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Effective teaching for Pasifika students – Working with students: Media gallery

What it's all about

It’s about creating environments with students at the centre, where Pasifika students have the focus and learning support they need to lift their academic achievement patterns.


Key content

It’s all about the students. It’s about how schools, families and communities find ways to work together to support and encourage their Pasifika students to enjoy school, engage with learning, aim high, and achieve academically and socially. It’s about how they help them to be the best they can possibly be. 
When students are at the centre, and everyone works together with the same focus and purpose to provide the teaching and learning support where it is needed, then Pasifika students flourish. In a supportive teaching and learning environment, they gain confidence in themselves and their potential to learn, individually and collectively. As a result, they lift their achievement. 
Among other things, school leadership is crucial to lifting student performance. 
“Our primary conclusion is that pedagogically focussed leadership has a substantial impact on student outcomes. The more leaders focus their influence, their learning, and their relationships with teachers on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater their influence on student outcomes." 
School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration, page 40.


Thanks to the principals, staff and students of Aorere College, McAuley High School, Mangere Bridge School, Sylvia Park School, Mary MacKillop School and Wymondley Road Primary School for their contribution.

Things to think about

  • Do you know what your Pasifika students want to get from their schooling? How did you find out?

Alignment across whole school policies and communities has been found to be critical also for developing safe environments where students respect each other, and bullying and violence is reduced”.
Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis, page 31.

  • Do your Pasifika students enjoy coming to school, and being at school? How do you know?
  • How do you want your Pasifika students to feel about coming to school? What do you do to achieve this?
  • How does your school reward good behaviour and achievement? Are Pasifika students among those that are rewarded in this way? If not, why not? What improvements could you make?
  • Do you have a strong focus on teaching and learning in your school? Are there changes you could make that would benefit your Pasifika students?


Victoria – student
I know my teachers like teaching us because if they come to school that means that they, they care about us and they want us to have a better future.

Joseph – student
When I leave school I want to be a doctor and a teacher so when I grow up I teach them what I was learning when I'm this age.

Judy Hanna 
I want them to feel they belong. I want them to feel that this is their place that they have something to contribute. That this is not a place that tells them what to do or gives them instructions, that this is the place that assists them to be the best they can possibly be. And teaches them to stretch themselves. I think our children need to be challenged.

Camilla – student
When I first started it was real different 'cause I didn't think I was good enough to go to university, but the teachers, they believed in me and made me believe in myself. Yeah, I'm going to uni next year, I don't know what uni, but I know I am going to study sports and rec conjoint with business commerce.

Anne Miles 
A school is about its students. We are here because of the students, not for ourselves. A school is about the girls in the school and they need to know that they are the centre of the school. It's not the teachers, we are the workers, it's the girls who are the centre of the school, it’s the girls who are being given an opportunity that's going to determine the whole future of their life.

Mele – student
We have big support from our teachers. They help us with after school stuff. They always offer, it's never you come to me, they always give it to us.

Anne Miles 
I tell them their education is like a cloak that they put over themselves, and if that cloak is faulty or ragged or has holes in it, their whole life is going to be affected by that lack of education. And if their cloak is warm, that education is going to look after them for the rest of their life.

Kuini – student
It's a way that we can gain knowledge for our future, and for what we want to do in the future, so that we can make our lives better. Not only for ourselves, but also our families.

Tom Brown 
If I was in the role of advising principals the one thing I would say is make sure you've got a two way dialogue going on, students, teachers, and teachers, parents, teachers students and teachers–principals. Talk to each other. You’ll find that you find the problems a lot, lot quicker.

Jan Bills 
The new curriculum, along with the key competencies, along with the understanding and the contract of how the Pasifika children may learn has meant that teachers are more in a partnership with their children, and that we have all got the same focus and purpose. And that is also about the learning but it's also about the individual learning. It's also about seeing the children as individuals and making sure that the whole child is worked with.

Marcel – student
What makes a good teacher for me is like if they get along with me cause I hate it when teachers can't get along with me, because I feel really sad and stuff like that, 'cause they don't know me.

