REACHing for success

Issue: Volume 101, Number 16

Posted: 7 December 2022
Reference #: 1HAYUS

Manawatū College has been on a journey of self-reflection and internal evaluation reviewing their practice over the last two years – as part of this they have developed an alternative approach to re-engaging students with their learning in mainstream education.

The programme enabled students to bond together as a group.

The programme enabled students to bond together as a group.

Manawatū College is located in Foxton; it is a smaller college with 285 students. Principal Matthew Fraser sees the size of the school as an advantage.

“It’s great to be able to work in a small school. I think there are many opportunities with working in a small environment. Connections with people matter, they are stronger, and it is more personal.”

The college has been on a journey of continuous improvement all of which has taken place in collaboration with students, parents, whānau, staff, iwi and hapū.

“A key focus for us at Manawatū College is working to ensure that all students get the best education they can at our school. Fundamental to this work is going through a process of review and self-reflection which are essential parts of the improvement process,” says Matthew.Bonding together

The school realised the need to address student engagement, particularly for junior students. In March 2022, a group of 10 to 15 students in Years 9 and 10 were identified as having very high pastoral care needs that required significant intervention to support genuine re-engagement with learning.Bonding together

The school had a number of strategies in place to assist students such as a strong pastoral care system supported by academic coaches. They also used the advantage of having a small community to get to know students and their families on a personal level to help design learning programmes that fitted around individual needs and aspirations. However, they felt some students could benefit from more support to experience success with learning.

“As a school we do many things to support students to succeed with their learning, but we know that for some students that just isn’t enough. It doesn’t quite meet that need. So, REACH came from trying to find an alternative way to engage those students with learning.”

Matthew is quick to point out that REACH is not alternative education, instead it’s about taking an alternative approach to engaging those students with learning.

The programme name, REACH, is drawn from the school motto, “Beyond Personal Best,” in the sense that the ultimate goal is to support students to ‘reach’ beyond their personal best in all aspects of college life.

Developing the programme

To help those in the programme reach beyond their personal best, the team looked at student profiles to work out the ideal approach. Most of the students engaged best when learning was practical, hands on and ideally working alongside a mentor who can inspire them.

The structure of the programme was flexible at the start to allow it to grow according to the needs of students. Matthew describes it as being organic, where there was a goal and direction, but the means to achieve it was not set in stone as this was to be developed over time, informed by learning along the way.

 Anthony 'Coach' Woon knows how to get the best out of students, with one saying, He can just look at you and know how your brain works.

Anthony 'Coach' Woon knows how to get the best out of students, with one saying, "He can just look at you and know how your brain works."

“What guided the approach, was taking our school values and what we already knew about the students, and then focusing on connections and relationships, really getting to know them on a deeper level, and to provide learning experiences in a way they may not have had in the classroom.”

It was decided to use a group approach to enable the students to connect with each other, as well as with the school. The key to its success would be finding the right people to lead and mentor the group.

“We selected people who we knew had good connections to our school community, and one of these was Anthony Woon.He was someone who I knew had strengths in building meaningful relationships with people from all walks of life, and I thought he would be a real asset to the programme.”

Anthony “Coach” Woon became the project coordinator and was the person who worked the closest with students.

The students would spend the first and last period in group sessions with Coach, who would also check in with them while they were in class to make sure they were supported.

The check-in session was a time for students to work on preparing for the day and goal setting while eating breakfast together. The check-out session allowed for time to reflect on the day and what they had achieved.

Group project work

Students would spend the rest of their time in class, except for Wednesday which was an ‘off-site day’. This day was dedicated to the students working on a group project together. Initially this day was planned for work experience at local businesses, but it was felt that working towards achieving a group project would be more beneficial.

“Originally, we sort of thought they could have a day where they go off and they might go to the local mechanics and learn how to build a go-kart or some practical hands-on projects.

“As we got into the programme, we found more value in providing experiences where they were in the community, down at the beach or other local areas of significance, working as a team.”

One group project was putting on a hāngī for the school and families. The first off-site project day saw the students going to Foxton beach to collect wood that could be used. The day allowed the students to understand local history but also to make their first steps as a group, working on problem-solving and leadership.

According to Matthew, Coach gave reassurance to them as they were not confident in this space (making decisions and figuring out how to complete the task on their own).

Culture of success

Students engaged in a brief and de-brief with Coach during the day

Students engaged in a brief and de-brief with Coach during the day

The relationships between the group and Coach grew over the weeks, which produced some noticeable changes in attendance. In terms of lateness, there was a 75–96 percent decrease for almost all students. When it came to truancy, all students had reduced truancy and some students had an 82–94 percent decrease, compared to data from term 1.

Motivated by these results the school committed to continuing the programme but with some alterations. One of these was the inclusion of additional students to the group, both male and female.

“We didn’t realise how much of a culture we had developed with that first group until the next one came in. As the next few students joined you could see the first students, without being asked, reminding the new people about the expectations around how the group operates.

“When there is a small group, the process of creating culture can be a lot quicker than with a larger group. The added benefit for future students to the programme means they are joining an established culture of success.”

Other modifications over the year have included reducing the out of class time to help the students transition back to full-time class attendance. They were still able to connect with the group and with Coach. The full day off-site continues and is progressing to developing work placements as well as community interaction.

Matthew is happy to speak with other schools who may be thinking of developing a similar programme.

The role of Coach

The final result of the project was a beautiful meal provided by the students.

The final result of the project was a beautiful meal provided by the students.

Much of the success of REACH was due to the relationship that Coach was able to establish with the students.

Some of their feedback includes:

  • “He understands where we are coming from and our point of view.”
  • “If we are playing up, he puts us in line by keeping calm. He never gets mad, he talks.”
  • “He is like our dad at school.”
  • “He can sit there and can just look at you and know how your brain works.”

When asked for his advice when it comes to the qualities required of a person like Coach, Matthew says, “You need an approach that is based on the principles of restorative practice and school values, which really boils down to respect, listening and being non-judgemental.

“If there’s an issue, separating the person from the issue. I think sometimes it’s easy when you’re dealing with challenging situations to forget to see the person rather than the issue.

“You need patience. In this programme we’re trying something new and trying an alternative way of doing things and we won’t necessarily change people overnight because that is not what we’re trying to do. We wanted to get to the space where we have deep connections and relationships with those students, supported by somebody who they trust.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:32 pm, 7 December 2022

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