Inclusion and support bear fruit for challenged learners

Issue: Volume 98, Number 10

Posted: 13 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9v70

A Hamilton primary school is taking a whakawhanaungatanga / manaakitanga approach to all its learners.

Melville Primary School in Hamilton is embracing children who have experienced formal stand downs, suspensions, and exclusions from other schools.

“We are giving them a second chance because no child should be left behind or not belong,” says principal Dianne Pollard-Williams.

There is a focus on building self-belief because, she says, low self-belief is often the source of behavioural issues. Most in this category are boys.

“With boys, behaviour issues at school are sometimes about difficulties and the pressures of literacy learning. So we work intensively one-to-one to raise their sense of belonging – turangawaewae – and our message is ‘I believe in you, we have got this, you can do it’.”

In one case, she says, she accepted a child who 18 schools had refused to

re-enrol. “We needed to give this child a chance,” she says.

The school’s local community is very transient, so the roll changes throughout the year. Seventy-eight per cent of students are Māori.

Di says the teaching approach is back-to-basics, with intensive work on literacy in context with an authentic local curriculum and the development of learner self-belief. There is a high staff-to-student ratio.

“We choose to spend more of our operational budget on people resources rather than resources such as one-to-one digital devices,” says Di.

“We are not a ‘digital-first’ school. We don’t believe that is a hurdle for the students in their future achievement. There are digital devices but they are a tool, not the main focus.”

Building self-worth

“Learning support is our priority, as strong relationships are the most important element for a positive learning environment. A feeling of positive self-worth, hooking into what the kids are interested in, starts the learning turnaround.”

There are support ako awhi (learning support adults) in each class for half the day and in some classes for the whole day.

Student G is a recent arrival and his literacy is improving. “My writing has got better,” he says, “because I get a lot of help, but at my other school the teacher didn’t help me. I love mindfulness writing.” Mindfulness writing allows students to write about feelings and emotions.

Whakawhanaunga is a key principle.
Di says the school is a whānau, a home for the children.

“PB4L is well embedded, as is Incredible Years, restorative practices, virtues learning, mindfulness and UBRS training for everyone.”

A small number of one children, 10 out of the school roll of 202, need and get multi-agency support for their challenges. Many more need support of some kind, she says.

Everyone plays a part

“The cause of an issue may be complex and involve all aspects of the child’s life. So sometimes there will be 10 people in a room working to find a solution to support one child. Our approach is to get everyone involved in a child’s life to play a part. It could be anyone from a parent, a social worker or a housing provider.

“That way, everyone in the school and at home is on the same page. Sharing updated information, reviewing, and reflecting as things change, is absolutely essential.”

If a child is having a moment during a class or activity, the staff will mostly let it happen, rather than intervene and increase escalation, says Di.

“Health and safety first is always a consideration. But generally, inclusivity and knowing they are valued and cared for is more important than being sent outside the classroom”.

Children as role models

Di says the other children are role models and are empathetic, caring and supportively understanding of those moments. 

“Our philosophy is that we let the child and their family know this is an opportunity for a new page, a clean slate. We talk about how it is not embarrassing to be low in learning or to have made behaviour mistakes, and together we will climb the poutama of holistic learning.

“We have an attitude of taking pride in all steps of learning and celebrating every achievement, because each step is paramount. We have to turn the ‘I am a failure, I can’t, I won’t’ belief around. We have high expectations and standards, an attitude of ‘we can all learn’, and when we show we care we can turn the belief of ‘no one cares anyway’. Manaakitanga is the key.”

Di says teachers explain the rules and quirks of literacy learning to the children, and that helps. Year five student S says, “In my previous school, it was a guessing game for me to find out what I got wrong in spelling, and why it was wrong.”

Creating a welcoming space

There’s a big focus on enviro learning because of its value in supporting wellbeing, and there are many fruit trees at the school. The children help look after the trees, the vegetable garden, the compost, worm bins and paper recycling. The children also feed and collect eggs from the school’s hens.

Animals, plants in the school garden, and the environment generally, are used to help create an accepting and welcoming space where the children can have daily contact with the natural world, including animals and birds.

“Watering a garden is very cathartic when a child’s mind is in turmoil,” says Di.

Tips for teachers

  • Ensure supporters are on the same page – make sure you know the full picture about a child’s life to allow you to paddle the waka together.
  • Clean slate – be prepared to turn the page on the past, insist on setting up the supports for a successful transition into the new school.
  • Demonstrate and model aroha, manaaki and sensitivity at all times.
  • Think learning innovation and plan outside the box.
  • Ensure all staff have professional learning in programmes such as PB4L, Incredible Years for Teachers and Teacher Aides, Restorative Practices, Virtues learning. 
  • Value learning support – put resourcing and training in place to support all learners, either for learners with challenges or for specific target accelerated learning e.g. oral language, perceptual motor programming.
  • Digital fluency is a valuable learning tool but is not a solution in itself.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:25 am, 13 June 2019

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