Mount Roskill Grammar School, Auckland

Background

Mount Roskill Grammar School (MRGS) is a decile 4, co-educational secondary school with a roll of 2200. The school has a culturally diverse student population, over 50 percent of whom are Asian, (mostly Indian and Chinese) and almost a quarter are Pacific students. The school shares a campus with a primary and an intermediate school.

MRGS leaders identify five linked features of the school as being key factors in ‘engaging students for success’. These include:

  • clarity of expectations for students and staff
  • maintaining a climate that is conducive to learning
  • growing leadership capacity in teachers and students
  • enhancing teaching
  • improving connections with the community.

Capacity building, teaching and community links are always sharply focused on how these improve outcomes for students.

Expectations

Staff at MRGS hold the belief that students can succeed and they will because the culture nurtures them to do so. MRGS has a central philosophy focusing on positive relationships through clear expectations of respect for others.

We don’t have rules, we have expectations of respect. We talk about people going outside the expectations, not breaking the rules. Deputy principal

This philosophy is supported by the underpinning values of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga.1 The expectations are actively promoted, using a range of opportunities and practices in the classroom and across the school.

Teachers and school leaders hold high expectations for the achievement of all students. These expectations extend to students’ personal presentation, and uniform is seen as being important in developing group identity and pride.

Learning climate

The school has an extensive pastoral network with ten deans, four guidance counsellors and three nurses. Students are grouped in vertical form classes2 and all teachers have a responsibility for the holistic wellbeing of their students, to support them to be ‘fit and ready to learn.’ The board’s use of funding reflects this priority by resourcing 11 additional staff,3 notably in the pastoral care area.

A restorative ethos, developed over 14 years, underpins the focus on relationships. More than 50 staff are now trained in restorative practices. A commitment to restorative practice is a key criterion when appointing deans. When students fail to meet learning or behavioural expectations the response is ‘What can we do differently to solve this? How can we return this student to learning?’ Students now comfortably use the language of restorative practices – ‘our kids get it.’Staff have integrated PB4L with the restorative approach, adapting it, as with other external initiatives, to meet the particular context and ethos of the school.

Student safety remains paramount and school leaders do not hesitate to take decisive action if behaviour presents a risk for other students.

Leadership capacity

Distributed leadership is a characteristic of the school, with a clear focus on growing leadership capacity. The philosophy is that ‘leadership is about influencing another’s thoughts or actions; anyone can lead.’ Teachers are supported through a mentoring/coaching programme and aspiring leaders participate in a leadership group to develop potential.

The principal’s professional learning fellowship had a positive impact on the school’s ongoing development. In 2011, he investigated growing teacher leadership through staff professional development. A revised model of this, using lead teams, is now well established at MRGS. Examples of the teams include a writing lead team, e-learning lead team, data lead team, and mentoring lead team. In 2014, a sabbatical will focus on modern learning environments.

Leadership is not viewed as resting only with the adults. The counsellors support a wide range of student-led initiatives that promote student resilience and wellbeing. The student leaders confidently described how these initiatives work and how valuable the support groups were for those involved.

  • Peer mediation: The school has 240 trained peer mediators.
  • Peer sexuality support group: Nine senior students are trained to give individual support to students and also assist with the Year 10 health classes.
  • Body Image: Student leaders are trained to provide peer education and support, and to teach workshops in the Year 10 health programme.
  • Working for Change: Trained student leaders promote an awareness of the effects of violence and help other students to cope with its aftermath.
  • Skittles: This is a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students run by the students for students.

Teaching

Leaders articulate a clear philosophy for teaching and learning, ‘every learner can succeed and will.’Teachers follow an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. They use achievement information to identify students in need of support and then provide targeted support.

There is a strong focus on priority learners at all levels of the school. A specific process supports Māori students, with nine staff, mostly deans, participating in a kaupapa of culturally responsive mentoring. Students are able to receive further support through participation in school-based homework centres, including separate centres to cater for the particular needs of Māori and Pacific students who are identified as at risk of disengaging.

