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Rongohia te Hau: Better understanding the theories underpinning cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy

Mere Berryman, Margaret Egan, Jay Haydon-Howard, and Robbie Lamont

Different terms are used to describe pedagogy that moves away from the transmission of content and moves towards teaching and learning that builds from the learner’s own experiences in a more responsive and interactive manner. We understand this as developing “cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy”. Rongohia te Hau processes were developed to understand how effectively culturally responsive pedagogy was being introduced or maintained in early childhood settings or schools. The Rongohia te Hau processes of walkthrough observations and surveys ask teachers, students, and whānau critical questions about their learning experiences. This article discusses these processes and provides examples of the data produced to help understand how the pedagogy is being understood across the setting to inform strategic direction.

Journal issue: 

Rongohia te Hau

Better understanding the theories underpinning cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy


Key points

In this article we:

make connections between the culturally responsive pedagogy literature in the United States with research in Aotearoa New Zealand on cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy

identify Sleeter’s (2011) three concerns about the dilution of culturally responsive pedagogy

provide an overview of Rongohia te Hau, linking strongly to the Best Evidence Synthesis site

show discrete examples of Rongohia te Hau data and explain how they should work together with a school or service’s own evidence or data about learning outcomes in order to personalise and extend the data.

Different terms are used to describe pedagogy that moves away from the transmission of content and moves towards teaching and learning that builds from the learner’s own experiences in a more responsive and interactive manner. We understand this as developing “cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy”. Rongohia te Hau processes were developed to understand how effectively culturally responsive pedagogy was being introduced or maintained in early childhood settings or schools. The Rongohia te Hau processes of walk-through observations and surveys ask teachers, students, and whānau critical questions about their learning experiences. This article discusses these processes and provides examples of the data produced to help understand how the pedagogy is being understood across the setting to inform strategic direction.

Culturally responsive pedagogy

Culturally responsive pedagogy has its roots in a number of distinct research spaces. The first is from the United States, including research undertaken by Ladson-Billings (1995), Gay (2002), and Sleeter (2011). The second space is Aotearoa New Zealand (Bishop & Berryman, 2006), and the third is Canada (Castagno & Brayboy, 2008).

In Aotearoa, a secondary-school reform initiative called Te Kotahitanga (Unity of Purpose) sought to improve the educational achievement of indigenous Māori students (Bishop & Berryman, 2006). From the voices of Māori students, researchers established an effective teaching profile that activated a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. A predominant transmission model of knowledge sharing had resulted in some students being privileged by education while others were failed by it. Moving secondary schooling away from that model to a system based on equity of learning opportunities challenged the prevalent power structures in many schools and indeed the education system itself. Bishop et al. (2007) defined this pedagogy as contexts for learning whereby:

power is shared

culture counts

learning is interactive, dialogic, and spirals

connectedness is fundamental to relations

there is a common vision of excellence for Māori in education. (p.1)

Culturally responsive pedagogy promotes opportunities to build from the learner’s own prior knowledge and experiences, or, as defined by Bruner (1996), from their “cultural toolkit”. This notion of cultural relationships to inform responsive pedagogy is not unique to New Zealand. Similar classroom-based research has emerged globally as providing greater effectiveness in response to the intergenerational disparities experienced by disproportionate numbers of indigenous students, students of colour, or minoritised students. Sleeter (2011) observes that during the last two decades culturally responsive approaches to teaching have been widely replaced by standardised curricula and pedagogy, entrenched in a neoliberal political shift that has impelled business models of school reform. She goes on to argue that a persistence of overly simplistic conceptions regarding what constitutes culturally responsive pedagogy is problematic for at least three reasons. First, it gives an illusion of making substantial change without having done so, or it can be concluded as ineffective, or dismissed entirely. Secondly, the research base connecting culturally responsive pedagogy with student learning must be strengthened, and thirdly, that the elite, largely white fear of losing national and global power must be anticipated and addressed.

The abbreviation of terms to a series of letters oversimplifies this complex pedagogy. This oversimplification potentially contributes to teachers becoming disconnected from the theories that sit beneath this teaching and learning practice, and teachers may struggle to understand the importance of the links between cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy. Recently, this oversimplification was exemplified when one of the authors informally encountered another professional learning provider:

She came out of the school to tell me that she was in the school working with staff on CR and RP. While I understood what she was referring to, I asked naively what she meant. She replied, you know, I am working with all of the schools along this coast and I am teaching them about CR and RP. I pressed her for clarity once more and again got the CR and RP response as if it was some sort of magic bullet that I should know about.

