top of page

Ricardo Fox - 8201 - Culturally Responsive Practice


Culturally Responsive Practices informing New Zealand Education practice in an increasingly culturally diverse world.





Culturally responsive practice seems to be the buzz word in current New Zealand education. It is my Kahui Ako (Community of Schools) central focus for professional learning over the next three years. Culturally responsive practice is summarised by Slee (2010) as an approach that prepares educators to work with culturally, ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse students. In this critique I will explore culturally responsive practices informing New Zealand Education practice in an increasingly culturally diverse world by focusing on New Zealand's current climate in cultural responsiveness, trends in immigration, global practice in an increasingly diverse world, and conclude with how culturally responsive practice could inform practice through some of the opportunities and challenges it would face.


Local Educational Context


According to Orange (2019) New Zealand’s foundation document Te Tiriti o Waitangi has been debated over both the English and Maori versions of the Treaty. Despite there being difference in the languages there is just one Treaty. The English version outlines that the colonists were to protect Māori interests from colonial settlements, allow for New Zealand to be be colonised with foreign settlement and the establishment of a New Zealand government overseen by the English Monarchy. The Māori version outlined that the English Monarchy would establish a government while giving Maori autonomy and ownership of their land. Legal preference is given to the Maori document according to Orange (2013)


New Zealand early childhood centres use Te Whāriki (2017) as the basis of their teaching and learning. The central part of this document is the affirmation of the treaty of waitangi as Māori, as the Tangata Whenua (people of the land) and solidifies the importance of self, community and culture for every learner. Essentially they promote that each learner is different, with cultural blessings and with inherent capabilities.


In New Zealand Primary Schools there is the national curriculum that underpins local school community curriculum. This document has cultural diversity as one of its eight key principles. Each individualised school curriculum should entail culturally responsiveness that includes strategic plans for the use of Tataiako - competencies for teachers of Māori students and Tapasā - effective teaching for teachers of pasifika students. “Both Tapasā and Tātaiako are designed to support culturally responsive practice beneficial to all learners. (MOE, 2019)”.


Through a bicultural lens we are now 250 years on since the first interaction between colonial Europeans and native Maori. Since this first interaction we have seen a growth in multicuralism in our country while trying to grapple with bicultural teacher practice. Racist educational acts and bills such as the Native Schools Act (1867) began the hard line approach to assimilation for Maori. This act included the corporal punishment for learners speaking Te Reo Maori in class. My Grandfather's stories were littered with his contempt of the education he recieved in the 1930’s and 1940’s and the punishment he received for this “insolence”of speaking Te Reo Maori. Orange (2019) notes that this part of the act was widely accepted by Maori communities. It is surprising that it took 238 years for the New Zealand Government and Education System to implement an approach to cultural responsiveness for Maori through Ka Hikitia (2007).


The Growing Trend

While biculturalism is an essential part of New Zealand there is an increasing pattern of wider immigration globally. This immigration requires further development of cultural responsiveness for not just Maori and Pasifika learners. The Education Review Office (ERO’s) (2018) diversity report identified that schools in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, had an increase in foreign learners and an increase in the diversity of these learners with a 100 ethnicities and more than 150 languages spoken. The report identified key indicators between schools that had culturally responsive practices and those that did not. Schools that were highly effective:


  • acknowledged the learners’ home languages

  • developed relationships with learners, parents and communities

  • celebrated cultural events

  • had some pedagogical knowledge about teaching English as a second language

  • observed learners to inform teacher judgements.

(ERO, 2018)


In schools that were not culturally responsive the main concern was a lack of strategic planning for success and the omission of cultures from the school curriculum. Learners were just expected to fit into a ‘one size fits all’ model.


Cultural responsiveness in my own context is important due to the increasing nature of new cultures emerging in the community. The key performance indicators management are working on with based on Ministry guidelines are:


  • the charter incorporates all  cultures within the school community.

  • The charter celebrates diversity

  • teachers implicitly understand individual student cultures.

  • teachers provide opportunities for learners to lead learning with their culture and allow for learning about cultures in their classroom.

  • students’ culture is visible in the learning environment


A major challenge to Culturally Responsive Practice in New Zealand is the country having one of the least equal education systems in the world. The media is littered with reports on New Zealand’s institutionalised racism in education. UNICEF’s annual Innocenti Report (2018) ranked New Zealand 33rd out of 38 countries in educational equality. UNICEF commissioned New Zealand-specific research to sit alongside the report to find out more details about our inequity and found that racism and unconscious bias in school were factors that added to inequality. The report also noted that students did not feel a sense of not belonging. Bolton (2017) reported that instant action is required by policy makers and schools to engage with culturally responsive practices to minimise the risk of significant future numbers of New Zealanders not making it through school and into the workforce. Deficit mindsets of educators must change. In my own education and career it is horrifying the deficit and judgements placed on learners, peers and families by staff and leaders. The sad thing is that most of the time these people do not realise they do it. While majority of comments come from the white middle and upper class they also come sometimes by minority cultures putting down their own culture.