Glen Ryan
My personal vision for my Pasifika students is to be successful, I want them to be proud of who they are with their culture, proud of who they are as a learner and proud of who they are with their faith, being a faith school, and that they can do anything and achieve anything. They have just as much ability, backing with parents and family to be able to do anything they want. So we want them to leave our school as leaders, when they hit year 9 we want to hear about them getting the awards, for maths, for science, for sport, for music. We want them to keep coming back to our school and telling us how well they are going.

Lisa – student
I would say to all teachers to encourage their students to never give up, to always take a risk in learning stages, and to push students to the limit where they’re meant to be so they can reach their age stage level.

Student advice for teachers

Senior Pasifika students provide advice for teachers of Pasifika students, highlighting the need for teachers to focus on the level of language that they use in classrooms to communicate with Pasifika learners.



What advice I’d give to teachers is to be straightforward with Pasifika students. A lot of them find it real difficult to learn in the classrooms, and one of a biggest factors is they don’t understand them. One of a key part of the language Pasifika students learning English it’s like second, second language for them. And most of them learn Tongan, and their first language is Samoan, and like it’s a bit of a barrier, some of the words that teachers say kinda you know, backtracks Pasifika students. So if you be straightforward with them to come down to their level and actually to help them in the way that they can learn, the easy way would be really good for Pasifika students.

Pasifika students, they learn in a different way, I know they, some may appear confident, but they’re the ones that you really have to keep your attention on, because, they may not ask for help, or seem like, they’re too proud to say, “Oh no, I need help.” So I guess always offering open forms of communication to students, to all students, but especially for Pasifika students it’s this level of being comfortable around your teachers.

A lot of teachers they already know about knowing the students, but sometimes they don’t discuss it as much and it’s not really implemented well. Teachers that work for me very well are teachers that are able to easily relate to who can really relate to the students, you know the Pasifika students, you know they really bring forward all the protocols for someone Tongan or Fijian cultures that they have. And they bring into they implement it in the classroom, and they create this atmosphere where a lot of the students you know they feel comfortable, and they’re able to learn and as I said before, you know the atmosphere is great and you know that helps with our learning.

The gifts that students bring

Inclusive pedagogies, where teachers deliberately and positively draw on their Pasifika students’ resources, value the diversity of student experience and help to lift Pasifika student achievement.


Key content

“When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximise the use of learning time, anticipate students’ learning needs, and avoid unnecessary duplication of content. Teachers can help students make connections across learning areas as well as to home practices and the wider world." 
The New Zealand Curriculum,page 34.
Specific dimensions of cultural responsiveness are part of more effective teaching, in particular the twin dimensions of positive relations and incorporating students’ resources. For example, effective use of teacher-student discussion in whole class contexts enables diversity of student experience to be valued and to be a resource to support student achievement gains. 
Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis, page 27.

The Schooling Improvement research  Ua Aoina le Manogi o le Lolo: Pasifika Schooling Improvement Research– Final Report, Pages 3- 4, executive summary results are encouraging.
Pasifika pedagogies that are being developed in these schools, in the sense of being adapted to Pasifika learners, deliberately draw on background knowledge including topics, event knowledge, language patterns and activities. 
The teacher has considerable agency in mediating links between the different contexts in which students are socialised, through inclusive pedagogy. This aspect of quality teaching is particularly significant and likely to be a key system influence on reducing disparities that persist across students from different ethnic and social class groups. 
Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis, page 34.


Thanks to the principals, staff and students of Aorere College, McAuley High School, Mangere Bridge School, Sylvia Park School, Mary MacKillop School and Wymondley Road Primary School for their contribution.

Things to think about

  • “Some students learn better off students than teachers so I think that’s the good thing in our school...most students in our school are willing to help...” Year 12 female student, Aorere College, Auckland. Would this statement be true for your school. Why? Why not?
  • Have you ever asked your students what kinds of teachers they like – and why? If not, would you find it useful to know their thoughts – and reasons? How would you go about finding out?
  • Is there any particular teaching style or technique you use that works particularly well for Pasifika students in the classroom?
  • Do you have an induction process for newly arrived Pasifika students to help them to develop the knowledge and skills they require for schooling in New Zealand? If so, how effective is it? Do you do the same for your newly arrived Pasifika teachers? If so, is your process effective? And how do you know?

