Engaging with Pasifika Families and Communities: Secondary School Leaders' Perceptions
Pasifika students have long been identified as underachieving in New Zealand education achievement statistics (Samu, 2016). Despite widespread awareness of this and continued focus from government policies and Ministry initiatives, insufficient progress has been made to improve these statistics and, as a result, more Pasifika people are in low paid, unskilled employment and issues of poverty have not improved. O le tele o sulu e maua ai figota is a Samoan proverb which illustrates that with the support and guidance of many, the task at hand is easier to achieve. This research was built on this belief and the need to focus on the strategies and processes that secondary school educational leaders employ when attempting to engage and work in effective partnership with Pasifika families, in order to support and guide the learning of Pasifika students and subsequently influence achievement outcomes. Furthermore, while there is a considerable amount of literature on the education of Pasifika students, there is a dearth of knowledge on how schools and educational leaders can engage with Pasifika families.
The two aims of this research were to identify and critically examine secondary school leadership practices in engaging with Pasifika families and to explore leaders’ perceptions of the impact of engaging with Pasifika families and communities on Pasifika student outcomes. This study employed a qualitative approach that was positioned within the interpretive paradigm but with a Pasifika worldview. Talanoa focus groups were conducted with two senior and middle leaders from four different secondary schools located across Auckland that were predominantly Pasifika in their student population. Participants in this study were not required to be of Pasifika descent; however, seven of the eight participants that agreed to participate identified as Pasifika. Findings were analysed utilising a thematic analysis approach through coding and use of computer software. These results were then presented by theme according to the three research questions that formed the basis of the talanoa focus groups.
The data revealed that three key aspects were important for school leaders to understand and value when engaging with Pasifika families. The proposed ‘e so’o le fau i le fau’ model presents these key factors as necessary to sustain effective partnership between schools, Pasifika students and their families. Recommendations from this study include the need for schools to utilise leaders and teachers of Pasifika heritage to lead the partnership with Pasifika families, and inform ways in which schools can foster an environment that acknowledges the diversity of Pasifika peoples. Schools must also incorporate strategies to engage with Pasifika families into their annual and strategic plans as well as formalise processes of evaluation to continuously seek ways to improve in order to nurture the involvement of Pasifika communities in the school.