Our WAKA, Your Journey – Maitai School’s re-visioning journey.

By Carolyn Marino

Angela Vermeulen is a Ringa Whao with Tārai Kura, who also works with schools in the South Island through Grow Waitaha. This month she shares with us the school re-visioning journey taken by Maitai School.

Many thanks to Jenny Milne (Principal), Janet Watt (Deputy Principal), Erica Harper (Assistant Principal) and Emily Wood (Occupational Therapist and BoT Representative), who have collectively shared their wisdom and learning from this process.

Can you tell us a little about the community and environment where you created a new shared vision? 

Maitai is a small specialist school nestled between the Maitai River and Queen’s Gardens in central Whakatū (Nelson). It comprises a base school, satellite provisions and outreach programmes. Maitai School supports ākonga with a range of diverse needs and the staff of Maitai strive to always be inclusive for everyone who connects to the school. Their amazing students are at the heart of the school, and staff work hard to support ākonga to learn, grow and be active members of their community. Staff strive to be the best they can be to create a learning environment that is nurturing and caring. The staff sits at approximately 65 people and consists of leaders, teachers, teacher aides, therapists, support staff, and just amazing people really!

Māitai School — Image by: Angela Vermeulen

What motivated the school to design a new vision for your learning community? 

At the very beginning of the building process, almost six years ago, we began working on an education brief with Angela Vermeulen from Grow Waitaha. Through this process we began to realise that our current vision for teaching and learning did not align to our practice at Maitai, and the vision was not alive in the school. At the same time our school received feedback from an ERO report that vision and values were not visible in the school.

The most important aspect of the drive to re-vision was that very few people knew what the vision was for the school and it was no longer relevant to where we were heading. It no longer represented contemporary education and contemporary thinking in Aotearoa. We shared a collective understanding that our vision was not alive in our spaces, only a few people were invested in the current vision and, with the support of Angela, we realised we needed to look at a new vision.

What was also bought to our attention in an ERO report was that the current practice in our school did not align to our school vision. Around this time Maitai School was starting PLD for cultural capability, and part of these conversations made us realise that we had no voice from our ākonga, whānau, or our community, including iwi.

Finally, we really saw the value in recognising the uniqueness of every individual in our school and that there is not going to be a ‘one size fits all’ vision that every student would achieve, unless it is about their own specific journey and whatever that may look like. Having ‘your journey’ was vital for us, our students and our whānau.

Māitai School — Image by: Angela Vermeulen

How clearly does the vision describe aspirations for teaching and learning for your ākonga?

The symbol of the WAKA shows that our ākonga are always moving forward, no matter their journey, and that there is always progress and support, no matter the individual. A key part of understanding how the vision would work is that our WAKA could be plural, and we don’t all have to be heading in the same direction. So you are still in ‘our waka’ with all the support and surrounded by everything we can give you, even if your journey is different. We believe that the vision for WAKA means we nurture our ākonga to be in the best possible place and on the best possible journey they can be. Because of the nature of our ākonga and their learning needs, another very important aspect was the importance for our vision to be easy to remember, easy to use and highly visual for our ākonga. It needed to be something that everyone could connect to and see themselves in. Our vision is not just about our ākonga, it is for our staff and our whānau.

Māitai School — Image by: Angela Vermeulen

How was the vision collaboratively designed with students, teachers, whānau, and iwi?

To begin with, we put it to the staff to bring anyone who was interested to be a part of a focus group (think tank). We had  great representation of our school community, with teachers, leaders, teacher aides and therapists joining this group. 

 This group collectively brainstormed what was important to them at Maitai,  then we consulted the wider community through surveys, questionnaires and brain dump spaces within all of our school learning environments (base and satellites). We really wanted to capture what was really important, and what our staff and community truly value and felt connected to when thinking about Maitai School. At the same time we ran whānau hui evenings, capturing what their aspirations for Maitai were, and we gathered student voice to capture what our ākonga value and find important at Maitai.

From there, the ‘think tank’ group worked with Angela Vermeulen through all the collated raw data, and pulled together key themes that surfaced. This was a time of creativity, consultation, critical conversation, and at times courage to let go of things that did not align to where we were heading. 

Over many months of further staff design sessions/days, think tank group sessions and other community engagements, we were able to have our synthesised data become something that we truly loved and believe in.

“Our WAKA, Your Journey”

Māitai School — Image by: Angela Vermeulen

As part of our revisioning journey we bought together important values that live within our WAKA – Waiora, Aroha, Kotahitanga and Ako.

