Cultural Responsiveness

All learners in our care have the right to experience success in our schools. All learners have the capacity to learn. Being culturally responsive means that, in classrooms made up of many different cultures, we must be aware of students’ prior knowledge and experiences and adapt how we deliver our learning and how we expect learning to look. Using the “cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching” is being culturally responsive (Gay, p. 106, 2002). It makes learning experiences more meaningful, interesting, and achievable. As Milne (2013) puts it; we need to change the colour of the space. We need to make the space fit the children so they don’t have to constantly adjust to fit in. We need to do this so they can succeed as themselves.

Culturally responsive pedagogy requires a deconstruction of white norms. Possibly a bit of a controversial statement but one which resonates with me as I witness my own children struggle to see the relevance of learning experiences at school. Deconstructing white norms is very difficult to do when many of the people leading our schools are from the dominant culture. Many times what is proposed is that we try to get better at the same things. We will have all been involved in a major focus to raise literacy or numeracy levels, improve test results, and reduce non-engagement. However as Milne points out, “these initiatives largely persist in seeing the white space as neutral and the goal is to raise Māori and Pasifika students’ achievement to ‘national norms'” (2013, p. 51).

So much more I could say on this.

How has my practice been informed by what I understand about culturally responsive pedagogy? Where I think I do well is knowing how the kaupapa Maori principles of tino rangatiratanga, ako, and whanaungatanga are fundamental to the cultivating of successful  learning experiences (Pihama, Smith, Taki, & Lee, 2004). One of our class mantras is we are whanau so the idea of care, kindness, trust, and support is embedded into what we do and how we do it. Building relationships is key so inviting korero and listening and responding to their stories is vital – another class mantra is your voice is important. I ensure my learners have opportunities for choice which empowers them to drive their own learning. Learners are encouraged to bring their own experiences and prior knowledge to their learning and to follow up on curiosities which interest them. In relation to Unitec’s Poutama model I think I am heading towards the third level of the pedagogy staircase.

An area in my practice which needs improvement (and which is a professional goal of mine for 2017) is community engagement. In the first instance engaging with whanau of our Maori learners is paramount. We have just this week had a whanau hui to share our new learning space and how teaching and learning will be different in an Innovative Learning Environment. Many of our Maori parents attended. For those who did not attend, I need to ensure I make contact with them to let them know the great stuff. I also need to be more confident to make contact with and engage with Maori groups in the community.



Gay,G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2),106-116.

Milne, B. A. (2013). Colouring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from

Pihama, L., Smith, K., Taki, M., & Lee, J. (2004). A literature review on kaupapa Maori and Maori education pedagogy. Prepared for ITP New Zealand by The International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education (IRI).


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