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Engaging whānau through Māori graduation

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Growing an educationally powerful partnership with whānau has been a key priority across the Mt Roskill campus. This film explains how the development of Māori graduation ceremonies has led to deeper community connections and growing pride in student achievement. The story provides inspiration and ideas to schools wishing to grow stronger relationships with whānau.

"Last year we had two or three hundred parents turn up to that. It was huge ... we started to see parents at that graduation who we'd never seen before ... that was incredibly rewarding."

Mike O'Reilly, principal of Mt Roskill Primary School

Promoting professional conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Community engagement

  • Staff at the Mt Roskill campus have successfully engaged the support and input of their Māori community. Discuss the steps they took to achieve this. What challenges did they face along the way?
  • How do you provide ways for Māori students and their parents, whānau, hapū, iwi, or Māori communities to be involved in conversations and decisions about learning and the school curriculum?
  • How can you ensure that you are focused on students' learning and achievement in your interactions with these groups?

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Community engagement – NZC Online
This section of NZC Online provides research, resources, tools, and stories for school leaders, teachers, and facilitators to support community engagement.

Maori graduation

Māori graduation at the Mt Roskill campus helps to build positive transitions for students and supports their sense of cultural identity.

  • Consider the customs of your school as you welcome and farewell students. Can you do more to celebrate students' journeys through education?
  • How can you honour the gift of the students, their identities and their learning, as they are passed from one school to another?
  • The vision of Ka Hikitia is for Māori students to enjoy and achieve education success as Māori. Discuss how Māori graduation at the Mt Roskill campus works towards this vision.
  • What might Māori students achieving education success as Māori look like at your school?


Greg Watson, Principal, Mt Roskill Grammar

Parent and community, and whānau involvement, is something that we've had to work on. With respect to our whānau community, I think the most important thing that we did was work together as three schools, because as a body, we had more strength and we had a greater drawing ability, and so we've learnt together. We've invited parents – particularly to watch the performance of their students – and then from that, to begin to ask questions together about how we can further support the learning of students. So I suppose the key things have been working together and also having a growing focus on student learning in those meetings.

Mike O'Reilly, Principal, Mt Roskill Primary

One of the early groups that we decided to focus on was our Māori group – our whānau. As Greg has alluded to, with a relatively small percentage of Māori students, we were much better off working together to get a critical mass. So we started whānau meetings fairly early on. To be honest, they weren't flash; there was a lot of animosity. There was, in fact, quite a lot of anger, it had to be said, coming from the whānau towards the schools.

I think it was their first time they felt that they were really listened to and they had a lot to get off their plate. So the first year – or even two years – were quite challenging in terms of working with the whānau. But I think we always knew that it was real dialogue that was going on, because you don't get people talking like that unless they're actually engaged in the process. They wanted change and they wanted to be heard. So we worked hard with our whānau to make sure that they did feel listened to. We also included students in the whānau hui to really build that sense of whānau as they move through, and we appointed the Māori coordinator. That Māori coordinator is there to work in the primary, the intermediate, and the grammar. So there's a common face for the students and for their families as they move through the campus. That's the idea of it. It hasn't always come off; people have come and gone – but that's the idea: That our Māori coordinator is there as the common face for the family and for the students.

Five years on now, one of the key celebrations we have is Māori graduation, where students graduate as Māori through the three schools. So the primary school students graduate from the primary to the intermediate, and they receive a taonga, and they are welcomed to the intermediate school. They then perform with the intermediate kapa haka and are welcomed on. Then the intermediate students are graduated to the secondary school and they're welcomed by Greg, and once again presented with taonga, and then they move to the grammar kapa haka and they perform with them.


Tēnā koutou katoa. Ko Keagan tōku ingoa.

I'm year 10, I go to Mt Roskill Grammar School and I'm a part of the kapa haka group. In the Māori graduation, the year 6s from the primary school are graduating, the year 8s from the intermediate school are graduating, and the year 13s from the grammar school are graduating. So they get a gift, maybe a necklace, and we do performances for them and celebrate.

Getting my necklace and meeting Mr Watson was really cool. I also heard my sister yelling out, "Go Keagan!" or something like that. I was really happy. When I went over to the grammar school students, they were like, "Congratulations", and we just sang together and it was nice.

Mike O'Reilly, Principal, Mt Roskill Primary  

Then our grammar students move from year 13 and they are given back to the whānau, and once again receive their taonga. Now last year, we had two or three hundred parents turn up to that. It was huge; it bought the hairs out on the back of your neck. One of the really… it was such a rewarding thing, was that we started to see parents at that graduation who we'd never seen before – parents that you wouldn't expect to see coming through the school gates. They were people on the margins, in many cases. To us, that was incredibly rewarding – that this particular event where students were involved, and there was a huge amount of pride, that we managed to get, I think, all of our Māori community, all of our whānau, starting to engage with our campus. That was a hugely rewarding experience. 

Published on: 20 Jun 2014