Engaging Maori Learners

On Wednesday I drove to Waitangi to participate in the “Engaging Maori Learners” conference of about 400 principals and teachers.

I was especially pleased to hear the korero from Dr Chris Sarra from Bundaberg, Queensland who is one of about 20 aboriginal school principals in Australia and who has led some exciting changes in schools.

Dr Chris talked about his educational journey as a child of whom little was expected but he went beyond the rhetoric about having high expectations for all children and called on teachers to develop high expectations relationships with students. The key word is relationship and he says other punitive or assimilative models are just expensive failures.
His goal is to support young aboriginal students to become the “blackfella’s blackfella” – culturally strong and well educated, not to be the “whitefella’s definition of a blackfella”.

Along with tangata whenua speakers, he called on teachers to have relationships with families where they struggle to engage students and to work from a strengths-based approach. He says all children have the human right to education as an emancipatory opportunity and he reminded teachers that “we are paid to be in a relationship with these children”.

Chris is not a fan of colluding with negative stereotypes or being a victim, and he also believes that the “booting the victim” approach, as is favoured by Paula Bennett,  will continue to produce costly failures.

He favours high expectations in eduaction based on his “stronger, smarter” approach. His words reminded me of Donna Awatere years ago, challenging the Pakeha system to give and expect the best when teaching Maori children.

Chris also asked us to remember our best and worst teachers and why. He reminded us how personal the impact of a teacher can be and how deep.

Yesterday I spoke on the political panel and listened to teachers discussing innovation strategies.

All of this will help with the development of our Green education policy and make sure we are in touch with the front line of the debate.

5 thoughts on “Engaging Maori Learners

  1. Leave Maori kids alone. They don’t want to be white, and don’t want to be challenged by our “eduaction” (sic) system. All they require is sufficient of their ancestral lands/seas to harvest food from, as they used to.

    I love your comment “His words reminded me of Donna Awatere years ago, challenging the Pakeha system to give and expect the best when teaching Maori children.” – I have a feeling Donna was convicted for ripping off the assets of Maori children wasn’t she? Or am I confusing things?

  2. I don’t know who greengeek is or what his/her credentials are for speaking for all Maori, but if he/she read the article properly, it is precisely about what Maori themselves say they want. Education in one’s culture is a right – and understanding how to harvest and preserve food is part of it, but not all of it.

  3. “I don’t know who greengeek is or what his/her credentials are for speaking for all Maori…”
    – I don’t speak for all Maori – this is my opinion based on years of watching Maori youth turn their backs on high school and tertiary education on the basis that it is largely “irrelevant” to them.

    “but if he/she read the article properly”
    – I did read it properly, and I disagree with it.

    “it is precisely about what Maori themselves say they want”
    – It didn’t seem that way to me – it refers to the opinion of “Dr Chris Sarra from Bundaberg, Queensland who is one of about 20 aboriginal school principals in Australia and who has led some exciting changes in schools”.
    – He also apparently “called on teachers to develop high expectations relationships with students”. Why keep bullying students??
    – Why not accept that some people are happy being ordinary. Education is littered with the sad remains of students who are pressured to over-achieve rather than embracing simple lifestyles and non-capitalist cultures.
    He goes on to say “all children have the human right to education as an emancipatory opportunity and he reminded teachers that “we are paid to be in a relationship with these children”. How insulting to bring a message from the dusty outback into modern New Zealand where we have no such problem. Where are these children that do not have access to an education?? If anyone is keeping them away from school it is their parents, not a lack of engaged teaching staff!

    “Education in one’s culture is a right”
    – And nobody stops Maori students from getting such an education. My complaint is that it is long past time that white “uncle Toms” stopped trying to ram a particular type of education down brown throats.

    “understanding how to harvest and preserve food is part of it, but not all of it”
    – Maori culture (and Pacifica culture) is largely based on hunter/gatherer and whanau principles. Most young Maori and Pacific Islanders are more focussed on having children and getting together than reaching out for a European style education. They should not be condemned for that. It is a culture that has suited them well for a long time and they should be offered a choice of living in accordance with their own culture, or in accordance with any other culture they want. We all get a choice!

    There seems to be a prevailing attitude that Maori educational outcomes must reflect badly on European style teaching quality – but in fact the outcomes are generally a result of nothing more than different cultural thinking and different priorities in life.

  4. Now you’ve expanded your comments, I do partially agree with you. It really comes down to what you think education is and what it is for.

    I’ve also spent a long time observing this (in a community where Maori are the majority) and yes, for many young men especially, the conventional approach is irrelevant. My take on this article is that education needs to be relevant, which is culturally appropriate but also offers opportunity beyond the boundaries of community and gardens. Maori culture has much to offer society in many ways and there are those whose desire and capacity to do that should be nurtured.

    I don’t think we are really in disagreement except about what Catherine means – and I know her well enough to know that she understands what you are saying and would agree.

    She and I do not hold ” the prevailing attitude” at all. Quite the opposite.

  5. Kia ora the conference listened to Maori presenters who were committed to engaging their rangatahi, not to fit the Pakeha box, the Moerewa presentation was powerful because it was hapu driven and locally designed and had a social justice curriculum..Chris Sarra had been invited by them to talk about his experience, he wasn’t claiming to know what should happen here, more sharing his story. As for Donna Awatere, she did some good work and then she joined the ACT party, go figure!

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