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Waitangi Day — reflections on teaching Te Tiriti

February 3rd, 2020 By Erena Williamson

As the new year starts, teachers' attention nationwide turns to planning. We spend quite a bit of time considering how to incorporate Waitangi Day and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi), which can make some of us quite apprehensive. Here are some tips and resources to help you prepare for Waitangi Day and include Te Tiriti in your teaching throughout the year.

Carved figurehead on a war canoe at Waitangi, NZ
The figurehead — war canoe NZ by Bernard Spragg. Flickr. Public domain. This waka taua (war canoe) is named after the Ngāpuhi waka Ngātokimatawhaorua, which brought my tīpuna Rahiri to Aotearoa. It was made for the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1940 and resides at Waitangi.

Waitangi Day and the Treaty for the 'time-poor'

As a teacher, I found it frustrating that the significance of Waitangi Day could sometimes get a bit lost in amongst building relationships with students and their whānau, establishing routines, and setting expectations. All these things are a priority when embarking on a year-long learning journey with a group of sometimes anxious and always diverse students, and rightly so.

Some years, the first day of school fell after Waitangi Day, adding further complexity to the 'when do we fit this in' or 'has the moment passed' debate. For time-poor teachers working with an often overcrowded curriculum, this inevitably created pressure.

Every year, I resolved to improve my teaching of Te Tiriti so that rich learning occurred, and my students became motivated to use their (hopefully) new understandings to take action in their communities. As one of my colleagues used to say, we want the kids to go 'MAD' (make a difference). The big idea was always about developing an awareness of citizenship.

Trustworthy resources to spark curiosity

For me, this desire to do better meant seeking new ways to learn more about not only the events of Waitangi Day itself but those that led up to 6 February 1840, as well as those that occurred after that day. At the same time, I hunted for teaching resources that could spark genuine curiosity in my students and were suitable for authentic inquiry learning. My experience was that neither of these things was easy. They required time and perseverance, and I was often unsure of the authenticity of the information I found and troubled by conflicting information.

I've embarked upon a new journey now. As part of the National Library’s Services to Schools online team, I help curate trusted online resources for teaching and learning, ensuring schools have access to quality information.

As with teaching, I work with people from all walks of life, all passionate about making Aotearoa a better place for everyone. It could be said that this is a lofty goal. However, it's an essential one that goes right to the heart of constructing our national identity — a process that began with the signing of Te Tiriti and He Whakaputanga. It's a goal that comes with significant responsibility, especially in the face of globalisation. I'm glad to say that we're all up for the challenge!

Sneakers of a young person standing next to a plaque that reads: 'On this spot on the sixth day of February 1840 was signed The Treaty of Waitangi under which New Zealand became part of the British Empire'
Waitangi by sharon mckellar. Flickr. Some rights reserved: CC BY-ND 2.0. Image cropped.

Reflections on teaching

Reflecting on my teaching of Waitangi Day and Te Tiriti, with the benefit of perspective as well as some further learning, has led me to some conclusions.

1. Te Tiriti was signed on many different dates

Some of the beginning of the year pressure can be reduced or even removed entirely by knowing that Te Tiriti was signed on many different dates (He Tohu YouTube video, 3:20) between February and September of 1840, as the different versions of the document travelled throughout Aotearoa.

So, whilst 6 February is the day we acknowledge the signing of Te Tiriti, it is only one of many dates when this happened. This means that any time is not too late to embark on a Te Tiriti learning journey.

2. Te Tiriti complements learning about identity

An inquiry around Te Tiriti complements learning about identity and is an ideal context in which to explore where we come from and the importance that holds for each of us.

All of us have arrived in Aotearoa from somewhere else and we have important stories to tell about those journeys. From here we can consider what this means for our shared future. The past was very different from today. But we need to know the past to understand today and plan successfully for the future.

3. There are different ideas about citizenship

In any staffroom around the country, there would be different ideas around the meaning of citizenship. For me, it’s about engaging with the community on a local, national, or even international level, and making a positive contribution, no matter how small.

Teachers naturally exemplify citizenship as they do this every day, in a multitude of ways. Te Tiriti gives us an invaluable opportunity to ask questions about the actions of people involved in a significant event through the lens of citizenship.

4. You don't need to be an expert

It's not necessary to be an expert on Waitangi Day or the events leading up to the signing of Te Tiriti to facilitate successful learning experiences. I found that the best learning experiences for my students were those where I learnt alongside them as a kaiarahi (facilitator).

Stepping back from being the person who held the knowledge was always a positive experience for me and resulted in the 'magic' that we seek as teachers. It was also a reminder of the brilliance of young minds when conditions are conducive to inquiry — with questioning, exploration, experimentation, and risk-taking at the fore.

5. An opportunity to explore your local area and make connections

Engaging with Te Tiriti also provides an opportunity to get out of the classroom and explore your local area. For example, visit sites of significance to local hapū and iwi, learn about signatories from your area and when they signed, and the impact of Te Tiriti on your community then and now.

Local connection, and seeing and doing really make learning stick for our students. I found that the mention of a 'trip' tended to help surface 'experts' in the community, and students were wonderful leverage to help persuade these people to be brave enough to share their experiences. What a perfect way to build Waitangi Day into your local curriculum as well as establish connections across your community!

6. Learn about values and key competencies too

Most schools have a set of values that they work hard to instil in their students. Signatories to Te Tiriti — both Māori and Pākehā — held strong values, and these can be explored in relation to Te Tiriti, identity, and citizenship. Two values central to Māori — whānaungatanga (building relationships and connections) and manaakitanga (caring for others) — are particularly relevant here.

The New Zealand Curriculum says: 'Through their learning experiences, students will develop their ability to:

  • express their own values
  • explore, with empathy, the values of others
  • critically analyse values and actions based on them
  • discuss disagreements that arise from differences in values and negotiate solutions
  • make ethical decisions and act on them.'

Alongside values, I've always felt that the key competencies are the real ‘gold’ in the curriculum. We want to encourage competencies/life skills/capabilities (whatever name we choose to give them) in our students because we know this will assist them on their journey to developing vitally important social awareness. And from there, everything else has a better chance of falling in to place, including citizenship.

If I were back in the classroom this year, I'd try using the competencies as a framework for exploring Te Tiriti. For example:

  • Thinking: What would it have been like for Māori to make sense of the Treaty and how did this affect their decision making?
  • Using language, symbols, and texts: In what ways did the signatories communicate their ideas? How important was communication in the Treaty process?
  • Managing self: What strategies do you think the signatories may have used to cope with the challenges of the Treaty process? What sort of attitude do you think they would have needed?
  • Relating to others:  How important do you think listening was during the Treaty process? How did signatories work together to find consensus?
  • Participating and contributing: Did 'sense of belonging' have an impact on the decision-making of signatories? Were there rights, roles, and responsibilities to balance?

7. Connect multiple concepts and skills

You'll notice common themes running through all these ideas: citizenship, identity, relationship building, values, and competencies. So, learning about Waitangi Day and Te Tiriti allows for making connections between multiple concepts and skills.

Resources for learning

Here's our pick of sources and resources for teaching and learning about Waitangi Day and Te Tiriti.

Kete decorated with paua shells, sitting on stones in front of a flax bush
Kete 4 by Sophia Tunnicliffe. Flickr. Some rights reserved: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Image cropped.

National Library and Archives New Zealand

He Tohu

The original Te Tiriti o Waitangi documents (1840) are part of the National Library and Archives New Zealand's He Tohu exhibition and learning experience in Wellington, Auckland, and online. You can:

  • visit the exhibition in Wellington
  • book a school programme in Auckland
  • explore our online teaching and learning resources.

Teaching and learning resources and blog posts

We've also have curated teaching and learning resources about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its history that include Topic Explorer sets, curiosity cards, Many Answers, books from our lending collection, and much more.

These blog posts written by our staff are also good reads:

Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI)

Waitangi Day — how will you commemorate? has an extensive list of quality digital resources, including Talk Treaty — Kōrerotia te Tiriti — 60 New Zealanders talk about Te Tiriti and issues related to it.

School Journals

These excellent School Journal titles are available as eBooks with supporting teacher material:

The following story and article from the 1990s remain relevant and useful:

  • 'The launching' by Lyn Taane (Part 3, No. 3: 1990)
  • 'Te Horeta's nail' by Janet McCallum (Part 2, No.1: 1997).

Enrich Resources

Enrich Resources have been developed to support teachers by providing access to a library of levelled student activities supported by School Journals. These resources are available through Journal Surf:

Te Ara, NZHistory, Waitangi Treaty Grounds websites

Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

Their online resources include:

Waitangi Tribunal — Te Rōpū Whakamana i te Tiriti o Waitangi

A resource kit on Te Tiriti for primary schools is available in English and te reo Māori.

NZ On Screen

NZ On Screen's Waitangi Collection has an excellent selection of material associated with Waitangi Day.

Kia kaha! All the best for the journey ahead

So, if you're in the 'apprehensive camp', it's my sincere hope that the information and suggestions here will relieve some of that. At the National Library, we use trusted sources and provide carefully developed resources and there's plenty here for you to delve into.

Kia kaha! Every success to you and your students as you embark upon this learning journey.

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Jane Gunson
11 February 2020 10:05pm

This is a wonderful resource, Erana, because you have curated accessible resources for schools and made links with Treaty facts and ordinary life situations to help understand the challenges of honouring the Treaty of Waitangi. Thank you. - Jane

Fleur Coleman
4 February 2020 10:30am

Great work Erena Williamson ;-)