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Whakawhanaungatanga - Getting to know our learners

It’s the start of the year, which usually means a whole new class of students to teach. Who are they exactly? Where do they come from each morning? What spins their wheels and makes them individual? What preferences do they have for learning? Who is their family/whānau/fanau and what do we know about their whakapapa? 

Teachers do well to observe students’

  • needs and interests
  • challenges obstacles and distractions
  • peers and relationships
  • parents


Teachers make powerful connections between home and school, with opportunities for children to; draw/paint family portraits, write about themselves and others, or bring along items/stories/photos from home to share. All the while, new data is being gathered to provide an overview of learner skills, knowledge and needs.

It may take a little longer to get to each child/young person's

  • experiences and realities
  • goals and aspirations
  • learning preferences (larger font, group work, standing desks)
  • history and culture

Professor Professor Brian Edmiston talks about the power of polyphonic (between many) learning conversations as well as, ‘connecting to storytelling as a genuine tool for understanding.’ Through quality conversations, teachers can and do discover what influences, motivates and inspires students from all different perspectives and world views.

One way to find out more about our learners, is to invite tamariki to create and share their mihi or pepeha (Māori, Pacific or other).


What do you do in your classroom to get to know your learners and future leaders? Can technology help?

Maybe we could compile a shared resource, on ways we get to know our learners? We’d love for you to share one tip/trick/image/video clip.



Want to know more?



Image modified using Creative Commons.


  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 21 Jan 2019 5:17pm ()

    Here's a cool template (I saw shared in Facebook) that takes getting to know our kids at the beginning of the year - a little deeper and helps plan for their pepeha.

    Also loving the invitation from parents/whānau to share their views on their child's strengths and needs. After all, 'we can't teach whom we don't know". All of this valuable information can help to group children and tailor learning pathways for their individual needs. smiley

  • Gretchen Cocks (View all users posts) 18 Sep 2018 3:25pm ()

    Thanks Tessa.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 18 Sep 2018 1:40pm ()

    Oh that's so annoying Gretchen, the Youtube clip has been removed by the hosts and there is no other version of that. It was basically bestowing the virtual of getting to know your students - beyond all the data collection and analysis. Webinar recording on, Whakawhanaungatanga - Getting to know our learners still works though. It might prompt you for your name and to open in Adobe Connect.

    Any gems you have to share are most welcome as well.

    Smiles, Tess smiley

  • Gretchen Cocks (View all users posts) 17 Sep 2018 11:32am ()

    Hi Tessa

    I cannot access this video. Can you please send it to me? Thanks,


    On the 3rd March, we’ll be hosting a FREE webinar on, “Whakawhanaungatanga - Getting to know our learners.” This is something near and dear to all of our hearts as teachers. Take a look at this movie, Learning How to Know Your Students - Discovering Differences to Teach Them - 1950's (originally posted here).

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 08 Feb 2018 1:20pm ()

    Family I've been working with some schools lately who are totally dedicating their time (at the beginning of the year) to getting to know their learners more. Some have started with meet-the-teacher interviews, community get-togethers while others totally focused on taking the time to get to know their learners without formally setting any contexts for learning early on.

    The profile learner profile material helps, asking parents and students about their learning is definitely a valuable way for teachers to get to know their learners in 2018, so now what?

    How do you take individual feedback about learning preferences, styles, strengths, wants needs and use this information to teach to those needs? ie: Make changes to teaching and learning interactions based on this  information. And...how can this be manageable in a large class? 

    What are your plans to get to know your learners over the next few weeks? What techniques/templates do you use and how do you apply what you've discovered? We'd love to hear more...

