Creative connections

While school assemblies, parent interviews and generic community surveys may be an adequate means for communicating information, or gathering the perspectives of the wider parent community, feedback from school leaders and teachers in Te Kotahitanga schools indicate that these forms of information exchange have not always been successful in engaging high numbers of Māori whānau.

This has prompted schools to consider non-conventional alternatives to traditional forms of communication and consultation that specifically focus on Māori whānau and community members.

The community dinner captured in the following video 
clip represents an example of how a Phase 5 school took a creative, but very targeted, approach to engaging with their Māori whānau and community.

Video 14: seeking whānau direction

Key thoughts

“… A concert… a sit down dinner… strategically placed teachers at each of the tables… we had questions that we asked parents just while we were eating…”

“That process was about celebrating success together but also about getting a little creative so we could get some meaningful feedback from our whānau and community.”

Key questions

  1. How does the event demonstrate the idea of schools building ‘non-dominating relationships of interdependence’ with Māori whānau and community?
  2. How might this idea be transferred into your own school? What would be the challenges? What would be the benefits?


Building Bridges: seeking collaboration with a Māori community

The following thesis, entitled Building Bridges. Seeking Collaboration with a Māori Community, reflects a research project conducted by Deborah Hohneck who at the time the research was undertaken was a Te Kotahitanga facilitator and Deputy Principal in a mainstream Phase 3 Te Kotahitanga secondary school.

The thesis describes how Deborah worked in a variety of ways to establish a responsive and dialogic relationship with her Māori community.

Building Bridges. Seeking Collaboration with a Māori Community (Deborah Hohneck)

Māori whānau, hapū and iwi survey

We have developed a survey that you can use with your Māori whānau, hapū and iwi (see below).

While schools can decide if, how and when they might
 use this survey, it may provide a good starting point to gather some baseline data that reflects Māori community perspectives of home-school relationship in your school context and would be suitable to use during a communal gathering such as the school community dinner detailed in the video.


Te Kotahitanga Māori, Whānau, Hapū and Iwi Survey [Download 9]


Connecting with Māori whānau, hapū and iwi communities: strategies for leaders (GPILSEO)

  • Find out who are the mana whenua, and then what other hapū/iwi are represented, in your school. Consider introducing this aspect into the demographic data your school collects.
  • Attend and be present at Māori community activities.
  • Seek advice and consider introducing kaumatua whakaruruhau into your school leadership/governance team. Who might be most appropriate? Given that many of the most appropriate people are busy and elderly, it might be a group.
  • Make connecting with Māori whānau, hapū and iwi communities a priority. Focusing on the activities in this module will ensure that the leadership team can also begin to see this as a priority. Consider introducing some of the activities to staff.
  • Seek answers and advice from within your school. Identify Māori staff members who might be able to contribute.
  • Consider communicating/networking with contributing and surrounding schools about their connections and strategies for connecting with Māori communities.

Connecting with Māori whānau, hapū and iwi communities: strategies for teachers

  • Ring and talk with the parents of your home-room students in the first month of school. Introduce yourself and say something positive about their child.
  • Provide opportunities for your students to know you, and for you to know them, by respectfully asking questions about their kaumatua, kuia, whānau, hapū, iwi.
  • Incorporate the local area and people as part of the curriculum resource. This may mean more learning for yourself in the first instance.
  • Re-read the whānau chapter in Culture Speaks. What are the implications for you as a classroom teacher?


Gnarly issue–bus stop activities [Download 10]

Gnarly issue–bus stop activities are a way of utilising the expertise of all the people at the table in order to further understand some fairly recognisable issues that may be present in the school and then, most importantly, seek new possibilities and solutions.

Working in this way can sometimes help to practise for a challenging conversation with self and/or colleagues. These activities have proven useful in Te Kotahitanga professional development since Phase 3, and you may consider utilising them within your own school.

In this module, there are four based on issues to do with connecting with Māori whānau and communities for your consideration and use. You might also want to develop some with more direct relevance to your own school setting.