Through all of the phases of Te Kotahitanga and then in subsequent school reforms such as Kia Eke Panuku, and working with kāhui ako, when asked about effective pedagogy students told us that the relationships must come first and that relationships should be understood within the contexts of their own culture. Many told us they wanted a relationship where teachers showed respect for them, then in turn, they would show the same level of respect back. A Māori term, mana ōrite, encapsulates this cultural relationship, the mana or personal power and prestige of each person being equally respected by the other (Berryman et al., 2018). When this equal respect happened, contexts for responsive pedagogy were more likely to follow. However, we have observed that the teacher’s relationship has sometimes become, in the teachers’ minds, far more important than the pedagogy. We also learnt that relationships were more likely to be talked about as rhetoric: “yes I know it’s all about relationships.” The risk is that traditional transmission pedagogy could be maintained when we abbreviate—and thus over-simplify—a complex change in relationships and pedagogy that challenges unbalanced power relations between teachers and learners.

Cultural relationships

Berryman et al. (2015) explain that cultural relationships require schools and centres to create spaces in which teachers must listen to students and their whānau as that opens up opportunities for sharing learners’ prior knowledge and experiences, their identities, aspirations, concerns and connections. Berryman et al. (2013) remind us that relational pedagogy develops from within “relational dialogic spaces”. These are spaces where educators believe in—and execute—their ability, as learners, to learn through dialogue with learners and whānau order to effect change. These spaces are more in line with the kaiako–ākonga relationship within ako, where the interchange of knowledge between the teacher and learner is mutually evolving and reciprocal.

Berryman et al. (2018) determine that cultural relationships allow individuals to decide whether they will engage in the dialogue, illustrating the importance of respect and trust. They propose that educators working to create cultural relationships must:

build relationships that support students’ mana and wellbeing

value and nurture culture, language, and identity that honours and respects all people

emphasise the importance of whakapapa so that students grow secure in the knowledge of their identity

create a context for all students to pursue what inspires them and allows them to determine their own success. (p.6)

Responsive pedagogy

Berryman and colleagues (2018) further explain that responsive pedagogy requires listeners to be aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages, to defer judgement, and to only respond once the speaker has finished. They advocate that educators working to achieve responsive pedagogy must:

value and legitimate multiple views of knowledge and ways of knowing

recognise the potential in everyone

identify and extend what students already know, understand, and can do

engage students in the planning and evaluation of their own learning

position themselves as learners alongside other learners

build connections between homes and school. (p.7)

To reiterate, if a pedagogy that is relational and responsive to the culture of the learner is to succeed and be sustained, Sleeter (2011) suggests that educators should: develop deeper understandings of how their pedagogy works in relation to their teaching and learning; use relevant evidence to iteratively reinforce more effective understandings; and, understand that how power plays out will constantly influence their solutions.

Rongohia te Hau provides a set of tools and processes which work alongside each other to deepen collective understandings of cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy and generate ongoing evidence to reinforce these learnings.

What Rongohia te Hau involves

The name Rongohia te Hau was gifted by a school principal. He explained that rather than the literal translation of listening to the wind, by using these tools and processes we would be “listening to the winds of change”. It involves working with identified groups in a school or early childhood setting to generate evidence that shows how cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy are being experienced throughout that setting. It begins by understanding and planning for all of the tools and processes to be implemented in a reliable way. Processes include the development of a continuum of practice which is then used to undertake walk-through observations in the learning settings. At the same time, an electronic survey tool is used to gather responses from students, whānau, and teachers. All of the evidence is then brought together and compared, or triangulated, to understand what is currently happening, what else is needed, and then what the team is going to do in response. Teachers talking about their use of Rongohia te Hau can be seen on the Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) website (Education Counts, 2023).

We have found that the more collaborative and inclusive the group or groups included in these processes are, the more effective the outcomes. For example, in some settings participants have included wider groups of teachers and staff, whānau, and even senior students who have, at different times, contributed their perspectives to the continuum of practice. These groups then fill out the surveys and may also have input into the planning forward. The process begins by identifying the contributing groups, then developing a continuum of the relational pedagogy in practice.

Developing a continuum of practice

The group who will lead the walk-throughs talk about how they understand cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy and what this looks like in practice. Collaboratively they develop typical descriptors of teaching and learning; what does this look like? What is heard and experienced by learners, or not. These rich descriptors of behaviours and interactions exemplify this pedagogy and they are then used to populate a shared continuum such as the example started below.

