Meeting halfway

Issue: Volume 93, Number 14

Posted: 11 August 2014
Reference #: 1H9cst

Vicki Hiini of Fairhaven School decided that the best way to engage parents in one of our most translatable and effective literacy programmes – Reading Together – was to take it to a setting that whānau felt comfortable in.

The Reading Together programme was developed in the early 1980s by Jeanne Biddulph and it has recently experienced something of a renaissance, with the advent of the Ministry of Education Reading Together Project. The project is designed to support schools in implementing the scheme. It’s one of a range of successful literacy programmes at the modern teacher’s disposal, and it has proven particularly effective for working with learners of Māori and Pacific Island heritage.

Te Puke’s Fairhaven School has had its challenges engaging parents of Māori students. While at a Reading Together workshop, teacher Vicki Hiini realised that she was staring straight at a golden opportunity to remedy the situation.

“The question that I asked at the time was, ‘if this initiative has been successful with Māori and Pacific Island students in the past, surely it can only be more so if we were to take it to the marae?’ John Good [of the Ministry of Education] agreed that this would be a great achievement, and said that in terms of relationship building and community liaising, getting something like that off the ground would require lots of work.

Vicki immediately put her hand up to begin building a relationship with whānau and the Ngati Moko marae in nearby Waitangi. She says she felt confident when she reached out the first time because she’d already gathered the thoughts of the Māori teachers at school and of those involved with Fairhaven’s whānau community group. This group has been a fixture at the school for many years, and meets once a term to discuss Māori achievement and plan for the future success of Māori learners.

With lots of support both locally and in Wellington, Vicki and the Māori curriculum teachers then began a whānau consultation. The purpose here was to get feedback from those that would be taking part, gauge whether families would be comfortable with bringing something like Reading Together onto the marae, and to ask that all help get the word out there to parents who might not have engaged with the school to any great extent.

With the enthusiastic backing of the Ngati Moko marae, the first of four workshops eventually came to pass; the first session involved a moving pōwhiri, presided over by kaumātua.

Vicki says that the idea to get Reading Together onto the marae was an inspired one because of the barriers to engagement that it left behind.

“By hosting the workshops at the marae, we’ve really broken down a lot of barriers. It’s taken that formality away, the ‘preachy’ aspect, where someone’s telling these parents ‘you must do this’. It puts the ownership back on to the people.

“We got parents coming that we didn’t expect to see. They came with their children, and they came back again, too. I was told by several parents that a lot of the reason for that was because we were seen as having met them half way. They felt like we were happy to be guests in their environment, and that communicates collaboration, not dictation.”

Vicki says that the experience was personally enlightening as well, as initially the marae experience – and conducting Reading Together in the marae environment – was outside her comfort zone.

“It was really relaxed and informal; it’s ok for the kids to be running in and out of the meeting house, for example. There’s not that focus on the institutional rules, I suppose, that come with the school environment.

“There was lots of food! Before we started each workshop, we would all have dinner together in the wharekai, which involved everyone. That was new for me, too, and I came to realise that part of the point is to break down tension before discussion begins; that’s what families do.”

Addressing a hidden issue

Tatai Takuira-Mita is a senior teacher at Fairhaven and is involved with Māori curriculum and the whānau group. She thinks the initiative to get literacy learning into the heart of the community was so successful because it circumvented a hidden issue.

“The programme was successful because it provided a really comfortable learning environment for our whānau. A lot of our parents may not have had a positive experience at school themselves, and I think we need to remember that. Taking these workshops to the marae meant that the setting was familiar and non-threatening. They were made to feel at ease.

“They may come from a position of being suspicious about education; they may see school as something that wasn’t successful for them. We’re setting out to change that cycle, that perception.”

Tatai received lots of feedback after the Reading Together workshops that confirmed for her that their efforts had gone some way to achieving these aims. She says that community links are something Fairhaven prides itself on and is always working to strengthen.

“Community involvement with our school shouldn’t be about, ‘you come to us and we’ll tell you what to do’; the whānau need to have communicated to them that school is part of them and they’re part of the school.”

Modeling re-assurance

Local author Tommy Kapai generously donated some of his children’s titles for the first workshop, which began with Vicki and her fearless son demonstrating for the gathering some of the central ideas behind Reading Together. She says that involving her son in this way had some powerful sub-text as well: ‘this programme is for everybody, and we don’t all start out experts.’

Able to follow along with a handbook, parents at Ngati Moko marae were stepped through some of the key strategies that have made Reading Together a success over the years. These include: the importance of being relaxed; remaining free from distraction (responding to email on one’s phone while the child reads to a parent whose attention is elsewhere would be an example of a big ‘no-no’); and that parents ensure their child has ‘wait time’ – the space to figure something out themselves, rather than the distracting awareness that their mum or dad is getting impatient. Encouraging confidence and ownership are also crucial.

Reading Together is so broadly successful, says Vicki, because it’s perfect for those parents whose own literacy skills might be lacking.

“The programme doesn’t involve putting pressure on parents at all. Some of the parents that we had on the course didn’t have strong literacy skills. So we need to support those parents to support their children. You’re taking away any pressure barriers; they don’t actually have to read anything, they don’t have to write anything down. It’s more about giving parents the confidence.”

Underlining this point, Vicki says that following the series of workshops at the marae, she then repeated the exercise with families from a different cultural demographic, who took as much from Reading Together as the Ngati Moko whānau did.

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 5:28 pm, 11 August 2014

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts