Identifying an ethical dilemma

As a teacher engaged in pastoral care, one of the most pressing ethical issues we face is the student use of social media outside school hours. By and large, the majority of student actions on social media are not concerning, but frequently, issues addressed among teens via their devices would often lead to isolated issues of bullying and harassment. This can often spill over into the school environment with parents expecting the school to deal with the issues among their child’s peer groups.

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This ultimately raises a number of questions for a school’s pastoral team: who is responsible for a student’s use of media outside school hours, and what role – if any – does the school play in mitigating the fallout caused by the abuse of social media?

In my school, there is no written formal policy on the misuse of social media outside of school hours, but staff take it upon themselves to identify and mitigate any instances of social media misuse, even if it was occurring outside of school hours. The school does this for a number of reasons. Firstly, as teachers we were/are committed to protect the wellbeing of the learner (Education Council, Code of Ethics). We acknowledged that the students who were involved in these social media instances were disengaged within the class and that their concerns could sometimes accelerate into physical confrontations.

Secondly, as a school we were/are responsible for promoting and protecting the principles of human rights, and social justice. Integral to this is the right for a student to feel safe at school. In this guise, we also had a responsibility to engage in relationships with ‘families and whānau that are professional and respectful’ (Education Council, Code of Ethics). Because many parents were not aware of their student’s use of social media, we felt it important that they understood the intricacies of what was occurring and how to deal with the issue from home.

To illustrate our procedures around instances of social media misuse, a potential example of it, alongside its rectification will be discussed:

Student A (the instigator), made a disparaging meme about Student B and then shared that meme on Snapchat among other members of the class. Two of the students who received the meme, C and D, then used the screen shot function on their devices and saved the image. They then distributed the image around more friends, including students from other schools. The following day, Student B is made aware of the meme by one of his/her friends and is left upset and angry. At recess, there is a confrontation between the students.

Stakeholders Issues and Concerns
Student A Created a meme that victimised Student B. The student is liable under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 because he/she used a form of electronic communication that contravened principle 5 of the act: ‘A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.’
Student B Had a meme posted publically about themselves without their knowledge or permission. He/she is upset and feels undermined by the peer group. He/she feels victimised and embarrassed. Student is concerned that this may hang around and negatively impact on their online identity (Henderson, 2014) Student does not want to be at school.
Student C and Student D Thought the meme was funny and sent it onto a wider peer group. Their actions also constitute a breach of the Harmful Digital Communitcations Act 2015.
Peers within school Many saw the meme and did not pass it on. Most thought it was funny, but did not think anything more about it. Their perception of Student B remains unchanged, most think more negatively about Student A. They are concerned that he/she might target them.
Peers outside of school Same as above.
Parents of student A Surprised that their child has been accused of online bullying. Worried that there could be police intervention. Worried that the police may hold them responsible as their student created the meme at home on the family server.
Parents of student B Angry that Student A created the meme and shared it. Want Student A held accountable. Wants the school to exercise its maximum authority.
Parents of students C and D Like the parents of Student A, they are worried about potential criminal proceedings, but feel that their children had a much smaller part to play. Want the issue to go away.
School staff Would like the situation dealt with effectively and quickly. Worried that the online component might bring the school into disrepute, especially if it is picked up by the media. Concerned that all the students’ involved need to be given a fair and equitable say in proceedings.


A restorative conference would be called between the immediately affected families. Restorative practice works in well with my school’s Catholic charism as it requires all parties to become involved in the discipline process. Using the school’s policy of care for the individual and its links to restorative practice, the lead pastoral team would define the issues, acknowledge all those involved and their roles, reflect openly on the effects of the behaviours and finally, agree on consequences.

Licensed under creative commons.

Although the school would not seek any criminal proceedings, we would insist on the attendance of the school’s partnership Police Officer to add formality to the proceedings and emphasise the criminal nature of the bullying. The school would also arrange the meeting so that the parents of the affected children could attend so as to support their students, and to express their views and give them full engagement in the process. Having parents attend the full proceedings is important as it helps to mitigate any unforeseen disciplinary problems that a family might instigate such as the example illustrated by Hall (2001, p.2-3).

Ultimately, the school would be geared towards addressing the imbalances caused in the relationships by the offending and the restoration of all parties back into the class environment.

To address the wider group of students exposed to the incident, the school would employ the New Zealand Police to address the students at an assembly and brief them on what constitutes online harassment, how to avoid it, and what potential penalties there are.

In this way, the school would meet all its ethical responsibilities of ensuring that the students are safe and that the wider whanau groups had an adequate input into the proceedings.

