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Teaching as inquiry using a Māori world view

From a Māori perspective Inquiry/Pakirehua has always been and is what we’ve always done, it's part of our DNA. Ancestors, tipuna show the way for us; their stories, experiences and knowledge are a natural part of understanding how we (as Māori) inquire, are curious and solve problems. Using this approach our Māori medium Assessment and Management and Tumuaki teams have been engaging kura in inquiry and then using deliberate acts of facilitation and teaching to improve student achievement.

Māori Medium provisions

Marama leadership quote

Tammy Gardiner and Marama Reweti-Martin have been supporting tumuaki and kaiako in the Assessment, Management and Tumuaki projects. A cohesive approach focuses on building leadership capabilities and developing supportive and aligned management systems while recognising that assessment is a critical driver which impacts on student success and achievement. In particular, Aromatawai, a Māori perspective on assessment,  focuses on learners and their learning, positions everyone as learners, and illuminates student achievement. Importantly aromatawai practices determine the next steps in learning and how well learning has taken place (Rukuhia Rarangahia, 2014). For more information and impact in Assessment see the 2014 infographic data and for Tumuaki and Management also see the 2014 infograhic data.

For shifts to occur, It is essential that kaiako have an in-depth understanding of the Māori medium leadership document, Tū Rangatira, and the  position paper on aromatawai, Rukuhia Rarangahia, which presents  the underpinning philosophy of Aromatawai. Success of the delivery of this provision has seen kaiako improve their professional content knowledge and extend their repertoire of pedagogical practices through the better understanding and use of Pakirehua (Inquiry). This has directly contributed to lifting student achievement.

Introducing pakirehua

When teaching as inquiry was introduced to kura, facilitators, Tammy and Marama, found tumuaki and kaiako weren't forthcoming about engaging in Inquiry. If kura were using inquiry, it was the New Zealand Curriculum model, sometimes with adaptation to provide a Māori context. At the same time there continued to be a dissonance between a Western view of inquiry and the fact that kaiako were not appreciating the deeper meaning of inquiry and the potential of the process. Tammy’s and Marama’s wonderings about the development of Māori perspectives on leadership and aromatawai, led them to the premise that inquiry might make more sense if it was positioned in a Māori world view. They developed their own inquiry questions, “What would be a Māori perspective of inquiry? Where did inquiry begin for Māori?”

The creation story involving the separation of Ranginui and Papatuanuku by their children provided a strong foundation for understanding the various inquiry inherent in this korero. When this was shared with kaiako they made the connections immediately and were able to relate this to other mythologies, their own local histories and a long history of Māori inquiry. From these narratives there was an understanding that, from the beginning of time, Māori have always been inquisitive problem solvers.

Conversations also took place around, He aha tēnei mea te pakirehua? An analysis of the word provides some illumination of the intent of inquiry from a Māori perspective.

  • Paki - a fine, clear day
  • Paki - a story
  • Rehu - rainbow, mist 
  • Rehu - to chip away
  • Hua - to bear fruit
  • Rehua - a son of Rangi and Papa who lives in the highest heaven connected to knowledge. Also a star.

The research

Marama conducted a literature review on a Māori perspective of teaching as inquiry and found that Māori literature focuses more on the concept of inquiry as a process to build knowledge or mātauranga Māori. It characterises knowledge as dynamic, ongoing, transformative and community-focussed.  A key differentiation between Western and Māori worldviews of inquiry is that the Western tradition is more analytical about inquiry, whereas a Māori view is more outward looking, using inquiry to establish relationships and connections. The concept of whakapapa reinforces this viewpoint and is identified as the key Māori methodology or pedagogy, supported by narrative.  Everything has a whakapapa, which provides the bones and the narrative adds the flesh.

Using this concept Marama and Tammy wondered “What is the whakapapa of pakirehua?” and devised an approach to help clarify how pakirehua is connected in the educational context. 

Using a Whakapapa Approach

Questions were posed such as; If pakirehua was put in a whānau via whakapapa, what would it look like? What would this whakapapa look like? Knowing aromatawai emanates from ako, where does pakirehua sit? Key Māori words about concepts and processes for learning were typed onto strips of paper and handed out to participants. Tumuaki and kaiako were then asked to consider the connections between learning elements (i.e, learning, leadership and assessment) and invited to sort the key words into whānau groupings - to illustrate what makes sense in terms of pairings and hierarchy of a ‘learning family’.

                            Sorting activity 1      Sorting activity 3       

This translated into easily understandable connections for Māori teachers, who relate well to whakapapa and tikanga. There was now a new understanding of pakirehua, where teachers could practically apply this as a way of thinking for themselves.

Using pakirehua

From here, kura were asked, "Are we collecting data on our students and how do we know if our students are doing well?  How effective have our teachers been to support that learning?" Using spirals of inquiry (NZC or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa models), teachers were asked to reflect on what their student data was telling them. They were also asked to identify target students and to set specific goals to address, as part of the teaching and learning process. This aligned closely to the appraisal process. Tammy says, “As facilitators we wanted to make a greater difference for student achievement. We were about urgency and we agreed that by the end of the term, these target children will be at Ngā Whanaketanga Rumaki Māori expectations and the teachers were positive about making this happen.” In the sound recording on the left, Tammy explains the whānau activity and how it feeds into the teaching as inquiry process.