While it is often useful to consider what a range of descriptors might look like across your continuum of practice, the descriptors do not always connect across the columns.

Developing a standard rubric that is used each time is not the desired outcome. Rather, the aim is for the co-constructed continuum of practice to be jointly understood at that time and by all involved. As such it should be personalised and responsive to that setting. This continuum of practice will remain a critical touchstone for the walk-through observations that follow. Therefore, opportunities should be taken to share drafts with wider groups and to seek their input, rather than risking their feeling that the process has been imposed on them. The continuum of practice is essential throughout the walk-throughs, but the evidence gathered also has implications for understanding and confirming all other sets of perception data.

Observers will increase their understanding of the pedagogy by observing in learning spaces and reflecting on and sharing their experiences. The continuum of practice continues to be reinforced or redeveloped from one year to the next as existing descriptors are refined, new ones added, and queries raised are considered and addressed. Through these processes, understandings about cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy will continue to deepen.

Walk-through observations

Walk-through observations are scheduled to take place once the continuum of practice has been fully agreed to and understood. Walk-through observations last for 20 minutes. A random sample of at least 30% of all teachers in the school or early childhood setting is recommended as it gives confidence that the sample is not too small, with observations being completed across an agreed period of time.

To build capacity within the observation group, in-class coaching with first-time observers takes place. This coaching involves a simultaneous walk-through observation, preferably alongside someone with previous experience and expertise. After the observation is complete, the observation notes of what was seen and heard by both observers are compared and discussed—did we see the same things in this slice of time? Initially, interpretations or judgements about the learning are often recorded by the observer being coached (well-managed classroom) rather than observations (materials needed for the lesson were at hand and learners got what they required). While judgement statements might be more common in appraisal-type observations, at this point the need to unlearn this practice and instead record observable behaviours is often necessary. Once observers are confident and competent to record evidence without interpretations, they observe alone. Throughout the walk-throughs they can continue to have conversations within the team about their evidence and connecting it to the continuum of practice.

Following the observations, a moderation exercise involving all observers is undertaken. One by one, each observation is considered against and placed upon the continuum of practice. This consideration involves an examination of the evidence supported by critical questioning. As can be seen in the table below, once the observations have been sorted across the continuum of practice, they are further reduced into three groups: Basic, Developing, and Integrating, and then a percentage is calculated. Overtime, the aim is to increase the percentage towards full integration of the pedagogy. The evidence in Table 2 has been created.



Electronic survey tools

The electronic survey tools are recommended for Year 4 students and above. Students from Years 3 and below were found to be either too random in their responses or needing too much assistance to understand and therefore being too easily influenced in their selections.

The electronic surveys are used to gather information about the learning experiences. Their whānau and staff are asked comparable questions with the focus being on Māori learners. The surveys consist of brief statements linked to the learner’s cultural identity, their relationships with others, and the pedagogy they experience. Groups are asked to reflect on the experiences of being a learner in the current setting rather than in any previous one. They use a four-point Likert-type scale (one being never/hardly ever, two being sometimes, three being mostly, and four being always) to select the option they believe best describes the overall learning experiences. Responses are indicative of the frequency of these experiences for students. All three surveys end by providing an opportunity to make a related comment.

Given that these tools are electronic, the evidence can be quickly, accurately, and ethically gathered and analysed to protect anonymity. Data is disaggregated according to year level, ethnicity, gender, or any other ethical way that will serve the stocktake and review purposes. The names of individual responders are never included in the system nor able to be provided back to settings. However, when names have been included in responders’ comments, this is discussed with leaders who decide whether names will be redacted.

The surveys provide perception data, that is they reveal what each group of responders (Māori and non-Māori students, teachers, and whānau of Māori and non-Māori children) believe about the teaching and learning experiences in that setting. The surveys are analysed externally and provided back using pictorial representations for each of the responder groups. Leaders in each setting are then able to begin to see what these different responders think is happening in terms of the learning. They are then also able to connect this information to other pieces of relevant evidence, for example the walk-through data.

Examples of this evidence

Next, four different figures from the electronic surveys are used to show how the survey analysis can be presented and triangulated to understand what is happening from the different perspectives. The evidence presented in the following figures is authentic, with all identifying names removed to protect confidentiality.

The first quantitative analysis in Figures 1 and 2 shows that Māori students and teachers had a similar experience of cultural relationships. However, Māori students indicate that teachers showed a lower level of care and mutual respect for them than teachers believed they were extending. The gap between these relational items was further reinforced in their experiences of responsive interactions in their learning.



