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Know your students

Jim Halafihi, ICT teacher Papatoetoe High School, explains how establishing a positive rapport with your Pasifika students can provide a good starting point to knowing your students. When a teacher knows their students they are in a better position to respond more appropriately to their needs.


My full name is Jim Halafihi I work at Papatoetoe High School I am in the technology department there, we have a larger school of ah 1600 students and out of the at there’s probably 300-400 Pasifika students. Of Tongan descent, I’m well aware of the diversity within our Pasifika group, within the technology curriculum there’s a significant Polynesian. And what I’ve found works for me working with our Pasifika kids, there needs to be an exchange, there needs to be a report established before there’s going to be any learning going on. Personally how I interpret that, that’s the way I function in terms of I am able to open up communication, I feel there’s that process of small talk that needs to occur, just building that rapport before anything can happen. Practically through the classroom I share it with my students across the board, my culture, by introducing my languages of the Pacifika, the languages I pronounce, because I am Polynesian, I am made up of the lands that make up the Polynesias. So I’ve got ancestors from Samoa, I’ve got ancestors from Fiji and in my mihi, or introduction that is made obvious and explicit so that I can be inclusive with the whole class. And so that’s the starting point, you’ve got to really find some sort of common connectedness. And so the language is an important part of that because with communicating unless you are able to communicate then there is no connectedness. One of the big themes within our school is positive conversations as an immediate consequence of any positive or negative incident or interaction, and so it fits in nicely with my pedagogy of collectedness. And so I can’t emphasise enough how important school wide to really embed that. Because I can do as much as my own little island as much as I can, but I see evidence every day, of perhaps students who missed out on that experience, or missed out on that opportunity to simply feel included, to feel belonged.

It goes back to that old saying that what works for our Pasifika kids, works for all students. What this particular Pasifika student who has weaknesses in their first language then their second language which is English, is also weak. And so they really it’s almost like double jeopardy they’ve got two barriers against their learning. And so ah I see language as an important part and I encourage those kids to really get a grounding in their first language because they’ve got an immediate resource with their parents and caregivers at home. I see it as a very important part of their self-worth. When you are from a particular culture and your behaviour has to change to assimilate into another culture, and so that’s been my experience, and so I think how it helps students in front of me is that I can have empathy for their experiences, but knowing where the student is coming from I am able to respond to perhaps a student who is in the centre who has weaknesses within both languages I can then because I know their particular situation I can then call upon the resources of the school, I can refer that particular student to specialist assistance and so by knowing your students you can respond appropriately to their needs.

Teachers that are in the classroom their main job is to inspire. Being the role models of inspiration should be at the forefront of our professional development because with my involvement in technology, I think that our school are drumming creativity out of my Pasifika boys. Because they want to make them into automatons who think in a particular way, and I don’t see it working and it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit the culture. In my area, it’s really about the wellness of that particular person, before they can actually achieve the expected outcomes that we need to see in our curriculum area. When they come to us we need them to unlearn what the other areas in the curriculum area are putting into their heads, in order for them to succeed in our area. Which is ridiculous which one of the strengths I feel for our people should be this activity, and it’s working with their hands, it’s loving solving puzzles, we love solving puzzles. We know how to get from the middle of nowhere, to find lands on other areas of the planet.