Huakina Mai – a whole-school approach to wellbeing and belonging

Issue: Volume 99, Number 14

Posted: 3 September 2020
Reference #: 1HAAXU

The Huakina Mai approach of adopting a Māori world view allows schools to see all learners in a positive light, setting the tone for positive relationship building across the whole school community.

Kids in class

It’s a cool Canterbury morning and Mairehau School principal John Bangma is excited. He has just met with a new entrant, a little girl with severe cerebral palsy, and he can’t wait for the whole school to join her learning journey.

“We’re really looking forward to her starting because of the benefits that all our children will get from having her in our school. Just by being herself, she will quickly teach our children about caring, tolerance, understanding, acceptance of difference; all traits we cannot teach from a book.”

Creating a sense of belonging

Mairehau School prides itself on being inclusive – “it’s something we work really hard at” – and follows the Huakina Mai model, a strengths-based, mana-enhancing approach designed to build and maintain a positive school culture.

It’s a culturally responsive approach to supporting positive behaviour in order to effect wellbeing and achievement, and was developed to address the over-representation of Māori tamariki in stand-downs, exclusions, underachievement statistics and referrals to special education support. And it’s working for all learners – of all ethnicities.

“It is clear that what works for Māori, works for all,” says programme co-developer Sonja Macfarlane, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury.

“The cultural values that underpin Huakina Mai are inclusive, collaborative, relational and mana-enhancing; they are restorative and strengths-based, and work from the position of aspiration and potential. These values create the sense of belonging, a culture of care, where learners do not need to leave their culture at the school gate, and instead feel like they are ‘coming home to school’.”

“Huakina Mai allows us to look and be able to say, ‘Actually we know that this child is really challenging in this and this, but we know that they have all these really great things about them.’ It gives us a different lens in looking at each of our children and what they are doing,” says John.

A teaching professional of 35 years, John says the Huakina Mai approach supports his experience in education.

“The more I looked at children who didn’t fit in the box, the more I realised that nobody fits in the box. And if we celebrate the individuality and what every child has to offer then we’re looking at them through a completely different lens.”

Demonstrating values

Huakina Mai draws on a Māori values system where, compared with Western values, greater emphasis is placed upon maintaining the mana of both the individual and the collective. For example, aroha – when expressed out of care and love, and delivered in a genuine and supportive way – can also indicate disapproval and reaffirm high expectations.

The programme’s values – manaakitanga (an ethic of care), whanaungatanga (building and maintaining relationships), kotahitanga (unity and bonding as a team) and rangatiratanga (leadership and pedagogy) – are interconnected, with the resulting value being pūmanawatanga “which is like the pulse, the tone, the ambience, the resulting climate,” says Sonja.

Huakina Mai is “the how”: how these values are demonstrated in terms of teacher behaviours, systems and responding to behaviours. It’s about adopting restorative approaches rather than punishment.

“The language that is used with children can infer a power imbalance, using a kaupapa Māori (Huakina Mai) approach moves to a more mana-enhancing place,” says Sonja.

“It’s about looking at how whānau are involved in the school and decision-making, looking at how well we know our children and our whānau, how schools welcome whānau, and how schools reflect local knowledge and histories in their curriculum.

“Huakina Mai teachers think about the classroom culture, the language they use, the expectations they set, the connectedness with their community, how they infuse the local historical mana whenua knowledge into the curriculum, how they use te reo Māori, their pronunciation of tamariki names… all of those little things that are actually big things.

“So Huakina Mai draws from those four values – Ngā hau e whā (the four winds), which Māori often reference when they welcome people from the north, south, east and west. Doing so upholds the notions of inclusion, belonging and wellbeing.”

Embracing the concepts

“One of the biggest aspects of Huakina Mai succeeding is advocacy from the leadership level,” says Sonja.

“We like to start with schools that have the will, the passion and the desire to get on the waka. Sometimes we struggle with the resistant settings, as they are more likely to default back to previous practices because, in their hearts, they may not embrace the concepts. It can put teachers outside their comfort zones.”

“I believe that 99.9 percent of teachers love kids and have a passion for seeing them all succeed. Huakina Mai, for many teachers, is about understanding how tamariki and whānau Māori think, feel and behave – to learn a little bit about what a Māori world view looks like, what Māori values look like and feel like, and what a restorative conversation sounds like.

“There’s a lot of professional learning and development that comes alongside implementing Huakina Mai and embedding it which is run concurrently throughout the process. We ask questions like, ‘How do you use your data? How does your data inform your decisions? Is what you’re doing improving your data statistics? Is it improving the attendance, engagement, participation and achievement of your Māori learners?’

“There is a real expectation for schools to use their data purposefully, and not just collect it because they have to.”

Palpable change

For John and his team at Mairehau School, Huakina Mai continues to be a “work in progress” and he says the positive change is palpable, that visitors comment on the school’s welcoming vibe and that relationships with whānau have strengthened.

“It’s about talking with all whānau of our children with behaviour issues so that learning can actually take place. We are seeing a reduction in our playground incidents and an improvement in how our children are relating to each other and being role models.

“The other day we were talking about a couple of our children who were giving us quite a challenge and in each case we were saying, ‘Oh yeah, but he’s great at this’ and ‘Underneath those behaviours, he’s a great kid’ – and that’s hand on heart what we believe about each child, not just because it’s the right thing to say.”

Becoming a Huakina Mai school

The process begins with information-sharing and gaining an understanding about Huakina Mai, before systems and assumptions are tested. Planning for the next steps according to a school’s specific needs can then happen.

Schools set up systems and structures, and through the timely and targeted use of data, analyse key aspects of school functioning in terms of improvements.

Huakina Mai is “100 percent related to educational outcomes”, says Sonja.

“As per the Ka Hikitia strategy, it is about ‘Māori achieving and enjoying educational success, as Māori’, which includes attendance, engagement, participation and achievement data.”

Currently there are eight Huakina Mai schools, all primary, and plans are afoot to extend the approach to high schools during the next few years.


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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:49 PM, 3 September 2020

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