Saturday, March 4, 2017

Challenge of Biculturalism Lies With Pakeha


Disclaimer (if  that's the right term): I am a Pakeha and an atheist)

I've enjoyed revisiting this book several decades after I first read it. It was published  in 1992 and I bought it hot off the press. I had experienced my first 7 years as a teacher at Ngaruawahia High School in the heart of the Tainui Iwi and the Kingitanga movement.

While there I made my first foray into the Maori world. This included my first formal learning of Te Reo, experiencing powhiri, delivering whaikorero, participating in poukai and developing ways to support Maori aspirations in relation to education without charging in with the answers. I felt privileged to be made to feel at home at Turangawaewae and enjoyed many conversations with the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu. I had  a close relationship with her Private Secretary, Ngahia Gregory, who was on the teaching staff at Ngaruawahia High School. With her guidance and mentoring I was able to support the establishment of a "Bilingual Class" and was Chairman of the NHS Marae Committee that built the school Wharenui,Te Huingaongawai.


While these two (Bilingual Class and Wharenui) were physcically  visible outcomes the greatest outcome was the way in which, to make sure these projects came to fruition, Maori parents were supported to grow in confidence and move into key positions on the PTA and new-fangled BOTs.

None of these outcomes were my ideas. By listening to Maori students and their whanau their aspirations were clear, as were ideas on how to achieve them. I soon realised that where the support was needed was in navigating the Pakeha world and its institutions and ways of  operating. This is where I could help.

We had a great time - shooting geese on a farm and selling them at the Delta Hotel off the back of a trailer (fundraising), harvesting truckloads of ponga logs for the marae fence, and working alongside Rongo Wetere and his staff and students from Waipa Kokiri (soon to become Te Wananga o Aotearoa) to design and create our carvings for our whare and the wonderful murals for inside.

All through those 7 years this Pakeha atheist was finding ways to operate in a world rich with tikanga. At no stage was I asked or required to relinquish any important aspects of my Pakeha world. I truly hope I operated in a way that did not ask or require the same of the Maori I was working with.

The true winner out of these experiences was me. I began my journey of learning the reo and I came  to understand the concepts of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, aroha, wairua, and mana motuhake.

I think I was beginning to develop an understanding of bi-culturalism: we all brought something to the table (our values, our principles, our world view, our practices ie our tikanga) and no one had to compromise on these important elements of  their tikanga.

When I  read James Ritchie's introduction in 1992 it resonated with me:

"There are two predominant cultures here, not one. Pakeha culture is dominant by power, history and majority. Maori culture is dominant by a longer history, by legacy and by its strength of survival and the passionate commitment of its people."  (p 6)

Without this understanding many view Pakeha culture as dominant and take this view to the concept of biculturalism. Such a position can lead to people exhibiting practices of ''biculturalism" in which the dominant culture requires the less dominant culture to have some important aspects of its tikanga pushed aside.

A case in point is the important tikanga element of wairua and its associated practices such as karakia. When I have participated in aspects of wairua within the Maori world such as karakia or himene, being an atheist, I have wondered how I can reconcile this. (Well, to tell the truth, I have rarely wondered about this and have felt little discomfort).

Reading James Ritche (a Pakeha atheist as well who's work was situated increasingly within the Maori world) has helped when I have felt I may have needed to reconcile (or more commonly justify the validity of wairua to Pakeha - even those who aspire to biculturalism):

"Spiritual concerns apply to all things. They are never obliterated and must be given full status and recognition. Pakeha are not expected to share such beliefs but are expected to respect them. Matters of the wairua are deeply and personally cultural; do not intrude upon them." (p 53)

In most cases in situations where there is a strong presence of wairua and spirituality such as karakia I simply close my eyes and think of things and people important to me. I do the same when at a Pakeha funeral and there are Christian prayers for the departed and their famiiliies. Sometimes I will not sing himene, but I must admit  I did belt out a strong Whakaria Mai at a recent funeral for a friend. No reconciling was necessary. I am proud of the fact that none of my responses show disrespect or require Maori to abandon what is important to them.

