Connecting students to the world through history

Catherine Forster, history teacher at Naenae College, talks about how important it is to teach Māori history. Catherine explains how teaching Māori history begins with teaching about local areas, making local connections, and hearing local stories. This is particularly important for Māori students. She describes the way Naenae College took time to develop relationships with local iwi, and how getting students out into their local world is critical to building their understanding of local stories.


Key ideas

Professional learning conversations

  1. How could you go about finding out about the local history in your area?

  2. What changes might you have to make to your traditional teaching programme if you are going to have a programme that you can call Māori history?

  3. How could you go about  co-constructing a Māori history programme with your students, your community, and your whānau?

  4. How can you use the Treaty and the the industry that has grown up around the Treaty in your programme?

Māori history links people with the land, so when we look at history and when we introduce history to our students, we're linking where they’re at, with where they actually live, and where they belong, and where they've come from.

When I shifted here, it was really important that I picked up the Māori history from this area, to be able to introduce to my students, so that we could see the significance and the belonging. My family, my children, my husband, are Māori so for me to know the linkage for them to their whakapapa and also for the Māoritanga in the area is really important, and the way of doing things. So for me to teach history here in this place, we need to know significance of where people have come from and so connecting that back into the classroom, so that they have a valid reason for actually saying, We’re here today because …”, and then we follow it through that way.

If they don’t know something about Māori history, then they can’t connect to where they’re at today, because it follows through that culture becomes belief, becomes a way of living, becomes a way of being, and so history is actually intertwined in that culture. So when we look at New Zealand culture, we should also be looking at New Zealand history because that introduces the way that we are now –  thinking today as it’s developed through time.

The connection that they have with Māori history is really, really important. You see examples of that when you're looking at different topics where the students know their iwi and their hapū, and so they can say that's where my whānau comes from. My nanny talked about that place and it’s really, really important to me. So when we look at history for Māori students they're able to gain that sense of belonging in the history that they look for.

I have one example a few years ago and I did a field trip to an area where we climbed a maunga, and as we climbed to the top, the student looked at me and said This is where my nanny is from. I now know exactly what she's talking about.” And with that he had this glimpse of his whakapapa and also his ability to be able to go back to his nanny and say, “I understand what you're now saying.” So it gave him that connection to everything that he had been learning, but also what his family had said. So it was that transference from whānau knowledge into classroom knowledge as well.

But it has to be done carefully because some families want their students to learn from their whānau, rather than from a Pākehā classroom teacher. So it has to be done gently and it needs to have a lot of resources around it and a lot of ability to be able to connect with iwi in the area. So if a Pākehā teacher or any teacher introduces the subject in the classroom they have to know that there is the ability for those students to go home and talk it through with other people in the community. So it has to be a community connection at the same time. So therefore, for Māori students, I think that if you're talking about Māori history, then the whole whānau, the whole village bringing up the child or giving the child knowledge, is really important, not just the classroom teacher.

When we first start we need to find out, number one, where they’re from and try and realise or understand how much knowledge they do actually have about their whakapapa. So when we start our topics at the beginning of the year, we try and introduce mihi into the classroom so that we can find out where the students are from.

And then from there, when we look at New Zealand history, and when we look at Māori history within those topics, we can then say go home and ask, or how about we have a look at this and then we go and find this resource or this person to interview.

So going to the local people that we have as resources around about our schools. So as a classroom teacher I need to know what those resources are and I need to connect with those people in a rich and living way.

It’s such a rich way to teach students that this is how we live in New Zealand today, because … So it connects the idea of partnership and bi-culturalism, not just within New Zealand but within the classroom and also within the school. And that's the idea that I think a lot of schools are picking up on, is that we teach the values and the bi-culturalism and then the multiculturalism stems from that.

So teaching the treaty or the principles of the treaty I think are the most important things. So that the students can then grow those ideas and actually live it out, and that’s what we then take from there into the values.

For example, within our school we look at five different tangas. So we look at rangatiratanga, whanaungatanga, kotahitanga, manaakitanga, and pumanawatanga. And I think those are really important because those are things that come out of the partnership of the treaty, as well, and that our students know that they can actually build on these. So having that and the treaty from that actually grows it. And then from there it's the relationship that was built out of that treaty and the types of assertiveness or passive resistance, that occurred out of that treaty actually brings about events, that the students can actually put themselves in different places throughout New Zealand, and then that helps grow it through to today. So what's our relationship with our local iwi today? And that is really how we do it.

