Yesterday I drove to Waitangi to participate in the “Engaging Maori Learners” conference of about 400 principals and teachers.
I was especially pleased to hear the korero from Dr Chris Sarra from Bundaberg, Queensland who is one of about 20 aboriginal school principals in Australia and who has led some exciting changes in schools.
Dr Chris talked about his educational journey as a child of whom little was expected but he went beyond the rhetoric about having high expectations for all children and called on teachers to develop high expectations relationships with students. The key word is relationship and he says other punitive or assimilative models are just expensive failures.
His goal is to support young aboriginal students to become the “blackfella’s blackfella” – culturally strong and well educated, not to be the “whitefella’s definition of a blackfella”.
Along with tangata whenua speakers, he called on teachers to have relationships with families where they struggle to engage students and to work from a strengths-based approach. He says all children have the human right to education as an emancipatory opportunity and he reminded teachers that “we are paid to be in a relationship with these children”.
Chris is not a fan of colluding with negative stereotypes or being a victim, and he also believes that the “booting the victim” approach, as is favoured by Paula Bennett, will continue to produce costly failures.
He favours high expectations in eduaction based on his “stronger, smarter” approach. His words reminded me of Donna Awatere years ago, challenging the Pakeha system to give and expect the best when teaching Maori children.
Chris also asked us to remember our best and worst teachers and why. He reminded us how personal the impact of a teacher can be and how deep.
Today I am speaking on the political panel and listening to teachers discussing innovation strategies. All of this will help with the development of our Green education policy and make sure we are in touch with the front line of the debate.