Global Educational Context


Byrd (2016) sees the influence of teachers implementing Culturally Responsive Practice in an increasingly culturally diverse world as having a significant impact on learner achievement and engagement. This influence is supported by Collins & Friesen (2011) who used Auckland as the basis for there literature into making the most of diversity. Being a relatively young country we are seeing an ever increasing migrating population landing at our international airports yearly on work visas. An immigration statistics report (2018) on work visa arrivals, is as follows


  • 2014/15 - 166,685 foreign nationals entered NZ

  • 2015/16 - 183,856 foreign nationals entered NZ

  • 2016/17 - 210,372 foreign nationals entered NZ

  • 2017/18 - 223,482 foreign nationals entered NZ


Since 2008 New Zealand Immigration has issued  1,701,619 work visas. These immigrants, according to Census (2013) data, are increasing New Zealand’s multilingual and ethnicity statistics.


Immigration New Zealand’s (2019) subnational ethnic population report made projections of New Zealand's ethnic population growth using the 2013 Census as the baseline running up until the year 2038. It underpins our place in an increasingly culturally diverse world. The report highlights that in 2038, one in three Aucklanders will identify with being Asian, 18% per cent will identify as Pacific Island and those that identify as European or Other will decrease  by 16%. Across New Zealand figures have been projected as those identifying as Maori 20%, Asian 21%, Pacific 11%, European or Other 66%.


With this changing shape of languages and ethnicity culturally responsive practice will require quality understanding and quality teaching. Alton-Lee (2003) identified that the quality of teaching is the key factor in quality outcomes for learners. The evidence shows that there is a 59% discrepancy for student performance attributed to different educators and the students learning environment. The influences of quality culturally responsive practice in an increasingly culturally diverse world is paramount for learners.


Unesco (2006) adds over aching goals to ERO’s (2018) Auckland findings and reinvigorates and outlines the importance and influence that culturally responsive practice is having globally. Key priorities from the report were that educators needed to prepare students to live together and that educators foster:


  • Mutual respect for cultural identity of the learner and being responsive to all learners.

  • Intercultural and multicultural learning opportunities to provide cultural knowledge.

  • Shape attitudes and develop skills to be active participatory global citizens.

  • Intercultural mana for learners to be proud of who they are.


Common themes from Woodley, Hernandez, Parra & Negash (2017) and Collins & Friesen (2011) are that teacher practice is of central importance within a school curricula and that culturally responsive practice can not be a stand alone entity and that it is just as important as English and Maths. With the advancement of technology Hughes (2017) believes that technology will invade everyday life. This means that culture will transcend colour, race, religion and creed. With the popularity of social media, learners are establishing their own cultures. This is not dissimilar to the punk culture of the 60’s, the hippy culture of the 70’s, the glam culture of the 80’s or my hip hop culture as a learner in the 90’s. Today's learners have unlimited access to peers and culture across the globe in a matter of seconds thanks to global connectivity. This suggests that the influence of diversity requires culturally responsive teachers to be connected and locked on to the interests of their learners and the “sub culture” they immerse themselves in. Making that connection is just as important as their natural culture. If adult individual learners can recall their days of their own social group they often had a language of their own aslo.


The same challenges for Culturally Responsive Practice globally also mirrors New Zealand. The evidence from UNICEF’s annual Innocenti Report from an international perspective is daming. In first world countries some learners do worse than their peers because of their ethnicity and language they speak. world’s richest countries, some children do worse at school than others because of circumstances beyond their control, such as where they were born, the language they speak or their parents’ occupations. These children enter the education system at a disadvantage and can drop further behind if educational policies and practices reinforce, rather than reduce, the gap between them and their peers.” The 2016 report on unconscious bias and education that was a comparative study of Māori and African American students by Blank, Houkamau & Kingi (2016) also supports the disparity of cultures and highlights the racism that exists in New Zealand Schools. Key findings were:


  • Implicit biases determine human behaviour and determine social and cultural relationships.

  • Both cultures show a strong and consistent pattern of disadvantage.

  • Barriers to achievement stem from negative stereotypes attached to these cultures as a social group.

  • Social and learning deficits based on culture begin before children start school. The deficit in childhood severely affects outcomes as an adult.




Culturally Responsive Practice should and could inform learning to better meet the needs of diverse learners in contemporary education contexts and practice.


