Ann Milne's opening keynote to our staff at the beginning of the year challenged us to recognise the cultural identity of Māori learners – and also the cultures of learners from the diverse ethnicities whom we welcome at Hagley.
Ann is a teacher and principal, a writer, speaker, and researcher, as well as on a personal level a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of Māori children. In Ann’s words, her own experiences in our education system opened her eyes, and changed her own teaching practice and the lens she looks through. Her education and research career has been committed to challenging and changing the educational inequity our system designs and perpetuates.
Equity and social justice for students whose norms and values are not those of the dominant culture in a school sits at the centre of Ann’s work.
There were some big messages for us. To achieve equity, what messages as teachers should we reflect to our students about their culture to help them build their sense of cultural identity? How do we embed cultural identity throughout the school day? In doing that, how do we build a collective sense of whānau and what that means for us in how we are all linked as a school?
Our teachers' responses to Ann Milne:
Kaiārahi/Counsellor Michael Glichrist (Pākehā New Zealander): We all should know the real history of Aotearoa as it relates to the experiences of Māori.
We should know that taking land, limiting access to water, not acknowledging culture and deliberately attempting to shut down the use of the Māori language have all resulted in the subjugation of Māori. Immersing all New Zealanders in Māori language from a young age will go a long way to achieving biculturalism. Teachers should use the contexts of their subjects to expose students to these areas.
Kaiako Reo Māori Regan Stokes (Ngāi Te Rangi, English, Scottish): I quickly learnt early on during my time at primary school that it was okay to be English but not okay to be Māori. Whenever I told anyone I was Māori as a young child I was asked how many parts Māori I was, which I didn't know the answer to, so I became whakamā (ashamed) of my Māori whakapapa, put on my English identity and buried my Māori side for more than a decade.
My experience of learning a little bit of te reo Māori at primary school was tedious and badly taught, so I didn't even consider taking the subject at high school, which I now regret.
One turning point for me was when my high school English teacher used the whakataukī "Kāore te kumara e kōrero ana mō tōna ake reka" [the kumara doesn’t talk of its own sweetness] to discuss the concept of humility. This was my singular positive experience of the Māori world throughout my 13 years of schooling.
I started learning Māori and discovering my own whakapapa and identity as Māori at 19, and finally saw pride in this side of my whakapapa. I now know that the Māori world view holds that if you have any direct ancestor of a particular ethnicity, you are Māori, and English, and Scottish, not one eighth or sixteenth or anything like that. We're all the sum of our parts and should be proud of our whakapapa from all sides.
Kaiako PE & Health Aimee Mahuta (Ngaati Maahuta): My mother realised that her children’s experiences of school as Māori would be different. My mother couldn’t understand why school would treat her children this way because of the colour of their skin. Racism or white spaces in school was often subtle – teachers would not call racism for what it was. Our job as kaiako is to stand up against this, to make sure we do indeed colour in the white spaces in our kura.
Kaiārahi/Counsellor Louise Oskam (Samoan, English): So many students’ stories have been shaped by white privilege. What schools focus on is often misguided; our pedagogy stops us from seeing the people in front of us.
Teachers are brokers of making sure students are able to bring themselves as they are in all senses; most importantly students need to be able to feel that.
As teachers, we should ask ourselves: "Am I seeing these students as they are?" Teachers also need to choose strategies and tools that help them check their own privilege before they act.