Implementing a bi-cultural pedagogy

bi-cultural pedagogy

In Aotearoa (New Zealand) we are lucky to be living in a land that is home to a multitude of different cultures. The unique blend of Māori, Pacific Island, European and Asian cultures provide an opportunity to broaden our perspectives and deepen our thinking about the world and ourselves. Part of belonging to this multicultural landscape is remembering the importance of upholding the values and beliefs of the Māori people who have laid the foundations for our country and whose own culture has often been lost in the shuffle of our day to day lives.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi or the Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty) was signed in 1840 between representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs from the North Island in order to minimise the loss of Māori culture. The Treaty represents an agreement for the citizens of New Zealand to uphold Māori rights and interests under the principles of partnership, protection and participation. With New Zealanders coming from many different backgrounds, the significance of Te Tiriti O Waitangi is often not fully realised and people may find it difficult to put into action.

The teaching pedagogy at Bear Park is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, which weaves naturally and fluidly with a Treaty-based pedagogy based on the principles of partnership, protection and participation.

With the formulation of Te Whāriki (New Zealand’s Early childhood curriculum), there has been a momentous upheaval in the way early childhood educators are taking responsibility upon themselves to protect the interests of Māori through their teaching practice. It is only through a bi-cultural pedagogy that we are able to live Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840). This is a view that is supported throughout Te Whāriki, emphasising that all tamariki (children) should be provided opportunities to develop an understanding of the heritage of both partners within the Treaty (Ministry of Education, 1996).

It is only through a bicultural pedagogy that we are able to live Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840).

The teaching pedagogy at Bear Park is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, which weaves naturally and fluidly into a Treaty-based pedagogy founded on the principles of partnership, protection and participation. Amongst our centres, Bear Park Mairangi Bay has adopted many ways to promote a Treaty-based pedagogy and shares this journey below.


The concept of partnership refers to the relationship between Māori and non-Māori people living within New Zealand. Three of the most important general attributes of effective partnership in an educational setting include:

  1. Recognising the knowledge and capabilities of each partner within the Treaty,
  2. Working together to define what culture means to each partner in culturally competent ways, and
  3. Learning from one another and adjusting behaviours accordingly (Ritchie & Rau, 2008, p.1).

Children have shown better outcomes when their language, identity and culture are acknowledged and when productive partnerships are created by the “sharing of power between Māori learners, whānau (family), iwi (tribe or extended family) and educators” (Education Review Office, 2016). Ultimately, partnership allows the educational goals of both Treaty partners to be recognised and attained.

cultural celebration at Bear Park childcare

We strive to authentically uphold partnerships every day in our classrooms. Teachers make the effort to form personal bonds with family in order to support the hauora (wellbeing) of tamariki as a whole. We authentically form these relationships through parent and teacher collaboration meetings—inviting parents to share their expertise within our curriculum—daily discussions and shared cultural celebrations.

The parent is viewed as an essential component to the child’s learning, upholding the belief that “children do not come by themselves but bring with them an ‘invisible rōpū’ (a group of people) who is always with them. We need to recognise this rōpū in everything we do with children” (Te Whatu Pōkeka Kaupapa Māori Learning and Assessment Exemplar, p.4).


The principle of protection refers to actively protecting the interests of tamariki Māori” (Waldon, 2013, pg 44). Part of this protection involves ensuring the survival of Te Reo Māori for future generations and protecting the land of Aotearoa itself.

Learning Te Reo, bi-cultural pedagogy

Te Reo Māori is something we naturally weave throughout our days in the Moa Room. The children relish in waiata (songs), karakia (prayer) and the storytelling of Māori myths and legends. We strive to explore Māori values with the children on a deeper level. The words maanakitanga (respect), mōhiotanga (knowledge) and ako (reciprocal teaching and learning) are just a few concepts that the children have become greatly aware of. It is inspiring to witness an honest and true understanding of these values by the children, often demonstrated in the way these words are naturally weaved into their conversations.

Additionally, the children have formed a powerful affinity for Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) and taken upon themselves to uphold their responsibility as guardians over the environment, expressing this connection through kaitiakitanga (protecting and guarding the land). Through the emphasis of kaitiakitanga, the children have gained a deeper meaning of Papatūānuku and the part they play in nurturing it—not only for their own future but for the generations that follow.


Lastly, the principle of participation implies Māori to “participate in all aspects of education and schooling” (Jahnke & Warren). The Māori perspective sees the child as surrounded by those that have passed on and by whānau that guides them on a daily basis. From these guardians, they have developed their own unique ways of being and enhancing the world. Children’s abilities to grow and learn about their environment and the wider world in their own time and at their own pace are accepted unconditionally. These personal traits enhance a child’s rangatiratanga (distinctive strengths and self-determination).

Children’s abilities to grow and learn about their environment and the wider world in their own time and at their own pace are accepted unconditionally.

In the Moa Room, children regularly share mōhiotanga or knowledge about themselves with their peers. It places them in the role of kaiako (teacher), by educating their friends and teachers more deeply about what makes their self-identity. Children are therefore able to participate in their own curriculum and have the power to choose what taonga (treasure) they wish to bring to class to share.

Ultimately, there is still a long way to go for the rights of all children growing up in Aotearoa to experience a bicultural pedagogy. However, with a deeper understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its underlying beliefs and meanings, we will soon be one step closer to making this a reality. Early childhood educators have been working hard teaching pedagogy that will see children of all cultures working in partnership with Māori, to protect the languages, values and beliefs of their culture, and also the many other cultures of our land.

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