My Critical Understanding of Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Responsiveness in my Classroom

What is culturally responsive pedagogy?

“Culturally responsive pedagogy is defined by Gay (2001, p.106) as “using the cultural characteristics, experiences and perspectives as conduits for effective teaching”. It is reflected in five elements including knowledge about cultural diversity, the culturally integrated content in the curriculum, the development of the learning community, the ability to communicate with culturally diverse students and culturally responsive delivery of instruction (Gay, 2001).

Bishop in Edtalks (2012) suggests that a teacher whose pedagogy is culturally responsive challenges the “deficit thinking” of student educability and have agentic thinking, believing that they have skills and knowledge that can help all of their students to achieve, no matter what, in this “A culturally responsive pedagogy” Edpuzzle video

My knowledge of things indigenous pertaining to secondary classrooms in this country is, admittedly, rather limited. However, I do have the advantage of having taught in and around Porirua for 23 years and I also attended a poor predominately Maori/Polynesian church in the local suburb of Cannons Creek for five years in the early 1990’s. For a middle-class Pakeha from a rather different background (i.e. white, middle class, suburban, two-parent family for my entire upbringing), this was eye-opening and often confronting as I got to experience the collision of different cultural values up close. I feel the resulting learning and self-reflection certainly changed my life in the years afterwards; I even went to the lengths of ‘hongi’-ing (at the church door) all the attendees at my wife’s funeral in 2001 (some of the reactions of my Pakeha friends are not worth mentioning here). And it was Maori and Pacific Island values that I grew increasingly attracted to in the years following my wife’s passing, with its emphasis on family and the elderly. The Pakeha way of acknowledging someone’s passing left me searching for more as the years passed and I grew increasingly attracted to the Maori ritual of Tangi. What impressed me the most was how it allowed grown men the opportunity to grieve openly, hardly surprising since my own Pakeha male culture is not renowned for its open expression of feelings.

“Cultural Intelligence

Before you can deliver a culturally responsive pedagogy, you need to know where you are at in terms of cultural intelligence. Bucher (2008) identified nine megaskills that contribute to the cultural intelligence including

  1. Understanding My Cultural Identity — Understanding how we think about ourselves as well as the people and ways of life with which we identify.
  2. Checking Cultural Lenses — Recognising the ways in which cultural backgrounds differ and how they influence thinking, behaviour and assumptions.
  3. Global Consciousness — Moving across boundaries and seeing the world from multiple perspectives.
  4. Shifting Perspectives — Putting ourselves in others’ shoes and cultures.
  5. Intercultural Communication — Exchanging ideas and feelings and creating leanings with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  6. Managing Cross-Cultural Conflict — Dealing with conflict among people from differing cultural backgrounds in an effective and constructive manner.
  7. Multicultural Teaming — Working with others from diverse cultural backgrounds to accomplish certain tasks.
  8. Dealing with Bias — Recognising bias in ourselves and others and responding to it effectively.
  9. Understanding the Dynamics of Power — Grasping how power and culture interrelate and the effect of power on how we see the world and relate to others.Use this Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Self-Evaluation form to self assess your cultural intelligence. This should help you identify the gaps and what you want to change in terms of cultural actions.

A Snapshot: My Cultural Responsiveness as evidenced in my Classroom:

  1. How do I plan activities and lessons to support diverse cultural backgrounds and languages?

By having appropriately targeted (in terms of academic difficulty) and scaffolded work for all students. This would necessarily involve extensive ‘unpacking’ the often off-putting technical language contained in the Achievement Standards tasks in my subject.

  1. How do I use meaningful instructions that link to the students’ prior experience/backgrounds?

Through the use of informal pre-testing and class review discussions often through the use of use of ‘SOLO’ taxonomy (Structured of Observed Learning Outcomes – see )

  1. How does my school involve parents, families and communities in supporting their students’ and the school’s activities?

Through weekly newsletters, our school website updated frequently, regular contacts with home either by email or phone (we have the advantage of being a small rural community too so the power of word-of-mouth through informal conversations cannot be underestimated)

  1. How does my school ensure its vision, mission and core values reflect cultural responsiveness?

“The student roll is affected each year by the movement in and out of the area of families working in the dairy industry. This contributes to increasing numbers of students with different cultural backgrounds attending the school.

The school’s vision of ‘nothing but the best’ is widely communicated and understood. A positive culture, based on respectful relationships, and focused on students’ learning and wellbeing, benefits all students.”

