Te Ao Māori grounding for wellbeing mahi

Issue: Volume 101, Number 3

Posted: 16 March 2022
Reference #: 1HATEM

In a small community where everyone is inter-connected, a mid-Canterbury kāhui ako is successfully focusing its collaboration on student wellbeing using a Te Ao Māori approach underpinned by a lot of data.

Grace and Emma from Ellesmere College reflect on a sunny, Canterbury day.

Grace and Emma from Ellesmere College reflect on a sunny, Canterbury day.

The Kāhui Ako Ngā Mātāpuna o te Waihora lies between the Rakaia and Waikirikiri (Selwyn) Rivers. It unites Ellesmere College Te Kāreti o Waihora, Dunsandel School, Leeston Consolidated School and Southbridge School with approximately 1,100 students in total. Three playcentres and three private preschools are also involved.

Karla Morton is head of mathematics at Ellesmere College and the single across school lead for the kāhui ako. The team includes seven within school teachers (WSTs), Lisa McClure and Kylie Breading (Leeston), Nicole Thornton (Southbridge), Kate McCloy (Dunsandel) and Desirae Beechey, Shayla Foster and Steven Packer (Ellesmere).

There are also two lead principals, who share the job on a six-month rotation. The lead principals are Dave Robinson (Dunsandel) and Lynda Taylor (Leeston).

Transitions between the schools and cultural responsiveness were initial achievement challenges identified in 2019. 

Then the leadership took a unique step. 

As a small kāhui ako, they decided to put all their effort into one area – wellbeing – as the basis of all those transitions and of people’s identity. The confidence to focus on wellbeing was reinforced by the kāhui ako’s data collection.

Think tanks were established to gather information and get ideas from ākonga, staff, whānau and the broader community, which is intrinsically interconnected.

The community think tank was an open invitation to a series of meetings. 

“We had a massive amount of people come, from parents within the community, to the Scouts, the Fire Brigade, a lot of local groups that came to the sessions as well. So, we felt we had a lot of rich data there to work from,” says Karla.

For student voice, Year 6 and secondary school students were surveyed.

An important finding was that, particularly as Year 6, ākonga felt their wellbeing was everybody else’s responsibility. 

“They didn’t realise they could have an impact on their own wellbeing,” says Karla.

Consistency needed

In 2020, a strategic plan was formulated, and it was apparent that a consistent wellbeing model would be crucial to success.

“If we had a consistent model that they started in Year 1, and see other students all using the same language or the same information, they could leave us as young adults having a good understanding of their wellbeing and how to manage it,” says Karla.

Research by the team included absorbing many reports on wellbeing, studying Wellbeing@School data and drawing on the resources of the Grow Waitaha Community of Practice of Wellbeing. 

The framework had to integrate with the many existing school programmes such as Pause Breathe Smile, KiVa Bullying Education Programme, and Bounce Back! as well as schools’ Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) journey, and Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC). 

In its search for a wellbeing framework, the group heard about the work of Wiremu Gray and his Te Ao Māori approach, which led to adoption of his Te Whare Mauri Ora wellbeing model. 

In reality, the chosen framework has created a structure and support for enriching the existing programmes.

In 2021 some centrally funded professional learning and development (PLD) with CORE Education provided New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience (NZIWR) materials. Two CORE facilitators, Angela Vermeulen and Lex Davis, worked with the kāhui ako.

Leadership Lab are approved providers for the Ministry of Education under the cultural capability fund, which means the group is working directly with Wiremu to implement the model further.

In 2021 the goal was to introduce staff in all the schools to the concepts of Te Whare Mauri Ora and for them to be confident with the different aspects of the pillars. For students, the emphasis was on helping them learn the pillars and the pronunciation.

“Even at this early stage, the reflections from the other WSTs last year have been that the conversations that we’ve been having with students about wellbeing, you wouldn’t have had two years ago,” says Karla. 

Lisa McClure, a WST at Leeston Consolidated School, says, “It’s pretty cute when a group of seven-year-olds are playing on the field and lying on the grass and one wee girl is looking up at the clouds and you hear her saying ‘I am so grateful for Papatūānuku for giving us such a beautiful day.’ 

“It’s really cool that they are just appreciating the little things in life and it’s starting to become a shared vocab across all the schools,” says Lisa.

“My Year 6 class understand what wellbeing is now, whereas before it was just a word we’ve talked about a lot. Te Whare Mauri Ora is all new language, but the children understand how it links with their lives and the school values and to what happens each day,” says Nicole Thornton, the WST at Southbridge School.

Part of the PLD involves maintaining the mana of the pillars and acting with cultural integrity. Resources were developed to help teachers learn Māori pronunciation of all the different aspects of the model.

Kylie Breading, another WST at Leeston Consolidated School, says they worked behind the scenes to build up staff knowledge a little at a time. 