How will leaders and teachers ensure the vision and values underpin teaching and learning? 

The vision and values not only have to be seen but it they have to be linked to all aspects of our learning (for all stakeholders). We needed to weave them through our daily practice in recognisable ways.  It really does have to be more than a poster on a wall, however, this is where it does have to start. 

We needed to see the vision on the wall, unpacked on every wall, seen in every teaching and meeting space.  It was especially important to ensure new staff could connect to it. We had to remember a vision only comes alive because of the structure and organisational work you scaffold around it.

 Our vision is in our planning documents, our charter, and the way we review our practice. It is important to do this at the start before it can become more organic and live in our hearts and minds. This does not happen by accident – it takes work, reminding, living and talking the vision everyday, in everyway.

What’s on top for you this year now that the vision is established in your school? What are your priorities?

For us here at Maitai, our next focus is our induction process for our new staff. With everything else that we have to work on and provide information around with new staff, we must place the vision at the front, so that they can see themselves in this place and how they see where they belong on the WAKA. We also need to begin to really consider how we have these conversations with new whānau when they come into Maitai School. At the moment we have been sharing our vision/values with our whānau through direct communication and newsletters. However, a next step for us is to ramp up our key focus on our vision within our celebration with ākonga and the conversations that support how our whānau see themselves in the WAKA. This will involve asking and seeking understanding of how our whānau interpret the vision and values, how they see themselves upholding these in the school, and sharing what Maitai staff could learn from them as they live these values in their own homes. A vision is something that all key stakeholders need to deeply understand and bring to life.

Māitai School — Image by: Angela Vermeulen

Looking ahead, what do you see as being the key milestones and/or touchpoints for the vision journey?

Naturally, the opening of our new buildings will be an opportunity to reflect and make sure that our vision is reflected and represented the design of these spaces. We have the opportunity to ensure that WAKA is an integral and visual aspect of our new buildings, alongside our cultural narrative. Through the reflection process we get to connect back in and ask questions like, “What really is Waiora? What does it really look like here?” Our new charter and consultation is going to be a great opportunity to check-in and see if our vision and values are embedded and connected.

 What are you most proud of regarding how you see this vision being brought to life at Maitai?

I am really proud that we have created a visual that our ākonga can connect to, and that it is important that there is an image in their head of their connection to the school and how the school makes them feel. I am proud (being separated at times in a satellite not connected to base school) that our vision and values connect us together as a whole. Also, of the way that our staff uphold our values, and as leaders we get to support them to align it to the value words.

I am so proud of the different ways and events we have created to celebrate and share our vision as a school and as a learning community. I am really proud that our staff can confidently talk to the change that this has made for them, and that they can courageously stand by our new vision and talk to it right from the heart.

I am proud of just how real and authentic it is, and that it is an easy fit – and is just so right for us. Out of the all the work we put in came something just so clean, clear, and just so settled for us. We have started to have the WAKA connections conversations with schools around us, and that we connect to. We are so proud, also, that others are recognising the strength in our school vision.

What advice do you have for schools wanting to re-vision? What were some of the pain points to get past? 

Our biggest advice for other schools who are in the journey of revisioning would be:

  • Be prepared to put in some hard work that might feel bumby but know that it is worth it.

  • Keep cultural capability and a Te Ao Māori world view at the forefront as you co-design this with community.

  • Be prepared to be critical and compromise in the need to potentially let go of things, to get to what really matters.

  • Be prepared to take the time to respect and really listen to ALL voices.

  • Keep focused on the end goal and do not get distracted from what you are trying to achieve. 

  • Everyone must be committed to the process from the start and then action the decisions (otherwise it can become another paper tick box exercise).

  • Surface what is important, what all key stakeholders value, and what will hold everyone together as a collaborative team.

  • Be prepared to give this time. It can not be rushed. It needs to be digested, processed and then reflected on.

  • The biggest piece of advice we can give is to get an external facilitator. Having the support of an external facilitator ensured we dedicated time, sorted the noise coming at us as leaders, so that we cleared the space needed to commit to this. Angela  was essential for us, as she supported us to pull all our ideas together, ensure everyone’s voice was honored and listened to, look at what ‘good visions’ look, sound and feel like, and bring together a succinct vision that we are really proud of.

  • In the end you need to ‘love’ what you value and value what you create in your vision.

  • Don’t give up – it is so worth it. It is not always easy… (and) it was ‘feel good’ stuff.