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Involving your community in curriculum design


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Owairaka students.

When approaching school based curriculum design the involvement of your school community is crucial. NZC Online recently asked questions through social media about where we could help schools with school based curriculum design and community engagement. At the heart of all your responses were questions around implementation, sustainability, and longevity. 

This blog highlights stories from New Zealand schools as an impetus for discussion in your school context. Resources and ideas are provided to help you explore implementation, sustainability, and longevity of your school community engagement.

Before you begin

What does community engagement currently look like in your school? You could examine engagement of your community in the following areas:

  • design and review of the school curriculum to best meet the needs of the students and community and to be inclusive and culturally relevant
  • enrolment procedures
  • different approaches to engaging parents, whānau, and the community in children's learning
  • setting homework and seeking support for the homework programme
  • your approach to parent–teacher meetings
  • reporting processes
  • accessing resources or information from parents and the community or creating them together.

From your review, how would you rate your current level of community engagement?  What are your next steps?

This resource is divided into three parts, with information, examples, and ideas that you can apply to the needs of your school and community, based on where you are at. Each of the suggested video stories is accompanied by its own set of questions and resources that will stimulate professional learning conversations. You could use this as the foundation for a teacher only day. You may like to use the workshop framework below, and add in the school stories as examples, or you could just examine one story at a time, over a period of time, and apply them to your own context.

Mother and children.

Making decisions – designing your school’s curriculum
A workshop designed for facilitation in schools with whānau and staff.

Implementation – where to start?

The key strategy that (the principal) used to begin this (community engagement) process was to call in an expert on educational thinking to talk to parents at an evening meeting. His decision to use an outsider was quite deliberate, as he felt it needed to be someone who didn’t have “everyday relationships with parents”, but who could present powerful ideas, research, and arguments. He wanted to “unsettle” and “shake up” parents’ present-day ideas about education, and to alert them to good reasons for change, because, without this, he believed there would not be buy-in to the notion of parental input. His strategy seemed to pay off. After the well-attended meeting, he said parents came out of the hall saying, with a sense of urgency: “We’ve got to do something. When are we going to start?” 

Community engagement and The New Zealand Curriculum, 2014, p.6.

In what ways does your school gather and use information about the needs, wishes, and aspirations of parents, whānau, and the wider community?

Implementation needs to move at a pace that suits all parties. Start with a vision of what you as a school want for your curriculum. Ask the parents and students what their vision is. Where are the commonalities? Clarity around the purpose for a school community partnership is crucial, as are repeated opportunities for community members to engage with the curriculum, and its values and principles.

School stories

This collection of stories shows ways that schools have successfully implemented community involvement in designing their school curriculum.

Community and curriculum at Renwick School
Staff, students, parents, and the community were fully involved in the planning and writing of a school curriculum that reflected Renwick School and its place in the community. It is evident that parents, students, and staff all feel an ownership in the document and its implementation.

Developing whānau priorities at Te Kura o Hiruharama
The staff, board, and whānau at Te Kura o Hiruharama went through a process to identify their priorities. This digital story explains the process and the outcomes of this exploration and how this has transferred into the life of the school.

Making it our curriculum – Matakohe School 
Learn how Matakohe school redesigned their curriculum document. Through consulting the community, they developed a document they can call their own.


School partnerships self-audit tool

  • How do you gather and analyse information about your school’s community to gain an understanding of different strengths and gaps that need to be filled?
  • How can you consider the quality of community–school interactions?

This tool, while not strictly curriculum based, will encourage you to examine community engagement in a wider school context, including the gathering of evidence and how data it is most effectively used.

Developing strong community engagement
"It is the school‘s responsibility to reach out. It is not the parents' role to initiate partnerships. Partnerships should be normalised as just being part of what the school does and every teacher is expected to do as part of their normal classroom practice across the whole school from years 1–13. Partnerships should be integrated with the school priorities."

A summary of the work of Joyce Epstein, including an action plan to help sustain community partnership in your school.

