Te Kotahitanga and Polygogy

Evaluations of the cultural responsiveness in practice. How to engage our Maori & Pasifika students.

by | Oct 25, 2015 | Articles |

On the 9th December this year, our school hosted two very engaging and inspiring speakers: Manu Faaea-Semeatu and Marcus Akuhata-Brown to present professional development session on increasing engagement for Pacifika and Maori Students. Both speakers touched the specifics of their own cultures, however, the main message for us teachers brought forward was the importance of using two cornerstones: relationships and trust. The focus of this article are two areas that we should use in our teaching practice to establish better engagement and higher achievement for Pasifika and Maori students.

For decades the reality of New Zealand education was a high dropout rate and underachievement in those two groups of students. Dr. Russel Bishop recognised this important issue and conducted research, which for a consequence had the development and establishment of Te Kotahitanga Programme.

1.vision, mission, and core values:

“Create empowering relationships – increase mana within Maori students. Foundation for all successful relationships is trust.” (Marcus Akuhata-Brown)

Relationships are established via CONNECTIONS: between people, places, origin and culture. Marcus’ message was to know who you are, where you are coming from, that you can create valid decisions for your future and to shape your life. It is not about policies and programmes, it is about people.

Trustful connections are established by showing genuine interest in students’ culture; e.g. by using some core Maori vocabulary for greetings and within curricular area. Asking Maori students meaning of their names is very empowering as they have a chance to share some of their heritage and explain their origin.

As we are multicultural school, I turned it into an exercise of every one explaining the meaning of their names (including me as a teacher) and then thinking how much it applies to our own personalities. Some students never thought of it before, some had to search it on the net, however all of them admitted that this was fascinating to listen and discover. This shared activity at the beginning of the year created better cohesion within class and immediately established feeling of trust.

Te Kotahitanga is about the principle of sharing and mutual collaboration through the respect, however the most prominent feature of this programme is about empowering students by allowing them to make choices and contribute with their own values and using their cultural context. Allowing students to develop personal Mana is the best way to ensure their achievement. I’ve been involved with this programme in my previous school when it was still a pilot programme and we already applied collaborative principles involving student interests, choices and cultural context in our practice at that time, allowing building of stronger relationships and student centred learning. These principles are now becoming a norm within New Zealand classrooms.

2. communication methods:

“My mission is to empower people to aspire to be their best; to think and dream about things they never thought possible — and live them.” (Manu Faaea-Semeatu)


Manu emphasized the need for good communication that breaks down the barrier of limited believes and encourages students to aspire for their future. From my own practice, I know how frustrating it is for both a teacher and a student, not to be able to communicate clearly. A lot of Pasifika students has some kind of literacy issue, the most prominent being richness of vocabulary and comprehension of specific terms.

Two things that every teacher can do with their Pasifika students is: to take into account bilingual context for developing literacy and to establish communication with whanau. It is important to find out who in the family celebrates student success the most and use that person as communication channel with the rest of the family and the student. Relationships are very valued in Pasifika community and they will support students towards achievement.

Giving ‘one on one’ time in the classroom allows students to bridge communication gap and share with teacher their questions or ask for clarification. I found that students will very appreciate given attention and continue communicating afterwards in person or via e-mails without hesitation. Implementation of Google Classroom helped significantly in creating needed communication channels, while collaborative Google documents are used for creating ‘class topic glossaries’ which allows Pasifika students to become equal contributors without a feeling of being left out. I recommend TKI website that provides range of useful resources for every NZ teacher in this area.











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