Culturally Responsive Māori Principle Introduction

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Sarah Norman

Culturally Responsive Māori Principle

Being a culturally responsive teacher is something I continually strive to be. In New Zealand’s multicultural society, it is important to recognise the value that all cultures bring to our communities. It is particularly important to for teacher to know and understand Māori principles, that can be specifically applied within education. For the purpose of this essay I am focusing on the principle of whanaungatanga. I will endeavour to define and explore the principle in depth and make specific links to manaakitanga and whakapapa. Furthermore, I will connect this principle to Ministry of Education policies and initiatives that underpin the use of whanaungatanga in New Zealand primary schools and discuss how it can manifest itself within the classroom environment.

Definition of whanaungatanga:

By breaking the concept of whanaungatanga into chunks we can derive meaning through the words that it is made up of. Firstly, whanau can be defined as family and through this notion of family we can identify the key feature as relationships that are the bonds between family members. Secondly, whanaunga can be defined as a relative of the whanau, the extension of immediate family. Finally, the suffix tanga gives meaning to “similar nouns [that] may be formed from nouns, adjectives, or participates and denote the fact, etc., of being, or of becoming the thing” (McNatty, 2001). From the sub-contexts of the word whanaungatanga we can describe it as “a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging” (Moorfield, 2003).

Pre-settlement whanaungatanga made links to the kinship ties held within and between whanau, hapu and iwi. The Māori people hold strong connections to the whenua in which the a born into. As an example of whanaungatanga, “people who belong to a particular marae trace their whakapapa to that marae and the the ancestors it represents” (Ministry of Education, 1998). Today, whanaungatanga is still tied into the connections people make back to their home and furthermore, it ties into the value of community. “Whanaungatanga can be expressed through the development of relationships between families and communities – the stronger and more cohesive the bond, the more vibrant and enriching the communities are” (IMSB Tamaki Makarau, 2013) illustrating the importance of the bond made between both people and people, and people and place.
I am a very strong believer in the idea of whanau, a group of people who are all linked together somehow by a common thread or bond. For me, whanau is not just my immediate family, but the people whom I share my wider community with. This captures the essence of whanaungatanga, which was perfectly defined by McNatty (2001) as “the glue that connects people to each other”.
Links to other concepts and kaupapa:

The concept of whanaungatanga links in very closely with the concept of manaakitanga. Whanaungatanga is the relationships shared between people through common interests or groups, and manaakitanga can be described as “the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others” (Moorfield, 2003) within and outside of those groupings. If whanaungatanga is the tie that bonds us to others, then I like to view manaakitanga as the energy and expression of that relationship. It is the physical action of the connection between people and how we can effectively demonstrate a sense of belonging to others.

It has been said that whanaungatanga is “the relationship that develops as a result of manaakitanga” (Wilson, 2012), and I believe this to statement to be true in the sense that respect and care for others helps build and strengthen relationships. However, I also see the flip side of this statement in the fact that through the act of whanaungatanga there is then an allowance for manaakitanga to grow. Therefore, it is the reciprocal relationship between these two concepts that allows for groups of people to share and develop close connections in a variety of settings, including education.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, whanaungatanga also has links with the concept of whakapapa. Whakapapa can be described as “genealogy, genealogical table, lineage, descent” (Moorfield, 2003), and it is our direct line of connection with our ancestors or tīpuna. Whanaungatanga and whakapapa work in unison to provide people with heritage and relationships to places and communities. Every person has a whakapapa, and for Māori it is “your whakapapa that dictates your roles amongst whanau, hapu and iwi” (Williams & Broadley, 2009). This means that because of the relationship people have with either a place or another person they are positioned to hold or take up certain roles and responsibilities.
Whakapapa and whenaungatanga link together through the feeling of togetherness and whanau. “Knowing that you are not alone, and that you have a wider set of acquaintances that provide support, assistance, nurturing, guidance and direction when needed (Williams & Broadley, 2009) is the driving force of the connection between these concepts. This support network is not only aimed directly at one’s family and whanau, but also wider whanau; this includes schools, community groups, sports teams, etc. Both concepts are essential for effective relationships to be developed and understood between people from different backgrounds and contexts.
Ministerial Initiatives

The concept of whanaungatanga is a vital aspect within classrooms and the wider school community by allowing all members to share a common goal of education and be aware of the need for mutual respect and care. Within New Zealand’s educational sector there are many ministerial initiatives and policies that underpin the need for whanaungatanga.

