Sunday, February 8, 2015

Day 8: Cultural Ambassadors as Student Leaders #28daysofwriting

This morning I participated in my first "Kiwi Spark' breakfast tweet chat, which operates under the hashtag #BFC630NZ.  This mornings topic was on Student Leadership.  For a 15 minute speed chat, early in the morning, I was impressed at the collaborative nature of the chat, and the great ideas people were sharing.

I always feel a bit fraudulent sneaking into the various educational tweet chats on the tweetsmophere, especially when they are aimed at teachers.  However, despite my leadership hat, my passion has always been about teaching and learning, and it is very true that you can take the teacher out of the classroom and turn them into a leader, but you can not take the teacher out of the leader.  I do have to  confess that what brings me back to these chats is the passion and enthusiasm I see in teachers across the world as they tweet their ideas and innovations.  It reminds me that as a profession, we are in good heart.

This morning was no exception.

During the chat this morning, I mentioned a number of leadership opportunities we have at our place, and I made a commitment that I would blog about them.  So, over the course of the day, I have been thinking about student voice, agency and leadership, because I believe that good programs/opportunities/systems (call them what you will) involve elements of all 3 aspects.

Of the various options we have occurring at our place, I mentioned two in particular this morning - our Cultural Ambassadors and our Student Inquiry Team.  At some other point I will blog about our focus groups and the ways we collect and use student voice as a wider series on voice, agency and leadership.

However, in an effort to meet the #28daysofwriting challenge I have just enough time (If I speed type) to explain Cultural Ambassadors - in another post I will explain the Inquiry Team and how they help shape our curriculum.

Initiative Number One - Student Leadership - Cultural Ambassadors 

What are they:

Our Cultural Ambassadors are usually (but not always) a group of our senior students from year 4 to 6 (8-10 year olds) who represent the various cultures within our school.  Over time it varies, but there are usually two students for each culture, often a boy and girl (if this works out that way but there are no hard and fast guidelines).  Over the last few years this has included Maori, European, Samoan, Tongan, and Middle Eastern.  Given how multicultural Auckland is, there could at any time be quite a  few cultures represented.  Should this happens we would negotiate what the Cultural Ambassadors looks like and how many there would be.

What do they do?

Our Cultural Ambassadors welcome visitors and guests to the school.  They welcome visitors with a short mihi (greeting) and introduction in their first language.  They usually form an informal 'guard of honour' , and we always start with Maori, then English.  The students then decide who go next.  Our students choose Maori first, as Maori are Tangata Whenua, with English to follow as that is an official language of NZ.  

How are they Chosen?

Students self select and nominate other students they think would be appropriate for this role.  Often this involves sharing their welcome and introduction with their peers and our Deputy.  One of the criteria is being able to speak in your first language.  Whilst it is ideal to be confident, that is not a deal breaker as we can support students to grow in confidence.  We have always found that when a student speaks in their first language their self esteem and confidence grows.

Why do we do it?

This was an initiative I developed with students at my last school.  At that time, I was looking for ways for the various cultures in our school to feel respected, honoured and valued.  So I asked our students.  Together we came up with the Cultural Ambassadors.  At that school we also started a bilingual unit and the ambassadors gave all the cultures in our school a voice and place to stand strong.   When I arrived at my current school, it seemed an appropriate initiative and our students were very keen to participate and share their cultures.  A bonus for us is that these same students are also great when we have our Open Mornings.  As Ambassadors they have an increased confidence and as they are showing parents around the school, they do so with pride.  

On the surface of it, it is a fairly simple concept but the rewards are far reaching.  The feedback we get from visitors is always positive and they are impressed by the confidence of the students and languages the children can speak.  Students have remarked that they appreciate the opportunity to share their culture and be an expert in the school.  Sometimes we forget that respecting our students cultures and honouring their heritage does not have to be difficult but can be something quite simple.

We often forget to ask our students what they think would be appropriate. 

What opportunities do your children have to share their cultures and languages?

My time is up - in fact, don't tell anyone but its been a bit longer than 28 minutes so I will most definitely have to keep the Inquiry Team for another day.  

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