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Building relationships

Mutually respectful, caring and open relationships, which motivate and engage Pasifika students, form the heart of effective teaching.


Key content

Relationships matter. The teacher-student relationship plays a vital part in successfully engaging Pasifika students in their learning. When teachers and students develop mutually respectful, happy and open relationships, characterised by empathy and humour as well as academic challenge, Pasifika students are more willing to be involved in their learning and become more accepting of what education can do for them. They learn that schools can be a safe and happy place for Pasifika students, a place where they are cared for and cared about as they become confident with inquiry learning processes. 
Research also evidences the link between strong teacher-student relationships and high achievement:
“....there is the dimension of a strong emotional relationship which, together with the instructional attributes, has elements of being both rigorous and challenging as well as being respectful and empathetic. The former includes high expectations and the latter a Pasifika sense for the students of education being service-oriented and, from the teacher, positive affect expressed with devices such as Pasifika-oriented humour.” 
Ua Aoina le Manogi o le Lolo: Pasifika Schooling Improvement Research – Final Report, #10, page viii.


Thanks to the Principals, staff and students of Aorere College, McAuley High School, Mangere Bridge School, Sylvia Park School, Mary MacKillop School and Wymondley Road Primary School for their contribution.

Things to think about

  • Do your Pasifika students appreciate what their teachers do for them? How do you know? What things could teachers do better?
  • Is the relationship you have with your Pasifika students different from the relationship you have with other students? If so, in what ways is it different, and why? If not, should it be different?
  • Describe the kind of relationship you want with your Pasifika students. How would you go about developing it? Why is this important?

“No matter how sound a leader’s pedagogical knowledge and problem-solving ability might be, their impact will be limited if relationships within the school are characterised by an absence of trust.” 
School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration, page 43.

  • How would you describe the level of trust within your school in relation to your Pasifika students. Should it improve? How?


Tone Kolose
Your one may be different to the rest of the groups. You're arguing the point that you think it may be a waste of time whereas they're arguing the point that they don't think it's a waste of time. 
You'd be angry if I didn't agree.
Tone Kolose 
No, I wouldn't be angry. I think that it's really good to argue your point why you think homework is a waste of time. 
Was he scared?
Yeah he's scared of you. 
Tone Kolose
What were you scared of?. That I would disagree with you?. 
Tone Kolose
In terms of our Pasifika students they work best with people who believe in them, people who push them, adults who tell them where they are and where they need to move to.
Aina Masina
Hands up those people who don't have a reason in their heads.
Tone Kolose
For a lot of our students because of the backgrounds they come from, I think school’s like a sanctuary for them, like a safe place because we can’t change what happens at home, but we can definitely change, make a difference in the 6 hours that we have in the classroom setting. 
Tom Brown
I think it's absolutely vital to build relationships with Pasifika students in particular. When I first arrived here four years ago I found that my hardest task was getting students to talk to me and that was because of a kind of a distance respect. My position as teacher was respected and students felt that they couldn't question, couldn't ask. Breaking that down was really, really vital. And until we broke that down, then no teaching....no worthwhile teaching was going on in the classroom.
Tom Brown
So what it needs to say, one...
Your heart.
Tom Brown
Your heart. The core area, you call it the core area from here upwards to the brain, like Chris said, but the heart as well. 
Your teachers encourage you to be more confident and more open, that's what helped me to be more open and ask questions.
Liz Crisp
There are differences in my background that are obvious to the children. And so I work hard to find connections with them and it can be as simple as that we both have a dog at home. I share photos of me with my family. I have five kids, that's a great connecting point because they understand that, they understand me being a mother. They understand that stuff happens in my home, and they love to hear about that, and I think all those things build together to help me relate to the children and them to relate to me. That overcomes those differences for them.
A good teacher will encourage us to do our best. Come into the classroom in the morning with a happy face and um, doing lots of fun stuff with us.
Nola Dougall
You can have students in the high decile school that don't get on with a teacher but they learn regardless. Our girls, if they felt that they didn't get on with a teacher the relationship wasn't right, then they won't learn, they will switch off. So it's really important that the relationships between teacher and student, between parent and family, that we work hard on maintaining good really good relationships.
I feel that the teachers at our school are usually compassionate. They do care for us because they do want us to achieve otherwise they wouldn't be here. 
They are the type of teachers that when you leave you are going to come back and see them because they are just like amazing. 
Patrick Drum
Extremely important in any school and particularly in this school to make academic learning the priority, but it doesn't happen in isolation, so we work very hard in forming strong relationships outside the classroom. So staff are encouraged to be involved in the coaching of sport, and the cultural life of the school. The music is very, very strong here, and all the skills in those areas, the assumption is that they are the same sort of skills that can be transferred back into the classroom. We encourage staff to build those relationships first and foremost, and then that makes the learning process a lot more satisfactory and possible really.
I have a favourite teacher and he's funny, and there's a bond like it's not just a teacher student, and when I'm wrong he doesn't go oh, it's all right, and he'll know where everything is wrong and he will correct me. Very supportive and it's easy to talk to him.
I have a fairer teacher here as well, he is funny, and he's not all just reading out to the class, he's like out there. Gets us involved, and he also makes us like education, instead of being bored in class. Like a teacher just sitting at the desk doing nothing. He's always moving around, checking on us if we're doing the right work.
I think a good teacher should have....should be supportive, someone who can acknowledge and recognise that you know that you have problems, and they should tend to those problems. But most importantly for me is the support and just to be there for the students.-