Fonofale Pasifika: 6 Essential Factors To Create the Best Chance of Success

How do you create success for Pacific learners?

This is part of a series on learner centred teaching. There’s also updated Pacific content at the links below:

Where does this approach come from?

The Fonofale model is a holistic approach to health and well-being that is specific to Pacific cultures. This model is similar to the Te Whare Tapa Whā model developed by Sir Mason Durie, which is also widely used in the healthcare sector. The Fonofale model can be applied to education settings to support the success of Pacific Islander learners.

The Fonofale Pasifika model was developed by Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann (2009), who is a respected academic and nursing professional based in New Zealand. Born in Samoa, Pulotu-Endemann drew on his cultural background and expertise to create the Fonofale model. The model emphasizes the importance of balance and harmony across different dimensions of health and well-being, including spiritual, mental, physical, and social aspects.

What’s it for?

Similar to Te Whare Tapa Whā, Fonofale aims to promote holistic thinking about various aspects of life, including health, education, and culture, within Pacific Island communities.

The Fonofale model is composed of three main elements: the foundation, the roof, and the posts. Each element represents an essential aspect of Pacific cultural identity that must be taken into account to achieve holistic health and wellbeing.

The foundation represents the spiritual and cultural beliefs that underpin Pacific culture, while the roof represents the physical environment and the social and political contexts in which Pacific people live. The posts symbolise the different dimensions of Pacific identity, such as family, community, and individual identity.

By using the Fonofale Pasifika model, educators and health professionals can gain a deeper understanding of the cultural and spiritual needs of Pacific Island communities. This can help to create more effective and culturally appropriate interventions and strategies that promote health and educational success among Pacific learners.

What is it?

It’s a visual representation of Pasifika values and beliefs. We use the Samoan fale or house to describe the important factors of healthy development. Here are the parts below.

The foundation

This is the extended family – the foundation for all Pacific Island cultures. This foundation represents the core values and beliefs of Pacific people. It is the base of the model and supports the other elements.

It is made up of the cultural values and beliefs that are shared among Pacific peoples, such as the importance of family, respect for elders, and a strong connection to the environment.

These values are fundamental to the Pacific way of life and inform how Pacific people view themselves and their place in the world.

The roof

The roof of the Fonofale represents the cultural values and beliefs that are the the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of Pacific people and their shelter for life.

This element is crucial to the model because it acknowledges that the wellbeing of Pacific people is interconnected and interdependent. If one area of wellbeing is neglected, it can have a significant impact on the other areas.

This can include traditional as well as western ways of doing things.

The Pou (posts)

The posts of the Fonofale connect the family to the culture. They also depend on each other. These posts represent the different systems and structures that support Pacific peoples’ wellbeing.

These include the education system, health system, justice system, and social services. These systems and structures are essential for supporting Pacific peoples’ wellbeing and must be culturally responsive and inclusive to be effective.

They are:


This relates to the sense of wellbeing that comes from Christianity or traditional spirituality or a combination of both.


This relates to the wellbeing and physical health of the body.


This relates to the mind including thinking and emotional wellbeing as well as behaviours.


This includes other things like gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, employment, and educational status.

Fonofale Pasifika: 6 Essential Factors To Create the Best Chance of Success

Around the outside

The fale is surrounded by a protective layer. This includes:

  • Environment. This relates to the relationships that Pasifika people have to their physical environment. This can be rural or urban.
  • Context. This dimension relates to the “big picture’ for Pasifika including socio-economic or political situations.
  • Time. This relates to the actual or specific time in history that impacts on Pasifika people.

In summary, the Fonofale model is a holistic representation of Pacific cultural identity that acknowledges the interconnectedness of Pacific peoples’ wellbeing, values, and beliefs. The model provides a useful framework for understanding the complex cultural identities of Pacific peoples and for guiding culturally responsive practices that promote the wellbeing of Pacific learners.

How is it relevant?

It’s relevant because you can use your knowledge of the Fonofale to enhance your teaching. As with Te Whare Tapa Whā, this knowledge is not limited to just working with the people groups it represents.

This approach is also relevant because it will help create a learning environment that is culturally safe for Pasifika learners.

What does it mean for me?

If you identify as Pasifika, the Fonofale is a framework that allows you to talk about how you probably already work with your learners.

If you are not Pasifika, the framework allows you to see your learners, particularly your Pacific Island learners in a different way, perhaps closer to how they see themselves.

