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An Introduction: Seini Pifeleti and the Master of Teaching & Educational Leadership

Kia ora!  My name is Seini and I am the Programme Coordinator for the Master of Teaching and Education Leadership here at The Mind Lab in Auckland.  At the heart of our programme is the endeavour to support and develop transformational teachers who will be change-makers in the education system, who will use their skill and passion to tackle the very real educational inequities that exist in New Zealand.  

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.  Ohhh, it is the people. And I think that the people on this programme are pretty darn special.  From the participants and their students to the programme staff and our partners at Ako Mātātupu, everyone has a story to tell and there is so much value in sharing these stories.  Sharing is an action that supports increased understanding; the more we understand, the more informed our decisions are and the more directly these decisions meet our needs.  I wanted to start posting here in order to share stories, to increase the understanding that we have of one another, of our programme, our participants and their students. So I’ll start things off by sharing a little about myself.  

I am part-Tongan, part-Pākehā but I was raised in a very Pākehā family, in a very Pākehā community.  My links to my Pasifika roots are not strong and this has been a source of discomfort for me in the past, particularly when I was younger as I didn’t engage with or understand the culture that my appearance suggested I ought to.  Embracing my background and my own sense of self is a journey that will continue for the rest of my life.

In a scholastic sense, I am a product of the NZ education system (1992 to 2004).  I was heavily supported by my family to achieve highly at school; I was expected to respect my teachers, do the work I was set and learn the things I was told to learn.  I enjoyed homework (and we got a fair bit of it, from memory) and there was always help at home, if I needed it. I played sport, learned a language, played an instrument and took part in school plays.  Long story short, the system worked for me. As a child/pre-teen/teen, I was peripherally aware of my classmates who had different experiences and for whom school was perhaps more a way of passing time than an experiential tool, but I did not understand the why/who/how of it all.  As an adult, it seems that I have been two steps removed from the imbalances in our classrooms and indeed, our society. I will admit that it is too easy to ignore problems that you do not recognise as your own. So why the change of heart? For me, it started with this role and simply acknowledging that tackling educational inequity sounded like a pretty solid effort to get behind.  I have worked in large organisations with grand intentions, where missions and goals and people got… lost. I relished the idea of working for a smaller organisation where the hope is that intentions are constantly brought into focus and that people are seen. I felt that I would have the chance to make a real difference by supporting a worthwhile programme and a group of transformational people.  

I have had the opportunity to speak with my colleagues, the team from Ako Mātātupu and participants in the MTEL programme and it has been these conversations that have forced me to consider the issue of educational inequality in our country more closely.  It has been a personal journey to examine a system that I felt successful in and acknowledge that it is not fit for purpose for all learners, that it is failing to engage many of our young people.  If I follow my previous logic regarding understanding, is this what is missing – that if our teachers understand their students more deeply, they will be able to make more informed decisions in their classrooms that will meet the needs of these students more closely?  As someone who isn’t a teacher, I hasten to add that I don’t deem this an easy feat; my point is more that we need some really special people in these teaching roles who can authentically share with their students and encourage the same in return. Thus grows the understanding, the facilitation of positive change and the success that all students are capable of achieving.  Enter the participants on the MTEL programme.

But wait, what is success?  Keep your eyes peeled for my next post…

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