ERO found that educationally powerful connections and relationships between teachers, leaders, parents and whānau are components of an effective response to underachievement. The stories of successful relationships illustrate evaluation indicators from three domains of the School Evaluation Indicators (trial document)1: Leadership of conditions for equity and excellence; Educationally powerful connections and relationships; and Responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn.

The outcomes of educationally powerful connections and relationships – illustrating the School Evaluation Indicators

Community collaboration and partnerships extend and enrich opportunities for students to become confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners. Communication supports and strengthens reciprocal, learning centred relationships.

In each of the examples the students had accelerated their learning and were now experiencing equivalent achievement to their peers. Teachers and leaders in these schools learned to listen to parents. Once they started to listen they realised they were wrong in thinking some parents and whānau did not want to help their children do well at school. Teachers and parents demonstrated willingness to listen to new ideas, and to work beyond their experience and/or cultural comfort zone to understand and resolve educational problems. Parents found these working relationships with teachers hugely satisfying, as they knew:

  • responsibility for their child’s outcomes was shared
  • their contribution was valued and made a difference
  • more about the school system, what counts as excellence, and ways they could help their child at home with their learning.

Teachers also found these working relationships with parents hugely satisfying. Through ako – parents and teachers as teachers and learners – teachers learnt to listen and they learnt to see the student’s aspirations and fears as the parents saw them. Many changed their practices significantly because of what parents shared. Students were active participants in the relationships. They appreciated that adults were working together to help them as theyexperienced multiple and aligned learning experiences. They felt valued and that they belonged at school. Students and parents reported increased levels of quality interactions at home about school and future education.

Student learning at home is actively promoted through the provision of relevant learning opportunities, resources and support. Students have effective, sufficient and equitable opportunities to learn.

The connections between home and school enabled students to value learning in all contexts and understand that learning is a lifelong experience and not limited to school. These experiences led to students succeeding and starting to see themselves differently. They were becoming confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners.

[It] makes us feel like we have a place in the school. We belong to a group and we make things happen. (Secondary student)

I’ve really enjoyed it – I’ve taught Mum all these new games. It’s fun and I haven’t been struggling in maths anymore and I can get my work completed. I can do heaps more things with my maths now. (Primary student)

Not all of these schools were transferring what they could have learnt from these relationships to the parents and whānau of all students at risk of underachieving; rather the focus remained on the original small group of students. This was because teachers and leaders were not explicitly aware of the value of extending learning from the classroom to multiple sites, especially to home. More importantly, they were not explicitly aware of the value of more adults, including parents, using similar language, strategies and activities to help each child succeed. For students at risk of underachievement, the more opportunities they had to learn and practise this new learning, the more likely they would accelerate progress and succeed.

Leadership builds relational trust and effective participation and collaboration at every level of the school community. Leadership builds capability and collective capacity in evaluation and inquiry for sustained improvement and innovation.Learning centred relationships effectively engage and involve the school community.

Leaders at schools with the best qualities of educationally powerful connections and relationships were supporting a whole-school focus on improving relationships with parents and whānau. Through initiatives that focused on particular students at risk of underachieving they helped teachers to:

  • make time for frequent and regular conversations with parents and whānau
  • design and implement multiple and aligned learning opportunities
  • review the impact and alignment of these opportunities and review how they supported parents and whānau with their actions
  • be persistent and sustain what worked, change and improve what did not work, and transfer what worked to support other students and their parents and whānau.

These leaders were developing the conditions necessary for all teachers to have collaborative working relationships centred on learning with parents and whānau of children at risk of underachieving. This enabled them to realise key education policygoals2 for parents and teachers to work together. However, ERO found that some leaders were unaware of individual teachers’ good work in developing learning-centred relationships with parents and whānau of children at risk of underachieving.

Strengthening school inquiry processes to support collaboration and partnership

Many schools were using the Teaching as Inquiry framework3 as a tool to guide individual and school-wide teaching and learning decisions and reviews of the impact of these decisions. However, the framework did not necessarily influence teachers to design or review solutions that included collaborations with other adults and the extended learning opportunities these collaborations could provide students. Instead, this influence came from school leaders.

Students would benefit from leaders explicitly linking the Teaching as Inquiry framework, along with the effective practice illustrated in the domains of ERO's School Evaluation Indicators (trial document),4 to their school's goals to engage in learning-centred relationships with all parents and whānau, and to accelerate progress of some named and known students. Leaders may find the Best Evidence Synthesis' Inquiry and knowledge-building cycle for educational improvement 5 with its prompt 'How can we activate educationally powerful connections for all our students', along with ERO's School Evaluation Indicators, a useful framework of what effective practice looks like for a school­wide focus on underachievement.

As a result of this evaluation, ERO has made recommendations to the Ministry of Education and to school leaders about how they might increase educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau to accelerate progress for students at risk of underachieving. See Next Steps in this report to read these recommendations, as well as the discussion questions for schools on the next page.