The Hikairo Schema: Culturally responsive teaching and learning in early childhood education settings – an overview

Professor Angus Macfarlane, Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane & Benita Rarere-Briggs, University of Canterbury

What is The Hikairo Schema?

Fundamentally, The Hikairo Schema is a resource that has been developed to support early childhood education teachers’ practice.  It encourages teachers to reflect on the ways in which they engage tamariki in the curriculum and in the learning environments, and supports them to expand on their skills in building connectedness to tamariki and their whānau.

Why is it called The Hikairo Schema?

The resource derives its name from the Ngāti Rangiwewehi chief, Hikairo, who used an assertive and simultaneously warm approach to resolve a series of inter-tribal encounters on Mokoia Island (Te Motu Tapu ā Tinirau) in 1823. Not unlike a good teacher in contemporary times, Hikairo demonstrated the qualities of mana and goodwill – showing that calm conveys strength. Hikairo’s sincere approach brought about real change in both attitudes and behaviours. This resource honours the way in which Hikairo (as a leader) was able to model inclusion, inspire others to work together respectfully, and create a positive environment where everyone felt a sense of belonging. The demeanor that Hikairo modelled during these encounters is reflective of the style that culturally responsive early childhood education teachers exhibit on a day-to-day basis. It is a powerful example of culture growing out of the past, and functioning in the present. (The lead author has approval from the iwi to use the ancestral name for educational purposes).

What are the dimensions of The Hikairo Schema?

There are seven dimensions, and each is represented by one of the seven letters in the name ‘HIKAIRO’. The diagram below is a visual representation of what these are:

hikairo schema.JPG

Although each of the seven dimensions represents a particular aspect of culturally responsive teaching practice, they should not be viewed in isolation, as they naturally interconnect and merge during teaching and learning activities. Each of these dimension is expanded on now:

  • Huataki: Begin affirmatively. In 1823, Hikairo demonstrated the process of ‘getting in early’ in order to establish a clear structure. Huataki is about early childhood education teachers avoiding potential challenges by starting lessons with purpose and confidence. Huataki it is about opening doorways to learning – for tamariki and whānau.
  • Ihi: Demonstrate assertiveness. In 1823, Hikairo was assertive in his approach to achieving a meaningful resolution, Ihi requires early childhood education teachers to adopt a structured and systematic style. Ihi is a no-nonsense power-sharing approach that is simultaneously fair.
  • Kotahitanga: Establishing inclusion. In 1823, Hikairo adopted an approach that was collaborative. Kotahitanga refers to early childhood education teachers using strategies that create an environment where tamariki and teachers feel a sense of belonging and connectedness. Kotahitanga creates a sense of unity where people interact as kin.
  • Āwhinatia: Build connections. In 1823, Hikairo maintained the momentum of his discussions with the tribal chiefs. Āwhinatia requires early childhood education teachers to reduce or eliminate disjointedness, to ‘stay on track’. Āwhinatia creates an environment that maintains a smooth momentum for tamariki in their learning activities.
  • Ira manaaki: Engender care. In 1823, Hikairo displayed courtesy and respect for the dignity of others. Ira manaaki refers to early childhood education teachers adopting a positive attitude based on mutual respect and care. Ira manaaki contributes to a favourable environment that supports tamariki to learn.
  • Rangatiratanga: Enhance meaning. In 1823, Hikairo used critical thinking to achieve resolution. Rangatiratanga requires early childhood education teachers to promote challenging and engaging learning opportunities. Rangatiratanga enables tamariki to expand on and strengthen their cognitive and social development.
  • Oranga: Maintain the pulse. In 1823 Hikairo was able to highlight the significance of his thinking, model an equity approach, and enable connections to be made between his ideas and those of others. Oranga is at the core of The Hikairo Schema, and draws sustenance from the outer six dimensions. Oranga requires early childhood education teachers to take into account three core principles as they work through the other six dimensions:
    • Principle 1: Relevance: This refers to aligning learning with the values as well as the cultural and personal identities of tamariki so that they and their whānau feel that it is a place where they belong.
    • Principle 2: Balance of power: This refers to providing a range of opportunities for tamariki to contribute to the curriculum and decision-making.
    • Principle 3: Scaffolding: This refers to ensuring that success is within the grasp of tamariki because the necessary resources and supports are there.

How do early childhood education teachers use The Hikairo Schema?

The Hikairo Schema is an adaptable and self-paced guide that can support early childhood education teachers to rethink their approaches to engaging tamariki and whānau, to revise their teaching strategies, and to modify some of their approaches to teaching and learning. It also enables them to work collaboratively with whānau and tamariki in terms of co-constructing goals and outcomes that are relevant to their learning contexts and community.

There are several ways that The Hikairo Schema can be utilised. One way is allocating a timeframe of several weeks for working on each dimension one at a time, so as to take small steps and try new things. Another way is to try something for each dimension simultaneously over a period of several weeks. The main thing is to ensure that the approach is at a pace that is doable, comfortable, and enabling for everyone to adjust and respond to challenges and opportunities in the learning environments. As each dimension is explored, it is important to become familiar with the central concepts as they relate to the learning environment, and to then set goals. Examples are offered to help support planning and goal-setting. Goals will need to be revisited periodically, and revised as cultural responsivity grows.

The guiding values and metaphors of The Hikairo Schema come from within a Māori worldview, which means that it is effective for use with ALL tamariki and early childhood education teachers (Māori and non-Māori).

What next for The Hikairo Schema?

Hikairo Schema_Cover_Front (1).jpgOur team’s new book, The Hikairo Schema: Culturally responsive teaching and learning in early childhood education settings, is available now from NZCER Press.

A version of The Hikairo Schema is currently being developed for the primary school sector, and a further one will be developed for the secondary school sector.

Angus - Press interview.jpgAngus Macfarlane, PhD, is Professor of Māori Research at the University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand. He has published three sole-authored, several co-authored books and has received many awards for his extensive academic achievements and contributions. His research explores cultural concepts and strategies that influence professional practice. Email:

_36A6669.jpgSonja Macfarlane, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand, working in psychology, counselling, disability studies, health sciences and education. Her research focuses on culturally responsive evidence based professional practice across a range of social disciplines. Email:

1496101057113_Benita-Rarere-Briggs-w1000.jpgBenita Rarere-Briggs is a lecturer at the University of Canterbury, Aoteraoa, New Zealand. Her teaching and writing interests are in the field of early childhood education, in particular professional practices that are inclusive and culturally responsive. Email:



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