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Creating a culture of support at Hauraki Plains College

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At Hauraki Plains College, teachers and support staff play an active role in mentoring and supporting students in their learning. Creating solid and lasting relationships, developing a culture of support, and involving parents and whanāu in the students learning pathway, is proving to be a successful way to lift achievement and ensure success.

Professional learning conversations

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

Deep support

"If students are to engage in deeper learning, they will need new forms of enriched support. Such deep support will be more personalised than in the past and go beyond what is conventionally placed in the gateways of advice & guidance and mentoring & coaching. It concerns the broader wellbeing of the students, including their health, their general security, and their freedom from poverty and disadvantage."

David Hargreaves, A new shape for schooling?, 2006 

  • In what ways are you offering deep support to your students? What are your next steps?
  • Discuss the path that Hauraki Plains College have taken. How could you replicate that model in your school?
  • How do you ensure that parents and whānau are involved in the support mechanisms you have in place?

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We did some reading of Jane Gilbert, particularly her work around learning pathways for students. We were really taken by the camping ground metaphor because it fitted nicely with David Hargreaves concept of deep support. We held a lot of discussion about how can that look in our school. How do you provide in a secondary school deep, personalized support for our young people which helps them in terms of reflecting on their own learning journey. It was from that background that we came up with the idea of river groups.

We have split the school into groups of 12, and each river group has a river guide. In the past we have had whānau or homeroom, river groups is bringing that word whānau alive. It has been an incredible process of forging relationships with kids in a way that has never happened before. It is a combination of individual monitoring, mentoring, providing that one adult who takes an interest in a student. We know that if that type of a relationship is formed the chances of our students making it through college successfully and beyond grows exponentially. 

We also looked at how many adults we had in the school to help us make the groups as small as possible to allow those positive relationships to form. Each river group also has a river buddy, a year 13 student to act as mentor to the others in the group and also work on their own leadership skills. It was a bit problematic in the beginning trying to work out how to get small groups of 12 until we thought to throw it open to support staff. It was incredible the response. So the librarian has a group, the caretaker has a group, a couple of the school secretaries have a group. They were given the option to take part and the uptake was huge. This has changed the culture as the students now view the staff in a different light. It has been good for our teaching staff as well to see how competent our support staff are, in taking river groups. They have formed wonderful relationships with the kids. It must make a nicer school day for the kids and keep them engaged in learning if they know there is one adult who is looking out for them and trying to give them a really good school day. It must make a difference.

School secretaries talk about their role in the river groups:

You develop a rapport with the kids that we would not normally have when working in the office. A lot of the time we only see the naughty kids and it is great to be on the positive end of working with the kids. It has changed the relationship we have with the teachers and the other staff. We are genuinely interested in what is happening for our river group. In the staff room if there is discussion about kids and learning we are involved where we wouldn’t have been a part of that before. Yesterday I had to talk to a parent about an office issue and her child was in our river group and I mentioned that he is a really neat part of our river group. I was really pleased that I could say something positive about her child.

School parent discusses the river group:

The difference I see with the river groups is they are going to have a guide who is with the kids right through school and will get to know them really well. Also they are going to take a bigger interest in them as they get to know them. Immediately I noticed that I was contacted by my child’s river group leader introducing herself and a point of contact for me if there were any issues at school. The teachers seem to take a real interest in individual children. There have been teachers who have gone out of their way for my children. They have shown a real interest. Over the years they have built a huge relationship with individuals and that is really neat and that motivates the children to achieve.

Updated on: 12 Jun 2009