Culturally Responsive Equity - with the democratisation of knowledge through technology, Sykes (2019) sees an opportunity for Maori to be independent of a bicultural partnership and truly seek identity as Maori learning as Maori in a global classroom. This meets the needs of not only Maori but other marginalised, colonised and misrepresented cultures struggling with biculturally oppressed power structures. There is an equity issue in achieving this outcome and it is based on the learner having the ability to access a technological device and a reliable connection to engage with the global community and access the knowledge bank that exists on the internet.


Culturally Responsive Governance - School boards of trustees elections are represented by various cultures within the school and elected boards of trustees have an opportunity to develop school charters that seek representation from all the cultures of their school community. Teachers know explicitly what the aims of the charter aim and can connect the strategic plan to classroom action. With these charters there are clear expectations for celebration of diversity. This opportunity allows for learners to feel culturally safe within the school (Byrd, 2016). The challenge that exists is creating a pathway and culture of inclusiveness to make a variety of cultures feel welcomed in the school and to build relationships and confidence in these community members to put there names forward for a place on this board and the possibility not making it onto a board.


Culturally Responsive Relationships - Educators need to improve relationships and connect with learners and parents and understand the uniqueness of culture. Alton-Lee (2006) sees this as one of the most important relationships and is evidenced as being a key indicator of positive success. The challenge to this is teachers implicit bias towards parents and learners.


Culturally Responsive Teacher Mindset - Accountability must be on the adults in a learning partnership. Blank, Houkamau & Kingi (2016) teachers need to understand their implicit bias and that they influence all outcomes for learners. Their mindsets determine positive outcomes. It is their responsibility to use the basis of Ka Hikitia and the research of such contemporary leaders, such as Russell Bishop an Angus Macfarlane, to avoid deficit attitudes and barriers to learning, and demonstrate care by manifesting respect, compassion, understanding the worldview. The challenge that this faces is that teachers must be open to this conversation and that it is about improvement and not a critical attack.




I have critically reflected on the opportunities and implications of cultural diversity in education and in my own critique of my own practice I can not escape the feeling that this is just the new buzz word for equity for all. Therefore, if this is another form of equity, how do we actually make a difference for all learners at the proverbial “coal face” rather than continue to frame up equity under different buzz words? I believe cultural diversity is important and the evidence and evaluations in this essay support this importance but it is not without some significant challenges in a wider school context. There are provisions for change, adaptation and improvement for cultural responsiveness in schools and educator practice but there is no practical form of implementation and only pockets of some success - a gap in literature.






Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). Wellington: Education Counts.


Blank, A., Houkamau, C., & Kingi, H. (2016). Unconscious bias and education A comparative study of Māori and African American students. Oranui, 1, 3-54.


Bolton, S. (2017). Educational Equity in New Zealand: Successes, Challenges and Opportunities. Wellington: Fullbright New Zealand.


Byrd, C. (2016). Does Culturally Relevant Teaching Work? An Examination From Student Perspectives. SAGE Open, 6(3), 215824401666074. doi: 10.1177/2158244016660744


Collins, F., & Friesen, W. (2011). Making the Most of Diversity? The Intercultural City Project and a Rescaled Version of Diversity in Auckland, New Zealand. Urban Studies, 48(14), 3067-3085. doi: 10.1177/0042098010394686


Culturally Responsive Pedagogy | Education Counts. (2019). Retrieved from


EDUCATION REVIEW OFFICE. (2018). Responding to Language Diversity in Auckland (pp. 5-64). Wellington: New Zealand Governmant. Retrieved from


Encyclopedia, N. (2019). Maori Education. Retrieved from

Immigration New Zealand. (2019). New Zealand Statistics - Immigration Arrivals (pp. 1-11). Wellington: New Zealand Government.


Hughes, B. (2019). How Technology Is Rapidly Changing the Way Things Get Done Across Industries. Retrieved from


Ministry of Education. (2019). Tapasā. Wellington: New Zealand Government.


Ministry of Education. (2019). The New Zealand Curriculum (pp. 3-8). Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education, New Zealand. (2019). Te Whāriki [Ebook]. Wellington. Retrieved from


NEW ZEALAND IMMIGRATION. (2018). Subnational ethnic population projections (p. 1).



Orange, C. (2019). The Treat of Waitangi. In The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1st ed.). Wellington: New Zealand Government.


Slee, J. (2010). A Systemic Approach to Culturally Responsive Assessment Practices and Evaluation. Higher Education Quarterly, 64(3), 246-260. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2273.2010.00464.x


Statistics New Zealand. (2013). 2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.


UNESCO. (2006). UNESCO’s Guidelines on Intercultural Education [Ebook] (pp. 119-122). Geneva. Retrieved from



Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J., & Negash, B. (2017). Celebrating Difference: Best Practices in Culturally Responsive Teaching Online. Techtrends, 61(5), 470-478. doi: 10.1007/s11528-017-0207-z

bottom of page