Telling tales on the tail: One school’s journey towards cultural responsiveness
Pasifika peoples have long been tellers of tales. It is one of the ways our knowledge and wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. When it comes to the education of Pasifika students in Aotearoa, our tale is often defined by a tail of another sort – ‘the long brown tail’ of underachievement. The ‘tail’ is a reference to how Pacific Islands’ students are over-represented in the bottom of educational statistics in Aotearoa. My masters research completed in 2015 gave voice to the lived experiences of students from above the tail, and in particular gave voice to what they perceived as effective teacher actions and dispositions. Effective teachers nurtured students’ academic and cultural identities and as such were considered culturally responsive. Of particular significance was the manner in which culturally responsive teachers increased their influence on student engagement and achievement. These teachers operated from a strong sense of agency and on a foundational belief that their students also had agency in teaching and learning. Participants did encounter culturally responsive teachers, but it was the exception and not the rule.
This article is a reflection on the findings of the ‘tales from above the tail’ and leading our school journey towards a culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy. There have been significant culture shifts in the organisation to position our school and teaching staff to deliver a curriculum that is responsive to the identities of our local community. The work towards making cultural responsiveness the rule is definitely a journey. The challenge is to continually question our own deeply seated colonised thinking to give freedom to indigenising what and how we teach.
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