Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Talanoa and Dr Jean Mitaera at the NZEI Annual Conference

This week I gate crashed the NZEI Annual Conference in Rotorua. 

Why?  Because on days two and three there are usually some awesome speakers, and the Pasifika team of NZEI did not disappoint me with their funny, witty and insightful speaker, Dr Jean Mitaera, they had chosen for their section of the Conference.

Last year they had Efeso Collins for the Pasifica session introducing and discussing the concept talanoa.  I included the Storify from the tweets made from Efeso Collins' speech in this blog post on my other blog:  World Teachers' Day 2014 - celebrating teachers who have inspired us.  You'll find the Storify at the bottom of the blog.

But here are some pictures of the tweets explaining talanoa to warm you up to the inspiring session with Dr Jean Mitaera.

The NZEI Annual Conference theme was It's Got to be About the Child but Dr Jean said straight up that this caused her some consternation has she prepared her presentation.  To Dr Jean, It's Got to be About the Teacher!  Dr Jean said that after the mother, the most influential person in a child's life is their teacher.

That is a rather confronting thing to hear.  I guess we all know the stories about how a child puts so much stock in what their teacher says.  But sometimes I know I am too busy to apply that knowledge to myself as the teacher.

My nephew started school in early Term 2.  All of a sudden my brother and his wife, and his great aunty who is their nanny, knew nothing in the eyes of my nephew.  His teacher was all knowing.  She said that museli bar has too much sugar in it, so when Aunty put the museli bar in his lunch he told her to take it home and not to do it again because the teacher says it has too much sugar.

I began with a new class at the beginning of Term 3.  I have a mixed group of children from all backgrounds and opportunities.  Although I have taught children with Pacific Island backgrounds before, this is my largest group ever in my current class.  But the concepts Dr Jean was talking about do not just apply to Pasifika children.  They are applicable to all children.

As only 2% of the teaching workforce is Pasifika, it is important that all teachers are aware of or are continuing to develop their knowledge of the Pasifika families in our classes.  And that was pretty much the only statistic that Dr Jean threw at us, because she knows we know the data for our own classes and schools and areas.

Dr Jean used metaphors a lot during her speech.  One of them was a gardening metaphor - and she said she is not a gardener.  She also took inspiration from her minister at church... from the last time she went six years ago.  The minister talked about how we reap what is sown before us....

She also said that was a load of rubbish!

But she did talk about us preparing the soil for our students.  We need to choose the right seeds (learnings, knowledge, skills the children need) to grow.  We need to nurture, water, plant, water, weed and prune what we are teaching and our students to grow what they need within themselves.

To often the Pasifika learner comes into an assembly line classroom.  We, as teachers need to dismantle the assembly line.  We need to develop talanoa within the class.  We need to develop the relationship with the family and design the learning house for the learner.

I saw a comment somewhere today where a teacher talked about how she had to rearrange her classroom to accommodate pushchairs because each morning she had many families and siblings in her classroom, the parents having a cup of coffee together.  What a wonderful way to grow that unity not only within the students, but within the parents of the class, and to help parents feel at home in the class.

The metaphor Dr Jean used for the learner was a house. 

So what did I get out of listening to Dr Jean?

Her talk resonated with me because I am still developing relationships with some students in my class having only been with them for one term.  I need to do more of what is in this photo below - building capability, sharing intelligence and facilitating transition. 

Dr Jean set us a challenge to increase our own knowledge of not only individual children and their families, but where they come from.  She asked us to also share our learning with other colleagues to increase their knowledge and understanding.  After Dr Jean spoke, each table had the opportunity to discuss resources and opportunities we have available to them within their communities to develop our personal knowledge of Pasifika cultures.  Tip:  Ready to Read, Junior Journals, School Journals and the Connected series have some great Pasifika stories and articles to help us and our students develop our Pasifika knowledge and understanding.

But most importantly, it was the reawakening that even a small amount of time spent one on one with a child can be an important piece of building a relationship with the individual child, and something they can cherish.

You can watch Dr Jean's address to the Annual Conference here:

Below is the Storify of the tweets and pictures from Dr Jean's presentation for the Pasifika session at the NZEI Annual Conference.  There is not a video link yet, but if one comes, I will add it.

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