Education Council. (2017). Our Code of Standards: code of professional responsibility and standards for the teaching profession. Retrieved from:

Hall, A. (2001). What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. Paper presented at the IIPE Conference, Brisbane. Retrieved from

Henderson, M., Auld, G., & Johnson, N. F. (2014). Ethics of Teaching with Social Media. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (2015). Digital technology – Safe and responsible use in schools. Retrieved from

New Zealand Government. (2015). Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved from:


Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

Having moved to New Zealand as a twelve year old, my initial dealings with Māori people were not positive. When I arrived in Hawkes Bay in the early 1990s, Māori made up a large amount of the unskilled and uneducated work force and this had led to the ghettoisation of some Māori communities within residential pockets. These communities exhibited high amounts of crime and problems associated with low socio-economic conditions. Because of this, within the Pakeha community, there was an entrenched notion of an ‘us and them’ system of segregation. Needless to say, as a weedy and unconfident young boy, this led me to develop an unnecessary and irrational fear of Māori.

In terms of a Mauri model of cultural awareness – adapted from Potahu, 2011 – this placed me firmly within the Mauri Moe (death) state of Māori cultural awareness. I had little to no appreciation of Māori culture, and apart from some familiarity with the All Black’s haka, I had no idea of what it meant to be Māori.  Fortunately, this changed as I entered a high school where Te Reo Māori was a compulsory subject in forms three and four (years 9 and 10). It was here that I entered the Mauri Moe (sleep state) of cultural awareness.

Here at my new school I was introduced to simple tikanga Māori and learnt basic protocols. Little did I know, but the seeds were being sown to help enable me to further explore tikanga. Under the tutelage of Paul Blake, I discovered mihi, haka, and a love for hangi. I also experienced my first tangi after the loss of a school friend. Yet, although I wasn’t proficient in Māori customs by any means, the roots had begun to form.

From Mauri Moe, to Mauri Oho, my tertiary years fostered a great period of proactive pursuit of knowledge around Māori history and art. Here at university, I studied papers on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the historical interactions between the early British Crown and Māori iwi. I also studied Maori art and culture which developed a deeper appreciation for Māori customs.

The carving demonstrates the integration of Christian, and in particular Roman Catholic, beliefs with a Māori world view. The carver has suggested the concept of the Virgin Mother of God by placing a full facial moko (tattoo) on the face of Mary. In doing so, he has likened her to an Ariki Tapairu – the firstborn female in a family of high rank. Ariki Tapairu were invested with special tapu (sacredness). They weren’t allowed to marry or be touched by men, and their full moko signified their status.

Finally, within my own context, I believe that I am openly moving towards the Mauri Ora stage, though I am not quite there yet. Experiences with the He Kakano programme, marae visits, and frequent attendance at powhiri have enabled me to better understand Māori practice and customs. However, I firmly believe that full Mauri Ora can only occur with language acquisition and this is a step that may be too difficult. In the meanwhile, I try to actively engage with the relatively few Māori within my classes and try to weave their cultural histories into my lessons. I also seek their advice on certain aspects of lessons and use this to guide my classroom reflections.

In terms of my school’s practice of engaging Māori and enabling staff and students to engage with Māori, a number of steps have been taken. Firstly, at the school-wide level, the start of each week always begins with a karakia in Reo Māori. When planning for events (building openings, blessings, mass, etc), we try and incorporate local hapu customs. For example, after the death of a student, we invited the local kaumatua in to bless the buildings and remove the tapu associated with the deceased student’s mauri. The school’s Māori language teacher also wrote a waiata oriori to help the students to sing about the school’s cultural history. Finally, the year 9 retreat is built around a terms worth of education around personal identity in a New Zealand context (biculturalism and links to Tangatawhenua) which culminates in a day and overnight stay at the local marae.

Within my own pedagogy, as a religious studies teacher, I am in the fortunate position of being able to weave biblical narratives with Māori cultural stories and understandings to better enable Māori voice within my earning activities. For example, in one learning activity, we might analyse the creation myths of both the Māori and the Hebrew Old Testament to search for the greater meanings behind the stories. We also look at myths around figures such as Maui and compare his exploits to those of the biblical figures of Joshua, Sampson and such like. In this way we can create bridges of understanding between the cultures that enable not just Māori students, but also Pakeha students to engage with the topics.

