Racism in schools? How dare we be surprised!

t was all over the media last week – the release of the report, Education matters to me: Key insights, which is the outcome of a  three-way collaboration between children and young people, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, and the New Zealand School Trustees Association. The young people’s voices were sought to contribute to the development of the Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities that were introduced into the Education Act 1989 in May 2017. These priorities will “allow the Minister of Education to direct schools on the priorities they must concentrate on for the next five years.”

The media headlines read: “Study finds ‘disturbing’ racism in NZ schools” (Newshub), “Students tell of racism in study of how they view the education system,” (Stuff) and “Māori, Pasifika kids reveal racism in schools,” (RadioNZ). Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft says that the children’s comments about the racism they encounter in schools were unsolicited, and were a surprise to interviewers. He is quoted as saying, "It's surprising to us, it's disturbing - I'm sure most teachers would be horrified."

Read More

Building Community and Whānau

It has been a busy start to 2018!

In January I was privileged to help organise the second visit to New Zealand by Distinguished Professor Pedro Noguera and his family, who spent time engaging with Te Tapuae o Rehua and Ngai Tahu, then came to Auckland, where Pedro and I spoke to the national Team Solutions PLD Hui at Auckland University’s Waipapa Marae. Later in that week, we were joined by Professor Antwi Akom and his family. Pedro and Antwi spoke at the Symposium on The Education of Pasifika Boys and Men, at the Auckland University Epsom Campus, hosted by NZARE Pasifika Caucus, and the Research Unit in Pacific and International Education (RUPIE). We all also acted as ‘critical friends’ providing comment on the Postgraduate research presented during the day. Pedro and Antwi have returned to California with many plans for further collaboration with Māori and Pasifika connections made during this visit, and with a promise to return. I look forward to catching up with them again in New York, and San Francisco in April, during and after AERA 2018.

Then the round of schools and communities getting ready for the start of the school year began! My thanks to the principals, teachers, and wider staff and community of Palmerston North Girls’ High School (26 Jan), The Nelson City Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako ki Whakatū (30 Jan) and the Waitomo Community of Learning|Waitomo Arotahi Kāhui Ako (5 Feb) for your hospitality, and your willingness to take on new thinking and challenges to identify White spaces in pedagogy and practice, and in our heads - to change your space for your Māori learners!  I wish you all a great 2018 school year!

 With Dr Pedro Noguera and Dr Allyson Pimentel at  Kia Aroha College

With Dr Pedro Noguera and Dr Allyson Pimentel at Kia Aroha College

 With Dr Antwi Akom and Haley Milne (Principal) at  Kia Aroha College

With Dr Antwi Akom and Haley Milne (Principal) at Kia Aroha College

 Helen Taylor-Young, Principal of  Victory Primary School  and Lead Principal of the Nelson City Community of Learning,  Dr Lance O'Sullivan  and  Dr Cheryl Doig .

Helen Taylor-Young, Principal of Victory Primary School and Lead Principal of the Nelson City Community of Learning, Dr Lance O'Sullivan and Dr Cheryl Doig.

 With Principal, Hirere Moana, Hohepa Hei, and Year 12 student from Te Wharekura o Maniapoto

With Principal, Hirere Moana, Hohepa Hei, and Year 12 student from Te Wharekura o Maniapoto

What is "as Māori"? Ask some young people!

Are you still trying to fathom out what "success and achievement as Māori" those important, but often avoided, words in Ka Hikitia, actually mean? I asked Māori and Pasifika students!

At the 2015 New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE) Conference,  the "Warrior-Researchers" - a group of students from Kia Aroha College, Otara, South Auckland, researched the vision of the Government’s Māori Education Strategy, Ka Hikitia, Accelerating Success 1913-1917  and presented their findings in a symposium entitled, Speaking out “as” us: Māori and Tongan secondary students investigate our education system’s vision for Māori and Pasifika learners. They received a standing ovation. With the group's permission, I am sharing the video of their presentation as it is still well worth the watch! (Click here or on the image below).

