education.govt.nz

Trust and relationships vital

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 15 April 2020
Reference #: 1HA71r

A group of North Canterbury educators learned from the Canterbury earthquakes that strong, trusted networks are the most important thing for getting through emergencies and crises.

North Canterbury schools know it's better to work together than alone. Pictured here at Ohoka School prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are SENCO Jude Edwards, principal Kate McClelland, Kelly McGowan and Sharon Marsh, with students Matilda and Hunter.

North Canterbury schools know it's better to work together than alone. Pictured here at Ohoka School prior to the COVID-19 pandemic are SENCO Jude Edwards, principal Kate McClelland, Kelly McGowan and Sharon Marsh, with students Matilda and Hunter.

North Canterbury has traditionally had a close-knit group of principals who work together, and prior to the Kāhui Ako, neighbouring learning community clusters had evolved to support each other after the Christchurch earthquakes, says Sharon Marsh, Principal of Leithfield School and Lead Principal for the Puketeraki Kāhui Ako.  

Early planning  

When the first COVID-19 cases were reported in New Zealand, a group of North Canterbury principals began to hold daily meetings after school via Google Hangout to share information and questions.  

“When the first Covid cases were being reported, principals began asking about common communications throughout our Kāhui Ako. They were finding they were not able to keep up-to-date with the fast flow of information in their in-boxes. One of our principals, Simon Green from Amberley School, offered to summarise and highlight main points from daily communications that could be shared by all schools to their communities across our Kāhui Ako,” she says.   

The first Google Hangout meeting was attended by four principals and by the third meeting, as the Covid situation escalated, nearly all of the leaders from the Puketeraki Kāhui Ako’s 18 schools and early learning services were present.  

“We are blessed with an amazing Ministry of Education senior advisor, Paula Wistrand, who called in to all our meetings and provided a direct link for us to the Ministry. Our RTLB manager, Kelly McGowan, and Mana Ake(external link) kaiarahi (mentor Antoinette Lewis) also attended the meetings, which ensured that our networks and pathways for support were strong and everybody was aware of issues facing schools,” says Sharon.  

Issues included expectations around distance learning, managing devices going home, pastoral care networks, school security and maintenance during the lockdown and getting information to ECEs, as they didn’t seem to be getting much information, she says.  

“As the final weeks of school progressed, leaders began sharing examples of communications and student work programmes across the Kāhui Ako,” explains Sharon.  

Close-knit community  

The Puketeraki Kāhui Ako featured in issue 1, 2020 of Education Gazette in an article(external link) focusing on the Learning Support Delivery Model (LSDM) and how the kāhui has developed a collaborative approach to ensuring that children and young people with additional needs get the right support at the right time.   

“We have a saying in our Kāhui Ako that it’s better when we work together, rather than alone. The Kāhui Ako has been the vehicle to get everybody together. Now teachers are in each other’s spaces, conversations happen and resources are being shared in a way that never happened before the Kāhui Ako,” Sharon told the Gazette 

“The Kāhui Ako structures mean there is a strong network through Across School Leads to Within School Leads and out to classroom teachers. During the last week of term we were working with our PLD provider to begin developing tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts and collaboration tools such as padlet.  At that time (Alert Level 3) the focus was still on continuing our work across the Kāhui but at a distance to help with keeping those connections alive in a virtual environment,” she explains.   

Key priorities  

The Christchurch earthquakes taught this group of educators that strong, trusted networks are vital. They decided their key priority in the face of a pandemic is the wellbeing of teachers, students and communities. Schools began sharing some of their communications around what they were going to be sending home for the last week of ‘term time’ in the second half of March.  

“It became pretty clear that most of us were focusing on wellbeing and many were using the Five Ways of Wellbeing(external link) to shape up the work being sent home. We all put the priority on helping our families see that they did not need to be stressing about home learning right at this time – there was already a lot of stress on families,” says Sharon.   

Since the lockdown began, the principals have met again online, are emailing each other and are looking at how they can set up a Puketeraki Learner Hub from their website.(external link)  

“We are thinking there could be two spaces on the website – one for real time collaboration by teachers across a common context for learning and then a place where students can come together to work on the collaborative projects linked to that common context.”  

Supporting vulnerable families  

Most of the schools in the Kāhui Ako spent some time before lockdown building or reviewing their Vulnerable Families registers and identifying key staff members to connect with whānau on a regular basis.   

“We know that in our communities, school is often the first point of contact for students and parents needing support. When it became clear that schools would be closing, we immediately began thinking about how we could maintain communications and access to support when and where it was needed.  

“In our case, as Leithfield School is a small school, the classroom teachers have three to four families each that they have undertaken to phone and check in on every week, or more often if they feel they need to. If there is a need identified for support, they will get this information back to me and I will reach out to our networks to get support in place quickly. By Day 6 of the lockdown I had already done this twice for my own community,” says Sharon.   

LSDM provides linkages  

The connected nature of the LSDM suits the Puketeraki Kāhui Ako well and is working efficiently during this unprecedented time.  

“Even though our Learning Support Coordinators have only been in place a short time their focus has been on establishing contacts within their communities and building a strong Kāhui Ako database of who is available to offer support where it’s required. Their work is extremely valuable now more than ever as their knowledge of families, systems and services means that our communities are best placed to get the right service at the right time,” says Sharon. 

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

Posted: 3:10 pm, 15 April 2020

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