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Ann Milne Keynote: Colouring in the White Spaces

Colouring in the White Spaces - Ann Milne PhD. Blog post by Aiono Manu Faaea-Semeatu


Anne Milne

“We know that schooling has been complicit in perpetuating white spaces in our learning contexts.  My role in Kia Aroha College has been on two major levels:

  1. Professional level as a Pākeha educator, retired principal and still as an active whānau member of the kura.  I am a serial disrupter - poking large holes in our white system.
  2. Personal level as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother - whose own schooling journeys have eventuated in the product that we continue to serve up as our Māori whānau.

People have said that we need time to allow things to change.

I have no patience with how much time is needed to change.  

We have had nothing but time. We keep replicating the status quo.  

My professional self in implicating the status quo - is not lost on me and it is a truth that I live with”.


These were the explosive opening statements made by Dr. Ann Milne in CORE Education Tātai Aho Rau’s final keynote for #ulearn17.  I must say that as a blogger in my own contexts, I have not been more excited to blog about a topic, than having the privilege to do so about “colouring in the white spaces”.


Ann talked about being invited to keynote at ULearn in the community strand. Her understanding of communities of learning differs to that of the now accepted Ministry of Education definition of communities of learning.  The clever weaving through of a documentary about Kia Aroha College threaded itself seamlessly in the presentation.


I couldn’t help but feel that the haka in the first film segment set the symbolic tone for the challenges that Māori face.  Four segments of the documentary were shown.  What struck me in the first snippet was the range of comments from all of the stakeholders in the Kia Aroha College whānau - ranging from kaiako, tamariki to the tumuaki.  Some key statements that stuck out for me:

  • The NZ Education system is world class - but I question why we still have the question of underachievement? (former student)

  • It works for some children but not all children - 20% of children are underachieving.  The Māori have endured system disenchantment,  Schools were used to forced Māori to assimilate.  

  • Schools were designed to “smoothe the pillow of a dying race”.  

  • What are the messages from society, media and our school?

  • We experience hegemony, but are not really conscious that it’s there.


The 1970s renaissance sparked the renewal of indigenous aspirations for Māori.  After generations of low outcomes and low expectations - the oppression of Māori, seen as an inferior people has perpetuated.  The prejudice has not gone away.


What are the White Spaces?

The lines on the page in a colouring book dictate where the colours are meant to go.  As the children age, they are taught how to colour in the white spaces by colouring within the lines.  The white background is the norm.  When we talk about multiculturalism and diversity - we talk about the colours of the spaces that don’t change.  We relegate them to the margins.  Dr. Ann Milne stated unequivocally that Kia Aroha College has tried to change the colour of the space so that our children don’t need to.  We have been quiet about white spaces in our mainstream society.  The white spaces are prevalent in the education system we serve in as outlined by (Penetito 2010, p. 245).  Deliberate policies that continue to establish the education system’s hegemony over Māori:  “Europeanisation, civilisations, amalgamation, assimilation, integrating and today mainstreaming”.  


Anne Milne opening

Identity - who we think we are, who people think we are

The second film segment focused on the opinions of Kia Aroha College whānau about their perceptions of the effects that the hegemonic education system has brought about:

  • Normal to have poor health, housing, not succeed in school.  Even for myself growing up as a Tongan brown girl brought up in Otara.  This what we are taught.  

  • Your identity is formed by other people’s perceptions.  If you don’t understand social injustice - then we will keep living the same cycle.  We need to look at how society has kept people in these places.  It’s not talked about in schools.  That’s why I think I was lucky.


As Māori”

Dr. Milne challenged educators to consider that there is a huge gap in our knowledge, and that the real space that our professional learning needs to target - are those to do with identity and culturally sustaining pedagogy - not literacy or numeracy outcomes.

The revelation of the majority of ethnic teachers in front of Māori learners can be summarised as:

  • 73% of all teachers are white (10% are Māori)

  • 80% of school management and leadership positions are head by white administrators

  • 73% of all teachers are female


Dr. Ann Milne shared about the opportunities her students have shared their learning and experiences as Māori learners in research conferences.  Their first one was at the New Zealand Association for Research Education in Whakatane, November with workshop “Speaking out “as” Us: Māori and Pasifika secondary students investigate our education system’s vision for their learning”.


