Letter to our Community

Welcome to 2017! It’s been an exciting start to the year with the release of the new property plans to the community. I hope that your IEMs have been productive and you’re looking forward to a great term.

I’ve been Board Chair at Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery for over 6 months now. During this time I’ve seen (yet) another side to the challenges behind running a school. (For example, I never realised how massively expensive schools are to run!!) From every angle, however, I’ve seen how important and fundamental our Special Character and Core Values are to the school. The entire staff works hard to make sure the Core Values are reflected in their actions and are integrated into every aspect of the student’s day. The Core Values work really well if everyone follows them.

One of unique challenges of our school is that we need parental involvement in order to enable our students to have the opportunities we all want for them. In addition to things like helping out on campus, camps and transporting students, our parents provide a wealth of expert knowledge and hands-on experience in an amazing number of subjects. Parents have a special and important place within the school to enable us to live our Special Character. It is therefore vital that, being part of the learning community, they also follow our Core Values… which is tricky.

How do you go to the community and ask them to give their time and passion to the school while at the same time imposing “rules” on their behaviour? Well, you really can’t, but I’m hoping the Core Values themselves can be an inspiration to us all. With around 500 kids in the school, we have thousands of family members with varying experience, educations, backgrounds, religions and beliefs. With so many people, you are destined to find many like-minded people… and people that get directly on your nerves! We will probably never get along with everyone, but by using our Core Values we can not only work effectively as a community, but actually become a richer pool of resources and personalities for our kids to learn from.

Here is how I see the five Core Values working for parents, not only as adult to child, but as adult to adult as well:

Whanaungatanga. (friendship/kinship)
It isn’t always easy, but being friendly and treating everyone as belonging in our community eliminates a lot of dramas. If you feel welcome and accepted, you are far more likely to look for ways you can help rather than wondering whether you are wanted. No matter how you react to someone else’s ideas and ideals, it is important for all of us, that all of us are treated… as being part of all of us.

Once you recognise that we are all one community, it becomes easier to accept differences. You may not always agree with what people think or even do, but as long as we treat each other with respect, our differences don’t need to clash.

Aroha. (caring)
When people know that you care about them, they don’t need to fight for their “place”. A child who knows you care is far more likely to listen, and an adult who knows you care is far less likely to be defensive or judgemental towards you.

Every person at Ao Tawhiti has come to the school by choice and have committed to step up and invest. You do not have to accept their beliefs or the things they value as learning, but trusting that their reasons for being here are sound makes it easier for everyone to understand. Trusting that our staff are well-trained professionals, who want the best for each and every student, works wonders for community building and strengthening all the Core Values. We don’t have to all be alike, but we should view and treat the actions of others as being part of the diversity they bring to the school.

Kaha. (challenges)
As parents, I believe our Kaha is to push aside our differences and challenge ourselves to trust and care about each other, to respect and treat each other as friends and whanau who all have a shared focus – our kids and our school.

I have plenty of stories of things that have happened when people have lost sight of the core values, but as we move forward with a new building and new beginning as a unified school, I think it is more important to focus on the good things that happen when the core values are used, and the amazing things we have coming in the near future.

You hopefully have already seen and signed the Community Agreement (previously called the Memorandum of Understanding). This is our commitment to our Special Character that everyone (students, LAs and parents) sign, committing to the core values and undertaking to be exemplary Ao Tawhiti community members.

When we forget Whanaungatanga and forget to treat each other with Respect, Aroha and Trust we have the power to make people feel mistreated and disrespected as well as marginalised and unwelcome. When members of our community feel this way they are likely to stop being involved, stop offering their support and expertise and avoid interactions with the school and community. Ao Tawhiti needs every driver, tutor, helper and guest specialist we can get. Those extra moments you take to check your words can directly translate into opportunities for our kids.

It is also important to remember that the core values apply equally to digital as well as personal interactions. Please consider what you’ve written and how you’ve written it before you press “send” so that we ensure we treat each other with Respect and Aroha. If you have an issue with anyone in the community, please raise your concerns using the Core Values to guide your choice of words. The Core Values only work if we all use them. Please know that staff and board members are open to hearing any questions and concerns you may have and are committed to working with you to resolve them, but it makes things easier for everyone if we use Respect and Aroha in those correspondences as well.

As we look towards 2017 and beyond, we see some amazing opportunities and learning ahead. With the new beginnings this year will bring, I am hoping, and asking, that we can all keep the Special Character and especially the Core Values in everything we do, and give our kids and community the most helpful, supportive environment possible. Let’s see if we can make 2017 the best year Ao Tawhiti has ever seen!!

Suze Keys
Board Chair