Successful engagement: good practice

This section discusses the practices in each of the eight schools that supported successful engagement with parents, whānau and the wider community.

Aranui School: Responsive relationships

Aranui School is a decile 1, Year 1 to 6 contributing school in Wanganui. In 2007 the school’s roll was 118, of whom 58 percent were Māori, 41 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā and one percent were Pacific students.

The principal knows the school’s community well, having been in this role for some time. He makes a conscious effort to involve the school in its local community through his quiet support of staff and parents, and through leading by example.

“It is our school, we look after each other.”

Principal

The school’s values and beliefs are founded on the CARE approach (cooperation, attitude, respect and effort). All staff model the philosophy implicit in this approach in their day-to-day practice. They use the four words regularly to explain the way things are done at the school.

During the initial enrolment process, the CARE approach is discussed with parents and whānau while their child is present. This discussion helps to build a partnership based on common understandings of school values and how these are woven into day-to-day practice. The principal maintains relationships and lines of communication with parents and whānau by visiting 40 to 50 homes each year and by monitoring student safety, especially after school when students are on their way home.

Staff work as a team. They have a shared understanding of the school’s vision and their place in its implementation. Part of the board’s interview process for new teachers involves asking questions about whether potential staff will interact well with students and their parents, because this underpins the school’s vision.

“Teachers are warm and welcoming.”

Principal

Staff build strong relationships with parents in a variety of ways. They are accessible, friendly and caring towards families and they seek opportunities to talk with parents when they drop off and pick up their children. Parents feel they can approach staff about matters to do with their child’s learning or well-being. They take an active role in their child’s education and participate in the many activities available at the school. Students learn in an inclusive environment where they are respected as individuals and where teachers hold high expectations for their achievement and progress. Teachers show respect for and understanding of their students’ backgrounds.

“We discuss small things before they become bigger problems.”

Principal

Staff intervene early to prevent potential problems. They respond promptly to behaviour concerns by making contact with parents and whānau and discussing strategies to help resolve any issues. Students are aware of the consequences of their behaviour and understand that their parents share responsibility for finding solutions and making decisions about what will happen. A focus on dealing with small matters before they escalate helps promote shared responsibility and strengthens home-school partnerships.

“Parents receive a personal invitation to come to interviews.”

Principal

The school has very high attendance at school interviews. Parents are given a personal invitation to these important occasions. The invitation includes a photograph of their child and explains the purpose of the interview and how parents might benefit from the process. If parents have not responded to the written invitation, staff either phone the parents or visit the home. Teachers prepare for the interview by sending home a written report. They invite parents to discuss and ask questions about the report and to contribute to setting goals for their child’s future learning. Student workbooks (and in some classes digital portfolios) are available for parents to view. Students are invited to be part of the process so they can share what they are learning with their parents. Parents gain a better understanding of their child’s progress.

“Parents see school as a valuable place to be.”

Principal

Parents build valuable skills through becoming school trustees, helping in the school canteen, and organising school events. The Computers in Homes programme, facilitated by the school, has enabled some families to have their own computer and to learn about using it. In addition, some students have taught family members computer skills. Many parents participate in the Duffy Heroes Assemblies, where the value of reading is promoted and students see their parents as learners alongside themselves.

Pakuranga College: Leadership promoting community engagement

Pakuranga College is a large decile 9, coeducational secondary school located in Pakuranga, Auckland. In 2007 the school’s roll was 2084, of whom 49 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 17 percent Chinese, nine percent Indian, seven percent African, five percent Māori, four percent Korean, three percent Pacific, with the remaining six percent from various other ethnic groups.

I have the opportunity to enjoy my learning…negotiate a process for successful outcomes in partnership with teachers who endeavour to include my family, whānau and community in my learning.”  1

The principal provides high quality leadership based on well-researched educational practice. The learning charter, developed in consultation with the community and shared extensively with students, establishes a common understanding and ownership of school direction. This charter and plan give trustees, teachers and students appropriate direction to engage with parents. A goal to ‘extend and develop the home-school partnerships and engage the parent community with the school to improve student achievement’ provides a sharp focus on learning and the importance of good quality relationships. Strengthening engagement with parents and whānau is a key strategic priority.

The principal, senior managers, teachers and students lead different aspects of parent and whānau engagement. The principal promotes and sustains a mutually respectful culture and leads by example. Senior managers lead by meeting with specific ethnic groups. They are the first point of contact in the school and oversee the organisation of events and processes to promote the achievement of particular groups of students.

