Indigenous Knowledge & Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

My Views On Indigenous Knowledge & Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

My exposure during my upbringing and schooling years to any other culture than my own was minimal.  Both my parents worked, and with eight mouths to feed, money was always tight.  We went to church on Sundays and in my naivety, I thought people were pretty much all the same, had the same opportunities and values.  Turns out I was wrong.  It wasn’t until I became a teacher  in my early thirties that I was thrown into a cultural whirlpool, doing my best to catch up.   

Over the past 11 years, my knowledge around the Treaty of Waitangi and the part I play has become crystal clear, and this knowledge is shared with my students on a daily basis at it weaves it way through my practice.  I now know that ‘equity for all’ is my aim, and that this won’t happen by knowing it, I have to design opportunities in my classroom programme for students to reach their milestones.  This year has seen me and another teacher team teaching Tikanga and Te Reo on a Wednesday with the support of our student leaders who attend a Te Reo session in the morning with Whaea Claire.  It has been awesome being involved in the tuakana-teina taking place, and I know it has definitely improved my understanding of what it means to be Maori and improved my language skills. 

I will admit, I have in the past, fallen into deficit thinking about why some of my learners were not moving forward academically.  Yes it is a three-way relationship between the student, teacher and parent; and I realise now that my role is to facilitate this connection as highlighted by Davis, (2012). I have learnt the importance of developing stronger relationships with my learners to allow us to walk together towards goal setting and I am working on getting to know their parents.  I know these connections are important because Bishop, (2009) believes that teachers who have agency, and who are able to create connections and a context, provides opportunities for Maori themselves to be part of the learning conversations in the classroom.  This will often bring about higher levels of engagement, better attendance, which leads to higher achievement.  

My awareness around connecting with indigenous cultures was further highlighted by Tauli-Corpuz, (2012) when she raised the point that indigenous cultures have traditions that underpin their society.  I need to understand these more so those with this knowledge can play a bigger role in finding ways to celebrating  decision making of what goes on for their child’s learning.  This year especially I’ve been able to really embrace manaakitanga and whanaungatanga in my class thanks to a schoolwide focus on developing our Maori learners through the initiative of our lead teacher for Maori.  Her ability to introduce the tikanga that underpins what we do, has been beneficial to the students, as well as my practice.  I liken it to reading a book; you can sound nice when you read it, but if you don’t understand the message or take away meaning, real learning will evade you.

Evaluation Of Cultural Responsiveness In Practice At My School

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In 6 weeks over 2,900 people have viewed our learning. This shows we are connecting outside the school environment, making our learning available to families beyond the school gates.

An area where I think my school does well in, is the way we find ways to develop stronger relationships with our students and whanau.  We know that social interactions are important because studies have shown this. Bishop & Berryman, (2010, p.10) highlight that the acquisition of knowledge and skills through social interactions and activities, in formal and informal settings will support student learning.  In 2016, we reintroduced classroom blogging as a way to encourage interactions between student, teachers, parents and the wider community.  Using blogging in an innovative way gives our students a voice and the opportunity to participate in a different way; thus providing equitable opportunities for sharing learning.  For our Year 4-8 students, they will have their own blog by Week 7 of Term 1.  My class have been the trial class and they have loved it.  I have noticed that given a purpose and the ability to record learning in other ways than just a book, has seen an increased level of student agency.

I think like many schools, even with initiatives set up to support our Maori learners, they are still falling short in achieving the same academic milestones as their peers.  Hogan, (2012) raises the point that many schools meet the requirements of the New Zealand curriculum and do things that recognise their Maori learners.  So what is missing?  We often discuss different ways of connecting with our Maori community and have tried different things but are yet to find true success.  Do we really know how our Maori community want to interact with us?  

Ostermand & Kottkamp, (1993, p 12) state that before we can adopt new behaviours, before we can begin to introduce reflective practice as a professional development strategy whether in a university classroom, a school, or a school district, it is necessary (a) that we develop an awareness of our habitual actions and the assumptions that shape those actions and (b) that we consider the effectiveness of actions relative to intentions. I wonder what would happen if we brought in someone who was highly skilled in developing ways to connect with whanau?  If we were open to this and it worked, we would be in a stronger position to start building a culturally responsive environment that would develop  and lead our Maori learners to higher levels of success.  

Exciting thought… Watch this space……

To find out more about the Treaty of Waitangi please click this link.


Bishop, R. (2009).  A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations.  Retrieved on 10 March 2016 from:

Bishop, R. & Berryman, M. (2009).  The Te Kotahitanga effective teaching profile.  Retrieved on 10 March 2016 from:

Bishop, R., & Berryman, M. (2010). Te Kotahitanga: culturally responsive professional development for teachers.  Teacher Development, 14(2), 173-187. doi:10.1080/13664530.2010.494497

Davis, P. (2012).  Critical elements of raising Maori achievement.  Retrieved on 10 March 2016 from:

Hogan, M. (2012).  Culturally responsive practice in a mainstream school.  Retrieved on 10 March 2016 from:

Ostermand, K. & Kottkamp, R.  (1993).  Improving schooling through professional development. Retrieved on 12 March 2016 from:

Tauli-Corpuz, V. (2012).  Understanding indigenous worldviews.  Retrieved on 10 March 2016 from:

The Treaty in Brief. (2016). Retrieved on 13 March 2016 from: