by Kerry Monaghan. — Communities of Learners- a part of the “Investing in Educational Success” strategy of the previous Education Minister, Hekia Parata were started in 2014 to try and resolve the problems students face in education by creating collective learning groups. A great concept, but they had little direction, and no consultation from education’s key elements- Principals and Teachers. Initially, the concept was not embraced nationally by schools or their Boards of Trustees.
Leading educators in Pukekohe saw merit in the idea in 2016, and initiated the Pukekohe Kahui Ako. A collective of sixteen schools in the area, from primary through to intermediate and secondary, who work together to ensure all their students are offered every opportunity to meet their learning potential in a collaborative, cohesive transition between schools. Fundamental to this are opportunities to share information, learn together and develop expert teachers within the group to teach others to be more effective in their practice.
Mauku School Principal, Angela Smith says members of the Kahui Ako are united in their purpose to create a vocational pathway where students in their cluster know where they are at, where they are going and the way in which teachers and principals can share the journey together as they transition through education.
“With National Standards no longer being the primary measure for the community of learners, there is an opportunity to be more relative to the needs of the community.” Addressing the long tail of underachievement is a driver for success, but this can now be approached in a more holistic way where relationships are at the centre. Time spent in processing and evaluating students to meet ministry requirements can now be more effectively used in teaching.
The Pukekohe Kahui Ako is continually evolving and change happens slowly, especially when such a large group are working together. This slow rate of change over the last two years has proved frustrating for many, but like many things, change starts small and even small changes can ultimately result in much greater success further on. Despite a lack of direction from the Ministry, The Pukekohe Kahui Ako is determined to make those changes needed with the driving force of lead principal Haydon Brill of Puni School. Haydon is employed to spend two days a week to guide the collective group.
The cluster of schools now has well supported work streams. Groups of staff working together in curriculum and relationship areas to better meet the needs of learners across the range of diverse schools.
“Eighty percent of Pukekohe children follow the passage from contributing primary schools through to the local intermediate and on to Pukekohe High School. It is imperative our community collectively support these future leaders to be as successful as possible in a seamless, supportive learning environment.”
“We see the potential it can be, and we’re still focusing on what we can and can’t do together, because we still want the schools to have their own identity. We don’t want cookiecutters of the same thing. We want to be able
to pool our resources and ideas and work together on those skills and share them with the others.” says Haydon. This year, the group has taken the MOE’s opportunity to engage a Change Manager to facilitate discussion around redefining goals and direction. This will include better engagement with the wider Pukekohe community.
“One of Kahui Ako work streams focuses on cultural responsiveness. Pukekohe is a diverse multi-cultural community and it is our job to embrace and understand this. We have a strong focus on strengthening home/school partnerships. Raising the profile of the group on many levels will help us do this.”
Teachers are not the only leaders of learning. The importance of family cannot be under estimated and the support of families is quintessential to any child’s learning. It is well documented that learning can take many forms and that numeracy and literacy knowledge can be obtained in many settings, not just a classroom setting. The success of the collective Kahui Ako will still be measured in academic achievement terms, but this can now be addressed by directing resources to areas of greatest need and creating links with the multiple influences on a child’s learning environment.
Working together to strengthen the weakest link is our aim. Where the focus isn’t on individual
schools but the whole learning community, providing resources where the greatest need is and making engagement and relationships key, is part of the Kahui Ako’s future.
Angela says its powerful working together with those children as part of the Kahui Ako, and there is a smoother transition from primary, through to Intermediate and then High School now. Students go to the intermediate feeling more comfortable and confident now and that’s a direct result of the Kahui Ako and the relationships developed.
“That’s a real positive. We know our communities better than the people sitting in Wellington.” says Angela. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” says Haydon.
In ten to fifteen years’ time when our children are graduating as confident, successful, contributing members of this community, it can only be a positive for Franklin.
With the influence and urban spread of Auckland increasing and affecting the direction of Franklin, Pukekohe and the surrounding towns and villages, it will be a great thing to have a few more of those future voices, leaders and contributors, developed and grown locally. The Pukekohe Kahui Ako has the opportunity to contribute to this.