parent engagement for schools

A Culture of Inclusion and Rising to the Challenge

Interviewed: Simon Kenny (Principal) and Andrew de Wit (Teacher).

Our curriculum is based around our “rise” values – we expect all our kids to rise to the challenge. Those values are resilience, integrity, sense of self and empathy.”

simon kenny principal
Simon Kenny, Principal

Fergusson Intermediate is an Upper Hutt success story. It has an inclusive philosophy, a focus on student success and community, passionate staff and technology fit for purpose – Edge by MUSAC, Hapara G-Suite and Educa.

Their website states – ‘We’re more than just teachers and staff – we’re a community.’ Intermediate schools are unique in that half of the students change every year, and for Fergusson that student body is substantial and consistently increasing.

The staff are committed to a holistic approach and with 508 students a big learning and support team is required. Principal Simon Kenny is at the centre of a holistic vision that guides the success and growth of the school.

“Our curriculum is based around our “rise” values – we expect all our kids to rise to the challenge. Those values are resilience, integrity, sense of self and empathy. We want the students to be able to meet their social, academic, and emotional needs”.

Kenny feels that another special thing about an intermediate school is the unique age group. Children on the borderline of adolescence are discovering new challenges and need a consistent framework of systems to guide them. Because of these factors, building a strong team has been integral to the implementation of the school’s holistic philosophy, and it’s working as Fergusson is enjoying sustained growth in its student numbers.

andrew de vit fergusson
Andrew de Vit, Teacher

Team Values – Passion, Energy and Enthusiasm

“We want to know that they are creative thinkers, that they’re looking for opportunities, and that they’re really passionate about learning in this age group.”

While good teamwork is the backbone of any successful school, that requires good team members and Kenny feels that Fergusson’s teachers and staff are an exceptional group of people.

“Whenever we appoint staff we’re looking for passion, energy, enthusiasm… We’re looking for our values reflected in them. We want to know that they are creative thinkers, that they’re looking for opportunities, and that they’re really passionate about learning in this age group.”

Kenny believes that when passion is expressed through teaching, students feel that they can achieve to their full potential. “We want our kids to have a big range of opportunities. We want to focus on the entire curriculum and support them and guide them as young people in that adolescent age which is quite challenging.”

Fergusson like their staff to have diverse backgrounds and experiences. A “jagged” team means that the staff aren’t all clones of each other and students get a range of styles and perspectives. This ultimately serves them well in future years.

“The staff at Fergusson are all employed on the basis that they see opportunities and model the joy of learning.”

The Teacher-Student-Parent Triangle

Another aspect of Fergusson’s modus operandi is nurturing the triangular relationship between students, parents and teachers. The school believes that if this area is well looked after it will bring long term benefits to students education and wellbeing, leading them to a bright future. When he became principal, Simon wanted all three parties to feel like they had an awareness and involvement in the students’ learning process.

“The key thing is that we wanted to keep it as simple as we could. We wanted it to be accessible to our kids our staff and our students.” Keeping families in the loop was another key point.

“We wanted to communicate the student’s learning journey with their whanau in a streamlined package. And we wanted it to be equitable, so that everyone could have access to their child’s journey.”

Technology To Build Community and Collaboration

Fergusson’s technology setup has four major themes:

  • Student success
  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Efficiency

After using a number of different technology tools to meet these needs, it has simplified its setup, focusing on three platforms – Edge, Educa and Hapara.

Simon and his staff realised that their perfect technology model needs to encompasses elements of collaboration, simplicity, adaptability, user-friendliness, and equity. Learning visibility, made possible online, combined create a deeper level of engagement with parents, leads to successful outcomes for their children.

Fergusson uses Educa, Edge and Hapara in conjunction to give students and teachers an efficient system of communicating. They feel that the systems work nicely together and save teachers quite a bit of time.

Three Systems Working Together

Edge by MUSAC acts a one stop shop for details and pastoral care, recording educational results for parents to keep track of. Staff and parents can access reports and other documentation related to student progress.

Educa helps students take ownership of their learning. They can share and post their learning and share it with parents and teachers. Educa is also used for school updates, replacing notices. This fits Fergusson’s recent adoption of the Enviroschools policy. The student Educa portfolio is the focal point for teacher-parent interaction with a particular focus on sharing success, such as a good piece of academic work – to develop a success mindset.

Hapara is a G-Suite classroom management platform that helps teachers manage student work done using Google Apps for Education. It has an interface where teachers can see everything in the students’ accounts. It gives them good accountability and makes them great digital citizens.

What’s Next

Fergusson is working with all three providers to deepen the integration of their systems, and adding empowerment for students in this process. They are a developing their local curriculum and looking at teaching and learning their ‘values and deep learning lens’. Better never stops and the world of education changes everyday

While highly satisfied with their tech tools, the Fergusson staff feel that there is always a way that IT can be enhanced. The overarching goals remain to make learning more visible and to help students, teachers and parents work together through the effective use of online tools.

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