National excellence award for passionate teacher of te reo Māori in teacher education

Kay-Lee Jones has helped nurture a love for te ao Māori in over 2000 student teachers in the University of Canterbury’s (UC) School of Teacher Education.

Kay-Lee Jones has helped nurture a love for te ao Māori in over 2000 student teachers in the University of Canterbury’s (UC) School of Teacher Education. As graduates, they are now putting their understanding into practice in schools throughout Aotearoa, normalising Māori language and culture in everyday education. 

The UC lecturer’s dedication and accomplishment has been recognised with a prestigious Ako Aotearoa Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award (Kaupapa Māori) announced today, as one of nine recipients nationally.

To me as an educator teaching the next generation of kaiako (teachers), excellence means preparing our teachers to empower tamariki (children) to walk confidently in both Māori and Pākehā worlds

Learning te reo Māori

Jones has always been very proud of her whakapapa Māori and has pursued opportunities to learn her ancestral language. In her upbringing Māori songs were sung and the odd Māori phrase or word usually pertaining to kai (food) were spoken, but te reo Māori wasn’t an everyday language of the home. 

Jones acknowledges her parents as her first teachers; her father teaching her the importance of whānau (family), and her mother teaching her aroha ki te tangata (love and respect for people). Her father comes from the East Coast of the North Island, (Te Aitanga a Māhaki and Ngāti Porou), the first Māori firefighter in Christchurch, and her mother’s whakapapa links to the southern South Island and Rakiura (Stewart Island).

“I made the choice to learn te reo Māori. I love it and will always be a learner. I love teaching the history of our land and seeing a spark in those I teach from connecting with our indigenous language, culture and identity,” Jones says. 

Nurture the seed

Guided by the whakataukī (proverb) “Poipoia te kākano kia puāwai, nurture the seed and it will blossom,” Jones lectures UC education students in person, online and via flexible learning opportunities including night classes, noho marae (marae stay) and wānanga (block workshops in which to deliberate or discuss). Jones acknowledges that she is part of a talented and dedicated whānau within UC’s School of Teacher Education and emphasises the importance of ako (reciprocal teaching and learning), in that she learns from her ākonga (students) as much as they learn from her.  

“For our non- Māori teacher trainees, I want them to consider how to create culturally rich spaces for the tamariki they will teach. This may mean that our non-Māori whānau begin opening their hearts, heads and hands wider to the Māori world, and I will be there to tautoko (support),” she says.

“Many of our New Zealand-born, non-Māori students may not have experienced the Māori world and may have little knowledge of Māori language and culture. For some this can be daunting. We need to understand the whakapapa (genealogy) and history of the whenua (land) in which we teach. This starts with knowing the stories and connecting with mana whenua (custodians that hold authority over the land).”

Jones taught in primary Māori medium education after graduating, then taught in the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies at UC. She returned to primary school education as a teacher and deputy principal, and in 2015 completed a Master of Education degree at UC and returned to tertiary teaching. She is now pursuing doctoral study.

Our greatest treasure

Her greatest influences are: “my three beautiful tamariki, leaders of tomorrow, they are my ‘why’.”  Jones’ tamariki attend Te Pā o Rākaihautū, a 21st century pā village which focuses on culture and identity as the foundation of success, and which aligns with her own teaching philosophies.

“I better understood the responsibility of teachers when my first child started within our New Zealand education system. We entrust our teachers with our most precious taonga (treasure), our children.”

UC Professor Angus Macfarlane has worked with Jones for five years. “Kay-Lee sets herself apart by way of her passion for, and her competence in, Māori-language teaching,” he says.

He commended her gentle, but effective, style of advocacy. “Kay-Lee has the potential to shift people’s ideas and philosophies nationally and locally, while maintaining calm and acceptable relationships at the learning and teaching level.”

The importance of normalising Māori language in education cannot be underestimated, Jones says.

“The percentage of Māori teachers in Aotearoa is extremely low and even less are the number of principals with whakapapa Māori.”

“There is a great disparity and a need to equip teachers in the New Zealand education system to embed aspects of te ao Māori including language, culture and traditions in the curriculum.”

Ako Aotearoa Tertiary Teaching Excellence awards

Every year, up to 10 of New Zealand’s top teachers are celebrated at the national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, hosted by the Minister of Education. Since 2001, the awards have recognised more than 200 of this country’s top tertiary teachers.

Ako Aotearoa is a government-funded organisation committed to supporting the country’s tertiary sector teachers, trainers and educators be the best they can be for the learners’ success.

UC’s 2019 winners were Glaciologist Dr Heather Purdie and Japanese lecturer Dr Masayoshi Ogino  won Ako Aotearoa Teaching Excellence Awards in 2019.

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