“The twin dimensions of positive relations and incorporating students’ resources were identified to varying degrees in classrooms. Importantly, these themes were echoed by the students”.
Ua Aoina le Manogi o le Lolo: Pasifika Schooling Improvement Research Summary Report.
Are these two dimensions a strong feature of your pedagogy? Would this be the case for all teachers in your school? How would you know?


Each child as they come to school are celebrated for what they bring with them. All of them bring life experiences with them. They may have been looking after younger children. They are certainly bright capable bouncy wee five year olds.

Rosina Prasad
I’ll always talk to the kids and ask them in their own language can you help me out with this, or am I saying this right, or try and bring their culture into the class, like just counting games, or just having greetings. Even though they’re little things, but sometimes it’s really important to just share with the kid, wow you taught me that, and I didn't know that, can you tell me this word for this, and then I will often find that it just continues and grows because the children suddenly are not afraid to share their language and culture with you.

Tom Brown
There will always be a new generation of students coming in but we find that our students will learn from the older students and we actually actively encourage that. We like students learning from each other in just the same way that we like students learning from us and that we learn from the students. If we can encourage that, if we can show that all the students are not afraid of accessing help, recognising when they need help, then the new ones will quickly pick up on that.

Mele – student
So we offer our knowledge to the younger ones and we kind of build that relationship that our teachers teach us and we teach the rest of the girls. 
Anne Miles 
I think that our girls are just amazing, and they are loud, they laugh a lot, one of the girls the other day said to me Miss, you know I read that the Guiness Book of Records says that the average person laughs 4 times a day, it’s not true at McAuley. We laugh all day. And if you go out and you hear them at interval or lunchtime, they are laughing or they’re calling. It's a very noisy place all day, but they’re happy, and the school is a safe haven for them. They don't want to leave, we keep our girls here right through to year 13.

Strong student connections

Melaine Sagala – TIC Samoan Language, Avondale College, discusses the benefits of strong student connections for their learning. She also discusses a model for connection that has worked for her in the past.



I’m Melanie Sagala, I’m at Avondale College teaching Samoan Language. Teaching a language is really important for students in this generation because a lot of it has to do with empowering them, knowing their identity and knowing who they are through learning about and learning to communicate about their language and to communicate in their language. Language teaching is important, especially living in Auckland the biggest Pasifika city in the world the chances are that you will encounter someone that speaks a Pasifika language is very high, and so everywhere else in the world, people it’s normal to be multi-lingual, bilingual, so it should also be the case in Aotearoa.

One of the fundamental things that people, or teachers kinda forget is that students, Pasifika or not, need to be connected, and so and it’s just a basic, ah actually it’s just a basic human things to connect and you as the teacher, it is your job to make those connections however that happens. And out of that it could be as simple as you know a conversation. There are, and I know that sounds like it’s too simple, but in actual fact a lot of times teachers need to make connections just by talking to them finding out about who they are. I don’t think we do enough of that and I know that there’s a lot of pressure on teachers now a’days to be able to get through the curriculum, let alone have a relationship with students. But I know that that making connections with students has a really high pay off rate than if you didn’t have relationship.

Making a connection with students it’s like a banking model that you have where you bank credit. So every connection making a connection with a student’s like your banking credit. Unfortunately, so that you would have so much connectedness credits so that there comes a time when you would need to withdraw you could. And withdrawing from that credit model or from the bank would be a time where you’d have to discipline a student or you needed to put pressure on the student you could do that without fearing that your relationship is cut off you’re secure in it because your relationship is you’ve got credit.

The misconception and the lack of understanding comes from your I suppose, a lot of us teachers, we withdraw from the bank, when we don’t have credit in the bank, and so that’s why a lot of these when you go to discipline students or you go to need them to do something, they don’t respond because you haven’t made that connection.

I think with connecting your community, your community is the community that is the wrap around for these students and an integral part of the students’ life. And we have, at our school, started to think about not asking the parents to come into the school but us to go out, um, to the community. Everyone’s busy and I guess with Pasifika parents they have the tendency, this is generalising, but I guess when you think about younger children, we’ve found that a lot of out feeder schools had a high rate of parents coming for their parent-teacher interviews and I yet at our parent-teacher interviews we weren’t getting the same amount of parents coming in. And I think that part of that had to do with, I guess parents think that once you grow up and you’re at a certain age, that you’re ok, where as if you are the younger children probably you’re needed more at the school to know and understand.

We thought we’d hold events, we’d hold evenings, and we were finding that we did not have the same amount of parents coming in. So we thought let’s just think about it differently. Let’s not ask them come in, let’s go out. Or invite them to come in not for disciplinary things, or not to sort of consult the dean or whatever, but to celebrate some of their successes and to just to have a meal. And so we held a dinner for ah your Pasifika leaders in our community, because we felt that a lot of them had a lot of influence in the community. They don’t want to come to our school, who cares about our school? So let’s invite them to come to a dinner. We’ll celebrate and let the kids present to them their own stats, what they’ve found with their own learning.

And so that had the effect of students presenting to the community, showing them their learning, and their success and their ambitions. And so we found that had a really good result in that the kids empowered the students to own their learning. We felt that at parent-teacher interviews it was good to establish that relationship because now we can talk real with the parents.

Each student is unique

David Faavae explains that with in the changing Tongan culture that Tongan boys can be very different, each requiring a different approach when working with them as teachers.



My name’s David Faavae. I’m currently a PhD student at the University of Auckland. My research on Tongan boys involved from my own experiences as a Tongan student as well as the experiences as a Tongan teacher in the secondary school classroom. I was a secondary teacher for eight years, in a south Auckland secondary school and I used my experiences, I explored them in the master studies through the use of auto-ethnography, ethnography as a method.

One of the most important things that I’d like to share with, with the teachers is the changing nature of of Tongan boys culture and the expectations of family. What may be the case for one Tongan boy in his family, will be different from another boy and his family and all of that depends on socio-economic status, it depends on their ethnic values, depends on language, their ethnic language.

So there are a few factors that influence Tongan boys because we from what we know is that Tongan boys and their families the collective decision is what actually helps Tongan boys in terms of their education. And teachers need to be more aware that a Tongan boy, one Tongan boy in their class compared to another Tongan boy they can be very different in terms of their identities and the knowledge that they bring with them into the classroom.

One of the key key goals the Pasifika education plan is that all Pasifika students leave with at least NCEA level 2. That’s the minimum goal. And I think if we want more Pasifika students to achieve, there are three things I found from this study. Just evaluating my experiences, three things is that culture in itself is quite a changing concept. Which is why I suggested that that Tongan families are not all the same. And therefore, teachers should not treat all Tongan boys as though they are the same. They are different in certain ways and even between Tongan boys and other Pasifika boys there are differences.

And what we often do in teaching is that we marginalise students. We, and I can remember a teacher saying this, “You Tongan boys are all the same, they’re all boisterous.” When, in fact, they’re not and how you teach and how you connect with the knowledge that one Tongan boy brings can be different to another. And it is about finding out what that capital is and whether is related to their cultural, ethnic values, for a Tongan boy who speaks the Tongan language there are connections to the traditional Tongan values. For a boy who doesn’t speak the language, the values are different. There are similarities in the values between those two boys, but there are differences.

We’ve got to be, we’ve actually got to do a bit more inquiry into these boys and their families and what they bring with them in terms of the cultural capital and knowledge. And that’s the only way I think that we’ll be able to address the needs of Tongan boys and employ pedagogies that actually relate to their experiences and building on that with new information.  

Students as leaders

Negative stereotyping and a culture of mocking can be positively transformed by providing opportunities for Pasifika students to learn and grow their leadership potential, take ownership of their own development and be celebrated as achievers.


Key content

Negative social interactions between students directly interfere with learning. National achievement outcomes data shows high levels of bullying and verbal intimidation in New Zealand schools by international comparison. A cultural practice of community-building in schools, where leadership opportunities and rewards are available to Pasifika students of all ages and stages, can help them to enjoy success and be secure in their Pasifika identity, distinctiveness and potential. This means that Pasifika learners have a voice in working with others to determine successful educational pathways. They see themselves as capable learners, enjoy the respect of others and have the confidence and motivation to participate in and contribute to communities within and beyond New Zealand.

