Inspirational stories showcase inclusive practices that help prevent bullying

Issue: Volume 101, Number 2

Posted: 23 February 2022
Reference #: 1HASyB

Tangible examples of how to create positive, safe and inclusive environments where bullying is prevented, and responded to, have been collected to provide schools and kura kaupapa Māori with ideas and inspiration for their own communities.

Tō Tātou Kura Atawhai – Our Kind of SchoolTō Tātou Kura Atawhai – Our Kind of School is a joint project between the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, supported by the Bullying Prevention Advisory Group.

The purpose of the project was to hear first-hand examples of what good practice looked like for all members of the school community, and to build an understanding of what schools and kura can do so that students feel accepted, respected, connected, involved, and empowered. It was hoped that this would help to identify the ‘real-life’ enablers and barriers to creating safe and inclusive school environments where bullying is less likely.

Bullying is a significant and ongoing issue in Aotearoa New Zealand and providing a safe and inclusive environment, including preventing and responding to bullying, is a key responsibility of school boards within the Education and Training Act 2020.

Ensuring places of learning are safe, inclusive and free from racism, discrimination and bullying is also a priority within the Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities set out by the Government in 2020.

It’s hoped that the stories, strategies and approaches shared through this project will support schools to bring about positive change.

In late 2020 four primary schools and one kura kaupapa Māori welcomed the project team to their environment and their wider communities to work out what was working well and why.

The schools covered a range of geographically spread, urban and rural settings, diverse student populations and deciles, and roll numbers ranging from 50 to 400-plus.

The existing research on preventing and responding to bullying emphasises that the most effective way to address bullying is to adopt a multi-faceted approach involving everyone in the school community, including staff, boards, students and whānau.

A shared focus on promoting wellbeing, inclusiveness, and the valuing of diversity is key to any approach and is underpinned by the understanding that children and young people need their wellbeing needs met before they are ready to learn.

Fundamental to how the schools’ examples were collected was a ‘co-decide’ approach ensuring each school/kura could determine an approach best suited to their ākonga, whānau and kaimahi.

A mixed-method approach included face-to-face interviews and focus groups and participants engaged in te reo Māori across three of the schools/kura.

Student and whānau voice

From the conversations, the crucial importance of student voice was clear. Listening to, hearing and actioning students’ ideas helped create a culture of respect between staff and students.books

The students had valuable insights into what safe, positive, and inclusive environments look like. If the school and their teachers got to know ākonga and were able to meet their individual learning needs, it led to safer, more positive, and more inclusive environments.

Schools and kura recognised that students have diverse needs and demonstrated a willingness to accommodate these needs. There was an acceptance that the way staff teach must work for all students. Schools and kura also had a range of different approaches to support student autonomy and agency. These included leadership opportunities, self-directed learning, and supporting tuākana-tēina relationships between junior and senior students.

Strong leadership was a key driver of the culture needed to create positive environments, as was an approach of continuous improvement and being open to feedback from students, staff and whānau.

There was a strong sense that each school/kura is at the heart of its community, and this has been supported by principals who have built strong networks within their local communities.

When schools and kura connected with students as part of their broader whānau, friendship and peer groups, it meant inclusive environments were shaped by the entire school community.

Other insights included valuing student and staff diversity, and quick and effective responses to bullying incidents. A commonality among the schools was that tikanga Māori provided a strong foundation and framework for building an inclusive school/kura culture and effectively preventing and responding to bullying.

No one size

Our kind of schoolThe varied school and kura case study examples underline that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to bullying prevention and response, but that safe, positive, and inclusive environments built on strong relationships were effective.

They showed that bullying could be prevented without using specific bullying prevention programmes.

The resources schools had at their disposal varied. While those schools with more resources to dedicate to wellbeing supports were able to provide holistic layers of support more easily, schools with more limited resources were still able to create positive environments.


Tō Tātou Kura Atawhai – Our Kind of School

The project team engaged with 350 participants including:

  • 250-plus students predominantly in Years 5–8
  • 70 staff including external support staff such as social workers in schools, learning support coordinators, resource teachers: learning and behaviour, and resource teachers Māori
  • 45-plus whānau and community members who volunteered at or provided a service through their school/kura including board members.
  • Parents of students with disabilities and/or learning support needs at four of the schools/kura.

There were six key commonalities among the schools:

  • Knowing, and meeting the needs of, each student.
  • Strong and respectful leadership, which lays the foundation for a positive culture.
  • Commitment to tikanga and te reo Māori in the classroom, culture, and community.
  • Connecting with and including whānau and the wider community.
  • Valuing and celebrating staff and student diversity.
  • Quick and effective responses to bullying incidents.


Case studies

Kura tuatahi

A kura kaupapa Māori located in the eastern North Island with approximately 70 ākonga in Year 1–8 and strong connections with local iwi.

The kura strengthens connections to iwi and marae and promotes the sharing of knowledge between ākonga and kaumātua.

Tikanga and kaupapa Māori underpin the activities and teaching.

Tikanga is taught to ākonga, known by whānau, and talked about as a way of living that aligns with the kura values.

Time and effort are put into building strong relationships and there’s a strong emphasis on whanaungatanga. Whakapapa connections help to facilitate this.

Tuākana-tēina relationships between students help build connections between year groups.

