Felt like I was back in Anchorage at an early Tuesday morning staff meeting with Mr. Webb when the speaker, representing the Ministry of Education, started with some basic questions:
Who is teaching?
Who are we teaching?
Why are we teaching?
Only this was a very polished and professionally organized conference for primary teachers in New Zealand instead of my library at home. The attendees were giving up the first two days of the two week Easter/term break to be there, and many had traveled with colleagues from more rural areas of new Zealand. The schedule and pace were calm and allowed for collaboration time and processing. It did not feel like a race to cram in as much information as possible, which is how I feel so often at PD. Check out the morning "tea" and afternoon "tea." All food was catered in order to keep folks on site for chatting.
The Associate Minister for Education and Minister for Children continued to talk about the Prime Minister’s well-being initiative and the need for a national conversation about how we define success - it must include confidence, belonging, well-being. She acknowledged that success is different and diverse for each learner. Some current ministry initiatives were also touched on:
When she allowed ample time for questions form the audience an emotional plea and demand for reality came through - the same one I think that would come if this session occurred in Anchorage - These ideas all are great, mostly, but what about the reality in the classroom. We, teachers, are being asked to deal with more behavior issues with less support. Even if you create a system of support staff, there is no one to take the jobs at the pay being offered.
The overall tone of the this first day keynote address was positive and level. It was similar to what I have seen while in New Zealand - the image of a progressive, inclusive, steady, and deeply fair culture.
The keynote speaker on the second day was different. When I first heard of Ann Milne and listened to a talk by her on YouTube my first response was: “Finally, someone with some fire talking about the real issues in education here.” She is an outspoken advocate for social justice with a plan and results of that plan after twenty plus years of work, the Kia Aroha College in South Auckland.
The school, which is based on Paris and Alim’s theory of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, judges its graduates, which they call warrior scholars, on three equally weighted lenses. They include academic achievement, empowered identity development, and action for social change. Based out of the school’s own cultural communities, they have created a rubric of sorts that is used to measure the security of a student’s cultural identity; one specifically for Maori students and one for Pasifika students (Who together make up most of the students.) There is a third generic measure for other students. Maori and Pasifika cultural practices are not represented exclusively in after school clubs, but are a part of everyday assignments and school climate. Oral and communal practices are fully incorporated. In terms of the social action criteria, students are taught to take a critical stance to all knowledge and practices, including those of their own culture.
She spoke more of the general process of decolonization that needs to take place in order for social justice to occur. She directly called out the Ministry of Education, who funds most PD, for not offering enough support for culturally responsive practices in their professional development offerings. (In the NZ system the national level has more involvement in schools. There is no state level or district level, just the federal and individual school, each of which has its own board) Some slides below show her work, along with a link to a talk.
These two keynotes were the two sides of education reform here that I value. On one hand, nicety. Positive understanding of human dignity and the need to address issues at their cause with level headed planning. And on the other hand, direct challenge to the status quo with demands for a complete paradigm shift. They were both here at this same conference, running parallel, but not really crossing. An example of the difference between bicultural and multicultural.
Not spoken anywhere were the statistics that we always like to quote in the USA. The alarmingly high child abuse and teen suicide rates in New Zealand, particularly the rate of young child death at the hands of abusive parents. The startling education achievement disparity between students of Maori and Pasifika (a term which combines Samoan, Tongan and other Pacific Islanders who have migrated to NZ) decent to those of European decent.
I have heard the word passive, even passive aggressive, used to describe the Kiwi culture from expat Americans, Pakeha (White New Zealanders), and Maori individuals. The world and New Zealand seemed shocked at the Christchurch shooting, that it happened here, but the word on the street was not. There was an acknowledgment that there is a lot of racism. One of my professors stated that we must know be “alive” to it. We can not brush it aside any longer. I get to listen to undergraduate students in the teacher prep program talk about and reflect on their educational experience growing up in New Zealand. The gap between intentions, policies, theory, and everyday implementation creates the same challenges here as everywhere. Work for social justice is the same.
My favorite random quote from the conference. The presenter was talking about the challenge to get students to engage and share their own thinking. She stated, “I often find myself telling student -
“We are not playing the game - What’s in the teacher’s head.”