The interplay between a school and its community is complex and rich with potential – for personal connection, professional support and building capability. A range of schools throughout the country illustrate the myriad ways – and reasons why – school communities come together.
The importance of whānau and community doesn’t lessen just because a child starts school, but it can be hard for educators to maintain these strong connections once a child leaves early childhood education. Jane Blaikie and Jane Arthur talk to educators across the country about the challenges they face when trying to build bridges between the child and their community.
Kia ora e hoa mā. This winter 2019 issue of Ako focusses on community and the different ways it is evidenced within education. There are many quotes about the power of community but one that really resonates with me is this from Meg Wheatley, an American writer and management consultant with expertise in organisational behaviour: “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” When I think about community, I think about the many different communities that I have the privilege to be a part of, many of whom are focussed on enabling positive change within education. There’s the community that is NZEI Te Riu Roa, made up of members from across the education landscape – we know the power of the collective, we know that all of us working together to achieve a common goal is so very powerful, we know that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This year, we have seen proof of this – and we can be proud of how we have taken the wider community of Aotearoa with us. There’s the community that is NZEI Te Riu Roa, made up of members from across the education
Children do not exist in isolation; their lives are embedded in families, communities and societies. Nested within these communities are the schools and early childhood education (ECE) services children attend. When I was a child, my experience was of little interaction between schools and their communities. Looking back, this seems due to the culture of practice within schools, more than the school gates. In the intervening years, writers like Bronfenbrenner1 have drawn our attention to the complex influences of environments – both immediate and more remote – on development and the value of creating meaningful reciprocal connections between the different groups and settings that children are part of. Today we see attention to the role of communities reflected in our curriculum documents. “Family and Community/Whānau Tangata” is one of the principles of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, along with the expectation that each ECE service will use the curriculum “as a basis for weaving with children, parents and whānau its own local curriculum of valued learning, taking into consideration also the aspirations and learning priorities of hapū, iwi and community”. For kura and schools, Te Marautanga notes that for learners to succeed, the school, the home, hapū, iwi and community
When my mother and I first arrived in New Zealand, she was 22 and I was four. We didn’t know anyone or anything. We had to learn how to use public transport, ATMs, how to buy groceries and clothes, pay bills – all while learning a whole new language. This was very overwhelming and isolating. There’s a common misconception that the struggles of refugees end when they are granted asylum. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Settling in a new country is difficult enough – but add a background of forced migration, having to navigate foreign languages, cultures and systems while healing with trauma and you have a plethora of new challenges to contend with. When we settled into our new home in Hamilton, there was one other Afghan family in the area who welcomed us with open arms. Having people from the same country, speaking the same language and believing in the same religion was invaluable – especially in those first few years when everything was so new and unfamiliar. Their presence was a great source of strength and comfort. We were able to keep in touch with our culture and keep our traditions alive because we had people to share them
Australia is home to more than 250 distinct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations – diverse geo-cultural communities, each with their own traditional languages, customs and connections to Country/place. Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to identify with the unique groups that they have belonged to since time immemorial. Australia’s colonial history has caused displacement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from their Traditional Lands, as well as separation of families and communities. This has resulted in complex and varied definitions of community. According to The State of Reconciliation in Australia report (2016), building mutually trusting and respectful relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the wider Australian community is integral to fostering a stronger future of reconciliation (the strengthening of relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians) across the nation. While the Australian Curriculum mandates that all Australian students learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and perspectives,there is limited guidance on how to build relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education, a Reconciliation Australia initiative, supports Australian schools and early learning services to develop environments that foster a higher level
It is widely acknowledged that engaging whānau and community in educational activities that support the learning of their children is mutually beneficial. It is also acknowledged that this is not always straightforward. Engaging parents, whānau and hapori (communities) can be complex given the range of dominant cultural perspectives frequently embedded within the educational conundrum. To make this partnership for learning possible, it is necessary to recognise that the system has a long history of not being open to working together with whānau and hapori as equal partners. Addressing this imbalance is a shared responsibility. We can gain insight by looking at other educational contexts that have successfully facilitated wider engagement. A recent overseas study1 explored how an Indigenous intervention programme delivered in British Columbia, Canada, was able to be authentically implemented in diverse communities. The study uncovered three notable themes to fostering the active engagement of family. The first theme, overcoming mistrust, involves understanding the history of the situation. It involves working hard to gain trust and reflecting on one’s own possible personal biases and privileges. The second theme, being willing to reach out and build relationships, is about nurturing relationships with cultural leaders in the community, offering choices and