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Creating a supportive learning environment

A supportive learning environment is primarily about relationships. In all learning areas (but perhaps particularly in health and physical education), students must take risks in order to learn. To take risks, they need to know that they are with people they can trust, who will support their learning. They need to know that they are “learners among learners”.

A supportive learning environment very rarely happens by itself. The teacher will almost always have to create it. This will involve, for example:

  • establishing appropriate sociocultural norms (ways of working effectively and respectfully with each other)
  • setting high expectations
  • finding out and honouring students’ prior knowledge and experiences
  • giving students agency (choice and ownership) in their own learning
  • providing interesting and challenging learning activities/experiences
  • modelling and coaching effective and productive practices
  • implementing a culturally responsive pedagogy of relations.

Culturally competent teachers are able to use the learner’s culture/s as a building block to learn and teach. They understand how to utilise the learner’s culture/s to aid the teaching and learning process, as well as to facilitate relationships and professional growth.

Tātaiako – Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners, page 2

(New Zealand Teachers Council. (2010). Tātaiako – Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners (PDF 488KB). Wellington: New Zealand Teachers Council.)

Ako – the operative principle

Ako is the operative principle of any classroom or community in which every person is supported and every person is learning. Ako embodies the understanding that learning is reciprocal: we all have something to teach, and we all have something to learn. It also embodies the understanding that learner and whānau are inextricably linked.

Two key messages:

  • Language, identity and culture count – it is important therefore to know where students come from and to build on what they bring with them.
  • Productive partnerships strengthen learning – by sharing knowledge and expertise, students, whānau, and educators achieve better outcomes.

Creating a culturally responsive learning environment

Whether in health, physical education, or home economics, it is important to:

  • consider cultural aspects and perspectives in relation to interactions within the classroom
    This may involve:
    • acknowledging students’ whakapapa, whānau, and iwi
    • valuing and observing tikanga (for example, by showing generosity towards visitors, not sitting on desks, being aware of and observing cultural protocols for eye contact with students, respecting personal space, and acknowledging specific practices for the preparation and eating of food)
    • providing experiences that bring together customary practices (for example, hosting a cultural event)
    • respecting the languages of the students (for example, by pronouncing names correctly and seeking translations of some of the key concepts into students’ languages). 
  • make links to the wider school community by discussing with colleagues in other departments how home economics, physical education, or health education interweave with their learning areas, and identifying common approaches and content that can be developed to improve student learning

    For example, teachers might:

    • consider the concept of sustainability from economic, geographical, historical, health, and home economics perspectives
    • integrate learning in physical education, health education, home economics, technology, chemistry, biology, economics, and media studies when looking at topics such as:
      • how advertising exploits body image
      • the factors that influence the choices and decisions people make in relation to their health and well-being
      • inefficiencies in the food chain (for example, examining the idea that eating meat or fish/omega 3 is unsustainable)
      • genetic modification
      • health promotion in the school to address an identified health issue.
  • involve parents, caregivers, and whānau in what is happening in the classroom.

    For example:

    • students might interview parents
    • teachers might invite parents/whānau/kaumatua to share their knowledge and experience on subjects such as food culture, sports and recreation, or alcohol and drug use.

Learn more:

  • Strengthening relationships
    By integrating culture, caring, challenge, and support into their pedagogies, teachers strengthen relationships and build communities of learners who succeed socially and academically. See: Effective teaching for Pasifika students
  • The Te Mangōroa website on TKI is a resource for English-medium schools. It is a portal to stories, reports, statistics, and reviews from across TKI and other sites that reflect effective practices to support Māori learners to achieve education success as Māori. Te Mangōroa contains practical illustrations of what Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success means for teaching and learning. These examples come from a wide range of schools and offer a wide range of examples of where they were at, what approaches they used to get started, what worked and what didn’t, and how they measured their success. The resources on the site include the professional development programmes He Kākano and Te Kotahitanga.

Last updated June 7, 2018



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