Earlier this year I began my Masters in Educational Leadership and Management through Unitec. For the one paper, I was required to interview my principal about how he facilitated diversity at Whangaparaoa College. This is part two of the essay that I wrote about my key findings.
The school has a diverse range of learners which represent 52 different countries. 60.6 % are New Zealand European; 11.8% are Māori; 10.6% are other European and the remaining people include African, Chinese, Pacific Island, Latin American and Middle Eastern learners. This is a huge range of learners and community engagement is necessary to support the achievement of all learners. Although my principal is Pakeha, his leadership style is cognisant of the need to “resonate with Māori conceptions of leadership…” (Hohepa & Robson, 2008, p. 31) in which communication with the whanau is valued. One of the school goals, Objective 9, is to “create a welcoming and inclusive environment; evidenced by cultural harmony, respect, and a positive two-way relationship with whanau/community” (School Staff Handbook, 2016, p. 2). He is aware that what works for Māori will work for all but that the reverse is not necessarily true. There are many ways that the school utilises to engage with this diverse community.
There is a whānau support group that used to meet regularly once a term when the school was establishing itself and working through some issues. Recently, this has not been as well attended by local whānau. When I asked my principal why he thought this might be, he explained that 10 years ago there were growing pains and the school was establishing itself as a new school so there was more interest in what leadership was doing. Nowadays, it would seem that the school community feel more confident in the way that school is being run so don’t feel the same need to attend meetings.
The Board of Trustees also has included a member of Māori descent to represent the Māori community. This was recognised the recent 2016 ERO report, “The co-opting of a trustee of Māori descent to the board of trustees with te reo and Tikanga Māori, and links through to the Māori community” (p.4). This member can communicate with their community to report on all the positive initiatives that are lead by the principal. Hohepa and Robson (2008) describe 4 principles of Maori leadership and Principle 4 relates to the leader being a waka and “ensuring that the status of the community is such that the people can feel proud to belong” (p. 23). The community of this school are proud and the recent ERO report of 2016 supports this: “Māori students speak very positively about the school culture and learning. They value the opportunities they have to engage in the wider life of the college. They also appreciate teachers’ efforts to be culturally responsive and to affirm their language and cultural identity. Māori students demonstrate a strong sense of belonging and pride in the school” (p. 4). It would seem that the school is providing a supportive learning environment in which learners of diverse backgrounds feel that they are able to achieve well in.
Another way that the school engages with the community is through counselling and youth workers. There are five youth workers who visit the school and hang out at break times with learners. The counsellors collaborate with the youth workers and they contact home when needed. According to Bishop, O’Sullivan and Berryman (2010), “Effective leadership that aims to sustain an educational reform needs to develop a means to spread reform so that parents, whānau, and community are engaged in a way that addresses their aspirations for the education of their children” (p. 106). By using youth workers to connect and engage with learners the school is able to help learners feel that they belong and have someone to talk to about any issues they are facing. The councillors will also connect with learners to help them develop strategies to deal with their issues. The whānau are then contacted so that they are aware of the issues. When our learners are supported in this manner, they are more able to address their learning knowing that they are supported by the school and by their whānau.
When discussing communication, my principal explained that instead of assuming that a communication was received and understood, he will go the other way and assume that it wasn’t until it is confirmed. He will check by asking a parent what their take away from the meeting is. To him, it is really important that both parties are clear. He explained that families from other cultures may say that it is clear but will sometimes misunderstand. Shields and Sayani (2005) when explaining cross-cultural leadership state, “For us, the term requires that leaders take a stand in the midst of diversity, helping all members of the community to understand it and to translate those understandings into positive and respectful action” (p. 384). By checking that both parties are clear, respect is shown and both parties can move forward in a positive manner.
When it comes to practical methods of communicating with the community, the school has a website, an app, a Facebook page, a newsletter, and a sign near the main road to the school. My principal explained that he tries to make sure it goes out in three different ways at three different times. He said that it’s got to be in the newsletter, on the app, on the sign, on the Facebook page and on the website. This is for advertising an upcoming event such as an Achievers’ Breakfast or a Prize Giving Ceremony. He explained that to try and engage through programmes, strategies, and support methods is much more complicated but the school will keep trying and be listening. My principal believes that listening is important, and will also ask, what can we do better? According to Bishop, O’Sullivan and Berryman (2010), “Leaders of high-achieving schools are more likely to see their goals and expectations are well understood and to see that academic achievement is recognised and conveyed to the community” (p. 101). By providing so many methods of communication and being prepared to listen, engagement with the community is more effective and our learners’ whanau are aware of the progress that their young people are making.