Wednesday, 12 October 2016

How Well Do You Really Know Your Students?

For me relationships are key to building an effective environment for learning.  But what does this really mean? Are we really doing enough to find out about our Māori students, their background, the hopes their whānau have for them and what the iwi graduate profile might be? Are we making ourselves equally familiar with the families and their aspirations of our Pasifika students? For us to truly know our students this is indeed what we should be doing.

A friend and past CORE Education colleague raised my awareness of the need to know not just the surface features of our Māori students - pronouncing names correctly, knowing their whānau - but knowing the iwi to which they belong and all that this entails. For all of that knowledge goes into understanding and building a relationship with our Māori students. Janelle Riki-Waka presented at CORE Education's Emerging Leaders summit in Wellington which I was fortunate to attend in July. She also presented a similar message at Ulearn16, reviewed in a blog post by Nichole Gully - 'Engaging Māori Students and Whānau in Future Focused Education'. The 'guts' of it is the need for us as teachers to really understand and know our learners outside the classroom - their giftedness beyond academia, their language and values. When I say 'our learners' I mean everyone - another learning from my time with CORE is that what is good for students requiring differentiation in any way shape or form is good for all.
How has this looked in my classroom? Over my first weeks with the students I did begin by learning names and ensuring correct pronunciation but quickly moved on to finding out which iwi they are affiliated with, which marae they see as home and how involved they are with it. Three weeks into my time I was able to meet parents at the scheduled parent interviews. A key question for them was what they hoped for their child by the end of 2016. This was noted and considered as I look at where to next.
I also let my young man of Tongan descent know I was aware of the likely expectations his family have of him. He was most surprised to find I had the understanding I did. Our conversations, even the serious ones, are peppered with laughter and fun in the nature of talanoa. He still takes away the message intended and works harder on his own learning as a result. He was able to lead during Tongan Language Week and I find ways for him to lead - whether it is assisting the junior students or leading in sport. Giving his service to the school has and is happening in a myriad of ways. I look forward to the new surprises the rest of the year has in store for me from him.

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