August 18, 2021

Wellness, fellowship and better learning outcomes from West Auckland Samoan ECE Collective

Increased wellbeing, greater fellowship with colleagues and sharing culturally specific pedagogies to improve their teaching practice are just some of the many benefits reported by teachers at the end of the first phase of a significant community of practice (CoP) for Samoan ECE teachers.

Tāfesilafa’i (the West Auckland Samoan ECE community of care) was created with a focus on addressing a lack of resources and support for teachers that was centred on Samoan cultural values and language. The aim of the group is to build teachers’ capacity to grow and exchange knowledge in order to develop pedagogy and curriculum with a Samoan worldview.

Tāfesilafa’i was the name proposed and agreed by the facilitators and participants for this CoP.  Irene Paleai-Foroti, Lead Facilitator for SASSIA (Sosaiete Aoga Amata Samoa Aotearoa Incorporated), which oversees the development of Samoan cultural and natural resources, delivery of professional development and a range of other services to Samoan early childhood centres nationally, explains.

“Tāfesilafa’i is used as a concept to reflect and acknowledge the essence of collectivism and communitarianism as the core of establishing and maintaining mutual engagement and nurturing connection with Samoan people. This refers to talanoa as a powerful way of constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing knowledge. It is taking time to connect and establish an environment where experiences can be shared, and aspirations reached. The practice of Tāfesilafa’i is grounded on Samoan cultural values.”  

The Tāfesilafa’i innovation has provided a space for Aoga Amata teachers to come together, connect, share and grow their confidence in weaving their cultural practices and beliefs into their educational practice.  Underpinning this are the Samoan pedagogies that are grounded in the cultural values of alofa (love), faaaloalo (respect) and tautua (service).

Since May 2020, Healthy Families Waitākere has been working alongside the Samoan early childhood centres in West Auckland to understand the impacts of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns. A successful funding application with the Ministry of Education’s Pacific Education Innovation fund allowed the development of the Tāfesilafa’i: Samoan ECE Community of Care in West Auckland through a series of workshops.

“Bringing this idea to life has meant that 300 children from 200 families have been supported, due to more than 60 ECE teachers and staff members having access to culturally centric professional development,” explains Healthy Families Waitākere Lead Systems Innovator, Catherine Powell.

The West Auckland Samoan ECE centres met monthly with SAASIA facilitators for five three-hour workshops, which were designed by SAASIA, during March to June this year to explore how to apply culturally responsive pedagogy to their teaching practice. A SAASIA facilitator/mentor also undertook a follow up centre visit after each workshop to support implementation of ideas from the workshop forums.

“Workshops were created in a way that left teachers feeling empowered and enriched. This increase in teacher wellbeing and confidence flows onto the learners and wider community. For some of the teachers – particularly the younger, NZ-born ones – the cluster provided an opportunity to consolidate their cultural knowledge and understand how it adds value to their personal lives and professional practice in the context of Aotearoa,” adds Catherine.

Participating centres include Aoga Amata (AAPICA) Centre, Avondale; Leataata O Tupulaga O Le Pasefika, Massey; Lupesina Aoga Amata Preschool, Glendene; Rosebank Early Childhood Centre, Avondale; and Taulapapa Leata Su’a Aoga Amata, Henderson.

One of the outcomes from the workshops was a deeper understanding of how attitudes towards wellbeing in New Zealand are still largely influenced by Western philosophies and teachers were subsequently drawn to learn how to communicate the cultural intelligence used to frame ‘wellbeing’ from a Samoan lens.

“From observations and sharing, teachers reported a strong link to the work they were doing in Tāfesilafa’i and the impact on children’s wellbeing. As the teachers’ confidence in the value of their cultural practices in educational settings grew, so did the children’s pride in being Samoan,” says Irene.

In addition to the core outcomes of Tāfesilafa’i, there were also a number of additional benefits. Once the teachers had built strong relationships with each other, they started to explore ways they could work together to solve large systemic problems, such as the current teacher shortage. They are currently exploring the development of a West Auckland Samoan ECE reliever pool.

“It is obvious from the teachers’ comments that the shortage of relievers who are culturally competent and meeting their centre philosophy and values is impacting on their wellbeing and most importantly, children’s learning,” adds Catherine.

“As a result, they are currently designing a reliever pool prototype to ensure this happens in a timely manner and addresses the urgent need for relieving teachers who are fluent and competent in Samoan language.”

Tāfesilafa’i members’ feedback reiterated their increased confidence in applying a pedagogy that reflects a Samoan worldview while enhancing wellbeing and depth of learning for their students. In particular, the teachers created digital resources including poems and songs written by the teachers to promote wellbeing. These resources demonstrate the importance of creative arts as a key pedagogical approach to deliver relevant curriculum in Aoga Amata.

“Sa matua fa’amalieina lava a’u i lenei polokalame aemaise lava i le loloto o le gagana ma le aganuu a Samoa ma lona feso’ota’iga ma le ola laulelei ma le a’oa’oina o faiaoga, fanau ma aiga. I am very satisfied with this project especially the depth of the Samoan language and culture and its importance to teachers’, children’s and families’ wellbeing and learning,” said one participant.

One of the key enablers for wellbeing and happiness for the teachers was the time spent together, sharing knowledge and experience, developing and deepening connections with other aoga amata and the increased confidence and courage that resulted from these interactions.

“There is a greater sense of unity and togetherness with other Aoga as well as within our own [Aoga]. This allows a feeling of support which is very good for my wellbeing,” added another teacher.

The insights and learnings from the group are being shared with the Ministry of Education in support of their Action Plan for Pacific Education 2020–2030. The response from the Pacific Education team is very positive. “What amazing work you are all doing in the West Auckland space, and you can tell from the sharing of our Samoan educators that they are hopeful and committed to positive change for our communities,” says Kiva Jackson, Senior Advisor Pacific Engagement, Sector Enablement and Support. 

Looking ahead, it is hoped that this innovation will continue with the establishment of a sustainable model of operation that will ensure Samoan families of West Auckland can benefit from strong ECE settings that adequately reflect cultural values and beliefs.

Please click Tāfesilafa’i. here to view a video sharing some highlights from Tāfesilafa’i.