Prime Minister's Education Excellence Awards: winner profiles (part 2)

Issue: Volume 93, Number 16

Posted: 8 September 2014
Reference #: 1H9csf

Following on from our coverage of the Prime Minister's Education Excellence Award Winners in Issue 14, we take a look at what impressed the judges – and can serve as an example of great practice – about the three other category winners.

Educational Focus Prize – Takatū Prize: Top of the South Trades Academy

The judges said: “Top of the South Trades Academy has taken vocational training to students throughout Nelson, Tasman, and Marlborough. Adults have put their interests aside, focussing on students and creating flexible programmes that are achieving results.”

Top of the South Trades Academy (TOTSTA) is a vocational training institution with a difference: it brokers the best deals for students in the Nelson and Marlborough regions who want to dip a toe into the waters of professions that fall outside the core academic subjects.

TOTSTA is a virtual organisation. It’s a partnership between schools in the two regions, the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) and Whenua Iti Outdoors. Since its inception in 2012, Shaaron Adams has helmed TOTSTA, trying to get the best results for students. In the past, says Shaaron, vocational training in the area was somewhat constrained by varied interests vying for the same 'patch'. With the advent of TOTSTA, Shaaron and her team have been able to bring the various parties together and come up with solutions that work.

What’s made TOTSTA successful is that it is driven by the schools, says Shaaron. The strength of the partnership has meant that TOTSTA is funded to pay tutors and the two tertiary institutions to provide meaningful training courses that have enough depth for students to decide whether they want to pursue a career in that particular field.

"The students still go to a campus site and the transport is all free, which makes it easier for parents and students. For instance, in Marlborough, we have two campuses. One is the NMIT main site, but some of the students also go to Woodbourne Air Base just outside Blenheim for the aviation engineering course. They are taught by NMIT tutors, they are coordinated by us and the schools, and delivered in the best facility for that type of learning.

"The tertiary institutions saw this model as a way of exposing kids to what the region's providers can deliver. Nelson and Marlborough students tend to go away; they go to all the other universities around the country. It’s almost like a rite of passage. If these kids aren't sure about what they want to do in the senior secondary years, there are really good opportunities locally, and we’re helping to expose them to these opportunities."

Defeating stigmatism

Shaaron acknowledges that in the past, 'vocational training' has been seen by some – among the student population – as a euphemism for failure in the classroom.

"We’ve fought that really hard. This is why we have quality branding, and we've made it quite hard to get into.

"The focus now is not on providing a fail-safe if you bomb out academically. It’s an option that may suit the personality and temperament of a particular student better.”

That shift in perception is bearing fruit and attracting students who want to achieve outside traditionally academic subjects. Shaaron tells of a student, as an example, who was a top science student but who wanted to try aquaculture and marine studies, to see what it was like. This student gained NCEA Level 3, and then came to TOTSTA, where she decided that the industry suited her. She is now doing a degree in aquaculture based in Nelson.

"We want Top of the South Trades Academy to have mana. We wanted everyone to realise that it wasn't just an easy option, it wasn't a default option. I think we're getting there."

Co-construction at Kerikeri

Excellence in Teaching and Learning – Atatū Award: joint winners: Kerikeri High School and Otumoetai Intermediate School

The judges said: “Staff and students at Kerikeri High School present a unity of purpose and harmony that is inspirational and uplifting. This is a school that lives by the principle of ako, recognising we are all teachers and learners."

The judges of the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards have highlighted that this harmony of relationships is extremely healthy at Kerikeri High School. Elizabeth Forgie, principal of Kerikeri High School, says this concept underpins the school's conduct at the highest level.

"We would talk about the basis of all that we do at this school being warm relationships and relationships that are constructive. That’s within the staff, and that goes right back to things like our three-day hui that we have at the beginning of every year; two days for new staff and the third day with all staff. We focus on strategies for raising Māori achievement and relationship-building within staff."

At this hui, there is the chance for students to get up the front and teach the teachers; that’s an intrinsic part of the concept of ako: power sharing.

"Our students have taught us classes in waka ama, kapa haka, mau rākau, which is working with the taiaha, flax weaving, making fried bread, and kōrero on the marae.”

This is embodied in the concept of co-construction, one of the big buzzwords going about education these days – for the very good reason that it’s an exciting and highly effective approach. Breaking down the roles of teacher and learner has created a special character to the whānau at Kerikeri High School, and it’s a lens through which every interaction passes: teacher-student, as well as teacher-management and teacher-teacher.

"We work in teams a lot; say for example, every term the senior leadership team and the Te Kotahitanga facilitators meet together to talk about the big picture for the school. Every term all of the teachers of Year 9 and 10 have a facilitated co-construction meeting about raising Māori achievement within individual classes. The facilitator has a strong relationship with every teacher and does a formal observation with them once per term.

