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Engaging Family/ Whānau, Building Communities

Year level:

Whole School

Cluster type:

The Port Hills Cluster is an ICT PD group consisting of five schools in Christchurch. We consist of two Intermediate schools and three primary schools, of which two are in the port community of Lyttelton.


Engaging Whanau, Building Communities was an investigation into how effective we were at engaging our families/whānau in the everyday goings-on in our school communities. We were looking at innovative practices to involve families more frequently and ‘open the school gates’ wider.

The need to engage with our communities is even more relevant now, post Christchurch earthquakes.

-  Contacting parent community in quick and efficient ways; a joint partnership in regard to information

-  Forming a partnership in the learning taking place

-  Re-connecting with a changing community

-  Rebuilding roll numbers

-  Communicating systems (transport, safety, staffing, physical environment)


As third year participants in the ICT PD contract we identified the fact that we had spent large quantities of time and resources trying to engage the students and teachers in the benefits of e-learning. It was most likely presumed our parent/whānau communities were participants in this journey as a flow on effect from innovative classroom practice and student levels of participation in their own learning.

To some degree this was accurate, but in some ways our parent communities have also been in the dark in regards to how they can be more active participants in a 21st Century school community. Was there more we could be doing to encourage active involvement of parents and the wider community in our schools?

Ironically, earthquakes have forced parents to be more aware of communicating using e-learning and ICT-based strategies.

Communities have higher expectations of cluster schools regarding quick and efficient communication post earthquakes. This highlights the needs for effective two-way communication between schools and their community.

Research model used:

We looked at reflections from the Kiwi Leadership for Principals MOE site, and Joyce Epstein’s keys to successful partnerships (2001).

The key message being, the better the level of engagement between home, school and the wider community, the more positive the impact on student learning.

There are links to those here:


Leadership teams from each school attended a workshop and investigated and discussed innovative approaches towards increasing effective Family/Whānau engagement.

Each team broke-down their own school’s approach to engaging family/whānau using Epstein’s Keys (2001). These are:

  • Parenting
  • Communicating
  • Volunteering
  • Learning at Home
  • Decision Making
  • Collaborating with the Community

Valuable group discussion identified that schools are in fact involving their communities in so many ways, but not necessarily communicating with them as effectively or efficiently as possible and particularly in the area of digital citizenship and the partnerships required between home and school.

Here are notes on that discussion. You may notice similaraities with your own school or perhaps gain new ideas.



 Schools investigated the use of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter as well as Google Apps and the best ways to be using their Online Learning Environments (OLEs such as Ultranet and Knowledgenet) to communicate more effectively with their communities, and engage them further in their children’s learning and well-being.

With so many possibilities it’s important to identify that every school needs a specific context for integrating e-tools into their school's communication structure beyond the fact that ‘everyone else is using it so I should be too’. We looked closely at the reasoning behind other schools adoption of innovative approaches, particularly on the steps taken to implement them successfully in their communities.

Individual schools created an Engaging Whānau action that was specific to their communities needs. Some chose to align this to their ICT strategic plans.

Relevant sections of ICT strategic plans and/or Engaging Whānau action plans have been shared below:

Click Here to view these action plans on Google Documents.


Impact on Students/Teachers/Whanau

By putting in place the foundations for efficient and regular communication practices between school and community it not only impacts on information in emergencies and day to day school information, but also how parents can be more involved in their children’s learning. Schools and parents are now more aware of the tools available to use and access for communication and learning.

Students using an OLE are now more aware of the intended and possible viewers when preparing work in reponse to the success criteria. This is making them more purposeful when reading success criteria, making decisions about which tools to use and also when giving purposeful feedback.

Teacher/Principal Reflection: