Students have their say – the votes are in

Issue: Volume 96, Number 15

Posted: 28 August 2017
Reference #: 1H9eDs

Students who feel safe, welcomed and cared for will find it much easier to be motivated to learn at school. A travelling ‘voting wall’ has been engaging students around the country to think about their best conditions for learning.

I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.

That’s the clear message coming through from students across the country who have been voting for the most important thing to help them learn.

That, of course, should come as no surprise. Research in education has been telling us for a long time that those schools that focus on the relational needs of students are more likely to have positive outcomes for those students. Students who feel safe, welcomed and cared for will find it much easier to be engaged, purposeful and motivated to learn.

At two metres high and three metres wide, the voting wall has been travelling on request to schools across the country. It takes four elements of inclusive education and translates these. Students (and at some schools, parents, whānau and staff) are prompted to place a voting chip in the ballot box that corresponds with the most important thing to help them learn.

The four elements are:

  • Māramatanga – people who know me well
  • Rangatiratanga – everyone expects the best of me
  • Auahatanga – teachers who cater to my needs, interests and strengths
  • Manaakitanga – when I feel safe, welcomed and cared for.

Individual school results differ, but aggregated data from across the country has “Manaakitanga, when I feel safe, welcomed and cared for,” out in the lead.

The voting wall gives students a chance to have a say and start conversations about their ideal learning environment. If parent, teacher, and student votes match up, then everyone can work together to strengthen those core elements. If parents or teachers believe that one element is important, but the students believe that a different element is more vital, then some interesting discussions happen.

At Baverstock Oaks School they were pleased to see alignment between students, whānau and staff.

“We shared the findings with our community and it enabled us to ensure our inclusivity action plan met the focus identified by our community,” says associate principal Genee Crowley. “At our staff retreat we reviewed our shared vision. We ensured we included manaakitanga, which was the area all of our community – staff, students and parents – felt was the most important.”

Students at Pukekohe Hill School created a whatu pōkeka to express what belonging means to them.

Fernworth Primary School found the voting wall a non-threatening activity in which everyone could participate.

“It also provided a great opportunity to look at our class, staff and school treaties so that we could align them with the children’s and parents’ thoughts,” says Carla Werder.

“Of course, it’s not enough only to care – we must also care for learning, and the second most voted element on the voting wall is “Auahatanga – teachers who cater to my needs, interests and strengths”.

“Rangatiratanga – everyone expects the best of me” and “Maramatanga – people who know me well” come third and fourth respectively in the vote counts.

At the end of the day, the students’ voices back the OECD position that emotions are “the gatekeepers of learning”.

To order the voting wall for your school, email

I know I belong at school because...

“I have friends”... “I am included”... “I get to be myself”... “No bullying”... “No fighting”... “I am unique and special”... “I am heard”... “I am listened to”... “I get to have a say”.

A sense of belonging at school creates the conditions for learning to take flight. Students across the country have been creating whatu pōkeka (symbolic baby blankets) out of paper feathers, expressing their need to be valued and to belong.

This activity was developed by the Ministry of Education to support the inclusion and belonging of all learners in schools.

A whatu pōkeka is a baby blanket lined with feathers. It protects and nurtures a child as they learn and grow.

In this whole-school or classroom activity, students are given two paper feathers. On one feather they are prompted to write “I know I belong at school because...” and on the other
“I feel valued at school when...”

Students finish these sentences with their own answers. The feathers are then collected and put together into a large ‘blanket’ with each student’s ideas represented.

Three year 6 classes at Pukekohe Hill School made whatu pōkeka, which they then left as gifts for the students coming into the classroom the following year.

Baverstock Oaks School has used the activity for staff to get to know each other, and staff then followed up with the activity in their classrooms.

“I really feel with this relationship building and our introduction of restorative practices in 2016 we have far fewer behaviour incidents,” says Genee Crowley.

That’s because a sense of belonging at school is a key protective factor for young people, according to Professor Robert Blum, a consultant for UNICEF, the World Bank and the World Health Organisation.

“Having good friends, believing that teachers are fair, knowing that you matter to someone at school – these are all associated with good outcomes for young people,” he says.

And according to our students, so does being listened to and getting to have a say in what goes on.

If you’d like to give your students a say and explore the concept of belonging, an activity card and feathers are available for free from link).   

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 28 August 2017

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