Te Kōtahitanga Phase 3 Whānaungatana: Establishing a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations in mainstream secondary school classrooms

Publication Details

The overall aim of this project has been to investigate how to improve the educational achievement of Māori students in mainstream secondary school classrooms.

Author(s): Russell Bishop, Mere Berryman, Tom Cavanagh and Lani Teddy, Māori Education Research Institute (MERI), University of Waikato and Poutama Pounamu Research and Development Centre.

Date Published: March 2007

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Executive Summary

From the theoretical position of Kaupapa Māori research, and an examination of appropriate Māori cultural metaphors, we suggested that this will be accomplished when educators create learning contexts within their classroom; where power is shared between self-determining individuals within non-dominating relations of interdependence; where culture counts; where learning is interactive, dialogic and spirals; where participants are connected to one another through the establishment of a common vision for what constitutes excellence in educational outcomes. We termed this pedagogy a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations.

To examine what this pedagogy might look like in practice, in 2001 we developed an Effective Teaching Profile (ETP), the design guided and shaped by experiences of Māori students, their whānau, principals and teachers. Fundamental to the ETP is teachers understanding the need to explicitly reject deficit theorising as a means of explaining Māori students’ educational achievement levels, and their taking an agentic position in their theorising about their practice. That is, practitioners expressing their professional commitment and responsibility to bringing about change in Māori students’ educational achievement by accepting professional responsibility for the learning of their students. These two central understandings are then manifested in these teachers’ classrooms where the teachers demonstrate on a daily basis: that they care for the students as culturally located individuals; they have high expectations of the learning for students; they are able to manage their classrooms so as to promote learning; they are able to engage in a range of discursive learning interactions with students or facilitate students to engage with others in these ways; they know a range of strategies that can facilitate learning interactions; they promote, monitor and reflect upon learning outcomes that in turn lead to improvements in Māori student achievement and they share this knowledge with the students.

The Effective Teaching Profile was then implemented in the classroom of participating teachers in 2004 and 2005 by means of the Te Kōtahitanga Professional Development Programme. This programme consists of an initial induction hui, which is followed by a term-by-term cycle of formal observations, follow-up feedback, group co-construction meetings, and targeted shadow-coaching. Other activities that support this programme, such as new knowledge, new teaching strategies and/or new assessment procedures are also introduced on a “needs be” basis.

The professional development programme was implemented in the schools through the research and professional development team, some of whom were regional coordinators, providing in-school support for the in-school facilitation teams. These teams in turn provided professional development for the project teachers.

A research programme was conducted to measure the impact of the professional development intervention. We began this research by asking what happens when the Effective Teaching Profile (ETP) is implemented in mainstream secondary classrooms. Because of the complex nature of this exercise, we used a triangulation mixed methods approach (Creswell, 2005) to gather and analyse qualitative and quantitative data from a range of instruments and measures. As a result we have multiple indicators (Kim & Sunderman, 2005) that form the basis of our investigation.

From the student interviews we learned that when Māori students have good relationships with their teachers, they are able to thrive at school. Good relationships are based on teachers embracing all aspects of the ETP, including caring for them as culturally-located individuals as Māori, caring for their performance and using a wide range of classroom interactions, strategies and outcome indicators to inform their practice. These developing relationships and interactions were captured by the use of the observation tool. The teachers’ interviews indicated effective Te Kōtahitanga teachers have undergone a philosophical shift in the way they think about teaching and learning. Anti-deficit thinking, agentic positioning, and the six demonstrable elements of the ETP are the essential threads in this new approach to teaching, here termed a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy of Relations. It is an approach that rests in the first instance upon a commitment by teachers to build caring and learning relationships and interactions with Māori students; in the second, for teachers to strongly believe Māori students can improve their achievement; and thirdly, their students are able to take responsibility for their learning and performance.

According to the analysis of the Teacher Participation Survey, Te Kōtahitanga teachers reported that their understanding of and appreciation for the kaupapa of the project, to improve Māori student achievement, and the support they receive within their schools, is directly related to improving Māori students’ outcomes. Analysis of data from feedback sessions and co-construction meetings revealed teachers are experiencing challenges along with affirmations of their emerging positionings and practices as they participate in the new institutions developed to support the implementation of the ETP in their classrooms. Within these new institutions, they are being encouraged to further engage in discourses that: (a) have a focus on raising Māori students’ achievement, (b) reject or respond to deficit theorizing and (c) are agentic. Perhaps most importantly, given the concern over this issue expressed by our government, ministry officials, educators in general, Māori parents and the students themselves, we are seeing improvements in numeracy for Māori students in the classrooms of teachers who have repositioned themselves discursively and literacy gains for all Māori students, the greatest gains, however, were for those in the lowest stanine groups.

The numeracy gains were measured by effect sizes, which is an internationally recognised measure of the strength of the intervention from pre-test to post-test. The results show that the effect size for the experimental group (Māori students of Maths teachers involved in Te Kōtahitanga) was larger than typical (d = .76). The effect size for two control groups were: (a) typical for Māori students of Maths teachers not involved in Te Kōtahitanga (d = .52) and (b) typical for Māori students nationally (d = .51). This means that Māori students whose teachers are in the project are achieving significantly higher in numeracy than Māori students where teachers are not in the project. This tells us that the context created in Te Kōtahitanga teachers’ classrooms is better for improving the achievement of Māori students than numeracy interventions alone.

Literacy gains were measured by an analysis of stanine gains which are normalised standard scores, again internationally recognised among educators as a useful guide to student achievement. The most impressive gains were from the lower third of stanines and this is encouraging because this is where many Māori students perform (according to the international PISA study). The results for the lower three (out of 9) stanines in this study showed an effect size of .80 in the first year and .58 for 2005. Where, in 2004, 46% and in 2005, 34% of Māori students who achieved stanines between 1 and 3 in the literacy pre-test, achieved stanines between 4 and 6/7 in the literacy post-test. This means that this group of Māori students, as identified in the PISA study, are making significant gains in literacy as a result of their teachers being involved (at least in part) in Te Kōtahitanga. Overall both Māori and non-Māori are making similar progress in literacy.

On the basis that Te Kōtahitanga is focused on raising the achievement of Māori students through changing teacher practice, we adopted Elmore’s (2002) model for demonstrating improvement by measuring increases in teacher practice and student performance over time. This model demonstrates improvement by measuring the quality of teacher practice and student performance on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. Improvement then is shown by movement in a consistently north-easterly direction.

Eight sets of quantitative results are presented in relationship to each other. The positive trends indicated by these results is supported by the results of all the qualitative data analysed, particularly the teacher and student interviews and the analysis of the feedback and co-construction sessions, clearly indicating that there is a relationship between Māori student performance and the implementation of the Effective Teaching Profile in the project teachers’ classrooms.


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