Te Ara Hou: Māori succeeding as Māori

Issue: Volume 95, Number 18

Posted: 10 October 2016
Reference #: 1H9d4f

A programme run by principals for principals is already benefiting Māori students. Education Gazette explores the Māori Achievement Collaboratives (MACs).

Whānau group students teaching Japanese visitors to make putiputi from harakeke

A cross-cultural leadership programme is building strong relationships between principals in pursuit of better outcomes for Māori students.

With the underlying premise that ‘schools won’t change unless the principal does,’ the Māori Achievement Collaboratives (MACs) is a partnership between Te Akatea Māori Principals’ Association, the New Zealand Principals’ Federation and the Ministry of Education.

Evolving from concerns expressed by principals about the academic progress of some Māori students, MACs offers a new perspective that marks a change from the ‘deficit-thinking’ of the past.

By helping to develop strong networks that support greater collaboration across schools, kura, community and education sector organisations, MACs aim to address the significant disparity in Māori learner achievement, both academic and cultural.

Changing hearts and minds

Hoana Pearson is MACs Te Pītau Mātauranga (national coordinator) and she says the focus of the programme is on “changing the hearts and minds of principals” through a process of mentoring and collaboration.

Her role involves working closely with the MAC board and regional facilitators to manage and implement the programme nationwide, and to promote a MAC approach in existing Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako.

“The vision is that through the process of sharing perspectives and learning, change will become sustainable and enduring and result in better achievement outcomes for all members of a school community,” says Hoana.

“But it’s also about being courageous, and talking deeply about things that might make us uncomfortable."

“An important part of this programme is acknowledging where the system has failed Māori to date,” she says.

“We need to recognise that through colonialisation our language and cultural identity has been devalued and stripped away. We need to know and acknowledge our unique history in this country because when we know that we can start to move on. We need to understand why there’s a lack of trust of, and engagement with, the system.”

Hoana believes that at its heart, this work is about acknowledging that we are all Treaty citizens, and as such we have accountability and responsibilities.

“So the core focus therefore is on how we can become properly bicultural in our education system, and setting principals off on a journey to make our schools a place where Māori children not only feel they belong, but feel valued equally alongside their Pākehā student peers.”

“Through the MACs programme, we talk about things that are not usually talked about. Stuff that challenges us as educators, and maybe makes us squirm. So that’s where the courage comes in."

“Ako – reciprocity of learning – is vital to the programme. Through MACs we hold each other to the kaupapa, talk honestly and allow others to share their experiences."

“There’s no doubt that this is a professional, personal and political journey. If we don’t make the change that’s needed, the nation as a whole will feel the impact of that.”

Hoana explains that of the 38,619 students involved, 12,342 or 30 per cent identify as Māori, and therefore MACs is having an effect on many children, regardless of their cultural identity.

Current status of MACs

A MAC is defined as a group of schools, kura and communities working together to accelerate student achievement in a culturally responsive manner.

There are currently six regional MAC clusters and each has a regional facilitator. These are: Te Tai Tokerau (North), Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland), Waikato, Rotorua/Taupo/Tokoroa, Taranaki and Ōtautahi (Christchurch).

In all, 148 schools and their principals currently participate in the clusters.

Growing in confidence together

Target Road School in Auckland joined the Tamaki MAC cluster in 2013, and its principal Helen Varney says the programme has now become an intrinsic part of how the school operates.

“It’s a part of who we are now. For us, it’s about recognising that who your students are is very important. They need to know that their cultural identity is valued by the people teaching them,” says Helen.

A starting point for this at Target Road has been a concerted effort to learn and recognise each child’s cultural and tribal affiliations.


“When you get to know more about your student’s identity, you start to build real relationships for learning."

“Since 2013 we’ve started to look closely at the faces in front of us in our class. Who are they, and what are the stories their family tells? How long have they been here in Aotearoa, and where did they come from? This naturally leads to telling stories about land and place. You can bring those stories into the classroom and then learning becomes more meaningful.”

It’s also about leadership, and Helen highlights the importance of a clear vision expressed for all members of a school community.

“Unless you can articulate a clear vision to improve achievement for our Māori students, then it’s very difficult for your staff, community or students to understand what’s expected, and what changes might look like,” she says.

“In our case, it wasn’t a big shift for us – we just needed some guidance. As principal, my job has been to step up and create an environment of learning for all of us at the school."

“Part of that was an expectation that as teachers and leaders, we were going to be learners ourselves – that idea of change happening through ako, or reciprocity of knowledge.”

In practice, this has meant introducing a number of initiatives to the school community.

“Prior to joining our MAC cluster, we had a kapa haka group, the school’s house groups were named after native trees, and we taught a basic te reo that was sometimes confined to Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. But that was it."

