Talanoa Mai: Pacific early learning services engaging online

Tapena sou ōso mo lau malaga. | Prepare yourself a gift for your travels.

This Samoan proverb asks people to prepare for the road ahead. It highlights the importance of honouring, respecting and sharing the gifts of life’s journey. Aupito William Sio, Minister of Pacific Peoples, used this proverb recently in an interview with Radio New Zealand noting its appropriateness for our current times as a way to help Pacific peoples of Aotearoa contribute to ‘Rebuilding Together’.

In this blog I look at what preparedness means for the early learning sector, and in particular Pacific kaiako, in a world impacted by Covid-19. How can we still learn together and share our stories when we are not physically together?

A dramatic introduction to learning online

Online learning became part of the landscape for early learning services in a rather dramatic way in 2017 through a professional learning programme funded by the Ministry of Education. The programme supported the implementation of the updated curriculum Te Whāriki (2017). This was one of the first times that learning had been offered online in this way – and we all had to learn fast to get up to speed! It included 100 live webinars on Zoom (with over 13,000 participants and, to date, 74,022 views of the recordings).

This meant that many of us were already well prepared for the online learning journey brought about by Covid-19.

Three years on our landscape has again shifted dramatically. Online learning is no longer a new approach but a way of life as we navigate lockdowns and alert levels. While many kaiako tell us that they prefer the collaborative and collective nature of face to face learning, including our Pacific colleagues, we’ve all had to adapt and mobilise our teams to learn together online.

“The number of Pacific leaders and teachers using online platforms to engage in professional learning increased during the lockdown. They have developed confidence in using online platforms to connect with others.” (Facilitator)

Our team flipped its learning model

The CORE Early Years team has been fortunate to engage with kaiako across the country who have been implementing Tapasā, the cultural competencies framework this year. Like many other groups, we have needed to shift all our professional learning engagements online. Our facilitators had to adapt to online delivery. We’ve been used to face to face fono and relied on visits to early learning services to support practice. Our team strengthened our online mentoring strategies as an effective way to support leaders.

These intense experiences have allowed us to learn so much from colleagues in Pacific early learning services and mainstream services about facilitating learning online that matters, and that makes a difference. We would love to share some of these insights with you through this blog.

What matters? 

Inspiration online with a focus on spirituality, resilience and wellbeing.

“Pacific wellness …planning to keep everyone safe and strong with their emotional and spiritual wellness during the most arduous legs of our post Covid-19 journey.” (Aupito William Sio)

During Alert Level 1 we supported Auckland Pacific early learning services with a programme funded by the Ministry of Education. The ‘recovery and resilience’ programme was facilitated as an online experience and included a combination of inspirational speakers, community and church ministers, a session on wellbeing and space for kaiako and leaders to share practical examples of their learning and connecting from home.

To connect in a meaningful way online we wanted to maintain the values we would normally express in face to face fono. For us this meant a strong focus on identities, languages and cultures as well as weaving together well-being and spirituality. We started our sessions with blessings from community leaders and church ministers which supported cultural locatedness – a key competency of Tapasā. This prepared us well to come together, share our gifts and most importantly have some fun while learning about resilience strategies through drawing, singing and listening to others. Although challenged, we realised anything was possible and many of our pedagogical practices could be transferred to online including mindfulness, poetry and reflection. One of our facilitators commented on the importance of joy, connection and creating inspiration, hope and optimism.

CORE facilitator Ara Simmons reflected on her experience supporting wellbeing.

“Having a series of experiences as opposed to workshops was an initial step in focusing us in on the purpose of gathering together with a variety of Pacifika communities in the ECE sector. Having the opportunity in creating such an experience that placed spirituality front and centre of wellbeing was unique as there often is not such an opportunity in education. Really homing in on the purpose enabled me to let go of a traditional workshop format and offer a more connected feel of fellowship where individuals could connect to their own wellbeing and express this in both verbal and non-verbal ways.”

Another inspirational speaker was Jason Tiatia. Jason encouraged us to look to our past, before reimagining learning that is relevant to the lives of Pacific learners, and to reimagine success as a collective.

“Recreating familiar environments, and contexts that nurture collaboration, culture and language will lead to a greater sense of belonging and improved wellbeing.”

Highlights and kaiako feedback

For some kaiako online learning offered a more personalised approach, which they liked. Others commented on the benefits for the environment and family life with less travel and that the timing of the PLD suited being in their own homes. The opportunity to hear from different people across the country and the collective wisdom of the group was a highlight and many enjoyed sharing ideas and gaining insight into how other services were coping.

“The importance of looking after our Body, Mind & Spirit for our work.”

“Learnt some awesome calming techniques that we could use with tamariki”

“Less travel, better for the environment, people can be in the comforts of their own home. Early shifts in ECCs – don’t have to wait around for meetings”

“In terms of getting connection, getting the participants to draw on a map of the islands (a Zoom tool), where they were from”

Vahevahe - One service shares their story

“[the sharing by Jeanne] of their Akoteu journey before and during Covid-19 [was] invaluable” (Participant)

CORE facilitator, Lorraine Pauuvale-Paea, talked with Jeanne Pauuvale Teisina about Akoteu Kato Kakala – a Tongan early learning service – about their story of online engagement. Jeanne shared that “Connectedness was more crucial than any other time in the history of the service’s operation”. It was important for their community to foreground tauhi Vaa (relationships) in unprecedented times. How do we take care of the Vaa to ensure it is stronger and connected during Covid-19? This was a guiding question for the teaching team. The centre manager commented that they saw great examples of effective leadership during times of uncertainty, crisis and change. Lessons and examples were shared with each other online for all to learn from. At Akoteu, kaiako shared how they used the ‘mana’ of Te Whāriki (2017) to guide them in their calling to connect with tamariki and whānau. Kaiako did this by sharing visual displays of the curriculum in action through children learning from home.

