Identity, language and culture are an asset and a foundation of knowledge on which to build and celebrate learning and success (p.17).

Durie (2016) uses the term mauri to help us understand how identity, language and culture are essential for student’s wellbeing and sense of belonging in schools. He describes mauri as the particular vitality, integrity, uniqueness and energy that exists within every person, ora refers to one’s holistic wellbeing.

Therefore Mauri ora, or wellbeing, is demonstrated by a spirit that is enlightened, a mind that is alert and inquiring, a body that is fit-for-purpose and free of pain, and with relationships that are nurturing and mutually beneficial.

Durie refers to situations where relationships are disempowering and humiliating, leaving the individual’s mauri in a weakened state, one that is constrained by a loss of hope and an apprehensive mind – a state he describes as mauri noho (Durie, 2015; 2016). Durie explains that the physical representation of mauri can often be seen in one’s eyes and one’s ahua (physical demeanor).

Simultaneous success trajectories

The simultaneous success trajectories promoted by Poutama Pounamu: Cultural Identity strong and secure and learning and achieving for the future are both essential (Berryman & Eley 2017). Years of research in this field have informed the system wide changes that require everyone to work in this way.

We understand that a Māori student’s sense of wellbeing and belonging is influenced by whether they are seen for their strengths, uniqueness and potential, or conversely, for perceived challenges and deficits.

This state of being is true for all students.

As educators our agency is in advancing academic progress but also ensuring students cultural identity is strong and secure. If we are to achieve excellence for all of our students we must work to ensure each student feels they belong within the learning environment we provide.

Equity can be achieved when we are responsive to the student’s prior knowledge and experience and build new learning from these beginnings (cultural toolkit - Bruner 1996).

Educators must create contexts for mauri ohooho, where a student’s mauri is nurtured, strengthened and able to flourish. This is more likely to happen when Māori students understand and value their own cultural identity, believing that they have vast potential and cultural capital upon which to draw. This ultimately requires educators to have ‘the will and the skill’ to help facilitate, this process (Berryman, M., Eley, E., Ford, T., & Egan, M. (2016). Going beyond the personal will and professional skills to give life to Ka Hikitia. Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 30(2), 56-68).

Poutama Pounamu has developed a framework and understandings for spreading these skills and understandings for accelerating equity, excellence and belonging in schools and Kāhui Ako. This begins with disrupting the status quo.

Disrupting the theoretical status quo

Under the Treaty of Waitangi we are obligated to provide

    • protection,
    • partnership and
    • full participation

in the benefits of the New Zealand education system. These Treaty promises apply for Māori children as well as the children of Colonial descendants (Pākehā). Today this includes children of the more recent immigrants (Tauiwi).

Looking through the dual lenses of Kaupapa Māori and Critical theories can help us with this. They are the foundations that guide this work with schools, Kāhui Ako, whānau and Māori communities.

The Treaty of Waitangi (PDF)


Kaupapa Maori (PDF)


Activating Critical Theories Voices (PDF)


This theoretical framework moves beyond treating all people the same (equality). More equitable practices where we are responsive to the needs and potential of individuals, in particular those who may be marginalised, can promote excellence for all.

Supporting students to achieve academic success, while also having their cultural identity strong and secure must be visible in the classroom, across schools and Kāhui Ako if disparities are to be reduced.

Disrupting the pedagogical status quo

Traditional transmission teaching continues to be the dominant pedagogy. This is especially so in many secondary schools.

In Culture Speaks (Bishop & Berryman, 2006). Māori students said they understood why they needed this but they also wanted to have a say in their learning and share their ideas with others. This type of pedagogy comes from a socio-cultural view of learning (Vygotsky, 1978). Thinking about how learning happens and linking across this range of teaching pedagogy to make professional curriculum decisions is essential.

The importance of a socio-cultural view of learning is understood across a range of contexts. While this begins with classroom pedagogy where we are learning from each other, at the side of the more knowledgeable other it does not stop here.

Rather than rely solely on transmission or transactional practices, a socio-cultural view of learning can also guide how we make decisions across the school and Kāhui Ako. This can inform how we learn from our colleagues, it can also inform how we broker relationships to engage with whānau and the Māori community.

In the diagram, the broken lines between these elements represent the permeability of these boundaries, while the arrows pointing in both directions at the same time, reflect these ways of thinking and behaving are not distinct but are constantly and inter-dependently in play.

Together, Kaupapa Maori, Critical Theories and a Social-cultural Theory of Learning form a strong, coherent theoretical and practice base on which our work is built and from which Māori students’ belonging, learning and achievement in schools are promoted.

Ako: Critical contexts for change

We have identified three critical contexts for change:

    • cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy
    • adaptive expertise driving deliberate professional acts, and
    • home, school and community collaborations.

These three contexts are considered within a focus on simultaneous success trajectories. Careful attention to and application of principles around any of the individual three contexts can make a difference for students and improve their subsequent educational success.

Accelerated achievement for marginalised students occurs when school leaders and teachers deliberately attend to all three contexts at the same time with complementary and interdependent actions.

Boundaries surrounding these contexts must become permeable so that we become open to knowledge creation through critical reflection and sharing of new knowledge, resources and practices.

    • Cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy – how are we ensuring cultural relationships and responsive praxis across our leadership actions, decisions and attitudes?
    • Adaptive expertise driving deliberate professional acts – what are the deliberate professional acts and/or strategies for transformative leadership that we are undertaking? Are we adaptively responsive to situations so that we make informed decisions about when, or where, or how we will apply these?
    • Home, school and community collaboration – how do we ensure respectful collaborations with whānau (family), iwi (tribal groups) and other Māori communities to both provide leadership within our schools and across our Kāhui Ako?

Ako: Critical Context for Change (PDF)


Adaptive expertise driving deliberate professional acts (PDF)


Cultural relationships for responsive pedagogy (PDF)


Home, school and community collaborations (PDF)


These three contexts do not occur in isolation, they are attended to across the following five levers:

  1. Transformative leadership
  2. Evidence-based inquiry
  3. Culturally responsive and relational pedagogy
  4. Educationally powerful connections with home communities
  5. Literacy, te reo Māori (the language of Māori) and numeracy across the curriculum

It is expected that this model is responsive to each school’s evidence (both qualitative and quantitative) of Māori students’ participation and achievement and their community’s high aspirations for the future potential of their children and young people.

Boundaries surrounding these contexts must become permeable so that participants are open to knowledge creation through critical reflection and sharing of new knowledge, resources and practices.


  1. Berryman, M., Eley, E., Ford, T., & Egan, M. (2016). Going beyond the personal will and professional skills to give life to Ka Hikitia. Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 30(2), 56-68.
  2. Bishop, R., & Berryman, M. (2006). Culture speaks: Cultural relationships and classroom learning. Wellington: Huia Press
  3. Berryman, M., & Eley, E. (2017). Accelerating success and promoting equity through the Ako: critical contexts for change, Asian Education Studies, 2(1), 99-112.
  4. Durie, M. (2015). Engagement with rangatahi [power point slides]. Presentation to the Palmerston North Youth Sector Network. Retrieved from: Youth%20Engagement.pdf Durie, M. (2016, March). Realising Māori Potential [power point slides]. Tauranga Moana SENCO Hui.
  5. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press