A journey through time in Shannon - He haerenga tahi o tēnei rohe o Hanana

Issue: Volume 101, Number 10

Posted: 10 August 2022
Reference #: 1HAVPU

Shannon School has embarked on a mural inquiry that will bring colour and interest to the school environment, as well as teaching about creative processes and art forms through local histories.
Ahakoa ōna piki me ōna heke ko te ara akoranga te mea nui. Although we have our ups and downs the pathway of learning is a great thing.

Students are observing and drawing nature.

Students are observing and drawing nature.

In her kōrero with Education Gazette, Shannon School kaiako Lois Erceg-Erkilic (Ngāpuhi) recalls many whakataukī that capture the mahi of the kura, and the mural inquiry. One you read above. Another she shares is ‘E kore au e ngaro te kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea, I will never lose the seed sown from Rangiatea our spiritual homeland’.

Shannon School is in Horowhenua, and has a rich connection to the land, and to Mana Whenua Ngāti Whakatere.

Lois says an important outcome of their mural inquiry is to build and strengthen productive partnerships with parents, whānau and hapori.

It is equally important that tamariki discover and nurture a deep sense of personal identity and fulfilment from this creative experience.

Lois says the school embraces an open and innovative learning environment that encourages inclusiveness and personalised learning – where each tamariki co-constructs their weekly learning contract with kaiako.

“We aren’t always in closed units such as classrooms, so if I’m talking about the senior hub where I work, we’re working from Year 4 through to Year 8.”

This environment means that ākonga may be working in different break-out groups learning music, maths, or dance simultaneously, but then come together for combined activities and inquiries such as Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories, science, technology, kapa haka, karakia and other overarching inquiry themes.

Learner voice is a key part of Shannon School, and is pivotal in encouraging learner engagement.

The combination of the learner voice and the open teaching and learning environment can bring challenges and constant evolution to teaching practice.

But, Lois says, “If we’re talking about the child at the centre of every decision that is made, then we’re going to come up the right decision, the right outcome.”

Staff also have a voice as to what happens within the school and use their strengths to teach collectively.

“We have a teacher aide who works with two of our diverse learners, but there’s a certain time each day when she leaves them and goes to teach the music curriculum. She teaches the school band, because she’s a musician.”

Telling stories through art

The school has close links with the community. Learners are encouraged to be seen and be part of community events ranging from singing to the elderly, taking kai to people who are unwell or have lost whānau, planting trees, visiting the marae, and many other community events. These strong links to the community are part of the inspiration for the school’s mural inquiry.

Ten years ago, the school combined with local kaumātua to find stories that related to the area. These stories, reflecting the history of the area and the school, were then placed on a heritage website. This process of inquiry as to where learners come from, and their heritage, has been ongoing.

The next step for the school was to find a way to express these stories artistically. This began with discussions with local artist Wendy Hodder.

“The principal was keen to bring some murals into the school. That was just something that was noticeably missing. The school that he previously came from had murals everywhere. So, he arrived and thought, ‘Gee, a lot of blank walls here’,” says Wendy.

It was important for the murals to go beyond just decoration, to tell a story, a deep rich kōrero.

“We looked to see how we can fit the kaupapa of the mural with the values of the school; Kotahitanga (unity), Manāki (caring), Hautoa (courage), Kaha (effort) and Whakamana (pride). We want to draw together the different strands of learning and then this will be what we reflect,” says Wendy.

“Ko te ngako o te ngākau ko te matauranga. Knowledge affects the reasoning of the heart,” adds Lois.

Expressing the unique nature of the school symbolically has been done before – the kapa haka uniforms also tell a story in their design.

Kapa haka uniforms also tell a story.

Kapa haka uniforms also tell a story.

“If you look at the top panel on our kapa haka dress, you’ll see lots of stars. Why is that? It is because our children are people from Iraq, people from Ireland, people from England, and no matter where we are in the world, we all can see the stars at night. So, the stars are a way to show how all these children are part of our community. This is the voice of the children when they helped to design the kapa haka uniform,” says Lois.

Aspects of the kapa haka uniform will be incorporated into the final murals, along with the school logo which symbolises its link to the history of the region.

The logo includes the harakeke plant which was a primary industry in the area after the forest had been cleared in early years. Harakeke also demonstrates the values of the school and symbolises the whānau.