“Leadership opportunities go right through the school, right down to the lower levels. So for instance, in year 9, I take some students out to be ambassadors for the school when I visit feeder schools.” 
(Anne Miles, Principal, McAuley High School)


Thanks to the principals, staff and students of Aorere College, McAuley High School, Mangere Bridge School, Sylvia Park School, Mary MacKillop School and Wymondley Road Primary School for their contributions.

Things to think about

  • Do you know what your Pasifika students want to get out of their experience at school? Have you asked them? How do you help to prepare them for the future?
  • What do past students tell you about what they needed to experience and learn at school?
  • Is there a "culture of mocking" in your school that has a negative impact on the achievement of your Pasifika students? How do you know? Do you need to transform the culture into one that impacts on them more positively? If so, how would you go about this transformation?
  • What does your school do that helps build the self-esteem of your Pasifika learners? What do you contribute? Could you do more?
  • Do you believe that the Pasifika students in your school are secure in their identity as Pasifika? How do you know? If you don’t know, how would you find out?
  • What is the level of Pasifika student involvement in students’ leadership positions and reward systems in your school? Has this involvement increased over time? Could it be improved?


I want to take this school and put it anywhere in New Zealand and have just as strong leadership, just as high expectations, any school, anywhere and just as much rights for our parents and our children. So when we do leadership we look at fantastic leadership for our kids. We felt at this school that some of our students had a culture of bringing people down, not to put yourselves out there as someone who is successful and we wanted to change that. 

So we’re promoting leading and make it seen as the right thing to do. And the kids have caught on. The mocking has gone from the school and that use to be something humorous, but it wasn’t. So we’ve promoted leadership. You would have seen school leaders, house leaders, our assemblies are run by the children, our student lead conferences are run by the students, powhiri – students, so we put the students up there and we help support them to be confident and to talk articulately.

Margaret – student
My role here at Mary MacKillop School is a school leader.

Lisa – student
I’m year 8 in Room 33 and I’m a house captain for 2010.

Malia – student
I’m a house captain here at Mary MacKillop school.

Syrai – student
I’m in year 8 and I’m a school leader for 2010.

Glen Ryan – Principal
Often in school there’s separate silos, the years 3 and 4s don’t talk to the 7/8s, so we set up it up so there’s a leader in each of those areas. One of my roles, or key role, is to develop those leaders, so they talk to each other, they share information so the information is flowing through the school, it doesn’t just stop in one area and then the child moves on, so developing strong leaders within the school has been top priority for us.

Anne Miles – Principal
We hope that every single year 13 student sees herself as a leader, but leadership opportunities go right through the school, right down to the lower levels. So for instance in year 9, I take some students out to be ambassadors for the school and I visit feeder schools. We have our class captains, we have members of the student council, everywhere where the students have a voice to be able to talk about what they’re doing. But it’s also an opportunity for them to develop leadership skills and to feel valued and proud of themselves and it carries right through year 10, 11, year 12s are constantly being fed that information – you are next year’s leaders, you need to take that role within the school, and so they have the different uniform in year 12 and 13, acknowledging the level of leadership that is expected from them. Each student is encouraged to take ownership of their own development and that’s what our goal is, managing self so leadership of yourself, leadership of your peer group, leadership as example of the school.

Mele – student
As year 13s we offer our knowledge to the younger ones and we kind of build that kind of relationship so our teachers teach us and we teach the rest of the girls.

Targeted support

Penny Otto, Lecturer at MIT Tertiary Secondary School, discusses how she has developed a programme based on the Niue language and culture that has lifted Pasifika student achievement at her school.



Fakalofa lahi atu. My name’s Penny Otto, and I am currently a lecturer with Manukau Institute of Technology with the school of secondary tertiary studies which is the tertiary high school.  My work with the Niue language has been quite intensive for the last few years. This year I’ve taken a little bit of break from it. However in 2008 I saw there was a gap at secondary school level. 

