Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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An exploration of ako-rich teaching practices in an English-medium mathematics classroom drawing from the voices of Year 9 and 10 students, and their parents

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posted on 2021-12-09, 11:19 authored by Karyn SaundersKaryn Saunders

Ako is a traditional Māori concept underpinned by the notion of reciprocity. Ako-rich teacher practices are considered important for creating culturally responsive classroom learning environments, particularly for Indigenous Māori students. The confident implementation of teacher practices that reflect ako, gleaned from information provided in policy documents and professional development programmes, has proven challenging for many English-medium teachers. To help assist adoption of teaching practices consistent with ako, this study explored ways a Pakeha teacher could demonstrate ako-rich teacher behaviour indicator elements within student–teacher and parent–teacher interactions. A mixed method ethnographic approach underpinned by sociocultural and kaupapa Māori theories was selected for this research carried out in a multiethnic junior secondary school mathematics classroom (Māori, New Zealand European/Pākehā, Asian). The sample comprised of the study teacher from a large, urban, English-medium school, one of the researcher’s Year 9 mathematics class, one of the researcher’s Year 10 mathematics class, and some students’ parents. Two data collection periods were used: the second of four 10-week school terms, over two consecutive years. Each data collection period included classroom observations, student surveys, student and parent interviews, teacher reflection, and cultural advice. Within a holistic context of ako in mathematics, characteristics of ako-rich interactions were found to fit within three aspects of teacher practice where the teacher positioned themselves as a learner who gained knowledge by researching on their own, interacting with students, and interacting with students’ parents. The notion of reciprocity within ako was realised in this model when participants were recognised as individuals who have valuable knowledge to share, contributing to the collective knowledge generated in the classroom.  There is evidence that, for many students, mathematics teachers can enhance students’ engagement and enjoyment of mathematics by explicitly using ako-rich practices in the classroom. Evidence also indicates that positive parent–teacher partnerships were encouraged by ako-rich teacher practices, inside and outside of the classroom. This research has shown that by explicitly practicing ako-rich behaviours in early secondary mathematics classrooms, shared understandings developed between students and teachers facilitated positive student experiences, which were accompanied by increased student engagement and achievement. Moreover, this research has also shown that shared understandings that developed between the students’ parents and the teacher through ako-rich teacher behaviours encouraged positive and reciprocal partnerships that facilitated parents’ involvement in their children’s mathematics learning. The ako in mathematics model can be used by teachers, school leaders, and teacher educators to increase their confidence in understanding how to more authentically bring life to the rich Māori concept of ako in mathematics classrooms.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


Averill, Robin; McRae, Hiria