You will need large envelopes, a pen or marker and a different gnarly issue for each bus stop. In each envelope, you will need one sheet of A4 paper for each team that will be visiting that stop. Each gnarly issue is written on a separate envelope.


Divide staff into teams of three or four and delegate each team to a gnarly issue-bus stop.

Indicate a time allowance - five to eight minutes is usually sufficient. You want people to think outside the square; you don’t want people to over think their responses, and you do want people to cover all the questions so providing time prompts throughout is important.

At the end of the allocated time, each team puts their team-response back in the envelope and moves to the next stop. The process is repeated. The last team visiting each stop is allowed to take all of the responses out of the envelope. It is then their task to synthesise the responses down to provide the most effective solutions.

This activity also has implications for classroom learning as, when it is conducted effectively, it involves all of the elements of relational and culturally responsive pedagogy.

  • Interactions emerge from relationships: this activity builds from existing relationships.
  • Within relationships of interdependence, individuals are self-determining and power is shared.
  • Culture Counts: everyone’s cultural toolkit, their prior knowledge and experiences are valued and are able to be utilised.
  • Pedagogy is responsive and interactive.
  • Learners/teachers/leaders are connected through a common purpose/vision and reciprocal responsibility.


Initiating engagement

Scenario 1

Sharon is a Māori parent whose Year 9 daughter has just completed her first term at a mainstream secondary school.

While Sharon’s daughter was at primary school, she had regular conversations with her daughter’s teachers and had numerous opportunities to contribute her knowledge and expertise to the school in sporting, cultural and academic contexts.

To date, she has received a monthly newsletter and she has accessed the school website and calendar online.

Without any personal contact and opportunity to engage, Sharon is unsure about the school and about how she as a Māori parent can participate within it.

  1. What are the implications for Sharon’s daughter?
  2. What are the implications for Māori students and their whānau when they are unsure about how or if they can participate within the school ‘as Māori’?
  3. What are the implications for the school when Māori whānau are unsure about how or if they can participate within the school?
  4. If Sharon were a parent at your school, what opportunities would she have had to engage by the end of term one?

Scenario 2

Beginning of the year literacy and numeracy assessment results have identified students who are achieving below expectations. An analysis indicates that the proportion of Māori students in this group is higher than the proportion of Māori students across the cohort.

The notion of somehow involving Māori whānau in improving this situation has been suggested. However, previous experiences have demonstrated that invitations to large group meetings via newsletters, or phone calls, have not always been a successful way to initiate a relationship around school learning.

  1. Who in the school has responsibility for coordinating initial contact with Māori whānau in this situation?
  2. Given that in the past the use of newsletters, phone calls and large group meetings have not been an effective means of engaging Māori whānau, what other avenues for engagement might be explored?


Developing the relationship

A school has a strategic goal of working with their Māori whānau in a coordinated way in order to accelerate learning. This school has worked in different settings and has provided a range of opportunities for Māori whānau to engage around the learning of their children. These conversations are now focused around how we can move these intentions forward into practice.

  1. While there may be suggestions around tools and interventions that whānau can use, how can the school demonstrate that they also value the knowledge and experiences of whānau?
  2. In light of question one, what might a non-dominating and reciprocal relationship between Māori whānau and school look like?

Maintaining and sustaining the
 learning relationship

A month ago the coordinator of a home-school literacy initiative had a conversation with a Māori mother who 
had participated in reading tutor training sessions with nineteen other parents.

The mother indicated that although she now had more effective strategies to help her son to improve his reading, and that the resources that were being sent home were suitable, she still was not totally confident.

  1. What processes for support (feedback / feedforward) might be suitable for this mother?
  2. Given that twenty parents attended the training session, what are the implications and considerations for the other participants?
  3. What else does this coordinator need to consider in terms of monitoring the impact of her practice (and the practice of the parent tutors) against the reading outcomes for the students?
  4. What support (including feedback / feedforward) might this coordinator need, and who is best positioned to provide this within the school and/or external to the school?