Not since the Hunn Report of 1961 has Māori educational disadvantage been in the spotlight to the extent it has in the past decade. Whilst the introduction of National Standards was about as welcome as an opossum at a picnic, one of the Government’s stated reasons for their introduction was to address the ‘underachievement’ of Māori learners.

The challenge had been issued. The New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) took up the challenge, determined to find a creative solution. Recognising that about 90 per cent of Māori learners attended mainstream schools, any solution had to apply in the mainstream. Already the Ministry had produced Ka Hikitia and Tū Rangatira, both excellent publications and distributed these to schools. The Education Council had also distributed Tātaiāko, ‘Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners’. The missing link was the professional learning development (PLD) to go with them.

NZPF, with guidance from Te Akatea, the Māori Principals’ Association, set out to develop a PLD programme for principals designed to bring life to both the Ministry’s documents and the Education Council’s Tātaiāko. Central to this PLD was shifting school culture. If schools were to adopt a truly bicultural aspect, then leadership was key to that transformation.

The first step was to transform the leaders themselves. The PLD takes principals on a journey of cultural encounter. Through a process of hard, and at times uncomfortable and confronting, questioning and reflection principals come to understand how their own culture was shaped. They come to appreciate how their own worldview, values and beliefs were acquired.

At this point it is possible to recognise and accept that different worldviews can coexist. They come to see how covert racism can unwittingly operate in a school or indeed any part of society, making Māori learners feel culturally uncomfortable and alienated. The rationale for the PLD was based on the assumption that if Māori learners felt they belonged and that their views and beliefs were valued and made normal by the school, they would have a greater chance of succeeding.

The assumption was one that principals could believe in. It was backed by a broad selection of global research linking learning success with environments in which learners feel a sense of belonging and ownership.

This unique PLD is delivered through collaborative groups, each led by a facilitator who has cultural expertise and is trained in group mentoring and coaching. The collaborations operate on a high-trust model as members support each other through their own journeys.

Last year the Minister backed the PLD with funding so that a national coordinator or Te Pītau Mātauranga could be appointed. In the past year principals have flocked to join the PLD collaborations stretching the funding and facilitators delivering the PLD to the edge.

The original six collaborations have grown to eight and from 47 principals when funding was granted, to 156 now. Māori Achievement Collaborations ( MAC) principals can be found in eight regions of the country and the total number of students involved in the different schools has increased from 16,286 in March 2016 to 41,663 in November 2016. The number of Māori students across those schools has grown from 6,111 in March 2016 to 12, 873 in November 2016.

Participating principals report high levels of satisfaction with the PLD, which they also find very effective. Some of the comments from principals include:

  • “The cluster [collaboration] means I have a network of people to call if I have a question.”
  • “It has strengthened partnership in our immediate community.”
  • “MAC is the most influential PD I have ever received – it supports all of my work and I don’t want to see it finish.”
  • Feedback from the participating principals also indicated that their knowledge, especially in implementing the Ka Hikitia strategies is developing well. They also report higher levels of confidence in their ability to implement the strategy.
  • “I am learning heaps at each hui.”
  • “It has a needs-based feel about it which is hugely important in adult learning.”
  • “We are generating our own questions and getting great support from one another as well as from our facilitator, who has a wealth of knowledge to top us all up and keep us on track! It is truly great.”
  • Participants have also reported gains in their partnerships with students, whānau, iwi and hapu.
  • “We have more of our Māori parents talking to us and sharing ways we can work together.”
  • “…parents say their children are putting pressure on them at home… to speak te reo and understand their culture.”
  • “We now run te reo lessons in our interval times two or three times a week.”

Principals continue to line up to join what is now considered to be positively transforming PLD. Whilst the will is there to accept all-comers, the PLD is now a victim of its own success and has outreached its capacity to cope with more participants.

The Minister has more recently focused her sights on the data for Māori children whose principals are involved in the MAC PLD. She wants to see increases in the national standards results of these Māori children, especially where principals have been involved from the beginning.

This is a challenge for participating principals who believe that first biculturalism has to be embedded in their schools before they will see appreciable shifts in national standards data. That is after all the purpose of the PLD.

More concerning is that the Minister has not confirmed that funding will continue for the MAC PLD. Principals believe it is such a powerful mechanism for ultimately developing a bicultural nation that it should be continued for the benefit of all.

A statement from one MAC principal sums up the value of the PLD well:

“Every time we have met for a MAC event I have learned something more, something new. Schools are doing any number of exciting, innovative projects and opportunity to learn more about these is a catalyst for doing more in my own school. Our long-term goal is to be a bilingual school in a bicultural nation, while also ensuring the mana of all students is grown in our multicultural, Tamaki Makaurau context.”

Source: Education Review


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