Āta: a theoretical base for best practice in teaching
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As a postgraduate student, my interest has been in teaching theory and especially holistic based relational teaching practices. As an educator, I am constantly striving to improve my practice and become the best teacher I can for my students. These factors, combined with my strong desire to bring about change in the education system that will value knowledge and beliefs outside the paradigm of the dominant pedagogy, have led to this research. The philosophy of Āta is firmly posited within Mātauranga Māori and is not new, however, as a philosophy of teaching theory it is new and is the topic of this thesis. A case study was undertaken to observe the researcher’s teaching practice based on the principles of the philosophy, and to consider the possibility of developing a theory of best practice in teaching based on the philosophy of Āta. This was a mixed method study involving the July 2005 intake of Bachelor of Education students for the Mātauranga Māori class at the School of Education Te Kura Mātauranga, AUT. Data collection methods included research assistant observations, a researcher reflective journal, student questionnaires and a student focus group interview. The findings of the study indicated that teaching under the principles of the philosophy of Āta assists the development of respectful relationships within the classroom environment, and suggests this enhances student learning. The findings could be significant for all teachers and teacher educators as they suggest a teaching theory based on the philosophy of Āta may provide educators with a values based theory of practice that is not only humanistic but also maintains standards of professionalism. From both the literature reviewed and from student comments, indications are that by developing a sense of belonging, a feeling of connectedness, and by demonstrating mutual respect in classroom situations, the learning environment appears to be enhanced. The findings of the study further indicate that the positive effects of teaching under the philosophy of Āta may not be restricted to any particular classroom environment. This is an important finding in my opinion because it indicates that Āta as a teachingphilosophy may be successful in growing relationships in other environments, making it a strong, working theory of teaching. Teacher qualities identified by the students as being essential to learning can be developed through embracing the philosophy of Āta and incorporating it into teaching practice and this is the challenge I put forward to all teachers and teacher educators. The study has potentially opened new and exciting possibilities for teacher educators searching for a teaching practice theory that is strongly values-based. Implications of the study include stronger recognition of the value of cultural knowledge in the education system, an acknowledgement of the depth of knowledge contained in te ao Māori, and an opportunity to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi by developing a bi-cultural model of teaching based on the philosophy of Āta.