In her research paper ‘ Whakawhanaungatanga – Culturally responsive teaching in the Drama Classroom’ (NZ Journal of research in Performing Arts Education) Tracey Lynn Codey discusses drama strategies and practice to engage Maori learners in a culturally responsive way.

Due to the statistics of achievement of Maori/Pacific students, the government see these learners as priority and therefore are asking teachers to look at ways to be more culturally responsive in order to support achievement. Below is a summary of my main findings from this paper and my own reflections on my practice.

1.Maori achievement 

Some teachers see under achievement as the child’s issue, a home issue or a school structure issue, therefore deflecting question of adapting their own practice. This paper suggests that teachers move away from ‘deficit theorising/problematising’ and towards emphasising aspirational goals.

My work in a juvenile boys home showed me first hand the need to support Maori/Pasifika learners to have clear goals and aspirations – many of them had struggled in mainstream education and therefore felt they were unintelligent and on the fringes of education. Building their trust and relationships was therefore key prior to helping them see their own worth. 

I also noted that those learner who were closer to their cultural roots (knew their Iwi/Marae, understood their Tikanga, or knew about their native islands culture /felt connected to something bigger than them) were generally more well rounded, balanced and happier. 

2. Ako

Research suggests a need for relational pedagogy with akonga and their whanau. Building, maintaining and repairing (where necessary) relationships with all students, but maybe more importantly Maori learners is essential before meaningful learning can happen. Teachers must care for their learners as ‘cultural beings’ and be a ‘trustworthy facilitator’ in order to increase their mana. ‘Maori have a cooperative orientation towards learning and life’ so teachers must adopt the concept of ‘ako’ to be both a learner and teacher, cooperating with students and being transparent about this.

Giving students a choice to build mutual respect was something found to be universally successful by the case studies in this report.

I have been reflecting on this with my students at this school. I refer to this as ‘playing the long game’ with the students, i.e. gaining their trust and respect over time rather than demanding it with more ‘traditional’ methods of discipline/order. 

One of the more simple ways I have achieved this is by asking my learners not to line up outside my room at the beginning of class but instead come in, get ready and seated in a circle. I want my students to feel that we are a ‘drama whanau’ and that in this room they have a sense of home, or belonging. I also want the students to feel a sense of responsibility for getting the learning started.

In week 7 of term, I asked the students why they thought I did this. Their responses showed me they have understood this simple practice. “Because you trust us”, “Because you want mutual respect”, “Because you don’t want to waste time with the learning”. This practice is meaning that we are building a relationship where ako is present. We are a family, and therefore all must feel trustworthy and equal. 

3. Central concept

Encouraging participation over success is important in drama at times to develop a sense of trust, however asking students to take risks allows for increased levels of success and achievement. Using the ‘central concept’ with maori learners can help with this – allowing an elder/more experienced learner to guide and support a younger/less experienced learner supports sense of whanau and community trust.

I have experimented with this concept in two ways this term:

a) Setting up structured peer assessment. When their is performance work, each group is assigned another ‘buddy’ group. The ‘buddy’ group must write feedback/forward whilst the other group performs and vice versa. They then share this feedback/forward with each other. This has been really helpful at putting the student/teacher role more closely linked,  reinforcing students understanding of the assessment criteria and creating more of a ‘central concept’ with the whanau. 

b) At the end of each assessment unit I have been experimenting with ‘powerful questions’ (more in a seperate blog) to get the students thinking more deeply. One of the questions is to ask each student to pick out someone in the group who inspired them during this process. 

One of my pasifika students picked out a pakeha student and said ” (name) really inspired me to be more mature in this assessment. At the beginning I just kept laughing onstage and didn’t take it seriously, but he just performs without caring, so I tried to be more like him.” I think this was a true statement for the learner. The student he was referring to was an E student and the Pasifika student clearly matured and grew throughout the assessment period moving from an NA to a M+. 

This was the first time they had taken on this ‘deep speak’ so found it a slightly alien concept but I am hoping that reinforcing it will improve the learner aspirations and sense of trust/whanau/whakawhanaungatanga. 

4. Metacognition 

Students taking ownership of their own learning can build a sense of trust/whanau and increase achievement by eliminating some of the unknown risk.

I will implement this into my classroom in term 2 as we have begun to build our relationships, this will help reinforce them.


Tika – values and principles we will work with.

Tikanga – Protocols we adhere to.

Review together:

Pono – Everyday actions and behaviours

5.  The recipe

Variables which significantly impact the quality/value of culturally responsive teaching and how I can implement these into my classes.

a) Holistic practice which engage mind, body and soul.

Stimuli which asks students to think and speak deeply (from within oneself) about their culture and the world around them. For example choosing to look at ‘The Syrian Refugee crisis’ with my year 9 groups and asking them to reflect on how this stimulus changed them as a person. The question is deliberately deep and asks students to speak from their ‘soul’ – surface level responses were not accepted.  

I also want to work more closely with two boys in my year 10 set who are both pacific island natives. I am planning to do some ‘story work’ with the set before we choose their scripted plays in term 3 to encourage the whole class to think more about their culture and how their experiences can be played out/experienced again on stage. This will be followed by more powerful questions and ‘deep speak’. 

b) Place – based strategies

This is something I would love to look into more with my teaching in NZ – finding site specific places to explore drama, possibly a Marae?

c) Relationships

Discussed above

d) Collaborative creation

Drama, by nature is collaborative, however after a guest speaker came to the school to discuss collaboration from a wider and more detailed perspective I have been reflecting on improving the quality of the collaboration. See separate blog. 

e) Understanding Culturally responsive practice.

I will be doing further reading on this over my teaching here. 


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