"In the classroom, learning is co-constructed with the students. So teachers will say, ‘we’ve got this piece of work to do, how do we all think we’re going to get through it?’ They might divide up into groups and each group will take a part of the work to teach to the rest of the class. Or more formally, at lunch times, we have a group of students who are teaching teachers te reo Māori.”

It’s all about feedback and feed-forward, says Elizabeth. The students are engaged in the work, and don’t disengage because they’re actively involved in the lesson. This makes it possible for the teacher to get through more work and lift the level of work in the class higher.

"The biggest advantage to this approach is ownership. We’d also say that through that process, because everyone owns the learning, we’ve lifted the cognitive level of what’s going on in the classroom. This is reflected in our pass rates."

All of the finalists of the 2014 Prime Ministers Education Excellence Awards have discovered that the award isn’t taken lightly by anyone involved. Kerikeri was no exception, says Elizabeth.

"Being part of the judging process was very rigorous. Having the judges in the school for a whole day was really intensive. While the judges were in the school, they met with groups of students, the senior leadership team, the Māori achievement team, and whānau. They did a classroom safari, where they went through a whole range of classes to look at the way that students were engaged. They even watched the bus lines! They examined all of the formal and informal processes of our school. They also watched one of the classes where the students were teaching staff te reo.

"It was a great process for us, too. While we were pulling together all our data for the application, it was really exciting because it showed us all just how far we’ve come. The self-review and reflection that was prompted by the awards process was really great."

Fostering relationships at Makoura College

The judges said: “Makoura College is determined to recognise the value of every student. The whole school embraces tikanga Māori and the significance of mutual respect and high expectations. The result is an impressive improvement in student achievement, pride, and engagement in education.”

So dire was the situation at Wairarapa's Makoura College that some years ago the school was faced with the very real possibility that the doors would be closed permanently. At one point, says deputy principal Kellas Bennett, the school topped the charts for underachieving schools nationwide.

The story of Makoura's journey from that point has captured the attention of Education Gazette readers previously. Since 2008, the turnaround at Makoura has been nothing short of inspirational, both to their own community and to the rest of the country. That huge achievement has now been recognised in a Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Award. Kellas says it’s all down to a new emphasis on cultural responsiveness that embodies tikanga Māori and fosters respectful relationships that come with high expectations.

"Some of our whānau at that time [before 2008] didn’t necessarily value education, for a range of reasons. So we needed to move away from some of the deficit theorising that existed at the time.

"We had to leave all that behind and try something totally different. So we did a lot of looking at our pedagogy using the Best Evidence Synthesis and thinking about best practice. At the same time, we moved away from punitive pastoral care and went heavily toward restorative practice."

The major change at Makoura is a change in philosophy. Kellas says that the school has concentrated on cultivating a culture of success, pride, and high expectation. This, he says, has had downstream benefits, including a shift in philosophy away from a position of deficit: if a student is having problems at school, everyone now looks at why, rather than rely on the ‘zero tolerance’ policies of the past, which effectively told students ‘if you transgress for any reason, punishment will follow–not discussion and listening.’

A change in philosophy at the highest level has led to change in pedagogy and systems. The philosophy is part of the daily life of a school. Kellas says key examples that model a response to the unique needs of their school community are the new methods of operating in the classroom. Models designed to better engage and motivate Māori and Pacific students and those who experience poverty, to turn around a lack of self-belief, pride in their work, and their place in the Makoura College community.

This has included the introduction of teaching with a more personalised approach to replace ‘whole-class’ methods; place-based learning; home rooming; and the introduction of new subject areas.

In the past, when there was a problem with a student disrupting the life of the school, that problem was shifted elsewhere through suspension or expulsion. There is now considerable evidence that suggests this approach achieves nothing for the student, family, or the school. During the school's rejuvenation, Kellas and the management team learned from others.

"We did best practice visits to Manawatu College and Opotiki College and looked at what they were doing. We now employ a restorative practice facilitator.

"So now, if a teacher exhausts their kete of tools in trying to keep a student on task, then the facilitator will work with the student. It’s all about getting the student to reflect on the role that they play and to look at who else may have been harmed by their actions. It’s a responsibility model, and it encourages the student to start owning the part that they played. At the same time, because the student has been removed from the class, it gives the teacher time to reflect on their position and what they might do differently in future. Then a re-entry meeting takes place before the student can go back into the class. Then the issue is parked, and everybody moves on.

"The change seems to work really, really well at Makoura. It’s about relationships and our staff ensuring that they’re culturally responsive at all times. The restorative part of our practice is about restoring relationships. If we can get this right, everything else seems to fall into place."

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:49 am, 8 September 2014

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