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 23 Jan 2018 11:56am ()

    Kia ora Regan, such a great topic to start the year - the human/relational aspect of learning, where whānau  and their input and engagement matter to our learners. I threw out a line in FB and responses back for you include:

    Beverley Ward A bbq tea, a hour to go into classrooms and chat to teachers and finish with a swim. In
    the first week of school. Great response usually for our d2 school

    Pam Furze Meet the teachers night we start with a swim then a BBQ the principal then talks to the whole

    group after that they go to each teachers room we phone our own class parents first we are a D9


    Lisa Grant I write to my kids and parents every holidays to let them know a bit about me and also how
    excited I am to have them in our school and class whānau for the year. I put in a few upcoming events and encourage them to come in and tautoko their tamariki whenever they can... starts building a solid relationship from the beginning. D1

    I've also simplified a resource that collates some great resources to help get some more info on our learners - their strengths, interests, passions, how they learn best...

    Would appreciate any feedback, or more resource ideas to add to this as well.

    Getting to know our learners

    Please note: This is an image that links to the live Piktochart infographic

  • Regan Williams (View all users posts) 11 Jan 2018 9:08am ()

    Kia ora koutou

    I'm interested to know how teachers and management at the start of the year get whanau and extended whanau into the school. Is it by newsletter? Is it by text message? Is it by phone call? or what other ways do you get the whanau into school. 

    What activities do you hold when the whanau come into your school? kai? games? sport? 

    I have found that kai gets the whanau in to our school and by doing this it has helped me to get to know all whanau and their backgrounds. It is just a start and then I invite whanau to a class bbq where deeper discussion is had with whanau of tamariki in my class.

    Look forward to your replies. 

    Nga mihi nui 

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 06 Nov 2017 3:35pm ()

    What’s in a name? A lot. The history, the power and the gifting of a name can be so much more than we first perceive. The messages from Brittany Paknett, have some real power and punch when thinking about our own students - especially those with names we might not understand or have trouble pronouncing. The words we choose can either be empowering or affirm a deficit model for some of our learners.

    Keynote speaker - Brittany Packnett

    If you’re wanting to find incremental steps to help your Māori students experience and experience success as Māori, there’s some gems worth considering in this short video from Alex Hotere-Barnes.

    Is there any part of these short clips that speak to you in some way?

  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 06 Mar 2015 3:10pm ()

    On 3 March, we held a webinar with Phoebe Fabricius on Whakawhanaungatanga - Getting to know our learners.

    Watch the webinar recording here >>>

    View the slideshow here:

    Enabling e-Learning online facilitator, Tessa Gray, got things started by highlighting some of the things we want to know about our learners.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 4.59.45 PM.png

    Tessa linked this with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and the new Inclusive Education site, highlighting the range of incredible resources available here.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 4.54.48 PM.png

    A range of other resources to support our priority learners and how we can get to know them were also shared:

    Phoebe shared about her experiences with students in Auckland and her personal approach to getting to know her learners.

    She found the following documents important:

    She also looked at the NZ Curriculum and needed to work out how to get her students to be high performing TRUMPers (thinking; relating to others; understanding language, symbols and text; managing self; participating and contributing).

    Within the physical space Phoebe wanted the students to treat the classroom as their home.


    • walls of the classroom were covered in pasifika materials

    • the way we treat each other

    • started to disband group work - wanted them to work as one

    • activities had to be differentiated

    • giving the chn experiences and options to learn by themselves and/or together

    • pecking order (what about the schools graduate profile? whānau aspirations?)

    She also had high expectations and many expectations for her students. Every term she took her class on an excursion and gave them real life experiences.

    Phoebe shared several stories about her experiences with students. Watch the recording to hear them.

    Watch the webinar recording here >>>


  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 24 Feb 2015 3:15pm ()

    On the 3rd March, we’ll be hosting a FREE webinar on, “Whakawhanaungatanga - Getting to know our learners.” This is something near and dear to all of our hearts as teachers. Take a look at this movie, Learning How to Know Your Students - Discovering Differences to Teach Them - 1950's (originally posted here).

    This old clip from the 1950’s demonstrates the power of learning conversations between the learner/teacher/s and whānau beautifully. So what’s changed here? Teaching in a New Zealand context means our students come from a rich diversity of cultural, social and economic backgrounds. Each year is different, so how do we get to know our learners and their families/whānau - to best meet their learning needs and how can digital technologies help? 

