Monday, 19 March 2018

Finding better ways to connect with our Whānau

There are very few times that I may actually meet the parents of the children I teach - on the rugby field, at a fiafia night or at parent teacher interviews twice a year. I know that there needs to be more of a connection between school and home and I have been wondering how to do this better with the time constraints we have at school. My hypothesise is that if we bridge the gap between school and home better, our kids could achieve better.

A good friend of mine is an intermediate school teacher at a decile one school. She texted me to ask me if I knew the translation of the question 'What are the aspirations for your child?' in Samoan. I called my mother who translated the saying over the phone. Because Samoan is not my first language, it took me awhile to get the intonations right and I had to repeat it back to my mum until she was happy with my pronunciations. I called my friend back and carefully shared the saying. I asked her why she wanted to know and she shared that her school was having a 'Connections' night where they meet with the parents of their students and in their native languages, would ask parents 'What were the aspirations for your child? And why do you have these aspirations?". Our discussion led to me thinking about the value in understanding the thoughts of our parents and if we knew what their hopes and dreams were for their children, we could all be on the same waka rowing towards success.

A recent report by the Education Review Office (2014) looked at how well 256 schools worked with parents and whänau to respond to students at risk of underachievement. The report shared examples of where parents and whänau accelerated and supported progress and improved achievement. In their findings, they identified two ways that schools had responded to the 'risk of underachievement' - by supporting future underachievement and by supporting those not achieving as well as their peers to accelerate progress (pg 16, ERO, 2014). It was interesting to note where schools focused on 'preventing future underachievement', examples focussed on whole cohorts, such as all of Years 1 to 3 students or a large group, whereas the examples of accelerations involved smaller groups of up to 10 students and in many secondary schools, the example involved only one or two students. As a COL teacher I can relate to using examples of the smaller groups because our inquiries have allowed us to focus on our own practices and shared these inquiries across our cluster.

The report goes on to outline a number of relevant and interesting examples of ways to connect with families and one of the key words that stood out to me was persistence. Part of the reason why we as teachers and educators may not involve our families as much as we should, could be a lack of persistence and not understanding the value in making these connections. I believe we need to be persistent in our approach to getting our parents and families involved in their child's learning.

One of my next steps is to create opportunities for our families to engage in learning and understanding ways to help their child learn. On Tuesday 27th March, our students and their families are invited to attend PowerUp, an initiative that is run to support students from the community with their learning. I met with DJ, the co-ordinator and expressed my interest in running workshops with our parents around reading and writing alongside PowerUp. We have been developing a plan that will include parents brainstorming their hopes for their children, identifying their strengths and engaging in meaningful discussions in the hope that they will feel confident and empowered enough to engage in learning discussions with their children. So when our families are asked "Po'o lea ni ou fa'amoemoenga mo lou alo?" (What are the aspirations for your child) we can work together, with purpose and persistently to make those hopes and dreams a reality.

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