Ensuring culturally responsive practice

Valuing what each learner brings with them. A strengths-based inclusive approach ensuring that learners feel they belong in the early childhood education service, kura or school.

Leaders take responsibility for growing their own and others’ confidence in culturally responsive practice, and for genuinely involving Māori whānau in the identification of the organisation’s vision and goals, both anchored in a thoughtful understanding of the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

They also take responsibility for ensuring that all learners know and can honour our country’s cultural heritage.

Educational leadership capability framework (Education Council, 2018)

The full title for this capability is: Ensuring culturally responsive practice and understanding of Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural heritage, using Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the foundation.

This page summarises some thinking and research related to this capability. It is not a comprehensive or definitive background to the capability.


Culturally responsive practices support all learners to understand their cultural heritage.

This capability links closely to Embodying the organisation's values.

Nature of cultural relationships

Mere Berryman and colleagues (2018) say they have come to understand the concept of culturally responsive pedagogy as grounded in cultural relationships (p4).

They have also observed over the years they have worked with schools that many teachers talk about the importance of relationships for learning, but focus more on aspects of the pedagogy that they find more familiar and accessible (p5). 

    "Shifting the focus from being responsive to the culture of others to developing and being part of cultural relationships with others, legitimates the aspects of culture that are less tangible but fundamental to the identity and wellbeing of all people." (p6)

Cultural relationships require trust, respect, time and commitment. They acknowledge the interdependent relationship established in the Treaty of Waitangi, in which Māori and Pakeha maintain the mana of the other – mana ōrite.    

Defining diversity activities – NZ Curriculum Online

Activities for boards of trustees, senior management, teachers, and parents to deepen their understanding of cultural diversity and encourage the development of culturally appropriate responses.

What leaders need

Culturally responsive practices require a deep moral commitment to equity and a willingness to exercise agency and advocacy, and at times to be an activist.

Rigby and Tredway (2015) suggest that to lead a school community to achieve greater equity, you need to:

  • deeply reflect on your own role in historically inequitable structures
  • understand how issues around equity show up in school structures and classrooms 
  • learn about the history and culture of the members of your school community
  • convey a commitment to equity at all times and in everything you do
  • connect to a larger community of like-minded leaders.

You also need to develop your ability to:

  • get others to examine their roles
  • facilitate complex conversations – using tools and protocols
  • support others to examine the structural causes of instructional and achievement concerns
  • bring together families and school staff of distinct cultural and educational backgrounds. 

    Leaders need to gain a deep understanding of "how class, race, stereotype threats, and cultural discontinuity ... undercut the ability of students and families to engage in schools." (p9)

Māori achievement collaboratives (MACs)

To connect with like-minded principals, check out your eligibility for the MACs programme. It provides a professional learning pathway by principals for principals focussed on changing education outcomes for Māori students. It is a collaboration between Te Akatea Māori Principals’ Association, the New Zealand Principals’ Federation and the Ministry of Education. 

Māori Achievement Collaboratives – NZPF website

A just society

Leading for social justice involves leadership behaviours such as actively seeking to share power and empower, and thinking and acting in non-judgemental ways. (Murfitt, 2015).

Grogan (2014) talks about the leadership of change to achieve social justice as a three-part process of raising consciousness:

  • leaders' world views become more critically aware
  • leaders help cultivate a similar critical awareness in school staff
  • students have opportunities to develop their own consciousness and play a legitimate role in shaping school policy and practice.

    "There are ample opportunities within schools to develop the kind of political emotions that will get us further toward a just society." (p14) 

Kia Eke Panuku resources

The leadership brochure (Poutama Pounamu, nd) developed for Kia Eke Panuku emphasises that “school leaders need to understand the implications for social change, and accept their role in driving the moral imperative for equity within their school”.

The Kia Eke Panuku change process involves leaders in:

  • understanding and analysing their school’s current position
  • aligning and focusing actions to disrupt the status quo
  • gathering data in an iterative manner to monitor effectiveness
  • re-imagining and embedding more equitable opportunities for Māori to excel.

The resources used in the Kia Eke Panuku programme, which ran in secondary schools from 2013-2016, are available online at:

Poutama Pounamu publications 

Reflective questions

  • What conversations have you had about your own social identity? Have they helped you reflect on your own perspectives and biases?
  • What do you know about the historical, economic and political factors that have formed the social identity of different groups in NZ?
  • How do you understand Berryman's words: "being part of cultural relationships with others"? 

Related pages

Building relationships with whānau, hapū, and iwi

Leadership for Māori education success

Systemic change and equity

Tū Rangatira: Māori-medium educational leadership

This capability features strongly in the whenu (key role of leadership):

  • He kaiarataki – the advocate

Tū rangatira (English)

Tū rangatira (te reo Māori)


Berryman, M. Lawrence, D. Lamont, R. (2018). Cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy: A bicultural mana ōrite perspective. Set 2018, No. 1, 3-10. NZCER Press. https://doi.org/10.18296/set.0096

Grogan, M. (2014). Educational leadership and social justice in the United States. Bildung und Erziehung , 67(3): 299-312. doi:10.7788/bue-2014-0305. Retrieved from Chapman University Digital Commons

Murfitt, D. (2015) Principals sabbatical report.

Poutama Pounamu. (nd). Kia eke panuku: Leadership

Rigby, J. Tredway, L. (2015). Actions matter: How school leaders enact equity principles. University of Washington.

Image credit: White neon sign, Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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