The model’s concepts and language were drip fed to the staff on a weekly basis at their staff meetings.

Similarly, Kate McCloy from Dunsandel School says it was important to ensure the teachers had the resources they needed to feel confident to introduce the model.

She taught the staff a pillar a week, then at whole school assemblies the following week the students learned that same pillar together. 

For Wiremu, the crux is teachers modelling the growth mindset in their classrooms.

“I see so often in schools and organisations where they might start off using Māori terminology and language for different things and then they’ll start using European concepts for those same things,” he says.

“What’s important is that we model that we’re in a learning environment, we end up giving it a go, and that’s the most important thing our kids need to understand as well.

“We’ve got to create that safe place that it’s okay to get it wrong. The key thing is that we try,” adds Wiremu.

Junior and senior Ellesmere College students bring Te Whare Mauri Ora to life. Pictured from left are Felix, Ethan, Jackson, Grace, Jennifer-Rose, Emma, Corbin, Ava, and Jamal.

Junior and senior Ellesmere College students bring Te Whare Mauri Ora to life. Pictured from left are Felix, Ethan, Jackson, Grace, Jennifer-Rose, Emma, Corbin, Ava, and Jamal.

Age-appropriate material

It’s important the material is age-appropriate and the kāhui ako is working to preserve the consistency of the model while adapting the concepts for every year group. Once the primary and secondary schools’ material is complete, the next challenge will be extending the model to the six early learning services in the kāhui ako.

“Our vision really is that as students transition from
Year 6 from the three schools, they come to us and you see them understanding the imagery on the wall is the same,” says Karla. 

“The teachers are talking about the same aspects of wellbeing. It’s not something new to them. It’s something they’ve been spending several years doing.” 

A challenge is pitching the material meaningfully to both 5-year-olds and 11-year-olds, says Kate.

“For the children in our schools, you are teaching about how everyone has a whare inside of them, and the foundation, the walls and the roof of the whare all need to be strong so all of our wellbeing whare can be strong and our mauri ora can flourish,” she says. 

“For the Year 6s, who are the leaders in the school, the biggest focus was on Ranginui, the roof of the whare, and there was real dialogue about aiming high, following their dreams and striving for success.”  

For the younger children, the emphasis was on looking after Papatūānuku/Mother Earth by picking up rubbish on the grounds.

This year the kāhui ako team is delivering a programme developed by Wiremu Gray called Te Waka Mauri Ora and it’s a journey of resilience. The Waka programme aligns with the concepts of Te Whare Mauri Ora. The kāhui ako team customised the programme with Wiremu to develop the appropriate language to suit all age ranges.

Students will receive explicit teaching about Te Whare Mauri Ora. 

The goal is for students to have an in-depth knowledge of all the aspects that will impact on their wellbeing and how to reflect on their wellbeing. 

At Ellesmere College, this will be integrated into teaching in the Year 7–10 hapori class, in which students are with a hapori teacher for an hour a week. 

The kāhui ako is using a poutama measurement tool developed by Wiremu Gray to help students to self-assess their wellbeing with practical steps to improve it. The tool utilises Google Forms for ease of use.

Measuring success

Karla’s statistics teaching experience underlines how quantifiable data will be important for ongoing measurement of success and accountability for the kāhui ako.

As the achievement challenges involve what the ākonga are feeling, rather than studying, the data is especially significant.

A Year 6 longitudinal study has begun and two years of data is already to hand about what wellbeing means to the students, who is responsible for their wellbeing and who supports them. Each year the cohorts will be surveyed as they move up through Ellesmere College and a new Year 6 group will join in.

“We want to see when a shift happens, when students actually realise that they can influence their wellbeing,” says Karla.

“We’ve come through this journey to get to this point, everybody can see the benefits and we all know the benefits might not be here on Thursday. It might be when the students are much older that they are able to manage their wellbeing. Whenever it is, I think that’s a massive, massive outcome.”

Student voice

Valid and authentic student voice is a crucial part of the model.

Student voice is critical to success. Grace, Emma, Jackson, and Corbin share their views with across school lead Karla Morton.

Student voice is critical to success. Grace, Emma, Jackson, and Corbin share their views with across school lead Karla Morton.

Ellesmere College developed a wellbeing student leadership position and a student wellbeing committee with assistance from the CORE Education facilitators, who supported the Ellesmere College students to build their skills to work with small groups of Year 6 students asking questions around wellbeing.

Year 9–12 students went out to the primary school Year 6 classes and collected information about what they thought about wellbeing, what wellbeing was, and what their concerns were at that point in time. 

“The older students were making all these awesome connections with the primary children and these children now have come to us this year,” says Karla.

The older students are now reporting back on their findings.

“It’s about making sure they’re on their journey with us. They’re not having it done to them; we’re doing it with them.”