This year the Warrior-Researchers are at it again! The group in 2017 is comprised of nine Māori, Samoan, and Tongan students, and this time the Government’s Investing in Education Success (IES) policy and, in particular, the development within this policy, of Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako, have their attention. Their research has analysed the Endorsed Achievement Challenges of some 77 Communities of Learning and has explored these for their relevance to them as Māori and Pasifika learners, and for their critical and cultural responsiveness. They have interviewed students, teachers, and principals of schools who are CoL members or CoL leaders, as well as schools who are resisting CoL membership, and they have some difficult questions to ask of us as teachers and school leaders.

If you are attending the 2017 NZARE Conference at the University of Waikato next week, come along to their symposium: Beyond Māori Boys’ Reading and Writing: Reading and Writing our World.  See their abstract here.

Session 8: Wednesday 22 November Room: SG.02 Time: 1.45 - 3.15pm

Let's SEE this!

Congratulations Labour and our new coalition government! Finally, some hope for an end, or a complete relook, at the neoliberal agenda that has crippled education in New Zealand and continued to marginalise our Māori and Pasifika learners. It's time for some truth-telling! "Let's do this" was your campaign slogan, Jacinda. These are some of your education promises, and in these promises lie some hope for tackling the barriers and colouring some of those White spaces. Words are cheap - so LET'S SEE THIS:

  • abolish national standards and work with experts and stakeholders to develop a new system that better acknowledges child progress and focuses on the key competencies
  • undertake a review of the current NCEA related assessment load on students and teachers
  • work with teachers, principals, parents, tertiary institutions and the Education Review Office (ERO) to develop more effective ways of evaluating the performance of schools
  • progressively introduce an entitlement to 3 years of free-post school education or training for New Zealanders to use throughout their lives as they see fit
  • designate funding for night classes and other adult learning opportunities
  • that the role of the Special Education Coordinator (SENCO) in each school is properly recognised, resourced, and supported - allocate resources based on individual needs assessment for each child
  • review the use of Commissioners and Limited Statutory Managers with a view to establishing a new system that is more positive and constructive
  • recognise and support the role of schools as community hubs
  • increase the number of social workers available to all levels of the education sector,
  • recognise the place of Maori as Tangata Whenua and provide opportunities for Maori to succeed and thrive.
  • provide all early childhood and primary school teachers the opportunity to undertake lessons in Te Reo Maori
  • provide dedicated scholarships to increase the number of Te Reo Maori teachers and ensure that Te Reo Maori is available as an option in all secondary schools
  • pilot the establishment of traditional Wananga Maori
  • investigate the establishment of a unique Wananga Tohu Matauranga qualification at secondary school level to better reflect increasing opportunities for Maori to succeed as Maori.
  • re-establish support for Pacific languages and review the level of funding and support provided to schools that offer bi-lingual teaching in Pacific languages.
  • provide all State and State Integrated schools that opt-in an additional $150 per student per year instead of asking for parental donations
  • investigate the introduction of ‘First in Family’ scholarships to help those from families with no prior achievement in higher education to participate
  • establish a joint taskforce with the teaching profession to reduce the amount of compliance-focused paperwork teachers are required to complete so that they can return their focus to what really matters – teaching and learning.
  • repeal the legislation allowing for Charter Schools

uLearn17 Keynote

My thanks to CORE Edtalks for their expert editing and speedy publication of my Keynote presentation at uLearn17. It's always hard watching yourself - so I'm trying not to - but I hope the video helps get the messages about our schools' "White Spaces" out there and helps us "get off the fence" to take action for change. Contact me to talk further about this work.

Seeing your Words in Pictures!