Tataiako is an initiative focused on the development and engagement of teachers with Māori learners, whanau and wider community. It is stated within this document that whanaungatanga in practice is when a teacher “actively engages in respectful working relationships with Māori learners, parents and whanau, hapu, iwi and the Māori community” (Ministry of Education, 2011, p.4). These relationships between everyone in the learning community are necessary in helping the students to develop and acquire knowledge, and also for teachers to become familiar with the students whom they are teaching. It is long believed that to be able to teach our students effectively we need to have open and strong connections with our students. For me as a graduating teacher this links directly to the Graduating Teacher Standard Six, which is described in Tataiako (2011) as teachers having “the tools and strategies to develop successful relationships with Māori learners, whanau, hapū, iwi and communities”. It is through this reasoning that whanaungatanga is an important concept to promote and establish within classroom and wider school contexts.
A document that correlates and compliments Tataiako is that of the Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success strategy. This initiative is to help guide and support Māori learners within the realm of education. Through this whanaungatanga can be underpinned by the idea of productive partnerships which “starts by understanding that Māori children and students are connected to whanau and should not be viewed or treated as separate, isolated or disconnected” (Ministry of Education, 2013, p.18). All learners should have the opportunity to be able to develop working partnerships with the teachers who are providing them with an education because the base of trust and respect is a foundation for greater things to develop. These partnerships need to be based on “mutual respect, understanding and shared aspirations. They are formed by acknowledging, understanding and celebrating similarities and differences” (Ministry of Education, 2013, p.18). The key to success of all learners is for them to feel understood and appreciated and this happens through successful creation of strong relationships and bonds with those who they share the learning with.
Te Aho Arataki Marau is the curriculum guidelines for teaching Te Reo Māori. This document is set up as specifically designed curriculum guidelines to support Te Reo in English medium schools and aim to address the New Zealand Curriculum principle in regards to the Treaty of Waitangi. Within this document whanaungatanga can be underpinned by the benefits of learning te reo Māori. The use of language is particularly beneficial with Māori students and building relationships with them and their whanau, as it shows you as the teacher have made special effort and paid attention to their cultural needs. The personal benefits of language development that links to whanaungatanga is the way in which students gain an “increased sense of belonging and of pride as they come to New Zealand’s indigenous language and unique cultural heritage. Their learning enables all students of te reo Māori to participate and contribute more effectively as citizens of a multicultural society. (Ministry of Education, 2009, p.14). This builds a sense of community within the learning environment and captures the essence of the glue that is whanaungatanga between teachers, students and whanau.
The document that underpins all teaching in New Zealand is the New Zealand Curriculum. The use of the concept of whanaungatanga within the classroom can be supported by this document through the principles it endeavours to address. A key principle briefly mentioned above is the Treaty of Waitangi, which ties teaching to the founding document of New Zealand and the bicultural aspect of our society. Another key principle that underpins whanaungatanga is that of community engagement. This states that the curriculum “has meaning for students, connects with their wider lives, and engages the support of their families, whanau, and communities (Ministry of Education, 2007b, p.9). This principle explains that we as teachers have responsibility to build and sustain relationships with whanau and wider community. The final principle that needs mentioned is creating a supportive learning environment. This is necessary for linking to whanaungatanga because “effective teachers foster positive relationships within learning environments that are caring, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and cohesive” (Minsitry of Education, 2007b, p.34). By fostering this kind of relationship teachers can develop a sense of belonging, and this is vital to establish early so as effective learning can occur.
As a follow on from the New Zealand Curriculum, Graduating Teacher Standards lay out the specific requirements for beginning teachers, like myself, to ensure we are effectively teaching. Standard Three is based on the contexts which influence learning environments. The underpinning of whanaungatanga can be explained by teachers needing to “have an understanding of education within the bicultural, multicultural, social, political, economic and historical contexts of Aotearoa New Zealand” (Ministry of Education, 2007a), particularly bicultural contexts, where teachers are expected to understand how to best make connections and build working partnerships with Māori students and whanau. This is again supported by Standard Six and the need to develop positive relationships with learners and members of the learning community. This is an example of whanaungatanga in action and teachers who “build effective relationships with their learners” (Ministry of Education, 2007a) foster a strong bond to students and also with wider family and whanau.
Manifestations of whanaungatanga in learning environments:

