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Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Responsiveness in my Practice

Week 28 - Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Responsiveness

Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

My understanding about indigenous knowledge and being cultural responsive in my practice is embracing what our ākonga (students) brings (prior knowledge, relationships, experience, and cultural identity) and building on what they know and how they learn best. I firmly believe that by building genuine relationships with our tamaiti (child) and their whanau by acknowledging and understanding who they are (identity) and where they come from (their whakapapa - genealogy) is the greatest thing of all. 

“Cultural identity is crucial to children‘s growth and success” (Milne, 2013).

My school firmly values our school moto signified through our WAKA which stands for Whanau (Our connectedness with our families/whanau), Atua (Continuing influence from God,), Kura (We learn together), and Aroha (Love).   

Russell Bishop a Professor for Māori education, talks about the issues on Māori achievement or the educational disparities in New Zealand which is also common with other indigenous people around the world (Bishop, 2012).  Bishop highlights that it is the ‘agentic teachers’ who make an impact towards Māori student’s achieving.

Te Kotahitanga research and professional development project (led by the Māori Education Research Institute at the School of Education, University of Waikato), aims to improve the educational achievement of Māori students in mainstream education, (Gutschlag, 2007). 

A key outcome of participation in Te Kotahitanga is teacher participation towards change in Māori students’ educational achievement. Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh and Teddy (2009) emphasise the importance of student-teacher relationships in culturally responsive teaching. It is suggested that the learners’ culture needs to be considered and integrated into their learning activities.

In addition, evidence is pointing more to the relationships between teachers and Māori students as the major issue – it is a matter of cultural relationships not socio-economic resources (Hattie, 2003).

‘Teachers are not only agents of change they are, to all intents and purposes, the sole agents of change’       (Gutschlag, 2007).

My Practice

As a Year 0/1 Māori teacher I understand the values, beliefs, prior experiences, knowledge, the importance of whanau and whakapapa (connection to their maunga (mountain), awa (river), waka (canoe), iwi (tribe) and hapū  (sub-tribe) each of my Māori students bring with them as they look at me all starry eyed on their very first day of school.  I believe building genuine relationships with our ākonga and their whanau is the key to success to enable our tamariki to thrive.  One of our successful methods of communicating with all our students and their family/whanau is using student voice i.e. learning maps as a means to understand how our students learn best and what their next learning steps will be.  We also involve the family/whanau and their aspirations for their tamaiti within the learning environment.  This can be seen through waiata (song), karakia (prayer), pepeha (genealogy) or simply beginning our day with a mihi (greeting). 

As I plan activities and lessons to support the many diverse cultural backgrounds and languages in my classroom, I often feel some of my work colleagues a little whakamā – shamed or embarrassed when incorporating Te Reo Māori me ona Tikanga in their daily routines and rituals due to wrong pronunciation, lack of confidence, bad experience, or the norm of a Māori teacher leading and modelling.  I see it as an awesome opportunity to share my cultural heritage, knowledge, pedagogy and experience with my work colleagues as a new learning journey.

“He kākano āhau
I ruia mai i Rangiātea"

I am a seed
Scattered from Rangiatea 



Bishop. R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T. & Teddy, L. (2009).Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5), 734–742.

Gutschlag, A. (2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioning. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from http://www.teacherswork.ac.nz/journal/volume4_issue1/gutschlag.pdf

Hattie, J. (2003). “New Zealand Education Snapshot: With Specific Reference to the Years 1–13 Years.” Presentation to Knowledge Wave 2003. The Leadership Forum.

Milne, B.A. (2013). Colouring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools. (Doctoral Thesis, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand). Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/7868

Source: Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. [video file].Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/49992994 



  • stephanich

    Kia ora Ana

    I am in the process of writing my 'indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness' blog and am wondering how your journey has continued over the last two years.

    One of the next steps I've identified in my practice is to find ways to engage more whānau in their children's learning, and to know what and how we can meet the aspirations they have for their tamariki.  

    We have whānau who are highly engaged in all aspects of their child's schooling and more, and others who verbally commit to coming to school and then don't, and others we hardly ever have contact with.  I know that there will be many different circumstances that cause my perceived barrier e.g. competing priorities, not wanting to bring their children, no-one to look after their children, work, fear, cynicism etc. 

    I know that we need to keep building our relationships. We could perhaps ask for their views 1:1 instead of just an inviting them to a hui.  We could offer to do home visits for our three-way conferences.

    I would love to know more about the 'learning maps' you use, and would be interested in your thoughts generally.

    Ngā mihi maioha, Stephanie Anich