Ngā hononga kura-whānau e puta ai ngā ihu o ngā ākonga Māori

Ōpōtiki College

Ōpōtiki College is a state secondary school in the Bay of Plenty. Over 80 percent of the students are Māori. The school is a participant in the Te Kotahitanga project. The principal, a teacher who is the school’s Te Kotahitanga facilitator, and a parent were interviewed for the Ruia project.

What are the priorities for our Māori students?

The three interviewees agreed that educational success for Māori students is about standing tall and moving confidently in both te ao Pākehā and te ao Māori.

They said that Māori students should feel proud to be Māori while getting the best qualifications they can.

To achieve this, education for Māori students should be values-driven and built on firm relationships characterised by a strong sense of whanaungatanga. It is also important to celebrate success and to support students to build on their strengths.

The school has a goal that no student will leave without a qualification.

The interviewees agreed that closer and more regular contact with whānau is important for enabling school and whānau to work collectively to support the students. The need for this was highlighted by one particular event when the principal made an important decision that was criticised by some whānau.

What are our own learning needs?

Through participation in Te Kotahitanga, the school has identified and addressed teacher learning needs relating to teaching and learning for Māori students.

The school makes coherent links between the systems in place for individual goal setting, for professional development within Te Kotahitanga, for meeting departmental and school-wide goals and targets, and for identifying the needs of whānau in relation to understanding their children’s achievement and progress. 

Planning and participating in partnership learning

The principal responded to whānau criticism of the decision he had made by holding a hui to address people’s concerns.

This was quite a stressful experience for him, but it was fruitful because it led to the formation of a Māori teachers’ forum, which includes whānau.

This group accepted the task of developing a Māori strategic plan and of monitoring the plan’s implementation.

Partnership actions: connecting and collaborating

The Māori teachers’ forum holds regular hui where teachers and whānau ask questions and make comments that are passed on to the principal.

The principal’s response to these questions and comments has led to visible change. For example, a timetabling change was made after parents of students in the year 10 bilingual class expressed their concern that their children had to choose te reo Māori as one of their two optional subjects.

The students and their parents felt they were missing out on the opportunity to take other options, and so the timetable was reorganised to enable the students to take te reo as a core subject.

The principal leads engagement with whānau in other ways.

At hui held regularly to hear parent views and share information about student learning, whānau are asked what they want for their children and what they expect of staff. The interviewed teacher believes this provides an opportunity to let whānau know that staff will not give up on their children.

At one of the hui, the principal presented data to whānau about the importance of students being at school for five years. He gave a visual presentation about the implications of staying at school and the success all learners would have regardless of their learning capabilities.

At another hui, the principal presented the idea of implementing a restorative justice programme.

This was seen as an opportunity to link relationship pedagogy to a Māori way of doing things. Whānau agreed, and the programme was implemented in 2005.

Rangiātea: Ōpōtiki describes how a restorative justice approach to behaviour management has helped to transform the school culture, with positive relationships leading to significant improvements in Māori student achievement.

The school has a good relationship with the local trust board, and members are often invited to see and celebrate the success of tamariki.

The interviewed teacher expressed her belief that it is important to identify regular times to deliberately focus on and acknowledge success in this way. This belief is shared by parents.

When preparing for the school’s current Strategic Plan, parents said they wanted regular acknowledgment and celebration of student success. One way in which the school meets this need is by issuing certificates to students that they can take home whenever they pass an internal assessment.

Likewise, the parents of students who receive three “reddys” (slips from teachers acknowledging positive behaviour) are sent letters sharing the good news.

What has been the impact of our changed ways of working?

The restorative justice programme has been credited with the fact that there have been zero student suspensions since 2006.

The implementation of Te Kotahitanga and an effective appraisal system, along with the focus on whānau engagement, have all contributed to improved NCEA results.

Over a four-year period, only six students have left the school without qualifications after four years’ secondary education, with no student doing so in 2010.

Over time, an increasing number of parents have attended the Senior Prizegiving for students graduating from year 13, often for the first time.

They have been impressed with the students’ achievements, and many have said they regretted not attending every year. Because of feedback from the parents, the school now runs an ‘Academic Celebration’ early in term I in front of the whole school.

The principal believes that parents are empowered when they see him responding to their questions and comments by making visible changes in the school.

The interviewed teacher and parent praised him for the way he engages with whānau.

However, the parent had thoughts about areas for improvement. For example, she felt that all staff should learn about the various hapū in Whakatōhea and weave this local knowledge into student learning. She also wanted studies on local heroes rather than European heads of state and would like to see greater use of the local resources and environment.

The principal agrees and has begun what is intended to be a regular practice of taking staff on a full-day hikoi to the local museum and marae.

This way they can explore local stories and gain a greater appreciation of the various hapū before the start of each school year. Using local heroes is an area the school would like to develop further.

The facilitator added that it was important to hear parent stories about their own school experiences so teachers could better understand why whānau do not readily participate in their children’s learning. This is another area for future inquiry.

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