Too often in our institutions if Pakeha feel uncomfortable with aspects of wairua being incorporated in the institution's practices then such endeavours are abandoned. Once again the dominant culture requires the other to compromise and again the members of the less dominat culture continue to experience the levels of discomfort as a result to which Pakeha will not subject themselves.

In my view, it is too easy to play the "schools are secular" card to avoid Pakeha discomfort (while exacerbating discomfort of Maori). This is where the rubber hits the road and determines our true commitment to biculturalism. If we allow the "schools are secular" position to win the day we should, morally, remove our aspiration for biculturalism and reject the presence of Hauora (including) wairua from our Health and Dispositional Curricula.

I recently discussed these issues with a colleague who works within a major tertiary institution. He shared with me a reply he used to a Pakeha colleague who was opposed to karakia being used to start hui:

For me, inviting a Maori colleague to open a meeting is about giving more prominence and visibility to tikanga.  If for that person karakia is an important element of that opening then I am fine about that.

Most non-religious Pakeha would still attend religious-based funerals, with prayers and hymns, and find ways to respectfully be present. I assume they do this for the same reason I do: respect for others and their beliefs.

There is no doubt that much of what is seen as Maori spirituality has, since the mid 1800s, taken on a Christian belief system, but spirituality within the Maori world existed long before then. James Ritchie gives an interesting perspective:

"But to inflict my non-religious attitudes on Maori commits the same error as the early Christian missionaries did when they denied the validity of Maori belief." (p 54)

In schools, as Pakeha (who occupy most leadership and decision-making positions) we cannot dismiss these aspects of bi-culturalism because of levels of discomfort. For decades our Maori colleagues have had to endure high  levels of discomfort because the dominant culture has not acknowledged the important wairua aspects of their culture.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"The signature characteristic of 21st century schools is students at work"

Because staffing numbers and learning space (classroom) meterage are linked to student numbers the impact on pedagogy is strong.

These formulas mean there is only one thing you can do in a traditionally designed classroom and that is put one teacher with 30 kids. And when you put the traditional furniture in there, there's not a lot of room to swing the cat.  You certainly can't put 50 students and 2 teachers in those spaces, so the formula is saying that peer teaching cannot occur (so therefore is not valued.) As well, you can't put 1 teacher with 6 kids in those spaces because that will create overcrowding somewhere else, so the formula is saying that small group teaching cannot occur (so therefore is not valued.) And even when you go with the only possible combination of 1 teacher and 30 students you can do little beyond the teacher at the front, with some moving around with difficulty amongst the bags and 30 desks and chairs, while students remain at their allotted desk and chair.

Do we honestly think that even though this model might have been appropriate once that that is how learning has to occur? When even us baby boomers know that the world and the working environment is so different to what we experienced, that employability requires a completely different set of skills and dispositions (team work, problem-solving, critical thinking, multi-disciplinary, multi modal, communication, collaboration and creativity) and that our society needs people to develop a strong sense of contribution service and equity - even still we wish to limit pedagogy and learning to the one-size-fits-all model required by the traditional classroom.

If I had enough hair left to tear out I'd be even balder after reading articles like Bernadine Oliver-Kerby's ! Her title Children: Casualties of Flawed Teaching Theory suggests some sort of evidence based conclusions outlining the "Teaching Theory", identifying the flaws with evidence and pointing out the definition of "casualties". What we got was a piece of drivel based on, I suspect, casual observations at a surface level. The dismissive observations made at some point in time re handwriting are used to pan innovative teaching in innovative learning environments and given some national platform.

Thank you Bruce Hammonds for pointing me to Bob Pearlman's chapter from his book whch allows me to park the 'Casualties' article and its thinking in the trash.