Kaiako model positive relationships and the tumuaki has built strong relationships with children and whānau, as well as the wider community. The tumuaki has built a foundation within the school that allows kaiako to voice their thoughts and ideas, as well as holding a space for whānau input into decision-making. This has allowed for a natural exchange of ideas and inclusiveness.

Whānau are invested in school events and involved in decision-making, including through regular hui with staff where they can share ideas, and the kura has an 0800 number for whānau in need.

The kura uses whakairo (carving) and ngākau Māori (a way that has Māori values at heart) to identify and respond to issues such as bullying.

It also uses kāri wātea (calming cards) to allow time and space for children to calm down after something has happened.

School tuarua

A contributing school (Year 1–6) located in the lower North Island with a roll of 400 ethnically diverse students including a growing number of ākonga with disabilities or learning support needs.

Staff model positive behaviour to students and each other and have strong positive relationships. This helps students to know what behaviour is expected and role models how to collaborate in their own learning.

A team approach enables teachers to spend more time with students who need extra support.

Adults spend time getting to know students in their whole context, enabling them to better meet students’ needs.

The school takes a restorative approach to bullying, with a strong focus on enabling students to resolve issues themselves, and teachers stepping in if needed.

Some strategies include fostering strong community connections through whānau-led groups which fundraise and put on events; supporting activities important to a student’s culture or religion, such as attending the mosque; having relaxed start times to help students connect and ease into class; having dedicated free play areas; and enabling new entrants and Year 5/6 students to stay in the same class for multiple years to allow strong relationships to be formed during key transition points.

School tuatoru

A full primary school (Year 1–8) in the central North Island with a mixture of English medium, bilingual Māori and immersion Māori medium classrooms. Most of the 400 students are Māori, with a significant number of Pacific students too.

Whānau, whanaungatanga and connection to/through whakapapa formed the foundation of this school, creating an incredible sense of community and trust from whānau.

The school has deliberately employed whānau members from the school community.

The principal and deputy principal make time to greet and farewell students and whānau at the school gates each day and tuākana-tēina relationships are important.

Students are always welcome in key spaces including the principal’s office, deputy principal’s office and staffroom. Staff make time to listen to them and work through any concerns. They can access the staffroom to get food and to be looked after, after school.

The school tries to be a community support hub, distributing food packages to whānau and seeking involvement in celebrations, such as language weeks.

It has an embedded values matrix that was designed by the whole school community. This describes the core values of the school and how everyone can act to embody them. The matrix is displayed in every room and the buildings and playgrounds are painted in its three colours.

The project team was told students often mediate disputes amongst themselves. For example, they hold a hui and then involve teachers when they feel it necessary.

All students know about the paperwork the school completes when bullying occurs and they help fill out the form which goes to whānau.

School tuawhā

A contributing school (Year 1–6) located on the east coast of the South Island with 260 students from a range of ethnic backgrounds and a significant number of ākonga with disabilities or learning support needs, as well as two bilingual English-te reo Māori classes.

Staff prioritise building relationships with students in the wider context of their whānau.

There is a village feel and the school is considered a ‘hub’ amongst both staff and the wider community.

There is regular communication with whānau and a sense that staff are open to resolving issues.

Student leaders are supported to help resolve minor playground incidents and role-play common scenarios that require resolution.

The school collects student data regularly as part of an ongoing reflective practice to identify areas of concern and implement appropriate support.

The teaching and learning approaches are responsive to the needs of individual students, such as not having mandatory homework or making lessons relevant to students’ outside interests.

Diversity is celebrated through practising karakia and waiata, running student cultural groups, displaying country flags, and celebrating significant cultural festivals and getting involved in community events.

Staff said many students had experienced trauma, which needed addressing before students are ready to learn, and holistic wraparound support is available to students and their whānau.

School tuarima

A full primary school (Year 1–8) in a rural North Island community with a small roll and both English and Māori medium teaching options with a Rūma Rumaki Reo.

Staff demonstrate positive and healthy relationships to students through valuing each other as individuals within a collective, respecting each other’s positions and roles, utilising strengths and skills of all staff members, and celebrating the diverse lived experiences, values and beliefs of staff.

Through sharing and learning of pūrākau (stories) and waiata (songs), the students are supported to connect with their community, the environment, and their own whakapapa. The school worked with whānau on their marau ā kura (local curriculum).

The school also strives to embed whānau values that go beyond their school walls by nurturing strong relationships with the wider community.

School spaces are open and accessible to students and whānau and there is a big focus on facilitating meaningful relationships through the sharing of kai and kōrero.

Kai is a large part of the school culture, with students always having something to eat while at school.

A large veranda area is used for students to sit with staff and have their lunch, and when whānau are present they join in.

The principal’s service-focused leadership approach was identified by board members, staff, whānau and wider community members as key to the school’s success.

Students clearly empathised with their peers. For example, they explained that people sometimes come to school angry or sad because of things that might be happening at home or in the community.

Students are clear on the process for responding to bullying. They mentioned they are supported to resolve conflict or just reflect on how they’re feeling in a range of ways, such as a dedicated reflection bench outside the staffroom.

Learn more from these case studies in the full report, Tō Tātou Kura Atawhai – Our Kind of School(external link), available online in both English(external link) and te reo Māori(external link).

Further resources

Education Matters to Me(external link)

Bullying Prevention and Response in New Zealand Schools(external link) 

Wellbeing@School surveys(external link)

Bullying-Free NZ (external link)

Inside Out(external link) | Supporting rainbow youth across New Zealand 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:56 PM, 23 February 2022

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