A group of new teachers – some newly trained and some newly arrived in the country – recently spent two days at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Bay of Islands.

The professional learning and development trip was arranged by Mahurangi College assistant principal Christina Merrick and her colleagues and aimed to give teachers the opportunity to explore New Zealand history and the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Mahurangi College has dedicated and professional teaching staff that are constantly looking for ways to improve their practice,” says Christina. “Recently teachers have been asked to create evidence-based portfolios that demonstrate the many aspects of their teaching practice.”

These portfolios include reflections on 12 different criteria relating to a wide range of teaching best practices, such as teacher-student relationships, or planning and assessment methods.

Other criteria relate to cultural understanding, such as demonstrating respect for the heritage, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi, and developing the relevant use of te reo Māori me ngā tikanga-a-iwi in context.

While most of these criteria are something that teachers can quite easily find evidence for in their daily practice, two of them have proven to be more challenging for some of the newer teachers.

“Those pertaining to culture and to knowledge about the Treaty of Waitangi can be quite tricky if you’ve only just landed in the country,” says Christina.

New staff members joined Mahurangi College from South Africa and England in 2016, and Christina says the idea to take them to Waitangi came after a family holiday there that she herself had taken.

“As assistant principal it’s my responsibility to help teachers become registered, and to meet the practising teacher criteria,” she says.

“I went up to see Waitangi Museum myself on holiday and realised it would be a great place to take our teachers too.”

The school board funded the travel, and the group, which also included Mahurangi College head of Māori Michael Winiana and head of international students Peter Johnston, made additional stops along the way. The new teachers also visited Ruapekapeka Pā, near Kawakawa. Ruapekapeka was the site of a battle in the Flagstaff War, the first major armed conflict between Māori and colonial forces.

“Having an understanding of our country – of who we are and what it means to be bicultural – is hugely important for all our teachers.”

An overnight stay provided the opportunity for the group to learn waiata and practise the school’s official song, practise te reo Māori and get to know each other better.

“And most importantly, it allowed them the space to reflect upon how they can bring this new knowledge into the classroom,” says Christina.

“Māori teacher Michael Winiata was able to talk about cultural competencies and school culture, so it was worthwhile to have the space and time to be able to carry out this kind of PLD.

“Our board was happy to fund it as a trial in 2016 – but because it was such a positive experience, and the feedback has been so good, we hope to continue doing such trips in the future.”

Lynette Hudsen, a new Mahurangi College mathematics teacher who is originally from South Africa, says that some of the experience she gained on the trip was, for her, unexpected.

“I gained a great deal of new information about Māori/European history in New Zealand – especially from the museum, where I made sure to read almost every display,” she says. “What I did not expect was to feel some spirit of the times. The visit to the museum not only imparted facts but gave me some feeling for the pride and the spirit of the Māori.”

Christina says that in addition to the obvious benefit of teachers being able to fill the criteria expected of them, the trip’s importance is much wider than that.

“At Waitangi, the museum does a good job of presenting the information in a much clearer way than we could ourselves. Having an understanding of our country – of who we are and what it means to be bicultural – is hugely important for all our teachers,” she says.

“Actually, our New Zealand-born teachers would like to take part in similar PLD – and we’re looking forward to making another trip soon.”

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