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A culturally-responsive lens

Cobham School is Gisborne’s best-kept educational secret, says principal Teresa Scott. At the heart of programmes the school has taken on to foster positive behaviour and academic achievement is Mana Enhancement, an initiative that gives the school ‘a culturally responsive lens’. Mark Peters reports.

Maori mythological figures whose characteristics reflect human behaviours have been integrated as part of Cobham School’s raft of programmes with outstanding results.

Educators Nigel Marshall and Sue Ngawati Osborne developed the atua (deity) based programme known as Mana

Enhancement in which atua are arranged on a spectrum. Each atua has a dual nature. Maui’s characteristics include daring and cleverness but he can also be mischievous, a trickster. Ruamoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, is “grumbly” but he does not like injustices while Tumatauenga, the god of war is a destructor but also a strategist and analyst.

Characteristics of an atua such as Ruamoko might reflect a child’s emotional state at a given time. The child considers another atua on the spectrum, an atua who is more laid back such as Rongo, the god of peace and productivity, for instance, and chooses to move into that mode.

“You go through the process — mischief, rumblings, anger — then you could go to Tawhirimatea (god of wind) and problems blow away or get into a tumult.”

Tangaroa (god of the sea) offers an opportunity for reflection.

“The talking needs to happen between the wind and Tangaroa,” says lead teacher Gina Holmes.

“There are other ways you can use this. You can say: ‘I want you to be Tangaroa, to be reflective.’”

The programme adds to work previous educators have contributed to Cobham School, says Nigel.

When Teresa took on the role of Cobham School principal three and a half years ago the school was struggling and had some angry students. Teresa and Gina identified what students needed to learn “but they still came with challenges”.

They used a range of programmes to develop a “uniquely Cobham” approach to behaviour management.

“Step Up and Stand Out was working for us but it was not complete,” says Teresa.

Then they introduced the Mana Enhancement programme.

“In the past 12 months since we implemented Mana Enhancement, it pulled everything together,” says Teresa.

“When we incorporated the programme, that was an ‘aha’ moment, the missing link. It gives us a culturally-responsive lens. Children now understand the culture of New Zealand and the dual nature of atua. Once they understand it they can make choices.”

The school even has an atua garden students can sit in when they feel the need for quiet time.

“If they know they’re at Ruamoko and don’t want to get to Tu they’ll go there and calm themselves then come back and learn,” says Teresa.

Programme has quickly changed school’s landscapeIf the child does not want to go outside, a “zen table” students came up with themselves offers a place in the classroom the child can go to if he or she want to be left alone for a while.

Teachers can talk to students about building their mana, says Teresa.

“It has become so much of what we do, the expectation now is the children will repair the harm. It’s become part of the hidden culture at the school.”

“It’s so much of what we do they don’t know any different now,” says Gina.

The Mana Enhancement initiative at Cobham began when Nigel approached Teresa with the model he and Sue had developed.

Teresa was interested.

“Sue and Nigel talked about each atua’s attributes. As we unpacked the programme, we talked about the nature of each atua. Every atua has dual characteristics, every atua has human traits. I could see how it would be a great way to have a cultural response in our practice and add a holistic view of each child. It gave us a strength-based model to work from.

“I became more excited about it.”

Teresa believed the programme would have greater impact if it was implemented from a community point of view. Nigel and Sue agreed.

“From there it snowballed. At the training session, we had grandparents, great grandparents, aunties, all our staff, social workers, the board of trustees and RLTB service people. We had contact with people we wouldn’t normally have contact with.”

There were both raw and confronting moments at the training days, says Gina.

“One outcome was the big adjustment in people’s mindsets. It was a ‘wow’ moment.”

Sue put together a package to deliver to families and the school held training days for a wide section of the community.

Everyone who had contact with the school’s students was welcome.

“The biggest response we had was from someone who said ‘I look at my children’s life from a different perspective’,” says Teresa.

Another response was “my life will never be the same”.

“People use the programme at home to inform their practice as parents. We work hard at creating opportunities for families to be engaged and hear their voice in school.”

The combined programmes and community engagement has “quickly changed the landscape of the school, just quietly,” says Teresa.

Students are now in the nation’s top nine percent in all study areas except reading.

Although Cobham kids love writing, sharing and uploading their stories, reading skills are trailing so reading has been a key focus for this year.

“We truthfully tell parents and the school community we’re failing at reading but we’re taking action. We are serious about accelerating outcomes for our tamariki.

“This year our action research involves students and teachers putting together inquiries as we create a uniquely Cobham approach to accelerating reading.”

As part of that action, Nigel helped the school develop a tuakana teina (a relationship between an older person and a younger person) approach to reading.

“We’re looking at how to create an irresistible reading experience,” says Teresa.

“We’ve hit a new level,” says Gina.

“It’s not about the behaviour any more. It’s about the learning. We have cool kids, cool families and great staff. It’s not about kids being here from nine-to-three. It’s before school, after school and what happened last night.

“Everything we do goes back to mana enhancement.”

For more information on Mana Enhancement visit www.akosolutionz.com

ELGIN’S HAPPY PLACE: Cobham School principal Teresa Scott (left) and lead teacher Gina Holmes are rapt programmes such as the locally developed Mana Enhancement initiative have lifted students’ well-being andacademic achievement. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
THE NEXT CHAPTER: Cobham School students love to write and teachers are keen to make reading another irresistible experience. Enisi Tatafu (left), Spencer Cross and Steven Taylor seem to be well on their way.