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Post date: Friday, 11 August 2023

Supporting culturally sustaining practices for change – resources and ideas

By Melissa Denzler, Kaitohu Mātauranga

The following is excerpted from my recent presentation at the NASDAP Conference. 

Ua ta‘u mai e Pālagi i a i tatou, o le lalolagi e faū i atoma, ae tatou Sāmoa e lē valelea-matou [tagata-Sāmoa] e te iloa o le lalolagi e tele tala.  

The white man has told us that the world is made of atoms, but we Sāmoans, we are not silly, we know the world is made of stories. 

Pūrākau (storytelling) is at the heart of education. We bring our own to the classroom and create our own with ākonga and kaiako. They have beginnings, middles and ends – not just in narrative structure, but in the process of constructing or co-constructing them. Who we are in the classroom – and how we support others in the classroom – is an evolving narrative, gathering knowledge and applying it so others may thrive.  

In the context of NZCER’s work, stories are essential for bringing our mahi to life. All the research and policy analysis in the world means nothing if it cannot be brought to life and lived to its fullest in the classroom – and we hope to bridge those gaps between research and lived experience with some of these resources. 

A space much of our recent rangahau has focused on is culturally sustaining practice, and what that means in the classrooms of Aotearoa. Far from a story of removal of Western disciplines and knowledge, we see the story as the woven threads – knowledge systems interacting, engaging with one another to allow all ākonga to see their own stories in the classroom. We hope that these examples from our work can support you to develop similar pūrākau in your learning.  

Bringing aspirations to life in the classroom 

In COMPASS, a 2022 report from NZCER, we examined how kaiako, ākonga, and whānau navigate educational experiences and contexts. It analysed the perspectives of 5,843 Māori and Pasifika students, 362 Pasifika whānau members and 311 kaiako Māori from 102 schools nationwide.  

We looked for success in engagement with ākonga and whānau, creating supportive environments with supportive kiriwhakatauira (role models), and what good teaching practice looks like for ākonga Pasifika and Māori. Some of the key thematic findings that supported ākonga aspirations were:  

  • Strong and positive motivational beliefs about learning, as well as participation in learning experiences that are culturally embracing, aspirational, and future-oriented. 
  • Having strong and positive networks of support and kiriwhakatauira, both in and out of school, who enable and embody success for ākonga. 
  • Home–school partnerships that are built on mutual care, respect, and a collective vision for ākonga and their communities.  
  • School-wide conditions and teaching practices that are strengths-based, ambitious, and contextually unique to the needs of Māori and Pasifika ākonga.  

Key to all of this are the poutokomanawa - those who model cultural competence and confidence, support and mentor ākonga, encourage and celebrate the achievements of ākonga, and help them to achieve their dreams in the future. These are the people who hear the stories of our ākonga, and help them to develop their own narrative. To support this idea, we left kaiako with three questions:  

  • Who are the poutokomanawa at your kura?  
  • In what ways do you meaningfully develop and maintain reciprocal home-school relationships? 
  • How do you hold high expectations of ākonga AND support them to meet these expectations? 

This is also reflected in our 2022 research He reo ka tipu I ngā kura: Growing te reo Māori in English-medium schools. By analysing six schools who had shown good practice in growing reo Māori, we identified the pou reo – those individuals, sometimes not even school kaimahi, who were actively supporting reo Māori growth in schools.  

These are the individuals who often enable ākonga to tell their own stories – but we can all do transformative work in this space.  

Resources for enacting culturally sustaining practice 

Our presentation at the NASDAP conference saw four key resources highlighted to help kaiako develop their practice and bring the stories of all ākonga to life.  

Ki te hoe! Education for Aotearoa 

A recent pukapuka on enacting Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the classroom, with simple and practical steps for kaiako of all experiences. It brings together:  

  • He mahi—Ideas for our teaching that attend to the kaupapa 
  • He pātai—Questions to provoke deeper reflection  
  • He akoranga mōu—Ideas for professional development 
  • He pānuitanga mōu—Suggested reading to take readers further 

Aronuitia te reo

A free card deck designed to prompt conversations about the teaching and learning of reo Māori, with sets suitable for both ākonga and kaiako. A strengths-based resource, it is based on evidence from the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement and digital versions are available for free from the study’s paetukutuku.  

(Unfortunately, physical versions of this resource are no longer available!) 

Pacific Educators Speak: Valuing Our Values  

Another pukapuka from NZCER Press, this text identifies nine key values for Pasifika families and students, exploring what they mean in Pacific educators’ own words. It gives voice to their stories, to help others understand and bring them to life for others.  

Te Reo Māori assessment  

A tool currently being refreshed by NZCER, Te Reo Māori is an adaptive assessment that is suitable for early learners of reo Māori at all ages. It aligns to the te reo Māori Curriculum guidelines -Te Ahau Marau mō Te Ako I Te Reo Māori, and takes only 30 minutes to complete. This is an immensely useful tool for schools and non-schools alike to develop their reo Māori capabilities.  


Playing the long game 

Michelle Johansson’s foolproof policies are a good blueprint for anyone engaging with the story of culturally sustaining practice:  

  • Play the long game  
  • Let us tell our story – representation matters 
  • Be brave – the current system doesn’t work for a significant and growing number of our people  

The research and resources outlined here are just the smallest tip of an iceberg of work being done across the educational research space, all aimed at supporting kaiako to better support ākonga. But as we mentioned earlier that research means nothing if it can’t translate simply into classroom practice for our teachers.  

We hope that this work is a story you can engage with, and in turn helps you to develop the stories of all those you work with.  

Kia hora te marino, kia whakapapa pounamu te moana, kia tere te Kārohirohi I mua I tōu huarahi.  

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