I was part of the beginning a new school last week.
Haeata Community Campus opened it's doors to over 1000 students from Year 1 to Year 13 on Friday. This week (week 2) I have been busy trying to build relationships. Through this process I have remembered how relationships are the foundation of teaching and learning. I am one of two Kaiarahi (Team Leaders) in the Year 1 to 3 Hapari (group where we find strength) so my first and most important job was and is to build relationships with my team and with students.
I have discovered that this is not easy. One of Haeata's key values is manaakitanga which translated is care. Hospitality, kindness, generosity, support. It is the process of showing care. It has been a real challenge to show care to so many new students. Everything was new. New buildings, new teachers, new friends, new timetable, new uniforms. I soon discovered that in all the newness, my ability to make connections became imperative. I guess I saw the difference any kind of relationship has on how we operate as human beings. Without any, it is very difficult.
For our learners with diverse needs, our learners with Autism or with difficult home situations.
What does it really take to build relationships?
We sat in a circle and played name games. We talked about how we would be in the building, like having walking feet. We set boundaries, where we could go. Because our building is so big, this was a scary thing for students and teachers. It was easy to loose bearings and get lost. We learnt where to put our bags, where the toilets were. We discovered how we were going to eat together and where to go out for breaks.
I found play became my greatest asset. My greatest challenge was that we didn't have time to set up properly. We are in a new build. We basically had very little. But what we did have, the children used.
My base group, Puna Ako group is made up of 15 students and I team-teach with another teacher with 16 students. On day one, I think we were all in shock. The look of stress. That is natural for us humans. We don't tend to cope well with change. On day two I noticed three children set up a shop out of a box, a play cash register and some cereal boxes. On day three I noticed groups of students beginning to play. They used dramatic play. One group were cats with a mum who was looking after them, they played this for a long time. They went back to it on several occasions. Another group were on old phones we were given and made a play about phoning each other. I had bought in a half tent and this became their home. It was very cave like and helped to provide security to a couple of my students that have ASD. What I noticed in all of this, was that play on my terms - name games, circle games helped me to build relationships with my new students by helping us all learn names. The socio-dramatic play helped the children build friendships even quicker. By giving them space to be and space to create, they naturally built friendships.
What we discovered during the week in our very large flexible space, was that it helped the students and the teachers to stay in one space for most of the day with the same people. To much change was too challenging. Moving really fought against building relationships. Slowly as we all felt our students were ready, we ventured out to explore parts of the school. We found that it is necessary to do this time and time again. When everything is new, repetition becomes your friend. Our brains look for patterns and those patterns provide us with security and help us to feel safe.
The key learning for me has been the importance of taking time to build relationships with each other but also with our environment. I love the wisdom that comes from being in a team. We have 14 teachers in our space with just over 200 students. Gaining perspectives and insight from each other is priceless. How important it is to begin and to begin not necessarily where we want to end up but where we can. In a way that builds security for each other. Change is challenging and sometimes you can't do anything about it. You just have to get through it. Giving yourself permission to change slowly is something I am learning.