Doing the ‘hard yards’ as positive role models

Issue: Volume 93, Number 13

Posted: 28 July 2014
Reference #: 1H9csw

Males and females can have different needs and respond to encouragement in different ways. Many have pointed to the fact that declining male teacher numbers could have an impact on schools’ ability to engage young men. In this first of a two-part series, Education Gazette examines how one school has gone about restoring mana among the men – and boys – at their learning centre through the pursuit of sporting excellence. In our next issue, we look at what the girls are up to elsewhere, in drawing upon the female role models in their community.

Gisborne Intermediate – in a community that has social and economic challenges – recognised that their troublesome adolescent boys needed positive male role models within the school whānau, as well as at home. Their solution: get the teachers into sprigs and onto the rugby field. Their resulting success makes for an inspiring story of a community coming together and taking pride in itself, as Deputy Principal Glen Udall explains.

How the team got started

Like many communities around the country, Gisborne faces social and economic challenges, which have a flow-on effect in local schools. Having experienced increased behavioural concerns – mainly over the last few years among adolescent boys in the community – a group of Gisborne Intermediate teachers started brainstorming solutions to the issues at hand: non-engagement in the classroom, disrespect, and antisocial behaviour.

One of the initiatives that we came up with was to use rugby as a vehicle to connect with boys and get them active in a team sport where they could have the opportunity to get physical and develop important social skills. Using the “Ultimate Skilled Games Player” template developed at our school via the Health & Physical Education curriculum, where students are taught to embrace physical, social, and strategic skills in becoming a successful sportsperson, gains began to be made in both the playground and the classroom.

Students displaying challenging behaviour were required to attend supervised lunchtime games run by male staff members with a passion for rugby. Many of these volunteers had played at representative level in the past.

One of the central ideas behind this initiative was to give the boys the chance to build on their own self-esteem, with deliberate and targeted positive reinforcement coming from the teachers running the games.

Many of our historically challenging boys started setting their sights on making school representative teams. A key difference at our school is that selection to teams isn’t based on sporting ability alone: classroom work and attitude toward others is always part of the criteria for success.

Before long, many boys had improved their behaviour and were making more effort in the classroom, taking an interest in academic achievement, and setting goals related to both sport and learning. Things evolved further when we realised that not all students could make school representative teams. There needed to be incentives for all boys keen on rugby.

To address this, two solutions were identified. The first was to run an in-school tournament that could cater for up to 90 boys. Holding organised games during class time lifted the profile of the tournament and gave students the ‘privilege’ of time out of the classroom to engage in something they had developed a passion for – one that also developed their physical, social, and strategic thinking skills. A number of boys who hadn’t played Saturday rugby were also connected with clubs and have started turning out each week. This brought about the benefit of their parents supporting them outside of school with positive pursuits, instead of having some kids creating issues in the community due to boredom.

The more talented students then got to travel out of town to rugby tournaments. Sometimes it turned out this was a particular student’s first trip outside Gisborne. The school has also invited other schools from outside the region to bring rugby teams to us for a one-day rugby festival.

At school, students are also being encouraged to meet challenges on a regular basis. This is a common theme consistent in all classrooms and part of the culture of the school. One day a group of students encouraged the male teachers to take up the challenge of playing rugby again. They had heard about the teachers’ exploits as club and representative players but had never witnessed it themselves. Whilst historically the male teachers would gain respect in their playing days – as many of the students would head down to the local sports grounds in winter and watch them play – this new generation had not done so, and were eager to see what kind of skills we had to offer on the rugby field.

Teachers recognised that playing rugby in front of students presented an important opportunity to connect with them, and it was much easier to foster positive relationships as students respected teachers for their sporting prowess and ability to play hard but fair. In 2013, the Gisborne Intermediate School teachers set the wheels in motion toward the creation of a Tairawhiti (Māori name for Gisborne) Teachers rugby team.

How the team evolved

One of the positive attributes Gisborne Intermediate teachers strive for is our pride in ourselves as being ‘people of action’. We are acutely aware of the need to be good role models and lead by example. So the call went out to other male teachers in the district to indicate an interest in our team and concept. We sold our philosophy of celebrating ‘men in education’ through sport and providing positive role models by meeting this challenge.

