Creating culturally safe schools for Māori students

by Angus Macfarlane, Ted Glynn, Tom Cavanagh, and Sonja Bateman


The article presents findings from each of the authors about ways to create culturally safe classrooms in New Zealand schools. In particular, it focuses on ways in which teachers and schools can create inclusive environments for Māori students. The authors remind us that all students benefit from being in culturally inclusive classrooms.

The authors provide an analogy from our life experiences to guide our interactions with students in the classroom. Their analogy is that of how we build life partnerships. They argue that the positive and negative factors that operate in life to sustain or harm relationships with people close to us are the same as those we can use in classrooms. They point out that often teachers can take a dominant role in their classroom relationships, placing students – especially those students whose backgrounds are different from their own – in a non-dominant role. Teachers may then go on to hold deficit attitudes towards some students, locating the problems and difficulties that students have in the classroom with the students and their communities. As a result, teachers do not take responsibility themselves for tensions and problems in the classroom. They don’t consider ways in which their relationships and pedagogies need to change.

The article offers another framework for creating a Māori perspective on classroom practices. The authors identify five concepts around which teachers can think about ways to change their teaching and their classroom relationships. They also show how these concepts relate to evidence from traditional constructivist and personalised pedagogies that have helped improve students’ experiences of learning and their social and academic outcomes. They advocate for improving the capacity of teachers and students to solve problems collaboratively and non-violently. This has implications for the whole school culture and its systems as well. Teachers cannot work in isolation in their classrooms.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • How well does the whakatauki (Māori proverb) quoted at the end represent the prevailing culture and practices within your school?
  • In the paper, the authors provide an example of the experience of a senior Māori student at one school that points out why the changes they suggest are so important. What are the ways in which you could collect evidence about your students’ experience of school, which would go below their external reactions to find out more about their lived experiences at school?
  • What support and professional development would your school need in order to consider implementing some of the concepts and strategies suggested by the authors of this paper?

Further reading

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Tiakiwai, S., & Richardson, C. (2003). Te Kōtahitanga: Phase 1 – The experiences of year 9 and 10 Māori students in mainstream classrooms, report to the Ministry of Education, Wellington, New Zealand. Available online: 


Macfarlane, A., Glynn, T., Cavanagh, T., & Bateman, S. (2007). Creating culturally safe schools for Māori students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36, 65–76.

Reproduced with permission from The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education. 

Tags: Culturally responsive leadership

Tell a colleague | Back to top