Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Culture Matters in Teaching and Learning

The communities I grew up in, were mostly Pakeha populations. Throughout school I rarely interacted with Pacific people, so I know very little about Pacific culture. One of the reasons I was really excited to work at Tamaki College, was the opportunity to work with young people in a community where Pacific people are the majority, to learn more about their traditions, values, and beliefs. Upon reflection throughout the year, although I have learnt a considerable amount, I feel I still need to include and be conscious of cultural practices and traditions in my teaching. So a goal for 2017 is to build on my culturally responsive pedagogy.

After reflecting on this, quite timely, our principal shared this lecture - Culture Matters in Teaching and Learning. I went along intrigued to hear what it would be about, in hope to start working towards my goal. Professor Konai Helu Thaman presented her educational journey as a Tongan woman, and shared some simple tips for educators of Pasifika people. I found the seminar incredibly interesting and I felt blessed to be in her presence. Some key things I took away to think about further as a colleague and teacher include the following;

Students who speak English as a second language may speak little throughout class, this may not be because they are unable or do not want to, but because they are afraid. Afraid of judgement, punishment, making mistakes in a language which is not their own. This highlights the need for positive, supportive classroom cultures.

We know we should attempt to integrate and incorporate activities, language and traditions from students' backgrounds and cultures, however something Konai said that stuck with me was cultural democracy. She explained how lacking inclusion of student culture into the learning environment is culturally insensitive and undemocratic. 

There is a stereotype that Pacific people cannot think critically. Konai strongly insisted that educators provide as many opportunities for Pacific students to ask questions, to challenge their thinking and learning so their critical thinking skills can flourish. She said many PI students share their thoughts, opinions, ideas and questions in small groups with their friends, but are often afraid to share their thoughts and questions with their teachers. Therefore, it is important teachers shape their lessons to provide students with opportunities to critically think, and scaffold student confidence and ability to critically think with others outside their friend group.

Konai suggested if you have students in your class who are misbehaving, try not to break down or yell at the students, as many will not respond to this. Rather, she said to question the students upbringing; what their whanau expectations are of them, and how they have taught them to act. This is likely to encourage students to consider how their behaviour may reflect on their families.

Finally, if English (written or spoken) is hindering their success, encourage students to express their ideas and creativity in their own language. Once the students are comfortable with their learning and creations in their language, to increase their confidence with English, ask them to translate back into English.

There were many other gems throughout the presentation, and I cannot wait to read her work as an academic. Her story was wonderful to hear, and a reminder that all students have equal opportunities, as long as we, the teachers, provide them. This is also a powerful message to the students; although they may be on the backfoot, they could become Professors if they really wanted to!

To learn about Konais metaphor for education, the kakala (a special garland), please click here!


  1. Absolutely love this G <3 A great reflection of a wonderful message we had the privilege of listening to!

    1. Thanks Kata! I look forward to more opportunities in the future, and I think I can learn a thing or two more from you :)


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