So I approached our principal and he allowed me to start off with, you know, a junior, you know, option class for Vagahau Niue. From that it kinda just snowballed and turned into this amazing Vagahau Niue programme. And then Alfriston College came on board. So I did that for about 5-6 years. The thing with the programme is that we had like one Niuean and the rest were Samoans and Tongans. So in terms of Pasifika achievement, it reached, it reached all the kids. Initially our target was for the Niuean kids, or it was for them. But they kind of, they held back and they weren’t very confident in taking it because they couldn’t speak another language anyway. So what I found is that the confident Samoan and Tongan speakers came into Vagahau Niue because we didn’t have any other Pasifika language and they learnt it really quickly, because of the, you know the commonalities between the languages, and they thrived. They passed. They got a lot of credits. They were performing for Polyfest as well as taking the language component. And they saw it right through from year 10 to year 13. And so it was a really successful programme. And by the end of 2012 we had 120 students taking Vagahau Niue. So yea, huge achievement.

It’s kind of, it’s a bit hard for our kids at the moment because they are multi-ethnic. Right, so you’ve got a lot of Niuean kids who are part Samoan part Tongan. And they start to kinda to draw from their stronger culture and come away from their Niue side and it’s just one of those things that happens with a minority group within a minority group. And so that’s one of the things, and the other thing’s there’s not enough, like, Alfriston College is now the only school in the country that teaches it, so there isn’t any exposure to anyway to Vagahau Niue in secondary school. You’ve got language nests, that don’t potentially feed into any particular primary school. Favona Primary has a programme and so does Koru, but those are after school programmes, they’re not, you know, embedded within the curriculum. And then you’ve got those primary schools that don’t feed into any secondary schools, so it’s yeah, it’s really really problematic.

When you look at the Plan, and you think that the goal is to get 85% you know, NCEA level 2 Pasifika achieving. I know that there is untapped potential within that group of students who who could achieve that if they had Vagahau Niue there to carry them through that. And I saw this happen at Papatoetoe High School. With those kids who were close to passing or nowhere near passing even, they were able to use the credits they got from Vagahau Niue to help push them over that threshold so we had very high success rate for each year level. We had over 90% of kids passing, NCEA level 1, NCEA Level 2, NCEA Level 3 because of that buffer of credits, you know, that was offered to them. And I think Vagahau Niue can provide a bit of a plug for that gap. But nobody seems interested, and I wish people would, yeah, take a bit of interest in it.

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 Pasifika, 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.

A wealth of knowledge

Teokotai Tarai, HOD Languages, Teacher of Cook Island Maori Language, explains how Pasifika students come to the classroom with a wealth of knowledge and experiences. This can provide a platform for better student engagement and success.



My name is Teokotai Tarai and I’m a teacher at Tokoroa High School. I teach Cook Islands Māori with social sciences and also English. One of my current roles I am also the HOD, I mean the Dean of Te Manava. So I look after all the Pasifika achievement in our school and our Pasifika students. 

I think we need to understand that regardless of our ethnicity, each young person comes in with a basket of knowledge. So that kete has already been filled with tatau, White Sunday church. They’ve had lots various experiences with hair cuttings, or weddings, a way of living, a way of life. We call it, "akoroanga". 

And so as teachers you need to understand that basket that comes in the classroom. It’s just not “There’s a girl, oh.” But it’s about knowing about who they internally are, from the roots up. I think that if we can make that connection with our young people, we can do amazing things. And just like the speakers spoke this morning about that creativity. 

So our children can sing, they can dance, they can perform, they can act, they’re helpful. They have all these skills, but when we’re put in a different landscape, in a different place, those elements that they were first taught are not being given an opportunity to flourish. And so we really need know our Cook Island students and I think we can start be learning their names. And you, there’s a difference between learning just like, so my name is Teokotai Tarai, but through school they shortened my name to “Te,” “Tari” instead of saying “Teoko”, it just became “Took,” “Chook.” So now I am left with this name “Chooks.” 

So I thought I would make it up myself- if you’re going to give me a nickname I’ll make my own up, and I’m gunna say you better call me “Chookz” with a “Z.” and it’s you know, but why do we have to compromise? And I think I’ve compromised far too long, and so no! And I want to encourage teachers, no, don’t shorten our students’ name. Learn the whole name. If the name is Tangoroa, then say "Tangoroa", instead of, “Hi Ta!” You know, but I think Cook Island they children are more forgiving. They’re more and they will actually, if you keep calling them “Ta” then they’ll accept that. And I think we’re beyond that. And so I really want to encourage our, um, our teachers, especially for Pasifika kids is to learn their names, learn who they are, know them. I honestly believe it’s the be all and end all of our young people. So like I talked about the experiences that they already come with. And so if we take away this anchor, this life source away from our young people, we strip them of their sense of belonging and their wealth of knowledge. And so they become “Oh, I don’t know this.” And they revert back into themselves and they don’t give themselves an opportunity to flourish. 