Sustainability – how do we continue the initial momentum?

The purpose of school-home involvement is to connect in-school and out-of-school learning in ways that will support valued outcomes for students. If effective connections are to be developed, teachers need to value the educational cultures of their students’ families and communities, and parents need to learn about and value the education culture of the school. The principle of ako – reciprocal learning and teaching – is therefore fundamental to developing connections that work.

School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why Best Evidence Synthesis, p. 150.

How will you ensure that engagement with parents, whānau, and the wider community is sustainable and always evolving?

Sustaining a vision and process can be much harder than implementing it. What are your expectations for parental involvement? How have these been fulfilled? Creating sustainability is about re-examining those initial expectations and making sure they are realistic and achievable – for everybody. What do your parents and whānau understand about pedagogy, assessment, and reporting? Effective decision making and meaningful collaboration are difficult if one party is less informed that the other. Using in-school experts, as well as TED talks and EDtalks would be useful for this.

School stories

Supporting whānau with learning at Pomaria School
Greater community engagement and enhanced student achievement are two of the outcomes of Pomaria School's journey to create sustainable curriculum design and review. In this story, parents and teachers describe whānau engagement at the school and how whānau voice is used to create directions for learning.

Student goal setting and parent engagement
Goal setting and community workshops are some of the initiatives that have been introduced at Pomaria School to improve educational outcomes for students. This story describes how teachers, parents, and whānau work together to help sustain a lift in achievement for each child.

Community engagement – a parent's perspective
Saga Frost is a parent at Owairaka School in Auckland. She discusses what it is like to be a partner in the learning community at her school and reveals that she didn't realise how much she could impact on her child's learning. She challenges other parents to see themselves as someone who can add value. 


The differences between parent involvement and parent engagement
For parents to feel engaged with their child's school, the school needs to offer more than just parental involvement in fundraising or class trips. In this resource, Larry Ferlazzo describes what kinds of actions a school needs to take to make sure that parents are truly engaged with their child's education.

Longevity – how can we make this a permanent part of the school?

Educationally powerful partnerships are integrated into school policies, practices, and processes: The importance of whānau participation is made explicit in school policies, practices, and processes and whānau participate in developing and reviewing these policies, practices, and processes. Both these considerations have a positive impact on the ways in which people across the school work.

Principles of educationally powerful partnerships

How do you ensure that everyone in your community feels a sense of ownership for the wider school vision and for the community engagement vision?

Everyone in the school community needs to feel ownership and connection about what is happening in their school. To ensure longevity, it is important to have a succession plan, so that input and ownership are continued after the first wave of families, present at implementation, leave the school. Some schools specifically meet with new parents and students at the beginning of the school year, to introduce curriculum from the outset and invite people to join in the decision making.

Within a school community, the requirements of parents shift depending on their needs and backgrounds. Be prepared for a change or a shift in perspective. Flexibility is the key to longevity.

School stories

Building community relationships with social media
Rachel (@rachelboyd) is the DP and e-learning leader at Waiuku Primary School. In this talk, Rachel shares how she has used Facebook and Twitter to continue to engage with her school community.

Engaging our community at Sylvia Park School
Sylvia Park teacher Ariana Williams explains the development of Mutukaroa, a parent centre designed to encourage and strengthen community engagement.



An inquiry and knowledge-building cycle for educationally powerful partnerships
An inquiry and knowledge-building cycle for leaders, teachers, and members of the wider school community, reflecting the close connection between whole–school cycles of professional learning and improvement and schools’ engagement with whānau. Although written specifically with Māori whānau in mind, the inquiry processes and community engagement principles here could be applied to a variety of school contexts.

More from NZC Online

Parents with student.

Community engagement
The resources on this site support school leaders, teachers, and professional learning facilitators as they engage with school communities.

Share your ideas

We would love to hear more of your thoughts and questions around school-based curriculum design and community engagement. Please or join us on Facebook or Twitter @nzcurriculum to continue the discussion.

community engagement
curriculum design and review