Finding His Feet In Education

For teachers, it’s not everyday you get to see a student grow like Teina did in his time with alternative education innovator and partner charity of ours Ngā Rangatahi Toa (NRT). As a quiet kid from South Auckland who'd been kicked out of school at 15, he felt pretty much 'invisible' when he arrived at their door. Less than a year on, NRT founder Sarah Longbottom shares the story of the young man she sees today.


The first two things you notice about Teina are his smile and his gentle laugh. He has an unassuming and easy presence. His gangly, still-growing limbs are always ready for a hug, and are at their teenage best when sprawled across one of our ‘thinking’ couches.

Like a lot of young men Teina doesn’t talk a huge amount, but if you’re lucky enough to spend a bit more time, patiently engaging him in conversation and listening well, you will see what we see – a creative and curious learner. With NRT at his side Teina has made an inspiring journey, from feeling ‘invisible’ and ‘stupid’ to developing classroom confidence and personal growth.

When Teina came to us, like many of our rangatahi in our programmes, he didn’t consider himself artistic in the slightest. However, at NRT our mahi is not about working with young artists, it’s about working with young people, and we are guided in our work by the deep-rooted belief that every human is creative in their own way.

So for Teina, it was our mission to create the space for whatever his creativity might look like, and use that to help restore the classroom confidence that is lost when you slip through the cracks in the education system.

He began to transform his own view of himself through our intensive one-to-one mentoring programme Manawa Ora: Courage is Contagious. Working with his mentor Owen Dippie, and crafting his own mural from scratch, we saw he began to grow his self-esteem, however Teina’s real journey has been through his involvement in Takatū, our programme designed to give rangatahi a positive classroom experience.

Teina and Owen. 2016.

Teina and Owen. 2016.

The idea in Takatū is to leverage the unique NRT Teaching Artist model, developed in partnership with the Tindall Next Gen fund. We combine creativity, innovative teaching & learning, and a whānau-centered youth development approach that takes us deep into the lives of the rangatahi we serve.

Through the programme, Teina shed the fear of being ‘wrong’ in classroom discussion that had dominated his previous school experience, and emerged as a confident and curious learner ready to transition into tertiary study and adulthood.

At the core of every element of Takatū is the creative process, a place where there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and where the process is as important as the outcome. We promote risk-taking, failure and mistakes as the birthplace of learning and personal development, and the rangatahi themselves set the theme for the programme, which frames the whole curriculum they cover.

Through a guided therapeutic process, the theme Teina and the rest of the NRT rangatahi gave to us in March was ‘Peace in Chaos’. To get to the core of this deeply personal theme – one we see that every human strives for in their own way – we went big and explored historical figures, looking at the different ways they had managed to find peace in chaos.

Our Lead Teacher, Steph Ikinofo, worked with our Teaching Artists to create a unit of work analysing the process of leaders such as Stanley Tookie Williams, who found redemption through brokering a peace deal between the Bloods and the Crips from his prison cell, when gang violence in LA was at its peak. We also looked at Rosa Parks and Te Whiti o Rongomai, and explored the movements of passive resistance that these two leaders represented.

Teina and his peers investigated content, reflected on themes and then related this to their own lives. They and their whānau were supported in this work by our engagement team, led by Huia O’Sullivan, who would regularly visit our rangatahi at their own homes.

Underpinning the key classroom activities of Takatū were our everyday practices. Steph led staff and rangatahi in yoga and mindfulness sessions to start each day, sharing simple techniques to find their own peace, and daily creative workshops processed and further developed ideas that had come up in class.

Teina was guided by Jackie Wilson, his Takatū Teaching Artist to start extending himself in creating a visual representation of what he had learnt about peace in chaos. He made clear connections between the classroom based content and his work in creative workshops, and flexed in the creative process required of him to determine layout and colour choice, finding joy in the sometimes challenging trial-and-error process required for screen printing.

He made mistakes, but in doing so Teina demanded more of himself than he ever had before in a classroom, coming to confident use of symbols and other elements of visual language, and successfully conveying high-level ideas.

Teina describes the NRT classroom as ‘safe’ and it was from this safety that, in his words, he ‘made it happen’. We created the environment for Takatū but Teina developed the confidence - that’s all him. He was able to find a freedom to learn in the way he wanted to learn, and he ran with it.

Most importantly, from an educator’s point of view, Teina developed the confidence to engage in the process of ako with Jackie giving himself the space and calm to question, discuss and even teach his teacher. Our quiet ‘non-artist’ had found his voice through creativity. We are super proud of him – Teina, you inspire us!

– Sarah LB


Ngā Rangatahi Toa support heaps of kids like Teina who have been excluded from mainstream education to build confidence and a brighter future. They don't take any funding from gaming foundations or breweries, so they need all of our support. Go learn more about Ngā Rangatahi Toa and give your one percent.