The strength of Te Kāhui Ako Ngā Mātāpuna o te Waihora is their shared purpose, collaboration, support and empowerment with all the principals on board. 

“If a WST’s got something they’re trying to figure out, we can try and put things in place to support them but they lead it,” says Karla.

Kate from Dunsandel School, says, “Even though we’re all doing our own different things, we still have that one model that unites and unifies us, and it’s great to have that shared language so that when our children do leave our primary schools and go to college, they’re all in the same waka.”

The kāhui ako reports each term to the schools’ boards and this year the reporting will extend to the Parent Teacher Associations.

Regular updates in the Ellesmere Echo local paper keep the broader community in touch with their work. 

Te Whare Mauri Ora

Wiremu Gray is a counsellor dedicated to young people and he’s humbled by the impact his bicultural wellbeing model Te Whare Mauri Ora has had in schools. His whakapapa is Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Porou.  

Before training as a registered counsellor, Wiremu qualified as a Māori wood carver under the guidance of two tohunga whakairo master carvers from Ngāi Tahu and Tūhoe, Duke Edwards and John Rua.

That experience taught him a lot on tikanga and he gained mātauranga on Te Ao Māori, Māori cultural concepts and beliefs. Training later as a counsellor at Te Whiuwhiu O te hau in Waikato also taught him more about his cultural heritage.

He also spent a lot of his younger life with his uncle, Rev Maurice Gray, a kaumātua who was pivotal in embedding his understanding of tikanga.

Positive psychology and positive education are Wiremu’s benchmarks. In 2017 he developed his own wellbeing model based on Te Whare Tapa Whā, PERMA V, 5 ways to wellbeing, and his lived experience.

“Te Whare Mauri Ora incorporates health and wellbeing but also factors in mātauranga on Te Ao Māori, Māori knowledge, world views, tikanga and Māori beliefs and cultural narratives,” says Wiremu.

“It values the mana, gives it a New Zealand flavour, and is bicultural. As the saying goes, what works well for Māori works well for all,” he says.

Te Whare Mauri Ora includes Papatūānuku as the grounding, moving up through the central pou the Mauri Ora (life force) to Ranginui, symbolising the aspirations of students.  

Wiremu is currently working with many individual schools, student groups, counsellors, pastoral teams and with the Kāhui Ako Ngā Mātāpuna o te Waihora and Pūtaringamotu Kāhui Ako.

Alongside being a guidance counsellor for over 18 years at many different schools around Canterbury, Wiremu has his own company called Mana Facilitation, and facilitates cultural capability with schools through Leadership Lab. 

Wiremu is also a supervisor and cultural advisor for members of the NZ Association of Counsellors and offers training to social services teams on cultural competency based on the key themes from Te Whare Mauri Ora. 

He is on the board, alongside Chair Dame Sue Bagshaw, of Youth Hub, an innovative project in Christchurch for providing wraparound youth services, transition housing and accommodation for homeless youth.

Te Whare Mauri Ora is a bicultural wellbeing model. This particular image is for a primary school understanding. 

Te Whare Mauri Ora is a bicultural wellbeing model. This particular image is for a primary school understanding. 

A community solution to classroom supervision

Ellesmere College Te Kāreti o Waihora in Canterbury had a very small number of relievers available, and so it reached out to its community for help as classroom supervisors.

Ellesmere College principal Ronan Bass.

Ellesmere College principal Ronan Bass.

In November 2021, Ellesmere College principal Ronan Bass and his team were planning long-term strategies for when the Omicron wave would impact their school.

The top priority was staff and student wellbeing, while ensuring the school could still function. The reality of the small pool of relievers meant they had to be self-sufficient and devise a way to resource the school when most staff would be working from home. 

Hearing an interview with an Auckland school principal about involving the community in their Covid response prompted Ronan to consider ways the tight-knit and supportive Ellesmere community could help his school.

A new role was designed for the situation – classroom supervisor. 

The idea is that if staff are working from home, then the classroom supervisors can watch over the virtual learning of the children of essential workers who need to be on site at school.

“I wanted to make sure that we can actually have staff just purely focused on teaching and learning rather than having to supervise kids,” says Ronan.

The school advertised in two local free papers and had a tremendous response.

“It’s been fantastic. When things happen, people do step up and support each other, which is great,” he says.

“We hope to have a healthy pool of local community members who literally will just be physically there looking after students who will be engaged in online learning. Staff are at home, fully focused on planning and engaging with their students,” adds Ronan.

“We want the children of critical workers to still be able to access a safe space where they can be supervised throughout the day, so that the parents can go to work to do what they need to do, and rest assured that somebody is looking after the children.”  

Ellesmere College is based in Leeston, located amongst tranquil farming landscape and 30 kilometres from Christchurch.

Ellesmere College is based in Leeston, located amongst tranquil farming landscape and 30 kilometres from Christchurch.

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

Posted: 11:15 am, 16 March 2022

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