In 2003, an extensive educational research project based out of Waikato University in Aotearoa/New Zealand titled Te Kōtahitanga, sought to investigate how to improve the educational achievement of disengaged Māori students in mainstream secondary school classrooms, by talking with Māori students and other participants in their education. The key findings were as follows;
“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/whānau circumstances, or systemic/structural issues.”
-Bishop, Berryman, Tiakiwai & Richardson, 2003)
The study goes on to draw the conclusion that this deficit theorising by teachers is the major impediment to Māori students’ educational achievement as it results in teachers having low expectations of Māori students. This in turn creates a downward spiralling, self-fulfilling prophecy of Māori student under-achievement and failure.
As part of this project an “effective teacher profile” was created which combines both the rejection of deficit positioning as above, and also states that teachers need to be committed to focusing specifically on bringing about change in Māori students’ educational achievement through enacting;
Manaakitanga: They care for the students as culturally-located human beings above all else (building and nurturing a supportive and loving environment).
Mana motuhake: They care for the performance of their students (mana motuhake involves the development of personal or group identity and independence).
Ngā tūrango takitahi me ngā mana whakahaere They are able to create a secure, well-managed learning environment.
Wānanga: They are able to engage in effective teaching interactions with Māori students as Māori (involves a rich and dynamic sharing of knowledge, where ideas are given life and spirit through dialogue, debate and careful consideration in order to reshape and accommodate new knowledge).
Ako: They can use strategies that promote effective teaching interactions and relationships with their learners (ako means to learn as well as to teach).
Kōtahitanga: They promote, monitor and reflect on outcomes that in turn lead to improvements in educational achievement for Māori students (kōtahitanga is a collaborative response towards a commonly held vision, goal or other such purpose or outcome).
This research has had significant impact across New Zealand education with dozens of schools involved in Ministry of Education funded professional development contracts and highlights the importance of developing quality relationships between teacher and student and have resulted in significant improvements in educational outcomes for students in these schools.