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Supporting teachers with community engagement in the classroom

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Teacher Chrissie Rumpler explains how Owairaka School has supported staff to understand and engage with the different cultures in their school community. She also provides inspirational examples of what engaging communities can look like. 

There are five films in the Owairaka school series:

  1. Ideas to engage your community
  2. An open door policy that works
  3. Supporting teachers with community engagement in the classroom
  4. Community engagement - a parent's perspective
  5. Engaging Pasifika families - Owairaka School builds a fale

Professional learning conversations

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

Engaging communities

"If the teacher demonstrates cultural knowledge it has an effect on the children. They see the teacher as an individual who respects them and knows where they are coming from. The children see those teachers who have made an attempt to try and get on the same thought patterns, wave-length as them."

Māori parent, Te Kōtahitanga Phase 1:The experiences of Year 9 and 10 Māori students in mainstream classrooms

  • How do you encourage teachers to work collaboratively with families and whānau?
  • What systems do you use to tell parents about their child’s progress and involve them in processes to support student success?
  • How could you adapt your practice to support the inclusion of all members of your school community?

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Developing an inclusive classroom culture
An inclusive classroom is one that values the contributions of all students, their families/whānau, and communities. This guide includes strategies, suggestions and resources to encourage more student and whānau input in developing an inclusive classroom.


As a team leader don’t always assume that your team members actually understand things around culture and - yeah don’t make the assumption that they know how certain cultures work if you want to put it that way. I had a scenario, just two weeks ago, we were talking about a particular incident that had happened. For the first time I realised that one of my teachers in my team, she had no idea that a particular way of dealing with something was done in that manner.

We were then able to explain to this teacher that actually for the Islanders and this in particular is the group we were talking about, this is how you’d approach it and this is how you would do it. “Oh, I never knew that.” Don’t assume.

We also have all of the bilingual tutors. So what they did was they organised a staff meeting and they got some of these bilingual tutors along to tell their story of where they came from, and what it was like for them, even as a child or an adult or whatever. And at that stage we also had a teacher on staff who was a refugee, came here as a refugee. She created a big book for the staff and we could use that throughout the class. I unfortunately (we’ve had several), but the one in particular one that sticks in my mind, I actually wasn’t there for it, which was quite sad. But the amazing thing was, within a couple of days I felt like I had been there - because people had talked about it. From my understanding there were many wet eyes that day. 

But it doesn’t change the way people think about that person. I think what it does it brings those people closer together. Because those people are still the same people even though they've got a story to tell, and we shouldn’t change towards them because of that. They have this wonderful rich story to tell and I think it just brings us closer together. So I think that’s just one way that we’ve managed to get the staff to engage and to understand that we all have a story but we can all still come together as one. 

Talk to people, get to know them, get alongside them, get off your backside, and be proactive. Because it’s all very well you can have whatever you want on a piece of paper but at the end of the day you’ve got to get out there where the rubber meets the road. We’ve done it as a school, we’ve done it collectively, we’ve done it through maths evenings. You know, making them really interactive, hands on, fun, activating a passion for something - people don’t always have a passion for something, you’ve got to plant the seed. Then it’s up to other people to water it, and then hello, you’ve got it. 

We’ve had what I call the Muslim hangi. I never thought in my whole lifetime I would ever see a Muslim hangi. A lot of thought and care went into how can we incorporate Muslims into our hangi because we didn’t want the segregation. So we utilised the resources, which were people that we had, we talked to them about it, how can we make this happen. We just, when it came to the meal preparation and that, everybody that was in there preparing, the Europeans - they didn’t just suddenly disappear so the Muslims could do their thing, no they stayed. Out of respect, and as a part of it so the Muslims did what they needed to do for the prep of their food etc. I tell you, superb - absolutely superb! And when we had the opening, to see Muslims going through their whole process with us and doing the hongi, and then coming out and sitting down in that front row and then hello out comes their hangi which was, we purchased a big steamer so that all their food was separated, blah blah blah, and theirs was separate and it came out and it was Halal chicken and etc etc and they all sat down with us and we all had a hangi. I tell you that is something to bring tears to your eyes and I will never ever forget it, ever. 

That’s engaging your community.

Published on: 22 Feb 2013