Looking at the different sides of the treaty and the events that have lead from that. What I’ve tried  to introduce and tried to show is the different perspectives around that, so looking at both Pākehā and Māori perspectives on the events that lead from the treaty. And just getting the students to think through the effect that that had on the different groups of people that were in that event, at that time.

So when you have a look at those effects, they tend to come back and say, “We wouldn't do it like that now”, and so then we go back into, “We wouldn't do that now, but how was it done then?” So have a think about the cultural aspect of the events that happened and the reasons behind those cultural aspects, and let’s talk it through that way. So it creates a huge discussion and I think we do a lot of discussion work and we also do a lot of perspective work to actually pull that out of the students, to actually get them thinking about it.

So when we teach colonisation, and the treaty, and the events leading from the treaty, we introduce a whole lot of different perspectives from different cultures. I think it's really important that the students understand the culture that these different groups were coming from and that held on to, and sometimes they have moved on to change in the twentieth and the twenty-first century. So the perspectives, they have to think though quite carefully because today they would say, “I would do it this way, because this is what I'm thinking.” But the idea is to go back into the 19th century and just think about the different cultures, and the beliefs that they held, and so therefore how they went about doing what they did, and so debate, discussion is really important when we have a look at that, so that's what we do there.

It's really quite difficult to do because I think the only way that we can do that is by actually bringing in local iwi and getting their information from them. Because once we start surmising, the kids actually don’t get, the students don't get a good view of the local iwi’s changing ideas. So we have to actually contact local iwi. We have to find the time and the resources to be able to do that, to introduce that to the classroom. To make it, it’s quite difficult because the information and the resources that are sitting there in black and white, hard copy, actually state just one side of things. So you actually have to go and have to contact local iwi, to actually get their side of the event, to get their perspective on what it’s like nowadays, to get their oral history behind that, and so we spend some time doing that. It's very difficult though.

So one of the discussions that we had here at Naenae was that we would go and talk to local iwi down the road, regarding the history of the area.  And whether or not we could look at some of the topics that we wanted to have a look in the classroom. So it was asking permission to teach some of these topics. One of the instances that we had was we went to the local iwi and they actually were very, very busy. So we had to find a time and a space where we could actually sit down and talk with them and at that time they actually turned around and said to us, “Actually you’ve got the history, you just need to, you need to introduce it in the classroom”.

Then a few years down the track we've actually come in a round circle and we're now at the fact where actually, it's really important that iwi actually do speak to our students, and that we bring it within the classrooms. We did actually go and speak to local iwi and mana whenua of the area. So we took our students to them and now I think our classrooms and our schools are seen as being more open. Where local iwi feel that they can actually come in and share their information with our students. So we've got both settings that we've been using. It's hard to contact people. I think that within culture and heritage we've been able to do some work with Honiana (Love). We've also worked and are still doing some work with Ihaia Puketapu as well. So just getting permission to use some of those iwi historians has been really important.

I've actually used the Māori department within our school to actually help me with those connections, because I felt that I needed a kuia to go with me, and so I went and spoke to her about support for that. Then we had another kuia that was in our school for a period of time that actually gave me people that I could contact for the topics that we were looking at. So she supported me in that, and then she would sit down and just tell me some of the stories so that we could build those connections with the people and the community.

Our Māori teacher also is part of the local community - iwi - so for Te Atiawa, and he's been able to sit down and talk to some of the students about some of the topics that we've been looking at. So he' s been a valuable resource in our school. So that's the way that I've gone about connecting with people.

I think our school has just moved together in understanding that we need to have a look at Māori values, and that we need to have a look at topics that our students can actually hold onto, and connect with, and so I think that looking at local community has been really important. So how are we going to do that, and we needed to connect with community, and we needed to connect with whānau, and we needed to connect with values, so that’s where we’re at really.

I think the most important thing is that students need to connect with the place that they’re at. So just staying in the classroom is not something that they can do. We actually need to do the field trips. We actually need to get out there. We actually need to see, and touch, and hear what is in our community. nd so, just by teaching it within the classroom is not actually going to get the kids to connect with it. Our students need to continually do those field trips. To actually get a full understanding of where they’re at, and where the world is at, and the world that they live in, the people that they see, the stories that they hear are actually about the places in and around them, and those places are really important to go to, and to see, and to touch, and to feel. and to listen, and pick up on.

So I would say that that's one of my most vital things about teaching history is get them out there and make sure they connect with the wider world.