Lastly, I discuss the roles of faith and the importance of Māori spirituality. It is essential to acknowledge that Māori adopted Christianity and it was not something that was forced upon them. When Samuel Marsden was invited to New Zealand by Ruatara of Nga Puhi, it was with Māori consent (Parsonson, 1990). Indeed, with Maori vastly outnumbering Europeans at the time, if the Māori had disagreed with the proselytising of their people, the early missionaries would not have had much success. Using the Māori expressions of religion and art fostered by the Pai Mārire, Kīngitanga, and Ringatū movements, we are able to investigate the expressions of Christianity through a Māori lens. This strategy leads to more engagement with the Māori community and a better sense of hauora among the Māori students at school. It also allows me to foster more student focused agency (Gutschlag, 2007) to identify areas of improvement within my own teaching as Māori students feel more comfortable approaching me within their own Māori context.

Gutschlag, A.(2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioning. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from

Parsonson. G. S. (1990). ‘Marsden, Samuel’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, and updated online in May, 2013. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,

Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from…


The trend of tech and BYOD in New Zealand

There’s an old proverb from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that says, ‘Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.’

In education we have been giving students fish (knowledge) for years. This model ensured that the teacher remained the primary conduit for education as the teacher was the focal point of knowledge. However, the last twenty years has seen a technological explosion that has rendered the knowledge based teacher largely obsolete and seen education become student centred and primarily skills based. In other words, education is now geared towards teaching the student to fish, and most importantly, education wants to help the student to learn to teach themselves how to fish.

By teaching a student to learn to fish for themselves, teachers are providing a more valuable service to the students. Students learn how to problem solve, present, and craft their knowledge developments into new and exciting modes of communication. This makes a student a better employee in the future as their skill sets make them creative researchers, problem solvers, and presenters.

So what has enabled this transition? Well, the modern device (smart phone, laptop, etc.) has already rendered the supercomputer of the 1990s obsolete, and within a few seconds, a technologically able student can access more up to date information on their devices than any one teacher can hope to learn in a lifetime. Technology lies at the heart of the modern technological revolution but it isn’t without its problems. The US National Intelligence Council’s (2017) ‘Global trends: The Paradox of Progress’ paper noted that, ‘Technology is accelerating progress but causing discontinuities. Rapid technological advancements will increase the pace of change and create new opportunities but will aggravate divisions between winners and losers.’

Used with permission. Image taken from:


In New Zealand, the most visible trend associated with the technological revolution is the school based policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The Network 4 Learning noted in a 2015 survey of 700 schools, that 65.7% of decile 8-10 schools had a BYOD policy, while only 50.9% of decile 1-3 schools were ‘using, or thinking about using, a device programme.’ Obviously, the 2015 report is now outdated, but it does give some startling figures that support the idea that technology will exacerbate educational outcomes between those who can afford technology and those who cannot.

With the average cost of an entry level device being around the $576 mark (N4L, 2015), it would seem self-evident that many New Zealand families are going to struggle to provide their students with technology for the classroom. Even with assistance programmes in place, device service lives are relatively limited, and with multiple children in a family, the cost of maintaining and upgrading technology within a BYOD environment can be tremendously prohibitive.

So where should schools stand? Obviously, it is essential – as stated in the 2016, OECD: Trends Shaping Education paper – that all students should have access to technology to ensure that they can benefit from the improved education that it can afford. This idea is supported by the 1989  Education Act, that states that, ‘every person who is not an international student is entitled to free enrolment and free education at any State school or partnership school’ (Part 1:3). Yet more schools are placing the cost of these devices firmly on the family and with New Zealand’s underfunded education system, it is hardly surprising.

Currently, schools who do not force BYOD and instead opt for the socially more beneficial One-to-One Device (OTOD) programme, where schools provide students with access to devices, rely on their Operation Grants to provide devices. This means that in order to provide their students with a basic instrument for modern education, they are having to cut into the funding that pays for a school’s day to day running costs (amenities, learning support, hardware, etc.). Obviously something better needs to be done. One solution would be for the government to invest in providing all students in the country with a device. The cost of kitting out our students with individual devices would cost the country $454 million (based on an entry level device of $576 and our current student population of 787,9601). To put this in perspective, the upgrades to the HMNZS Te Kaha and Te Mana cost the country $440 million dollars so it is well within our capabilities.

Ultimately, we have an obligation to provide the tools to enable our children to succeed in a technologically driven society. We must ensure that all students have digital tools to help them to reach their learning potential and as a country with a shared vision of free education, it is a burden that we all must bear.

