Monday, June 25, 2007

Te Kotahitanga - making a difference

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Teachers and students at Massey High School- Te Kotahitanga in action.

The Te Kotahitanga Project was developed by Russel Bishop and his team at Waikato University School of Education supported by the Ministry of Education's Maori in Mainstream Strategy ( Te Tere Auraki).

It is great to see the ideas now being extended to more schools and that any school now can make use of the findings.

As planned and introduced into schools it is an ideal way to ensure real transformational change happens in a Secondary School.

And there is plenty of information to assist schools and teachers who really want to make difference for their Maori students. If the ideas were implemented, as suggested there is a good possibility that the new understandings, 'mindsets' and enhanced pedagogy developed will spread throughout the school and, in the process, help all students succeed.

The Te Kotahitanga research project set out to investigate how the achievement of year 9 and 10 Maori students could be improved. It involved entering into dialogue ( narratives of experiences) with students, their parents, teachers and principals and resulted in an 'effective teachers profile' and ideas about how to establish effective learning contexts.

The main conclusion was that the most important influence on Maori students was the in-class face-to-face relationships and interaction between the teachers and the Maori students. 'Deficit theorizing' ( blaming school failure on the students and their backgrounds) and associated low expectations was seen as the major implements to Maori student achievement.

The key to improving student achievement was improving teacher pedagogical skill through focused professional development that encouraged teachers to place students in non-confrontational authentic learning situations and for teachers to reflect on the teaching and to gain ongoing 'feedback' and support. In essence teachers were to be seen as learners themselves.

The research's conclusion showed that, not only did student achievement improve, but that teachers also increased their caring, raised their expectations and focused less on student behaviour and more on students' learning. And, no doubt, school was more enjoyable for teachers and students alike.

The results showed real growth in the efficacy and agency of both teachers and their students, assisted teachers challenge their assumptions and in the process developed stronger more positive teaching beliefs. The latter is seen as vtally important as there is a growing body of research that indicates that it is the teachers performance that has the most effect on student learning.

None of this would be exceptional for teachers who believe in a student centred ( or 'personalised') approach to learning but for teachers, whose methods of teaching have been influenced by the traditional 'transmission' approach, it would be 'mind changing' experience. It is no surprise that Russell Bishop and Ted Glyn called their excellent book: 'Culture Counts- Changing Power Relations in Education.'.This book outlined their belief in valuing the 'prior ideas' that students bring to any learning and that knowledge needs to be 'co-created' by students and teachers working together.

All teachers ( including those without Maori students as well) should start looking at the quality of their relationships with their students. Teachers might think they have good relationships with their students but might be surprised by students' views on this issue. Teachers could ascertain this by having conversations with their students, or by conducting surveys.

Teachers could also question their expectations of Maori children ( and all students) to avoid 'deficit thinking' so as not to fall into the trap of blaming the student.

Couture does 'count' and Maori culture should be reflected throughout the curriculum and the school environment. Secondary teachers could learn much from their primary colleagues about developing stimulating classroom environments that reflect the identity, views and thinking of their students.

Productive partnership with students and their teachers are vital. Students' questions, views and 'prior' idea need to be valued, learning experiences and tasks negotiated so students develop a sense of 'ownership'. Expectations need to be made clear and 'feedback' given to ensure all students gain success.

Teachers need to encourage parents to share in their students learning and to value their input and knowledge.

The teacher collective sense of agency and efficacy is vital. Teachers need to reflect on the repertoire of teaching strategies they make use of in their classrooms and to understand that some strategies are more helpful than others - such things as co-operative learning, formative 'feedback' and goals setting, involving students in planning their own learning, and basing learning on 'rich real and relevant' curriculum challenges

Massey High School is well on the way it seems.

Teachers at Massey have had the professional development to believe in the promise that they can make a real difference and, as well, to contribute to developing their school as a professional culture of continual improvement. Changing power relationships is the key to school transformation and Massey High School teachers,according to their Principal, are taking more risks and trying new things.

The next step would be to critically challenge the traditional assumption that lie behind the dominant 'transmission' secondary school model, with its fragmented mechanistic timetables, and to develop the new structures and approaches to education required in the 21stC.

This would make a difference!

To Kotahitanga research is too important to be left to apply to Maori students.

For further ideas:

The 4th June Ministry of Education Gazette.
Te Mana Korero 2 Teachers Making a Difference for Maori Students Facilitation Handbook. Excellent material ( see page 8)
There is a summary of Te Kotahitanga Research on the Ministry of Education site .


Anonymous said...

Your blog points out the difference between student centred primary and subject centred secondary teaching - Te Kotahitanga bridges this gap. And you are right, it needs to be applied across the whole school.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Anytime I have seen great learning it is when the teacher is more concerned about the student learning than the teacher teaching - quality creative learning occurs when , through the teacher's subtle help, the students work suprises them both.

When this happens mutual respect develops and positive relationships are established.

Anonymous said...

Great to see you giving credit to teachers working in secondary schools.