Understanding our learners

ASB Polyfest 2008 Ruderford High Maori Group

Image by Richard Sihamau, on Flickr

By Peter Murgatroyd

I was recently privileged to attend a presentation by Hana O’Regan about identity in an educational context. It was fascinating, challenging and like many truly inspiring presentations, deeply personal. 

She challenged the audience to reflect on where our perceptions of Māori students come from and shared with us the impact that recent colonial history has had on Māori learners.

She shared with us deeply personal stories of how negative and misinformed messages in our media and our communities about Māori can be destructive and painful. And that they can deeply inhibit learning and achievement. O'Regan argued that although no one is immune from those messages, we are in control of the messages and expectations we choose to share.

As educators we have a responsibility to understand our learners.


  • their experiences
  • the societal perceptions they are exposed to
  • the impact of those perceptions on their identity as learners
  • how we can influence our own expectations and those of others around us
  • how we can inform ourselves to help deconstruct negative perceptions and build positive ones to support achievement.

Diversity and cultural difference needs to be recognised as a strength, not a weakness. We must engage with our learners, their families / whānau and communities to support their aspirations and share their dreams.

We must seek to understand their world and to create new perceptions in the minds of our communities, our colleagues, and our learners. 

Libraries have a critical role to play. Libraries are a school's heart. They must be culturally inclusive, affirming and a safe and welcoming place for connection with whānau. Look at your library through the eyes of your learners and whānau.  What do you see?

Dig deeper:

Libraries supporting Māori students

Libraries supporting Pasifika students

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