Nurturing relationships of learning

Shirley Maihi explains the importance of focusing on her students' social and academic development and total well-being, and of nurturing the relationships between the student, the school and the parents.

Our school community

Finlayson Park School is a large school in South Auckland with high transience rates and students who come from low socio-economic areas. It's a multicultural school – I think we have about 24 cultures altogether in our school.

Our school is a very close-knit kind of a school, very welcoming and open to its community. And although our parents don't have too much to do with the school academically, they are very willing to assist in practical ways if need be.

We have many students who, for various reasons, don't get a lot of one-to-one assistance at home. So we employ 25 teacher aides. That means a lot of extra bodies to have on the staff, but it's absolutely imperative here that our children get one-to-one adult assistance, or one-to-two, or small group assistance.

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Educational beliefs

Classroom scene

Part of my philosophy is that we must promote and nurture the triangular relationships of learning; that is the parents, the school and the children. I believe that our students must have parental involvement for them to be able to get the best out of their education at school.

I believe that our students need to be nurtured in every way, socially, academically, mentally, with the whole well-being of the child being looked after.

As an experienced principal, I realise how important it is for teachers to be upskilled and responsible for their own learning, so that we can offer the best possible education for our children.

I have a strong belief in children learning in their first language, so I have found it necessary to keep myself upskilled in that area. My own learning has never stopped and I have completed various papers in bilingual education and those pertaining to leadership. That has been a very important part of assisting teachers, and encouraging teachers to do the same thing.

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Supporting physical needs

Looking after our children is top priority for all people that work in this school. I make sure that students are looked after from very early in the morning. We provide a breakfast club that supports students who are in need of food or whose parents go to work very early. Children bring their home readers and any homework that isn't finished, and they have a place in the school hall by the breakfast club where they can work.

At the end of the day we may have children who can't be picked up, or can't walk home, so we are part of a taxi service for them too. But I believe that's all part of looking after our students and keeping them safe.

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Involving the family

At Finlayson we like to involve the whole family. We have provided adult literacy and numeracy programmes in our school which are ongoing term by term for the past 3 years. Parents opt into either literacy or numeracy. As part of that learning process parents go into their own child's classroom and become part of the child's lessons. That's had a huge impact on the unity of the family, and family learning, and parents' ability to support their children in homework tasks. It's really been very successful.

Another way of involving the parents is through inviting them to our goal setting sessions, Three Way Conferences; and parents, the child, and the teacher are involved in setting specific goals for the following six months. These goals are evaluated and then new goals are set. It's been a very enriching process for parents to understand that they have a huge responsibility for their child's learning – not just the school.

We are enticing our parents to school by providing for all sorts of musicals, sports and fun days, and this is all part of looking after the whole well-being of the child.

As part of supporting the child we have employed our own fulltime fully-registered school counsellor. She is available for our children and our parents, at no cost to parents. As an add-on to that, we have a fulltime school social worker. With the backing of these two people, we have been able to support many families into being available for their child and encouraging them to get their children back into school and fully immersed in education.

Staff childcare

Our board recognised the need to attract good quality, and experienced, staff. To encourage this, we purchased a house right next door to the school and turned it into a registered childcare centre for our teachers' children. Now we are reaping the benefits of having that crèche right on our doorstep.

We find that teachers who go on maternity leave come back much earlier. With their babies in the crèche next door they can see them at lunchtime. It's certainly been a wonderful way to attract staff and keep staff at our school.

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