Having secured opposition in the form of a local senior rugby team, we decided the best strategy was to play the game on a Friday night to give our community the best chance to attend. In that first game, we had a full complement of 22 players and a 6-man management team representing us from a dozen different schools in the region.

Our local Poverty Bay Rugby Union got right behind us, with an allocation of ground, referee, and playing strips. The occasion was a phenomenal success. The crowd in attendance was easily four times that which usually turns out for local games of premier rugby and the Rugby Union was in awe of the number of students and their parents who came to watch. We managed to generate a real buzz in the community and the ‘talk of the town’ was that if you weren’t there, you had missed a great spectacle of running rugby and an impressive Teachers team cleaning up the opposition 38 points to 7.

The feedback among the schools after this inaugural fixture was quite inspiring. Parents and students were full of praise for the game, the concept, and the whole occasion. We also found ourselves fielding challenges from other local rugby teams offering to play us. With the huge success of the game behind us, we set about determining how we could progress our initial attempt to bring together men in education in celebration of our profession, build professional networks and connect with our school communities. The seed had been sown and momentum was building!

The 2014 rugby spectacle

Recently, under lights at Rugby Park, we took on a senior Ngatapa rugby team. With Ian Kirkpatrick their most famous All Black and rugby identity, we were watched by an enormous crowd by local standards. There was plenty of coverage of the game in the local newspaper. The overwhelmingly positive aspects from our perspective were that we had:

  • 30 teachers wanting to play
  • A third of the team having played representative Heartland Rugby for either Poverty Bay or East Coast unions
  • Over a dozen local schools were represented
  • Other teachers wanting to contribute in a managerial or assistant capacity
  • A massive crowd turned out that included members of the general public not connected with the schools
  • Many teaching colleagues turned up to support the concept and individual players with whom they work alongside
  • The most amazing bonding experience as men in education – where they are generally low in numbers across primary schools.

The local branch of New Zealand Educational Institute got in behind us and used this as an opportunity to promote their “Stand Up For Kids” campaign. They were over the moon that we were putting education in the media for positive reasons and initiatives.

Further plans in 2014

We are currently in discussions with other regions to establish a fixture in another part of New Zealand. We hope to travel to Hamilton and play a Waikato Teachers Rugby team, where we have connections.

Goals for the future…

Taking our concept into other regions is certainly the plan. We are confident we can compete against teachers’ teams from other regions and help promote men in education across the nation. We also have a serious desire to go global: we are investigating going to Australia to play a few games and raise the profile of men in education in other countries. We don’t see the point in leaving it where it is at now, as we see the potential to take this so much further.

Dad's night at Gisborne Intermediate

The aim of these evenings in term 1 was to encourage male role models to come into the school and take an interest in their child’s education. Boys from each class were encouraged to identify a male role model in their lives and invite them to come to school for a couple of hours in the evening. Boys predominantly brought their fathers, but in some situations there might not be a father, so grandfathers, older brothers and older cousins were in attendance.

The structure of the evening included the male role models sharing their aspirations with their young relative, the boys sharing some school work they had done earlier in the year and their current learning goals. The focus was on education and providing a forum in which male role models could display an interest in what the boys were doing at school. The boys served their role models food (pizza – nice and easy) and the evening was completed with a ‘students versus role models’ game and then a swim. With almost 100 per cent buy-in from some classes, the nights were a huge success. It was also the first time many of the parents had been into any school and discussed learning with their child.

The male role models were then challenged to keep the learning conversations going at home and spend time reading with their boys and keep addressing their aspirations. The teachers were particularly inspired by the sharing of the aspirations of male role models with their boys. It was identified as powerful dialogue.

The feedback was so positive that teachers then coordinated a similar night later in the term for girls and their male role models. We decided to go with the girls’ male figures of influence because in our experience, mums and female relatives are well engaged with the school, but dads are seen much less. While the initial target was boys and addressing their underachievement and general disengagement at school, the opportunity to get more parents into school and engaging in learning conversations has resulted in better home and school relations and more positive communication between parents/caregivers and teachers.

BY Glenn Udall
Gisborne Intermediate ,

Posted: 6:35 pm, 28 July 2014

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