Tailored learning support scheme promotes ‘whole kindergarten’ environment

Issue: Volume 98, Number 10

Posted: 17 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9v87

A new way of working is breaking down the barriers for ECE teachers and whānau seeking learning support advice in Porirua.


Teacher: Ngaretta Strong engages with children at Toru Fetu Kindergarten

Teacher: Ngaretta Strong engages with children at Toru Fetu Kindergarten

Sixteen kindergartens in Porirua are part of a grassroots delivery model which sees two Ministry of Education learning support staff visit the kindergartens regularly, to work directly with teachers and whānau.

Service manager for Porirua Learning Support, Rachael Vink, who suggested the initiative, says it fits in with Associate Education Minister, Tracey Martin’s desire for the service to be more localised and tailored to each community.

“We asked ‘how can we work systematically with teachers working with children who have challenges?” she says.

“In the past our teams have been very good at individual delivery and have supported many, many families. But there’s increasing complexity and diversity now. We looked at having a more locally informed practice and saw that fifty percent of our current active referrals came from kindergarten teachers, who were agents for change. So I approached the He Whānau Manaaki Kindergarten Association and suggested that members of my team visited each month, spend time in each kindergarten, talk to the teachers and whānau and get a feeling for the unique profile of needs for each environment.”

Te Roopu Arahina Puawaitanga has been running in Porirua since the end of January and already kindergarten teachers and whānau are seeing a difference.

Making connections

“Rather than waiting for referrals as we did in the past, the team is partnering with centre staff in inquiry-based approaches that are helping kaiako work more effectively with the children in their kindergartens. They are experiencing rich discussions with teachers and hearing that families are more comfortable to talk to team members in a familiar and friendly place, says Rachael.

“We’ve had close to 50 families who have come into kindergartens to meet Learning Support staff and have conversations about anything that might be worrying them about a child - and that didn’t require a form being filled out,” she says. “We’ve removed some barriers for them and it was genuine, authentic and comfortable.”

Kura Taee is the mother of four boys aged two to 15. Her 15-year-old had learning difficulties which weren’t picked up early, and she is very keen to have Learning Support involved with her two-year-old, who has similar difficulties with oral language.

Parent Kura Taee (left) talks with  Rochelle Parker, Learning Intervention teacher and Rebecca Priest, special language therapist.

Parent Kura Taee (left) talks with Rochelle Parker, Learning Intervention teacher and Rebecca Priest, special language therapist.

“My oldest wasn’t diagnosed until he was eight and went through the primary school system without any support. It feels different with my youngest, because he has been picked up at the kindergarten (Toru Fetu).

“Rebecca and Rochelle have been working hand in hand with me and given me strategies such as using simple and repetitive sentences at home and continually talking to him- just all that verbal communication. I’m quite happy that I have got that support here,” says Kura.

Ngaretta Strong is community and liaison teacher at Toru Fetu Kindergarten in Canons Creek. Last year the kindergarten won a Prime Minister’s Award for community engagement. The early childhood centre has a strong Pasifika lens. Ngaretta applauds Learning Support Porirua’s courage and innovation in piloting the scheme.

Culturally responsive engagement

“In the past, we would have learning support specialists from the Ministry come in when there’s an individual need. Now they come in to be responsive within our cultural context. Having Bex and Rochelle visit regularly has made a huge difference in the way we engage with whānau who can come in and have a coffee and talk with them.  

“This is our whānau’s place of belonging and this initiative means they don’t have to go to another setting that might be more clinical and that’s not so real and comfortable for them. It also means that our visitors can see the cultural and social world of our whānau. It is responsive- one size doesn’t fit all,” Ngaretta says.

For Rebecca Priest, a speech language therapist and Rochelle Parker, an early intervention teacher, Te Roopu has given a broader perspective to their practice.

“Instead of an individual lens for one child with a set of needs, I come in now and look at a variety of needs and work with the parents and the teaching team more directly to share strategies to support children.

“It gives me an opportunity to know that I am reaching a lot more children a lot more effectively,” says Rebecca. “We’re picking them up quicker and are aware of the children who need some additional support earlier.”

Supporting ‘whole’ kindergarten environment

Rochelle agrees, and says it is satisfying to feel they are supporting the whole environment at a kindergarten instead of just one child. “Just last week I had a teacher approach me and say ‘hooray you are here’. She was having trouble with some children transitioning from one activity to another and so I gave her some strategies such as pre-warning them and giving some visual signals.”

Plimmerton Kindergarten’s head teacher, Nikki Bishop, says that society is changing and whānau need extra support no matter what their socio-economic status is. “There’s a lot of anxiety in our community. Society has changed a lot and the wider whānau isn’t there to raise the child like the village once did, so whānau are feeling a bit more isolated. Just having another support system - another person saying ‘you’re doing well, have you tried this..?’ is a non-threatening way of doing things.
It’s just about wrapping our arms of support around them really,” she says.

Nikki’s learning support team from the Ministry is Gabi Jamieson (speech language therapist) and Claire Ewens (educational psychologist). Since they have been visiting monthly, there has been an increase in parents wanting to talk about their children’s behaviour and other issues. The children have got to know Claire and Gabi, which means that if they do need a referral for additional learning support, the whānau already has a relationship with the team. 

Nikki Bishop watches over Zoe Mexted and Noah Kerr playing on the slide.

Nikki Bishop watches over Zoe Mexted and Noah Kerr playing on the slide.

“I have been teaching for 23 years and the early childhood sector has been crying out for support for a very long time. This initiative works for me and my teaching team, because every day we talk about the children naturally and now we have another port of call to get ideas, ask if we are on the right track or, if we need to modify our intentional teaching strategies. We’ve got a real growth mindset within our team, so we are always trying to do better and support our learners in the best way we can,” Nikki says.

Rachael says that already, the learning support team in Porirua is seeing children presenting with more diverse needs. There’s more universal design for learning and a sense of kindergarten staff feeling part of our team. “We’ve been able to support families more organically- it’s removed some of the paper-based bureaucratic barriers with more conversations in people’s comfortable places. It’s also broken down the idea that we are the people who hold knowledge. There’s been a shift in the power relationship and that’s how I have wanted it to be perceived.

“I’ve got team members who are genuinely excited about being able to work in a really proactive partnership with teachers and families. They have seen some real innovation and thinking which is actually supporting all learners, not just the children we might have seen in the past.

Building trust and confidence

Rachael Vink

Rachael Vink.

It’s a very exciting way of building trust and confidence between the sector and community and the Ministry, and more importantly it’s getting better services to children, earlier, and with less bureaucracy,” Rachael says.

“For the children, we are doing what we are here to do, which is remove the barriers to participation and learning and create an environment which is supportive to teaching and learning - which is what education is all about.”

Te Roopu’s monthly visits happen alongside the usual tailored assessment and planning for children who need more support to achieve their individual goals.

“The initiative is one of a number of ways Ministry learning support teams across the region are working to reduce waiting times for young children. We are not yet where we need to be but working this way is contributing to a steep downward trend in wait times in Porirua,” Rachael says.

Porirua ECE

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

Posted: 12:32 AM, 17 June 2019

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts