I wonder how many people wish that they could make a difference in the lives of children? I would have to guess that there would be a lot. Now, how many people would like to make a difference in the lives of children by changing themselves? I would have to presume that there would be more people leery about this one. As an educator, would you think that you should change or that the students just need to learn the material that is presented to them, in the method that you choose?
Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a presentation at my local elementary school that was put on by Don Rempel, the superintendent of the North East School Division. This presentation really made me think about the way we educate. Don had the opportunity to go to New Zealand to learn about the initiatives that were being pursued there in regards to education and the Maori people.
The Maori people are native to New Zealand and have a similar history to those of First Nations students in Saskatchewan. Our First Nations students have low graduation rates and high drop out rates which results in low employment rates and poverty, which is very similar to those of the Maori people in New Zealand. In New Zealand, the initiative is to change the way teachers teach students with the focus being on the Maori students. This was a 5 year plan and it has just come a close this year. The results are amazing. Not only for Maori students, but for all students regardless of race or ethnicity. By focusing on the Maori students, New Zealand schools have changed the way teachers react and interact with students by focusing first on the student and his/her needs, and secondly on the curriculum. Don’t get me wrong, these teachers still expect students to perform and achieve standards, but rather than striving for the final goal of mastering a subject or concept, there are frequent check points, allowing the student to develop a proper knowledge base before continuing to the next item. Rather than having the teacher focus on the class as a whole for the majority of the time, the concepts are given to the class and then the students are divided into groups or given individual instruction to achieve understanding. There is constant feedback and support given to students to give them the extra assurance. I have included a link below to some information regarding the Maori initiative.
Something that really stuck out to me was “Don’t just think that all students can learn. Believe it.” By focusing on the minority students and making them feel accepted, culture and all, we can make a difference in the lives of these children. These children see teachers as the main support in educational accomplishment; not family or community support; not the educational structures; but the teachers. So give yourself a pat on the shoulder and make a difference in the life of a child by focusing on them as children, rather than the “unfortunate” ones who have been born and raised in hardship. They are all children with the same wonder and curiosity. They need us, let’s make a difference.