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Tamaki Primary School

Tamaki Primary School is a decile 1A contributing school in Auckland. Students’ families are from a range of cultures. The majority are Sāmoan, Māori, and Tongan, but there are also Pākēhā and Cook Islands Māori as well as small numbers of Iraqi, Burmese, Filipino, Sudanese, and Tahitian. Corinne Hansell has been principal since 2005.

The history of Tamaki's home-school partnership focus

How it used to be

Rhonda Kelly attended Tamaki Primary School as a child in the 1960s and came back to the school as a teacher twelve years ago. She is now an associate principal there. In the 1960s, and even twelve years ago, she remembers, “the parents didn’t come to school. They only came to school for sports events or when they were angry or unhappy about something. We did have meet-the-teacher evenings, but only a handful of parents turned up and always the same parents. Now our home–school partnership evenings are all about the students and their learning, and we have huge turn-outs.”

Starting with the home-school partnership programme

Several years ago, the school identified a need to focus on involving parents in what was happening at the school. A school support services facilitator trained lead teachers and lead parents who then hosted sessions in the school hall, using the modules ofThe Home–School Partnership Programme.

The Home–School Partnership Programme at the beginning was a catalyst,” says principal Corinne Hansell. “It made us focus on involving our parents at a time when we needed to be focusing on involving our parents. It gave us a structure to gain confidence in involving our parents. The facilitator took care of a lot of the planning and organising and resources, and there was some funding, which helped with catering and paying some people. The support material in the folder was really valuable, and we went through the first four modules in the suggested order.

“But after a while it began to feel repetitive, and a bit like we were telling parents how to do things. There was a lot of sharing among parents about what they were doing at home, but not much familiarity with what was happening in class for the children.” There were also issues around how the evenings were organised.

Clip 1: Starting to listen

So the school began to experiment. They started asking, “What sort of things would you like to know about? How should the groups be organised?” Rhonda thinks that it made a huge difference to parents, “being asked what they wanted, rather than us telling them what they needed.”

Getting the parents to come along

When they started hosting home–school partnership sessions, the school staff thought they had to sell it to the parents by having food and entertainment, “so we did that in a big way” says Corinne.

Clip 2: Getting parents involved

Tamaki School discovered that a good way to engage parents was involving the children in the evening presentations.

Involving the children

The teachers learned something about engaging parents when they invited families to come and see their children demonstrate some curriculum learning in a stage performance. Tamaki teachers Archana Sharma and Robyn Anderson remember the occasion clearly.

Clip 3: Watching the children

The school has built on this learning; the children and their learning are now a focus at all the school’s home–school partnership evening meetings.
“When we saw the parents’ smiles in the hall when those children started using all the big dinosaur words,” says Corinne, “we decided to keep on promoting classroom programmes and involving the children in demonstrating their learning. The kids became the teachers, the teachers planned the activities to fit everyone’s needs, and the parents became the students. And they loved it!”

How home-school partnership meetings are run now

Organising the meetings and running them

The school continues to hold evening meetings where parents and teachers, with the children, can focus on and develop the students’ learning through their home–school partnership. Corinne introduces these meetings and takes the opportunity to share current information, to celebrate successes, and to emphasise key messages.

Clip 4: No such word as dumb

Corinne makes links to the curriculum. “We are here to instil in the children a love of learning for life, so that they can be active, involved members of our society. And they are connected to their whānau, to their learning, to the curriculum, and they grow up really confident. Those things are in our curriculum. And the next part of our job is to address all their learning needs whichever level they are at, and no two children are ever at the exact same level. So every one of these tamariki here is treated as an individual person.”

And the parents are keen to learn. “They want what parents always want for their children,” says teacher Moka Britten, “the very best in education and the very best in pastoral care for the children. They want their children to be safe at school, they want their children to learn, they want their children to be able to exist anywhere.”

The meetings also have a social function for the students, teachers, and family members. “The meetings give us an opportunity to get to know our new families and for them to get to know other people in the community,” says Corinne. Parent Mele Tukula values the chance to share ideas with her fellow Tongans and also with people from other cultures.

Clip 5: They bring us in

The meetings are “a vehicle for bringing our families together,” says Corinne. “We are 35% Māori, we are 63% Pasifika, and 2% cultures from other countries like Iraq, Burma, and the Phillipines at the moment. So it’s an opportunity for us to get to know our new families and for them to get to know other people in the community. It was really heartwarming last night to see Martha, our African Mum, sitting there with a real level of comfort with the Sāmoan families that she was working with.”