And so I think that culture, language, dancing, in all its forms, whatever culture means to you, whether be through the language, whether it be in the way we address people, um, all those things are important to the whole being of our young people. We’re not just teaching the child, we’re teaching them, their family, and the community, so if we can’t incorporate those things I don’t think we giving our young people a firm place to stay- and you know that the thing is all about belonging. Kids want to belong. They want to learn and I believe that our ancestors migrated to this New Zealand for better education. 

I don’t believe the dream has changed. The landscape has, but the dream is still the same. And so I’ve been really fortunate this year- well over these last five years, to kinda like build that up in our programme at Tokoroa where culture, language is now seen as important. And I love that Cook Island Māori is a university approved subject. And so now our parents are saying, “Oh! Yes!” because we were all the time “No! Learn the English. No! Do it this way.” Because we wanted to model ourselves against the palagi world, but it doesn’t suit us. It doesn’t suit who we are. You know some people can, ah fit, into different worlds, but our people it’s just a bit different. But now we’ve got language and now we’re getting more of our academic students taking language as well as their subjects. You know so we’ve got, um, and what I love the most is the schools are buying in, and supporting these initiatives through dance, music, culture. 

What we’re allowed at our school is so if there’s a funeral, the whole class goes. And we teach our children this is how we can connect. And I invite our teachers, come on board, look and have a see what it’s about. We invite them to White Sundays so our teachers can have another place where they can connect with our young people. So culture and really accepting our young people for who they are, once again, if you can make that connection there’s no limit to what you can do with our young people.

It’s been my goal to make sure we’ve got a strong Pasifika contingent going all the way. And to encourage them into leadership, “You can be the head boy.” And to encourage them to become the dux, to aim for excellence. And so actually putting that into our plan, our Pasifika plan at school and I believe that that models into our greater PEP. 

We started with this nearly eight years ago. Our kids can, our young people can do this. They can be dux’s. They can excel and we just need to give them the platform to do it. And I love it. Be intentional. So our intention is to have leaders. To have the dux and so we tell our young people at year nine, “You will. You can.” And so it gives them that belief that, “Yes. We can.”

Getting to know the students

Collecting relevant and sufficient data on Pasifika students’ achievement helps schools to track the progress of their Pasifika learners, make informed changes to their pedagogy, programmes and practices and be affirmed when their data reveals learning gains.


Key content

Schools are effective in collecting and using data on Pasifika student achievement when they:

  • collect data that extends beyond one academic year – they track achievement patterns over time
  • monitor the shifts in the distributions of their achievement levels – they compare these with national expectations
  • monitor the rates of gains – they find out whether their Pasifika learners are achieving at more than just a normal rate of progress
  • examine the progress of higher-achieving Pasifika students – all students need to be academically challenged
  • keep checking and refining the data they collect – they use the data to inform their practice in order to keep their Pasifika students ‘on the achieving path’.

“Assessment can improve teaching and learning when teachers adjust their teaching to take account of the results of assessment.”  Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis, page 89


Thanks to the principals, staff and students of Aorere College, McAuley High School, Mangere Bridge School, Sylvia Park School, Mary MacKillop School and Wymondley Road Primary School for their contribution.

Things to think about

  • As your school implements The New Zealand Curriculum, is there a specific focus on raising the achievement of your Pasifika learners. If so, how do you know it’s working? If not, why not?
  • What does your school’s data tell you about the achievement of your Pasifika students? What doesn’t the data tell you? What will you do about this?
  • How does your school use data to help track the performance of its Pasifika students? How do you use the data? Is your use of the data effective in increasing their achievement patterns? Do you have a long-term focus?
  • Do you use data on Pasifika student achievement to track your performance and improve your teaching? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • What are the benefits of collecting data? Give an example of changing your practice in response to data you have collected on the achievement of your Pasifika students.
  • How would you describe the level of achievement among Pasifika students at your school? Has this always been the case? What kinds of initiatives have been undertaken? Have these worked? How do you know?


