“The white spaces are even in my head”

These kupu have stayed with me since I listened to Dr Ann Milne’s keynote at ULearn17 (and likely will forever).

Highlighting thoughts her students shared, it was this whakaaro “The white spaces are even in my head” which struck my soul. Because of this wahine toa, who happens to be my daughter.


Ann’s message was confronting.

As a pakeha educator I was challenged to consider how our education system is full of white spaces; we have been challenged to interrogate these white spaces.

White spaces exist in regards what we recognise as knowledge – our policies and practices are white driven. We need to provide space for critical pedagogy within what we do. We need to give opportunities for Maori learners to access their history and find their place in the class, school, community, and country. We need to empower cultural identity and encourage and promote critical discussion and social action.

White spaces exist in the way we assess knowledge – importance continues to be given to the number, percent, or label which sits beside your name. We need to ensure learning is visible in many different ways and celebrate this diversity. There is nothing specifically Maori about putting a reading, writing, maths, or NCEA % alongside a Maori students’ name. There is nothing specifically Maori about being able to analyse the data or make comparisons between ethnic groups either.

White spaces exist in the reasons for learners not getting the knowledge – they are not trying hard enough or they get too distracted. There is no place for deficit thinking in a culturally sustaining pedagogy. We need to craft our pedagogy around who they are so they see themselves in the learning experiences. “Where am I in this picture?”

White spaces exist in the way we propose to fix underachievement – success as a student is measured or gauged by what people in the white spaces consider successful. We need to rethink how the system is failing Maori (and other minorities) rather than the other way round. We should not be trying to fix problems by doing what we have always done.

As a mother of Maori children I have felt and seen the destruction of identity as a result of these white spaces.

As a pakeha educator of Maori children I don’t want this to be the experience of other Maori kids.

Ann talked about a culturally sustaining pedagogy and I clearly see why she changed the word responsive to one of sustaining. Being responsive implies we are reacting to something if it arises. Whereas sustaining implies we want to take action in ways that will be long-lasting and embedded.

A culturally sustaining pedagogy will empower cultural identity. Our Maori learners need to be allowed to be Maori all day – not have to change into a school person and then pick up their true identity on the way home.


A culturally sustaining pedagogy will continue to question purpose.

A culturally sustaining pedagogy refuses to use comparisons.

A culturally sustaining pedagogy is not solely focused on closing an achievement gap – this is not the only goal.

A culturally sustaining pedagogy recognises other learning as well as academic subjects.

A culturally sustaining pedagogy recognises that learners are on a continuum of unrecognised to unlimited potential – no one is categorised under a label.

We must begin to understand that being Maori goes all the way down, all the way back, all the way across, & all the way forward. We also need to recognise that our neoliberal, hegemonic ideology has been destructive. Assessing Maori learners against white colonial expectations is not learning as Maori. 

Our challenge is in this graphic that Ann shared at the end of her keynote. Where does your school sit on this continuum of eliminating White spaces?


I will be making this my inquiry for 2018.

I hope in time that my daughter, whose name is Arawhiu, will realise that the White space in her head is taking up room which would be better used for her cultural identity. I will know she has realised this when she is happy to order a pizza and give her Maori name instead of calling herself Sarah.



Thank you Rochelle for gifting me this book – one which will I know I will keep coming back to after I have read it.



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