Tag Archives: Akonga Learning Student Diversity

Religions of the World

25 Feb


While my ako inquiry will deal with leadership again this year I am making a big effort tin the area of my own specialist subject- Religious Studies. A reminder this is an academic subject not one of faith development. Well, that how I see it.

On describing his conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarked, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’ (Lewis, 1945, p. 21). To paraphrase, for Lewis, not only is Christianity something credible to believe in, but it also provides a coherent and credible framework within which to make sense of everything else.

Theologians working within other religious traditions would mostly concur with this: while no one can have a “God’s eye” view of the world (other than God) – religion provides the most meaningful and satisfactory way to see the universe. Furthermore, in addition to perceiving, religions also provide a way of being in the world. They impact and form the habits, philosophies, theologies, aspirations, ethical positions and education (among other things), of those who identify with them.

RE teaching aspires to place religions into a historical context. This is important because it prevents students from the quintessential: just because a Scripture says x, or members of a tradition have done x, it does not follow that all members of a tradition will do the same. A historical context for the development of religion also encourages adherents of a given tradition to view their own tradition more critically.

However, research in the field of the Study of Religions has stressed an additional sense in which cultural context is important. W.C. Smith emphasized that ‘religion’ itself is an unstable category, which has been shaped through political processes and is defined in different ways in different contexts. Concepts of ‘religion’ may be related to one another genealogically, but what they share, according to these theorists, is that they are determined by the assumptions and political expediency of the powerful over the less powerful.

Religion has, of course, been defined in many ways by scholars. Ninian Smart argued that religion was characterised by doctrine and philosophy; myth; a tradition of law and ethics; rituals; an emotional connection to the sacred and the presence of distinct hierarchies. Smart stressed that none of these characteristics were necessary for a tradition to be a religion, but that most religions included most of these features.

Nevertheless, the study of religion has been plagued by its difficulty in pinning down its subject matter precisely: it has been accused of becoming a discipline that has failed to find anything to study. But such accusations miss the point: instead of focusing on individual religious traditions (Islam; Christianity; Judaism etc.), the study of religions has found a new focus in the problematical the term ‘religion’ itself. ‘Religion’, J.Z. Smith would argue, cannot be used as a term of analysis because its definition is too contested to be useful and we cannot be sure that we are comparing like with like.


On the other hand, the study of religion has re-focussed its efforts around tracking the ways that ‘the powerful’ have used the definition of the word to re-forge the world in their own image. Nongbri’s work in particular has rebelled against the idea that traditions have a true religious belief, which is embedded in Scripture and which, like Protestant Christianity, can be privatised without intruding on the state. He emphasises that the notion of a true core belief (‘Christianity is the religion of love’; ‘Islam is the religion of peace’) is indebted to Romantic-era notions of the ‘true spirit’ of different national cultures. We might find it appealing to imagine ‘good’ versions of Islam and Christianity, with things we dislike as later accretions, this does not do justice to the formation of religious traditions as fluid entities that change and transform as they are passed between generations. Lots to reflect on but plenty of discussion for my Religious Studies class this week.



Trend One: Diversity

13 Mar


Designing for difference is impacting the way we organise and govern our societies and prepare for the future. In education, this “difference” imperative is also becoming a catalyst for change:

  • findings in cognitive neuroscience are confirming that there is significant variability in how we each learn (OECD 2010).
  • international reports focus on the need for schools to develop acute sensitivity to individual learner’s differences and to use that knowledge as a driver for the design of physical and blended learning environments and flexible teaching approaches (OECD 2012, 2015)

Diversity work on school campuses takes many forms, and at their best, learning communities build on this existing work. The diversity I want to focus on that is of the Learning Community.

Learning communities can also become places where teachers develop powerful pedagogical strategies that support the learning of all students.

In short, the three central elements for approaching diversity through learning communities are as follows:

1) Designing learning communities for groups of students;

2) Using learning communities as sites for curriculum transformation;

3) Developing pedagogical practices that support diverse learners. Reflecting on these three elements is at the core of connecting the widely-recognized power of learning community structures with the rich work that has been done around diversity issues over the past two decades.

The broad range of experiences and perspectives brought to school by culturally and ethnically diverse students offer a powerful resource for everyone to learn more—in different ways, in new environments, and with different types of people. Every single person in this enormously diverse and ever-changing system has the power to serve as an invaluable resource for all others—students, teachers, and the community. Rather than constituting a problem for students and educators, the growing diversity in U.S. classrooms necessitates and encourages the development and use of diverse teaching strategies designed to respond to each student as an individual.


We are fortunate for I believe as a culture we embrace diversity. This boundless diversity has resulted in the inventions, discoveries, ideas, literature, art, music, films, languages, political systems, and foods that enrich our culture. This needs to reflected in our classrooms for this diversity has the potential for enriching our classroom. Our students bring us opportunities to be explored and treasures to be appreciated, and they help us challenge the status quo.

Adopting a truly global perspective allows us to view culturally diverse students and their parents or guardians as resources who provide unparalleled opportunities for enrichment. However, we need a greater repertoire of approaches to teaching and learning to cope with varied styles of learning. Teachers and students alike must cultivate interpersonal skills and respect for other cultures. The new world economy demands this global view. After all, our markets and economic competition are now global, and the skills of intercultural communication are necessary in politics, diplomacy, economics, environmental management, the arts, and other fields of human endeavor.

