Tips for schools and kura after the cyclone

Ensuring ākonga wellbeing in the wake of cyclone Gabrielle: Cyclone Gabrielle has hit parts of New Zealand very hard, displacing more than 10,000 people and causing widespread damage.

Times like this, where there is constant change, loss and uncertainty, are times when the relationship between the school or kura and whānau is most important.   Your calmness and presence will be important for your ākonga and whānau.

Know that many ākonga and whānau might be worried about their safety and wellbeing, as well as that of other family members or friends and relatives, as well as their home situation, and that of others. Many may also be worried about other changes brought on by the flooding  - such as loss of clothing, memories, possessions or employment.

As kaiako, your words and actions now, will help provide reassurance to your ākonga that learning can continue in uncertain situations and that they will get the support they need-  whether at home or at school.

Remember that, especially for your Māori and Pacific ākonga and their whānau, kanohi ki te kanohi is the first rule of connection.  Clear communication and reassurance provide a sense of safety and certainty in these times.  It will be important to work alongside your colleagues in your school or kura to share ideas about different ways everyone is supporting ākonga. Your knowledge of your ākonga and your flexibility will be a strength to respond to their needs.

Preparing for ākonga return

Although learning experiences have been disrupted, and a refocus on learning may take time to come back for some, focus on where ākonga are at on the day and new activities that will support their engagement. 

Some suggestions:

  • Welcome and prepare ākonga and whānau by communicating with them in advance about what to expect: what might be different and what will be the same e.g. arrival times, the state of the school, alterative learning arrangements and any changes to routines. Reassure them that the school is safe for learning.
  • Check they have what they need for learning activities and participating at school or home.
  • Some ākonga will find this time challenging. It maybe that for some school learning will be at home, sometimes at school. Also, changes such as blended/hybrid learning for some ākonga may be difficult due to losses from the flooding. Whatever the difficulty, look for solutions. Pass on concerns to your management team so solutions can be sought for the whole school as well.
  • Be patient, be kind and listen. Distracting ākonga from things they find distressing can be appropriate at times. Acknowledge their sadness, fear or anxiety but gently move on to another activity.
  • Focus on what we are all doing now to get through and repair the damage and how everyone is working  to help each other. Give opportunities for ākonga to share their experiences and concerns. Ākonga need to hear about positive action. This will provide inspiration and hope for their future.  
  • Have fun. Playing a game, designing an activity together, re-reading a favourite story or watching a video can help lift the mood. Ākonga need to know that in the midst of uncertainty there is still happiness and hope.  
  • Games, physical challenges, and getting outdoors can release energy and tension as well as provide a break from indoor activities.  

Ensuring your own wellbeing

  • Take time to check in with your colleagues, look after yourself and each other as school restarts and through any other periods of change that might result from the floods. Build in times during the days, weeks, and months ahead to keep checking in on each other, creating support buddies or groups can help when things get tough.
  • Remember to look for and share the positives and the things that are making you smile. When you take care of yourself you are better able to focus on what is happening in the moment and this can help you throughout the day. Checkout the mental foundations getting through together wellbeing tips.
  • And if you feel you want to reach out for some support, there is great help available. Call or text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor anytime – it’s free and completely confidential.

Managing ākonga uncertainty

During disruption, our feelings of safety can be undermined. Some ākonga are going to find it difficult being at school when big changes maybe happening around them at home and in their communities. Some ākonga may not have some of the things they need for school. Helping ākonga get through the changes from the flooding takes time, patience and reassurance from the important adults in their lives. Take time to listen. Check in about their feelings and acknowledge and normalise these.

Whatever the challenge, look for solutions, alongside ākonga. We can do this by providing opportunities for ākonga to talk about what’s happening, acknowledging the many ways to help and solve things.

What to notice and how to respond

Some ākonga and their whānau are going to find uncertainty difficult and some ākonga may behave uncharacteristically . Most ākonga will have a wide range of reactions to the flooding. How they react will depend on what’s changing in their daily lives, the extent of loss they have experienced, what they are hearing, how you are reacting, and the support and comfort you are able to provide.

Respond as a team when ākonga need additional support

Your support is  most effective when you work as part of a team to wrap support around the ākonga – with their whānau, other supports at school (SENCO, LSC and pastoral care), specialist services provided by the Ministry, support from other government and community agencies. Work as a team to identify any ākonga of concern. Check in with other support services involved with ākonga and their whānau prior to the cyclone. Problem solve and build a plan.

Keep talking with the whānau of your ākonga

  • Allow time and space with whānau to build whakawhānaungātanga. This will help whānau to feel comfortable to share their concerns and their circumstances and to let you know about their or their ākonga’s needs. 
  • Establish ways to have ongoing positive contact with whānau, e.g. opportunities to volunteer help. Give positive feedback regarding participation. Use apps like Seesaw to share experiences. 
  • Work with other kaiako and provide a list of resources and supports for ākonga and their whānau. Some whānau can help themselves and just need time or prompts to access support. You might find some helpful resources here: Kia matua rautia | Tākai ( link)
  • For whānau new to the school, give special attention to creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere and connection to a key staff member.  
  • Know that difficulties may take time to resolve, however getting help early to whānau will help. 

Support for ākonga with disability

Awhi@home is a parent-led Facebook page supported by IHC and partners including the Ministry of Education and Explore services. It provides support for whānau with disabled ākonga and posts include tools, resources and videos addressing common challenges.

The page aims to help parents of a disabled ākonga, by providing strategies and tips, links to useful resources, information on COVID-19 and one-on-one support as needed.

Awhi@home on Facebook(external link)

Support for bilingual ākonga

If you have ākonga who speak a language other than English at home, encourage them to use this language. It’s OK to talk about an activity in the home language even if the activity is completed in English. Encourage bilingual staff to talk with bilingual students in their home language, if they are able.

Talk to your bilingual support staff or about how things are going for them. Talk with them about online learning tasks set by teachers and/or continue planned ESOL programmes. It may be a good idea for encourage your bilingual support staff to set up virtual meetings with groups of students who speak the same language.

Encourage bilingual support staff to connect with each other (perhaps within a Kāhui Ako or an ESOL professional learning cluster) for support and ideas.

Reactions to change and supporting tamariki – Te Mahau(external link) 

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