Based upon my growing knowledge of effective practice and teaching in New Zealand I can visualise the use of the concept of whanaungatanga within learning environments. Whanaungatanga works in classrooms by the development of relationships between all those involved, as a way of fostering a sense of belonging and inclusiveness. For teachers, we need to “understand relationships with each other, [and the] responsibility we have to the young children” (IMSB Tamaki Makarau, 2013) and ensuring we live and breathe the concept of whanaungatanga not only within school, but in the wider community where teachers are held in high regard.

Within my classroom and future classrooms whanaungatanga will look and sound like close connections and bonds between home and school. I believe relationships to be the most important part of any learning environment, for if you don’t have strong bonds with those you are teaching, then it is harder to establish what your students want and need. An example of whanaungatanga in practice is “when people are sharing their thoughts, ideas, and aspirations, be respectful of what they are saying and how they are saying it before you respond.” (CORE Education Ltd., 1998) As a teacher, I need to both model and promote this kind of respectful relationship by being aware of the diversity of cultural and social needs of my students and being empathetic towards factors that students cannot control. Furthermore, this relationship flows out to parents and other colleagues, whom of which are just as important to establish close ties with because they are part of the supportive network for learners.
The qualities of whanaungatanga I believe I demonstrate is my ability to be able to quickly and effectively establish relationships and use these to the benefit of those around me. Within my class I have built firm relationships with all of my students, my associate, colleagues and parents. This has allowed me to become completely involved in my school environment and in touch with what is happening around me and how that could impact on learning. I believe the way I respect others is reciprocated by all members in the learning community and I will take knowledge of this into future classrooms, schools or communities. It has been stated that “our students achieve better when they know they are respected and cared about, and so too, we work better with our colleagues when we are all treated equally and our thoughts, ideas and beliefs are respected” (CORE Education Ltd., 1998).
To conclude, whanaungatanga within the education sector is a vital concept to be understood by all those who are actively participating in that community. It is the way in which we relate to other people and develop connections that will enhance learning for all our students.

CORE Education Ltd. (1998). Thought Leadership. Retrieved from

IMSB Tamaki Makarau. (2013, Jan 30). What is whanaungatanga? [Video file] Retrieved from
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Ministry of Education. (1998). Some key marae values, concepts, and practices. Retrieved from
Ministry of Education. (2007a). Graduating Teacher Standards. Wellington: The New Zealand Teachers Council.
Ministry of Education. (2007b). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Ministry of Education. (2009). Te Aho Arataki Marau mo te Ako I te Reo Maori – Kura Auraki. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.
Ministry of Education. (2011). Tataiako: Cultural competencies for teachers of Maori learners. Wellington: Crown.
Ministry of Education. (2013). The Maori educational strategy: Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013-2017. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.
Moorfield, J.C., (2003). Maori Dictionary. Retrieved from
Williams, N.M. & Broadley, M-E. (2009). Resource Kit for Student Teachers. Wellington, New Zealand: Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.
Wilson, S. (2012). Manaakitanga and Whanaungatanga definition. Retrieved from

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