When Mere Berryman went to school she achieved while her brothers failed despite her knowing they "were as clever as me".
That question would drive a 35-year education-based career focused on working with like-minded people to "make a difference", by helping Maori students realise their potential.
The associate professor told the Bay of Plenty Times becoming an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit was an honour, but she preferred to think of it as a group award because "I can't do what I do without the people around me who share the same aspirations".
She was acknowledged for her services to Maori and education. She embarked on her path after spending her early years teaching and realising "I was becoming part of the problem" .
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A Maori boy was three times more likely to be stood-down, suspended or expelled from school, she said.
"Maori kids in my class were fine, if they were in my syndicate they were fine but if they were a problem for everybody else, they were my problem."
So she tackled the issue by learning how to become a researcher to address the disparities, and was instrumental in establishing and leading the Te Kotahitanga professional development programme.
A vital component of that initiative was speaking to principals, teachers, Maori students and parents with her colleague professor Russell Bishop to understand how to make a difference.
The pupils' views hit a note, she said, and helped develop an effective teaching profile that would be utilised for the next 13 years in a cluster of North Island secondary schools.
"Believe it or not they didn't like the teacher to stand up the front, tell them what to do, write it on the board and make them copy it down. They wanted to use their own knowledge and experiences as part of their learning," she said. "They wanted their teachers to listen to them and to have a relationship and treat them like people and not be condescending."
When Government funding ended on that project, the Ministry of Education started a new programme, Kia Eke Panuku, of which she is the director. It was rewarding watching Maori stand tall and some schools had made amazing changes, she said.