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From the uLearn16 blog: a review by Nichole Gully of Janelle Riki’s presentation – Friday 7 October 2016

Educators from around Aotearoa descended on the Janelle Riki’s uLearn session to wānanga (discuss) similar questions:

  • How can we better engage Māori learners and whānau in future focused education?
  • As our schools are transforming, how do we ensure our whānau and Māori students feel empowered?
  • How can we ensure that our schools are truly bicultural and breathing life into the Treaty of Waitangi?
  • How can be inclusive of all learners and create pathways to success for all?
  • How can pedagogy and practice in a modern and innovative classroom align with the values and practices of Māori?

This presentation discussed these and a lot more, providing examples of how a transformative journey to innovation in education will be more successful if everyone is in the waka together.

Janelle Riki family

Janelle talked to her audience as much as a māmā bear of a blended whānau of five as she did as an educator. She prefaced her remarks that in the next hour-and-a-half people would probably feel uncomfortable, and that she did this intentionally, from a place of love, in order to renew our perspectives and invite change.

So, forewarned, Janelle launched into an emotional raw story of her 16-year-old’s journey through education. A journey fraught with deficit views of his intellect, behaviour, and motivation. Labelled as the ‘typical’ Māori boy, more interested in being the naughty off-task kid than focusing on reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Report after report after report states, “Lots of potential but…”, “Lots of potential but…”. The negative perceptions of his teachers is the antithesis of who Mr Sixteen is at home. A teenage boy with the biggest heart for his siblings and cousins, respectful to his elders, a talented sportsman, a strong orator, and an extremely hardworking perfectionist. So, how is it that in a lifetime of schooling, none of these qualities have ever been noticed, fostered, and leveraged?

Russell Bishop quoteIs what we focus on all we see? As teachers, are our perceptions of kids shaping their experiences? If this is the case, if we see them as capable, driven, intelligent learners, how might this transform their experience in education? Janelle went on to talk about Russell Bishop’s research asserting, “What works for Māori in education, will work for ALL kids.” Why? “Because it is all about good practice”. She warned, though, that it doesn’t go the other way. What fits all, doesn’t necessarily fit Māori. And the stats speak for themselves.

Transforming educational outcomes for Māori like Mr Sixteen starts with knowing who they are and teaching to who they are. Valuing them. So, who are these Gen Z Māori, really? Janelle says, “They are really easy to love, but really hard to like sometimes”, but, if you make the effort, the payoffs are innumerable. And so, she unpacked who these kids are, starting with their language, Gen Z Māori lingo:

Gen Z Māori learners

  • Skux / Steezy (cool, keep doing what you are doing)
  • Salty (grumpy, so smile)
  • Snake (men who befriend lots of girls)
  • ACTUAL (truth be told, for real)
  • On the grind! (Getting fit, training, they actually value hard work)
  • TBH (to be honest)

It is this last phrase that really highlights the values that Gen Z Māori boys have. TBH – to be honest.

  • TBH u look skux
  • TBH u r a mean league player
  • TBH ur awesome at haka
  • TBH u smashed that exam

Their social media posts to their mates are splattered with positive affirmations of things they notice about each other, and they share them freely and publicly. What generation has ever done that? What would happen if teachers took this into the classroom every morning and everyone had a TBH session. TBH loved your writing yesterday, TBH your art inspired me to try new stuff, TBH… Normalise making mihi (positive affirmations) cool!

In these Gen Z Māori, we are seeing an emergence of kids connected and wanting to connect to their culture. They are smart Gen Z. They can process huge amounts of information really quickly. They can skim, not read line by line by line. Does that mean they know what to do with that information? No it doesn’t. So, we need to teach them how to analyse the reliability and validity of that information, summarise, and repurpose it. What do the oldies think —and, for your information, 25 and above is OLD to them! We think they are anti-social, have poor literacy skills, and that they are self-absorbed because they take lots of selfies. We could interpret it as self-absorption, or, we could interpret it as confidence and self-expression. We make really quick assumptions about these kids.

Angus McFarlane and his colleagues talk about how schools need to allow and enable students to be who and what they are. How are we enabling our kids to be Māori? Janelle asks, what would I hear, see and feel when I come to your school that sends the message, “We value and will celebrate your culture here?” Janelle goes to schools as an educator, but also wearing her Mum eyes. If she entered your school, what would she see and feel as a Māori mum? What signs would she see, and what would she hear that sends the message that we value and will celebrate your culture? How is she greeted as a parent when she goes to your school or your class? What might she see on your school website or read in your newsletter that will encourage her to enrol her beautiful tamariki at your school, safe in the knowledge that they will be cherished here, as Māori?