Māori students experienced less care and mutual respect than teachers believed they were providing. On all of the pedagogical items the gap shows a similar mismatch: teachers think they are providing more than Māori students think they are receiving. The qualitative data reinforces this situation. One teacher said:

I would like to think that Māori students within our school feel just as important, valued and culturally respected as our Pākehā students, where learning and opportunities are equitable.

Another teacher connected the experience of Māori learners with the structural systems in place for Māori learners to be strong and secure in their cultural identity:

Māori students are highly valued as individuals. They are able to be themselves and succeed as Māori. I admire the systems that we have in place … to support this.

However, Māori students indicated that these experiences were variable:

At school, I feel I am able to succeed in classes where the respect between the teacher and I is mutual. In other cases, I am made to feel that I do not belong.

From survey comments, it was abundantly clear that Māori learners understood the importance of cultural relationships in relation to their learning, and that they could also identify where pedagogy did not meet their needs. One learner commented:

I’ve realised that we learn in a different way. Most of us like interactive learning and face to face sometimes.

Another learner commented:

Teachers don’t really go over what I need to improve on to become better, they just give me my result and I have to find out on my own.

Another learner suggested that “we are all friendly but sometimes I do wish that I had some more help from teachers so that I can understand my work better.”

The survey graph also showed that there were similar disconnections between the perceptions of the teachers and the whānau of Māori learners. When considering relational items, the extent of these gaps was slight, but again most obvious when looking at the pedagogical items.

While we have focused on Māori students, it should also be noted that responses from Pākehā students painted a comparable picture of disconnection between their perceptions of both relational items and pedagogical items to that of their teachers.

Whānau comments showed they understood the importance of cultural relationships in their children’s learning. In terms of care, one parent noted the absence of what should be a basic right:

They don’t say my child’s name properly…



Likewise, the importance of being known as the basis for the ongoing nurturing of relationships for learning was clearly evident, with one parent commenting:

In general, they have done well at their school, however the importance of knowing your families must be an ongoing development for staff.

Mutual care and respect were also identified as fundamental to supporting learning. One whānau member suggested that relying solely on a traditional or authoritarian relationship was not effective in engaging her son:

This child has a very different temperament in terms of understanding why he has to do things and at times I feel some of the teachers feel their positional power is enough of a reason why and this isn’t working for him.

Of immediate note is the consistency with which teachers sensed a more frequent positive experience for Māori students across these items than was expressed by Māori students or their whānau. This disconnect was more pronounced when the pedagogical items in Figure 4 were compared with the relational items in Figure 3.

When considering all of the evidence, it is compelling to note that the lowest mean rating was in response to students enjoying their learning. The qualitative data supported this, with a parent expressing:

they need more learning to be fun. Not all children learn out of a book. Some are hands-on, we should ask the children their opinions.

In fact, engaging children in learning was acknowledged as an antidote to what whānau described as boredom.

My child hasn’t really been enjoying school because he gets bored and he loses interest even in the subjects he loves. Some of the teachers haven’t found a way to motivate him.

Some whānau went on to offer suggestions as to what might support a higher engagement:

I wish there were more opportunities for my son to be challenged in subjects where he is already achieving the set standards. He seems to be bored. I was expecting there would be more variety of learning opportunities where kids can collaborate using their individual strengths.

These outcomes are further reinforced by the walk-through evidence (see Table 2) which shows that the largest group of teachers by far in this setting (62.7%) are those needing to develop their understanding of cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy.

Learning from the data

Following the analysis of the evidence, delegated leaders engage in a collaborative synthesis where trends and patterns are identified and discussed. For example, the evidence may highlight where teachers’ and Māori students’ experiences of classroom interactions and relationships are divergent. Alternatively, it could highlight a situation where Māori and non-Māori students’ perceived experiences differ depending on a particular context e.g. by year level or survey item. For example, Figures 2 and 4 show that the highest mean rating for the groups was teachers’ high expectations that learners would achieve. However, responses to questions focused on learners being able to collaborate with each other, learning being fun, they feel listened to or they receive feedback and feed-forward on their work, indicated that students did not experience the types of learning interactions that support their learning to improve in a regular ongoing way. Without the pedagogy supporting their learning, their experiences and their achievements are not likely to change. Of greater concern is that this perceived lack of support with their learning is likely to be stressful for learners or undermine the relationships learners have with their teachers. When compared with the classroom walk-through evidence in Table 2, this survey evidence highlights the difference between intentionality and knowing how to realise cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy within learning contexts. Furthermore, the evidence shows that while some teachers may intend to implement cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy, bringing these pedagogies into their practice requires more than simply knowing the terms.

