Empowering tamariki to guard their hauora

Issue: Volume 101, Number 3

Posted: 16 March 2022
Reference #: 1HATEP

During a time of major global events like war, climate change and a pandemic, it’s understandable that rates of anxiety are rocketing. A beautiful exception to this can be seen at Ruakākā School where tamariki have been learning to take control of their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Tamariki at Ruakākā School in Northland are learning to take responsibility for their hauora.

Tamariki at Ruakākā School in Northland are learning to take responsibility for their hauora.

Wellbeing has long been a focus for staff and students at Ruakākā School in Northland, but when the pandemic struck, school leaders decided to step it up. 

Teachers Tracey Morgan and Jo Statham began the mahi by meeting with Natalie Wilcock, a Healthy Active Learning facilitator from Sport Northland, to develop a wellbeing model for their kura. 

“We wanted to integrate Mason Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā with our school values which embody everything we do,” says Tracey. “Natalie helped us merge them together.”

Te Whare Tapa Whā was developed by leading Māori health advocate Sir Mason in 1984 and describes health and wellbeing as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls.

These walls represent taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing, taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing, taha tinana/physical wellbeing and taha whānau/family and social wellbeing. Our connection with the whenua/land forms the foundation.

“When all these things are in balance, we thrive. When one or more of these is out of balance our wellbeing is impacted.”

Fused with the school’s values, collectively known as SHINE, the new model was designed to empower kaiako and ākonga to identify and express their feelings and understand how it influences behaviour and teaching/learning.

“If a child was upset, they were able to say why, for example, ‘My physical and emotional wellbeing is sad because I haven’t been at school because of lockdown.’ Or ‘I am happy to be back at school after lockdown’,” says Tracey.

“We wanted to go deeper, to empower the tamariki to reach out of that egocentric state and get to the root cause of what was happening, why, and to reflect on that. To realise that what’s happening is bigger than this moment, it’s also to do with what is happening in the world, and that there are ways we can help our own wellbeing.”

Tracey Morgan with students at Ruakākā School.

Tracey Morgan with students at Ruakākā School.

Tracey explains some ways could be by taking sips of water or taking a movement break during class time or getting outside to touch the ground. 

“Now when we ask the kids what’s happening, they can say, ‘I’m sweating so I need to get some water,’ ‘Taking a movement break makes us feel better because our bodies release endorphins,’ and ‘We like being outside because when our feet touch the earth, we feel grounded’,” she says. 

Principal Marilyn Dunn says, “All this work we’re doing here is giving children licence to attune to their own needs. We are all made up differently.”

Marilyn and her team introduced the SHINE values soon after she joined the school in 2005, inspired by a song called Permission to Shine. The song became the name and the theme of that year’s school production.

“We put it together ourselves with the main theme being that every child has permission to shine by performing on stage. From there, the culture of our school grew and permission to shine still strongly influences every decision we make.

“It was about allowing people to be individuals and our values journey just bounced from that song. There is an expectation for us as a school to let our children shine.”

The school's SHINE token box.

The school's SHINE token box.

At Ruakākā School, SHINE means Show respect, Help others, be Inclusive, Never give up and be Environmental guardians.

When a child is observed practising a SHINE value, they receive a token to fill the school’s SHINE metre thereby creating a visual representation of which values are firmly in place and which ones need topping up.

The token system was funded by an initiative run by the Tai Tokerau PB4L team in which schools are encouraged to develop initiatives aligning to their PB4L journey and funded up to $5,000.

Marilyn says the new wellbeing framework is as much for the staff as it is for the students. 

“We talk about filling your whare tapa whā. Each week we focus on one little dimension of your mental and emotional wellbeing.”

Jo says that despite the challenges of pandemic restrictions such as lockdowns and mask wearing, the resilience of the school community has grown. 

“This foundation has made us more adaptable, and we can see our students developing leadership skills.”

Ruakākā has been a PB4L (Positive Behaviour for Learning) school since 2017 and children were already familiar with Zones of Regulation, an approach used to support the development of self-regulation. 

Designed by occupational therapist Leah Kuypers, the framework is a systematic, cognitive-behavioural approach used to teach how to regulate feelings, energy and sensory needs in order to meet the demands of the situation and be successful socially.  

Students use a colour system to identify their feelings and levels of alertness. Blue is sad or upset, yellow is anxious or excited, a heightened state, red is angry or terrified, out of control, and green is the ideal learning state. 

Jo says students can now name their feelings, why they’re feeling that way, how to get back to the green zone and how to help someone who is in the blue zone. 

“The language is consistent across the school and parents are telling us that tamariki are continuing to articulate their feelings at home. It’s so authentic, you will hear kids say to each other, ‘Are you shining?’” 

A mural at Ruakākā School highlights their inspiration from the song, 'Permission to Shine'.

A mural at Ruakākā School highlights their inspiration from the song, 'Permission to Shine'.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 10:12 AM, 16 March 2022

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