High quality self review, informed by evidence and research, is an integral part of all initiatives. Each student’s progress towards acquiring NCEA credits is closely monitored and excellent reporting keeps students fully informed about what they have achieved and what they have yet to do, including for course endorsements.4 Achievement data (with other aspects of student wellbeing) are closely monitored through the use of the student management system and teachers are expected to respond promptly to this data at an individual, course, departmental, and school level.

Leaders have an ongoing focus on improving teacher effectiveness. Staff are encouraged and supported to trial and use innovative practices in their classrooms. These include creative uses of information and communications technology (ICT)5 and flipped classrooms.6 Leaders promote initiatives that have clear expectations and yet are sufficiently flexible for staff to tailor implementation to the strengths and the needs of their students. All staff are expected to use the self-review process (based on Clarke-Peter model of Professional Growth)7 as part of their own inquiry into their teaching.

Extensive use is made of the lead teams to grow ‘pools of quality’, teacher-inquiry initiatives to improve aspects of teaching practice. These ‘pools’eventually interconnect, some leading to school-wide goals which further enhance teacher effectiveness. Staff involvement in improvements has meant that they ‘own’ the changes and are implementing them in the classrooms. This uptake is monitored through the appraisal process.

All teachers are required to mentor five students. Teachers are supported by professional learning and development (PLD) that provides clear guidelines and expectations for the process. Each student is assisted to select a meaningful learning pathway and to develop goals that are then broken into manageable next steps.

Cross-campus collaboration

All three schools on the Mount Roskill campus work together for the benefit of each of their students and ensure they are well supported as they transition through the schools. All share a common goal to raise student achievement at NCEA Level 2 to 85 percent. Achieving this goal is strengthened by a cross-campus initiative known simply as MERGE. The MERGE coordinator leads the process supported by a Pasifika liaison officer, a campus Māori achievement coordinator and a campus kaumātua.

Developing and maintaining a collaborative learning environment is a priority for the three schools and is assisted by cross-campus curriculum lead teams. Currently, writing is a particular focus. Teachers are developing a consistent language for the teaching of writing across the schools. The common language helps students’ learning as they progress from year to year and between the schools.

The collaborative learning culture is further fostered by:

  • cross-campus, annual teacher meetings that include student speakers
  • the development of campus-wide Māori education plan targeting Māori student achievement
  • teacher aides and learning support assistants meeting each term to share effective practice.

MERGE and whānau involvement

MERGE also encompasses a wide range of cross-campus, student-centred activities. These activities are central to a MRGS goal of increasing parent/whānau participation in their child’s learning. The three schools share a campus whare. A Māori graduation evening, attended by students from all schools, celebrates students’ transition between schools and ultimately back to whānau. This latter initiative presents older students as strong role models and has seen a significant increase in retention of Māori and whānau in the life of the schools. Other cross-campus activities include a concert and Matariki celebrations. Leaders identify that growing parent/whānau participation is still in its early stages.

Connection with the wider community

Students benefit from the support of external agencies providing specialised programmes for students at risk. Students selected for two of these programmes are often identified while still at the intermediate school and continue their participation during the first year at the high school. One aim is to provide students with a consistent person who traverses the four social worlds of the students (school, home, peers and broader community) and who supports students to move between those worlds. These external mentors have ongoing informal interactions with their students across a range of social, sporting and learning situations. ‘We are there not to cure but to care.’

Another initiative, ‘Circle of Life’, runs for one hour a week. It is designed to build resilience. Many students begin the programme during their time at intermediate. At Year 10 a further programme reinforces the messages explored in the Year 9 programmes for those students identified at risk of disengaging with learning.

Other community supported initiatives include:

  • a police project that caters for students at risk of being involved in gangs to develop their awareness of potential legal consequences
  • a regular breakfast programme, facilitated by external sponsorship, and opportunities for students to access and prepare food for themselves in breaks during the school day.