I have not wholeheartedly embraced every policy change that the current Government has dealt us over the past decade. Everything that strengthens central rather than local control and everything that narrows our curriculum through the setting of arbitrary standards and targets is stifling the expansion of our young peoples’ minds. I can’t support that. Standardised practices result in mediocrity. I can’t support that either. Central control is demotivating not just for our principals and teachers but for our school communities. I don’t want our teachers and parents to feel powerless and depressed.
The most celebrated aspect of ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ was the way communities were afforded ownership of their local schools, in partnership with their school principals and teachers. Through these mutual relationships schools and their communities have been able to develop their own unique curriculum, reflecting their own community’s values, aspirations and expectations. In this way, schools across the country have been able to celebrate the diversity and distinctiveness of their school communities. I don’t want that to change, and nor do our parents want that to change. It’s a system that works extremely well.
So whilst I will argue against policies that threaten the great things about our education system and that threaten to reduce learning opportunities for our young people, one thing I am pleased about is the way the current administration has shone the spotlight on Māori education. They may have presented us with the wrong solution in that national standards will certainly never assist us in lifting Māori student success rates, but they have challenged us to think hard about how we do improve the learning of our young Māori people.
NZPF, in partnership with Te Akatea, the Māori Principals’ Association focussed their attention on school culture. It was perfectly clear that if our young Māori students were going to succeed they would have to feel comfortable at school. They would have to feel a sense of affiliation – that school was their place and they had a stake in it. School could not feel like a foreign place with foreign beliefs and values. There had to be a cultural match. It was recognised that too many schools were dominated by Pākehā cultural values and beliefs.
From this idea developed a leadership PLD programme called the Māori Achievement Collaborations (MACs). Willing principals are brought together in clusters to travel a culturally reflective journey together. This is a journey of first confronting their own cultural values and beliefs and recognising how each person creates their own world view through the window of which they then conduct their lives. Having established the origins of their own world view they are then led on another journey to learn about alternative world views, including a Māori world view.
Facilitators trained in cultural practices, mores and values that underpin how Māori as a people and as iwi and hapu do things, lead the clusters and support the principals on their journey of discovery. The end point is defined as becoming truly bicultural. Having brought principals to this position, they are then eager to take this learning back to their own schools to share with their teachers and support staff. Once all staff are inspired to see that two world views can sit comfortably side by side, and once they fully adopt that position, so the school culture changes and young Māori students no longer feel they are in a foreign place. That is when their real learning can begin.
The difference between other initiatives and the MAC is that the MAC has a focus on leadership, fostering collaboration and personal and professional growth leading to changes in individual school leadership practices aimed at Māori success. As Paul Goren noted in his 2009 evaluation of Ka Hikitia, to achieve the goal of Māori succeeding as Māori involves a change in the hearts and minds of principals.
MACs have worked to create a critical mass of collective leadership so that positive change is sustainable and enduring and impacts on all members of a school community, staff, students, parents and whānau.
There are now 157 principals from nine different regions participating in this powerful PLD and that means 41,681 young Māori students are benefitting from culture change in their schools.
A recent evaluation of the MAC PLD has shown hugely encouraging results not just in the academic successes of young Māori students but in the way the changes are affecting schools’ Māori communities. Here are some comments from a survey of the participating principals:
‘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.
We are hopeful that the Minister will agree that we must continue to expand this PLD and reach our shared goal of improving the success rates of the young Māori students in our schools.