Photo: Te Marae o Hine in Ōtaki by Derek Wenmoth

Last week I enjoyed an insightful and highly productive day of professional development with the staff of Ōtaki Primary School. We met for the day in Te Marae o Hine, located not far from the school itself. In the traditional manner, we were welcomed onto the marae with a pōwhiri during which an iwi elder traced the history of the marae, its people and the significant events in the story of its past.

The concept of whakapapa – or genealogy – is a fundamental principle in Māori culture. I’ve had the privilege of visiting different marae on numerous occasions, and have come to value this part of the tradition, both for the insights it provides about the place and the people, and for the way it makes me then feel more ‘connected’ to where I am sitting and to the people I sit with.

Two of the teachers in the group affiliate with this marae, so it made it even more special to be using the facility for our day together as it provided these two staff members an opportunity to share some personal perspectives of the rich stories and history about the marae and the things it is now used for.

The focus of our day was to work through a process of reviewing and revising the school’s vision, beliefs, mission and values which were last worked on in 2013. The school has evolved significantly since then, and the staff are looking to make some significant changes in structure and ways of working as they seek to remain relevant to the needs of their students, and future focused in terms of preparing them for what lies ahead.

Inevitably, this process created moments of tension for everyone in the group, as individuals faced the prospect of having to ‘let go’ of some of the things they currently do and how they do them, or that some of the things they currently do aren’t recognised as being of value by others in the group.

Being on the marae proved to be a valuable experience for this sort of work. Change of any kind can be challenging, and the context of the marae, and the overview of its whakapapa at the beginning reminded the group of how important it is to understand and value the history of what has been achieved in the past, and not ignore or be dismissive of it as we looked ahead together to what could be in the future.

It was a credit to the personalities and commitment of the people in the group, as much as it was the fact that the marae had been chosen as the place to undertake this work, that we ended up in a place of real excitement about what the future might hold. By the end of the day the group had affirmed the great things they, and those before them, have achieved together and were excited about the future aspirations they had been able to explore together.

The experience of the day confirmed for me the framework I’ve set on the FutureMakers site – that we must learn from the past, look to the future and then live in the present. It is about being committed to the ‘long game’, becoming passionate about ensuring we make the world a better place for our future generations (mokopuna) than when we found it.

It’s not surprising then, that Roman Krznaric focuses on the concept of whakapapa in his book, The Good Ancestor – How to think long term in a short term world“. In it he says..

‘Western culture has been so devastatingly successful at severing a deep sense of intergenerational connection… we have been cut off from our ancestors and fututrecestors. We are so busy living in the present… that the idea of being just one link in a vast chain of humanity that stretches through cosmological time is hard to grasp.”

The Good Ancestor, page 66

This is why I came from my day with the staff of Ōtaki Primary School feeling so uplifted. They are thinking of the long game for their learners. Secure in their own sense of whakapapa, and working together in a high trust way, they managed to critically and respectfully engage with the ideas before them and collaboratively begin to create a vision for the next phase of this school’s journey.

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