Janelle stated that, “It is not a privilege to be connected to the place you go each day. It is a right! Kids deserve to go to school and know they are home. If I was standing in your school, how would I know I was in a school in Aotearoa?” Furthermore, Janelle asked, “Shouldn’t I be able to choose any school in this country for my kids and expect that their language, culture, and identity will be celebrated and grown? This is Aotearoa, and Māori are tangata whenua, Te Reo Māori is this country’s first language. This is a school where my kids should be supported to grow into the Māori leaders of our future.”

Māori Achieving as MāoriSo, what is the recipe for Māori Achieving Success as Māori? We returned to Mr Sixteen’s repeated reports, “potential but…, potential but…”. But, Janelle asks, What are you as the teacher, as the school doing for him? His potential is his and it is not him that hasn’t realised it. That is the job of schools, to draw this out of our kids. He has potential but … what are you doing about it?”. What will it take for teachers to change their view, change their lens for kids like Mr Sixteen to realise their potential? See them in all their greatness, see all of their potential and enable them to apply what they are good at. It’s really not rocket science.

What might this look like for Mr Sixteen? How could we tie art into learning maths and sports into literacy. Where are the opportunities for him to leverage off his oral story-telling talents and working collaboratively on creative projects. Here is the box, fit in it. You don’t fit, you fail. The one-size-fits-all approach to learning doesn’t fit him and lots of other ways of learning and presenting learning do.

Janelle asserts that, “The label of failure is actually just unrealised potential.” If Mr Sixteen was born into pre-European settlement Aotearoa, he would have been considered off-the-charts gifted and talented with his oral abilities, physical prowess, and interpersonal skills, and yet he is not in our current system. He is a ‘failure’ in the NZ education system. A system that does not see or recognise his natural abilities and leverage off these. And Mr Sixteen’s experience is typical of many Māori in education.

If you are Mr Sixteen and you suck at reading, writing, and maths there are very few opportunities to to shine at school and feel good about yourself. What are other ways that all kids have time to shine. One strategy is the Tuakana/Teina wall. On one side teachers and learners write on stickies with their name, “I am good at…”, and post them on the tuakana wall. On the teina wall they can write, “I need help with….” Schools who have worked with Janelle have put this in their weekly programme and celebrate everyone’s skills. All attributes, skills, and abilities are valued, not just the ones considered valued national standards skills. What other strategies could work?

perceptionIn closing, Janelle finished with the saying, “Perception is everything! Intention is nothing”. As educators, if we want to collectively transform the experience of Māori across the education system, we need to address our perceptions and actions. It takes persistence and tenacity to shift the focus from others to ourselves, and we need to work with whānau to do this. It takes a big person to ask, What is my part in this? How can we then make it better? She says, the system is failing some kids and perception is the number one killer. We are failing our Māori kids with our perception of them and their perception of what they think we think of them. They think teachers don’t know them, don’t want to know who they are, and don’t care. Our kids have made assumptions and have gotten used to teachers having negative assumptions of them.

We have stuff in our profession we must unlearn. We have developed some bad habits and we have to learn new ones. We have to be open, critically reflective, and honest in turning that mirror around as the change starts with us. She implored teachers, as a Mum of five beautiful Māori kids in the education system to do this, so children like Mr Sixteen are no longer labelled as failures and become damaged in their journey through our education system. We cannot wait; we must act now. Our babies are too important, and our future depends on us growing the very best leaders we can.


Nichole Gully

Nichole Gully has worked in Māori medium education for over 13 years. Before joining CORE, she worked as a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in undergraduate and post-graduate Māori language programmes. There she was involved in Māori language learning papers, indigenous language revitalisation, bilingual and immersion education, language teaching methodologies, and teacher education. As a mother of a bilingual ten-year-old boy in a Māori-speaking household, Nichole also works alongside whānau in their journies in bringing up bilingual babes. Nichole is currently researching and developing an innovative method to accelerate the acquisition of te reo Māori called 'Kia Whita!' which is modelled on the Accelerative Integrated Method.
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