How very cool is this! My thanks to Mary Brake at Reflection Graphics for the very clever interpretation of my uLearn17 Keynote - drawn live during the presentation! I love the fence! Is that pointy finger mine? I'm amazed at how much Mary has captured! Also check out the comprehensive live blog written by Aiono Manu Faaea-Semeatu. Thank you Manu! I consider myself very lucky to have you both interpreting this important message!


Why not White Boys' Writing?

At uLearn17 this week, I was a panel member in a discussion about “Learning in Communities,”  which quickly morphed into “Communities of Learning” and I felt I had to state my opposition up front. 

I am all for collaboration, with one stipulation—if it isn’t going to benefit Māori learners then I’m not going to do it.  I have no more patience with the idea that further generations of Māori children are going to be failed by us, while we mess around collaborating over their perceived deficits. As I said in my uLearn17 Keynote, we have given our problem, which is that we fail our Māori learners, way too much time already, trying to get better at doing the same things, then wondering why we don’t get different results! Someone called this insanity. Whoever it was, is right! Enough already!

I had decided that this year at uLearn my big question was going to be WHY? I have been working with the “Warrior-Researchers” at Kia Aroha College, preparing for a symposium they will present at next month’s NZARE Conference at the University of Waikato. The group has been investigating Communities of Learning from the perspective of how they benefit Māori and Pasifika learners. One student has analysed the 77 Endorsed Achievement Challenges on the MOE website to find that, while 99% of these target Māori boys’ writing, only 18% mention Māori learning “as Māori” (the vision of our official Māori education strategy) and less than a third consider culturally responsive pedagogy. His question was, “You would think they would ask WHY they are achieving these results – or do they think it’s our fault?” I was going to keep asking WHY, on his behalf!

So I was saddened to hear on the panel, yet again—because this has been explained to me many times already—the dilemma that COL face when writing achievement challenges to ensure they will be “endorsed” by the Ministry of Education in order to access the funding. WHY, I asked?  I’ve asked that question so often, I know how the answer goes, and it’s always a version of, well, we'd be crazy to miss out on the resourcing, or we will just jump through the hoops, or we will not be victims – we are going to be the ones in control, and then, voila, once the achievement challenges are accepted and we have the money, then we’ll change our targets. I am still waiting to see real evidence of this actually happening and, as I said, I’m over waiting, and while we wait, it’s our Māori kids who are the real victims!

So, what’s so bad about just saying in your challenge statements that you want to target Māori boys’ writing, even if that's not what you mean? We know it’s what the Ministry want to hear, because that makes them feel that we are working on our national “problem.” They really, really, need to feel better because our official focus on literacy and numeracy, for over two decades, has made little difference—and we all know this. I can never understand why, year after year, we pretend to be surprised by the data, when we could have filled in those percentages at the start of the year with complete accuracy.

My good friend Dr Jeff Duncan-Andrade explains this best – check out his video here, and other videos about Roses in Concrete, the school he founded in East Oakland, and the partner school or Ukukura to Kia Aroha College.  As Jeff says, it’s a rigged game, but we keep playing it, and the problem is, our Maori kids don’t know about the game, so they blame themselves. The bigger problem is—we blame them as well!  WHY?  Every single time we write our challenge to focus on Māori boys’ writing (reading, maths, Māori girls’ writing, reading, maths, Pasifika boys, girls…), we reinforce for them that they are the problem. Too late to try to pretty that up later. The damage is done.

I used to say to teachers who wrote comments in their reports to parents like, “Johnny wastes time in class” or “Sally gets distracted by her friends and isn’t engaged in the task”—you know the sorts of comments I mean—that these say more about your poor teaching or your boring programme than they say about the children. The same applies to “Māori boys’ writing.” It speaks volumes about our practice, but because that’s too hard to take, it surely can’t be US, we just keep on hammering this myth of meritocracy—if you try harder, work harder, read more… that “success” comes from greater effort, we are all equal, all have the same opportunities, when we know the playing field is far from level, and we negate the very long list of inequities that we are complicit in perpetuating, that are the reality for many of our children: poverty, loss of identity, land, language, culture, history, racism, assimilation, just for starters.

