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Embedding Mātauranga Māori into your English classroom: a mind-blowing strategy to get started!

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Using texts by Māori creators is fantastic, but ignoring everyone else is going to limit students’ understanding of the world, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Also, this isn’t necessarily embedding Mātauranga Māori into your classroom.

Instead, take aspects of tikanga (protocols) and the values from te ao Māori (the Māori world) and look through these to explore a character in your text. What you’re doing is applying a Mātauranga Māori lens – perspective – to a text. Any text.

Begin with two or three aspects you’re most confident with. Here are three:

  • Kotahitanga – unity, working together for a common cause.

  • Tūrangawaewae – that place where you know you belong in your soul, your bones.

  • Mana – charisma, standing, prestige. This can be achieved through recent actions, but also bestowed via ancestral connections.

Mātauranga Māori in your English classroom

Now look at a character from any text through one of these aspects, using it as a lens.

You can embed (embed!) a Māori world view into any text. You might have already read my garbled, excited post about how I did this with the ultimate ‘dead white guy’ text – William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. To prove my point further, let's try Shakespeare’s Othello. Seriously!

Have you ever thought of Othello’s connection to his tūrangawaewae? Sooooo disconnected. Is it any wonder he’s wobbly? Use that lens to discuss Othello's actions and relationships with students and...boom!

Getting excited now? Take it deeper to discuss:

  • Whanaungatanga (connection through shared experiences). Sure, he has this with comrades through their experiences in battle together but…) and

  • Whakapapa (‘family tree’) – far out, no wonder that blimmin' hanky is so important to him!)

Try another text. Any text! How does one group succeed while another fails? Kotahitanga, right? It doesn’t matter if they’re the baddies or the goodies. Often, at the beginning of the text, it’s the baddies that have that teamwork going. Have students look at how your goodies begin to ‘win’ when they work toward Kotahitanga – what do they do that helps them achieve that state?

What about mana? Place this word in the middle of a page. How does a character begin with, achieve, lose, illustrate their mana? How does that mana affect decisions, events, relationships?

You’re buzzing now, right? Wait until you really get brainstorming with your students (or colleagues) and you move into how things are connected!

Mātauranga Māori in your English classroom

In the image above, I took multiple values from te ao Māori and had students work in groups to analyse how fulfilling each of three settings were for Egan, the main character from Brian Falkner's Shooting Stars.

Next step:

Consider states of being. How do characters in your text achieve or move between these states?

  • Te ihi (completeness, working toward excellence) – te wehi (to be awesome in the eyes of others (and self)) – te wana (collective energy achieved when individuals with te ihi and te wehi come together).

  • Te kore (‘nothingness’ – dark, unstructured, but a starting point for potential), te pō (darkness, but where there is a stirring of life, a flicker, a beginning), te ao marama (the world of light).

  • Rangatiratanga (self-determination, self-management, leadership) and mana motuhake (having control over one’s destiny and achieving mana through that).

Watch the video below to see how I used te kore, te po and te ao marama to create a mash-up of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Mātauranga Māori. Now, that was fun!

What I also love about applying these lenses to texts is that it’s given me a metalanguage – language and ideas to discuss texts in a deep and critical manner.

Take it further:

Think about how you can put a Mātauranga Māori spin on those western 'thinky tools' you might use to explore texts. The video above shows my Maslow-Mātauranga Māori mashup. What else could you play around with? Maybe:

  • Freud’s id, ego and superego.

  • Erik Eriksons’ Psychosocial development theory on the eight stages of development.

  • Socrates’ idea that with knowledge comes the ability to reason which in turn leads to happiness.

  • Kant's argument that we gain knowledge only through things we experience.

  • Milgrim's theory that people follow orders, even though they know doing so is unethical, because of the presence of certain situational factors (his obedience theory).

Mātauranga Māori in your English classroom

Note well: I’m not Māori. I’m a New Zealander of European descent. This is how I’ve developed a tool - a strategy - to use in the classroom. I study and I talk to people. This is where my understanding is ‘at’ now. There is plenty more to learn, and perhaps I’m miscuing on a few things. But my Kaupapa is about getting in the sandpit – playing, enjoying that play, bouncing off others and moving to the next stage to build better sandcastles. Just have fun!

Mātauranga Māori in your English classroom

Mātauranga Māori in your English classroom

Mātauranga Māori in your English classroom

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