Te Kōtahitanga Phase 1: The experiences of Year 9 and 10 Māori students in mainstream classrooms

Publication Details

This research project sought to investigate how Year 9 and 10 Maori student achievement in mainstream schools could be improved.

Author(s): Russell Bishop, Mere Berryman, Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Cath Richardson, Māori Education Research Institute (MERI), University of Waikato and Poutama Pounamu Research and Development Centre.

Date Published: 2003

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Executive Summary

This research project sought to investigate, by talking with Māori students (and other participants in their education), what was involved in improving their educational achievement. The project commenced with a short scoping exercise that guided the subsequent longer-term project. The longer term project commenced with the gathering of a number of narratives of students' classroom experience by the process of Collaborative Storying from a range of engaged and non-engaged Māori students in four non-structurally modified mainstream schools. It was from these amazing stories that the rest of this project developed. In their narratives the students clearly identified the main influences on their educational achievement and told us how teachers, in changing how they related and interacted with Māori students in their classrooms, could create a context for learning wherein these students' educational achievement could improve.

On the basis of these suggestions from Year 9 and 10 Māori students, the research team developed an Effective Teaching Profile. Together with other information from the literature and narratives of experiences from those parenting the students, their principals and their teachers, this Effective Teaching Profile formed the basis of a professional development intervention, that when implemented with a group of 11 teachers in four schools, was associated with improved learning, behaviour and attendance outcomes for Māori students in the classrooms of those teachers who had been able to participate fully in the professional development intervention.

The Project Team

This project was undertaken by a partnership of researchers from the Māori Education and Research Institute (MERI) in the School of Education at the University of Waikato and the research whänau of Poutama Pounamu Research and Development Centre of Tauranga.

Research Questions

The research asked questions about how a better understanding of Māori student experiences in the classroom and analyses of these experiences might lead to improved policy and teaching and learning that will ultimately result in greater Māori student achievement. It also sought to identify those underlying teacher and school behaviours and attitudes that make a difference to Māori achievement. Overall, the research was concerned with finding out how education in its many forms could make the greatest difference in raising the educational achievement of Māori students.

The project chose to focus on Māori students in Years 9 and 10 because this is the crisis location for students where the statistics on low achievement, retention and suspension problems are at their worst.


The Māori students, those parenting these students and their principals (and some of their teachers) saw that the most important influence on Māori students' educational achievement was the quality of the in-class face-to-face relationships and interactions between the teachers and Māori students. In contrast, the majority of teachers suggested that the major influence on Māori students' educational achievement was the children themselves and/or their family/whänau circumstances, or systemic/structural issues.

This deficit theorising by teachers is the major impediment to Māori students' educational achievement for it results in teachers having low expectations of Māori students. This in turn creates a downward spiralling, self-fulfilling prophecy of Māori student achievement and failure.

This study has shown that the key to improving Māori students' achievement is professional development that places teachers in non-confrontational situations where, by means of authentic yet vicarious experiences, they can critically reflect upon their own theorising and the impact such theorising has upon Māori students' educational achievement. In addition, the professional development must provide situations where teachers are shown and are able to practice in an on-going supportive manner, strategies that will change classroom interactions.

When teacher-student relationship and interaction patterns have changed as a result of a process of fully supported professional development (initiation, marae training and in-class observation and support) as interventions, a number of changes occur in Māori students behaviour in association with the professional development. These changes include: Māori students' on-task engagement increases, their absenteeism reduces, their work completion increases, the cognitive levels of the classroom lessons are able to increase, and their short-term achievements increase; in many cases, dramatically so.

The research also indicates that when classroom relationships and interactions are attended to, and Māori students are achieving at an appropriate level along with their non-Māori peers, structural issues that support these interventions should be implemented. In addition parents, whänau and community can then be brought into supporting a successful enterprise. Currently relationships between mainstream secondary schools and those parenting Māori students are at a standoff, exacerbated by discourses of blame and guilt. Changing failure to success in the classroom is the key to addressing structural issues as well as home and school relations.

The outcomes of this study adds to other research, national and international, on what constitutes essential approaches to effectively teaching students from indigenous communities. These include the need for teachers to challenge their own deficit theorising, and its impact on Māori students' educational achievement as well as changing their performance in their classrooms.

Where to find out more

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