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Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

School structure, language and symbolism tend to affirm some students identity and devalue that of others (Savage et al., 2011). This can lead to low expectations and alienation of Maori students,  which will be reflected in this group's high suspension rates, over-representation in special education, low attainment, and leaving school with fewer qualifications than students from dominant cultural groups. (MoE, 2006).

Deficit theorising (locating the problem in students and their families socioeconomic circumstances) has for a long time been part of the traditional approach to solve this problem. However, authors like Russell Bishop (Professor of Māori Education at the University of Waikato) see this achievement gap as a large scale debt which needs to be addressed through a culturally responsive pedagogy, which will recognise students cultural values and experiences and bring them into the learning conversation.

Agentic teachers are essential to this process, caring for Maori as Maori and having high expectations for them, managing the classroom to ensure it is a a safe environment where cultural identities are respected and valued. The concept of "learning amongst learners" is key to this approach and it should be fostered through the implementation of strategies to facilitate clearly structured collaborative learning.

This imply that rather than students having to adapt to the school culture, it is the school that needs to adapt to the culture of the students.Teachers should act as cultural translators, closing the gap between the curriculum and students' experiences, so learning becomes a personal experience based on relationships.

According to their own perceived ethnicity 61% of students in my school are Asian, 31% European and only 0,03% describe themselves as Maori. In spite of this, the school fosters the bi-cultural identity of Aotearoa. Maori protocols are strictly observed and celebrated and our Kapa-Haka group is one of the gems of the school performing arts.

Seemingly, in relation to the resources available to teachers, thanks to the passion and energy of one of our Social Study teachers, all curricular areas can find in our school Google Site how to include Maori content in their syllabus, as well as language and culture. And even though this is a new initiative, it is fully suppported by SMT and the HoFs. and it is slowly being embraced by some teachers. This initiative is also supported by an intensive programme of familiarisation with Kaupapa Maori (though ongoing PD, Maori Language Courses in site for teachers and an annual Marae retreat for teachers).

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However, it is maybe in activities where my school has the most room to improve. Our school pedagogical approach is the Gradual Release of Responsibility Instructional Framework (GRoR).

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The pitfalls of this approach in relation to the cultural responsive model are that:

  1. The GRoR framework focuses on the transmission of knowledge and skills rather than the co-construction of knowledge.
  2. In practice, it translates into lecture-style instruction and cooperative (rather than collaborative) application of that knowledge or skill. 
  3. GRoR focuses on content rather than relationships.
There is no doubts that teaching MUST be a cultural responsive practice. Every single human activity is mediated and filtered by culture and education does not escape this. However, for as long as secondary education success is measured on attainment, and attainment is considered a reflection of performance on  standardised examinations I see very little room for real change in practice, where not only teacher, but also students can be agentic and in-charge of  their (mutual) learning.

Evaluating my school practice in terms of the cultural responsive pedagogy using the Mauri Model it is possible to say that in terms of content  we are in a state of Mauri Oho: we have awoken (Kua oho) and  have started to engage (Kua Maranga). However, in relation to activities we are still  anxious and withdrawn (Kai te pouri),  dependent on those traditional models which brought us so much academic success. Nevertheless,  it is possible to perceive certain elements of inward reflectiveness (Kai te whakatōngā).

However, I also agree with Gutschlag (2007) that teachers cannot be seen at the same time as the sole driver of change and an instrumental moderator of post-colonialist cultural dominance. Also, this perspective tends to discard teachers' cultural identity (not all teachers are European or belong to a post-colonialist culture). At school sometimes I consider myself as much of a cultural alien as some of my students, and my Latin-american cultural identity (based on relationships) reflects more the indigenous  than the post-colonialist approach.


Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. [video file].
Retrieved from

Gutschlag, A.(2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioning. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from                                                

Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri - Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from

Savage,C, Hindleb, R., Meyerc,L., Hyndsa,A., Penetitob, W. & Sleeterd, C.(2011) Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: indigenous student experiences across the curriculum. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(3), 183–198.


  1. While you have recognised that not all teachers are "European or belong to a post colonialist culture" neither are all Maori students affected by "low expectations and alienation," or a part of a group in which "high suspension rates, over-representation in special education, low attainment, and leaving school with fewer qualifications than student from dominant cultural groups." Too often I see all Maori being lumped together in as you say the deficit model. Certainly NOT what I want for my two Maori daughters.

    1. Hi Geraldine. Thank you for your comment. I agree with you, and that is exactly my point. Sometimes these articles can simplify the background to this stereotypical dichotomies (failing Maori/achieving European).
      Fostering relationships in which students -and teachers- can express themselves and their cultures is at the core of effective teaching and learning. Also, we must move away from a model in which knowledge is cumulative and transmitted, towards one in which it is collaboratively constructed (where negotiation of meaning activates different cultural perspectives) so to produce real-life artifacts which relate to students experience and perspectives.


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