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Community engagement

This section draws together research, digital resources, and examples to support schools as they consider the community engagement principle.

About the community engagement principle

Curriculum document.

The curriculum has meaning for students, connects with their wider lives, and engages the support of their families, whānau, and communities.

The New Zealand Curriculum, p. 9.

Community engagement is one of eight principles in The New Zealand Curriculum that provide a foundation for schools' decision making. The principle of community engagement calls for schools and teachers to deliver a curriculum that is meaningful, relevant, and connected to students' lives. Community engagement is also about establishing strong home-school partnerships where parents, whānau, and communities are involved and supported in students' learning.

The New Zealand Curriculum states that curriculum design and review requires a clear understanding of the values and expectations of the community. It is intended that the interests and needs of students, and the values and aspirations of parents and wider community inform school curriculum design. Effective community engagement is imperative in this process.

Community engagement is 'meaningful, respectful partnership between schools and their parents, whānau, and communities ... focused on improving the educational experiences and successes for each child.' (ERO, 2008)

What makes effective home-school partnerships?

Karori students.

The School Leadership and Student Outcomes BES found that the most effective home-school partnerships are those in which:

  • parents and teachers are involved together in children's learning
  • teachers make connections to students' lives
  • family and community knowledge is incorporated into the curriculum and teaching practices.

The Family and Community Engagement BES found that the most effective partnerships:

  • treat families with dignity and respect and add to family practices, experiences, values, and competencies (rather than undermining them)
  • build on the strong aspirations and motivation that most parents have for their children's development
  • offer structured and specific suggestions rather than general advice
  • provide group opportunities as well as opportunities for one-to-one contact (especially informal contact)
  • empower those involved by fostering autonomy and self-reliance within families, schools, and communities.

Home-school partnerships that are tailored to the unique needs of a particular school and community are more successful than those using a standard approach (Brooking and Roberts, 2007). However, some ways of working with families and communities are effective across a wide range of contexts.

Research in schools (for example, Bull, Brooking and Campbell, 2008; Taylor, 2008) suggests that partnerships work best when actions are:

  • the result of shared reflection on current practice
  • planned for and embedded within whole-school development plans
  • goal-oriented and focused on learning
  • evaluated and reflected upon by both partners as part of ongoing improvement.

Evidence (such as from Gorinski, 2006; Taylor, 2008; Bull, Brooking, and Campbell, 2008) shows that successful partnerships:

  • have collaborative and mutually respectful relationships
  • are responsive to different community characteristics
  • adapt, rather than adopt, new ideas
  • involve two-way engagement in which each partner learns from, and teaches, the other.

Source: NZC Update 10

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Funds of knowledge
This blog examines the importance of recognising the funds of knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It provides some background links to explore this idea further.

Building educational partnerships with whānau and Māori communities

Māori students from Te Kotahitanga schools.

Māori students' learning outcomes are maximised when there are effective practices and programmes that build partnerships between schools, educators, and whānau.

Each school will find its own approach for building a relationship with its Māori community. The resulting conversations will produce a wealth of ideas, knowledge, and possibilities for working with communities to support educational success for Māori learners.

Suggested actions for your school:

  • Meet with iwi and hapū that have mana whenua in your community. Find out their aspirations for their tamariki and brainstorm ways you can work together to support learning and achievement for Māori students.
  • Build personal relationships with Māori students in your school. Find out where they are from, their iwi affiliations, and who their whānau are. Talk with students about their aspirations, their experiences at school, and their ideas for improving the school.
  • Meet with Māori parents to discuss their involvement with the school and find out what you can do to improve communication. Find out how they prefer to consult about the curriculum, progress reporting, and Māori student achievement.

Find out more ...

NZC Update 1 – Family and Community Engagement
This Update focuses on engagement with whānau and Māori communities.

Education for Māori: Relationships Between Schools and Whānau (published February 2015)
This report from the Auditor General Office examines how well the education system supports Māori students to achieve their full potential. It presents information about relationships between families and schools, and offers examples of practices that build effective relationships.

