Case study: Owairaka District School
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Owairaka District School is a decile two contributing primary school with a roll of 342 students.
"I can do it, you can do it and together we can achieve our goals."
Our school has been on this site for more than 75 years and it has had a rich cultural background. Children from many ethnic backgrounds attend our school, which makes Owairaka District School an exciting and vibrant place to be.
Main themes in the case study
A focus on building relationships with and between the many cultures represented in the school.
The importance of professional learning in Asia for staff and the impact on students’ learning about Asia.
Integrating Asia celebrations and festivals into teaching and learning programmes.
Developing an Indian parents’ group.
Our school has a global focus, and within that we are also aware that we have many Asian students who have particular needs.
My own developing awareness about Asia began several years back before I came to Owairaka. I was a social studies teacher and I received an award to travel to Korea. When I got back from this professional learning experience, I worked with a colleague to develop a teaching resource about Korea, which we shared with the other staff in the school. The unit was successful and as a result I could see the benefit of having a school-wide focus on an aspect of the curriculum. I’ve used this idea at Owairaka.
This experience also gave me a real commitment to the importance of teachers being culturally aware, and an understanding about how important this is to children. It was not only the Korean children who benefited from their teachers’ learning. Children from all cultures developed their own knowledge and gained a better understanding of the people, the values and the contribution that Korea makes to the world.
Since coming to Owairaka more than seven years ago, and facing some complex intercultural dilemmas in the school community, I’ve focused on building relationships with and between the many cultures represented in the school.
One of the first things we did was to develop a race relations day each year. On this day children come along in costumes representing the range of cultures in the school. They and their parents prepare and share many different kinds of food.
“We get a lot from our cultural day at school, with trying different foods and hearing the different languages.” (Year 5 student).
“All the children benefit from the race relations day. They are now able to pronounce unfamiliar names, and say greetings in different languages. They also appreciate diverse foods and they are exposed to different kinds of music and dance.” (Rona, teacher)
We need to realise the importance of events where parents can come together into the school, in their cultural or nationality groups, so that the school can realise the strength of our communities’ knowledge and needs.
Another big thing we did a few years ago was to arrange for a number of the staff to go, in their holiday time, to Samoa. This was a fantastic learning experience for the teachers, who learned things that they still remember and use right up to today. It also brought the firm support of our Samoan families. They have formed their own group, which meets regularly. Through the group, families are able to express their views to the school, and develop their priorities.
The success of this trip led the staff to plan another one. We thought at first that we would go to Africa, but the politics and size of that country, and the expense of travel there, resulted in a change of plans. We instead travelled to India during the Christmas break of 2008. The Samoan parents felt that they had benefited so much from our trip to their country that they contributed to our fundraising for the Indian trip.
Ten teachers went on the trip to India. As a member of the party myself, I found the experience provided fantastic professional learning, and also know that it will have a significant impact on our careers. It was an amazing time. While it gave us a culture shock, we know it will make us better at talking with and understanding our Indian students and their families. In such a vast and rich culture we also experienced first hand what it means to be in the minority.
I think Owairaka has developed as a school in which many cultures do feel at home, and recognised. For example, we have learned how to take account of the needs of our Muslim children (who are now approximately 25 percent of the school) and we make sure that there are always Muslim adults to advise us about any school event or trip.
We still have lots to do, but our parents really see the teachers taking an interest in who they are and what they bring to us. As one of our children said the other day:
“Yes, it was important to me that the teachers went to India. Although they have their own culture, it is good that they want to understand other cultures” (Fawaaz, Year 5).
Opportunities for teachers to have significant professional development have been a key factor in the changes that have come about at Owairaka.
As one teacher said:
“Diana has led this, it is how she is. We have come a long way as a result. Even a few changes in senior staff have not been difficult because the staff have come together, because they have experienced how well things work.”
The teachers who went to India led professional development with the rest of the staff, they presented to the board of trustees, and they ran sessions with classes whose teachers were unable to travel to India. Using their photographs, materials and experiences they helped all the teachers to build up resources for every class, so that for Term 1 of 2009 the whole school was able to engage in a study of India.
