In September 2011 we received an excellent Education Review Office report on the school. It was highly complementary, no compliance issues and a 4/5 year return review cycle – limited to 20% of New Zealand schools. We have had a history of positive reviews, have a healthy and growing roll and have received a number of other positive affirmations and recognitions over the years.
What is the recipe for this success? It isn’t rocket science and the recipe is not unique to this school. It is a number of relatively simple concepts which perhaps could be wrapped up under the heading ‘positive’ school culture!
Over the years, staff have had the opportunity for growth and innovation and exposure to a lot of leading minds both at courses and conferences and through school professional development.
John Hattie, Lane Clark, Mark Treadwell, Martyn Weatherill, Helen Baxter, Andy Hargreaves and Sir Ken Robinson have been major influences. Young staff in particular have had opportunities to grow professionally and to try new ideas. The school has a track record of long term, whole school professional development. Study grants and 50% subsidy for tertiary study fees have been available.
Leadership is understood. The role of the principal is to be the leading learner, leading learning. Leaders lead and make decisions. As far as possible, wide input is sought and the reasons for a decision made clear. Transparency and fairness are important. Professionalism, in all that it means, is promoted. There is an expectation that staff will be well planned and prepared and that data should inform and drive their teaching. Planning across the school has been exemplary.
Part of the success is due to strong leadership but equally critical is strong staff and actively recruiting staff members with intellect, passion, work ethic and ability to contribute to the wider corporate life of the school. Matipo is a child centred school and that is a major factor in all that we do. We have an incredible range of opportunities for children and proactive interventions. This is however a balancing act as to how much intrusion into the regular life of the classroom can be balanced against giving kids the widest extra curricular opportunities.
The school has four critical drivers or pou. These are promoted across the school and to the parent community and hopefully all staff, Board, children and parents understand these. Our drivers are engagement, achievement, excellence and care, set in a context of structure, routine and expectation. We expect all our children to do well in all learning areas as well as sport, arts, behavior, etc. Our expectations and routines are clear and there are consequences if children don’t behave in a manner consistent with the expectations. We expect and promote excellence in all areas. We expect all children to succeed and ethnicity or poverty are not accepted as barriers. We recognize and reward excellence and achievement.
Our major driver is engagement. This is one of Hattie’s ‘top ten’!
Engagement of teacher to child and of child to teachers is critical. There is an expectation that teachers will be in class before school, engaging with children. Children must know that a critical adult in their life cares about them, trusts them, believes in them.
As part of our proactivity, at the beginning of the year, all children potentially at risk of academic failure, challenging behaviors, emotional fragility or sheer boredom are identified and plugged into an intervention programme. At lunchtime, we have teachers involved in traditional duty but other teachers are involved in sports coaching, computer room, library, kapahaka, Polynesian club, strategic games, etc.
We have after school classes, opportunities to learn violin, drums, guitar, keyboard etc. All teachers identify target children. We provide home-help ‘kits’ for children not achieving.
Together, our emphasis on structure, routine, expectation, care, engagement, achievement and excellence in a proactive setting with a skilled staff, excellent resources and lots of opportunities for children, with good communication all makes up something called ‘school culture’. It has an invisibility as well as a real presence. Essentially, children are highly engaged in purposeful learning environments in a school without rules but with high expectations.
“It ain’t rocket science!”