WHY not White boys’ writing then? 

Do we think White boys have an additional writing or reading gene that our Maori kids missed out on? Or do we think they had better parenting perhaps – you know, bedtime stories, books in the home, and all that? Or, here’s a thought, could it be that the whole system, the way we set up and structure schools, our teacher training, our obsession with copying failed policy from other countries which also marginalise their indigenous learners, the knowledge we value—and measure—is also White and it, therefore, benefits the children whose values match, and whose values are embedded in and reproduced by our schools?  This is not to overlook the fact that some boys struggle with literacy, regardless of their ethnicity. It means the reasons, and the solutions, are different.

Our Māori children have no reason to trust we know what we are doing, when we prove with our outcomes each year that we clearly don’t and, worse still, when we tolerate this as “normal.” We need to learn to read the world of our Māori children and craft our pedagogy around that world. That’s critical literacy. It’s not Māori boys' literacy that needs fixing. It’s ours, and that's the gap in our understanding that our PLD needs to target.


Whose knowledge counts?

Fascinating international discussion this morning as part of a panel at the "centre table" in Teach for All's Global Learning Lab Virtual Roundtable event - "Growing Students as Leaders of a Better Future." What are the most important education outcomes for our youth... Content Skills and Knowledge, Mindsets and Dispositions, Life and Professional Skills, or Values and Purpose?  

That was a struggle for me! Which category do culture and cultural identity fit into? Are they skills and knowledge, or a mindset, or what we need for life, or are they about values, or should the development of a secure cultural identity be a major purpose of our education system? I would say YES to all those questions, but my biggest question is why do we have to "find" a place in our existing monocultural, mostly White, frameworks for culture, cultural norms, and cultural identity? Why aren't they explicit and not left to chance? While there were areas where we panel "experts" found agreement, there were plenty of places where we disagreed, and I was left hoping that this won't be more of the same, where we raise the issues, then file them in the too hard basket!

Thanks Teach for All for the invitation and the opportunity to participate. Today's roundtable was about which outcomes. Tomorrow, (Thurs 20 July in NZ) I'm at the table again, with a different panel, this time discussing how we get to those outcomes. Join in - 8.00-10.00am (NZ time) via Zoom - join the meeting with this link  https://teachforall.zoom.us/j/975545305 and jump in to the Chat as we go! Some tautoko would be great!

Also, check out the Resource Exchange on the Virtual Roundtable link above, for some great videos and resources to use in your classes and schools.

Warrior Scholars: Decolonising Education

Two years ago, international film maker, Faolan Jones, came to visit Kia Aroha College to produce a video about the school. Everyone is delighted with the result, which we are now able to show widely. Faolan has captured the work of the school, and in particular, the voice of students, former students, and staff in a way that has not been done before! It's a wide-reaching, insightful documentary that I promise, is well worth the watch! Thank you Faolan from the Kia Aroha College whānau! 

Click HERE to view the film.

Click HERE to view the film and read Faolan's blog post about it.

Inspirational Leadership!

I was privileged to speak at The MOKO Foundation's Leadership Summit at Waitangi in the weekend, and to attend the dinner the previous evening to launch the 2017 Hawea Vercoe Leadership Programme. The young people who are the 2017 recipients of these scholarships, that partner them with amazing mentors, were impressive - as were the citations of their achievements already, and their aspirations! I was even more inspired however, by their probing questions of those of us who spoke at the Summit the next day! They certainly kept us on our toes, as they should.  

Congratulations to The MOKO Foundation and everyone involved - the mentees, the mentors, the MOKO team, particularly Dr Lance O'Sullivan and CEO, Deirdre Otene. I was inspired!

Where's the $40 million for Culturally Responsive Teachers?

Two new education initiatives have hit our Inboxes this week.

