John’s story - Agentic positioning
Comments are provided by a Mathematics teacher, his Māori students and Russell Bishop about agentic positioning in which teachers believe they have the power to make a difference for Māori students. This includes comments about:
- identifying and challenging our existing beliefs about Māori students
- embracing the opportunity to effect change through our interactions with Māori students
- teachers believing they can, and knowing how to, make a difference
- the importance of relationship building in the classroom
- building self-belief in Māori students.
“Te Kotahitanga removes all of the so-called stereotypes that you have in your head, which you may not know that you have in your head. ...we have to remove those because they actually get in the way...”. (Teacher)
“I spend a lot of time convincing them that they are actually quite smart, the only person that doesn’t know that, in that room, is actually them themselves.” (Teacher)
“The big shift that we have found within the project is teachers moving towards what we term a more ‘agentic position’. That is one where teachers have more agency. In other words, more freedom to act. So teachers are now saying, what I can do something about is my relationship and the way I interact with Māori children in the classroom.” (Russell Bishop)
“….know that you can go places in life, you can go to university and get a degree knowing that you are capable of doing that, you are capable of doing good things, instead of just lounging around at home all day.” (Student)
Things to think about:
Question focus – Those new to Te Kotahitanga:
- What, in this story, is new to you? What questions does it raise for you?
- John talks about stereotypes that can get in the way of supporting Māori student achievement. What sense do you make of this?
- How do you/might you work to build self-belief in Māori students?
Question focus – Participants in the Te Kotahitanga Professional Development Programme:
- In what ways do/might you reflect about your agency outside of the facilitated observation cycle?
- John talks about Te Kotahitanga challenging the stereotypes surrounding Māori students. To what extent would you agree with him?
- In this story, John demonstrates how teachers can ‘positively reject deficit theorising’. What examples of this do you recognise? What questions would you ask John about this fundamental component of the Effective Teaching Profile?
Question focus – In-school Facilitators and Senior Leadership Team Members:
- How might the senior leadership team address ‘deficit theorising’ within the school and work to develop a school wide shared understanding of this fundamental aspect of Te Kotahitanga?
- This story emphasises the powerful notion of teacher self-efficacy; that is, teachers believing they can make a difference and believing that they have the freedom to take action. In what ways do you encourage self- belief and self efficacy throughout the school?
- How do you understand ‘agency’ within your role as a senior leader and/or facilitator?
John Schwartfeger (Teacher): “Te Kotahitanga removes all of the so called stereotypes that you have in your head which you may not know that you have in your head. You know, um. I think we could probably list, probably quite quickly, as many as there are for Māori or for male, female whatever. And we have to remove those because they actually get in the way. And that is where Te Kotahitanga actually challenges you with those.”
Student: “Some of the teachers just think we are just there to play around and that. You know, like to mess up their day, or make their lives crap.”
John: “My philosophy, my belief is that all students are clever, and all we have to do is show them how clever they are.”
Student: “I do like to learn even though we are noisy ...and that.”
Student: “I reckon everybody could be as clever as they want to. The attitude with the teachers towards the student has a lot to do with it.”
John: “I spend a lot of time convincing them that they are actually quite smart. The only person that doesn't know that in that room is actually them themselves.”
Professor Russell Bishop (Project Director): “The big shift that we’ve found within the project is teachers moving towards what we could term a more agentic position; that is, one where teachers have more agency, in other words more freedom to act. So, teachers are now saying what I can do something about is my relationship and the way I interact with Māori children in the classrooms.”
Bruce Walker (Facilitator): “It’s getting away from saying, ‘Those kids can never learn,’ to, ‘You are a teacher, you can effect change through your teaching.’”
John: “You get very few that come in with a belief that they can do mathematics. And so you have to spend a bit of time breaking that down, breaking those preconceived ideas. Which is actually not their own. They've actually inherited those from someone else. Someone has had to plant them in there.”
Student: “I'm learning a lot of new things, eh. Like in maths at the start of the year I was real poor in it, but now I've kind of improved heaps.”
John: “Initially the average for the class was around the 750 mark, which actually puts them according to Year 9 on Asttle slightly below the average. Now since then they’ve actually progressed through and they are sitting around the 850 as an average. What actually occurred there was they didn't know that they were actually that good.”
Student: “You can get, know that you are going to get places in life, like ...you know go to university and get a degree. You know that you are capable of doing that, and like capable of doing good things, instead of just lounging around at home all day.”