Surely a diverse classroom is the ideal laboratory in which to learn the multiple perspectives required by a global society and to use information concerning diverse cultural patterns. Students who learn to work and play collaboratively with classmates from various cultures are better prepared for the world they face now—and the world they will face in the future. Teaching and learning strategies that draw on the social history and the everyday lives of students and their cultures can only assist this learning process.


Teachers promote critical thinking when they make the rules of the classroom culture explicit and enable students to compare them with other cultures. Students can develop cross-cultural skills in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. For such learning to take place, however, teachers must have the attitudes, knowledge, and skills to make their classrooms effective learning environments for all students. Given the opportunity, students can participate in learning communities within their schools and town and be ready to assume constructive roles as workers, family members, and citizens in a global society.

Student Mentoring: GEMS

5 Jan


The most important relationships teachers have is with our students. While observing our national debate around testing and the adoption and implementation of National Standards, Charter Schools and inclusive education policy I can’t help but feel like a very important component of raising student achievement is more often than not overlooked.

Building long-term and meaningful relationships with students, especially students who are left out in the cold because of socioeconomic status, race, sexual orientation or disability. More often than not, these students are left on the fringe of mainstream school culture  have a difficult time building relationships with other students and teacher–the people who are critical to their development and educational progress. If students do not feel invested in their school or feel that the staff of the school is not invested in them and their education, learning becomes difficult. This is highly problematic.

So, what can be done to address the need for building relationships with our students?

I think the answer is a solid mentoring programme that is defined. That is formalized. Student mentoring exists in all schools but time is not usually created for it to blossom. In m our environment we have done this. We call it GEMS. (Goals Encourage Mana and Success)

Mentoring is not a drastically new concept, it has been used in many other countries around the globe for year. I have been very fortunate to work in a such a school using it and the system has greatly impacted the students, staff and school culture.

Mentoring has as one of the core beliefs students being the best they can be. It aligns with our school vision. Our students have the same mentor or GEMS teacher over their four-year high school experience, as well as access to a Dean who acts as an advisory over the  cohort. In this model, each teacher builds a personal relationship with each student. These relationships are essential for our students’ success.

There are several ways that mentoring contributes to student achievement:

Consistency. For many students, life outside of school is far from consistent—in fact it’s rather chaotic. My students know exactly what to expect from my colleagues and me every day when they walk into the building, and we’ve found that they crave this consistency. In their otherwise frenzied worlds, the school becomes a safe and nurturing place for students.

Shared Accountability. We believe in accountability for both students and staff. When our students set goals, we consult. Though mentoring we understand all courses become a singular journey of learning rather the here and now.

Support systems. Finally, mentoring creates a family that supports each student in their academic endeavors. Life is hard, and for teenagers. In a way, my colleagues and I are there to celebrate their achievements. We are there to help them learn from their failures. We laugh together. We cry together. Most importantly, we learn together.

A student’s success in school and beyond is impacted by much more than their academic performance, and this kind of holistic programme does exactly this. This is why it is critical for schools to have the flexibility they need to experiment with unconventional methods and systems—not all students are the same, so why should all schools be the same?

There does have to be a measure of the success of this programme. Next Tuesday it will be I will measure it as the NZQA release their annual results.

Student Speeches

13 Apr



The NCEA speech format has changed so little from the time I went to school when we did it under the guise of School Cert or UE. Most schools have each child get up in front of their class and then the best speakers then are selected to stand in front of the school on speech night .
And the marking schedule. Teachers crouch around a video camera and moderate these speeches. Has the student used repetition, rhetorical questions, quotes and statistics? Check, cross, check, check. There are strict rules about time. Did you know it’s a NA if you don’t make time? Don’t overuse your cards. Hand gestures and the odd dramatic pause thrown in for good measure. Our girls are something else at this.
What makes a good speech?
Instead of having of going the usual route of having students sit through Martin Luther King Jr talking about having a dream, Kennedy going to the moon and Churchill fighting on the beaches then analyse each one for rhetorical devices I always look for something different.
I have an appreciation of oratory and these speeches are quite rightly iconic. However these men were leaders of nations and movements over 50 years ago their lives and their language is far removed from the young women sitting in classrooms in Taranaki.
What made these speeches good?
My students decided that speeches were good because the speaker was sharing a passion, an interest or telling a story. As a teacher the most memorable speeches were the ones when students shared something about themselves that we might not hear. My students agree.
I like to get students to do some peer marking. They are more insightful than you might think.
On speech night I was overwhelmed by the topics chosen: Death, Girls and Boys, Marketing, Alzheimer’s, being different, social media and Boys.
The speeches I wanted to hear were those that didn’t make the final. Those students who achieved by just doing it. Those students might not have been good enough to make Speech Night but there were so many kids who bought their best selves to speeches this year.
And that’s what any teacher should be aiming for.

Professional Reading:

I found this resource this week. An outstanding resource for on Pasika peoples:

10 things you need to know about Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa (dispelling some common myths about the Pacific)

Here are excellent resources to think about when referring to students feedback:

The Best Resources For Learning How To Best Give Feedback To Students
The Difference Between Praise and Feedback is from MindShift.
Tips for Giving Feedback is from Elena Aguilar.
How to Turn Praise into Acknowledgment is by Marvin Marshall.


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