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Keynote: Shay Wright - Building actively engaged citizens - global thinkers, local shakers

Shay Wright 6

Shay Wright - Te Rarawa, Ngā Ruahine, Ngāti Ruanui 

Blogger: Anahera McGregor


It is indeed a blessing to be here at uLearn19. To come and drink from the well of inspiration. To pause, to consider, to reflect on what is and what was, and to explore new ideas for how we could best flourish in our spaces of educational influence. Our tagline for this year’s conference invites us to ‘Pohewatia te āpōpō’, to reimagine learning. Our exploration of this began with our opening keynote speaker, Shay Wright.


Shay stepped onto the stage, wrapped in a beautiful kākahu, with poise and determination to share insights of what Kirirarautanga/Citizenship is in Aotearoa and across the globe. The whakatauākī ‘Titiro whakamuri, kia anga whakamua’, literally translates to ‘Look to the past to move to future’. Citizenship is the evolving story of who we are becoming, informed by where we have come from.  As citizens of Aotearoa, what do we know of our past? Which historical moments have influenced our understanding of what it might mean to belong here? Understanding citizenship, means considering the past and weaving it into our current reality. To really get us thinking, Shay presented the 1,000 educators attending uLearn with a snapshot of our “humble nation’s backstory”. We considered the New Zealand Wars, participation in the World Wars, systematic colonisation, assimilation, population decline through illnesses and a wide range of historical events that have shaped us.


Shay Wright 2These thoughts are particularly pertinent as we either mourn or celebrate 250 years of New Zealand determining what citizenship here means culturally. A brief history of New Zealand captured in one slide gave voice to stories that need to be told, “The great korowai that capes the shoulders of New Zealand”. We were also reminded that  “looking back can be confronting, forcing us to confront things that weren’t that nice, but our struggles highlight the things that bring us together”. Shay challenged the audience to recognise that “as educators, it is [we] who control the narratives we share with our tamariki”.

He encouraged us all to share our narratives so that are inspired to take action to be better citizens here in Aotearoa, and to consider our contributions as citizens of the world. Is the world, however, ready to receive our attempts to be good global citizens? Some of the  discourse that followed Greta Thunberg’s incredibly compelling and passionate speech to the United Nations was negative and extreme. What motivates such reactions? The images and captions shared during the Shay’s keynote of the responses from media ‘personalities’, and global figures here in Aotearoa and overseas made us wonder if we’ll ever ‘get there’. If we encourage students to stand up for what they believe, to share their unique perspectives and consider their responsibilities and contributions to the world as global citizens, can we also prepare them for the responses of others? Are we enablers or disablers? Shay asked “How can we make sure that children have a platform?” He encouraged us to value the voice of our children, and stated that this is where we as educators can play on the curiosity of young people. Drawing on Sir Mason Durie’s quote, “prepare people to actively participate as citizens of the world”, we were inspired to examine ways that we can potentially support this to occur and to take action to better our collective voice. 

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In a nutshell, the message that reverberated throughout the uLearn was to be “global thinkers and local shakers”. To consider what we can do locally, ever mindful of the wider impact that our local shaking could have on the world. There are no boundaries, and potential is limitless. The equation was simple – feelings and actions equal citizenship. Feelings shape our actions, and how we act demonstrates our contributions as citizens.  Citizenship is as much personal as collective. Central to all, is the message to be good citizens, throughout whatever cultural lens we view the world. 


CrowdWe are communities, we are states and we are nations. We are kaitiaki (guardian) citizens over the places and community values we share. Citizenship and belonging is the common unifier that brings us together to share as one. We can now go beyond borders to collectively address world issues seeking global responses to global and local challenges. In the 21st century we are more digitally connected than ever. But as Shay pointed out, this also means that disconnection from real human connection could be the biggest plague challenging us all. Balance and solutions are continually being explored as we all seek to find our place as global citizens and local shakers of the world. Think globally, act locally. 

The more we unlock the critical thinkers, the more learning comes to life. Kaiako, teachers, leaders and educators, what are we doing to unlock critical thinking in the lives and minds of our students? Shay maintains that “we can, in our daily practices, make our education system anew – to prepare our children for what is a rapidly changing world”.

To give you a taste of what people were thinking as Shay spoke, here’s a selection of tweets from the conference participants. The twitter feed was going off, that’s for sure!


@KellyMattock I ahu mai au i hea? Where do I come from? Citizenship = feelings + actions. History continues to shape our present and our citizenship today and what it means to move into the future. Fabulous keynote speaker to kick off the next three days #uLearn19

@msmams Start with knowing and appreciating our local stories

@SimonJMar Shay Wright delivered an interesting Keynote at #uLearn19 this morning, discussing citizenship and ‘developing global thinkers and local shakers’. Citizenship is a very values driven concept. Whose values are we teaching when we consider this concept?

@maurieabraham Shay Wright answered the question re how young people would change school system in his kōrero about authentic PBL

@Charlottedj Shay Wright kicking off #uLearn19 - woke me up from my holiday and got me thinking

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@schottchrisNZ Excellent and thought-provoking keynote about global citizenship with distinctive Aotearoa flavour by Shay Wright of @tewharehukahuka. What a powerful #socialenterprise.

For more reflections on Shay's keynote see Shay Wright Keynote and Google doc in edSpace.

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CORE Education

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