(2013 ERO report)

  1. How does my school ensure that students maintain the integrity of their own cultural values and identity?

“School leaders and teachers continue to look for innovative ways to more effectively engage students and meet their needs. Significant changes to the senior timetable structure and programmes for students in Years 7 to 10 are having a positive effect on their learning.

Given the school’s rural location, learning pathways available to students are extensive. The modified timetable allows senior students to attend a range of programmes beyond the school without missing out on other key areas of learning.

Teachers are increasingly designing tasks that build on students’ prior knowledge and engage them in meaningful learning, often closely related to their lives.

Teachers work well together to develop and share teaching practices that are most likely to provide positive outcomes for students.”

(2013 ERO report)

  1. How does my school communicate (using verbal, non-verbal or symbolic representations) and create conditions where students can express their identities regardless of their ethnic background?

“School leaders and staff are continuing to improve the way they meet the needs of Māori students and promote their success as Māori.

Some positive steps taken since the previous ERO review include:

  • increased professional learning for staff appointing a teacher to lead developments in Māori education
  • a progressive te reo Māori programme being introduced in junior classrooms in 2013 several staff members, including the principal, studying te reo Māori
  • providing an opportunity each year for the parents of Māori students to share their views and receive information about Māori student achievement.

Māori students have been surveyed to gain their views about being Māori at this school. This process also gave staff valuable information about the students’ knowledge and understanding of their Māori heritage.

The school’s kappa-haka group is well supported and performs in the school and at local events.”

(2013 ERO report)

  1. How do my school curriculum and resources reflect content from a variety of cultures and ethnic groups? How does my school use achievement information and involve families in planning, and monitoring progress and achievement?

“The school has made pleasing progress since the 2010 ERO report in using achievement information to improve students’ learning. This is most evident in:

  • the closer monitoring of the progress and achievement of senior students (Years 11 to 13)
  • the earlier responses made to senior students’ identified needs
  • the way teachers across the school are using achievement information to personalise
  • learning and provide additional individual or group support for students
  • the quality of the reports to the board about achievement and progress of all students.

The introduction of electronic portfolios is helping students set specific learning goals, monitor progress and share achievement information with parents.

Levels of student engagement, identified in student evaluations of teaching programmes and other surveys, are mostly very good.

Contact with parents, for sharing student successes or discussing areas where more support may be needed, is regular and timely.

There was significant improvement in senior student achievement in all levels of the National Certificates for Educational Achievement (NCEA) in 2012 compared to previous years.

Most students in Years 1 to 8 achieve well in reading, writing and mathematics in relation to the National Standards. However, the progress made in writing in 2012 was less than expected. This has appropriately been chosen as an area for further development through targeted programmes in 2013.

Student achievement after the first two years at school shows that good progress has been made in reading and writing.

Most Māori students, across the school, achieve well. In 2012, Māori students as a group, in

Years 1 to 8, achieved better than other groups of students in writing and reading.”

(2013 ERO report)

(Questions adapted from from Te Toi Tupu’s (n.d.) resource, “Pasifika: Participation, Engagement, Achievement tool”)




3 thoughts on “My Critical Understanding of Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Responsiveness in my Classroom

  1. What I have found in my very limited teaching time is that every NZ town is different and every school has its own culture.
    I like that you’ve drawn the comparison of your own culture and up bringing to that of your students. A large majority of NZ teachers are white…but as the country continues to diversify we continue to see a plethora of cultures in the classroom and in front of the class. All good things. Do you think there should be a greater emphasis on cultural awesness in teacher training degrees/diplomas? Too many cultures to learn???
    Or should it be the role of the school to ensure newly appointed teachers are adequately ‘schooled’ on the schools own culture?
    All in all, I enjoyed your post. It got me thinking….dangerous.


  2. Hi Robert
    I think it comes back to teacher training for all teachers. This needs to be quality rather than filling ‘bums on seats.’. I agree with the commenter Miss Lobb that teachers are mostly white. We need to diversify the teaching force but also train upcoming teachers for the realities of the classroom in 2017. This not only includes cultural responsiveness but enabling them to respond to the diversity of needs we now face on a daily basis that include social, emotional and cognitive.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am impressed that your principal and some staff are studying Te Reo Maori. This demonstrates a belief in the value of the language and a respect for the cultural heritage of our Maori students. While a teaching staff of diverse ethnicities is an asset to a school, I believe we Pakeha teachers can make a difference in the lives of our Maori and Pasifika students. I agree with you Rob that it begins with cultural intelligence and skills like intercultural communication need to be developed. A culturally intelligent teacher can create a culturally inclusive and responsive classroom in which all students can succeed..


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