Building educational partnerships with Pasifika communities

Parents matter

One of the key messages of the Pasifika Education Plan (PEP) is that our education system "must work better for Pasifika learners". The PEP writes about the importance of collective partnerships and there is an emphasis on engaging and empowering families, whānau, and community. 

In three different studies (Gorinski, 2005; Gorinski and Fraser, 2006; and Taylor, 2008), Pasifika parents identified a range of initiatives that helped them to engage with schools, these included:

  • a variety of communication methods, such as face-to-face communication, newsletters translated into their first language, telephone contact, and home–school communication notebooks
  • more frequent contact about their children’s progress, especially when the school is celebrating their achievements
  • meetings with other parents to discuss common interests, issues, and ways to help their children with learning
  • formal home–school partnerships, especially those focused on literacy and numeracy and those that acknowledge and respect their children’s culture
  • a homework centre at their child’s school, which helps to build parents’ own confidence in helping their child to learn
  • information meetings, for example, about the National Certificate of Educational Achievement
  • access to interpreters or community liaison people
  • having a staff member as a key contact or liaison person for Pasifika families and a senior manager responsible for Pasifika students.

Source: NZC Update 10 and Pasifika Education Community

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The Pasifika Education Community has an excellent section on engaging with Pasifika parents, families, and communities. It includes videos and resources designed to support schools.

Literature Review on the Effective Engagement of Pasifika Parents and Communities in Education (PISCPL)
This 2006 literature review explores barriers to Pacific Island parent/community engagement and strategies that can support home-school engagement.

Building partnerships for special education needs

Smooth transitions for students with special education needs.

Effective partnerships between schools and parents, caregivers, families, and whānau will provide a strong platform for meeting special education needs, and for readily resolving any issues as they arise. Schools are encouraged to:

  • acknowledge and promote opportunities for parent, caregiver, family, and whānau involvement in the development, review and implementation of all learning programmes and strategies related to their child
  • promote the elements, and short and long-term benefits, of building and maintaining successful partnerships
  • encourage open consultation and communication with and between staff, specialists, parents, caregivers, families, whānau, agencies, and the community
  • create an environment where everyone listens to and respects others' point-of-view.

Adapted from Meeting Special Education Needs At School: A Quick Guide for Boards of Trustees

Have you seen?

Partnering with parents, whānau, and communities
This inclusive education guide provides stories, resources, and links to research to support schools to develop and strengthen effective partnerships with parents and whānau. It also emphasises the value of building close community networks to support student learning and wellbeing.

Reporting to parents and whānau

The key contributors to learning classrooms are teachers, students, and parents and whānau. These contributors need to maintain close dialogue, share information, and work together if students are to be fully supported in their learning.

Ministry of Education Assessment Position Paper, 2011

Parents at Brooklyn School.

Effective reporting of student/ākonga progress and achievement across the curriculum requires more than one-way transmission of information from teacher or student to parent. It requires meaningful, ongoing information sharing processes where the roles and expectations of students/ākonga, teachers, parents, whānau, and the wider community are clear.

The table below summarises the key differences between one-way reporting and information sharing that informs student/ākonga learning across the curriculum.

One-way reporting of achievement Information sharing that informs learning
  • Teachers report to parents what their children have learnt or achieved.
  • Students/ākonga, parents, whānau, and teachers share and understand information about children’s progress and achievement.
  • Focused on describing successes and failures.
  • Focused on describing what learning and progress has occurred.
  • Accurate labelling is the key purpose.
  • Ongoing learning (by students/ākonga, parents and teachers) is the key purpose.
  • Once or twice a year only.
  • Continuous and timely with key times for more formal evaluation.
  • From school to parent.
  • Multi-layered and multi-directional with students/ākonga, parent, whānau, teacher, community.
  • Essentially a one-way message. Take it or leave it.
  • Collaborating and co-constructing meaning and the way forward.
  • Reports sent home on paper.
  • Technologies support two way information flows and the quality and the richness of the information.

Acknowledgement: The content in the table has been sourced from Assessment Online

Next – Tools to support community engagement initiatives

Published on: 31 Jul 2015