School leaders and teachers connecting with whānau to help students learn

Issue: Volume 94, Number 21

Posted: 23 November 2015
Reference #: 1H9cyG

How do ‘educationally powerful connections’ go beyond good relationships with the parents and whānau of kids who aren’t doing well? Strong connections between schools and parents and whānau are essential to raising the achievement of children and young people, particularly those at risk of underachieving.

Strong connections between schools and parents and whānau are essential to raising the achievement of children and young people, particularly those at risk of underachieving.

The Education Review Office’s (ERO) latest national evaluation report shows that these connections go beyond friendly relationships with families. They are about school leaders and teachers developing connections about learning with parents and whānau of kids who aren’t doing well.

The ERO report shows educationally powerful connections in action. It provides many examples of schools that have formed two-way, learning-focused connections with parents and whānau to help students accelerate their progress.

An essential part of this is understanding that the purpose is to extend learning across home and school. This means making sure that what’s used and talked about at school is understood and used at home too, providing extra opportunities to for the child to learn.

In the report, ERO gives examples of leaders and teachers evaluating what works and for which kids, being persistent by continuing to use what works and continuing to try new things, and using what they learn to help other kids as well.

Stephanie Greaney, ERO’s Manager, Evaluation Services, said: “This report supports what we already know–meaningful connections play a critical role in helping these kids".

“The examples in our report are stories of persistence. We found principals, teachers and boards persisting, challenging themselves to do better, changing their mind-sets and often acting outside their comfort zones so that their students succeed."

“Teachers and leaders learned to listen to parents. The more they listened, the more teachers began to see students’ fears and aspirations through the eyes of the parents. ERO found teachers changing their practice in response to what parents had shared and really meeting the needs of those kids.”

The report, Educationally Powerful Connections With Parents and Whānau, is based on a 2014 evaluation of 256 schools across New Zealand. It’s available on ERO’s website at link) or you can request a printed copy by emailing

Teachers may find this inquiry framework, which is based on The New Zealand Curriculum’s Teaching as Inquiry tool, useful when working to deliberately strengthen connections with parents and whānau who are at risk of underachieving. In the successful examples in ERO’s report, leaders used inquiry frameworks to help teachers make time for frequent and regular conversations with families, to extend learning across school and home, to evaluate what was working, to be persistent, and to transfer what worked to other students.

Persistence pays off for Windy Ridge School in Auckland

The leaders at Windy Ridge School realised they needed to do something different for a small group of boys in years 4 to 6. The boys had previously been involved in several unsuccessful interventions aimed at helping them do better. Their parents had been informed about these but not involved. The school leaders suspected parental involvement might make a difference.

Because many of the parents weren’t comfortable in the school setting, the deputy principal set up a meeting in a room at the local library. At this meeting the parents expressed their frustration and feelings of hopelessness around their sons’ years of not achieving. They said they’d run out of ideas and didn’t know what to try next, and that their boys had low self-esteem and didn’t see themselves as learners.

Together, the boys, their parents and the deputy principal developed a plan to accelerate the boys’ reading and build their confidence. The deputy principal ran a daily withdrawal group for the boys, changes were made to how they did tasks in class, and games and activities to support reading and spelling were introduced for the boys to do with their parents at home. The school also held workshops for the parents to help them understand National Standards and introduce them to spelling games and ways to help their kids with reading.

The parents, teachers and deputy principal focused on celebrating every little achievement or success, in an attempt to replace the feelings of frustration and failure the boys and their families had grown used to. As the boys started to make progress, their motivation increased. Soon parents asked for more ideas and resources to keep extending home learning. The boys became much more enthusiastic about school and learning. Four months later the boys had all experienced accelerated progress in reading. The school was able to apply what they’d learnt to a wider group of students, while continuing to support the original group.

The deputy principal of Windy Ridge School said: “I hadn’t really thought about how wide an impact students’ underachievement could have on a family. I just had to find a way of getting everyone on board. We are trying to engage with more families before they get to this stage of frustration with us. We’ve identified another group of younger students at risk of underachieving that we’ll now work closely with their parents.”

Quotes from students, whānau , teachers and leaders reflected the power of strong connections

For instance, students said:

“[It] makes us feel like we have a place in the school.”

“I’ve really enjoyed it – I’ve taught Mum all these new games. It’s fun and I haven’t been struggling in maths anymore and I can get my work completed.”

Parents said:

“We realised the school was with us once they really listened to us. They helped us with our boys as well as helping our boys.”

“We want the school to see the good in our boys, and recognise and build on their mana as young Māori men.”

Teachers said:

“The students are more focused and engaged in learning. It’s great to see them succeeding.”

“We wanted these boys to succeed but hadn’t realised the harm we were causing by focusing on the issues all the time. Focusing on the problems we were having with the boys had not been helpful in improving things for the boys. Working together made a difference for everyone.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:00 pm, 23 November 2015

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