How to “Undertake Kaitiakitanga” For Learner Success: 3 Solid Principles You Need To Know


Graeme Smith


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This is part of a series on educational success and learner centred teaching

Here’s my question of the day…

  • How do you “undertake Kaitiakitanga in an adult literacy and numeracy teaching environment”?

This comes from one of the Graduate Profile Outcomes in the New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education.

But what is Kaitiakitanga? And how do you undertake it?

From the Wikipedia:

Kaitiaki is a New Zealand term used for the Māori concept of guardianship, for the sky, the sea, and the land. A kaitiaki is a guardian, and the process and practices of protecting and looking after the environment are referred to as kaitiakitanga.

The concept and terminology have been increasingly brought into public policy on trusteeship or guardianship—in particular with the environmental and resource controls under the Resource Management Act.

Just a quick sidebar so I’m not misunderstood:

  • I’m Pākehā and I’m not an expert in these matters – I’m very much a learner.
  • I’m not trying to coopt or colonise this terminology.
  • I do understand that there are issues around how this concept has been interpreted (or misinterpreted) in relation to the Resource Management Act.
  • I am trying to understand what this terminology means in the context of NZQA qualification documents.
  • Any mistakes or misinterpretations are mine alone.
  • I am interested in your feedback and comments.

Below is what I understand at the moment with regards to Kaitiakitanga as a general concept. Further down, I’ll shift gears and bring this into an education context.

So let’s start with the more general use of the word and in relation to the environment:

  • Kaitiakitanga is most often used in relation to Maori ways of understanding the care and conservation of the land and other natural resources.
  • It has its source in Māori customary practice.
  • It is underpinned by an abstract and philosophical basis but in itself, it’s not abstract and should have visible and tangible effects.
  • In a contemporary context, it is flexible and fluid and open to modern interpretation including with areas such as social work and education, for example.
  • It is both a tool and a process.
  • It should be underpinned by advice, training, and experience.
  • It involves a set of obligations and responsibilities. This includes a responsibility to those who have come before you as well as those who will come after.
  • Its undertaking must result in a positive outcome.

The measurable effects of undertaking Kaitiakitanga in an environmental sense could include:

  • Restoration and enhancement of natural and other resources
  • Sustainability
  • Respect and awareness of issues of working with Māori
  • Recognising principles of the Treaty of Waitangi
  • Recognising the importance of culture and customs

And as applied to relationships:

  • It brings responsibility
  • It seeks to bring balance to the bond between people and place
  • It should be mana-enhancing. This means that it should not compromise others’ identities, self-worth, or trigger insecurities.

Now to shift to education: The older definition used by the NZQA in the current unit standards in various places states that (US21192 Ver 3, p.2):

Kaitiakitanga refers to the practical doing; and rules and tikanga of adult literacy and numeracy education.

This indicates that Kaitiakitanga has a definite practical aspect in education as well. E.g. there are things that you have to do, and ways that you have to do them.

According to the recently published Graduate Profile Outcome (GPO) 6 in the NZQA documentation for the New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy and Numeracy (p.4):

Kaitiakitanga refers to concepts of leadership, mentoring, coaching, care, guidance, nurturing, sharing, responsibilities, external consultation.

This is a much broader definition and indicates that we should not separate our understanding and undertaking of Kaitiakitanga from our roles as leaders and “caretakers” of knowledge. I think it’s a much better definition.

These concepts of leadership and care seem to be more holistic in nature (at least to me). My reasoning for this is that the concept of leadership and professional support is already referenced elsewhere in GPO 5 in relation to academic support:

Provide leadership and professional support to other practitioners working both within and across programmes (p.4).

Here professional support refers to that provided for academic and discipline-related teaching. This includes:

  • Improving adult literacy and numeracy practices to inform other practitioners’ development
  • Opportunities for exchange with other professionals to assist others

So… taken together, we can see an approach to leadership and guidance that includes both the academic and discipline related; as well as the more holistic and relational aspects where the primary concern is for the well-being of others including one’s fellow teachers as well as learners.

It may be the case, that in the real world there is actually no distinction between these… However, let’s assume that there is. Because we are going to need to measure it if we’re going to design qualifications that include it.

With that in mind, here are three frameworks for undertaking Kaitiakitanga.

For each of these, I’ve framed them in the first person and present tense. But they could just as easily be conceptualised for groups and/or applied retrospectively.

Frameworks for undertaking Kaitiakitanga

The Process

I’ve adapted these four steps from Hei whenua papatipu

  1. Kaupapa: What are my drivers?
  2. Mana Tu: What are my obligations and responsibilities?
  3. Tikanga Tiaki: What actions am I taking?
  4. Mauri Tu: What are the effects?

Applied principles

These are adapted from three applied principles that make up the Kaitiakitanga Draft Concept available on the Social Workers Registration Board website here.

The three applied principles and related elements are:

  1. Te Rangatiratanga: Are my actions…?
    • Mana enhancing
    • Self-determining
    • Respectful in relationships
    • Mindful of cultural uniqueness
    • Acknowledging of cultural identity
  2. Te Whanaungatanga: Am I…?
    • Connecting
    • Strengthening relationships
    • Contributing
    • Encouraging
    • Communicating
  3. Te Manaakitanga: Are my actions…?
    • Acknowledging boundaries
    • Mana enhancing
    • Ensuring safe space
    • Being respectful
    • Meeting obligations

Six Elements of Kaitiakitanga

This comes from social work as well. You can view the original powerpoint presentation here. While the six elements come from social work, the questions are my own.

  1. Te Tiaki – to care
    • What do I care about? Why?
    • How do I show this?
  2. Te Pupuri – to hold (holder of knowledge)
    • What knowledge do I hold that comes from outside of me? E.g. from my industry or sector?
    • What knowledge do I hold that comes from my life and experiences?
  3. Te Tuku – to transmit
    • What skills and values can I pass on to others?
    • What’s the best way to pass these on?
  4. Te Arataki –to guide
    • What kind of guidance can I provide to those around me?
    • What’s the best way to provide this guidance?
  5. Te Tautoko – to support
    • What kind of support do my colleagues and learners need?
    • How can I best support them?
  6. Te Tohutohu – to instruct or correct
    • What kind of expertise do I have?
    • How can I best teach what I know to others?

How can you use this and other concepts to create learner success?



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Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

7 thoughts

  1. As a novice in te ao Maori and te reo Maori, I found your post, particularly the questions as applied to the frameworks very interesting and helpful.

    1. Hi Rachel. Thanks for the feedback. I’m not claiming any expertise here… just trying to get my head around these concepts. The new NZ Dip ALNE has about 7 outcomes. This is one of them: Undertake Kaitiakitanga. And it’s different to “Provider Leadership” in an academic context which is a totally separate outcome. So I need to get my head around these concepts and how they are different before I start putting the new NZ Dip ALNE together. I quite like the frameworks and questions above as they have helped me move beyond what we had in the older NZQA documents and it also contrasts nicely with all the great stuff on Kaitiakitanga that you can find in relation to the Dept of Conservation but doesn’t quite fit with education. Cheers, G

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