“Ko e ‘ui mei he ate- the absence of the children at the centre yet connected through online made their presence known and valuable contributing to the langa ngāue (building success) of AKK” (Centre Manager)

Using cultural models as a framework for connecting online

“By bringing in cultural models, it increases buy-in, because people feel the connection and understand it implicitly. It speaks to them” (Kaiako)

“Deepen our own learning and understandings about concepts that relates and reflect our sense of reality” (Kaiako)

An important focus in our PLD programmes is unpacking different cultural models as authentic and empowering ways to align Pacific values with leadership, governance and curriculum. Services share models that fit their world view and that connect to their philosophy and local curriculum. These models and practices became useful guides to navigate the challenges of Covid-19, to engage fanau, communicate online and provide learning for children and connect with teams. An example of this are the four baskets of knowledge; Le Tofa (knowledge), Le Pule (governance), Le Tautua (service) and Le Va Fealoa’i (relationships) which have been used as a guide to support online engagement.

Resources to support leaders, kaiako and parents in online learning

During lockdown leaders and kaiako focused on their own professional practice by accessing online resources and downloadable workshops, including from Te Whāriki Online. An example is the Spotlight on Practice – Pacific voices in Te Whāriki. Services also shared their experiences about engaging with families during lockdown and contributed to the development of videos and stories for the sector in the Learning from Home series funded by the Ministry of Education such as Let’s imagine.

CORE facilitator Ruta McKenzie talks about the importance of authenticity that reflects four elements of talanoa- talanoa alofa, talanoa mafana, talanoa malie and talanoa fa’aaloalo. These elements demonstrate caring, warmth, humour and respect. We asked participants what helped and what we need to consider when facilitating online learning.

Here are some of our tips and strategies based on kaiako feedback and our sense making:

  • Go in ahead of time to check links and to practice using Zoom
  • Set up rituals for beginning and end (e.g. music on arrival)
  • Be culturally responsive – have a Pacific facilitator
  • Check in with everyone before you get underway
  • Identity the hosts within the online group
  • Have someone on standby for technical support – a helpdesk email or phone number
  • Make it a fun experience – with singing and laughter
  • Provide time and space for talking and sharing
  • Silence is ok when reflecting, stretching and drawing
  • Use grid view to see each other – even at times during the presentation
  • Use the chat box for sharing ideas and sharing resources. Have a person who looks after and
    monitors the chat box – acknowledge contributions, invite questions
  • Use break out rooms with a facilitator in each room
  • Dual facilitation is important

We all need to work hard to design inclusive learning experiences by being open to feedback and willing to adapt and try new things. We need to invite the indigenous knowledge of others and strive to make a difference so that online learning can be a positive and rewarding experience for all.

What I've learned about these experiences

What stands out to me about learning online is the importance of starting well. This means having space to validate individual world views, focus on connection, and create a culture of sharing and reflection. It’s a bit different to being face to face but thinking about time differently is important and shifting your mindset to see the possibilities and benefits. There is still a pedagogy to consider – be intentional in building relational trust so everyone can contribute. Think critically about how you invite participation with careful preparation, clear guidelines, use of breakouts, drawing, using the chat and using home languages. We need to work hard to shift the power imbalance, and realise that less is more! Some information is best communicated via other channels – handouts, links, emails. The time together online is a taonga – it’s about the people, the dialogue and the collective.

This poem by the late Siosifa Pau’uvale Nofo ‘a Kainga is about what binds us together – it’s the interrelationships that connect us.

Nofo 'a Kainga - A poem by the late Siosifa Pau'uvale

Tulou moe talamalu ‘o e fonua

Kau lave ki he fa’unga ‘o e nofo ‘a kainga

‘oku kamata he ‘uluaki matu’a

Moe fua hona manava ko hona fakakoloa’

Koe famili eni ‘o e Tamai ‘a e ma’uanga tala’

Ke ne tala e tapu’ mo e ngaahi ngofua’

Tauhi ‘a e faka’apa’apa mo e loto ‘ofa

Talangofua’ moe tauhi vaa’.

‘A e ngaue mateaki’ moe mamahi’i me’a’

‘Isa na’a ngalo e ngaahi felave’i ki tu’a’

‘A e famili ne tupu ai si’i fa’e ‘ofa’

Pehee ki he Tamai mo hono hu’unga’.

Koeni ‘a e pule’anga ‘o e nofo ‘a kainga’

Ko hai ‘oku ‘a’ana e tala fatongia fakakatoa

He hoko ha me’a fakamamahi pe fakafiefia’

‘I he siakale ‘o e nofo ‘a kainga’.

Ke matu’otu’a fakatoto ‘o e tupu’anga’

Seuke he ‘ikai ngalo e ngaahi matakali ‘iloa

Ne punakaki mei he ongo ‘uluaki fa’unga’

Pea toki tatuku ki he ngaahi ha’a

Ko hono taki ‘a e ‘ulumotu’a’.

‘Io koe mape ia ‘o e nofo ‘a e Tonga’.

‘Oku siakale ‘uluaki kihe ‘uluaki faa’.

Ko e famili, kainga, matakali moe ngaahi ha’a’

‘Oku maau, ‘oku melino pea tolonga ‘o laulau to’utangata’.

Malo fau e fatu moe langa hota fonua’

‘Oua ‘e felakaaki he siakale tupu’a

Nofo ki he ‘uluaki fa’unga tala’

Ko ia e ma’uma’uluta’anga e Tonga’

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