Raising the Achievement of Priority Learners in Primary Schools
The ultimate role of an educational leader is to lead their staff to positively influence teaching and learning to enhance educational achievement of all students (Allison & Rehm, 2007; Cardno, 2012). Over recent times, the New Zealand population has changed significantly and has become far more ethnically diverse, and primary school leaders and their teams are faced with more complex workplace demands than ever before (Ministry of Education, 2007). However, the critical challenge for New Zealand’s educational leaders at present is that there is a disproportionate number of Māori and Pasifika students who are not achieving their potential within the current New Zealand education system (Ministry of Education, 2008). The challenge for educational leaders and educators is to better respond to the learning needs of the increasingly diverse populations within schools to better serve the needs of the students, particularly those with disabilities and Māori and Pasifika who are not experiencing educational success (Ministry of Education, 2008).
The aim of this research was to examine the teaching and leadership practices perceived by teachers to raise the achievement of priority learners in primary schools. A qualitative methodology was employed for this research. Six semi-structured interviews were undertaken with six teachers who came from three different primary schools in the wider Auckland region. The participants held varying teaching roles within their schools, with experience ranging from eight years to over 30 years.
The major findings from this study indicate that establishing and maintaining productive relationships between home and school is essential in ensuring positive educational outcomes and wellbeing for students with a great emphasis being placed on culturally responsive practice. Teachers knowing their learners holistically is vital in supporting their learning to raise achievement and that by providing opportunities for student agency, collaborative learning and with the use of assessment for learning practices, students are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their learning. Additionally, by creating a climate of inclusive strategic thinking and resourcing, educational leaders can greatly influence the raising of achievement for priority learners.
The findings and recommendations made from this study emphasise that educational leaders and teachers give considerable attention to the ways in which they facilitate whānau engagement so that engagement is appropriate and meaningful for whānau and to create a school culture and environment whereby it is expected that teachers know their students holistically. This is crucial in building meaningful and productive relationships to positively influence educational outcomes and wellbeing for students. Furthermore, educational leaders need to provide opportunities for their staff to honestly reflect on, consider and challenge their worldviews and beliefs of those whom they teach to understand how their beliefs and perceptions influence their interactions and relationships with their students.