Beyond Māori boys’ writing: Reading and writing our WORLD [part 5]

This seven-part blog series is based on a symposium presented at the 2017 New Zealand Association for Research in Education conference by a group of student Warrior Researchers from Kia Aroha College in Ōtara, South Auckland.

This is the fifth post in the series. To start at the beginning of the series, click hereTo view all posts in the series, click here.

Reading the world and the words of Māori principals

Jacob Harris-Kaaka | Year 12 | Te Aupouri | Ngāti Kuri

Ruia, Ruia
Tahia, Tahia
Kia hemo ake te kākoakoa
Kia herea mai ki te kawau korokī
Kia tātaki mai i roto i tana pūkorokoro whaikaro
Kotahi te manu i tau ki te tāhuna
Tau atu, tau atu, kua tau.

Tēnā koutou katoa ki ngā raurangatira kua tae mai nei ki tēnei wāhi. Ka nui te hari ki te tūtaki i a koutou, ngā mihi ki a tātou e whai ana i te mātauranga hei oranga mo tātou. Nā reira ka ruia te kākano kei ngā rangatahi kia tipu ai ngā hua whangaia ki ngā Tupuranga.

Kia ora. Ko Jacob Harris-Kaaka tōku ingoa; ko Te Aupouri me Ngāti Kuri ōku Tūrangawaewae.

In the previous blog post in this series, Matthew explained how his research exposed what we believe is racism in the Communities of Learning initiative. If all that our education system does is look at the symptoms – such as the literacy and numeracy results of Māori learners – without asking about the deeper, root causes, then we are naming that a racist practice.

So, who should have a Māori perspective on the initiative? We talked to five Māori principals who could bring together both a professional view and a Māori understanding of Communities of Learning:

  • Matua Phil Gordon, the lead principal of the COL Te Whānau Mātauranga o Kerehana, a group of seven schools in Kelston, West Auckland;
  • Matua George Ihimaera, principal of Kereru Park Campus, in Papakura;
  • Whāea Chicky Rudkin, the lead principal of the Te Arahura COL in Kaikohe;
  • Our very own Whāea Haley Milne, principal of Kia Aroha College;
  • and another South Auckland Māori secondary school principal who chose not to be named.

Whāea Chicky also included her across-school and within-school teachers (who are also Māori) in the interview.

All of our interviews were kanohi-ki-te-kanohi [face to face], some online and some in person. We provided information sheets and consent forms prior to our interviews and asked for the principals’ preferences about the use of their names and their consent to use video clips or quotes from our interviews. We then searched across the comments from all of these principals for common themes, for agreement, and for differences.

We asked about their stance on Communities of Learning; why they had joined – or not joined – COLs; their achievement challenges; and whether they had goals for learning as Maori beyond literacy and numeracy. We also asked the two lead principals about their specific role and the challenges they faced in this role.

We identified four themes from our interview results:

  • Theme 1: The dilemma: To join or not to join
  • Theme 2: The pressure to join
  • Theme 3: Inconsistencies
  • Theme 4: Leading a school “as Maori”

Theme 1: The dilemma – To join or not to join?

The dilemma about deciding to join a COL was a common feeling from all these Māori principals. The two principals who had taken on the lead role in their COLs both spoke of their mixed feelings, firstly about joining and then about leading a COL. There were also comments about how the schools needed the funding, and how the principals felt they had no option but to participate. They said they preferred to be ‘at the table’ and have influence on the COL rather than to have others make these decisions for their schools.

This dilemma was also clear in the interviews with those who haven’t joined a COL yet, and are still considering their options.

Theme 2: The pressure to join

While every one of these principals had a different stance on COLs, the common sentiment was that they all said they had faced pressure to join, both from repeated requests from the Ministry of Education, and from their dire need for resourcing and funding for teacher professional development. They described feeling that they could not justify not taking advantage of this funding.

This feeling of pressure and stress on principals, and the questioning of the COL model, was confirmed in a survey conducted by the New Zealand Principals’ Federation earlier this year. Some principals felt that in respect of COLs, they are “operating in the dark”, or “building the plane in flight”.  They said that the rules keep changing and the Ministry of Education isn’t always sure of what is or isn’t happening.  The president of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation, Matua Whetu Cormick, commented in June 2017:

“By far the majority of you who have brought your concerns to my attention do not trust this model to be genuinely about collaboration and learning, but rather say it is a managerial system which will completely undermine the relationship between a school and its community.”

Theme 3: Inconsistencies

The principals we interviewed made comments about inconsistencies in setting up and being a member of a COL. Matua George spoke of the fact that some schools are allowed to form a COL if they have a common philosophy, regardless of where they are located, whereas others cannot. This is the case, for example, for Catholic Schools, and Rudolf Steiner Schools. A small number of Kura Kaupapa Māori have formed COL, but we heard that some of these are not funded in this type of collaboration and many kura kaupapa also belong to a COL based in their local community.

However, it is currently not possible for a school with a philosophy for Māori and Pasifika-centred learning, like Kia Aroha College, to cluster with like-minded schools in other locations. Communities of Learning must be formed within the same geographical location, and provide a pathway for learners, so a secondary school must be included. The rationale for this rule (as explained to Whaea Haley by the Ministry of Education) was that Catholic or Steiner parents who moved to another location would seek out a school with that same philosophy – which would still be a “pathway”. We wondered why the Ministry of Education thinks Māori parents would make different choices? This seems inconsistent and unfair. When it impacts most on schools providing differently for Māori, we think it is also racist.

Whāea Chicky also spoke of the inconsistency that early childhood centres don’t get the same funding as schools do in a COL. The across- and within-schools teachers we spoke to in Kaikohe explained that some schools in the COL are also not eligible for these key positions.

All of the Māori educators we interviewed said they would have liked the COL to reflect who they are, who their school is, and who their community is. That would seem to us to be a basic principle that is missing when COL reflect the majority and Māori and Pasifika are further marginalised.

Theme 4: Leading a school “as Māori”

The Māori principals and teachers who were COL members struggled with trying to spread the work they were doing in their individual schools (to develop different pedagogies with their Māori learners) across their COL.  For these key people, the responsibility to teach and lead “as Māori” added a further challenge for them when they were working in a system designed to focus on the deficits of Māori. One principal described how he felt he had to compromise his soul in order for his community of learning to be approved by the Ministry of Education. The secondary principal we interviewed said that for hundreds of years, Pākehā have been “trying to tell us what to do, telling us how to teach our kids” – and she has had enough of being told what to do. This was a common feeling.

The Kaikohe teachers took this a step further, with the teacher who was from a Kura Kaupapa Māori saying that what she wanted was Ngāpuhi-centred schools, where children could learn “as Ngāpuhi” – but that this goal had caused a heated debate among the other schools in the COL. Some of those we interviewed talked about a lack of cohesion across the schools in the COL, the lack of flexibility, and having to keep trying to adapt the model to “make it work.” In his blog post, Matthew described people being swept along with reforms, initially opposing them but eventually losing their will to critique and withstand the tide. I am left with the feeling that this is true in the case of many COLs.

The teachers and principals we interviewed who were COL members could see the benefits of collaboration, and for other schools to learn from them. But I was left wondering: Whose responsibility is this, and does this add to the workload of Māori principals and Māori teachers to “teach” everyone else? Where is the responsibility for Pākehā principals and teachers, and how does being at the bottom of 77 COLs’ achievement challenges feel to these Māori educators?

Learning or leading “as Māori” should not be something any of us have to fight for – it should be our right!


The first three posts in this series introduced the Kia Aroha students’ research and their critical readings of their local community (Ōtara) and school contexts.

The fourth post provided the students’ reading of governments’ and COLs’ ‘words’, and this post has added Māori principals’ perspectives.

The next post provides further critique at the national policy level as well as student voices around visions of success.

To view all posts in the series, click here.

Kia Aroha Symposium 2017

The 2017 Kia Aroha College Warrior-Researchers Group was made up of eight students in Years 12 and 13.

The following six students presented the group’s work at the 2017 NZARE Conference in Hamilton:

  • Jasmine Bellamy | Year 13 | Ngāti Kahu | Ngāti Kahungunu
  • Pilisi Mafi | Year 13 | Toa ko Pouvalu | Vai ko Puna
  • Foloiola Finau | Year 12| Hufangalupe | Lotokaiano
  • Matthew Katipa | Year 13 | Tainui | Ngāti Whātua
  • Jacob Harris-Kaaka | Year 12 | Te Aupouri | Ngāti Kuri
  • Timitimi Ropata | Year 12 | Ngāti Toa Rangatira | Ngai Tai

Two further students, Aneeva Cherrington-Christie and Harry Seuala, also contributed during the year. The group acknowledge the support of their past principal, Dr Ann Milne, who mentored them through their research.


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