Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

You are here:

Engaging with Pasifika parents, families, and communities: Media gallery

This video collection considers the diversity of our Pasifika students' groups and their communities.

Diversity and identity

Key content

Our communities and schools are becoming increasingly diverse – one particular trend is the significant increase in the Pasifika student population. Did you know 60% of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand were born in New Zealand? 
Statistics New Zealand provides population information on Pasifika peoples. The Ministry publication "Pasifika peoples in New Zealand Education: A Statistical Snapshot 2004" listed in the references also provides educational statistics for Pasifika peoples.

To order the Connections & Conversations booklet and DVD, item number 11061,
 email: orders@thechair.minedu.govt.nz or phone 0800 226 440.

Things to think about

  • We saw Pasifika students talking about themselves. What do you know about your Pasifika students? What questions would you ask about the backgrounds and origins of your Pasifika students? 
  • What do you know about your Pasifika communities? What are your sources of information? How could you find out more? 
  • What generalisations do you commonly hear about Pasifika students and parents?I have like finally understood why my parents have come, like migrated to New Zealand. Like a better future for their off spring. And hopefully to live their dream to see that their child is a success.


We have been here for about six years now, we just came here in New Zealand two thousand. And the main purpose why we are here for is for my children, especially for my children for better education and better future.
 I'd like to see my children grow as people who are strong, and standing up for their own rights, and doing the right thing. Living a life that is fulfilling for them, but also helps other people, it's not just about them.
 There is absolutely no reason why our Pasifika kids can't do as well as anyone else.

  • When I leave school I want to go to Auckland University.
  • I am planning on studying seven years in medicine.

  • I'm really looking forward to getting into carpentry to be a builder.

  • I want to go to university, and get a degree in law.

  • I really want to be a courier driver, cause I love meeting people.
  • And I enjoy driving.
I'm thinking of doing engineering.

  • When I grow up I want to be an author.
A special effects make up artist.
When I leave school I'm not sure what I want to do.
Pacific Island students, they are like, something different. Like they are unique. Yeah. Like the extra spice to the school.

Voices and Identities

A lot of Pacific Island people have different faces, and like they have a face for outside their lives, and at home, church and all that yeah.
Everyday thousands of children of Pasifika descent make their way to school in New Zealand. Pasifika peoples are from the major island groups such as Sāmoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, as well as smaller groups such as Niue, Tokelau.

Students may be New Zealand born, second or third generation, or recently arrived from the Islands. There are many commonalities between the nations of the Pacific yet at the same time Pasifika peoples are very diverse. There are many differences between protocols, traditions, generations, languages, life styles, and identities. In education it's important to understand and appreciate the unique individuality of Pasifika students. This may be assisted by getting to know students better as individuals.

Carol Jarett – Deputy Principal

What's a Pasifika student? What's a Tongan or a Samoan in a New Zealand school at the moment, we could be talking about someone who is third generation, their family has been in Auckland since the 1950s. We could be talking about someone who has just turned up from Apia in the last six months. We could be talking about someone who has parents who have different ethnic origins.
We could be talking about someone who is a very traditional church going family, we could be talking about someone, a family who has given it away. Pasifika people are just as complex as any other race. Perhaps one of the difficulties is being pigeon holed, and trying to put these people into a group and saying, hah, you're a Tongan, so this is the way you are going to be treated. Instead of saying well who are you.

Martin – Year 13

I am Samoan, Cook Island Chinese, yeah. My parents, my father is from Sāmoa, and my mother is from Cook Island.
Alexandra Year 8
Well my mother she is Maori and my dad is from the Cook Islands, yeah. And well my grandparents, they are ministers, very religious. And they are Presbyterian. My little brother he is named after one our ancestors who was a chief, so my brother's unfortunately a chief (laughs). And well my little sister, she is named after my Grandmother.

Kalolo – Year 6

My friends are Pacific Islanders, all around the Pacific. Tongan, some of them are....most of them are Samoans.

As with any group Pacific students bring with them unique skills and talents, interests, experiences and prior knowledge. Schools need to engage with these for effective teaching and learning. Getting to know what these individual skills and talents are is important for teachers.

Filiva'a – Year 11

I am really passionate about my music. When I play soft I think about the sad moments. And then when I play hard and rough and all that, I like to think about what I've achieved in the past and all my good work I've done. What I want to be when I grow up is, I want to be the first Pacific Islander to play a solo with an orchestra.

Alexandra – Year 8

Everyone thinks we are naturals at sport but that doesn't go for all of us. And our English, our English might not be as good as Palagi students here, because we speak our own language at home. So that's one thing that is pretty hard for us.

In a general sense, the media highlights certain images of Pasifika people. These images can work to the advantage or disadvantage of certain students. It's important for teachers to be aware of assumptions and stereotypes they may have of students, so that their expectations are not limited to these images.

Glen – Year 13

Some of the stereotypes are like....like Pacific Island people working in the factories. Like all us we are always promoted as sports stars, like we are never seen as academic people. And that the problems like I think Pacific Islanders, some Pacific Islanders, or most see this. Like this is what we are supposed to do like, be sports players, or we are supposed to work in factories.