    Ko wai mātou - Who are we?


    Photo cloud There’s a few good icebreaker activities that are designed to let you and your class find out about each other. For example, there's a circle activity that encourages learners to share a little bit about what they know, love and do. Each time the person speaks they hold a ball of wool or string and then passes it on to the next speaker in the circle. Similarly, learner profiles (posters, photos, word cloud generators) can be displayed in the classroom and strips of paper used to show connections between students. These activities illustrate webs, networks, relationships, whanaungatanga and highlight a sense of individuality and community.

    A group of three students can create a venn diagram together using circles or hoops. Hobbies, interests, skills/strengths, learning preferences can be written on stickies and added to a circle, any similarities can be resorted and collected in the interlocking parts of the venn diagram. Commonalities of all three, can finally be added to the centre of the venn diagram. Photographs of this activity can be used as evidence to gather data on learners or collaborative tools (Google docs, Padlet) can be used to capture this information digitally.

    What do we want to know about our learners?


    We might like to find out:

    • the importance of a name
    • family and whānau influences, beliefs, values
    • geographic, historical location
    • culture, language, identity
    • experiences, interests
    • strengths, needs
    • learning preferences as well as barriers to learning
    • goals and aspirations

    This information can be gathered in rich conversations between learners and/or learners and teachers. Questionnaires can be used to collect data from students or whānau, possibly as Google Form.

    Learner profiles can be crafted into posters or become part of blog posts or e-portfolios. Other adventurous ways of capturing important information includes archiving interviews as voice recordings or videos.

    Tēnei au |This is me

    Screenshot taken from http://technology.tki.org.nz/Resources/Teaching-snapshots/Middle-Years-7-10/Tenei-au-This-is-me

    Tēnei au: This is me


    Giving students an opportunity to share their mihi is a valuable experience that highlights the value of culture, language and identity. Catriona Pene shares the purpose and value of digital mihi in this blog post, Digital Mihi - creating a connection. There’s a variety of technologies (animation, movie) that can be used to capture a digital mihi, for example, see How to create, write, edit and present a digital mihi using Tellagami. Digital mihi can be shared within and beyond the classroom (Sharing a mihi video from Enabling e-Learning).

    Having a clear strategy in your school for supporting Māori and Pasifika learners is also valuable. Frameworks like the Māori achieving success as Māori matrix can help teachers, school and community identify specific competencies in Tātaiako - Cultural competencies for teachers of Māori learners to help raise achievement for Māori. Similarly, strategies to get to know your Pasifika learners is equally important in a culturally responsive, inclusive classroom.

    So what, now what?


    One key take-a-way….after finding out about our learners, is... how do use the information, to help hook them in, meet their diverse needs and reach their maximum potential for learning?

    If you’re familiar with the Universal Design for Learning, you’ll be aware of the three primary brain networks and the principles that guide designing learning for individual differences. One online resource provides an interactive resource that helps to analyse the strengths, needs and interest of individuals (Learner profile) and then creates a bigger picture of the class profile as a whole. Find out more here >>>While educators can drive this process, some kura develop their curriculum by implementing the aspirations and desires of the parents. The vision and values then become cornerstones of the 'graduate profile'. 

    Want to investigate ways to use individual information about your students to impact on their learning? Then look no further than the Ministry of Education's new website, Inclusive Education. It's a fantastic place to start.

    “This site provides New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions and resources to support learners with diverse needs."

    I have especially enjoyed navigating my way through the drop-down menu items that flow easily and logically from each other. I also enjoyed watching this movie from Linda Ojala where she describes how she uses the information she has learned about her learners - to create an inclusive culture for learning.

    Inclusive culture of learning


    Individualised learning, strengths based approach, honoring language, culture and identity, using technologies….Want to know more? Join us on Tuesday, 3rd March, when Phoebe Fabricius talks more about her experiences of teaching priority learners (Pasifika, special learning needs) in Auckland and we touch on strategies and resources that help to create an inclusive learning classroom.

    Images sources: Wikipedia and H Mortimore, C Curragh

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