Strategies and practical insights to grow resilient schools

Issue: Volume 101, Number 16

Posted: 7 December 2022
Reference #: 1HAYUP

Matt Bateman, principal of Burnside Primary School, and Lynda Stuart, principal of May Road School, both understand the importance of building a resilient culture in schools.

Providing staff with the resources they need is vital, says Lynda (middle).

Providing staff with the resources they need is vital, says Lynda (middle).

Principal Matt Bateman says the key to building resilience is having shared values that underpin the vision and direction of a school so that everyone has a consistent and positive experience.

“All of our communications sound the same and make people feel the same. How we greet, how we connect, how we work together, how we celebrate children. They’re all in the context of those values,” he says.

Matt likens it to being part of a family, where everyone is respected and trusts one another. He says having a united family that can convey genuinely positive communication is important as the community can be quick to pick up on points of friction within a school.

“We need to be what we say we are, and that can take a while to get right,” he says. “It might take a few years to build that 100 percent buy in from everybody. Then once that is built, you need to maintain it.”

Setting clear ground rules can provide a climate of safety for those within the school. 

“This does not mean that there are no difficult discussions, but it does make it easier when such discussions are required,” Matt comments.

Matt says that, as a principal, one of the ways to ensure a family-like relationship is maintained is through having regular contact.

“I walk around the school in the morning and unlock all the classrooms. We have got a caretaker and I could ask him to do that, but I’d much rather walk through all the spaces... see what’s going on, be able to celebrate the good work that might be up on the classroom wall or on a desk with the teacher, and just have a bit of a chat.”

Support for staff

By doing this Matt can keep up with how his staff are going and share positive news with other members of school – for example telling them it is someone’s birthday. It is also a time to talk about things that may be creating stress for staff members.

Matt (right) believes daily contact is important to support staff.

Matt (right) believes daily contact is important to support staff.

“We’ve got a few staff who have children sitting NCEA. I know that they’ll be coming to work a little bit stressed about that. You can have a conversation around how their child is going, what have they got coming up. So, you can sit alongside them and share the stress.

“That small conversation at the start of the day can make them feel that you understand them a little bit. That you understand they’ve got a life outside school that you value, and that other people value, and they can feel supported by the school.”

Matt also creates other opportunities to show support. If staff are going to do something that is outside of their current comfort zone, he will ensure they have the necessary supports to guide them through. This can range from going with staff members who are attending a tangi for the first time to helping teachers involved in their French bilingual unit interact with the French community. Other support can come from positive reinforcement and recognition in staff meetings.

Assemblies that show appreciation of how children are progressing can be a way to build support networks. Matt says they make sure that family and the community know well in advance if a child or their class is going to be celebrated so that they might be able to attend.

“Those sorts of celebrations really help the relationship between the classroom teacher, the parent group, and the wider community as well. So, from a point of view of trying to build networks of support and resilience, they are important.”

Weaving together

The ability to create strength through connectedness has been recognised. The name that has been gifted to the school by mana whenua is Tuia, which means to weave together.

“One of the things that mana whenua felt that our school does reasonably well is to weave people, communities, together. By doing that you obviously strengthen the cloth, strengthen the fabric, strengthen the community. If everyone’s aligned, everyone’s supporting each other, we are strong.”

Strong relationships help to build strength in students

Strong relationships help to build strength in students

Matt knows that building and maintaining a family environment for the school staff requires good leadership that can also model resilience. For himself, he gains strength from the achievements of his staff but also acknowledges the importance of his family to help him remain positive.

“If I’ve got a bit of an issue that I need some help with, I don’t keep it to myself. I generally am quite happy to share that with other people and have them talk it through and help me so that they can become a part of helping me as well.”

Personalised approach

Lynda Stuart understands the stress schools can face. Her school is in a growth process with an increase from 200 students to 1,000 over the next few years. A challenge with this growth, will be continuing with their personalised approach.

“So, one of our challenges is to continue with this and the importance of the school being at the heart of the community. Knowing our families and knowing each and every child really well,” explains Lynda.

The school appreciates being at the heart of a diverse community. May Road School is one of the only schools in New Zealand to be selected as a guardian of a midden, which is a mass that may contain shells, bones, artefacts, charcoal and sometimes oven stones. The midden was gifted to the school following impacts from a housing development.

“We did a pōwhiri into the school as it was very important and significant,” says Lynda. “I don’t think having a midden being gifted has ever happened before in a school.”

Heart of communities

According to Lynda schools have always been a space where teachers will reach out to families because they know it can make a difference to issues such as attendance and engagement. However, she feels that the role of the school as the hub of the community has increased during Covid as many people saw schools as go-to place for support and information.

This role is important but if schools are stretched for resources, it can make this process of building and supporting these essential trusting relationships harder, which is stressful for staff wanting to do their best.

Celebrating cultural diversity creates strength.

Celebrating cultural diversity creates strength.

“I don’t meet any teachers, any principals, any support staff who didn’t come into their role in order to make the best difference that they possibly could for children, and at the end of the day we know that we’ve got to make those strong relationships to really make a difference for the children.”

To make this difference, many are working very long hours. The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, which monitors the health and safety of principals, found that 72 percent of principals work more than 50 hours a week and 16 percent work more than 60 hours a week.

“Two key areas that people are finding hard, which come through really strongly, is the sheer quantity of work and the lack of time to really focus on teaching and learning.”

Time is the major resource that Lynda wants to see being improved to promote resilience in schools. This means having a system that provides schools with the right amount of time to implement change, complete required paperwork and compliances, and have a good work to home balance.

“A resilient school is where we have our people who support our children, whether they be our teachers or our teacher aides or our principal, thriving. Then, I think our children thrive too. I also think that it is where people have the time and the space to do the job that they so desperately want to do.”

 Gatherings are an opportunity to create unity and engagement.

Gatherings are an opportunity to create unity and engagement.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:40 pm, 7 December 2022

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