Diane Mara – Pacific Researcher

First of all teacher expectations will probably need to be widened in terms of, as I say getting to know whether the children's parents are NZ born, or are they born in the islands. Getting to know the children and also letting them show you what they are really good at.

Eugenie Hiliate – Economic and Business Studies Teacher

But now I think a lot of students here already walk into the classroom with that at the back of their minds. That stereotype has been engraved in some way. And so therefore they feel, do I need to live up to that reputation? Do I need to become that person? And is that the expectation?

Diane Mara – Pacific Researcher

I mean we do have that stereotype that you know all children, Pacific children can sing and play guitar and dance and all that sort of thing. A lot of them can, not all of them. But I think that's like, okay that is a skill they have, but you have to build on that in terms of their literacy and numeracy and things like that. So teachers have to be creative about that. They are going to be in the pōwhiri and in the welcoming parties, and they are going to do the ceremonials, but when you find out later that they are still struggling with their mathematics, I would have to ask teachers professionally what are you doing about that.
At home some families use a language other than English, and some families may use a mixture of English and Pasifika languages. Or they may use only English. Consequently our students come to school with a range of language abilities and fluencies. One of the challenges that this presents us as teachers is how do we factor this into our teaching? Do we see the Pasifika languages that some of our students bring as a barrier to their learning? Or is it seen as an asset? How can we find out more about the language characteristics of our students? And how might language impact student identity?

Michael – Year 12

The language I use at home is Samoan, but other than that when my cousins come over, it completely changes, it's back to English.

Pese Pau – Parent

Before my older one came to McCauley she getting ashamed to come here because of the language. How can she meet the other...you know the other students in here. How can she face the teacher. Then I said to her all right I encourage her to come, just listen.
Josie Year 13
Yeah I do speak Samoan fluently at home. That is only because my grandparents have been you know bragging, you know when I die if you are the only one with me then you know you need to learn Samoan, you need to understand what I'm saying.

Carol Jarett – Deputy Principal

We should celebrate people that are bilingual, and I love the expression on a kid's face when they announce that, you know, Tongan is my first language.
I mainly speak English but I like to learn more about Cook Island and my Tahitian language. I reckon it would be really good to try to be able to speak it fluently.

Gabriellesisifo Makisi – Assistant HOD Social Sciences

The Pacific students I've taught fall into two groups. So there is New Zealand born and there is Island born. What I think you will find is that obviously the kids that are born in New Zealand have some level of Samoan or Tongan. But on the whole it's more that they understand, but they don't have much confidence in communicating.

Different worlds, different experiences

Key content

Many students from the Pacific transition between different worlds. For some, handling the roles and responsibilities of home and the expectations of society, school, church, sports or social groups is a daily challenge. 

Many students learn to navigate confidently between the expectations of these worlds, yet at times these varied expectations can place additional pressure on students and they may find some transitions very difficult. For some students, realistic goals and priorities may need to be developed, so that students can manage the demands of both everyday life and the schooling system.

To order the Connections & Conversations booklet and DVD, item number 11061,
 email:  orders@thechair.minedu.govt.nz or phone 0800 226 440.

Things to think about

  • Do you know what kinds of activities and commitments your Pasifika students are involved in at home and in their communities, across their different worlds?
  • What do you think are the skills and strengths that your Pasifika students may develop as a result of living in these worlds and managing the transitions that they must make? How does this compare with other students in your classroom? 
  • Where and at what points can the curriculum you teach be linked to the life experiences, prior knowledge and world views of your students? How can the learning be made more relevant? 
  • How will you start (or continue) to do this? How could this be reflected in your planning? Different Worlds Different Experiences


Many students from the Pacific transition between different worlds. For some handling the roles and responsibilities of homes and the expectations of society, school, church, sports, or social groups are a daily challenge.

Favalu Peni – Nurse
In the Island where I grew up and went to school there, the teacher is in charge. When we go to school, the teachers are in charge, so therefore they keep us in line. If we go to church the minister and the priest and whoever is there is in charge, they keep us in line. When we come home our parents in charge. So that is no longer working here. You see in the Island the whole village sort of look after you. You know if you get out of line in there, one of anybody in the village will come and tell you off or growl you. Over here I don't see that happening.
Many students learn to navigate confidently between the expectations of these worlds, yet at times these varied expectations can place additional pressure on students, and they may find some transitions very difficult. For some students realistic goals and priorities may need to be developed so that students can manage the demands of everyday life and the schooling system.

Tapu Misa – BOT Member
At home you have quite a different experience of the world, you are supposed to behave in a different way, you are not supposed to challenge too much. You become this...this whole other person at church. And at school you are expected to be someone else again. You are expected to open your mouth and talk and give your opinions, which is completely opposite to the world that you have at church, and at home. It's a double whammy for Pacific Island kids, and I think quite a lot of them are carrying quite a burden.

