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 one of the essay that I wrote about my key findings.
To begin, I thanked my principal for agreeing to help me with my assignment and then we began. As we progressed through the questions, I had to consciously stop myself from contributing and remember that it was an interview. This was a challenge at times as I wanted to share ideas. This was a drawback of interviewing someone from my school as I knew what he was talking about when he gave examples. Interviewing someone from another school may have eliminated this challenge. However, I am happy that I chose my principal as I left the interview with plenty to ponder and there were clear themes that arose from his answers.
The first key finding that arose from the interview with my principal was his focus on the importance of relationships. In particular, knowing and growing our learners which is one of our school goals. The school motto Together, Believe, Achieve also reflects the importance of relationships and learner achievement. When asked about strategies in place to lead a diverse population, he explained how important it was that every teacher knew their learners and appreciated their differences. He also explained how important it is to respect all learners and to lead by example. This is supported by Shields and Sayani (2005), who explain that “Dialogic interaction is the foundation of the educational leader’s ability to lead in a context of diversity. We must meet the other, in the fullness of his or her identity, experience, emotions, and actions, in order to develop the relationships that lead to sharing within diversity” (p. 388). My principal can often be seen chatting with learners, especially after school, as he likes to connect with them as they leave for the day. He will also chat with learners on his way around the school. In this way, he is able to develop relationships and understand some of the differences of our learners.
Some of the ways in which these differences are appreciated are through an International Food Festival where many different cultures set up food stalls to sell food from their culture. Staff are also encouraged to dress up in a costume that reflects their heritage. In June, the school celebrates Matariki with a concert in our wharenui. There is a variety of dance and music and anyone is welcome to participate. Also at Matariki time several ex-learners, who are of Māori/Pasifika origin, visit the school and join four to five Year Seven learners for an early morning dawn ceremony of acknowledging and celebrating Matariki by planting trees and sharing kai.
My principal also values talking and listening to learners to find out more about who they are and where they come from. In these ways, a sense of community is created that values and respects diversity and difference. As Shields and Sayani(2005) explain, “For school leaders, an understanding of dialogue as ontological and deeply relational, leading to meaningful communication and understanding, provides the focus for creating spaces and a sense of community in which all members of the school feel accepted, respected, and valued” (p. 389) Modeling communication and relationship with learners shows the staff how much our principal values members of the school and encourages us all to do the same. Building a positive and relaxed rapport with our learners is something that stood out to me when I first began teaching here last year. The learners feel accepted and acknowledged.
The strategic plan of knowing your learners was emphasised several times in the interview. My principal explained the four Ns – Numbers, Names Needs, Next which is broken down into the following questions: Who are these kids? How are they doing? What do they need? He explained the importance of each Academic Counsellor and each subject teacher knowing something about their learners and the need for greater understanding of where the learners come from. Bishop, O’Sullivan, and Berryman (2010) found that “…teachers and leaders create learning relationships wherein learners’ culturally generated sense-making processes are used and developed so that they may successfully participate in problem-solving and decision-making interactions” (p. 98). Acknowledging difference and showing interest another’s culture builds trust and helps to develop a positive learning relationship where learners are able to achieve well. As Bishop, O’Sullivan, and Berryman (2010) also found that an effective leader will model and promote these strategies. In their summary of effective leadership, the element Leaders support the development and implementation of new pedagogic relationships and interactions in the classroom, an associated task is to “promote the cultural identity of learners as being fundamental to learning relations and interactions” (p. 110).
Whānau is the principle of extended family structure and whanaungatanga is the forming of groups that are treated as an extended family (Bishop, Ladwig, and Berryman, 2013, p. 189). Bishop, Ladwig, and Berryman (2013) found that Māori learners attributed good quality relationships and interactions with their teachers as an influence on their educational achievement (p. 191). They also saw a supportive learning context as one where their teachers established caring relationships. “In effect, the context that Māori students saw as being supportive of their learning was one where teachers establish caring and learning classroom relationships that they described in terms of whānau-like relationships, whanaungatanga” (p.191). So there is plenty of research to support the importance of knowing your learners and growing whānau-like relationships with them to help them achieve well.
Hohepa and Robinson (2008) examined whether the conception of educational leadership was inclusive of Maori perspectives on leadership. They explain that relationships are built into all of the eight dimensions of leadership. “Relationships can play a significant part in developing knowledge of and respect for individual and cultural identities” (p. 34). It is important to know our learners and understand their experiences so that we can create a caring environment for them to learn well in.
Hine Waitere (2008) found that, “… leadership is not only a call to action but rather it is a call to relationship. A relationship with people, processes and principles embedded within the socio-political contexts that do indeed require foresight, courage and critical engagement” (p. 45). From the interview with my principal, I have learnt that he values relationships highly and sees them as the foundation for positive learning outcomes for our students. The valuing and promotion of positive relationships is part of creating a successful environment as explained by Robinson, Hohepa & Lloyd (2009): “Leadership can facilitate the achievement of important academic and social goals by creating an environment that is conducive to success” (p.42).