On August 8th, I wrote about a presentation I attended where I learned about Finlayson Park School in Manurewa, Aukland.
On August 13th and 14th, I was privileged to be able to go and observe Finlayson Park School and was also able to see Clendon Park School. These two schools are integrating the first languages of their students in the classrooms and are providing education that is allowing them to succeed.
While I was at these schools, I have never seen kids so proud of themselves, proud of their culture and proud of their languages – it was absolutely beautiful to see!
Students took pride in their learning and were eager to read and write. They shared their work eagerly and were not shy in striking up a conversation with you. In all of the classrooms I visited, I would say that culturally responsive teaching and learning was taking place primarily though having language in the classroom. I think that with the language comes the culture. At Clendon Park school, they had a Maori Bilingual Unit and here, the students had a special room where they would go each morning for prayers and to learn about their culture. It was a sacred place and one of importance. I found out that here, all students at the school, even in other language units were learning Maori and that all of the students – the boys were learning the Haka and the girls were also learning a dance. I enjoyed watching the boys learn to dance – they were proud of their culture. I wish students in Saskatchewan had more of an opportunity to learn the First Nation culture and that schools were more inclusive and culturally responsive in terms of drawing on students funds of knowledge, integrating what they know already and that we did more than the minimum of the Saskatchewan curriculum mandate when teaching about the treaties and the past of the First Nations people. In the whole of our province, there are maybe 3 bilingual programs that offer Cree to the students in public schools.
At Finlayson Park School – I was able to observe Samoan bilingual students in years 5-8 giving speech presentations. The presented in Samoan a few days ago and then gave speeches in English. The students memorized their speeches and talked with expression. They told compelling and personal stories and I saw that they students do understand the type of situations they are living in – poverty, bullying, drugs and alcohol and yet they chose to talk about this. It was emotional listening to the kids at times. I did like how the teacher gave positive feedback to the students when they finished their presentation and that the teacher showed she cared and was grateful.
At all of the classrooms, I felt the sense of teacher and student relationships that were strong and were built on trust. The students respected their teacher and the teacher respected their students.
In general the classrooms were similar to those in Saskatchewan – they were warm and inviting, had desks in pods or groups, displayed student work and had posters. Some differences were that each language unit had their own potable classroom areas and some were connected. There were no hallways, the doors and windows in the rooms were open and they used natural light more in some rooms that they did turn on the lights. Some of the rooms seemed to have too much student work on display and I found this to be a bit distracting. However all rooms had reading areas and an area of carpet at the front of the room where students would gather for lessons before they went to work in their desks. Each room also had computers and one room that I had was paperless, all of the students work and learning was through the use of laptops of i-pad’s.
After school sports programs, homework support and programs that fostered self-esteem and relationships were being implemented and snacks were provided through out the day for students.
Of the lessons I saw, they were direct, whole group instruction and I also saw guided reading programs. Some of the reading groups were above age level and some groups were below it. While one group was with the teacher, the other three groups of students were working independently on tasks or they were reading. They were very organized programs. For each assignment, students would write “walt” on their pages, which stands for “we are learning to…” and also they would have success criteria which would help them achieve “walt”. This was done for every lesson and the teachers helped the students determine the statements. I really liked this and found that it helped students understand why they were learning or doing a certain task or information.
Every time I was introduced to classes and teachers, it was: “This is teacher Cynthia, from Canada”. Then the eyes of most of the students would go wide and after a moment or two, I would be asked if I knew Justin Bieber – I found this quite hilarious. I was also able to talk to a class who was learning about Canada and was able to answer their questions. The biggest surprise to the students was our seasons, our school year and our currency.
Over all, I was pleased with my visit to Finlayson Park School and Clendon Park School. It was a positive learning experience where I saw many great things happening and was inspired to what I will be able to do as a classroom teacher. They have many good things going on in these schools, but there needs to be more schools like this, not only in New Zealand, but especially in Canada. The staff were welcoming and were not shy in sharing practices and they opened up their classroom and shared their students with me.
New Zealand has made progress with it’s inclusion of Maori people and it is not “the Maori people and the White people” it is everyone together. I talked with a teacher who told me it had been a long struggle to get to where they are today, but it is getting better. I was told of a lost generation where the grandparents spoke Maori, but their children didn’t. These children did not pass down the language to the grandchildren and if the grandchildren wanted to be able to talk to their grandparents in Maori, they had to make the decision to go to school to pay someone to teach them their own culture’s language. I found this truly heartbreaking – that they had to pay someone to teach them their own language. I was proud however that bilingual schools are making progress – allowing for the languages of students to be used in the classroom and for the students to be educated about their culture.
These schools, their staff, their community and students are truly remarkable and inspirational.