Brenda Siaosi – Law Student
Well from my experience it’s harder to be a Pacific Island girl than it is being a Pacific Island boy going through the schooling system. Cause we are also expected in general to do all the things at home as well as here, as well as church. I used to be in a Sunday school doing the plays, and the church culture group, playing in the church sports teams in the summer. And often the choir practices and things like that would be in the evening you know during the week days, and you've got your homework. So these days I've cut a bit of that, you know actually I've cut a lot of it back.

Lauraybe Goundar – Assistant Principal: Human Resources
Sometimes these worlds clash and we have got.... their worlds have different expectations and for them to move in and out of these worlds sometimes is very confusing.

Phillipa Mulqueen – Dean Year 11
At school the adults are less likely to be bumping into your parents, and so it’s a safer place to let go a bit and not hold it all together.

Pravda Webb – Teacher New Entrants
I think the challenges are related to making their way here in this world, as well as retaining the things that are of value, and of importance to them from their own culture. And sometimes that can be a challenge. 
For many but not all in the Pasifika community, church plays an important role. The church creates a place of community. This may offer support not only for spiritual beliefs but also for sustaining moral and cultural values, traditional practices, first language use, and a sense of Pacific identity. The experience of church is one that many Pasifika students share. At the same time students will attend a variety of churches, both traditional or contemporary, or in fact may not attend at all. Where the church plays a less significant role a sense of community may be gained through participation in cultural or community groups.
Their world at home and their world at church is more demanding compared to other teenagers in their age group. 

Haize – Year 6
When I stay with my nana I go to church in Sundays, but when I'm with my dad, sometimes we go, sometimes we don't.

Jocelyn – Year 6

Every Sundays we have Sunday School at nine o'clock and then we have church which finishes at one o'clock.

Keni Lesatelu – Youth Worker

Well I think for me personally to ask a child which church they go to, it normally puts a picture in my mind of what sort of background this young person comes from. Once you find out where he comes from, it sort of gives you an idea of the bigger picture of where that young person is.

Rev Nove Vaila'au – Minister

As Pacific Island people coming to New Zealand you really can't form villages. So what you form are their own churches. I think it is very very important that education can be part of that ministry as well. One of the realities that the church has to take into consideration is the fact that that their focus of ministry are for the people. And the people in their totality. Not just the spirituality of the people.

Josephine Tiro – Senior Policy Analyst

I think there is a mistaken assumption or mistaken belief that all Pacific children go to church. We have to be careful that we don't stereotype all Pacific kids. They all come with quite different richness and different understandings. 
Teachers can build programmes round student experiences that will maintain their interests and engagement, and give them an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. From that basis academic success can follow.

Relevancy and expectations

Key content

Research over many years has shown how expectations held by teachers about their students are highly influential in terms of student achievement. Some Pasifika students on the DVD describe their experiences and how they believe some teachers see them as less competent learners.
At the same time, some Pasifika parents may want their children to become doctors, lawyers and to pursue particular professional careers. School is expected to be the launching pad for these expectations to be fulfilled.
Pasifika students may find themselves pulled between these sometimes contradictory sets of expectations. Schools and teachers need to consider how best to set up opportunities for conversations to take place between all those concerned (teachers, parents and students) in supporting Pasifika students to increase their learning in all curriculum areas.

To order the Connections & Conversations booklet and DVD, item number 11061,
 email:  orders@thechair.minedu.govt.nz or phone 0800 226 440.

Things to think about

Expectations are usually based on a set of perspectives or assumptions we as teachers may make about learners, their backgrounds, and their capabilities. Examine some of the current views you hold about your Pasifika students.
Which views do you think will assist you to create a safe and inclusive classroom? Which assumptions may hinder your ability to do that?
Reflect on your current views and expectations of the students in your classroom. Are these views and expectations effectively supporting the teaching and learning?


The rich and meaningful experiences of students can be drawn on for teaching and learning, providing proactive teachers with a rich resource within the classroom.
For a lot of my colleagues for example the Poly Club is seen as you know something extra curricular, singing and dancing, that's it, finished, good show. Whereas for me and the boys that I teach and their parents, Poly Clubs are a structure, a school structure that I can use. It's about obedience, tautua service, alofa, loyalty, respect, and you know just discipline. I wanted Poly Club and all those hours to mean something. So number one that the boys would walk away with some achievement standard. So what I did was I read through with another Samoan teacher, we looked through the dance curriculum and then we sat with that dance curriculum and wrote an assessment.

Lisa-Jane Rogers – Ministry of Education
I'd like to encourage teachers to view their students experiences Pacific students, all students experiences as a really vital ingredient in the whole learning process, and in the whole teaching process. I think students have really varied experiences. 
Some schools focus in on broadening opportunities for students to gain additional learning experiences outside the classroom and local community. This is essential for all students since what schools and teachers provide young people today can prepare them for the future.

Tone Kolose – Principal
We have had a group that has gone to Dunedin and stayed at Mt Cook. And it's about saying, hey look there is life outside. And hopefully the experiences they get, they can decide what their path's going to be when they go onto further education.
Research has highlighted the importance of teacher expectations on student achievement. Low expectations are seen to produce lower levels of attainment. Research also shows that high but realistic expectations influence higher levels of achievement but need to be supported by quality teaching.

Faamatuainu Tino Pereira
That is a critical observation, a critical finding. Now my question is how many teachers know that. How many teachers are prepared to acknowledge that at the end of the day it is their attitude, it is their performance, it is their response, to those particular kids that will ultimately determine how they learn.

Lise Valla'au – University Student
What I noticed when I first started school was when I got there it was Pacific Island students were already seen as a dead end. So it doesn't help the child going into an environment like that, knowing that okay, my teachers are teaching me, but they don't really care about whether I achieve this or not.

Josie – Year 13
Well I feel sometimes that a lot of people look down at us, and like they don't....they don't think that we are good enough.
For some students the expectation of parents and the community can be very high. But if these are unrealistic they can create real challenges for students in terms of being able to meet those expectations.

Diane Mara – Pacific Researcher
I think that Pacific parents have very high expectations for their children. Sometimes they are unrealistic and I think that's the time when they need to be talking to the teachers. I think also Pacific parents want teachers to be honest and straightforward. I think a lot of Pacific parents have only been called up to school when their children are in trouble. And I think that as teachers we need to be thinking about celebrating the things that children do well, and inviting their parents into be involved in that success.
Quality teaching involves teachers ensuring their classrooms are safe for all students, are inclusive, and where risk taking and learning is encouraged and valued. Teachers may also need to develop a range of strategies for developing students critical and analytical thinking. Through the use of higher order questioning, cooperative group work, and the use of wait time for student responses. They may also need to focus on explicit teaching of academic language, particularly for bilingual students who may be processing information using two different languages.

Involvement and engagement

Key content

Many schools already involve Pacific parents in fundraising and supporting cultural performance groups, and invite them to take part in other Pacific cultural events.This type of involvement is a good foundation upon which to build an even deeper level of involvement, that is, engagement where parents and schools work together in collaboration to support their Pasifika students’ learning and achievement. 
Pasifika parents may be hesitant and uncertain about how they can become more engaged with their child’s or young person’s learning. In such cases, schools will need to be creative and proactive in developing their engagement with Pasifika parents and communities.

To order the Connections & Conversations booklet and DVD, item number 11061,
 email:  orders@thechair.minedu.govt.nz or phone 0800 226 440.

Things to think about

If your school has significant involvement with Pasifika parents, list the reasons why this is the case. 
How could you build upon these relationships to more fully engage your Pasifika parents in ways that support teaching and learning outcomes for students? 
If your school does not have significant engagement with Pasifika parents, list the reasons why you think this is the case.What could be the next steps for increasing engagement?


Involvement and engagement of schools with parents and communities can have reciprocal benefits. There are many ways in which parents might be involved in school, or their children learning. But for various reasons this can also be difficult. The pressures of work, community commitments, and church or family responsibilities can have an impact. Sometimes parents' own experiences at school can be a disincentive to participation. This is where schools need to be creative and flexible in the ways and means by which they engage parents and communities, so that student learning can be supported.

Favalu Peni – Nurse
Most of Pacific Island parents love sports, and there is always a lot of support from parents when they have rugby. And I always wish that that support that goes on the field should be in the classroom too. 

Paul Murphy – Principal
We still have big engagement in cultural and sporting activities. Where parents feel that they are coming from strength. You have no problem if you are running a big cultural festival, you have more than enough parents prepared to help. And that is because they come as the experts so they feel comfortable. So it's a perfectly natural reaction.

Lise Vaila'au – University Student
My parents have always been supportive of what we have done. And I'm not just saying that cause dad is sitting here. They've been supportive ever since we were young. It's not about what makes them happy, but what makes us happy and makes our future more promising. 

Fatu Fuatavai – Company Director
My dad was retired and he used to come out every pension day to shout me lunch. Those sorts of things keep you going, yeah, you knew they didn't have much money but they were trying their best for you, and their payback was for you to do well.

Taani – Year 13
My mum is a single parent so she has been looking after me since I was born, yeah. So she is pretty strict on my school work. She always makes sure that I do at least three hours homework every night. If training gets in the way she makes me stay up and wake up every morning at six for bible study.

Filiva'a – Year 11
They don't really do anything, they just come to the meetings, and yeah, and then they just listen, see what is going on, and then they will start encouraging me. I think what they are doing right now is probably the best, cause if they come too much into school and then they will probably ruin it.

Phillipa Mulqueen – Dean Year 11
Language is often an issue because a lot of parents weren't educated in New Zealand. I have learnt other languages myself and lived in a place where I fumbled in another language, and didn't feel like a competent adult.

