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Culturally responsive values

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The values at Breens Intermediate have evolved over time as the students and staff have worked with them. Principal Brian Price explains that they realised there was something missing and wanted to make sure that the values were owned by all students in the school. They worked with their Kaumatua and Māori community and made further changes to the Breens Intermediate values to ensure they were culturally responsive. This film encourages schools to ensure that their values reflect the ideals and cultural identities of the entire school community.

There are four stories in this series:

  1. Developing the Breens Intermediate values
  2. Culturally responsive values
  3. Testing our values
  4. Values in the classroom

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Promoting professional conversations

The New Zealand Curriculum envisions "... young people who will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Māori and Pākehā recognise each other as full Treaty partners, and in which all cultures are valued for the contributions they bring."

The Treaty principle of partnership benefits all learners. It harnesses the knowledge and expertise of the diverse people who can contribute to students’ learning, including families, whānau, iwi, and other community members. Partnership is realised as schools collaborate with Māori and non-Māori to develop, implement, and review policies, practices, and procedures. By working collaboratively, schools learn to share power, control, and decision-making while validating the unique position of Māori as tangata whenua and recognising the contribution Māori make to education. Schools are encouraged to form partnerships with local iwi and hapū as part of engaging with their Māori community. 

NZC Update 16, The New Zealand Curriculum Treaty of Waitangi principle (January 2012)

  • Consider how the staff at Breens Intermediate have embedded the Treaty of Waitangi principle by reviewing their values. How could your school use collaboration and partnership to review and redesign your curriculum?
  • Ask your students to share their perspectives on your school values. Are they relevant? Do students connect with them?
  • How could you include your whānau, iwi, and students in reviewing, guiding, and determining your school values?
  • Who is able to advise you on local tikanga? How can you build stronger relationships with local iwi?


When I looked at the tree, the tree was great, [but] nearly three years ago now, I thought, there’s a couple of things really missing from the tree that I really need to tweak. It’s got a couple of Māori words. We use those definitions we talked about - showing aroha... We talk about the definition of aroha, you know, love and what that means - it means looking for good in people - and if we can have that skill it makes a big difference. But we were certainly missing te reo and things Māori on our tree.

So the tree has actually evolved - it was developed over time with the staff and the students. Now as our school is changing, and we’re evolving, the tree is evolving as well.

So I went to my kaumātua at the time and wanted to tweak bits and pieces. It was the very first time I heard this word whakataukī. I thought that sounds pretty cool, and she sort of talked to me about a whakataukī she thought would help with the tree. So sadly we lost our kaumātua and that was a real step backwards, and I felt really isolated actually for quite sometime. But going back to my Māori community and finding a couple of key people was fundamental. Then taking the Breens’ tree and saying, ‘please help me’, was great. They felt like, ‘yep this guy’s listening and he wants us to be included’. A couple of them came forward and said shall we talk about whakataukī, as opposed to an actual word to substitute bravery, let’s look more and give this tree more soul.

We spent a significant amount of time looking at our values and our vision and how we could connect that in a way that was really culturally responsive. What we realised was that our ‘B words’ - our brilliance, and our belonging, and our boldness, and those words - didn’t really have an awful lot of Māori, for example, interwoven into that and we were worried that some of our students maybe were not connecting with it.

So we went through a massive learning curve around the student voice - telling us about what the tree meant for them. That hurt a little bit because I thought, I foolishly thought, that everyone had that engagement. [But] from my Māori students, they felt it just didn’t look and feel like it was connecting with them. That was sad to hear, but was a real defining/turning moment in my leadership. I thought, ‘right, let’s just stop and back up the bus’.

So we worked with a facilitator and we started looking at some possible whakataukī that would align with each of the values. Then we started to talk with the students about what those whakataukī meant, how they connected with the values, and really unpack those at classroom level.

Suddenly we have massive learning going on for a whole term around whakataukī, and we’ve got our kids to look at whakataukī and what whakataukī do you think could work for defining the value. So it wasn’t just a word, it was the definition, and that was a key.

My students have been designing Breens’ trees to try and evolve the tree. We’re changing it at the moment to be more culturally responsive. Each value has a whakataukī that links to it and we teach using that whakataukī as well, so we take links out of that whakataukī. Our team has a whakataukī as well. When we were actually planning those we gave students voice - we gave them whakataukī to look at, they decided which ones linked to our values the best, and you’ll see that on our new design of our tree.

Māori proverbs such as, ‘aim for a high cloud then you’ll hit a lofty mountain’, they're just basically goals for our day to day life. It lifts the complete meaning and it just makes one bigger thing so you can then split it down to smaller goals to help you achieve to be brave, or belonging, bold, brilliant, or beautiful.

The students show bravery though cultural responsiveness. We have students lead waiata, karakia every morning in our team. We use te reo in every possibility that we have within the team and school wide, so it’s fantastic. The tree, leading to having whakataukī, is great to link the two together.

So now our new look tree has whakataukī mentioned all the way through, and both the staff and the students have decided what whakataukī they think best represents each one of those values. That’s a rich exercise.       

Published on: 17 Jul 2013