04 Improving educationally powerful connections with parents

ERO's 2010 report Promoting success for Māori students: schools' progress explained that a factor commonly associated with the most effective schools was that parents and whānau were actively involved in the school and in students' learning. Whānau had a sense of connectedness and a voice in determining the long-term direction of the school.

Teachers and leaders at CHRIST THE KING SCHOOL had begun extending and improving the ways they engaged with parents of Māori children. They were also developing learning partnerships with the parents of children involved in targeted interventions.

The first section of this narrative shares the school's developing engagement with parents and whānau of Māori children, and the second section focuses on partnerships with parents of children involved in targeted interventions.

Early developments to engage parents of Māori children

The work to improve engagement with whānau of Māori children began with a survey created using Google Forms and sent by email. Over half of the parents surveyed replied to questions about:

>   how well Māori culture was enhanced at the school

>   how well Māori students' achievement needs were catered for

>   how well informed whānau were about Māori students' achievement

>   what else the school should do to improve Māori students' success

>   whether they would support the introduction of group meetings for parents of Māori children

>   other things whānau would like to see to enhance Māori culture at the school.

The survey responses highlighted many areas to develop along with approval for whānau hui. Suggestions included greater support for children and whānau during transition to school, more opportunities to meet Māori whānau in the local community, and for staff and children to visit the local marae. Leaders also worked with staff to review the teaching of te reo and tikanga Maori across the three teaching syndicates and to look in depth at the achievement of Māori students.

Since the survey, the school has started holding a Māori Aspirations Hui.

During the first few hui, the board and leaders established strategic goals to build teachers' and children's knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori. They worked to strengthen links and create learning opportunities with whānau, the local marae and the learning cluster the school worked with. Leaders shared data about achievement levels and posed questions to discover parents' aspirations for their children as learners.

At one hui, a staff member shared his whakapapa which encouraged some of the children and parents to go to their grandparents to learn more about where they had come from.

Partnerships with parents of children involved in targeted interventions

Many of the strategies for working more closely with parents of children receiving additional support came from staff involvement in the Ministry of Education's Accelerating Achievement in Literacy (ALL) project. Before the children began working in the groups, their parents met with teachers to discuss how they could both support each child's engagement and achievement in writing. The school also gave parents an information pack explaining the intervention. All parents in the school were invited to an explanatory session about the ALL project, where leaders and teachers shared and discussed the reasons for the school's involvement.

Children's writing was regularly shared with parents, who were encouraged to provide regular feedback. Teachers gave parents guidelines for providing feedback, and they communicated with parents about this valued feedback.

They gave parents prompts and feedback sheets adapted from The Writing Book (as shown here), with two stars as praise and one wish as something to work on next.

Assessment data highlighted the positive impact of parents' contribution (results are shown below). Further analysis showed the children in the intervention who made the most progress also had the most involvement from parents. At the end of the intervention, the parents joined the teachers and their children to celebrate the children's writing improvements.

Results from the 14 week intervention:

>   45 Years 3 to 8 children were involved in the intervention

>   18 had now reached the expected curriculum level

>   13 moved two or more asTTle sublevels of the curriculum

>   8 moved one sublevel

>   5 remained at the same level

>   1 had left the school.

Teachers surveyed, and received written feedback from, parents about the changes they had noticed in their child's writing and attitude to writing.

Eighty percent of parents responded to the survey and most were positive about the impact for their child. Teachers realised that to sustain and extend the progress they needed to continue to increase and maintain parent involvement.

Over the past few years, the school had steadily increased strategies to include parents in their children's learning. Teachers informed and involved parents when their child took part in any intervention to support the child's accelerated progress. Parents could observe targeted intervention programmes in action, and were given resource packs to support their child's improvements at home. Ongoing communication between teachers and parents helped to identify, understand and focus on each child's next learning steps. Learning-centred partnerships with parents were increasing and valued.

After the ALL project was completed, teachers still shared children's writing regularly with parents. Children in Years 4 to 6 who needed an extra focus on writing took part in the Writing Cafe. Teachers sent children's books home weekly to parents who discussed it with their child and added written feedback. Children in Years 4 to 8 also shared their work with their parents on Chromebooks that were taken home every day.

ERO met with a parent of a child involved in the ALL project.

The parent was pleased the school had identified the need for their daughter to have extra support rather than the parents having to ask for this. The mother liked the way the school had framed the support; the changes were not done to her daughter but planned with her.

"The biggest thing was that it was never implied that she had missed something or there was some type of deficit. Instead my daughter talked about how she was still learning how to work successfully."

The parent also appreciated:

>   how the extra support was carefully timed so her daughter didn't miss out on other core learning

>   the feedback her child received from the teacher, sometimes with the parents present

>   improved confidence with writing generated an improved interest in reading, as the child saw that she was capable of reading texts at a higher level

>   the way the child's self-image changed, as her daughter could see how to make improvements and saw herself as capable.

The child was in Year 7 and now creating quite in-depth writing that was more interesting and fun. Her parents and the child love reading her writing now.

Their whole family benefited from being involved in the intervention, as their knowledge of both writing strategies and feedback helped them to support their younger children. They introduced their children to a wider range of texts at home, and encouraged diary writing to show they could write about their interests.