Fana To'omaga – Parent
It's quite hard to encourage some of the Pacific parents from the teachers' point of view because they do see teachers as the law. You know they know what is right, they know what to do, so we'll leave it to them. How do you break that down, well I think...I think talking, communication, one on one. 
Getting parents involved with the school and establishing positive relationships is the first step. The next step however is to find ways where teachers and parents can engage in mutual learning conversations that will in turn will increase achievement for Pasifika students.

Carol Jarett – Deputy Princpal
I think we need to know about all our students as learners. It's nice to know a little bit about them personally. But our business with them is as a learner. Pasifika parents like all parents are an equal part of the equation. I love parent teacher interviews. When a parent comes I learn as much as I impart. You find out the other side of the story, and when you understand your student, or the child you're teaching then you do a better job.

Nua Silipa – Pacific Education Coordinator
That relationship needs to be absolutely focused on learning, that means going beyond the superficial, supporting, fund raising, sausage sizzle, that sort of thing, it's absolutely about the students progress. It's about getting good information from the school, so that the teacher knows their role, the parents know their role, and they are working together. The difference between involvement and engagement is the deeper level relationship. Involvement is that superficial but still important, but engagement is where you really get the involvement and understanding support of the parents with the teachers. And that just adds that richness. And you just will have that young person growing and being nurtured in the relationship between one or the other.

Brother Steve Hogan – Principal
The great thing was to hear what the parents said were their needs, and across the three groups they said they didn't know what to do. They wanted to help but didn't know what to do. That was a common element. Yes they thanked us for inviting them. Yes we have thought about this, but we haven't been helping our son because we just don't know what to do.

Diane Mara – Pacific Researcher
Pacific parents want see action not words. I think that words are good, policies are good written on bits of paper, but unless you actually walk the talk, if you actually demonstrate what you mean, and that is what I mean about teachers finding ways in which to incorporate parents. Parents have to see that the teachers are serious about it in terms of you know, I really do want to know about your background, I do really want to know about how things operate at home.
I think primary school is a good model. In primary schools parents walk in and out of classrooms, they come and see what their children are doing, they come and celebrate with the children and it's fine. But yeah I mean teenagers don't want their parents to be around them all the time. I mean that is any teenager. But if we.....they still like their parents to be here, like I mean they adore their parents when they come for a rugby practice, or cultural practices. And if we educate our students by saying well its the same thing, them coming into your classroom, and celebrating with you, Mum is here just to see, I think will go a long way. I think teachers need to be educated to in accepting parents to come in, be more friendly, and trying to relate to them in a way that they can understand.

Diane Mara – Pacific Researcher
Our Pacific parents are getting involved at the oanga mata level and that's I think flowing through into primary and intermediate school, where I think parents are growing more confident in terms of approaching the school, finding out what is happening. And I also think that with the New Zealand born parents, they are also probably know a little bit more about the system and probably are more prepared to find out what is happening. So I mean all parents want the best for their children, not just Pacific parents. But I think for Pacific parents they have had to overcome some of the shyness, and some of the lack of confidence in English perhaps. But I think that is actually changing, and I think teachers need to know that is changing. Nearly one in five students in New Zealand will be of Pacific Island descent by 2015. And by then our current student population will be a major earner and parent group in New Zealand. What is going to make a difference for them. How can we do things differently so they are all achieving to the best of their ability. What investment can we make in the future our our communities?

Diane Mara – Pacific Researcher
Well first of all I've talked about the challenge for Pacific Students is actually from the adults that are responsible for them, the teachers and the parents as well. In terms of listening to students, in terms of you know helping them through the stages of what they need to do in terms of their identity, and their self esteem and their learning and stuff. But I think the next steps down the road really are addressing underachievement of Pacific Students. So we can have the fia fia days, we can have the umu's and we can have the parents engaged. 
But until we can actually show or demonstrate how that has a pay off for our Pasifika students you can still perhaps think well what good is this doing. Schools should be focused on giving the children the skills that they will need for employment and for living in our world. And particularly when they actually focus on reading, or writing or maths. Cause that is what schools are about.

Brother Steve Hogan – Principal
They are the next generation. Our task is to find new strategies to raise achievement. To develop citizenship so these young people can take a rightful place in New Zealand's society.

Fa'amatuaini Tino Pereira – Parent
So I think there are two ways - one we need to be proactive, but teachers need to engage parents to demonstrate to them how can they become proactive. How can they become part of the child's learning, without compromising other aspects of child rearing.

Mary Tafale – Parent
You fellows go to school here, you lucky. You have the opportunity, the doors are there for you to read, to write, to travel, to trips, to things that I never went. I never went to a zoo. Back home probably only the pigs, and the chickens, that I feed, and the goat. But here giraffe, you know how would a child....see a monkey, we only see them in pictures or movies. But here they have the opportunity. And I encourage my kids to grab those opportunities, because education is really important.

Theresa – Year 10
Being a Pacific student in NZ school I'm really proud, really proud of my background. It's a great opportunity to share my background with those who aren't aware of it.

Fatima – Year 12
We need teachers to help us feel comfortable about being ourselves, and being proud of being a Pacific Islander. And if we don't have that pride we won't have that belief in ourselves.

