Aroha at heart of tuakana teina programme

Issue: Volume 100, Number 4

Posted: 8 April 2021
Reference #: 1HAJb6

A tuakana teina programme at Wellington East Girls’ College is exceeding expectations and resulting in happy and settled Year 9 students.

The tuakana teina leadership programme at Wellington East Girls’ College was developed by guidance leader Joy Maehe, along with school counsellor Lynley Goodison and 2020 Year 13 dean Michelle Kennedy.

While the school, which is known to most as ‘East’, has a strong ‘sisterhood’ culture and previously had a tuakana teina programme, the revamped version introduced in 2020 has created stronger bonds across the school. This year, 50 Year 12 and 13 students put their hands up to mentor around 150 Year 9 students.

“The goal is for the programme to be self-managing as much as possible. There are three layers: four prefects and 10-15 group leaders, who run a group of tuakana,” says Joy.

“Sometimes what happens at schools is there’s a hiss and a roar with something like this in the first few months of the year. I think we need to have a sustainable programme that runs every single week for at least three terms, because you can’t build relationships on an intermittent basis,” she adds.

Relationships and rapport

Every Thursday, the tuakana deliver a programme to Year 9 ako (form) classes. On alternate weeks, they receive supervision to discuss any issues they are having.

While the activities and games are fun, they aim to bring together a diverse group of students and build relationships and rapport amongst the cohort. The school’s values of whanaungatanga (relationships), rangatiratanga (leadership) and aroha are woven into the activities.

“Our values are very much about coming together through aroha and whanaungatanga,” says Joy.

“The delivery of an activity is a medium through which they can do that, because when you are working with Year 9s developmentally, you can’t sit around and talk about it. It’s what you do and how you behave towards them that makes a difference,” she says.

For Michelle, who was involved with the development of the programme as Year 13 dean last year and now sees it from the other side as Year 9 dean, the initiative has been a dream come true.

“There’s a real East sisterhood that runs through everything – it’s always been there and that is what is the strength of it all. But when I was dean of Year 9 five years ago, the tuakana might turn up, they might not turn up – it was a real hit-and-miss because there was no supervision, organisation or resources around them.”

Supporting transitions

Gael Ashworth has been at East since 2012 and is in her second year as principal. She says a strong part of the school’s culture is that Year 13 students have a real sense of giving back to the school community.

“Those connections and relationships have always been there, but I think the programme has strengthened this and supported an easier transition for the Year 9s coming in from their feeder schools. The opportunity for students to connect with tuakana in a way that is supportive of them transitioning into high school is really important,” she says.

Even a few weeks into 2021, the Year 9s seemed more settled, as they have more connections with older students, says Michelle.

Year 9 student Maggie agrees. “They definitely make you feel more confident. Because on the first day when the prefects came in, they were really welcoming. If I was lost around school, I could ask them and so I already felt part of the school from the first day.”

Maggie’s view is shared by other teina. Last year’s tuakana conducted an evaluation, which received a very positive response from the teina. Of 190 responses, 95 per cent said they liked having the tuakana in the classroom; 70 per cent thought they should come twice a week.

Year 12 tuakana have been included this year and a trial sees some tuakana supporting some Year 10 students.

Growing leaders

Initially, the programme was offered as a leadership pathway for senior students. Gael says that Joy has worked to make it more intentional and rigorous so the programme provides value not only for the Year 9 students but also for the tuakana in terms of skill development.

“I think that if you have intentionality and you apply focus and resource into that area, then you are likely to get a more positive outcome, and that’s definitely the case,” she says.

“I think the opportunity for the tuakana to grow in their leadership capacity has been really great for them.”

Gael says the tuakana are developing their interpersonal skills and abilities to organise, plan and be responsible and they are doing this in a supported way.

“If a student raises or brings an issue to them, they have that supervision to work through any situations that might arise – so they’re not left unsupported.”

Joy says the tuakana learn to be “profoundly and rigorously self-managing”.

“They have to work it out amongst themselves, or with a prefect; and teachers are third in the chain. I want them to develop self-responsibility so when they have a difficulty, they language it and bring it forward, rather than sit on it and not turn up, or respond to their leader. That’s the development of their leadership – to problem-solve as leaders,” she says.

Impressive commitment

The guidance team has been impressed by the commitment of the tuakana.

“With Covid last year, the girls were amazing – they went to the Ako classes online and I did supervision with them by Zoom. Just seeing the girls interacting – even outside the Ako classes – you knew there was genuine connection,” says school counsellor Lynley.

“The tuakana are growing and working and supporting each other as a team. There’s a real reciprocity in it – it works from the kaiako to the prefects, the prefects to the leaders, the leaders to their team, the team to the girls,” she says.

