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Focusing on the students

Who are my students?

High expectations are just one aspect of a wider vision for students, a vision that is outlined in the vision statement in The New Zealand Curriculum and the graduate profile in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

To pursue this vision with their students, teachers need to build good relationships with students, whānau, and community. This always means understanding something about the students and the people behind them.

Ask yourself:

  • Who are my students?
  • What do they want to be and achieve and what do their whānau and community want for (or of) them?
  • How can I tap into or connect with their particular expertise, interests and experiences, culture, language and identity?
  • What are their particular learning strengths and needs?
  • What understandings, skills and competencies do they need to develop if they are to succeed in their learning and achieve their goals?

Listen to Joshua Iosefu, a prefect at Mt Roskill Grammar explore issues of identity and stereotype in this inspirational assembly speech from “one brown brother to another.”

YouTube: Brown Brother

In the achievement objectives, the English curriculum describes a progression of skills, competencies and understandings. Within any class, individual students will find themselves at widely differing points on this progression. Effective teaching and learning is deliberately designed to take students on from where they are.

Effective pedagogy is culturally responsive

The students in our classrooms are increasingly diverse, ethnically and linguistically. Read more:

For teachers of English, this diversity is a challenge and an opportunity. Like all languages, English is both an expression of culture and the means by which culture can be explored. All the key concepts for English – identity, communication, story, and meaning – are inextricably linked to culture.

Anne Milne, principal of Kia Aroha College in Auckland, says students’ cultural identities are:

“the thread that connects students’ self and academic learning to their future pathways”.

Milne, 2009, Colouring in the White Spaces; Cultural Identity and Learning in School, ASB/APPA Travelling Scholarship.

She urges teachers to validate and value students’ cultural identities and norms in our curriculum, programme design and classrooms to ensure they achieve success both as individuals and in their academic learning.

To validate and value students’ cultural identities and norms, our classrooms need to become culturally responsive environments – environments that honour our bicultural heritage and recognise the diversity of our communities and society – regardless of the make-up of our classes.

“Cultural responsiveness is much more than introducing myths or metaphors into class. It means interacting with their families to truly understand their reality; it means understanding the socio-political history and how it impacts on classroom life; it means challenging personal beliefs and actions; and, it means changing practices to engage all students in their learning and make the classroom a positive learning place for all students.

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.”

Bishop et al., 2007, in Tataiako – Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners

The Treaty of Waitangi is one of eight principles in The New Zealand Curriculum that provide the foundations for curriculum decision making in schools. This principle has considerable implications for our work as teachers.

Learn more:

To see how a teacher took steps towards creating a culturally responsive classroom environment, see snapshot 9: I am not Esther.

Resources for creating a culturally responsive learning environment

Other resources that can help teachers create a culturally responsive learning environment include:

English language learners

Chances are that you will have one or more English language learners in your various classes.

Students who are new learners of English or in an English-medium learning environment for the first time need explicit and extensive teaching of English vocabulary, word forms, sentence and text structures, and language uses.

For teachers of English language learners who are looking for guidance, seven principles are suggested. See the section English language learners: Principles.

For guidance on effectively integrating content learning and language learning when working with English language learners, see this professional development DVD:

Last updated October 15, 2020