Kāhui Ako support helps new teachers grow skills

Issue: Volume 98, Number 6

Posted: 8 April 2019
Reference #: 1H9swC

Students in West Auckland schools are benefitting from graduate teachers’ fresh ideas and perspectives, while the teachers themselves are gaining professional learning opportunities that have opened up as part of the schools’ Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako.

Beginning teachers (BTs) in 10 schools in the Whiria te Tangata Kāhui Ako learn from each other through professional learning networks and get to experience a day or sessions at other schools, including primary and secondary.

Waitakere Primary School is a popular choice for practicums and has large numbers of applications from new teacher graduates. Principal Heather Atkinson says there is a supportive team environment for BTs, who are embraced by the whole school team.

“New teachers are well worth the investment and are definitely not a burden, and they bring enthusiasm, energy and a brightness to the school.”

BTs spend one-third of their time outside of their own classrooms learning from other teachers and students. They get to experience how teachers at their home school, and others in the Kāhui Ako, manage classes and encourage students to learn.

“The Kāhui Ako gives us many opportunities to either send BTs to schools within the community or welcome other BTs to our school,” says Heather. 

“It could be in an area they want to strengthen, or just something that is interesting or different from what happens in our school. Being able to use that as a base for professional learning for the BTs has been invaluable.”

Close relationships key

The key to getting the most from BTs is having a close and supportive one-on-one relationship with their tutor teacher for skill development, she says.

“But the whole teaching team in the school are also part of our support structure, not just the tutors.”

Third-year teacher George Aitken describes his experience: “I could literally walk into the staffroom if my tutor teacher was busy, and ask for assistance on an issue from anyone there, and I would get help. I know many schools where that would never happen.”

Heather says, “Leadership teams need to have realistic expectations and utilise the individual strengths they bring. One of our recent BTs has become head of e-learning as she is an accredited Microsoft trainer. George is now head of sport, and both are contributing to student achievement in those areas.”

George is in his new role because of the range of expertise from previous jobs, such as his time as a professional lifeguard.

Classroom variety

The BTs get time in a variety of classes, not just those of their tutor teacher. The school has found it more beneficial to release the tutor teacher rather than the BT, which allows the BT to observe effective practice and be supported in their own pedagogical development, in their own room with their own students. 

In addition, they are encouraged to observe teachers in other areas of the school. This gives them the opportunity to see consistency in terms of the school culture but also the development of students as they progress through the school.

Mentoring programme

Third-year teacher Tamara Marsh says she receives strong support.

“We are not just thrown in the deep end. We have regular check-ins and the school was investing in us even when we were doing our practicum.

“There is a mentoring programme where everyone in the school has a buddy. It covers everything – they’ve taken that model from the tutor teacher programme and extended it throughout the learning network of the Kāhui Ako.”

George says he’s been helped by working on the same curricular levels as his tutor teacher and appreciates being allowed to contribute using his own particular skills.

“I changed the maths programme to introduce ability level classes. With sport, I’ve changed the way we plan to make it collaborative, with everyone, including students, being able to contribute to planning events or choosing dates.”

Teacher’s pet good therapy

Third-year teacher George Aitken has been allowed to bring his dog, Zeppelin, to school and says that has had a positive effect by helping calm children so that they can focus on their learning.

Dogs are usually banned from schools but George says Zeppelin is helping with students who have anxiety issues. “They’re slowly coming out of their shell. I began by letting them pet him, then letting them feed him, so they became feeding buddies, then taking him for a walk. He is now their security blanket.

“These children have become comfortable as they interact with him at morning tea and lunch, and then they make friends and study buddies, and are now sitting together while working on a learning task. So they bond not only with the dog but with each other and that’s helping their learning.” 

Year 7 student Lukahn loves spending time with Zeppelin. He says, “He helps me focus and, if I’m really stressed, I can relax with him.”

Heather says, “Zeppelin is one of our school staff now!” 

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

Posted: 9:00 am, 8 April 2019

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