Ngā hononga kura-whānau e puta ai ngā ihu o ngā ākonga Māori

Connections between the principles and Te Kotahitanga

In 2002–03, the Te Kotahitanga project (Bishop et al., 2003) used the technique of “collaborative storying” to bring to the surface the experiences, concerns, and questions of Māori students in mainstream New Zealand secondary schools.


The same technique was used to identify what fifty whānau members from four schools saw as the major educational influences on their own and other Māori children’s achievement. Analysis of their stories led to identifying three major “discourses”1:

  1. The child and their home, including parents’ responsibility for children’s learning and the influence of peers
  2. Relationships and interaction patterns, including child–teacher, parent–teacher, home–school, parent–child, and child–child relationships
  3. Structure, including curriculum, school structures, the impact of parents’ negative school experiences, transition issues between primary and secondary schools, the mixed impact of whānau-based support groups, and school policies.

Overwhelmingly, the whānau members identified the relationships their children had with their teachers and others as the most important influence on their educational achievement.

They were concerned about the relationships and interactions between the children and their teachers, between themselves and their children, and between home and school.

In Culture Speaks (Bishop and Berryman, 2006), the researchers explain:

Whānau all emphasised that how teachers related to students, both now and in the past, influences how they taught those students and that this was the key to improving student learning. Relationships of respect were, they believed, more likely to result in interdependent relationships between teachers, learners and others (whānau) so that all were able to share in and contribute to the learning contexts, and thus all were able to benefit.

page 166

The themes that emerged within this discourse and some of the associated points are summarised below. It is well worth rereading pages 59–67 of the report or accessing Culture Speaks to understand each point in more detail and, in particular, to hear the voices of the parents.



Relational interactions
  • The relationship between student and teacher is the key to learning.
  • A better relationship between school and home is needed.
  • Secondary schools are unwelcoming to parents.
  • Caregivers feel uncomfortable in schools.
  • School relationships with parents are non-existent unless there is trouble.
  • Face-to-face (kanohi ki te kanohi) contact is preferable.
  • The relationship between child and parents is important.
Being Māori
  • Being Māori matters.
  • The need to achieve as Māori is important.
  • Teachers need to have a greater understanding of things Māori.
  • Teachers need to respect cultural preferences for learning.
  • Teachers need to respect who the students are.
  • Teachers need to avoid cultural tokenism.
  • Teachers need to respect each student as an individual.
Feedback and learning strategies
  • Students are less inclined to complete their work if they know it won’t be marked or commented on in detail.
  • It is important that students achieve as Māori, but also that they learn Pākeha strategies in order to achieve in class.

Bishop et al. (2003) show that changing the ways teachers theorise about Maori students can lead to improved student engagement and achievement.

This involves shifting from “deficit theorising” to a partnership approach between students and teachers and also between students, teachers, and whānau. They identify the following characteristics of effective partnerships:

  1. Acknowledging the mana or expertise of each partner in the sense of the tino rangatiratanga that was guaranteed to Māori people in the Treaty of Waitangi. 
  2. Working collaboratively with their partner in culturally competent ways that allows the partners to define what culture means to them. 
  3. Learning from the partner and changing their own behaviour accordingly. 
page 202




  1. By 'discourse', Bishop et al. (2003) refer to the norms, beliefs, and assumptions shared by members of a group and revealed in the way they interact and behave with each other. The researchers also examined the discourse patterns of students, principals, and teachers.


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