“Students are instrumental in providing a link with their families.”

Principal

Students represent 55 different ethnicities. They provide the bridge between parents and families, and the school. Students encourage family attendance and interest in their work and life at school. They are pivotal in imparting their enthusiasm for learning to their parents. Student leaders from various ethnic groups are involved in attending meetings, translating invitations and newsletters and providing language support for parents.

Meetings with parents of specific ethnic backgrounds are customised for those particular groups. Parents are invited through personally addressed and mailed invitations. Those parents who are familiar with school personnel network with their ethnic community to recruit other parents and whānau to attend meetings. Senior student leaders also attend these meetings at which parents determine the format and agenda.

Parents have regular opportunities to meet with school managers, teachers and trustees. Information evenings are organised to promote parents’ understanding of learning and assessment processes. Parents are able to discuss and share information and issues.

These meetings provide an opportunity for ‘coffee table’ conversations.”

Board chairperson

Cottage meetings are held in parents’ homes. Each term a parent organises a meeting for up to 15 other parents from their street (or of their acquaintance). The principal attends these meetings and discusses any topics parents want to present. School managers welcome opportunities to consult with parents, and whānau and hear their comments.

“You are what you celebrate.”

Principal

Parents participate in celebrations of achievement. Cultural festivals, performances, displays and open days give parents opportunities to share in their children’s learning. Achievement breakfasts are held each term, where 15 to 20 students attend with their families. Students are honoured with the presentation of a citation of their particular achievements.

Forbury School: Building an inclusive school culture

Forbury School is a decile 2, Years 1 to 8, primary school in Dunedin. In 2007 the school’s roll was 114, of whom 59 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 25 percent Māori, nine percent Pacific and seven percent Asian students.

“When I first arrived here I thought there was no community.”

Principal

The principal has made the school the heart of the community. She spends considerable time and energy to create a partnership with a community that was previously marginalised. Her leadership style is consultative and she firmly acknowledges that parents have the ability and wisdom to know their children.

The principal leads by example in her dealings with people. She provides ready backup for teachers when incidents arise, and spends much of her time working with students, parents, and external support agencies.

“I treat families with respect and expect families to do the same.”

Principal

A strong culture of respect permeates the school. Staff are encouraged to discuss with their students and their parents what respect means. The need to listen and to be approachable, to thank parents and to use the pronoun “we” is emphasised. The principal telephones parents regularly with positive and not so positive news. Both teaching and support staff use an informal approach in their communications with parents and they know students and their families well.

Contact on the first day of school is regarded as very important in establishing a link between home and school. A photograph is taken of parents and their child when they first arrive at the school. Photographs are also taken of parents’ involvement with their children, and displayed throughout the school. These displays are a visual record of happy and engaging times.

An open morning, with a barbecue for parents, is held once a term. This event gives parents an opportunity to look at student work and talk with teachers about their child's progress. Parents know what is happening in their children’s education and are able to support them.

Parents are encouraged to involve themselves in school activities. Some activities are about children, for example making breakfasts and lunches. Activities also include helping in the library and maintaining school property. The school offers parent-focused activities, such as adult literacy and scrap-booking classes. These provide parents with opportunities to engage positively in the school so that it becomes a place of learning for adults as well as children.

The way you teach impacts on engagement with parents.”

Principal

Staff encourage families into the school by involving them in activities related to their child’s learning. Parents participate in class projects and social activities and students enjoy seeing their parents involved. The school’s open door policy gives children and their families a sense of belonging in the school and increased trust in the staff. Restorative justice processes, involving parents in the resolution of behavioural matters involving the child, are used to enhance learning opportunities.

School personnel organise community events that are increasingly well supported by parents. Various community groups also use the school buildings. These include adult literacy groups and a language nest. The school is well supported by many local businesses.

Napier Boys’ High School: Sharing leadership in the school community

Napier Boys’ High School is a decile 5, Years 9 to 15, single sex boys’ secondary school in Napier. In 2007 the school’s roll was 1122, of whom 72 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 23 percent Māori, three percent Pacific students, with the remaining two percent from other ethnic groups.

“The boys and their parents see you there – what we are doing counts.”

Principal

The principal provides strong leadership in engaging with families. He spends considerable out-of-school time attending sporting and cultural events, and meetings and hui, where he develops relationships with parents. The principal knows his students well and shows respect for them and their families. He has high expectations for students’ learning and behaviour.

