Part 2 – Principal Advisor panel discussion: Ways schools are moving towards giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

By Diana Wilkes

At a recent Te Huinga Kākākura Mātauranga | Evaluation Associates hui, Sue Ngārimu guided a discussion with a panel of principal advisors to discuss the ways that schools are moving towards giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We share some of the insights imparted by the panelists and the facilitator in this article. Note: This is Part 2 of a series of three articles.

We hear a lot about how important it is to ‘give effect’ to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and we know this is both important and our obligation as treaty partners. However, many of us are just not quite sure what that means or looks like in action. What are the tangible actions we can take as educational leaders to prioritise this in our mahi, and in our ways of being?

At a recent Te Huinga Kākākura Mātauranga | Evaluation Associates hui, Sue Ngārimu guided a wonderful discussion with a panel of her fellow principal advisors, all past principals themselves, to discuss the various ways schools are moving towards giving effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The panelists, who are located in different rohe or regions across Aotearoa, shared examples of practice that they have observed, supported or discussed with the principals who they work with.

Facilitator: Sue Ngārimu, Principal Advisor and Team Leader (Central South)


  • Simon Green, Principal Advisor (Canterbury and Otago regions)

  • Diana Peri, Principal Advisor (Auckland | Tāmaki Makaurau area)

  • David Reardon, Principal Advisor (Manawatu-Whanganui-Taranaki-Ruapehu region)

  • Judith Wootton, Principal Advisor and Team Leader (Waikato & BoP – Waiariki regions)

Sue framed up the session with five questions and provided some clarity around why each question was so important to consider. The learning garnered from this session was powerful and provided those present with invaluable insights. We share some of the insights imparted by the panelists around two more of Sue’s five questions in this article.

Part 2: Being a school in Aotearoa

Sue: We are all aware of the enduring power of first impressions, whether we are selling a house or meeting someone new. When we first visit a school in Aotearoa/NZ we are making multiple judgements, mostly unconscious, about that school.

Question 3.

What sense of arrival do you have when you enter the school? What do you see, hear and feel? How do you know the school is in Aotearoa?

In a nutshell: There are a number of ways schools can let their community and visitors know they are in a school in Aotearoa New Zealand and that they are welcome, demonstrating manaakitanga (hospitality/kindness).

Some of the ways you can see, hear and feel that you are distinctly in a school in Aotearoa could be:

  • art on display (mosiacs, carvings, tukutuku panels), 
  • the school logo design, korowai (cloak) and other artefacts to reflect cultural narrative of the school reflected in the design,
  • te reo Māori being prominent in ways such as in the school name itself, 
  • the school values and/or vision, 
  • having a school pepeha, song and/or whakataukī, 
  • staff who can confidently mihi whakatau, 
  • having a bilingual voicemail message on the school phone, a bilingual school website, te reo used in pānui/newsletters, bilingual signage across the school site, and
  • students and teachers who speak te reo Māori.

You will want your visitors to be drawn into the school office/administration area through the design of the school, use of bilingual signage and imagery, to then be greeted by staff with ‘Kia ora, ata mārie, kei te pēhea koe?’ or similar. You will want to be an uplifting presence yourself: greeting with energy, using te reo and being genuinely interested and respectful.

Consider the authentic ways that you can give practical effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi through these reflective questions:

  • Can your staff articulate the cultural narrative of the school and the place where it sits? Can you? What is the history of the school and tangata whenua?

  • What are the norms of practice? Will we hear learners and teachers speaking te reo Maōri to greet, kōrero (speak) and whakaaro (communicate)?

  • Do you role model your expectations of staff by speaking te reo, prioritising tikanga, integrating ANZHs, and by building reciprocal relationships with Māori whanau and tangata whenua?

  • Does your strategic planning reflect your commitment? How?

Some schools complete an internal audit to ascertain where improvements can be made.
For example, Anne Milne Education has a free download: Audit your school’s white spaces.

Here are some other ideas that help to strengthen narratives:

  • Deliberate use of landscaping to tell the cultural narrative of the school, including the use of pou and other cultural artifacts, native plantings, waharoa and cultural imagery.

