Maori culture is in New Zealand’s heart and I am relishing the opportunity to learn more about it as I spend time here. One aspect of Maori culture that I am increasingly aware of is the importance of narratives and storytelling.
For example, central to the design of Haeata Community Campus, a new school in the east of Christchurch, is the narrative of how children will grow and progress through the school. Each hapori (learning community) has a name reflecting the children’s age and their stage of development:
- Years 0-2: Hikuawa (Source of a river)
- Years 0-5: Kōmanawa (Spring of water welling up)
- Years 3-6: Kaunuku (Steady flowing river)
- Years 7-10: Kōrepo (Shallow Swamp)
- Years 11-13: Ihutai (Estuary)
For anyone who spends time with teenagers, the notion of Kōrepo will definitely resonate.
As I visit schools in Christchurch, I’m learning about their individual stories. The 2011 earthquake damaged or destroyed many schools. However, this devastation created an opportunity to re-think the way things had been happening and to re-design new school buildings for a different, 21st century mode of learning.
Re-imagining education isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Often the journey starts with a core team in the school who see the potential to do something different. They don’t have a perfect strategy to get to the end result, but they want to take their school on that journey.
That’s why I’ve been struck by another narrative that I’ve heard from a number of educators here, including Robin Sutton at Hornby High.
New Zealand was once a set of empty islands, but first the Maori and then the Pākehā came to the Islands by boat. Travelling by sea, they could not travel in a straight line – adverse conditions could force them to change course and all the while they had to respond to the worries and needs of the individuals on their boats. But they always had the stars to guide them.
In the same way, the leaders who are re-shaping schools in Christchurch do not have a map set out for them. They cannot set a straight course and they know they will face setbacks. However, they can keep making progress as long as they head towards the vision for their school.
When leaders in ‘high performing’ schools are asked to explain how they got their school to its current point, the journey can often sound very linear. When each year of progress is explained in retrospect it’s hard to pick up on the challenges and false starts they will have faced along the way.
In contrast, this narrative – of steering a course by the stars – encapsulates the challenge and unpredictability of change in schools. It’s a powerful reminder that leaders can’t have all the answers. Instead, they can have a clear vision to help them make good decisions and when, quite inevitably, things don’t quite go to plan, to bring the school back on course.
A note to readers: I’m only just starting to learn about Maori culture and the history of New Zealand, so if I’ve misrepresented anything in here, please take the opportunity to teach me more and I will correct it.