Fostering a sense of identity

Issue: Volume 96, Number 19

Posted: 30 October 2017
Reference #: 1H9fjm

A recent journey to Rarotonga gave a group of Christchurch students an increased sense of cultural identity as citizens of the Pacific. Education Gazette talks to Shirley Boys’ High School teachers Joseph Houghton and Te Rau Winterburn to learn more.


This is the mission statement of Shirley Boys’ High School, and a recent overseas trip saw it played out under blue skies and gently swaying coconut palms.

Eleven te reo Māori students from the Christchurch school travelled to Rarotonga to explore language, culture, the migration of their tūpuna (ancestors), and their place in the Pacific as Māori New Zealanders.

A strong impetus for the trip was to celebrate the learning of te reo Māori and foster identity and belonging, says teacher Joseph Houghton.

As dean and director of Māori and Pasifika development at Shirley Boys’, Joseph and te reo Māori teacher Te Rau Winterburn organised the trip and travelled with the boys.

“Many school language departments offer trips to relevant foreign countries for their senior students, and we wanted to help our students look at te reo from a global perspective and really revitalise the study of the language at our school,” explains Joseph.

“Te reo Māori is our indigenous language, but we can look at it as a taonga with a place in the world as well.”

Te Rau says he encouraged his language students to brainstorm the possibilities of an overseas trip themselves.

“We discussed the migration of Māori across the Pacific. I already knew that Rarotonga was the place we needed to go to explore that in person, but I wanted the boys to come to that themselves, which they did in the end.”

“Then they asked, ‘How do we make it happen?’ They drafted a proposal themselves, outlining the cultural and educational benefits of such a trip.

“The proposal was wholeheartedly embraced by whānau, school leaders and our board of trustees, too – their support was invaluable to this project.”

As Te Rau explains, the trip brought unexpected benefits to the wider school community.

“We couldn’t have done it at all if it wasn’t for the Shirley Boys’ whānau, both individually and as a collective. There were particular parents who really took hold of the kaupapa and drove the project.

“It was probably the strongest and most effective thing to date that has brought whānau closer to each other, and closer to the school in general.”

Global citizens

Like any overseas adventure, and especially one involving a school group, careful planning was required to ensure the best learning experience for all students.

This involved fundraising efforts and applying for financial support from local community boards.

“We had to be really wise about how we went about the planning process,” says Joseph.

“As with other schools, parents aren’t necessarily made of money, and we wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to come on the trip, could.

“But in a testament to our whānau and staff, we were able to get the whole thing off the ground in about eight months. Whānau have asked us to organise another trip for next year, which is on the cards.

“In planning the trip, we were focused on this idea of ‘living and breathing the curriculum’. That might sound a bit out there because we only took 11 kids, but next year we’d like to take 20, and we hope that enthusiasm for te reo Māori in our school will grow.

“In that way, it’s an aspirational idea and one that feeds back into our school vision.”

Connections near and far

Because the trip had a strong focus on forging meaningful connections, the teachers believe everyone returned from the journey with an increased sense of their place in the Pacific.

“For some boys, it was the first time they had travelled overseas. For most, it was the first time they had been immersed in a culture different from their own,” says Joseph.

“We saw the students grow in ways that we had not expected. They all engaged in the culture of the Cook Islands and appreciated both its distinctiveness and its connection to New Zealand Māori.”

This was done by attending cultural performances, exploring ancient marae sites and paddling vaka (waka), with a central focus on retracing migration.

On a mountain trek, one student realised he was literally climbing the maunga of his tūpuna.

“It really was like going back in time and discovering roots,” he says.

Te Rau describes the vaka ama as being an especially powerful experience.

“Looking out at the vast ocean, we reflected on how our ancestors must have felt, leaving their island home. The effect on us all was phenomenal – they must have had amazing courage!”

The boys learned about coral and reef regeneration and island biodiversity through a cross-island trek and lagoon tour. The group also visited several local schools and learned to shimmy up coconut palms.

Accommodation was arranged in a community centre, similar to a marae, in Avarua, which provided rich opportunities for interaction and whanaungatanga, including time spent with the local tohunga, who told the boys his version of the migration story.

“That stay in Rakahanga Hostel was really special,” says Te Rau.

“The boys were taken under the wings of the elders, who really looked out for them. That experience alone was invaluable for the boys, and for us as teachers.”

There was even a chance meeting with a similar group from Christchurch school Ellesmere College, who were also on the island.

“Collaboration with Ellesmere and the local schools was really good, and allowed us to lay foundations for future interaction,” says Joseph.

“I would say the key outcomes of the trip included making connections with culture, the natural environment, and the people we met there.

“We got to connect the learning we’d done beforehand, and I think it was quite meaningful and life changing, to be honest.”

Student voices

“I grew so much as a Māori! The trip opened my eyes to so many better things.”
– Mesiah Ngatuere, year 12

“I saw and climbed the maunga that my tupuna lived under.” – Ethan Te Puni, year 12

“Having been shown manaakitanga 24/7, being so generously welcomed, having conversations with store owners and people on the street, really made me feel like i was home.” – Temuera Hay, year 12

“I saw everyone get out of their comfort zones, countless times! Jumping out in the middle of the deep blue! Climbing the big mountain!”  –  Devante Wawatai, year 11

“It was by far the biggest and best experience of my whole life. I can’t remember leaving the house for more than three days, and so to have this experience was by far my biggest opportunity yet. How do I describe the island? It was so beautiful – the landscape, water, food and, my favourite, their culture performances.”  –  Eru Pita, year 12

“I was the only year 13 out of all us of the senior Māori language class of SBHS. The purpose of this trip was to retrace the footsteps of our tūpuna, who sailed the monstrous seas to find what ended up becoming our kainga – Aotearoa. Having already a bit of knowledge about the big voyage and the migration of our tūpuna from a previous trip to Rarotonga, I was amazed and quite frankly stunned by the new strands of knowledge I was exposed to. So many questions I wanted to ask, so many mysteries and unanswered questions I desperately needed/wanted to know – this all leaving me hungry and eager to learn and know more and more. I was amazed at the fact that what I had believed in all my life about my whakapapa, was all flipped and turned upside down when I was told the truth of my vaka/waka.” – QeyLoux Hakaria, year 13

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 30 October 2017

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