Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Spirituality in a School? - Karyn Gray

I said to someone recently that my life has ben immeasurably changed, for the better, by having been part of this school, and by becoming part of these young peoples lives, and thats so true.

When I came here three years ago, I knew my life was going to change, and it sure has.

Most of my life I have lived and taught and lead in fairly typical white middle class communities, with a few exceptions at times.

Coming to live, and lead a school, in a predominantly Maori rural village was going to mean I needed to learn a new way of being, and quickly.

But its taken me three years to really understand what I’m learning.

As a staff we meet on a Monday to begin our week together with karakia (prayer)  and waiata (song).
We close the week on a Friday after a positive reflection session with a karakia and waiata together.

Our learning communities (groups of students that learn together) meet each morning and all student and staff start the day together with karakia and waiata. Most learning communities do the same thing at the end of the day.

The idea of prayer in a secular school would have concerned me in another environment.

In our environment it is the right thing to do.

We attend a lot of tangis, (extended funerals) I have often attended tangis of people I don’t know over the last three years, just because it is important in our context to show that respect to the wider whanau (family) as well as the deceased person.

I go to kapahaka wananga (haka group practices) and I see kids , who can be hoha (difficult) in a classroom be completely focussed late into the night. I see something different come into them, or over them.

We blessed our new school last week and I got that in  a way I wouldn’t have necessarily in the past. I understood the traditions that were happening, and a lot of the korero (speeches) that were being spoken, in a way I definitely wouldn’t have been able to three years ago.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but this year I got something else. Somehow I just got it a whole lot more this year. I am not religious,and I wouldn’t say I’ve found religion, but I have found a much deeper level of spirituality. 

One day I went to a tangi of someone I barely knew and I just got it. I got the spirituality that comes with tangis. I got the spirituality that comes with the Maori culture. I got why there is so much crying. I cried for 24 hours. I went to sleep crying and I woke up crying and I just got it. And after I came out the other side of that, I just got spirituality on another whole level.

And once you understand  it- that whole spirituality that comes with being part of the Maori culture, or being immersed in it, it doesn’t go away.

And getting that, helps me learn with our kids and our whanau. 
It helps me learn with them. 
It helps me help them to learn. 

And it helps us keep developing our school community. 

We talk a lot about “I” words at TKAS. A big “I” word for us is Identity. We know and embrace the fact our young people need to fully develop, and understand their own identity in order to make the most out of their learning opportunities.

Learning isn’t something that can happen in isolation at TKAS. We know we need to understand ourselves and those around us in order to make the most of our learning. 

And we need to understand and fully embrace the Maori culture we are immersed in in order to make the most of our learning opportunities. And when we embrace that culture, we have to understand the unspoken, and sometimes covert as well as overt spirituality that comes with that culture.

As we wind up our third year I think thats a pretty good understanding to have.

Our core business is learning, but so much has to happen for optimal learning to really take place, anywhere. 

How much do you embrace this in your learning institution? Is learning something that happens in isolation? 

Or is learning a part of the culture of your students, and do you make their culture a part of your learning?

And does that mean that learning looks different from school to school? And for groups within schools? And is that okay? I say yes.

My life has certainly been immeasurably enriched by being exposed to what I have been in the last three years.

As I write what is probably our last staff blog for this year I close with a karakia:

Kia tau ki a tātou katoa
Te atawhai o tō tātou Ariki, a Ihu Karaiti
Me te aroha o te Atua
Me te whiwhingatahitanga
Ki te wairua tapu
Ake, ake, ake


  1. Thanks for sharing that Karyn. As always on your school's blogs - lots of food for thought.

  2. " I needed to learn a new way of being "
    It shows, Karyn.