language and to understand Maori heritage and culture. On arriving at HPSS one of the first things he did was connect with local iwi and Maori leaders, he was quick to explore and share the Maori history of the area and to ensure we reflected that in how we now identify areas of school such as Waiarohia and Tiriwa and whenever he speaks he always opens his presentations with a mihimihi. This was reinforced also by experience so far of NAPP. At the recent NAPP Secondary day, nearly every leader began with a pepeha. This has not been what I have experienced at any educational meet up in the past.

It is through watching him, through NAPP and reflecting on my past experiences that I have decided that implicit is simply not good enough, that to genuinely demonstrate respect for the heritages, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi it needs to be explicit.

So how am I going to go about this?

Well this is where I need some help.

As a leader I am beginning by exploring Tū Rangatira: Māori Medium Educational Leadership (2010) which presents a model of leadership that reflects some of the key leadership roles and practices that contribute to high-quality educational outcomes for Māori learners. It focuses on leadership practices, providing insights into how effective professional development programmes can work towards strengthening leaders’ capabilities, growing capacity and sustaining exemplary leadership in the Māori medium education sector.

Another thing I am trying to do is get over my deep-seated fear of looking like a pakeha n00b and getting on with trying to learn the language. I am determined if I am ever to become a Principal or MP in this country, I need to do better.  And I better be able to deliver my pepeha. Here's my first attempt, not flash, but am encouraging others that might secretly have the same fear - the only way we are going to improve is through practice!

Beyond this, I need suggestions please. I am keen to learn the language and am very keen to look at different ways I can demonstrate respect more explicitly. I am enjoying following Te Mihinga Komene on Twitter and hoping to soak up just a portion of her wisdom. I am also lucky to have woman such as Ros MacEachern, Sally Hart and Whaea Leoni on staff from whom I can learn in a number of ways. 

What can you suggest? What are you and your team doing? Always keen to learn more. 

Nga mihi nui 



  1. Great post, thank you. Your words mirror my thinking and have pushed me to take the same first steps.

    1. That is so awesome to hear Sheena. Keen to share ideas and hear how you go. Please keep me in the loop ;)

      Cheers Claire

  2. Kia ora Claire, continuing my learning this year and have enrolled in Te Ara Reo Maori. One of my drivers for this is the time I spend each week supporting kaiako and tamariki of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori who are part of our Manaiakalani Digital Immersion programme. The kura have opened themselves to the digital learning environment and immersing themselves in its language and should expect no less from me.
    The course design, Ako Whakatere, includes three basic assumptions -
    “All Learners can be successful”
    “Learning is always easier when the learner is calm and stress free”
    “Learning Te Reo Māori is easy”
    I'm enjoying the style of learning, quite different from the academic papers I have completed recently. A bonus is that the classes are also in the evening at our kura and I am receiving lots of encouragement, especially from tamariki ;-)

    Noho ora mai

    1. That sounds like perfect post-Masters study! Love it. Thanks Fiona. Keen to hear how it progresses.

      Cheers Claire

  3. Nga mihi maioha Claire, I enrolled in the night classes of Te Ara Reo Maori in Gisborne and found it so worthwhile that I have continued through to Te Pinakitanga diploma, four years later. The course has been invaluable for my own teaching not just in my understanding of the language and traditions but through absorption of the pedagogies that I experienced as a student of the programme into my own classroom. Highly recommend it for all NZ teachers! Best of luck to you too Fiona, hope you enjoy it as much as I did. @AcatalepticAmy

  4. Thanks Claire for this timely reminder. Myself and another teacher are taking part in an online course: This is a little outside my comfort zone - but I want to become more connected with my learners and this is one way I can do that.

  5. Tau kē koe! You're awesome! Happy to help any way I can with your reo journey. I try to share resources, words & phrases that are topical or trending on Twitter where possible. Ngā mihi nui ki a koe mō te rangitaki (blog) nei :)


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