On Wednesday, the Education Minister announced a major change to shift education into a "digitally oriented system," advising that the Government will spend $40 million on raising teachers' skills to deliver the new curriculum, which will involve all pupils from years one to 10 taking part in digital technologies education. I think that was news to most teachers and principals!

Yesterday, we received notice from the Education Council of the final version of the new Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession to be implemented by 1 January 2018. The title, “Our Code Our Standards” implies a collective ownership, and Educanz talks of “more than a year of consultation with people from across the profession.” Let’s not forget however, that the Council is made up of members appointed exclusively by the Government, and not elected democratically by teachers, so “our” anything is a moot point!

The Code promises commitment to tangata whenuatanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, affirming Māori learners as tangata whenua and supporting their educational aspirations, and respecting the diversity of the heritage, language, identity and culture of all learners.  Unpacking the six Standards reveals expectations that teachers will practise and develop the use of te reo and tikanga Māori, critically examine their own assumptions and beliefs, including cultural beliefs, and specifically support the educational aspirations for Māori learners.

So, what would shift these aspirational goals from the rhetoric of previous initiatives to reality in our classrooms? Oh yes, resourcing and professional development of course! So, I looked for at least $40 million worth of professional support—because surely it is significantly more important to develop this cultural competence in teachers than it is to raise our skills in "computational thinking" and "designing and developing digital outcomes”?  Not so, it seems.  Our Code Our Standards will be supported by “a suite of digital materials and resources” to be published later in the year. In other words, schools will be doing it by themselves.

Why am I, sadly, unsurprised?


Racism recorded!

When someone attacks a member of your family, all your protective instincts kick in and you want to do anything in your power to take the hurt away. So it was on Wednesday when I received an email from my moko, telling me of the racist comments heard on her voicemail. You can see the full story which aired on TVNZ’s Marae programme, where my moko, Blake, is a production manager, this morning - here

The truth is, racism causes a deep, deep, generational pain that just cannot be erased, no matter how much you want to try to take it away. It was racism when my children encountered this same behaviour in school and in their workplaces, it is still racism two generations later when my grandchildren are forced to deal with it, as Blake has done this week, and it will still be racism when my great moko are confronted with it unless Pākehā New Zealand take responsibility for our actions.

Several times in the story the behaviour was described as “casual” racism.  It’s no such thing. Even when we have the hard evidence in the form of the racist’s recorded voice, why are we are still reluctant to name it for what it is? Is “casual” racism, somehow less abusive than overt racism? Is “casual” racism worse than “unconscious bias” the more recent code word used to describe racist attitudes? There are no degrees of racism, no levels to filter its effect. Racism is racism. Let’s call it what it is. Whether you are having a conversation in secret, because let’s face it that salesman would certainly choose his audiences carefully, or whether you are racist right to someone’s face, it makes no difference. In fact it’s sometimes easier to deal head on with the ‘in your face’ version, than the dangerous covert conversations, which allow racism to remain part of our culture because it goes unchallenged.

As Blake, and the panelists affirmed, this type of racist behaviour, put downs, slurs, and belittling, happen to Māori all the time, and there is no excuse. No excuse for the ignorance of the Driveline salesman, no excuse for his colleague who agreed and laughed along with him, no excuse for the manager who has kept them on his payroll, in spite of his apologies. Every fibre of my Pākehā being wants to drive over the harbour bridge to Driveline, and give them some lessons in their White privilege, and the damage their blatant racism causes.

I’m sorry Blake that you were subjected to the ignorance and stupidity of these men, but I am so, so, proud of the way you took a stand and held them accountable! You gave your daughters, and the younger members of our whānau an important lesson today.

Kāpiti Coast

On a wet and windy day I am off to the Kāpiti Coast to talk to three schools - Kapiti College staff tomorrow morning, and Te Ra Waldorf and Raphael House schools tomorrow evening - different schools, different philosophies, but all prepared to think differently about examining their practice to be more effective for Māori learners. Looking forward to the conversations!

A Kia Aroha College week!