The students are set to do a follow up research presentation, but this time on the topic of communities of learning, with specific reference to student analysis of endorsed achievement challenges across Aotearoa. The symposium presentation is entitled - “Beyond Māori Boys’ Reading and Writing - Reading and Writing our World”.  The presentation is informed by which endorsed achievement challenges were targeted on Māori and Pasifika reading and writing, culturally responsive pedagogies, “as” Māori.  Dr. Milne argues that It is the absolute right of Māori and Pasifika to have government education policy documents realised. This is the promise of COL. A current NZPF survey doesn’t see the model serving local communities or reflecting their needs.


 Action continuum

Initial student researcher questions following the analysis of the endorsed achievement challenges:

  1. We know we are not dumber than Pākeha, so how come they don’t know how to teach us?
  2. You would think they would ask WHY  they are achieving these results - or do they think it’s our fault?
  3. Why is Level 2 the goals? Are Pākehā whānau happy with that goal?
  4. Isn’t this just racism?

Insight into curriculum at Kia Aroha College - can you do this in your context?

The curriculum focuses on connecting the lived reality of the learners, so the curriculum is built on the learning needs of the students first - what they need to know about themselves in order to speak up for themselves and know who they are in the world.  The school has been effective at ensuring that every aspect of the school day needs to be everywhere “As Māori” - not timetabled.  The students are able to question how relevant is their learning, what is being taught and if they can see themselves in there.  Whose knowledge matters? If teachers took away these assessment measures - what is left? Not much.

Teaching kids in poverty to ‘play the game’ is not enough. The Kia Aroha College curriculum focuses on key factors that focus on students being able to develop their own vernacular in the discourse. The students learn about:

  • Assimilation

  • Policy analysis

  • Colonisation

  • Racism

  • Culture

  • Poverty

  • Māori History

  • Justice

  • Community

  • Whose Knowledge?


What we know about whānau

In the third segment of the film, the following statements were captured from kaiako, tamariki and tumuaki:

  • To be successful you are told to suppress your culture.

  • I learned so much history about my own culture that I didn’t know.

  • Being Māori is a precursor to be powerful.

  • Everything about that is about being Māori first.

  • The main function of whānau - procreation and pre-colonial

  • Children bring a whole heaps of skills, talent, knowledge just because they are born Māori.

  • There are so many ways we can include Māori ways of knowing in the academic space.  Why can’t it be just as rigorous as Shakespeare.

  • We’re changing the space so that kids don’t have to keep adjusting.


How does Kia Aroha College whānau work?

The final segment of the film showed how the tumuaki, kaiako and tamariki worked together as a whānau:

“We set up and organise our school differently with an Integrated curriculum. We use collaborative knowledge where older and younger students work together. There is an expectation that people are going to achieve and we create those spaces that work in the way that our kids learn best. We are now able to show with statistics - once kids are confident in who they are - that their reading, writing and Maths also improves. We want them to go into their world as confident and comfortable. One student stated - we think universally but still have a strong hold on your own culture because we are academically strong and culturally strong.”


Effective pedagogy


Key components of culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP):

  • Raises fundamental questions about the purpose of schooling in changing societies

  • Proposes that schooling should be a site for sustaining the cultural practices of communities of colour, rather than eradicating them

  • Does not believer that we should work purely to close an achievement gap

  • Refuses to compare the ‘success’ students based on their cultural background

Dr. Ann Milne argues that teacher pedagogy cannot be culturally sustaining - if it’s not CRITICAL. Kia Aroha College focused on three goals to create their culturally sustaining pedagogy.  These would be useful to apply to your own learning context:

  • Empowered cultural identity
  • Academic achievement
  • Action for social change (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2008)

Dr. Ann Milne pressed home the point that what we think we teach - and what young people actually learn - the whitestream “hidden” curriculum is always present and very powerful. We need to keep breaking free - changing the transcript and developing counter-stories.


Ann Milne illustration 1 

  Anne Milne illustration 2


Takeaway Challenge Questions:

  • Are you going to do whatever it takes - to colour all the white spaces in your learning context?

  • Who is going to argue for our Māori learners if we don’t?  

  • How will culturally sustaining pedagogy become a priority in your learning context?

Tessa Gray

Tessa Gray

Ko Tessa Gray toku ingoa, edSpace online facilitator. Passionate about growing thriving online communities. Based in the sunny Bay of Plenty.
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