Understanding indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness

Māori underachievement in New Zealand’s education system demonstrates the Crown’s failure to honour the “rights and privileges” Māori were guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Bishop (2012) believes this institutionalised trend of inequity that has accrued over generations is tantamount to a significant societal debt. We must collectively recognise and take responsibility for educational inequity in order to provide a system that is responsive to the needs of all learners, especially Māori. In New Zealand, culturally responsive pedagogy is an educational practice that seeks to address the disparities faced by generations of Māori in our education system.

Bishop (2012) iterated that culturally responsive pedagogy is where the teacher is focused on cultivating relationships that promote learning. Some characteristics he outlined are:

  1. Communicating high expectations.
  2. Teachers facilitate learning.
  3. Reciprocity (i.e. Ako / tuakana-teina principles where students teach and teachers learn).
  4. Student-centred learning.
  5. Identity and culture is celebrated and fostered through meaningful learning contexts.
  6. Knowledge and expertise that learners bring are used to enhance learning.

Culturally responsive pedagogy means shifting from the traditional western model of education that is mainly academically focused, to a model that is human-centred. I see a culturally responsive teacher as one who weaves the above characteristics into their practice to create an organic learning environment.

The following examples of culturally responsive practice are evaluated using the Mauri model (Pohatu, 2011).

Communication methods

For one evening a month the whanau of the Māori community can come into school and discuss anything school related. The meetings aim to establish a relationship between school and whanau to support Māori learners – to create Mauri Ora. Sadly, hardly anyone attends. Especially teachers. This initiative is at risk of reinforcing “negative elements of neglect, hurt, and sorrow” (Potahu, 2011) that define the darker, inactive side of Mauri Moe. Māori community members who attend might feel a lack of warmth and value due to the non-attendance of many teachers. Cowie et al. (2011) state that, “A person who is visible in the community is more likely to be respected as having a commitment.” Yet, getting staff to attend Whanau Hui in more numbers is challenging. If they had time, teachers would attend. Alternatively, the school could incentivise teachers to attend these meetings.

Learning activities

We introduced a subject in 2017 called, Ako. It is inquiry-based. Students pursue their own curiosities individually and collaboratively. This subject features at various levels of the Mauri Model from being Mauri Moe (dead) right through to Mauri Ora (actively engaging). This is because some teachers are embracing the pedagogical shift that requires power-sharing, while other teachers feel inquiry learning is a waste of time and struggle to abdicate the power years of teacher-centric practice has entrenched.

My Ako classroom is mainly on the Mauri Oho level. While I provide some cultural responsiveness, I have not woven all the characteristics in. I find it difficult to tap into the “funds of knowledge” students and whanau can bring to the classroom. Cowie et al. (2011) showed some effective strategies, such as, home learning books to “initiate home based conversations” about current learning, which provided ideas on how to build this aspect into my practice in future.



Cowie, B., Otrel-Cass, K., Glynn, T., & Kara, H., et al. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Wellington: Teaching Learning Research Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.tlri.org.nz/sites/default/files/projects/9268_cowie-summaryreport.pdf

Edtalks. (2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/49992994

Potahu, T. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/v…


2 thoughts on “Understanding indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness”

  1. Hi Chris. I really enjoyed reading your blog on Ako classroom. Thanks for sharing it with us! I think it is a brilliant idea and will definitely mention it to my syndicate next term. I also like the idea of your school setting an evening aside per month where the whanau of the Māori community can come into school and discuss anything school related. I can familiarize with the fact that parents do not turn up for meetings. We have the same problem at my school. I have tried meetings with kai, still no luck. My experience is sadly that it is only the parents who really care about their child’s future that turns up. I do feel sometimes why do we even bother going through all the preparations for only two or three parents who turn up – but then after the meeting is over, I know it was worth it for those who turned up! For myself, being a traditional teacher for many years, I must say, I really enjoy student-centered learning. It works really well for me with year 9 – 10’s. i love the freedom it gives to me as well as my students. It is less stressful. Now we do what is to the interest of our students. (I still struggle a bit with years11 – 13, due to NCEA.) I also liked your statement: “Culturally responsive pedagogy means shifting from the traditional western model of education that is mainly academically focused, to a model that is human-centred.” I love 21st Century teaching and learning. Students produced much more quality work and it gives us a freedom to change our teaching styles in a variety of ways. Done are the boring, blackboard, you do what I say, teaching!


  2. Kia Ora Chris,
    It was my pleasure to read your blog on culturally responsive Pedagogy. I agree that most of the time we get to experience very disengaged students and not so interested parents who do not even bother to attend parent-teacher meetings. On the other hand I do believe that every teacher strives to give something extra to the deserving students. The priority learners ( Maori and Pacifica) have been given extra attention and support through the homework clubs and other peer support programs in many school. and yes the results improved too. however, what I would be interested to also see is how much does a teacher bring their culture into a classroom. I think within a bi-cultural scenario in NZ we have a multi-cultural classroom. it is crucial to see a mutual cultural responsiveness in relationships between the teachers and students that can make a difference to learning. apart from this the knowledge their whanau shares as a collaborative resource is also significant to the pedagogy.
    sudhir Duppati


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