The Parents’ League provides a conduit for sharing information between the school and the community. Not a ‘cash cow’ but a conduit for information.”

Principal

A committee of parents (Parents’ League) plans and facilitates activities for informing and involving parents. They take a lead role in organising information evenings on such topics as the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and preparation for tertiary studies, consultation meetings, report evenings and the orientation programme for Year 9 students. Parent committee members survey the parents of all Year 9 students to discuss their satisfaction or concerns about transition from Year 8, providing a useful conduit for feedback to the school. This committee provides leadership for parents, by parents.

The Parents’ League and school management promote networks with the wider community. They identify and encourage community members to contribute to school events. In particular, appropriate speakers and presenters contribute to events for boys and their fathers.

The school participated in research about what makes a ‘good man’. As a result of this research, school managers have implemented some formal and informal strategies to encourage greater participation of fathers, or significant males, in the life of their adolescent boys. For example, the ‘Dads and Lads’ events include a breakfast for Year 9 students and their fathers and a car rally.

“We want to learn how things could be done better for our Māori students.”

Principal

The recently appointed head of department Māori (HOD) leads formal engagement with Māori whānau. He has found that whānau attendance at hui increases if it coincides with a sporting event. A successful hui occurred following a touch tournament in which students, teachers and whānau all participated.

“We don’t feel alone - support is critical and it will have a positive impact on our boys.”

Māori HOD

The principal and HOD Māori have invited a group of Māori from the local community who have connections with the school (Kahui Tautoko) to assist in encouraging the engagement and involvement of Māori parents and whānau. This group offers support and advice about local protocol. Kahui Tautoko also has a key role in supporting the school’s networking with Māori whānau.

“We try to give parents good information about what is going on in the school.”

Principal

Teachers communicate effectively with parents and whānau. Newsletters are published in English and te reo Māori. Teachers are increasingly using text and email to communicate with parents. Meetings and hui are organised to suit participants. For example, meetings with hostel parents coincide with times when students are being returned to school by their parents. Hostel parents receive weekly emails from the hostel manager.

“We need to be able to develop meaningful relationships.”

Principal

Parents have many opportunities to develop relationships with teachers. These relationships are underpinned by teachers’ availability at school sporting and cultural events. As part of discipline procedures, the principal makes a conscious effort to contact fathers first, where appropriate. Meetings about serious behavioural matters focus on finding solutions rather than apportioning blame.

Taihape Area School: Working in partnership with iwi and the wider community

Taihape Area School is a decile 5, Years 1 to 15 composite school in Taihape. In 2007 the school’s roll was 278, of whom 50 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 48 percent Māori students, with the remaining two percent from various other ethnic groups.

“Iwi were proactive in putting themselves forward to work as partners with the school.”

Principal

This school was established following a network review in 2005. Clear lines of communication have been instituted between the establishment board of trustees and the iwi through the appointment of an iwi representative on the board. Iwi also established an education sub-committee to provide direction for their representative. This person has a mandate to speak on behalf of the iwi, and to obtain direction from iwi for board decisions. Clear procedures ensured that iwi needs were considered in the appointment of a new principal in 2006.

The pōwhiri to welcome the new principal was an opportunity for iwi to discuss the importance of pōwhiri for them and to share this event with the community. The decision to hold it at the nearest marae signified the importance of the link between the iwi and the school. The kaumatua and kuia who were involved were (and still are) seen as showing younger iwi members that support for the school is important. This event set direction or expectation for engagement at the highest level of the iwi. Following the pōwhiri the iwi then joined the new principal to walk from the marae to the school. This further acknowledged the iwi’s support for the school.

The board, in consultation with the iwi, established a vision for the school that included goals to improve Māori student achievement and to engage more effectively with whānau/families. The board and iwi expect the new principal to lead the change.

“Look at your community and get to know your community.”

Principal

The philosophy espoused by both iwi and the principal is that the school and the community are part of the whānau of the student. The principal strongly advocates that all staff “be seen, be available, use the pronoun ‘we’, be high profile and listen.” He firmly believes that to engage parents and whānau, staff should know their community and acknowledge that whānau are well informed about what is happening for their children.

The principal identified that students needed to ‘re-engage’ with learning before the school could successfully engage with parents and whānau. He organised an audit of teaching practice. Of the three auditors, one was an iwi member (and member of the iwi education sub-committee). Her role was to comment on teachers’ practice in relation to the professional standards, but from an iwi perspective. This included evidence of manaakitanga and te reo me ngā tikanga Māori. This audit demonstrated to school managers and the board, the professional development needs of teachers.