“The centre’s new growth symbolises our pēpi who need our utmost care and sustaining. Then we have older brothers, sisters, cousins and parents; our whānau, who protect us – this includes teachers and community. Finally our older people – our kaumātua who are the wisdom bearers. They are represented by the outer leaves of the harakeke plant. When they finally pass away, their leaves replenish Papatūānuku (the land) and rejuvenate new growth,” says Lois.

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he whānau, he iwi. What is the greatest thing of this world? It is man. It is family. It is people.”

Inquiry process

The process of developing the murals revolves around weekly visits by Wendy. Prior to her visit learners will work on aspects that will relate to the session – for example working on art through the use of colour wheels.

When Wendy visits, this corresponds with a visit from a member of the community who shares stories about the history of the area. Learners have prepared questions to ask and discuss what has been said.

These sessions are reflective of the school’s inquiry-led approach – all the required areas are taught but might be in ways that were not previously planned for.

“The learning inquiries aren’t prescribed; you’re developing them, you’re looking back and moving forward. You’re seeing what the need is, because you might come in today and you had something planned but then something else valuable happens. So, if you think that’s a priority, the plan goes on the back burner and that priority steps up.

“Me titiro whakamuri kia kōkiri whakamua. Look back to reflect in order to move forward.”

The inquiry process is being incorporated into the creative collaboration. For example, Wendy relates how ākonga had recently been learning about the idea of Te Kore and Te Pō.

“The students had been learning the karakia waiata, Ko te Pū, which is about the growth of the seed – planting that seed, putting down roots, and the unfolding of the shoot, and different ways of approaching this idea of coming from the darkness into the light, like Te orokohanga o te ao Māori, the creation of the Māori world.

“We used this to start talking about black and white, the darkness, the light, and viewing it as a creative process,” explains Wendy.

The school also arranged for a trip to Levin to see some of Wendy’s other artwork, and to see how local community and history can be represented visually.

Learners also visited Ōhau, where the community had wanted murals for their newly constructed underpass, built after some students had died crossing the highway. Wendy told the students about the struggle to work out how to communicate what the community wanted through her artwork.

“It’s powerful because it’s about asking how you can use your art as an effective way of symbolism as well.”

The visits also helped to spark discussion on technique.

“We were looking at colour wheels and just working with limited monochromatic and complementary colours. Then we went for a visit around some of the murals that I’d painted, and they were asking some questions about how colours were put together. So that was really guiding our exploration into colour and tone and composition,” explains Wendy.


The environment and sustainability are important to the school. They have their own gardens and have a kitchen to create lunches for the students rather than buying lunch from other suppliers. Learners can also pick pears and apples, then make apple or pear crumble.

These values have included environmental observation of local birdlife, which will also be incorporated into the mural.

Lois explains how students first became acquainted with birds through online images and sounds, then went out to see what birds were around and draw them. This allowed the learners to produce art, but also to understand their environment.

The junior school is also looking at how the environment can inspire ideas for beautifying the school.

“They are focusing on the river and the flow of the river, so they will collect stones from the river and paint them and then they’ll be cemented somewhere around the school. They will also learn about their mountain ranges (ngā pae maunga) to create artworks.”

Wendy with one of her murals.

Wendy with one of her murals.

Looking ahead

When the artwork is completed, it is planned that there will be a day-long celebration starting with a dawn ceremony where students will have the chance to stand by their work and explain what it means. They will speak to their interpretations of what they have learnt about the region.

Wendy is looking forward to the benefits that the completed inquiry will bring.

“There’ll be images of the forest, the birds, the river and the mountains, but also of some more specific things relating to the histories, that people will be able to identify with. There will also be the sense of brightening up the school – that you come around the corner and there’s something bright and colourful. It just has a sense of being uplifting.”

Lois loves the way that art can support learners. It allows them to develop their character, their mana. It allows them to think about their environment, the people, and who they are.

“Your character is going to stay with you for the rest of your life. When you pass away, people don’t always talk about ‘how well you knew your times tables’. They talk about what kind of person you were,” says Lois.

The school’s motto is “Kia mau te puāwaitanga o to Mana” which means nurturing the mana of the learner.

“The beautiful message within this motto is that we are all blossoming learners along the journey of life.

“Haumi e Hui e Taiki e. Join and bind together for it is done.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:26 pm, 10 August 2022

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