Fa'amatuaini Tino Pereira – Parent
At the end of the day Pacific people came to this land with a dream. And the primary dream was to get better education for their kids.

Parents matter

Key content

When partnerships between schools and parents are directly focused on student learning, the links to learning outcomes are much stronger. Parental and family involvement in Pasifika students’ learning is crucial to improving their outcomes. Research indicates that home-school partnerships are dependent upon the actions of educators, their ability to avoid deficit or stereotypical characterisations of parents and caregivers and their willingness to initiate links, respond to and recognise strengths within the diverse families of their Pasifika students. Schools need to take the lead in making parents feel welcome and find ways to encourage, scaffold and enable teacher-student-parent dialogue around school learning.

“Research evidence shows that particularly strong and sustained gains in student achievement have been made when schools and families develop partnerships to support students' achievement at school... However, as is also apparent in the available New Zealand research, unless the focus on student learning is central to the partnership, positive impacts on student achievement are smaller or do not occur.”  Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis, pages 38–39

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

  • What kind of relationship do you have with the parents of your Pasifika students? What kind of relationship do you want? Why is this important? Are there steps you need to take to make this happen?
  • How does your school respect and celebrate the notion of partnership with Pasifika parents, students and teachers working positively together to support academic learning more successfully?
  • Would you describe your school as a welcoming and supportive environment for Pasifika parents? How can you tell? Is there anything your school could do to make it more welcoming?
  • To what extent do your Pasifika parents care about their children’s learning and achievement? On what evidence do you base your response? Do you think you need to find out more?
  • How do you involve the parents of your Pasifika students in their learning? How effective is their involvement? Could you make it more effective? How?


Melanie – student

Sometime our parents ask questions about what we need to work on, and how they can help us achieve our goals.

Jan Bills

Pasifika parents in particular have very strong pathways for their children. They want their children to succeed in life. They want their children to be a generation that does more, better, greater. I think sometimes they don't know quite how that works in a different culture. I think that it’s the role of the teacher to help them to understand how their child can make progress to get there.

Shyamala Papa

In the mornings you find little ones, who know showing parents, this is what I do; come and have a look here. You know showing them stuff on the wall. I think definitely it helps them to take ownership of their learning. And they are definitely more enthusiastic.

Jacinta – student

Parents and caregivers are really involved in what we’re doing at school.

Esther – student

Parental advice is really important to us.

Tom Brown 

Pasifika students relate to their parents, their parents are the head of the household. Unless we are talking to the parents then we only have a minor impact on the students. We need the parents on board, we need to talk to the parents, we need to develop the programmes of the parents. More importantly we need to let parents know what’s going on inside the school. Once the parents know that, then they can help us with the students. Until the parents are fully aware of what is happening in schools then they tend to leave it to the school and that’s not enough. We need to develop the role far far more than we currently have done.

Jacinta – student

We have a lot of meetings and a lot of family events so they come along and just see how we’re going and one on ones with the teachers.

Anne Miles 

This is my 7th year. When I first came here I called a parent meeting and two parents came. And so what happened was that I got a teacher who was doing her masters, and for her thesis she took on the project of investigating how parents would feel comfortable to come into school. They like to be welcomed, they like the formality of invitations. They like to being able to sit in groups – which is comfortable. You didn't feel, you had to sit in the back row when you were sitting on a circular table. They like the fact that when they did come there were some refreshments, because some of them had come straight from work or were on their way to work. They like the fact that there were translations available if they needed translations of written material or translators if they needed translators. And they enjoyed the fact that they were treated with respect.

Ana Manu

The most important thing is welcoming them, even learning the simple hello greeting in that language or even asking if they’re pronouncing the kid's name properly. Little things like that can go a long way in getting that relationship.

Anne Miles

We also use some of the parents to talk, so we’ll get a parent to talk about how she learnt that she had to make time for homework, that she had to make sure her daughter was at school, that you can’t use the cheaper airfare time to go to Tonga for a holiday just because during school time the fares were cheaper. You know so it was little practical things that parents could convey and that students could convey backed up with the support of the teachers.

Inna – student

When Mum is involved I feel like she, what do you call it, supports me. That she cares, and that she’s interested in what I’m doing. And for me that means alot. Like even if it’s just coming, turning up to parent interviews, coming to watch my games if I’m playing in a sports team, I really admire if my mum has the time to come watch her own daughter like perform or do something good or even come to prizegiving. That’s my favourite part. And they give all the olas, and the lollies.

