A reflection on ‘Mid-Year Intensive’ by Hannah Betts

Voices - 17 July 2017

This year, with a focus on Te Ao Pasifika, the Mid-Year Intensive (MYI) was a time to talanoa with people who nurture the va between tangata whenua and tagata o le moana in education.

Mid-Year Intensive (MYI) is our four-day residential training weekend which takes place halfway through a participant’s first and second year on the Teach First NZ programme. It builds upon what participants learn during their Summer Initial Intensive (SII) and termly clinics/ workshops. The focus of MYI is on building cohort whanaungatanga, leadership development and cultural responsiveness. These are Hannah Betts, a participant in our 2016 Cohort, reflections on the weekend.

While Saturday was technically the first day of the July school holidays, Mid-Year Intensive (MYI) had only just begun. Just past midday, Teach First participants, staff, alumni and prospective participants were gathered in the MIT Pasifika Community Centre, waiting for our second speaker to start.

I spent this time looking around the room: Here’s what I saw. Can you guess which felt out of place?

5 television screens;
2 large speakers;
19 lights, each a large square set into the ceiling, spread periodically through the;
732 ceiling tiles (yes I counted them). I wondered how long until we start, but it took me a while to find the;
1 singular clock.

Yes, there it was. I smiled: It’s kind of fitting that the only circular object in the room was time.

Why on Earth was I counting ceiling tiles and speakers? Recently, I have heard a lot of kōrero ahout  ‘White Spaces’. When we enter a space, the physical environment determines what we expect, how we behave, and what format the events will follow. In Western society, squares and straight lines are the backdrop for working and learning. A book, a room, a classroom desk, writing on square paper, and laptops. However, other cultures often share knowledge through circles. Kava, talanoa, meeting houses. The kaupapa of Teach First NZ’s 2017 MYI was Te Ao Pasifika. I was expecting Pasifika spaces which would make me feel uncomfortable, but when I first took stock of the room, it squared up to a pretty standard learning environment for me.

When the speaker started, he certainly challenged that. So did the Talanoa sessions over the next two days. Talanoa (literally “to talk of nothing”) is a Pasifika format of learning through stories and experiences. Without a pen in hand, I worried that I would forget what was said. But Mid-Year Intensives aren’t meant for the mind, so here are two of the feelings that bound my experience together:

Firstly, I felt confused. The weaving of knowledge through story and side-track was not a familiar format. We would sit and talk and draw and I wouldn’t be sure what I was supposed to achieve. I am sure that some of my students feel this every day. Feeling this confusion was a good reminder to me that I must be aware of the space I create when I am in a position of power: the classroom; the school gate; the playing fields. I must ask “who is feeling validated in this space, and who is feeling out of place?” But this alone is not enough. 

My second feeling was that of uncovered ignorance. As a pākehā New Zealander, before starting the Teach First programme I believed “I don’t have a culture” because it was everywhere, invisible, and assumed. Even now, I rarely enter spaces which do not privilege my way of thinking. This weekend, I realised how essential it is for teachers to step outside their own culture. Only once we interrogate ourselves can we begin to see ways in which we create space, and how this affects our students. 

On a final note, I am aware that after a weekend of learning about other cultures I have retreated to my own space to write. And here, of course, I naturally weave my own narrative around White Space. I am torn: Is this appropriate, or ignorant? But I think we, Pākehā/European New Zealanders, spend too much time framing our discussions about “other” cultures. Right now, my challenge is to understand my own culture.

Perhaps I am not the best person to be writing this reflection. MYI has made me feel unequipped to add to this discussion. So next time I have a chance, I will do my best not to add to the discussion. Learning happens through listening.

 

See the photos from MYI here.