The parents encourage each other to make the effort to come. “This is the only future for your life,” says Mele. “No matter if it’s heavy rain, no kai, please go – this is the only key to open the door. That’s what I’m seeing; it’s education time. There is no miracle; we have to try hard and get it.”

For a school in which the majority of parents are Pasifika, there are advantages in following some Pasifika traditions. Teacher Moka Britten recommends listening to what the group wants. She notes that having children sit with parents during a meeting can be culturally appropriate.

Clip 6: Take your cue

Using first languages

Offering parents the chance to use their first language can be very positive. “I think the language, it holds some parents at home,” says Tongan parent Vao Soakimi, “but when they heard we have it in our own language … I think that is why there are more people coming in … I think that is the barrier – it’s a language barrier. But we broke that barrier now; we can talk in our own language and feel confident to come in.”

The school staff discovered that there was no blanket rule about whether parents wanted to work in first-language groups at the evening meetings. For some parents, in particular the Tongan group at Tamaki, it is important to have the opportunity to talk in their first language. Vao likes being able to use her own language to discuss school issues with other parents. “We can put more words, because we can feel what we say more deeply in our own language,” she says. “Then those people who know how to translate it all into English can do that.”

Vao knows that using the Tongan language is good for her children as well as easier for her to communicate in.

CLIP 7: It's really important

Some other parents prefer to have the option of using English, so the home–school partnership evening discussions at Tamaki take place in a range of groupings.

Clip 8: Meeting groups

“It’s just being strategic,” says Corinne, “and making sure that everybody feels that their preferences are considered. Offering parents the opportunity to speak in their first language is always important, but when you have a room full of people and you are putting them in groups, some are stronger at using their first language and some are really uncomfortable, because it’s not as familiar to them. We’ve got to the stage where everybody feels comfortable and feels that they are being heard.”

Choosing group leaders

The school discovered that it was really important to know who are the leaders in their own cultural settings, rather than just selecting “lead parents” from among the parents who are already comfortable and involved in the school.

“We are now so familiar with the parents that we have got to know who has the leadership roles in each cultural group,” says Corinne. “So we know who to ask to lead the meeting with a prayer or to pay tribute to an elder. For example, when we wanted to pay tribute to one of our Māori elders who had passed away recently, we knew who to ask to do the karakia to pay tribute to Nanny and end the meeting.”

Other aspects of Tamaki School's home-school partnership

“It hasn’t just helped the school and home but the whole community as well; we are better citizens,” says Board of Trustees member Carla Perese. “We’ve got the whole community coming together to better provide for each child – not only our own individual children, but other children as well.”

“Everyone is comfortable with each other,” says Corinne. “People come in and they share things and we listen, and then we give our point of view and talk about how things can affect the children. People feel comfortable about explaining, for instance about why children aren’t here, and it’s not always about sickness.”

Reducing bullying

One welcome sign of change linked to the home–school partnership is the huge reduction in bullying over two or three years.

“I can’t remember the last time I had to deal with a fight,” says Corinne, “and that’s because everybody is singing the same song – the parents, the kids, the teachers, and the board. The parents want what’s best for their children, and that includes being safe and happy at school, so they will listen to those messages, and if it’s their child, they will take ownership. We would drive the child home and talk with the parent; we’d ask them please not to hit the child, but give them a job to do instead ‘because they won’t learn not to hit at school if they are being hit at home’. And we only had to do that once, and the behaviour stopped.”

The school’s values are also the community’s values. “We talk a lot about respect,” says Corinne, “respect for your elders always, respect for yourself, respect for your teachers, respect for your whānau, and respect for each other. So we build our whole philosophy around living together in peace. And kids come back to their teachers after lunch and say, ‘We had a peaceful playground this lunchtime, everyone got on’. They hear the language; they start to live it.”

Reporting to parents

The school is careful to ensure that parents are given a full and honest report on their child’s progress and that they understand it and know what the school plans to do to help each child make at least the expected progress.

Clip 9: Our reporting

“In the past,” says Rhonda, “we had a fairly traditional form of reporting to parents; quite a wordy document would be sent home with the child twice a year and we would have parent interviews. There was fairly minimal turnout.”