Some questions to think about

Here are some questions from the learner’s point of view to help you focus on each part of the Fonofale model:

  • Do I have support from my family to do this course? (Family).
  • Does this course connect with my Pacific cultural values and beliefs? (Culture).
  • Do I have the resources to do this course? (Physical).
  • Do I believe that I can do this course? (Spiritual).
  • Can I cope with the workload? (Mental).
  • Is there anything that’s going to get in the way of my goals here? (Others).
  • Are my surroundings, including home and work, going to help me achieve? (Environment).
  • Can I afford to do this at the moment? (Context and time).


It may not always be possible to always attend to all dimensions of the Fonofale for all of your Pasifika learners. But one big implication is that if you have learners who are struggling, or who are not engaged, then the Fonofale may help you work out where the problem is and how to deal with it.

But one big implication is that if you have learners who are struggling, or who are not engaged, then the Fonofale may help you work out where the problem is and how to deal with it.

Interested in more?

I have additional updated content of Pasifika here below:

Introducing Pacific Cultural Centredness

Are you Interested in finding out more about how a Pacific worldview may impact your teaching and learning? Check out this playlist with Pale, Saylene and Graeme talking about Pacific cultural centredness, talanoa, Le Va and Pacific cultural safety.

My eBooks

For more on Learner Centred Teaching please check out these resources of mine:

What is Learner-Centred Teaching – 12 Concepts from Te Ao Māori You Should Embrace to Create Learning Success

Discover time-honoured approaches to learner-centred teaching

What if I told you that there were time-honoured approaches to teaching and learning you can use to create the conditions for learning success. Imagine if your teaching really connected with your learners… What if your classroom or training environment was a place where your learners felt like they belonged and wanted to learn?

Here’s a secret. It’s totally possible if you discover and embrace time-honoured concepts from Te Ao Māori – the Māori world. This book is for you if you want to teach or train in a way that is more learner-centred or if you want to learn to think in a more holistic way. Read more here


Click the link below to find out more about What is Learner-Centred? 12 Concepts from Te Ao Māori You Should Embrace to Create Learning Success


Three Simple Approaches You Need for Learner-Centred Teaching

Find out more about three of the fundamentals of adult teaching

Have you ever thought about how to improve your teaching? Have you ever wondered what it takes to create learner success in any teaching environment? Well, you need three things. Make that four things… You need to:

  • Understand what people mean when they talk about “learner-centred” teaching.
  • Know how to leverage your learners’ prior knowledge.
  • Have simple ways of increasing the motivation of your students. 
  • Know what learner agency is and how to develop it.

Read more here.


Click the link below to find out more about Three Simple Approaches You Need for Learner Centred Teaching – Proven Ways to Use Prior Knowledge, Increase Motivation and Develop Learner Agency to Pave the Road to Learning Success

Buy my product

Literacy & Numeracy – It’s Not Rocket Science

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Literacy and Numeracy: It's Not Rocket Science BY 


Learn the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy with Graeme Smith

Discover how to be more successful in your teaching journey. I’ll introduce and explain some of the fundamentals of adult literacy and numeracy.

Once you’ve finished reading, you will have a better understanding of the basics including how to integrate or embed literacy and numeracy into your teaching. This includes with technical and vocational education. You can read more here.

Now bundled wth two free printable resources – a place value chart and hundreds grid.


Click the link below to find out more about Literacy and Numeracy: It’s Not Rocket Science.


The Educator Entrepreneur – Don’t Bring a Whiteboard Marker to a Knife Fight

Learn how to think like an Entrepreneur with Graeme Smith

Education is a tough business to work in. And that’s true regardless of whether you are a teacher, a trainer or any kind of specialist educator. But what if you’re a business owner AS WELL…!

If you’re like me, most days you’re probably pretty excited about what you do. But some days… Some days I can’t understand why anyone would want to work in education. But I learned to survive and thrive and you can too. Teach yourself a lesson and start thinking like an entrepreneur. Read more here


Click the link below to find out more about The Educator Entrepreneur – Don’t Bring a Whiteboard Marker to a Knife Fight


Author: Graeme Smith

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10 thoughts

  1. Thank you Graeme. This is a huge help for me and will be for many of my learners.

    Hope all’s well with you and your whanau.

    Cheers T x

    Tracey Brake 021 605667

    1. Thanks Tracey. New territory for us with the new version of the qualification. Thanks for the support and feedback. All’s well on our side. All the best for 2017. Cheers G

  2. it has gender, sexual orientation, social class, educational status, employment for one of the post (Others) can you explain to me why

    1. HI there. Yes, it does seem like a bit of a catch all. I didn’t create it so I can’t comment as to the rationale. If you google it you’re likely to find a bit more. The creator is Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann. I’m sure there are journal articles out there that give you the details if you have a look.

    1. There are lots of similarities… For one thing, both use the metaphor of a whare/fale to illustrate the framework. You should compare the four walls of the tapa wha to the pillars of the fale. Cheers, G

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