Team Solutions, based in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work, is well-known as a provider of professional learning and development for teachers in schools. In addition, many Team Solutions facilitators are also engaged in cutting-edge research that informs their work with practice communities.
Siliva Gaugatao, Jacqui Tutavake and Donna Tupaea-Petero are three facilitators who are currently researching teaching and learning strategies for Māori and Pacific students’ success.
Siliva Gaugatao: The engagement of Samoan fathers and male caregivers in teenagers’ learning
Team Solutions facilitator Siliva Gaugatao’s doctoral research project focuses on a topic close to home for him: the engagement of Samoan fathers and male caregivers in their children’s secondary school education.
His research explores this topic through the lens of Parent-Student-Teacher (PST) conferences (an in-depth conversation about each student’s academic achievement progress). The approach to parent-teacher meetings was promoted by the success of the Starpath Project (which focused on equitable outcomes for students who have been underrepresented in tertiary education) across schools in Auckland and Northland.
“PST conferences go beyond the usual ‘five-minute speed dating’ system you see in more traditional parent-teacher interviews,” Siliva says. “These conferences between teachers, parents and students, go into much greater detail and focus on the progress each student is making in relation to their goals.”
He has found in the existing literature, and in his own experience, that fathers are generally absent at these conferences. “Interestingly, we do not know why for sure because we have not deliberately inquired deeply into this phenomenon.”
“The research shows that it’s mostly mothers turning up to these conferences. So, do schools ask for mothers or have they bought into the belief that as long as mothers are there it’s fine? In Samoan families, a father is considered the ‘head of the family’. So, if the head of the family isn’t engaged in the education of their children, what message does that send to other members of the family?”
Siliva is currently planning an in-depth investigation of the issue, aiming to work with several school leaders, teachers and students to investigate how schools plan, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of PST conferences. He will also interview Samoan fathers and male caregivers in three Church communities to help understand this phenomenon further.
“It’s easy to assume that engaged fathers correlate to improved student outcomes but that may not necessarily be the case. I’m also interested in cases where students are performing well (academically and socially) at school but where parents may be less engaged.”
Later in his research, he aims to conduct two intervention studies to get schools to evaluate and improve their existing practices, and another focused on helping fathers and male caregivers to engage confidently in PST conferences and similar educational spaces.
“There’s lots of room for ongoing learning for schools and us as a community. This study will not be done then shelved. My goal is that this research will open up many new learning opportunities for schools to better understand how fathers and male caregivers (Samoan and others) perceive and engage in the education of their children. Similarly, fathers will also gain a better understanding of schools so that they can work better together productively to support improved outcomes for their children, families and communities”
Jacqui Tutavake: Found in Translation – Connecting PLD to bilingual teachers
When working with bilingual Māori and Pacific students, teachers using the right language and linguistic resources can be vital in communicating lessons effectively. But what about professional development facilitators using language resources when working with bilingual teachers?
This is the subject of Jacqui Tutavake’s doctoral thesis Found in Translation, which explores how bilingual teachers make sense of professional learning and development (PLD). The research is an extension of Jacqui’s long-time interest in bilingual education, which has included a Master of Education thesis investigating a Samoan bilingual unit in an English-medium primary school.
“While our overall goal as educators is to raise student achievement, it’s important to take a step back and view the whole process, and that process starts with effectively working with the educators,” Jacqui says.
“As someone who works in professional learning and development, I find that as facilitators we should be meeting the needs of all of our teachers including those who teach in bilingual classes. Utilising the cultures and languages of our teachers is one way to do this, and may make professional learning more meaningful and accessible for teachers.”
To explore this and capture teacher voice Jacqui will be conducting a series of interviews reframed as talanoa (meaning conversation based on Pacific principles of love, warmth, humour and respect) and kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) with the classroom teachers and teachers who lead PLD within their Communities of Learning (CoLs).
She will also be sitting in on class sessions and participating in group conversations with teachers. An aspect of her research is to decolonise westernised data collection techniques such as interviews, observations and focus groups to demonstrate more relevant approaches when working with Māori and Pacific people.
There is a risk in professional development, Jacqui says, of adopting generalised approaches to interventions which don’t differentiate for teachers. “It’s not just about teachers’ needs, but also building and valuing strengths such as culture and language. It’s about being aware of approaches that are more effective when working with bilingual teachers,” she says.
An example of this was a Māori teacher she worked with who used a whakatauki (proverb) to make sense of English-medium PLD in their school. “We need to recognise that different teachers require different approaches to unlock how professional learning can be relevant in their teaching context.”
Donna Tupaea-Petero: Cross-cultural understandings in education
Team Solutions facilitator Donna Tupaea-Petero’s research is focused on examining factors that enable Māori student success in tertiary visual arts education in both mainstream and Kaupapa Māori contexts.
Her doctoral study uses lessons from her masters research, which explored how a mātauranga Māori (an educational approach drawing on Māori principles) and a conventional NCEA approach for Māori students in senior secondary school visual arts programmes could promote greater success for students “as Māori”.
Her PhD research, now in its second year, is founded in the notion that culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogical methods, which privilege Māori language, culture and identity, are integral to Māori learners’ sense of belonging and success.
“The study offers an opportunity to critically reflect upon enablers for Māori success in both contexts – what is it that we can learn from each approach? How can we bring together two different world views (or ways of knowing, being and doing) to create more holistic ways of learning? I think we need to be prepared to move into and consider more deeply what different spaces offer in order to create new and equitable spaces, especially in relation to how and what knowledge is valued,” Donna says.
She is also interested in mātauranga Māori and its place in Māori success. “Our traditional knowledge systems are not antiquated; they are always evolving. So I’m really interested in what contemporary applications and interpretations might look like in creative endeavours and educational contexts.”
Donna believes that her qualitative study will offer unique lessons for both theoretical and practical perspectives of both Kaupapa Māori and arts-based research. “I’m excited by the opportunity to be able to bring my overlapping and mutually informing identities of Māori artist, researcher and teacher to this study and hope to encourage others to engage with creative research or visual methods of inquiry that operate from within a Māori worldview,” she says.
The study will involve interviews with students, lecturers and programme directors, as well as document analysis, observations and photography of students’ artwork.
Although her research focuses on tertiary visual arts education, Donna believes her findings will be transferable to other areas. “The potential impact of the findings that emerge from both mainstream and Kaupapa Māori contexts could make an important contribution to how we might better address the ongoing disparity in the achievement of Māori across all education sectors.”