A school founded on the principles of social justice and a critical culturally responsive education model..... a school centered on Maori and Pasifika youth..... a school that offers a strong sense of whānau/family...... a school that is about creating an authentic context for genuine learning...... a school where minds are being decolonized and “whiteness” being removed from any aspect of their learning experience..... a school that all schools around the globe should be learning from and modeling after.

It's always great to be back at Kia Aroha College and last week was no exception. On Monday I was working with amazing teachers, brushing up on our critical pedagogy planning for next term. I also had the chance for a brief meeting with a new group of Warrior-Researchers, students I will have the privilege of working and researching with over the next few months.  

On Wednesday I was back talking to a group of visiting USA educators from the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont, and to welcome friends from Seattle, Washington. Appreciation to Tami Farber for the wonderful quote above from her post about her visit. That's very special!

On Thursday, the last day of the term, with the threat of a Cyclone Cook in the air, I had the honour of speaking to the co-principals and teachers from Samoa Primary School, and was delighted to find like-minds, and a school determined to work against those colonising White spaces in Samoa. I'm sure they found many connections in their visit to Kia Aroha's Samoan Bilingual unit later in the day.

 Co-principals and teachers from Samoa Primary School visiting Kia Aroha College.

Co-principals and teachers from Samoa Primary School visiting Kia Aroha College.

"Teaching kids in poverty to ‘play the game’ is not enough"

They need to know how the game is rigged, how the game can be played, and how the game can be changed.

A great start to the weekend was to find an email had arrived overnight from international filmmaker, Faolan Jones, who produces powerful films from around the world for Teach for All. The first piece of news from Faolan, a couple of days ago, was to tell me the the draft of the film he made some time ago now about Kia Aroha College is almost ready. This morning's email invited me to check out his most recent Blog post, Teaching kids in poverty to ‘play the game’ is not enough, which he says, "is very much inspired by what I've learnt from you and Jeff" (Jeff Duncan-Andrade).

It's gratifying to know you have inspired anything, or anyone, but to know you have made some small contribution to such powerful and truthful writing is wonderful feedback indeed! Thank you Faolan! All school leaders and teachers need to read this.

RadioNZ Interview

It was great to speak with Kathryn Ryan on National Radio's Nine to Noon show this morning, in spite of my trepidation that talking about our Whiteness is not always a popular topic! I appreciated Kathryn's insight and grasp of the issues facing our Māori and Pasifika learners in our education system. Although the show began with a focus on our teacher-training needing a 'shake-up', I hope I was able to get across that, although teacher training is certainly part of the problem, and our teacher training perpetuates White thinking in our practice as teachers and leaders, what we need is a fundamental rethink about how we educate our children. 

Listen to the podcast here


As I begin to plan for 2017, I’ve been reflecting on what a milestone year 2016 was for me. I took my first (and last) sabbatical leave in 40 years of teaching and principalship. That time out led me to consider “retirement” from the role of school leadership – a major, soul-searching step which I achieved at the end of July. I was honoured by the Kia Aroha College whanau with an amazing farewell. I established my own education consulting business, developed its website, and had to learn fast about accounting, invoicing, and being self-employed. I wrote a book, and had it published in New York. I travelled to Samoa, Washington DC, and San Francisco. I developed ongoing partnerships with six awesome schools who are committed to authentic, critical, culturally responsive learning. I gave 12 keynote and guest speaker presentations, all over the country. I completed two research/writing contracts. The icing on my 2016 cake was the safe and healthy arrival of my 13th grandchild and my 4th great grandchild in December. All that – plus the resignations of both Hekia Parata and John Key! Joy all round on the whānau, professional, and political fronts! More please 2017! Happy New Year everyone!

How cool is this!

Advance copies of my book arrived this morning, ready for the Book Launch at NZARE Conference on 21 November! Wonderful to actually have it finished and in my hands at last! Click here for the ordering link. It's also on Amazon here