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LwDT: Whanau and community engagement in the Te Awahou Cluster

For some schools the idea of engaging or collaborating with the wider community can be daunting. For three schools in the Te Awahou Cluster, it was a priority, as they started engaging in the Learning with Digital Technologies project. The school leaders were amazed by the response and results from some of their initiatives.

Te Awahou cluster logos

The Learning with Digital Technologies (LwDT) programme supports school leaders and teachers to improve student outcomes through the effective utilisation of e-learning. Facilitators work with schools, often in small teams, and support key aspects of teamwork and collaboration from the outset.

LwDT facilitators model the practices of individual and collective inquiry informed by learning data. The e-learning Planning Framework (eLPF) and Te Rangitukutuku, the Māori Medium eLPF (MMeLPF), are used to support school-level strategic planning and to scaffold each school’s incremental steps towards success in the field of e-learning capability.

Over 5600 teachers/leaders from 258 schools/kura, including 28 Māori-medium, have been supported by LwDT in-depth professional learning and development (PLD) in 2015. These schools have a total of nearly 70,000 students. For more information and impact see the 2014 infographic data.

Collective Professional Learning and Development

The Te Awahou Cluster is made up of five schools, four primary and one secondary school from the Manawatu area: Manawatu College, Foxton Beach School, Coley Street School,  Foxton School and St. Marys, all undergoing PLD in the Learning with Digital Technologies programme. After some initial scoping and data collection using the e-Learning Planning Framework, a common priority focus was co-constructed by all cluster leaders which reads, "How will we... develop and use digital strategies to effectively engage with our community, and build partnerships to promote digital literacy?" 

From here two collective goals were identified:

  • strategies for engaging more effectively with own school communities
  • ways to inform whānau and the wider community about the impact of digital technologies in learning

The following snapshots showcase three different processes within the cluster where the schools have been committed to informing and engaging with the wider community.

Honouring current practice

Learning with Digital Technologies (LwDT) facilitators wanted to honour current effective practice where schools were already proactive about engaging with parents/whānau. The principal of Manawatu College had already set a precedent by connecting personally with every parent/whānau early on in the year. This has proven to be a powerful way to build home-school partnerships. Other school-led initiatives across the cluster included:

  • Newsletters (both print and electronic), emails, Twitter updates, personal letters, student portfolios, Google docs
  • Website and Facebook pages to providing information, upcoming events and celebrate student achievements
  • Regular information evenings hosted at the school
  • Invitation to view child's work in classrooms

Addressing the goals

Through a series of in-school meetings and cluster hui; LwDT facilitators Kathe Tawhiwhirangi, Mike Perry and Nathaniel Louwrens have helped school leaders to increase their understandings about the importance of building strong relationships with students and their whānau - with a particular focus on culturally responsive practices for Māori and Pasifika whānau. References such as The School Leadership and Student Outcomes BES and Community Engagement in NZC provided a sound research background for considerations in the future. Since the start of this PLD, schools have gone ahead and made the changes to help build stronger partnerships with their communities.

Three snapshots

1: Manawatu College: for many years engaged with parents through a typical traditional reporting process - three reports a year with hosted report evenings where whānau could spend five minutes with teachers talking about their child’s report. The big issue with this model was that only 16% of their parents would attend, and most of those were parents of high achieving students. 

Part of a strategy to improve student achievement was to develop the mentoring role of the vertical group (form) teachers. In 2012, Manawatu College decided to trial a new model of whānau engagement which involved each student, accompanied by at least one caregiver, having a 30 minute hui with their mentor (form) teacher to discuss the latest report (which was handed out at the start of the hui) and identify the “work-ons”. Any issues with subject teachers would be recorded and followed up.

School was closed for the day to allow for the learning conferences to take place at times convenient for whānau. A few of the hui took place away from the school in homes and neutral venues. Each student has two learning conferences a year. Initially some staff were apprehensive about contacting caregivers and making appointments for the first round of learning conferences, so the principal phoned every parent and made all the appointments.    

Foxton Beach parent evening 1

2. Foxton Beach School was finding it difficult to encourage parents to come to school to engage with their children's learning. Parents would attend sporting events, but weren't physically coming into the school to be an active part of their children's learning. Foxton Beach School particularly wanted parents to see how the two senior rooms were using the Chromebooks to assist their learning, so they could start giving feedback on their children's work at home.

The school invited the parents to attend an early evening event with their children. Dinner was provided and the school also offered babysitting (if needed), so parents could engage in the learning with their children uninterrupted. 

3. Coley Street School is the largest school in the area with 250 students, 50% Māori and  50% non-Māori. While parents attend and support school events and reporting sessions, the main challenge was ‘How do we engage our community in student learning?”, so they sought strategies that would help improve engagement and collaboration. These included informing and engaging with parents in:

  1. Education evenings once a term 
  2. Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) launch day
  3. Personally ringing families to encourage and build relationships
  4. Facebook updates

The results

Manawatu College boasted 97% of their whānau attended the first set of learning conferences, which is a substantial improvement on the 16% average reported previously. Principal Bruce McIntyre puts the good turn-out down to the fact, "That I talked with every caregiver and explained the new model and its benefits." Since the initial learning conferences, mentor teachers, assisted by deans, have overseen the appointments for the conferences (many completed online) which has resulted in an average attendance of around 86%.

Foxton Beach School reported 12 families attended their student-led event. Teachers were able to share the potential that e-learning provides for the students, while the children were able to work with their parents demonstrating how digital tools like Chromebooks can help them at school and home.

While Coley Street School are currently exploring options that can work better for families with the education evenings, the PB4L launch saw 120 of the school’s 135 families (over 600 people) attend and the Coley Street Facebook page allows parents/whānau to have consistent, up-to-date contact with the school. The success of the Facebook page is evident in the number of postings made by community members. 

The shift in recent practice, means it is too soon to fairly represent shifts in student achievement. The schools will endeavour to track trends around increased whānau engagement and how this has influenced student achievement over time.

Foxton Beach parent evening 2       Foxton Beach parent evening 3

Impact for whānau

At Manawatu College, feedback from mentor teachers, deans, caregivers and students has been totally positive as they have experienced the benefits. Whānau are much more aware and involved in their children’s learning and academic goal-setting, and communication between the school and homes is far more frequent and beneficial also.

Foxton Beach School parents have reported to be "really amazed" with the quality of the writing the children are now producing, particularly the quality of the vocabulary used.

Coley Street School purchased cellphones for each team leader, so they could directly message whānau with news and positive feedback about their child's learning. Parents and whānau now respond immediately to this form of communication.

Where to from here?

Each of the schools in the cluster continue to plan school-wide strategies to sustain whānau engagement, both face-to-face and via digital technologies. One of the schools is keen to pursue the benefits of e-Portfolios to remain connected with whānau in between face-to-face visits and reporting to parents. Coley Street School plans to continue to build in ways to involve parents in in-school and after-school programmes.

For more information on the LwDT professional learning and development programme, visit the Learning with Digital Technologies project page or contact Helen Cooper.