“It wasn’t that we didn’t want to do more – but it was limited to small pockets where certain teachers had the confidence and skills to speak te reo Māori and teach tikanga.”

After joining their MAC cluster, the school employed a Māori language specialist to help with improving oral skills – especially pronunciation – of te reo, knowledge of tikanga, and culture.

“We brought in a fluent speaker, and parents came too, and we worked for 10 weeks learning quite a lot about what it means to be Māori,” says Helen.

“This in turn gave us the confidence to take our new knowledge and skills into the classroom, and instead of using a book or video, we’ve been doing it ourselves, in front of each other. We’re growing in confidence together.”

Other changes include a special haka that was written specifically for the Target Road students and their whānau, the development of a student-led pōwhiri and an optional ‘whānau class’ that children are welcome to attend one day each week.

Helen says school staff had previously found it difficult to build strong relationships with Māori parents and subsequently, whānau engagement had suffered, but once language and tikanga was made a priority at the school, this improved.

“I’ve really noticed the growth in leadership of our Māori learners but also the growth in our teachers’ confidence too.”

Helen says that being part of the MAC cluster has been an important driving force for change in her school, and in her as its leader.

“I feel I have all these wonderful principals who are helping to guide me in our journey. Each time I go to a MAC meeting I want to be able to share a bit more and more."

“I don’t want to just stick to what we’re doing but I want to have new and better things happening for my students all the time.”

A cultural narrative

Somerfield School is working together with local schools and Ngai Tahu iwi to improve whānau engagement and lift achievement outcomes for Māori students.

Denise Torrey is principal of the Christchurch school, and recently served as president of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation.

“We joined the MAC programme three years ago as the first South Island school to do so,” she says.

“Somerfield is part of a cluster of schools in Christchurch and the work we do through the MAC programme is melded into everything we do together. We also work on an international project called ‘New pedagogies for deep learning’."

“Sixteen per cent of our student population is Māori but we live in a bicultural society, and we are committed to respecting the tangata whenua of this land.”

Denise says a Somerfield teacher had completed the Māori language immersion course prior to this, so the school was already on a journey towards becoming more culturally responsive, and being recognised as such.

“We have people move to our school because of the way we do things here,” she says.

Denise says the school community is passionate about this new direction.

“Our whānau are highly engaged in our community and the way we involve them in our work has changed over the course of the project – we’ve brainstormed ways we can do that."

“We’ve had joint board meetings where we’ve explained what we do through the MAC programme, and our school boards have a lot of ownership of what we’re doing."

“They have a good understanding of its importance and are proud of the special thing happening in their community,” she says.

Belonging to a wider group of schools allows new ideas and best practice to be shared and celebrated collectively.

“We decided that we needed to work through our Māori lead teachers – working on various programmes, sometimes they develop things together, and sometimes they do things separately and then we grow them."

“So far we’ve worked together on initiatives such as Matariki celebrations and storytelling projects that promote place-based learning."

“We don’t all do the same thing – we share the resource and develop them with the wider cluster.”

The Kahukura cluster works closely with Ngai Tahu iwi, with two kaiwhenua facilitators sharing their knowledge and helping with the MAC programme.

“We’re working with the iwi to ensure that the cultural narrative of our area is part of the work that we’re doing,” explains Denise.

“So our place-based learning brings in cultural stories of the land around us. We’ve also worked with them to rename initiatives around the school such as our houses, our set values and motto.”

Denise says that the 2012 Christchurch earthquakes led to a greater sense of solidarity and cooperation between local schools, and MACs taps into this collaborative spirit.

“When we were put in the Kahukura cluster after the earthquake, there was a sense of outrage about being grouped with a whole lot of other schools, but over time that faded, and we focused instead on what’s good for our kids. Things started to work really well,” she says.

“The earthquakes brought us together in a formalised way. We have high trust and high respect for those in the cluster. It’s not that we agree with each other all the time, but we are respectful of our differences and are highly collaborative in our work."

“The result of the earthquakes was that we were forced to work together, and after a while we realised we shared a lot in common."

“In our cluster we’re collaborating, and working really hard to make sure that every child has a great journey through the education system.”

What is the criteria for entry in the MACs professional learning and development pathway?

You must be:

  • a principal who is determined to raise Māori learner engagement, presence and achievement, both academically and culturally
  • a willing learner and participant who understands that this learning and development programme will challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone; we don’t want defensiveness as this stops learning
  • courageous
  • truthful about what you think and feel
  • trustworthy
  • a risk taker.

and make a commitment to:

  • the collective: to actively participate, hold a responsibility for and an accountability to the collective
  • learning including undertaking the readings provided/sharing those you think might benefit the group
  • and adhere to:
  • the MACs values and principles.

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

Posted: 7:33 PM, 10 October 2016

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