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Te Mātaiaho: waiting for the thunder

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

by Steve Saville

Schools are in a bit of an unusual space right now (bit of an understatement I know). Most of us are aware that significant mandated change is imminent. Te Mātaiaho and the Common Practice Model being but two of the obvious change juggernauts that we can see and feel as they appear over the, not too distant, horizon.

We are aware of them but still feel that we are a bit short when it comes to the finer details. The details that will allow us to effectively plan and implement the potential changes to curriculum and pedagogical practices contained within these initiatives.

It is like seeing the flash of lightning arc across the sky and waiting for the inevitable thunder to hit. We have seen the lightning from the material already released by the ministry, but we are not sure just how loud the thunder is going to be.

In many respects we have been given the WHY so far, the need to be inclusive etc. and we are immersed in the WHAT we do (our daily reality), but the HOW stage, the stage that bridges these two worlds and helps guide us to make the big picture a classroom reality is still a little lacking in specific detail.

I believe that there is a very good reason for this and that is that the Ministry is wanting to give us time to absorb and come to terms with the big picture thinking that is evident in these significant initiatives before we leap, with vigor, into the specific implementation details.

All well and good, and this approach does make sense, but there is still a mood of impending doom prevailing in most schools right now as they ask themselves questions about the imminent changes that they are going to have to implement, ‘do we know enough detail?’ ‘have we done enough?’ ‘what should we be doing in preparation?’

The effect is that it feels like we are treading water a bit, waiting and waiting with a growing apprehension. Another effect is that schools are reluctant to undertake any significant self initiated developments and changes as they fear that this, when added to mandated initiatives, will lead to work overload once the thunder rumbles through the school. So schools that are normally dynamic and proactive are easing back a bit and adopting a 'wait and see' approach.

All of which is totally understandable - but potentially a little disempowering.

The danger is that we will wait until it is ‘done to us’ and not worked on ‘with us.’ The danger is that we will adopt a, “I’ll do what I’m told, when I'm told’' approach and won't commit more than that until we have a very clearer understanding of the workload and effort involved. Again this could verge on being disempowered as we wait in anticipation of more detail.

So, what can we do in the meantime to prevent this hiatus? What can we do to ensure that we own the changes as they unfold, that we demystify what is on the horizon and we contextualize effectively? What can we do now to ensure that nationwide initiatives actually have a positive effect on our learners and their educational outcomes?

Well, I would suggest considering two small steps that require little effort but could considerably enhance readiness.

#1 Whakapapa Weaving

The first is very practical and can be undertaken as part of the normal staff meeting cycle. The whakapapa diagram from the Te Mātaiaho is the foundation of the curriculum refresh. It is something concrete that we can work with, demystify and contextualize right now. My suggestion would be to dissect it, take the 7 curriculum components that make up the whakapapa and unpack each one, identify the essence of each one and then weave that through what the school currently does in that area. Find the connections between each of the 7 curriculum components of the whakapapa and the school's vision/values/curriculum. Find the areas of strong connection and alignment and celebrate them, then identify the areas that might need some work on, but most importantly dissect the visual and weave it into the fabric of your school. Do this physically, cover it with ‘post it’ notes, cut it up and display it around the staff room, discuss and define each of the seven components for your context.

And yes we do have a tool to help you here

Take the fear away by realising that even though you may not use the terminology of Te Mātaiaho (yet), you do have your own language, explore those connections. Make visuals as you dissect the whakapapa to put up on the staff room walls, own the diagram, weave it through your context and normalise it, and ensure, at all times, that this dissection is taking place through the lens of your school. Seek out the connections. Invite the whakapapa into your school as a friend rather than treat it with suspicion, as if it was an unwelcome intruder.

#2 Understand and know yourself

The second suggestion is about using this time to re-energize, reinvigorate and further empower the only people in your school who are going to be able to successfully make this document live in your school…the staff.

The only people who can bridge the gap between the WHY and the WHAT are those who work directly with the students. They are the HOW, so use this ‘limbo’ time to get them hiking, use this time to enable staff to hike through their own educational story where they focus on their personal journey as an educator, where they focus on themselves as agents of change who matter and who make a difference. Use this time to empower teachers so that they can build and sustain an effective bridge between the big picture and the classroom.

This does not need to be complicated. It could be as simple as working through the diagram below. All of these sections should be answered from their position as an educator rather than from their personal life. Get staff to go hiking and identify their vision of education, their values, their skills and what makes them light up and laugh during the school day. What drives them? How do they see where they fit within the school vision? Give them time to unpack their pedagogy. If you want more substantive tools to help here then please explore our Tūrangawaewae and Pedagogy tools.

So what can we do now?

We can invite the whakapapa into our staff rooms and dissect it, and we can understand our staff so that they will be empowered and confident to build the HOW bridge.

So let's get weaving and understanding, while we wait confidently for the thunder!

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