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He Wahine Toa

I felt privileged to be part of the Chapel service when our beautifully crafted korowai was presented to the school and I acknowledge the dedication and effort of everyone involved – with apologies that they are too numerous to mention here.

I am interested in the symbolism and the story behind each of the elements of the design and look forward to learning more about this. The korowai is a true taonga for the students at Woodford House School to hold, treasure and share as we challenge the future, embrace the present and cherish the past.

I have been thinking about what this might mean for us from a learning and teaching point of view and how we can explore and share in the richness of the culturally responsive pedagogies that form a central part of Te Ao Maori.

Although this must clearly be part of a much wider conversation, led and encouraged by voices which are far more knowledgeable than mine, it seems timely to offer some thoughts.

The idea of He Wahine Toa, strong women, is central to our Woodford House story. We would not be here today without the work of an exceptionally strong woman – and the more I learn about Mabel Annie Hodge, the greater my admiration for her becomes.

So what does the idea of He Wahine Toa mean for learning? How can we demonstrate this? What does it look like in the classroom? What does it feel like in the school? How will we check if we are successful?

This is not a “tick box” exercise, nor should we adopt the increasingly common practice of quickly reducing something complex and valuable to a “ten”, “five”, or sometimes even “three” easy steps approach. Rather, these are questions for us to share and to consider carefully.

My initial thoughts, offered as a prompt for further discussion, led me to “Te Timatanga” which I first heard performed as a pre-match haka by the New Zealand Maori rugby team. I appreciate that the sentiments existed well before any printed text, but I believe that the version I heard is attributed to Dr Ngapo Wehi and Dr Pirima Wehi.

In “Te Timatanga” the call is given to:

Whakaki te maunga
Tae ki te whenua
Hoki ki te rangi
Tae ki te pukerunga.Piki ake, piki ake
Ki te ara poutama
Ki ngā taumatatanga
e Wairua,
Hinengaro
Tinana.
Aim for the mountain
to arrive at the plain, 
and also for the sky 
to arrive at the hilltop Keep on climbing
via the pathway of wisdom, 
to achieve excellence 
spiritually,
mentally, 
physically. 

This resonated with me at the time (far beyond the rugby match), as it seemed to be excellent advice for the pursuit of excellence in education for all, and it continues to inform my practice and reflection on a personal level.

I wonder, if for our purposes, we might consider this as a call to our own wahine toa. The cornerstones of Woodford House are reflected here and there is an underpinning philosophy that aligns with the guiding principles, the strategic targets and philosophy of our school.

In the midst of all of the end of year celebrations and farewells, as we are planning our professional learning and developing our programmes for the coming year, there will be many interesting discussions about the foundations of learning and teaching – including traditional Maori pedagogies – in the weeks and months ahead. I hope that this might serve as a starting point for some of these discussions.

If we (and you) continue to participate – and engage our young women – in discussions about the how, what and why of learning and how and we might “keep on climbing via the pathway of wisdom” –  in the face of changing times in education and diverging notions about the very nature of knowledge – we will help to create he wahine toa who will aim high and be able to make a difference in the world.

Mrs Hazel Redpath, Deputy Principal – Teaching and Learning