Effective bicultural leadership: A way to restore harmony at school and avoid suspension

by Mere Berryman and Sonja Bateman


This article describes a significant incident in which three Māori boys in years 7 and 8 were found experimenting with marijuana during the school day and on the school grounds. It is a short, easy-to-read case study with a sound basis in theoretical analysis.

The principal at the school did not want to minimise the seriousness of the behaviour of the boys. He had to be aware of the effect of his response to the event on the other students and teachers in the school. However, he wanted a positive outcome from what had happened, which would acknowledge the seriousness of what the boys had done, and provide a pathway for the boys to continue successfully at school.

The principal turned for advice and support to a respected kaumatua who was connected with the school. They worked together to set up a situation (Hui Whakatika) in which responsibility, remorse, and restitution could be established, faced, and settled.

This is a case study that occurred in a particular context and was handled in a way that had very positive, long-term outcomes for all involved.

The article challenges school leaders to think beyond traditional ways of responding to critical incidents within a school. It is not about finding quick and easy solutions. It is about addressing serious misbehaviour in such a way that the issues are confronted and positive pathways involving partnership, protection, and participation for all parties are found.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide your reading of this article:

  • Consider a past critical incident involving students and staff at your school. How did you deal with it? What resolution was reached for all involved? In the light of the information in this article, are there other pathways you could have taken?
  • In the event of a future serious incident at your school involving staff and students, what possible mechanisms do you have in place to provide partnership, protection, and participation without compromise to your school’s standards for behaviour?
  • How might you use the case study in this article to develop an in-school professional development session to discuss the dilemmas and the possibilities of using such an approach to handle a serious incident within the school?

Further reading

Hindle, R, Marshall, M, Higgins, J, & Tait-McCutcheon, S (2007). A Study of In-school Facilitation in Two Teacher Professional Development Programmes. Ministry of Education: Wellington.


Berryman, M & Bateman, S (2008). “Effective bicultural leadership: A way to restore harmony at school and avoid suspension”. Set 1. Wellington: NZCER Press.

PDF added to Educational Leaders with permission from NZCER Press.

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