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Indigenous knowledge and culturally responsive pedagogy.

The criteria for quality teaching in New Zealand is best described by the Practising Teacher Criteria. This criteria and indicators should be viewed as interdependent and overlapping.

The four Overarching statements are:
"1. Teachers play a critical role in enabling the educational achievement of all ākonga/ learners.
2. The Treaty of Waitangi extends equal status and rights to Māori and Pākehā. This places a particular responsibility on all teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand to promote equitable learning outcomes.
3. In an increasingly multi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand, teachers need to be aware of and respect the languages, heritages and cultures of all ākonga.
4. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Code of Ethics / Ngā Tikanga Matatika commits certificated teachers to the highest standards of professional service in promoting the learning of those they teach." (Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, 2015, para. 2)

To ensure equitable learning outcomes, enable educational achievement and respect all akonga Culturally responsive pedagogy is one way I employ to make a difference for the disabled students I teach. Bevan-Brown et al (2015) tells us that being culturally responsive involves valuing, affirming and developing the student's culture. In a culturally responsive environment the student's self-esteem is enhanced, they feel psychologically secure and motivated to learn because their educational and home environments are culturally compatible.  Culturally responsive pedagogy thrives when teachers ensure that students have multiple and diverse opportunities to develop, express, and receive feedback on their understanding. Ideally, these opportunities accumulate and enable students to elaborate their ideas by bringing different experiences and knowledge to the classroom Crowe et al (2011).  Teachers seek out, affirm and incorporate student and community baskets of knowledge into the curriculum, especially when students and communities have greater knowledge and this creates a classroom culture where students and teachers are comfortable with, both being learners. Crowe et al (201, p. 2) gives us three essential ingredients for a culturally responsive classroom:

"Teachers build bridges and create opportunities to connect the classroom curriculum with children’s and communities’ lived experiences beyond school.
Teachers and students need to create an inclusive and respectful classroom culture that welcomes and responds to outside expertise.
Learning and assessment need to provide and privilege diverse ways for children to express, develop and gain feedback on their growing knowledge and expertise."

In working with my students and their families/whanau Ata - (The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships) is the most important as this lays the solid foundation for all of my classroom work and resulting student progress. The importance and value of the contribution of Whānau - (The Principle of Extended Family Structure), to their sons/daughters education and my responsibility and obligations as the teacher to nurture and care for these relationships cannot be understated. Ways in which I foster this is:

  • Having the Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting at a time and place (sometimes the students home) convenient to the families.
  • Engaging a family member or outside interpreter if needed.
  • Encouraging families to bring support people especially extended family members to the meeting.
  • Dialoging with the families to understanding their values, cultural concepts and practices relating to disability Kalyanpur, (2012).

By listening together for patterns, insights and deeper questions I am honouring Ako - (The Principle of Culturally Preferred Pedagogy), the teaching and learning practices that are inherent and unique to the students with special education needs. This is done through:

  • Dialoging with families about involvement with their son's/daughter's education.
  • Getting to know and understand my students whakapapa (identity), they each make a digital mihi which has lead to many discussions at home and between home and school.
  • Creating a class blog for families to see what their son/daughter is achieving and doing at school where they can comment on their work which in turn motivates the students. 
  • Sharing knowledge with families and the students about their rights, entitlements and services while at school and when they leave. 
  • Assisting and supporting families and students to access services.
  • Supporting the student to join cultural groups of their choosing while at school and beyond. 
  • Focusing on the student's strengths and what they bring to the classroom and how this can be enhanced so they can participate in their local community when they leave school.

The next principle is especially important for disabled students; Tino Rangatiratanga - (The Principle of Self-determination), as this empowers the student to create the life they want to live.

  • The students run the IEP meeting and set goals according to their "Dreams" based on what they want their lives to look like when they leave school and this determines my curriculum.
  • Involving families and where possible culturally appropriate outside agencies in the achievement of these goals.

Bevan-Brown et al (2015) suggests that these factors are not alone to ensure success of disabled students and the challenge is to put these into practice alongside other ingredients such as:

  • Having high expectations of all my students not only to reach their academic potential but as responsible, contributing citizens. 
  • Making learning understandable, interesting and fun. 
  • Having students actively involved in their own learning. 
  • Creating an environment where it is ok to make mistakes.

Bevan-Brown, J., Berryman, M., Hickey, H., Macfarlane, S., Smiler, K., & Walker, T. (2015). Working with Māori children with special education needs: he mahi whakahirahira. Wellington: NZCER Press

Cowie, B., Otrel-Cass, K., Glynn, T., & Kara, H., et al.(2011).Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Wellington: Teaching Learning Research Initiative.

Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2015). Practicing Teacher Criteria. Retrieved from  

Kalyanpur, M., & Harry, B. (2012). Cultural reciprocity in special education: building family-professional relationships. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.

Principles of Kaupapa Māori retrieved from:

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