1 Data gathered from the New Zealand Education Council’s 2016 figures.

KPMG International. (2014). Future state 2030: the global megatrends shaping governments”. KPMG International Cooperative: USA. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (2017). Education Counts: student numbers. NZ. Retrieved from

National Intelligence Council. (2017). Global trends: The Paradox of Progress. National Intelligence Council: US. Retrieved from

The Network for Learning Ltd. (2015). Tech in Schools Survey. Retrieved from:

New Zealand Government. (1989). New Zealand Education Act. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved from:


Current issues in my professional context

“The special character of the school is highly evident in values and practices that relate to respect, excellence and service. A wide range of opportunities and experiences for students encourages participation in activities at and beyond the school. Reflected across all areas of the school is a culture of high expectations for achievement. This is contributing to very successful outcomes for students.” – Education Review Office

Villa Maria College is a state integrated girl’s secondary school catering to years 7-13. It has a student population of just over 800 students. The school, being a Catholic College and not subject to the standard zoning, draws students from across the greater Christchurch region. Despite or because of this, the college is a decile 9 school. The decile rating system is determined by analysing household income, the occupations of the parents, household crowding, the educational qualifications of the household, and finally, whether or not the parents of the students receive any income support (Ministry of Education). This decile rating places Villa Maria’s students within the top 20% of New Zealand families with high socio-economic backgrounds.

The College’s year 13 students after assisting their brother college raise money for a sick teen during a variety show.

Stoll (1998), notes that a school’s culture is greatly influenced by the social backgrounds of the students in attendance. This is obvious at Villa Maria where a predominantly professional parent community places a great deal of emphasis on the academic achievement of their daughters. The result of this is that Villa Maria had 88.5% of its year 13 students achieve NCEA Level 3 in 2016, well above the national average of 53.9% (Ministry of Education, 2017).

Likewise, the teaching staff at Villa Maria also reflect this drive for academic excellence, with teachers putting in long hours at the College and often running extra tutorials after school hours or during their meal times to better enable student success.

This academic excellence is as strongly ingrained within the college community as the school’s special character. At the core of the special character are the attributes of the school’s Mercy tradition:

  • Education that is grounded in the Gospel
  • Respect for the dignity, worth and potential of every human being
  • Concern for the poor and the disadvantaged
  • Concern for justice

These values, embodied by the schools motto of ‘empowering each young woman to determine her potential, live gospel values, confidently embrace life-long learning and as a Mercy Woman be inspired to make a difference’ (Villa Maria College) was recognised by the school’s Special Character Community Report which noted that ‘The nurturing, support and care for individuals within the college and in the wider community is a strength of the college’ (Catholic Education Office, 2015).

Student’s working with the local special needs community to throw an afternoon tea.

Because of the very academic and culturally strong traditions of the school. There is a large amount of expectation placed upon both staff and students by the culture of the school. This can lead to stressful situations and high levels of anxiety within the school community. Fortunately, the school has sought to manage these in a variety of ways.

Firstly, among staff, the principal has strongly encouraged the development of a staff wellbeing committee. This committee, headed by the school’s counsellor, provides regular advice and feedback to staff through one a week staff briefings. The school’s senior management is also quick to offer staff any external help if it detects any form of extra strain on the staff. Secondly, the school has a strong social committee who organise staff drinks and afternoon tea every Friday. This provides an opportunity for staff to distress and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around work. Finally, the school is notorious for the amount of staff morning teas that are regularly catered. These shared meals enable staff to regularly come together and relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Likewise, the school’s pastoral team works very hard to ensure that the students’ hauora is looked after. Vertical Group teachers work alongside house deans to provide extra support where needed. The school’s councellor also works alongside a public nurse and health expert who come into the school once a week to see student’s by appointment. Finally, the school works closely with the Christchurch Health School to deliver options for students whose health may otherwise prevent them from attending the college.

At a more whanau based level, the school and caregiver community work closely alongside each other. This takes the form of regular correspondence between the teachers and caregivers via fortnightly grades assessing student engagement. The school also strongly encourages both teachers and the parent community to contact each other if there are any concerns. The school’s leadership team has also worked hard to implement student mentoring (Ako Time) for 2017. This will enable even greater pastoral care of the students and strengthen the ties between the college and the parental community.

Catholic Education Office. (2015). Villa Maria College. Special Character Community Report. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:

Education Review Office. (2013). Villa Maria College. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:

Ministry of Education. School Deciles. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:

Ministry of Education. (2017). Villa Maria College – NCEA level 3. Education Counts. Retrieved 2 September from:

Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from

Villa Maria College. About Us. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: