From a place of care and whanaungatanga
Whakatāne schools are working together to address attendance and engagement across their community, with a firm emphasis on putting relationships front and centre.
In this video the Education Gazette visits Whakatāne to see how schools are working together to strengthen relationships with parents and whānau in an effort to improve attendance and engagement.
Ramia Honatana’s day begins with delivering 17 kai packages to whānau from her kura, to support them in the build-up to the holiday break between terms 3 and 4.
“That food is there to support them to look after their children. And I know my families are grateful. They like the idea that the school is there to support them and that we’re mindful of their needs,” says Ramia, deputy principal at Te Kura ō te Pāroa in Whakatāne.
“We go into the homes rather than asking the whānau to come to the school. So in some respects we can say the school goes into the home now.”
It’s all part of an approach that the Whakatāne Kāhui Ako is taking in an effort to build relationships and boost attendance and engagement across their schools.
The impact of Covid
Lead principal of the Kāhui Ako and principal of Apanui School, Simon Akroyd, says the challenges their schools are facing with attendance shouldn’t be understated.
“Our data is pretty scary. We’ve got almost 400 children out of 4,500 who have attendance of less than 80 per cent, so they’re missing a day of school a week.”
It was a challenge they were already starting to address towards the end of last year, but the Covid-19 lockdown exacerbated the issue further.
“When we came back from Covid we realised it really was a big issue,” says Simon.
Urgent Response Fund
Simon says the Urgent Response Fund – a fund that is there to help schools address re-engagement in learning and wellbeing following the Covid-19 lockdowns – has been timely in helping them address their attendance challenge.
The Kāhui Ako had already started working with the Rotorua Central Kāhui Ako, to adapt the model that they had introduced to lift attendance and engagement across their schools and kura. Rotorua Central’s across school teacher for attendance, Janice Simeon, became a mentor to the Whakatāne Kāhui Ako.
“The funding from the Urgent Response Fund allows us to have Janice come to Whakatāne each week and work in with each of our schools around addressing their attendance issues,” he says.
In response to the attendance issues they were facing in Rotorua, Janice had introduced a model that centred strongly on building relationships with their parents and whānau. It’s proving to be successful.
“Building relationships outside of our school gates works. As teachers we build relationships with our kids and we do it at super speed so that we can teach our kids. That skill in a whānau environment is magic.”
She says it has been an absolute pleasure working with the Whakatāne Kāhui Ako, as they already have a strong team culture and sense of manaakitanga – a vital prerequisite for building relationships with their community.
“I’m just grateful for the leadership because they’ve enabled that. The faster we can do that, the faster we can help families, the faster we can engage our children into education.”
Signs of change
Whakatāne schools are seeing signs of progress; their mahi is starting to pay off.
“Once you have a really strong relationship then I find the pathway is clear. If I have a child who’s away, I know I can ring and the parents will answer the phone because they know who it is,” says Ramia.
She gives an example of a child who was reluctant to attend school because of her struggle with asthma and eczema.
“So we got the asthma nurse and the eczema nurse to help her. She’s got all her medicines. She’s not feeling shy to be at school anymore. And her māmā said to me this morning, ‘Whaea, I’m so happy about how things are going now. There are no morning dramas before school and my child is really happy to come to school now’.
“I think for me, if you work hard on building the relationship, the whānau will open their hearts and doors for you as well,” says Ramia.
Vicki Maguire, the across school teacher for attendance for the Kāhui Ako, gives another example. During lockdown, one child experienced some medical issues and is consequently now attending school on a part-time basis, working in conjunction with the Northern Health School. However, even part-time attendance proves difficult at times, and on these occasions, Vicki connects with the student via Zoom.
“I go through lessons that she can be working on that teachers have already provided through the digital classroom. But what it’s actually done is, the parent is now making contact with me and letting me know, ‘look, she’s not going to be in today’ and the child will always come and touch base with me when she is at school and lets me know how she’s getting on.”
Care and whanaungatanga
Deputy principal at Trident High School, Jay Haydon-Howard, says the new model is a shift from a truancy focus to a more relational approach. They have an attendance team who know the school community well and work hard to build those relationships.
“A lot of whānau in the past have felt that things are done to them, or for them, or they fall through gaps, whereas now they feel like they’re part of that process. And the more opportunity we have to get out and to work with wider community and the hapū and Iwi, the stronger that relational base becomes.”
Jay says that by approaching whānau from a place of care and whanaungatanga rather than a ‘your child hasn’t been at school’ standpoint, they’re now starting to hear from whānau.
“We’re at the point where whānau will contact us to say, ‘Hey, I know they’ve not been at school today. This has happened. I just wanted you to know’. And that’s a remarkable step from people who traditionally we wouldn’t have heard from.”
Brendan Stevens is a member of the attendance team and agrees the tide is beginning to turn.
“There is a lot of ease of communication regarding whānau now. The acceptance to have us knock on the door – ‘yeah, come straight in’. A lot of that is personality based and your approach. Every hapū is different, every child is different,” he says.
Building strong foundations
At the other end of the schooling pathway, Kay Simpson, Apanui School’s attendance lead teacher and learning support coordinator is working hard on establishing those relationships as children transition from early childhood to school.
Most of her role is meeting four-year-olds who are about to start school and their parents and whānau.
“So the importance of that from an attendance and engagement point of view is that you’re building up a relationship that will hopefully be sustainable over time. So if there are other issues – learning issues or behaviour issues or attendance issues, you’ve got a foot in the door,” says Kay.
Power of collaboration
Jay and Brendan agree it is powerful to be approaching relationships, attendance and engagement as a team.
“It’s really nice to have a collective approach now, where we’re not just speaking on behalf of Trident High School. We’re saying, our students are Whakatāne students and we’re looking at how we best support them and how we can work together,” says Jay.
Ramia values the opportunities to come together as a team once a fortnight.
“It gives us a chance to celebrate our successes, share our ideas, and collaboratively encourage each other. Because in some cases it can be a little bit taumaha – we need a little bit of support from each other and I find that we get that when we come together as a rōpū.
“We’ve all got different strengths, we’ve all got different experiences, so to learn off each other is really powerful,” she says.
“As a lead teacher I have all the support, the professional development and the resources that I need to run this programme effectively for my school. So, I’m loving it. The power of collaboration is probably the best way to describe it.”
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