As with the previous example, the synthesis of Rongohia te Hau evidence can safely be used to raise important contexts for shared learning. The synthesis can also be used alongside other relevant Achievement, Engagement, Retention, and Attendance (AERA) evidence, to support a collaborative evidence-based planning and profiling meeting. This use ensures that the Rongohia te Hau process remains an enabling approach to responsive consultation for continuing improvement.

What it is and what it isn’t

We have been working with these processes and tools now for over a decade. In that time, we have learnt that sometimes people want to change the processes or adapt the tools for their own purposes. While it might be “easier” for the setting, this adaptation changes the reliability of the evidence that is gathered and therefore the outcome for learners is far less effective. For this reason, we now present a table to show what we have learnt from these experiences about what Rongohia te Hau is and what it isn’t.


What it is What it isn’t
Theory informed, ongoing learning conversations, based on relevant evidence. Episodic – to be pulled out on an occasion.
Processes and tools providing insight into teaching and learning relationships and interactions. Teacher appraisal, focused solely on teacher practice and student behaviour.
Creation of a continuum of relational and responsive pedagogy that emerges from the current experiences of the co-constructors. A transactional rubric to be followed (tick box) so that expectations (internal or external) are met with minimal disruption to the status quo of inequity for Māori learners.
Authentic when whānau and ākonga are able to contribute to the continuum and to the pathway forward as they feel more included. Authentic when constructors of the continuum and pathway forward are a narrow group of staff observers who “do” the process “to” people.
Observational evidence based on what is actually observed to be happening in that slice of time. Observational evidence based on assumptions and generalisations of “usual” teacher practice.
An evolving process as the continuum is reviewed and continues to grow as the experiences of the co-constructors develops over subsequent iterations. A fixed process that sees the continuum as a consummate piece of knowledge to be attained with no further room for growth.


Rongohia te Hau provides a set of tools and processes with which to deepen understanding of cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy. While in teachers’ minds relationships have sometimes become far more important than pedagogy, research shows the necessity of both cultural relationships and responsive pedagogy to influence effective change for Māori learners. With these understandings, and the use of Rongohia te Hau, a more accurate and coherent picture can be owned by the school or early childhood leaders and teachers. The evidence gathered provides direct insight into how this pedagogy is experienced by learners, whānau, and teachers across the setting, and can be used to deliberately challenge the existing pedagogical status quo. This process can be repeated annually until the pedagogy is seen to be more effective.

While each piece of evidence is important and can stand alone, it is the triangulation of the evidence that provides the rich picture that is able to inform strategic direction in a meaningful and reliable way.


Berryman, M., Lawrence, D., & Lamont, R. (2018). Cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy. Set: Research Information for Teachers, 1, 3–10.

Berryman, M., Nevin, A., SooHoo, S., & Ford, T. (Eds.). (2015). Relational and responsive inclusion: Contexts for becoming and belonging. Peter Lang.

Berryman, M., SooHoo, S., & Nevin, A. (Eds.) (2013). Culturally responsive methodologies. Emerald Books.

Bishop, R., & Berryman, M. (2006). Culture speaks: Cultural relationships and classroom learning. Huia Publishers.

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T., & Teddy, L. (2007). Te Kotahitanga Phase 3 whanaungatanga: Establishing a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations in mainstream secondary school classrooms. Ministry of Education

Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education. Harvard University Press.

Castagno, A. E. & Brayboy, B. M. J. (2008). Culturally responsive schooling for Indigenous youth: A review of the literature. Review of Educational Research. 78(4), 941–993.

Education Counts (2023). Rongohia te Hau: Effective support for culturally responsive teaching

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106–116.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.

Sleeter, C. E. (2011). An agenda to strengthen culturally responsive pedagogy. English teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(2), 7–23.

Mere Berryman: I am of Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Whare descent. I started my career as a teacher and am now a professor at the University of Waikato.

Email: corresponding author

Margaret Egan: I am a Pākehā of Irish and Scottish descent. I have been a teacher and school leader and am now working as a facilitator of professional learning.


Jay Haydon-Howard: I am a Pākehā of English and Welsh descent. I have been a teacher and school leader and am now working as a senior research officer.


Robbie Lamont: I am a Pākehā of Scottish descent. I have been a teacher and an RTLB. I now work as a facilitator of professional learning.


We work within Poutama Pounamu for the University of Waikato’s Division of Education.