• Home
  • Programme
  • Activator Speakers
  • Keynote Speakers
  • MCs
  • Theme
  • Sign Language
  • Contact us

Michelle Johansson

Michelle is a Tongan mother, theatre-maker and educator. She serves as Kaitiaki at Ako Mātātupu: Teach First NZ, growing exceptional people to teach in low-decile schools. Michelle has had a long career in education, as a secondary school teacher; a lecturer in Pacific Studies, English, Drama and Education at the University of Auckland; and as Head of Performing Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology. She currently serves on a number of boards of trustees, including the NZ Youth Mentoring Network, the University of Auckland Kupe Scholars, and the MIT Pacific Peoples Advisory Group.

Michelle is an active researcher, committed to social justice. She has previously held scholarships with the NZ Federation of Graduate Women, the University of Auckland, and Yale University. Michelle is Kaiwhakahaere at Māia Centre for Social Justice and Education and the Creative Director of the Black Friars. South Auckland, decile-one born and bred, she is proud to work alongside amazing teachers, warriors, storytellers and change-makers to re-story Pasifika in the largest Polynesian city in the world, to activate indigenous knowledges, to grow future leaders and to hold courageous spaces for our young people to walk tall in all of their worlds.


Session Description:

What will it take to change the world for Young Brown Scholars?

Michelle’s focus for talanoa this year is on leveraging collectively for widespread system change. In this session, we’ll look closely at some of the lies we’ve been told about Education and Equity and we’ll consider the crisis agency in Aotearoa with the critical understanding that what happens in the classroom every day is a matter of life and death for our young brown scholars.

In Aotearoa, the Covid-19 crisis called to arms our team of five million. We locked our borders and worked hard to protect our people. Now we are working to grow our economy. The problem is that many of us were living in crisis for a long time before Coronavirus hit our shores.

The nature of inequality is systemic, complex and increasingly urgent. To effect system-level change we need sensitive and bold influencers at the highest possible levels in government, business, community, public and not-for-profit sectors. Activating the potential of our young people is essential. All young people deserve to realise their potential. They are not somebody else’s problem. They are our greatest asset.

Operating from the belief that education should be culturally sustaining, critically rigorous and deeply courageous, attendees to this session will look at the state of our nation for young brown scholars. Following this, we’ll build some practical ways of working towards a better, fairer Aotearoa with an education system that honours the trust that Pasifika families and communities place in us to educate their children.


  • Effective Pacific pedagogies.
  • Confronting systemic racism and bias.
  • Identities, languages and cultures.