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Understanding culture to support Pasifika students

Maggie Flavell, explains the the perspective of a non Pasifika person working with Pasifika students. She talks about the importance of learning about the Pasifika culture to enable her to better engage with Pasifika students and their families. She also talks about the value of having a good support network to support her own professional development.



I chose my research, because I had been in the country, coming from England, I had been here a few years, and was starting to teach students with a pacific island background, and I felt that I needed to understand that background better myself.  I think I was particularly prompted by a conversation I had with a parent. When I rang expecting to talk about the speech topic that my son, that my son was doing for English, and I was hoping that we could talk about it and share ideas, only to discover that the parent was very particular to talk about behaviours and standards in the classroom and it was at that point I realised I am on a slightly different page, and so that might be good reason for me to get to know students better. But I have always strongly believed in building connections with family and I had a background in adult literacy form the UK where I worked a lot with adults so I’ve understood the whole nature of education within the family and how that opens doors. And for that reason I wanted to see how I could, what I could build those connections between home and school I think the research was a huge learning curve for me. And I now understand when I speak with individuals that are from a pacific island culture they kinda say, “yea, we know, we know” but for me I really didn’t know and I felt it was important to share my reaction and what I found out with staff at school and other teachers because they also might make the same assumptions that I was making. And an important lesson I have learned is that parents really really really do care about their children’s education and even they themselves, or their parents or their grandparents came to New Zealand because they cared about opening doors for their children and giving them the best possible education that they could. Quite often we make assumptions or teachers can make assumptions that parents are not interested because they don’t attend parent evenings, and the important lessons I have learned through meeting with parents and understanding their perspective, is that maybe they don’t understand the school system that well and maybe they don’t always feel that connected, they don’t feel that they can ask questions because the=at might appear disrespectful, and they are incredibly busy people with large families and church commitments, and these can often override events that happen at school but just because they don’t attend the meetings that’s not o say they don’t care or that they don’t want to be involved, and so this is one of the lessons that I guess I have learnt, that it’s up to us to change our policies and practices and to be more open, to be more flexible to allow time to build relationships because a five minute conversation is never going to be long enough, you can’t have reciprocal dialogue and build relationships, really share the journey, understanding for the best for that child in just these very very brief slots.

Another message that came across to me I hadn’t particularly appreciated before, is because parents are so keen for children to do well, that the children can perceive quite a lot of pressure for them to perform and that’s why they often play a passive role, because their fear of disappointing might lead them to be particularly quiet and particularly passive and they don’t want to report back to their parents or to speak out in class just in case it’s wrong or they make a mistake. And that doesn’t help the parents because they want to know what’s happening and their children aren’t telling them and that only further adds to the frustration on behalf of the parents. And so I feel that a journey we can do as teachers and educators is to help help draw that journey together, help teachers and parents share that common target and share information and build those bridges.

Two years ago, I listened to you, in fact, I came and listened to the workshop which talked about the connections between home and school and how to build those bridges, and that really really got me thinking and from that I learned a lot, and it was great because I could try out my ideas on the VLN forum. You can sort of ask questions, and it’s not until you articulate what you are thinking and you can test it out with somebody and then a kind person responds and gives you feedback to know if you’re on the right path or not, so it’s a really   important journey to be able to keep those conversations going. Cause otherwise you feel quite lonely and you feel quite distant. And sometimes especially doing research, you can sit alone, on your computer and your thinking “Am I just thinking complete and utter rubbish, but what if I type it out, send out a message and get some feedback? And then I know I’m on track” So lovely to be a part of it.