Prior to introducing this strategy, teachers were expressing an inquiry question that was often unrelated to school goals or student outcomes. After engaging in the pakirehua and whakapapa/whānau discussions, "Teachers just got it, it was just so easy to understand and that’s how we got to the inquiry framework.” (Tammy). With a new understanding of pakirehua, tumuaki and kaiako recognised inquiry is something that has always been done (as evidenced by the deeds of tipuna and legends) and something that can be continued. Therefore establishing teacher inquiry goals for targeted learning needs, is a natural progression. This has in turn contributed to lifting student achievement - as a result of a strong focus on analysing data and planning and implementing high quality teaching and learning programmes for target ākonga.

Shifts for teachers

Staff meetings have enabled powerful professional conversations to ensue, deliberate acts of facilitation have modelled high quality teaching, while assigned tasks between visits have ensured progress is made over short periods of time. This has resulted in positive changes in attitude, increased content knowledge and pedagogical shifts for teachers.

Teachers now recognise pakirehua infuses all aspects of life, cultural beliefs and practices underpinned by a Māori world view and they own pakirehua for themselves. Kaiako and tumuaki have an understanding that it's OK to ask questions about themselves and their practice and have adopted a mindset to think like an inquirer - with a focus on achieving attainable goals. "Oh I get it now. If I had known this two years ago, I would have been doing it all the time” (Teacher A). It has become a norm, where mana is kept intact. 

Snapshot: Teacher B (originally high-school trained) inherited a year 7 & 8 class and was having difficulty structuring a reading programme. He was also unsure how to align Ngā Whanaketanga Rumaki Māōri or Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMOA) to student learning. The facilitators met with Teacher B, and reviewed the reading data, writing samples and Pāngarau results together. Teacher B then recognised a need for more deliberate acts of teaching.

The facilitators in-turn shared research, reading strategies, leveling of reading materials, and introduced/modeled deliberate acts of teaching. There was an agreed timeframe set for new practices to be applied, which included the teacher sitting with groups of ākonga for shared reading, guided reading, as well as developing Te Reo Māori throught the reading programme. The students were retested and every tamaiti had shifted in achievement, except one child due to absence on the day of testing.

Shifts for leaders

Marama: "The leaders have seen in order for the teacher inquiries to come to fruition and the student achievement data to shift; they need to be able to lead this, and make space to talk about these things, put in place good appraisal systems to monitor staff, create opportunities for professional development to go alongside the teacher inquiries, which transpires into leadership and school-wide inquiries for system changes.”

Shifts for students

Kura in this provision have made significant gains in implementing effective assessment practices that adhere to the principles and practices outlined in Rukuhia Rarangahia (Ministry of Education, 2014). The following shifts in student achievement within a six week period are a direct result of targeted teacher inquiries to improve student outcomes.

Korero graphs

The graph on the left from Kura 1 shows ākonga have made progress from Manawa Taki/Manawa Āki to Manawa Ora. One ākonga is Manawa Āki and still requires a modified programme. The graph on the right shows ākonga have made progress from Manawa Taki/Manawa Āki to Manawa Ora in Kura 2.  

Pāngarau graphs

The graph on the left shows ākonga have made progress from Manawa Taki to Manawa Āki and to Manawa Ora. The graph on the right shows all ākonga have made progress from Manawa Taki/Manawa Āki to Manawa Ora in Pāngarau. One ākonga requires a modified programme in order to achieve at expected levels of achievement.    

Shifts for the wider community

Gathering data, setting targets and then sharing achievement with parents, has shown positive shifts for teachers, learners and whānau. Through whānau hui, parents and whānau have been encouraged to use strategies at home to help their tamariki achieve learning goals at school. In the sound recording on the left, Tammy describes a scenario where positive outcomes have resulted from IEP interventions with a parent of a child with special educational learning needs.

Where to from here?

A holistic approach to pakirehua has resulted in positive shifts in achievement for Māori students in kura. 80% of Māori students are currently in mainstream schools. An adoption of this process in mainstream schools, could also see similar lifts in student achievement. Tammy comments,"If the students know the teachers have gone out of their way to acknowledge who they are; their history and culture, where they come from, and what their values and beliefs are, that means the teachers care about them. There'll be a connection between the teacher and the child, and once that's established any Māori child is going to learn."

What is pakirehua?

Introducing pakirehua

Connecting pakirehua to your whakapapa

Also see the following webinar recording (8/2015).

 Pakirehua webinar image


Tammy Gardiner leads the Assessment provision. For more information on Māori Medium Assessment PLD, visit the Assessment Yrs 1-3 or contact Tammy Gardiner. Marama Reweti-Martin leads the Tumuaki and Management provisions. For more information on the Tumuaki and Management professional development programmes, visit the project pages or contact Marama Reweti-Martin.

Image source: Ranginui rāua ko  Papatūānuku: Creative Commons