This year’s tuakana showed their commitment and gave up two days to attend a training programme after exams had finished last year.

The school’s wellbeing prefect, Renee, says after the first meeting with prefects and kaiako, the first training day with tuakana leaders gave them the tools to train others.

“We did some activities and went through the school values and all the key things which we wanted to make sure they were implementing into their classes as well.”

Building inclusivity

Wellington East Girls’ College participates in the New Zealand Council for Education Research (NZCER) Wellbeing@School survey. Gael says the data shows the school is performing well.

“However, we don’t want to be complacent about that. We’re always keen to look at ways of being more inclusive and building strong relationships.

“I think the programme does support that and also offers a peer for a young person to approach if they feel uncomfortable about approaching a teacher about any particular issue they might have.”

Tuakana Teina

When four tuakana prefects and four teina were asked to “look serious” during Education Gazette’s photo shoot, chatter and laughter erupted soon after. The girls clearly delighted in each other’s kōrero and company.

Here’s what they had to say:

Year 13 tuakana prefects

Lesieli, Dimitra, Renee and Ibanez are all self-confessed ‘people people’ and are passionate about their roles as tuakana prefects.

Why did you want to be a tuakana prefect?

Lesieli: When you start high school, it’s so new – you would want someone like a big sister to look after you and mentor you. That’s something I have always wanted to do. That’s hugely important for us, for our role. Because on your first day as a Year 9 and you have your tuakana, that’s your first image of what the school is like – how the reputation of our school is portrayed.

Ibanez: We want to make sure that we give our Year 9s a positive environment and that they shouldn’t have to feel scared or worried about school. You don’t want to treat the Year 9s like friends, you want to treat them like family, like sisters.

We just want them to have a close bond with each other and to be consistent throughout the year. But Year 13 is obviously very stressful – we have internals and externals and that’s probably going to be the hardest thing about keeping it consistent – but we’re trying our best.

What do you like about the tuakana teina programme?

Dimitra: The thing that makes the programme run smoothly is we do all really want to be here and we are passionate about being tuakana, a big sister, and just really showing our love to the Year 9s and helping them settle in because I feel that was something that was lacking in my Year 9.

Ibanez: We can tell that they trust us because they come to us when they have issues. They are open about speaking about them, which is good because in order for us to do our job, we need to know what the problems are in the first place to help fix them.

Lesieli: In the past and in general it’s always been seen as Year 9, Year 13... it’s separate. But through the whole tuakana programme, it’s like developing this sisterhood that we already have here at East, but it’s just enhancing it. It is rewarding – I’m really passionate about the role.

What skills are you learning?

Renee: I have built so much confidence in myself this year already – just being able to interact with so many different people. And you learn quite a lot about yourself. Even though it’s only been five weeks, I have already seen the growth, not just in myself, but in all the other tuakana as well.
The new connections we have already gained are really cool, even though it’s been at such a short amount of time.

Dimitra: I love talking to people, and I’m learning how to deal with different people and to still have a connection with them, even though they might not show the same energy back to me, but knowing that I still need to make a conscious effort to include them.

Ibanez: My top learning thing is communication, and confidence as well. Dealing with situations with conflict or negativity is something that you really need to learn because it is going to come up through the year and you need to make sure you are going to deal with it in the right way.

Year 9 teina

Siobhān, Maggie, Lola and Helena had been at school for just over a month when Education Gazette visited and were already feeling at home.

Maggie: Before coming to East, I still wasn’t sure if East is the right school for me, and during the first week I gradually started loving East. I thought, ‘This is the school for me’, and that was because they were all showing the school values – the teachers and the tuakana show aroha and the values.

Lola: I thought being Year 9 that people would look down on us but they are actually really nice about it and they are always looking out for you. Even Year 10, 11 and 12s are always there.

How do the tuakana help you?

Helena: I feel like the tuakana programme really helps you meet new people, find new friends. Like some of my closest friends are people the tuakanas have pushed me to talk to. I was walking around with a Year 13 and she was pointing out a group of girls and saying, ‘Oh they look nice, you should go and talk to them’. It gives you a little confidence boost.

Lola: They are always pushing us to sign up for things, because they said they regret not signing up for things when they were Year 9 because, apparently, they give you confidence – like groups like Poly group, events, athletic sports etc.

Siobhān: I don’t really like talking in front of people but then when they introduced me to people, they made me feel more welcome and now I have a little bit more confidence and I’m not shy to go up to people and introduce myself. With the games, we can learn everybody’s names and get to know them a little bit. Then we talk to them and then you become close friends with other Year 9s. It’s really helped the Year 9 class bond.

Helena: They’re like a fun therapist!

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:25 am, 8 April 2021

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