I loved this from the chapter: "The signature characteristic of 21st century schools is students at work." Note, he does not mean students doing work (writing notes, reading quietly, answering questions from a textbook), but students at work. In my view, students  at work (meaningful work) has them exploring, making sense, generating ideas, testing assumptions, refining thinking, problem-solving, collaborating, seeking expertise, constructing, communicating, presenting, discussing, critiquing and evaluating.

To be at this type of work they need learning environments that allow for large group, small group, individual, teacher directed, student centred, multiple learning style opportunities. They also need 24/7 access to learning materials and supports (information, criteria, assessment rubrics, calendars, discussion boards and evaluation tools.)

Is Bernadine Oliver-Kerby really saying that these types of learning opportunities in these types of learning environments are not appropriate and relevant for our young people today and that the model and design that was appropriate in the 1950s is still so today? Why would we expect schools to operate on the same model in largely the same environment from then when we wouldn't tolerate it from our hospitals, transport systems, music industry, entertainment, legal, finance etc etc institutions?

I'm with Bob Pearlman. Let's have schools where students are at (meaningful) work. This may be, I suspect, a big part of the answer to the problems of student disengagement, under-achievement and anxiety.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NCEA - Deep Challenge and Inquiry

One of the Principles that has formed the foundations of our curriculum decision-making is to Inspire through Deep Challenge and Inquiry. When it came to making our decisions in relation to NCEA we were close to deciding to approach it in much the same way as all schools until we focused on this Principle.

Our approach which we settled on in early 2015 is described in an earlier post  by me and one by Claire. I included the following in that previous post:

I then explained why NCEA Level 1 was a qualification of little value; it leads to no employment or further training. Despite this all schools expose their 14 and 15 year olds to a full year of six subjects offering anywhere between 18 and 24 credits (both internal and external) meaning to get the 80 required (for a meaningless qualification) students were being exposed to 120-140 credits. It's like being hit by a tidal wave! All of a sudden their focus moves away from the joy of discovery and learning to credit chasing and teachers take their eye off the NZC and 'teach to the tests' - all for a qualification that has little value! Stress levels rise for everyone - students, teachers and parents.

Our plan is that our Year 11 students will achieve around 20 quality Level 1 or 2 credits that emerge from their co-constructed learning programmes. Most of these will be from their areas of interest and passion though if we identify that a learner will struggle to receive literacy and numeracy credits at Level 6 or 7 then we will direct them to the literacy and numeracy Unit Standards.

Our learners will take their 20 quality credits with them to Year 12. Their focus in Year 12 will be on 60 quality Level 2 or higher credits. When these are matched with the 20 they have brought with them they are awarded NCEA L1 and 2. They will have done this after having attempted around 100 credits over their 2 years rather than the 220-280 they may have had to attempt elsewhere.


So, as we approach our 4th year and have students moving into Year 12 (Q2 in our lingo), how did 2016 pan out for our Year 11 (Q1) learners?

We started 2016 by setting a target of every Q1 learner achieving 20 quality credits to lay the foundation for their 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2. Programmes were set up in such a way that all learners would have the opportunity to attempt 20 - 40 credits.

This is what happened:

  • 97% achieved at least 20 credits (the 4 who did not are high priority learners). This shows we came close to the quantity part of our target. What about the quality?
  • 57% of all internal standards were awarded Merit or Excellence
  • 62% of all external standards were awarded Merit or Excellence

How well have the foundations been laid for a quality NCEA L2?
On average, our Q2 learners arrive this year with 12 Level 2 credits, meaning they need 48 at Level 2 or higher to gain their Level 2.

Our programmes will allow our Q2 learners to access 60 - 80 credits at Level 2 or higher and I am confident that we will achieve the quantity part of our target for them. I am also confident we will continue to nail the quality element. Our Q1 learners have flourished in an environment that concentrates on deep learning while avoiding the downside of assessment anxiety as they chase 80+ credits for a largely meaningless Level 1 qualification.

At HPSS we are all determined to maintain an environment focussing on deep learning and not on assessment even as our learners move through Q2 and into Q3 in 2018.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Die in the Ditch - Non-negotiable Principles for Learning Design

Not everyone believes that schooling needs to be transformed but those of us at HPSS believe that it does. We simply do not believe that schools as an institutional phenomenon will escape the same demand and pressure for change as most other institutions.
An important and very rewarding part of our development journey has been sharing our thinking with the hundreds of visitors that we have hosted. This has reminded me of the passion and openness that so many teachers have to make schooling as engaging and relevant as possible for learners. Almost all have agreed that students are struggling to engage and find learning stressful. They also recognise that teaching has become a hard slog with reduced rewards. Many also acknowledge that schools are becoming more like centres of assessment rather than centres of learning.

All of the visiting schools want answers to the question of what can be done at their school and, in some cases, believe that after a visit they will discover a model they can transplant into their own environment. Of course, they soon realise this is unlikely.

When we have worked closely with schools that are in the process of opening as new schools it has been more possible for them to adopt and adapt some of the structures that we have developed while taking the thinking further as a result of their vision, values and principles. For existing schools, however, this is much less of a possibility (and not desirable anyway).

So, what is it that we can share which can be of value to any school in the world no matter their context? The following are three elements that I believe can be put in place in some way in any school and will help move the school in a future-focused direction. I think you can call them principles and they can be evidenced in so many different ways. They are my current non-negotiables; the principles I would die in the ditch for.

Linked Learning
I am convinced that the solution to the complaints teachers hear as to "why are we learning this", "when will I ever use this" lies in linking learning ie not treating subjects as silos. Every day I witness students seeing the relevance of what they are learning simply because the learning they are engaged with requires them to draw on more than one 'subject'.

But the power of linking learning lies in the increased depth of learning that results, both for students and teachers. Examples exist in every connected module our students enrol in, but a standout was seeing students' understanding of an aspect of biology being extended to unanticipated levels as a result of it being wrapped together with an aspect of geography (and being taught by 2 subject specialists).

Any school can take steps to apply this principle simply by reconceptualising the use of time and allocate it to groups of subject specialists who teach the same class and collaboratively plan how they will teach to a common big idea (while developing their subject's concepts,skills and knowledge) over a period of time. This requires no change to timetables and class structures.

Co-construction of learning contexts
There is no doubt that each subject has important concepts, skills and content knowledge and these are non-negotiable. I think, however, that we as teachers have taken ownership of the contexts in which the learning of these has to take place and then held very tightly to them. The sad fact is that often the contexts we create, despite our best intentions, are not seen as engaging, relevant or authentic by our learners. For years I taught a topic focusing on migration by getting students to look at why Victorian Englanders migrated to NZ in the 19th century - all 30 students in the classwould move through this 6 week unit, If I had co-constructed with my learners after justifying the importance of studying the movement of people across and throughout the world I could have had some students inquiring into this important social science concept by exploring the movement of refugees from Syria, others inquiring into their heritage by looking at Pacific Island migration to Auckland and others etc, etc. We would have then culminated in presenting the common and the particular reasons, impacts etc.

I encourage all teachers to invite students into the decision-making re the contexts for the learning. Use your knowledge of your subjects' learning objectives to set the learning and assessment framework and guide the students through a deep learning inquiry. It is not only the learning that will be more engaging, the act of teaching will also be so.

Collaboration
Collaboration is the fuel that drives our engine. Collaboration enables practices that allow learning to be linked and enables students to be involved in co-constructing learning contexts. It brings collegiality to our everyday experience and overtly develops the important 21st century skills of teamwork and inter-personal skills in all learners.


These three principles can and will look very differently wherever they are applied. Each of the three can be applied in any school. The sun will still come up and still go down. Teachers and students will be more engaged.

Have a rewarding and engaging 2017!