“Teacher professional development concentrated on contact with whānau in a positive way.”

Principal

Following the audit of teaching practice, teachers’ strengths and weaknesses were identified. It became evident that some teachers did not fully recognise the learning potential of all Māori students. Using funding from Te Kauhua, two professional development facilitators were employed. Both women are iwi members. They seek and use the expertise of the manawhenua to plan professional development for teachers. Iwi assist the facilitators to identify the important goals for development and the effectiveness of the changes are shared with iwi. The programme includes a strong emphasis on engaging with families and whānau by involving them in behaviour management processes, programme planning and individual goal setting.

“Getting whānau involved in their children’s learning and not just behavioural issues.”

Principal

Parents are invited to attend interviews with teachers. In the school’s pānui/newsletter, parents are given information about how to take a lead role at parent-teacher interviews. The principal insists that the interviews are a discussion about student achievement, not behaviour. While teachers engage with parents in interviews, the principal cooks sausages on a barbecue. He believes that parents enjoy the relaxed conversations that this social setting promotes and that working parents are more likely to attend late afternoon or early evening interviews if they know there will be food to share.

The school is developing a new interview process where a student appraisal conference attended by the parents, child and teacher will occur four times a year. The intention is to have the teacher and parents working as partners to improve the student’s achievement outcomes and engagement with learning.

Linwood North School: Strengthening learning partnerships

Linwood North School is a decile 3, Years 1 to 6, contributing primary school in Christchurch. In 2007 the school’s roll was 225, of whom 47 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 32 percent Māori, 17 percent Pacific students, with the remaining four percent from other ethnic groups.

“We are working towards being a school that values diversity.”

Principal

Trustees, teachers, support staff, parents, whānau and students in this school value cultural diversity and acknowledge learning and achievement. The school’s Māori and Pacific communities strongly support their children at school and the ethnic background of students is acknowledged and celebrated. The cultural expertise of parents and whānau is used to provide leadership in organising events to celebrate the school’s cultural diversity.

The school has a strong relationship with key personnel in the Māori and Pacific communities. These people encourage others to become involved and engaged in their child’s learning. Community fun days celebrating Māori culture are well attended by parents and school staff are planning a similar Pacific day.

School managers and teachers develop, and share with parents, positive expectations for students’ learning and behaviour. These expectations include reference to students’ attendance and punctuality. Teachers expect that all parents will attend student interviews and they take steps to encourage their attendance.

“We still have a long way to go. We are on a journey to get the community back into the school.”

Board chairperson

The board consults Māori and Pacific families and includes their aspirations for their children in the school charter. The vision is a focal point for the community. The school encourages parents and whānau to work together for the benefit of the students.

The principal and teachers, in consultation with parents and whānau, have an integrated values programme as part of the curriculum. Values such as responsibility, perseverance and self-discipline are taught specifically. Students’ acceptance of these shared values is evident in assemblies, in day-to-day classroom activities and in the courtesy shown to visitors at the school.

“Teachers know students’ lives and their families.”

Principal

Teachers and students choose contexts for learning that match students’ prior experience, knowledge and cultural backgrounds. Teachers note that this practice breaks down barriers between what is considered school knowledge and what is home knowledge. The learning contexts acknowledge and value what parents and whānau are able to teach their children.

Three-way goal setting with a student, their teacher and parents, allows parents to contribute their ideas about their child’s learning needs, as well as receiving useful information about their child’s progress and achievement. This is a joint exercise that ensures good communication between all parties. Parents are well informed about their child’s achievement and better able to understand and support their learning.

Kaitao Intermediate: Increasing parent involvement in the school

Kaitao Intermediate is a decile 3 Years 7 to 8 intermediate school in Rotorua. In 2007 the school’s roll was 534, of whom 75 percent were Māori, 19 percent New Zealand European/Pākehā, one percent Cook Island Māori, one percent Pacific, one percent Asian students, with the remaining three percent from other ethnic groups.

School-wide expectations focus on ‘being at school and behaving at school’. The motto Kia puawai i roto i te whānaungatanga 2 underpins the school’s practice.

Staff have introduced an initiative that has resulted in the establishment of five distinctive learning academies. The academy approach is part of the school’s vision to improve student engagement in learning. A survey of parents indicated positive support for the academy structure, with 91 percent reporting that the academy structure had helped their child’s learning. The impact of the learning academy approach is evident in improved student attendance and punctuality. Parents and whānau are taking a more active role in their child’s choice of learning academy.