“Our teachers learned a lot in India which they have told us about. The teachers talked about what they saw and showed us photos and videos – the traffic, the classrooms, the climate, the food – and how that affects the lives of the people. We learned that pens and pencils are really valuable things to take to give to people in India.” (Year 5 student).
Each class developed its own focus and outcomes. Some are helping to establish Skype links with one Indian school, and a junior class has prepared and written letters to a junior class in another school that the teachers visited in Mumbai.
The Owairaka teachers also learned how important the opportunity to gain an education is to Indian parents and their children. For both parents and children there were high expectations, with parents expected to play a very supportive role in helping their children get on.
“We need to be respectful of what our parents want, such as their belief in homework. If they want it we should give it. So we need to work carefully with them.” (Chrissie, middle school teacher).
This has encouraged the teachers to think about a range of issues:
The importance of their own status as professionals.
Encouraging respectful behaviour of students towards their teachers.
Being more aware of the adjustments that Asian parents and children have to make in beginning school in New Zealand.
Raising expectations about outcomes for all students.
Becoming more respectful of what parents want, such as their belief in the importance of homework.
There are ongoing professional development opportunities for the school. Two teachers have been given Asia New Zealand Foundation scholarships to travel to Indonesia and Malaysia in 2009. Among other things they will concentrate on learning more about the Muslim culture. The Muslim population is growing both within the school and in the local community and a large number of students at the school are opting for Islamic studies. As a result teachers at Owairaka and non-Muslim students have expressed a need to know more about Muslim culture.
All the teachers, and Diana the principal, talked about the future direction in which they needed to move. They felt that they had learned a lot about Asian cultures, and that this had changed their approaches and their teaching practices.
The teachers who visited India saw Te Whāriki being used, particularly in the context of values teaching. This helped them to recognise that education links can be made across cultures. Children from Western, Māori, Pasifika and Asian cultures can find things in common as they increase their knowledge and understanding, and learn more readily from each other.
Another important next step commented on by several teachers was the potential of sport to draw different cultures together in enjoyment and understanding. The children from Owairaka participated by making flags for a community sporting event. It was an exciting day for them all, which helped to develop a better appreciation of and respect for each of the participating cultures, and staff agreed that this could be further exploited.
Teachers and children from Owairaka District School expressed the importance to everyone of diverse cultures developing their knowledge and friendships together.
“We have developed a one-ness and unity on this staff about the importance of being well informed and aware of the mix of cultures in the school and how this will affect all our futures. We will all be losers if we don’t become more aware and involved in the different cultures who live together with us in New Zealand.” (Jennie, junior school teacher).
“With our school’s approach and the number of different cultures, I see that the different knowledges are getting shared and accepted. In our classes the focus on culture is a daily occurrence, so the children get on and share with each other, and they are getting to know more about both the diversity and links between cultures.” (Blair, junior school teacher).
“We have found out how different it is to look at the world from more that just one culture’s viewpoint. It is different if you think from only New Zealand, or India, or Malaysia. It is better to see through more than one eye.” (Adil, student ambassador).
But all teachers feel they still have a lot more to do.
“We need to know more about special days coming up. We could be more involved in community festivals, such as the lantern festival, and develop our understanding of the Chinese culture for our children and families.” (Rona, teacher).
“At the end of each year we critically reflect on and review what we are doing. The principal sorts this and brings the feedback to a senior management meeting. This helps us to regularly address our issues, and decide on priorities. At the moment we are considering how to encourage our parents to become more involved in the way that the Samoan parents’ group has developed.” (Saishree, middle school teacher).
“At the moment we have a growing Indonesian and Muslim population which we need to work on being more aware and knowledgeable about.” (Blair, junior school teacher).
We should remind ourselves about why the principal and teachers at Owairaka District School feel so strongly about developing their awareness of the needs of very diverse cultures. As the student ambassadors from the school said:
“Our futures will be divided between being New Zealanders and relating to a diverse range of cultures in Asia and the Pacific regions. After we have finished our education and other training, we see ourselves visiting and being visited by people from many cultures. We might work, teach and travel in Asia and the Pacific, so we see these areas as part of our future lives.”
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- Gardens a colourful symbol of school's diversity - how Owairaka used an Asia:NZ grant to set up some Asian gardens
- Owairaka District School website - learn more about the school