Like home–school partnership meeting evenings, parent interview evenings are now very well attended

Clip 10: Huge turnouts

The parent interviews are only one part of a reporting process that is ongoing. Board of trustees member Helen Pakofe says, “The benefit of the home–school partnership is that you get the interaction with the children and the parents and teachers. We get our school’s parents to come and actually physically see what the children are doing in their classrooms. It’s not just ‘Okay, we’ll give you the report at the end of the term.’”

Rhonda notes, “So many of our families don’t come from a background where they feel empowered enough to come into a school. And by doing things with our reporting, encouraging them to come into the school, using our resources and things like that, it actually felt more comfortable and they were empowered to come into the school.”

The playgroup for preschoolers

As part of asking families what they wanted, the school sent home a form asking parents whether they would like the opportunity to set up a preschool in the school. Rhonda says, “We had never had such a big response in forms coming back to the school!”

Why the big response? Rhonda believes that “It was because they were being asked what they wanted.”

A playgroup for preschoolers is now run by parents at the school. Playgroup co-ordinator Kalala Finau has been involved since the idea was first suggested.

Clip 11: Should we have a playgroup

Kalala and some others are interested in getting qualifications and working towards a fully licensed playgroup.

The school benefits from the playgroup in a number of ways. The main benefit is the way that children, parents, and teachers already know each other as part of their community before the child even starts school.

Parent help at Tamaki

Teachers at Tamaki Primary School know that their students’ families are ready to help and to take on responsibilities.

Clip 12: If we need help

“We say our greetings in our language,” says Vao. “The teachers ask us what greeting to use in assembly, and then I might say, ‘OK, you could start with this or that. When they don’t know how to do cultural things in our language, they ask us – and whoever knows how will come and help. So the kids can learn how to do it.”

The benefits of a three-way partnership

Students are at the centre of Tamaki Primary School’s home–school partnership. “I look at it as a triangle,” says Archana, “so it’s the students, the teacher, and the family …”

Each teacher at Tamaki keeps in touch with each of their students’ parents and regularly discusses the child’s progress at school. The students themselves are present and contribute to the talk. The discussion is friendly and open, and it centres on the child’s learning goals, which all the partners understand.

Clip 13: Three-way conversation

What does each partner get out of the home-school partnership?

For the teachers

For the teachers, it’s all about their students and about identifying and building on strengths. Corinne says that her teachers have learned to have high expectations for their students. “In the beginning,” says Corinne, “you always have those comments about ‘Our kids can’t …’ or ‘Our kids lack …’. Now, we don’t talk about why people can’t do things. We ask what we need to put in place to make it happen.”

The teachers want their students to achieve success, and they know that keeping in touch with the students’ families can make them better teachers.

Clip 14: Where are we going

Robyn Anderson (an associate principal) and teachers Michele Wareham and Moka Britten include the home–school partnership in their thinking and planning; it’s a resource that they know they can use.

Clip 15: Planning together

Better communication with parents helps schools in all kinds of ways, and it gives teachers many kinds of information. The school interviews the parents of all new students, which enables it to gather information, for example, about language background, previous school experience, or home living conditions, that is relevant to the students’ learning.

Clip 16: Understanding conditions

For the students

The students are who it’s all for, and principal Corinne does her utmost to ensure that the organisation of the school’s home–school partnership is familiar and supportive to them.

Clip 17: Always talking

Robyn Anderson has seen real changes in students, which she believes arise from changes in Tamaki School’s home–school partnership.

Clip 18: That support from home

Archana Sharma too thinks that students benefit from their parents’ increased knowledge of their school goals and achievements.

Clip 19: They want to read

Parent Lisati Perese says, “The children are coming back excited, and they are doing more reading to us. They are really into it – then the next day they will come back with something else.”

For the parents

For the parents, it’s all about their children.

Clip 20: For our kids

These parents know the importance of regular interaction with the teachers and they expect to know what’s going on at school, to be consulted, and to work with the teachers for the good of their children and the community. “It’s family oriented,” says Helen, “and everyone’s involved. As a board of trustees member I have seen the growth in the kids, not just physically but in their knowledge, in their – you know, everything.”

The parents at Tamaki Primary School understand the importance of literacy and numeracy for learning across the curriculum, and they support their children in many ways.

Clip 21: We support together

They know that the school is their school and open to them at any time.

Clip 22: Open door policy

Helen Pakofe, speaking for the board of trustees, says, “We get parents to come and actually physically see what their children are doing at school – it’s not just reading it on a report card.”

The word that keeps recurring is “proud”

Clip 23: I feel so proud

Published on: 04 Dec 2015


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