Building cultural knowledge

Juliet Small discusses Oranga School's experience building teachers' knowledge of Pasifika cultures to better meet the needs of their students. 



The children come to Oranga at five and lots and lots of them speak other languages, languages other than English, as their first language. So one of the changes that Oranga set about to make was to increase teachers' knowledge about Pasifika cultures.

As a staff, it’s how do you find out, how do you take a step towards someone else’s culture. And, we did have people who said to us, “Why didn’t you go to Mangere to find out?” We went to Samoa because that's where Samoan language and culture is rich and alive, and we were able to go back to the roots of the culture.

As part of the preparation for the trip, each teacher had a curriculum area of their choice to look at while we were in Samoa.

One of the biggest impacts from our visit to Samoa was the really positive message it gave our parent community and specifically our Samoan community.

We had wonderful support from our parents for our trip to Samoa. They came into staff meetings and talked to us about what to wear, how to be and what we might find. It began a dialogue with parents that we'd never had before. We became the learners and they were the teachers.

In Samoa

Arriving in Samoa is a memory that I will never ever forget. You walk into the airport and it's the way it smells and the heat and the flowers and the frangipani and all of a sudden, you're not the same person anymore and you totally get it. I don't know how else to put that. It's like the penny drops and you can't ever read that in a book.

The professional talk that went on amongst the staff while we were in Samoa, I've never heard talking like it. So even when we weren't in schools, even when we were out relaxing or doing something quietly as a team together, the talk about curriculum and about culture and about our students at Oranga and what we were doing or what we could do was absolutely amazing.

Arriving in Samoan schools was unlike anything we've ever experienced. Hospitality is a key word in my mind. The welcome that the schools gave us – and with that came a cultural appropriateness about how to be. The food that they presented was out of this world. And, as a result of that, we realised that when we say at Oranga, "Come for morning tea", we get out the chocolate biscuits. We knew that was something we could make immediate changes to. I won't say, "Come and have roast pig at Oranga", but I can certainly say that we have made changes.


As a result of our trip to Samoa and some of the initatives here at Oranga, we've seen an improvement in student outcomes, we see a rich classroom environment, and we see rich contexts for learning, and more appropriate contexts for learning. And as a result of that we’ve seen improvements in our literacy levels and our numeracy levels.

Examples of appropriate contexts for learning would be in numeracy looking at patterning. Now teachers will make choices and use tapa, shells and aspects of Pasifika culture that make really strong links to children.

When five year olds come to school it would be very easy to say they don’t have any language when in fact they have a richness of language and they have five years of life in another culture. And, one of the ways we thought we could tap into their prior learning and prior knowledge was to have bilingual teacher aides in our junior rooms.

When children come to school at Oranga it’s really important that, when they walk through the door, they see part of themselves reflected in the environment and the classroom. So, when you walk around classrooms and you see beautiful room environments – you see tapa, you see Pasifika borders, you see displays with languages from other cultures, so there is a little part of each child in the room.

Other reflections

Partnership with parents

We see more parents at school, in classrooms, at our three-way conferences, parent interviews, more parents in assembly. They feel valued and they feel empowered. Our Samoan parents, particularly, drop their children off in the morning and they all meet under the trees and they talk. Some of those chats are informal chats and some of them look more like formal meetings.

Our Pasifika plan is a living document and we are focusing on consultation with our Pasifika communities, in particular trying to involve more Pasifika parents in decision-making and in shaping the future direction of the school.

When children come to Oranga, the family view is that they come to school to learn English and we really are trying to give the message to all our communities that the children's first language is really vitally, vitally important. And at the moment, to a limited extent, you hear children speak in their first language and that is something I would really like to work on as a school.

Learning from parents

A couple of years ago one of our Niuean students died (not here at school). As the principal I'd said that the class were not to go round and visit the little boy. A group of parents arrived at my office to talk with me. They said we know you're the principal and we respect your decision, but you're wrong.

They said that, as principal, I needed to go and see the family and say that I would speak. They talked about what to wear. They collected money and bought lace on behalf of the school. They walked with the class round to visit the child. All the children took a flower and sang a song. Many parents went with their children.

The parents helped us walk in a world that wasn't our world, and it was a very emotional time for all of us and a great time of learning.

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