“We are getting an increase in the numbers of parents at our evenings at the end of each term. At one of our prize-giving evenings, a parent said it was the first time ever that her child had got a prize.”

Principal

Academy evenings are regular events. They start with a shared barbecue, followed by an opportunity for the principal and board to share the strategic plan and targets for improved student achievement. Academy evenings provide opportunities for students to perform and present the outcomes of their learning. Academy prize-giving evenings are well supported with a reported 50 percent increase in the number of parents attending school activities and events.

The school is flexible about the timing of meetings. An open day, held on a Saturday, allowed working parents or those who could not attend an evening meeting to participate. The open day provides a further opportunity for the principal and trustees to share the school’s forward planning and its targets for improved student achievement.

“Parents feel they can make a contribution to the school through this programme.”

Deputy Principal

As a way of increasing parent and whānau involvement in the school, staff implement a programme developed and promoted by the New Zealand Parent Teacher Association called ‘Give Me 5’. The expectation is that parents give five hours of their time annually to the school. Parents can contribute to the school in a way that suits them and at a time that works for them. The school has set up a database using information from parents as to how they want to contribute. Parents and whānau are informed about this project by flyers and through discussions with teachers. The school is broadening the programme to include whānau and families who would like to give their time as a group.

“The focus is on keeping children at school.”

Principal

Staff have been involved in professional development about using restorative justice. Meetings with parents and their child focus on solutions rather than blame. Data indicate a reduction in numbers of stand downs and suspensions between 2005 and 2006.

Rowandale School: Supporting parents as learners

Rowandale School is a decile 1 Years 1 to 6 contributing school in Manurewa, Manaukau City. In 2007 the school’s roll was 445, of whom 42 percent Māori, 26 percent were Samoan, 10 percent Tongan, five percent Cook Island, five percent New Zealand European/Pākehā, four percent Niuean students, with the remaining eight percent from other ethnic groups.

“People make a difference.”

Principal

A strong focus on building relationships with parents and whānau when their child starts school provides a foundation for respectful and meaningful partnerships. The principal believes that it is important to work with parents to influence what happens at home, in particular the parent-child relationship. She gets alongside parents, encouraging them to come to school and offering genuine support. Relationships are based on mutual trust and a belief in making a difference for families and their children.

A high level of commitment from the school supports the implementation of a family literacy programme. A small group of parents and whānau or families commits to this programme for 20 hours a week over the period of a year. The programme is offered through a partnership involving the school, local government and a tertiary institution.The principal noted:

“We wanted to engage our families in the education of their children. We had tried lots of strategies, but none of them really seemed to make a difference. We liked the idea of a programme that assisted parents, grandparents or caregivers who had no school or tertiary qualifications. This programme really values inclusiveness. We see: our parents raise their self esteem, and become more confident and capable as models for their children;

  • parents in the programme are enjoying improved incomes and lifestyles;
  • improved parenting practice and much greater engagement of family members in their children’s education and the school;
  • a much better relationship with our kindergarten and improved transitioning for children at five; and
  • parents realising their own potential and that of their children.” 3

Principal

A feature of this programme is that while parents and children learn separately, parents also spend time each day in the classroom with their child, learning together. This activity leads to improved relationships between parents and children and greater engagement with the school and their child’s learning. Parents’ achievements, through the family literacy programme, are recognised at the same assembly that the achievements of their children are celebrated. Parents are visible in the school and more confident about approaching teachers. A culture that values success and builds confidence is promoted.

“I learnt a lot that strengthened my relationships with my kids, especially my 13-year-old daughter.”

Parent

“Before the course my only time at school was if teachers needed to talk about my child. Now teachers say hello and I’m more involved with my child’s learning.”

Parent

Parents involved in the programme talk about the positive impact it is having on their lives, particularly in relation to their parenting, understanding of their own and their family’s educational needs, and their aspirations for the future. Parents learn strategies they can use to change their reactions and relationship with their children. For many parents, there is a second chance to be successful learners.

“I’m going to university - I want the best for my kids.”

Parent

Completion of the course opens up doors for parents in terms of further study and work opportunities. Many parent graduates continue on to further tertiary education. The learning community is one in which responsibility for learning is shared. Benefits for the school include more parents being keen and willing to stand for the board of trustees and more parent involvement in activities and events.