  • Visual representations of culture at entry points, e.g., wahakura, pou, values, school vision being expressed in te reo Māori.
  • Mottos and logos that are meaningful, authentic and well understood. Cultivate the courage to have conversations about these if they speak more to a painful colonial past than a positive bi-cultural partnership. Engage in a change process if needed, work towards everyone feeling positively about and understanding the language and story of the school logo.
  • Explore names and the cultural narrative of the school. Think about positioning of the Māori names and where they are located. Be aware of unconscious and subliminal messages about placement, size of space, etc.
  • Making it so that ‘Mihi Whakatau is part of how we do things here’.
  • All signage is bilingual.
  • Staffing ratios are noticed and acted on so that they are reflective of the ākonga population and local community. Recognise that having Māori staff only in support roles and not in leadership roles will be noticed.
  • Commit to support and ensure your office administrator who is frequently the first point of contact is welcoming, has strong, correct pronunciation, uses te reo Māori greetings, and knows the story of the school.
  • Administration and waiting areas where manuhiri have first point of contact ooze manaakitanga and include displays of whakatauki, pepeha and photos, to reflect what is valued by the school community and its vision for learning.
  • Design digital spaces and visual imagery to reflect language, culture and identity. Create a sense of place that embraces history (a digital photo frame with a range of photos of local area, tangata whenua, student work, etc., is a great tool). Make deliberate choices of imagery in the pānui and website, and use te reo on all digital platforms, so the school is seen to ‘walk the talk’ in what it values.
  • Position the school marae deliberately in a place of prominence and according to tikanga.
  • Leaders modelling expectations and possibilities; leadership is visible, energetic and positive in their use of te reo Māori.
  • Embrace mana-enhancing processes; be curious about student perspectives and be prepared to relinquish some power.
  • Promote and take pride in ākonga using te reo in the playground and as the language of choice when greeting manuhiri (visitors) and others.

Question 4.
How have schools brought Kaupapa Māori values to life in their day-to-day practices that are reflective of Te Ao Māori?”

Sue: We frequently see the use of kupu Māori when naming school values – common examples are aroha and manaakitanga. It is my personal position that if a school uses kupu Māori to identify their school values they then have the responsibility to realise that these values must be interpreted and enacted in a Kaupapa Māori way, otherwise they are just appropriating te reo Māori.

In a nutshell: Be brave; challenge and question traditions and norms. Bringing kaupapa Māori values to life everyday can be really challenging for principals. Remember that meaning is socially constructed so to value kaupapa Māori we must understand what we are trying to do and why. Use the kupu often, and have a Te Tiriti lens over policies and strategic planning and review. Taking time to seek clarification from Māori can bring to life a governance framework that gives effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Make connections to and deliberately ‘join the dots’ between how values are enacted in granular and bigger picture ways. Specificity of language for clarity matters greatly for understanding what you want collectively and then landing on the right kupu Māori. Involve Māori whānau and tangata whenua to support the development and/or review of values (what would be the word to express that concept?). Create progressions or a ‘values in action’ table that link the school values to the local curriculum e.g., if kaitiakitanga is a school value, what does this look like?

Here are some other suggestions and contexts that provide opportunities:

  • Explore values for authenticity and understanding through a kauppapa Māori lens.

  • Return to whānau for advice and guidance. Seek clarity from a Māori world-view. Unpack values with whānau, iwi, mana whenua – include the Board.
  • Pause and check-in to avoid making assumptions.
  • Social constructs: include others who know more than you.
  • Strategic planning review: for values, asking ‘what came first?’
  • Policy review through a values lens.
  • PB4L and values alignment: ask whether stand-downs, exclusions and other punitive accountabilities demonstrate ‘manaakitanga’ (if that is a school value). Potentially align with PB4L mahi (manaakitanga isn’t ‘just’ kindness) in order to envelop the concept authentically and tap into support from parents / mana whenua.
  • Ensure that the messages of analogies and stories are well understood – both obvious and more subliminal and complex messages. 

It is vital to work with staff, students, parents and whānau and then check in with tangata whenua in order to keep values at the forefront of discussions around learning and behaviour at all levels. In one example, a school had used the acronym LEARN to make the school values ‘cognitively portable’ for students. A few years later, the local kaumatua explained to them it was inappropriate to do so as to their iwi this was an example of colonisation. It goes to show that having the conversations early and often ensures participation, protection and above all, partnership.

We hope there is useful information for you in this article. What does being a school in Aotearoa New Zealand mean for you and your school? What does it look like, sound like, feel like? What might you try or do differently?

Watch for part three of this article series Lifting te reo Māori and te ao Māori capability in our next pānui.

A special thank you to Sue Ngārimu and the wonderful principal advisors at Evaluation Associates | Te Huinga Kākākura Mātauranga.