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Russell Bishop: our rangatira, weaving us together

by Rebecca Thomas

“35% of our 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate, Māori and Pacific students are over-represented in this figure yet again. We’ve had enough of this; we actually know what to do and we know how to do it. What I am asking you today is, let’s get on and do it!”

-Russell Bishop, Whangārei, TTTLA, November 2022

Russell makes no secret in telling us that our current practices and systems within our schools maintain the status quo of disparities being determined by ethnicity instead of students’ potentials. He firmly reminds us that this situation has been happening for decades, and thus the negative consequences for ākonga remains; he’s unafraid to speak up, as any rangatira does when bearing the responsibility of their people’s wellbeing.

It’s been almost a year since Russell came to Te Tai Tokerau to mobilise Leaders of Learning to tackle the Literacy Crisis and get their ‘skin in the game’. Last year he set us all a goal, he said we had two years to reach parity in Literacy achievement between Māori and non-Māori learners. His messages (and his own self-driven practices) have been around our ability as educators to strengthen our collaborative conversations based on evidence, a strategy that we all know has the most impact on student achievement; our collective efficacy.

This year he wants a re-run. He wants us to come back together and he wants to check on our progress, igniting those collaborative learning conversations once more. Russell is role modelling and clearly implementing the North-East Leaders of Learning profile himself, inviting us to a collaborative North-East meeting in Te Tai Tokerau. He is setting us goals, using caring pedagogies, challenging our infrastructures, leading us, spreading his mahi, and encouraging us to take ownership over the Literacy Crisis and educational disparities before us (GPILSEO). He wants us to challenge our current educational systems.

The Kāhui Ako model, where leaders can work collaboratively, is one such model Russell identifies as having huge potential in transforming schools into North-East learning institutions. Effectively ran communities of learning provide leaders with the support they need in addressing implementation issues far more effectively than principles who operate on their own. Russell continues to bring us together by coming and checking on our progress, inviting us to collaborate, to discuss ideas. He knows his appearance will be the provocation, the excuse for us to come together again in one space.

His presence is always very timely and very welcomed. It is rare you will find keynote speakers tune in to what is unfolding in the ‘far North’; paying such assertive and personal attention to our leaders and teachers who for one day can stop feeling like they are teaching in what some refer to as feeling like the 'forgotten North’. It’s good to know someone is listening and championing for our tamariki, helping us to remain accountable, helping us to explore the progress we may have made, and to identify what we need to do next. It’s comforting to know someone is monitoring this.

With Te Tai Tokerau not receiving much support from the Ministry this year, in way of RAPLD funding (receiving only 17% of what was expressed as needed), this Leading To The North-East Literacy event being hosted by Cognition Education and Te Tai Tokerau Literacy Association is a great way to show our commitment to upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

It is with fondness I see Russell walking the talk he promotes, it is with fondness I can see him being a North-East Leader, our rangatira, and ironically sharing his message in the North-East of Aotearoa first.

If you haven’t yet got your tickets to this amazing event in Whangārei, you can find a link here.

See you all there!

Some questions for you to muse over for the next three weeks while we await his kōrero:

  1. What are the concerns about teacher variability for our Māori and marginalised students?

  2. What does it mean to teach Literacy with fidelity/tikanga?

  3. What are the most important things a teacher can do to increase their cultural competency?

  4. What gains should we be looking for to indicate that we are now on the right track of addressing this Literacy Crisis a year later?

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