Tone Kolose
I think going through that process of understanding, looking at your data, pulling it to bits um looking at cohorts and looking at students who are doing well, those students who are not doing well, but trying to find strategies in terms of what can we do to push those students that we say that the data informs our next lot of practice.

Lynne Van Etten 
I think that we’re always looking at data in the PSCPL project that we’re involved in we had the data which we collected at the beginning for a group of students, and now we can analyse that as they’ve moved through the school and that's been really positive.

Tom Brown
We use data an awful lot, we use the asTTle test in the beginning, we use a PAT on reading. We use that information to inform us of the students’ general ability. It's not specific and it shouldn't be taken as being specific but it gives a general indicator.

Lynne Van Etten 
It's great for the teachers to see actually the shifts that they make with the students learning from one year to the next. So it's really reaffirming for the staff to see the changes that they can make.
Actuality – Staff meeting

Don Biltcliffe
Last year and this year we're moving towards using e-asTTle, which is an assessment that can be done in any of the core subjects. The purpose of the reading test is that it gives me four areas that the children are achieving or not achieving in. The advantage to e-asTTle is that its marked for me so teacher error in marking is eliminated, and I get the results almost immediately to report back to the children with. 

Glen Ryan
We’re always checking, so we’re always with our five and six year olds we have a wedge graph and we’re always plotting along where are they from the standard, how close, how do we get them there. So always checking always refining and always talking with each other.

Lisa – student
The teaching here is different. When I was little at my old school they wouldn't show us any data, so they’ll only teach us what we went wrong. Sometimes we wouldn't understand what they were talking about. But here they tell us our data, where we went wrong, and they explain before they teach us.

Matilda– student
They should make sure that the student knows where they need to go, and the steps they need to take to get there, and to show them the data for their learning so that they could improve on their work and not just at the same place.

Merita Amani–Heisifa
Most of the staff here know how to analyse data, know how to read data and know their next steps. So each teacher presents their data for reading, writing and maths. Now we do that across the school. Now teachers ask questions, probing questions, we also offer examples of the where to next.

Anne Miles
Analysis of data is incredibly important but it's got to be used for the correct purpose. So at the end of each year every HOD totally analyses all the achievements of their department. And they will look at why did this standard achieve so well, and this standard have a lower pass rate. And we look at all their analysis and we look at what changes they have made to their programmes as a result of this analysis. They’ve had feedback from students as to how they have enjoyed the unit that they’ve actually taught. And they’re constantly looking at what else could be added or what should be taken away from a particular unit.

Nola Dougall
I think one of the key turning points for students is a feeling of success. Success in their curriculum area. That when we put students into courses that they can achieve in, we are not putting them in places where they are out of their depth. And looking at.... we do a lot of tracking on student data, very good student management system that I can look up easily, I can flick on a switch or two and look at the year 13 cohort and tell immediately who has yet to get level 2 NCEA, who has already for the requirements for University Entrance. We feed that back to the students through level assemblies.

Bernadette – student
She shows us graphs on how we’re doing in our NCEA achievements and that makes us really drive towards our goal and makes us aim high and to see how we’re doing through the year. So it’s really good to see that kind of data.

Atina – student
In the classroom when we just finish an assessment they tell us personally or come up to the desk or do you want the whole class to know the results. And so then they just go oh, you got achieved or merit and I think that sort of helps you when you know what the other students, because for me personally its not only competition it drives me and that’s how I think I get good results.

Nola Dougall
I will show them where they’re at now in credit groupings. I’ll compare that to where they were the month before. And I will also compare it with the cohort that was there last year and the students can see the movement, and they can see that they’re on this achieving path. We also communicate that via the newsletters to the parents as well.

Language enhancing the achievement of Pasifika |  Pasifika Education Plan |  Effective teaching for Pasifika students – Strategies for success |  Effective teaching for Pasifika students – Stories |  Pasifika and e-Learning |  Pasifika giftedness |  Engaging with Pasifika parents, families, and communities