Know me before you teach me

Issue: Volume 94, Number 5

Posted: 23 March 2015
Reference #: 1H9cqe

Principal Bruce Jepsen talks about the approach his learning community took when academic intervention alone proved inadequate.

Bruce Jepsen and 2 staff members

Bruce Jepsen is principal at Bay of Plenty’s Te Akau ki Papamoa Primary School, a decile 5, co-ed, English-medium, contributing school (Years 1 to 6). Some years ago, the Education Review Office assessed the school and painted a stark picture of under achievement with too many students falling behind, particularly in literacy. When Bruce took up his position in 2007, the school’s worrying trend became the basis of a staff-led inquiry.

After taking a hard look, Bruce and his team discovered that approximately 70 per cent of all students at the school were reading below their age. Among the Māori student population – 40 per cent of the school roll – that number blew out to a staggering 90 per cent.

Bruce and his staff believed that academic intervention alone was not enough to help the students who needed it the most, to realise their full potential. Staff, local iwi Ngāi te Rangi and the wider community agreed the way forward was to put Māori identity, language and culture at the heart of the school.

As a school community, Te Akau ki Papamoa felt achievement rates were only the most tangible manifestation of an holistic education jigsaw. The other key pieces were to cherish and nurture each student’s background. This concept is neatly expressed in the phrase ‘know me before you teach me’, says Bruce.

“That’s one of a couple of key phrases that we live by here, and it means identifying each child’s background. This is something that transcends all cultures and ethnicities; no matter what your background, we’re interested in knowing about it, so that we can then take the best approach to teaching the individual.

“That has the two-fold effect, I think, of making a student feel that their individual needs are being met, while making them feel that they are a valuable member of our community.

“When students – Māori or otherwise – feel their identity is held in high regard and they know they’re more than just an attendee of an institution, confidence, pride and self-belief lead to aspiration and in time, to achievement,” says Bruce.
The goal from the outset was to normalise a bi-cultural approach, where both Māori and English languages were used in the everyday life of the school. The journey toward this goal began with a clear set of values: at Te Akau ki Papamoa they call them the ‘seven waves’:

  • Vision – Moemoeā: A definition of the future of the school, and a clear understanding of learning pathways.
  • Think – Whakaaro: Individualised learning, high-level reflection, in-depth learning and research.
  • Learn – Ako: The provision of opportunities for development of attitudes, skills, and values.
  • Nurture – Atawhai: A whānau approach; each student is treated like part of the family, in a physically and emotionally safe environment.
  • Grow – Tipu: Learners always have pathways to discover and develop their unique talents.
  • Communicate – Kōrero: The celebration of achievement, and the sharing of beliefs. Consultation with community.
  • Shine – Tīaho: Modelling and building confidence and self-belief.

He tāonga te reo

Biculturalism at Te Akau ki Papamoa goes beyond simply posting better achievement numbers. There is, of course, the wider goal of protecting the tāonga of te reo Māori itself.

After the decision was made to ‘know before teaching’, and do more with te reo Māori, targets were set. Although they weren’t necessarily going to be easy to evaluate, Bruce sees evidence of success every day.

“I was talking to one of our deputy principals, Tane Bennett, and I said, ‘how will we actually know when this is starting to filter through to such a degree that it’s making a profound difference? Are we going to assess levels of [te reo Māori] usage?’ That wasn’t part of our vision initially.

“Tane expressed that we’ll know when we walk around and we hear the language used every day, in all types of situations. In roll call for example, in playground conversations amongst students, or you might hear teachers pulling out words and phrases. It dawned on us last year when we sat back and reflected on things, we realised we’d come to that point, and that we’d had a lot of success in normalising the usage of te reo Māori.”

Dialling up change

One of the best ways to see how Te Akau ki Papamoa delivered its new vision is by tuning in to Radio TAKP 107.60FM. Like many schools, this one already had a radio station which was centred on entertainment. It attracted great buy-in from students but Bruce and team saw that it had even more potential to tap in to.

“One day when we were reflecting on and reviewing the station, I had a conversation with my colleagues and we talked about what level of difference we’re making with it, just in a general sense. We asked ourselves whether we were satisfied. We asked ourselves can we use this engagement? What would happen if we started teaching with this? We thought there was the chance to do something really powerful.”

One teacher pointed out that while there are lots of Māori-language radio stations in the wider community, there are few in schools. The seed of the idea that eventually became Radio TAKP 107.60FM was planted.

Today, this English-medium school’s radio station broadcasts almost entirely in te reo Māori. The broadcasts offer a variety of content, including ways to learn, consolidate and practice te reo Māori. To get to this point, lesson plans were developed and adapted from various sources, and pre-recorded programmes were trialled on small groups.

Bruce says students took some time to adapt to absorbing lessons incorporating broadcast radio; in our hyper-visual culture, he says, utilising just listening capacity struggles to keep kids interested. The answer was the integration of imagery, using software that synchronised slides with the broadcast.

Where Radio TAKP 107.60FM has been a particularly raging success, has been in its ability to foster the Māori language development of both students and teachers. It’s become a fantastic means of supporting and developing teacher capacity, says Bruce.

“The radio has gained lots of buy-in from staff, because we’ve removed any timidity teachers might have, because they’re worried they might teach te reo Māori in a sub-standard way.

“In the main, teachers coming out of training and into school would probably usually be somewhere near ‘emergent’ level in terms of te reo Māori. The radio broadcasts effectively remove the anxiety that staff may experience when faced with teaching in te reo Māori to a degree they’d be happy with, or consider a minimum benchmark.

“The broadcasts help to create an aspirational target for teachers. If you’re reluctant, and you’ve identified that your grasp of te reo Māori is a ‘work-on’ for you, we say ‘kei te pai’, no problem; the lesson plans are created for you and you can use our broadcasts. We say to these teachers: ‘what would your personalised goal be around the delivery of te reo Māori?’

“It’s a bit like the teacher who doesn’t like PE. When it starts to spit outside, you can guarantee that class isn’t going out for PE! With our delivery of te reo Māori, we avoid that situation, because everyone, regardless of where they are on that teacher capacity continuum, has the means not only to deliver great te reo Māori lessons, but to build their own capacity.”

The big pay-off

Seven years on, Te Akau ki Papamoa Primary School has been recognised by Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) and the Ministry of Education, with a Ngā Tohu Reo Māori Award. Bruce Jepson and staff accepted the prestigious Te Ao Mātauranga – Tūwhera (Education-Open) Award in 2014, given in recognition of the school’s innovative and daily integration of te reo Māori across the whole school through its student radio station. Overall the award was a nod to the school as a nationwide leader in fostering te reo Māori and the mauri (wellbeing) of its students.

And literacy achievement? Well that has been a staggering success as well. When ERO returned in June 2014, a startling turn-around in achievement was confirmed in the collation of data: Year 1 Māori learners were achieving to expectation at a rate of 84 per cent, up from 50 per cent. Year 2 Māori learners underwent an extraordinary upswing from 15 per cent to 87 per cent achievement at expectation. The pattern repeats at all age levels.

Make no mistake, these numbers have gone from well below to well above national averages, but Bruce reiterates achievement and education in general is an holistic enterprise, with so many interdependent factors requiring fine-tuned balance. Putting Māoritanga and te reo Māori at the heart of the school means that the spirit of whanaungatanga can have a positive influence in this respect, as well as removing barriers to Māori achievement.

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:12 pm, 23 March 2015

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