Welcoming parents

Key content

Most Pasifika parents want their children to succeed educationally and are prepared to help in any way they can. Many want their children to have a better chance than they themselves had.
When their children reach secondary school level, many Pasifika parents need additional guidance on how best to help their child at home and how to access information or services to support them in that task.
Limited facility in English should not be an obstacle. In school-family-community collaboration, the use of liaison people of the same ethnicity to assist seems especially important as it allows the partnerships to be built on shared cultural understandings. The time together is well spent if the school takes steps to make Pasifika parents and families feel welcome and supported and the focus is on their children’s achievement with practical suggestions for how they can also contribute.
“There is clear evidence that programmes... depend for their success on families being treated with dignity and respect, on the programmes adding to family practices (not undermining them), on structured, specific suggestions rather than general advice, and on supportive group opportunities as well as opportunities for one-to-one contact…”
 The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children’s Achievement in New Zealand: Best Evidence Synthesis, page vi.
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

  • What strategies does your school use to make the school a welcoming environment for the parents and families of your Pasifika students? How effective are they? What could you improve and why?
  • What advice does your school give to Pasifika parents? How effective is it? How do you know?
  • Do you provide your Pasifika parents with additional educational resources so that they can help their children with their learning at home? If so, what are they, and how effectively are they being used? How do you know?
  • What practices have you used in your teaching as a result of discussions you have had with parents and families of your Pasifika students, and what have you learned from them? How effective have they been?


Margaret – student

What makes my parents feel welcomed at this school, the teachers invite them at every event that we have. They’re welcomed to every student lead conference that we have every year, so that’s made them feel welcomed to the school and not left out.

Glen Ryan

We found our older parents have a negative connotation of schools; you’re the teacher you teach. We pick him up at three, you do your job we do ours at home. That was it. So we're trying to break the barrier down and get them into the school to make them feel welcome here. Especially if they’ve had a negative impact on their own schooling. This is a nice place, it's a safe place, they can come and talk to us. So we’re doing lots of inviting in for events, celebrations, showing the culture too, so having cultural dance festivals, having food. Having a place where their children can play while they want to talk to us, so all those things. Having someone at the office who can speak the language.

Ariana Williams

What we’re doing, working with parents with times that suit them, where it suits them, it’s easier for parents, so they’re more willing to come. And they do care, and we are talking to other teachers and things, and they’re talking about, you know I'm not sure this parent really wants to come, and yet with what I'm doing I've had like 100% attendance by parents, which just shows that they care.

Barbara Alaalatoa

Our parents are really busy and you know they are working, they've got families, they've got all sorts of other commitments. So when we want to talk to them we've got to talk to them about the grunty stuff, the stuff that makes a difference. And we know that the stuff that makes a difference is their children's data, the real information. We know it's rich information, that's often been the domain of the school and now it's time to share it in all its glory.

Learning conversations


Key content

Where Pasifika students are part of the conversation about their learning and achievements, they gain deeper understanding of their own specific learning needs and challenges. Approaches such as "learning conversations" foster Pasifika students' abilities to define their own learning goals, ask questions, anticipate the structure of curriculum experiences, use meta-cognitive strategies when engaging with curriculum and self-monitor. When Pasifika parents are included in the conversation, they gain knowledge about their child’s learning in language that they can understand.

Pasifika parents who extend their range of strategies to help their children learn and do well in school are also empowered to support their preschool children as well. Those parents, family and community members who volunteer to help at school also increase their ability to influence their children's educational outcomes. 

“Students learn as they engage in shared activities and conversations with other people, including family members and people in the wider community. Teachers encourage this process by cultivating the class as a learning community. In such a community, everyone, including the teacher, is a learner; learning conversations and learning partnerships are encouraged; and challenge, support and feedback are always available. As they engage in reflective discourse with others, students build the language that they need to take their learning further.” 
The New Zealand Curriculum, page 34.

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

  • What is your understanding of good teaching for Pasifika students? How is that different from your understanding of good teaching for other students? On what do you base these understandings? And how do you share these?
  • How do you go about establishing common ways to think about the nature of high-quality teaching for Pasifika students?
  • To what extent do teachers in your school have a deliberate and collective focus on reviewing their teaching approaches in relation to Pasifika student achievement patterns? Could this focus be strengthened? In what ways? What would happen as a result?
  • Do the conversations you have with other teachers about the achievement of Pasifika students in your school provide you with a professional learning opportunity? If not, how could they be improved?
  • Is there any particular teaching style or technique you use that works particularly well for Pasifika students in the classroom? Who do you share this information with? If you do not share these things, why not?


Judy Hanna

What I believe is that by involving the parents with their children, is the way to get the parents involved in the children’s learning by making their children part of the conversation. And today was a good example. We invited the parents to come and have lunch with their children at school, and we had a wonderful turnout.

Jan Bills

It's about making friends; it's about feeling comfortable with each other. It's about making cross connections, it's about knowing what each person is capable of doing before asking them if they can help you in some way. And it's about building the relationship. The luncheon was fun and I think it involved the kids and the parents, and everybody had a great time, and they’re keen to do it again, so it's about building on that. I think the fun thing is really important actually. It’s important for the kids and for the parents to enjoy themselves. It can get serious sometimes, and it's not supposed to be serious.

Merita Amani-Heisifa

We do student lead conferences, where the students report back their learning of the term so that's another way we get our parents involved in their learning. Like next week year 5 to 8 will be celebrating their topic with the parents. So we invite them to come in, have a look at what their children have been learning. We have some wonderful Pasifika parents, who are very supportive of their children, but we would like more.

