Thursday 22 September 2016

2 of 5 Mindlab posts - A reflection on the socio-economic status of my school

The school I work at is a single-sex, decile 5  school (based on an outdated set of criteria defined by the Ministry of Education). We have students classed nationally as "in the middle". The reality is actually not quite so simple; we have students who come from socio-economic backgrounds that can only be described as bordering on poverty and students at the other end of the scale. The reason for the disparity (as well as the very middling decile rating) is coming from a small city with big agricultural catchment, there is a diverse range of students attending the school.

Māori students account for 35% of our roll, with the majority being Pākehā. We have been working to become more culturally responsive, with initiatives such as inclusive professional development and the creation by students of a new karakia - Te Timitanga. Stoll (1998) discusses how "pupils who attend the school flavour it in their own particular way, through their own pupil culture", and this is ably demonstrated by the drive from the students to be more culturally responsive.

Our school motto is "Whakamana ngā wāhine o apōpō - Empowering tomorrow's women" and this encompasses our philosophy, which is about "preparing girls to be outstanding young who leave us ready for the next step in their lives" (taken from the school mission statement).
We are working to raise Māori achievement across all levels of the school with a move towards more student - centred learning. There is already a better connection between students, teachers and whānau with more communication, encouraged through conferencing during the year. Students are all in vertical whānau classes, allowing older students to be 'big sisters' to the younger girls.

We are striving to incorporate more 21st Century learning, collaboration and the use of digital technologies across the school. Stoll also talks about the difficulties of trying to make changes in schools, and while our school is receptive to change, there is still a contingent of staff that might resist change. This will undoubtedly become apparent in 2017 when we bring in a BYOD policy. Some teachers still believe in a teacher - centred approach will and this kind of programme will shift the focus from a teacher - led to student - centred learning and teaching style.

Another issue arising with BYOD is that students who are at the lower end of our socio-economic scale may be disadvantaged as they are less likely to be able to afford devices, and there will also be a chance that they do not have access to the internet at home, thus widening the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. The school has some plans to assist with these issues, but we acknowledge that the issue exists. No implementation can ever go without "selling the idea to get people on board" (Thirkell and Ashman, 2014), something that probably needs to be done more with the staff than the students, but as someone once said, "I never once had a student tell me they couldn't use technology because she didn't receive PD for it".

Overall, the school wants to see all students cared for and learning in a modern and vibrant environment, and I love being part of the team that are trying to push things forward. The traditional top-down leadership approach has started changing so that staff who are on the 'bleeding edge' of changing to encompass 21st Century learning skills are being encouraged to take some of the leadership roles. The school is moving forward, and the students are an integral part of this; they are the reason we are there, after all.

Thirkell, E., & Ashman, I. (2014). Lean towards learning: connecting Lean Thinking and human resource management in UK higher education. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(21), 2957–2977.

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