Melanie – student
We come in and the teacher tells our parents what we've been doing and sometimes the kids talk about it. And tell our parents like how we’re doing in our learning. And sometimes our parents ask questions about what we need to work on and how they can help us achieve our goals.

Ana Manu

Sometimes teachers don't realise when they are talking to a parent that the language that they use are everyday teacher language. But most parents don't know what that means, and especially Pasifika, they’re really shy to ask what does that mean without having to look really silly, so sometimes just saying simple things, um, makes a lot of sense to the parents.

Jan Bills

I think what the parent interview do is it helps Pasifika parents to understand the kind of learning that their children do at school. It also gives them the power to understand the sort of language that schools use, and so when they’re having a conversation with the children it helps them to know what to ask their children.

Actuality – Student led conference: Marcel

It helps for all three people to be speaking that same language. I think too in the parent interview when the child is there it focuses the interview on the child. Not on the parent's needs, not on the teacher's needs, because sometimes they can have their own particular needs. But actually on the needs of the child, and the child keeps it as a focus, it's the centre.

Actuality – Student led conference: Marcel

Marcel – student
The parents get to know your teacher and see if your child’s doing all right and see what they need to improve on, see what they’re good at at the school.

Glen Ryan

What we‘ve done this term is we've invited the new children to come into the school, the parents to come in and the child has invited them, so it makes it easier for the parent to come, cause you can't turn your five year old down, you've got to come. Together with the DP the five-year old will present their learning and what they are up to. At the same time we are also finding out the siblings, and getting the relationship with them, making them feel at ease and then offering them what we can help them with. Having little workshops that they can come to with other parents around reading, writing, whatever they'd like to know about, we’re hoping that will go back into the family and support the 2 year old, the 3-year-old who’s coming through. So we are going to work through our new children to help out the ones that are coming through. We'll see how it goes.

Malia – student

We like give invitations to them and the students families, to come and support their children, so they won’t feel left out. And they get involved in the students learning as well.

Jacqueline Yates

I think one of the successes in my class is the parents and the communication I have with them. Because I know when those kids go home, if the parents are on the same track as me, we’re going to get those kids moving. And they do. I know the kids that are working at home they come back and I see movement. I see movement over the holidays, I see movement from the weekend and then I can grab that and I can move them at school. And they’ve got every chance of success. And the parents I tell them they’re welcome to come into my class anytime and they do.

Actuality – parents working with kids in Jacqueline’s classroom

Then I’ve got the parents that come in and help, I sit them at a table with a little group of kids and what I like about that is that they’re learning as well. I’ll be doing an activity with the kids and they’ll say, oh that’s a good idea, oh that’s a good idea, I’m going to do that at home, and then they go and play the game at home that they’ve just seen. So I’m very lucky to have that, have that parent support. And alternatively, they teach me things. They teach me the language; they teach me what goes on at home. Which is very important for me to understand where my kids have come from.

Sylvia Park's parent centre

Key content

Sylvia Park does not assume the answers are readily available. An integral part of the school’s vision is building an effective school-community learning partnership. Sylvia Park puts its philosophy of full parental involvement into practice by providing a separate physical space for parents and families within the school: the Sylvia Park Parents’ Centre. The centre’s leader works proactively with parents. This involves sharing assessment data to inform parents of how their children are achieving and what they need to learn next. It involves consulting with parents about learning programmes and reports on student achievement. Here, Pasifika parents can learn the specific questions they need to ask about their child’s learning and progress. As a result, Pasifika parents increasingly share the responsibility for their child’s learning in Sylvia Park school.

“A key message emerging from the New Zealand and international research is that effective centre/school-home partnerships can strengthen supports for children’s learning in both home and school settings… The benefits can not only enhance the well-being, behaviour and achievement of children and young people but can also persist into adult life and civic participation. Some studies have also demonstrated considerable benefits for the parents and whānau involved in constructive partnerships.”
The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children’s Achievement in New Zealand: Best Evidence Synthesis, page 143

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 you want the parents of your Pasifika students to be more involved with the school? What do you do to encourage this? What responses do you get?
  • Is the idea of a parents’ centre worth considering for your school? How would you go about this in ways that would improve the achievement and well-being of your Pasifika students?
  • What strategies have you shared with the parents and families of your Pasifika students? Have they helped with their learning, both at home and in school? How do you know?
  • Do you think the parents and families of your Pasifika students know the specific questions they need to ask about their child’s progress at school? Would you say that the conversations you have with the parents of your Pasifika students develop these understandings?


Actuality – parents at parent centre

Barbara Alaalatoa

Mutukaroa is a physical space at the school, so it's kind of like what we want to do for our parents, is to say you've got a place here, so it's really important and we've had a big launch and had a big celebration for the opening of it and the sort of the announcement of your place at school which is nice because sometimes when parents come in they sort of tend to stay in the corridors or hang around the classrooms, and it can be really intimidating for parents to go into classrooms and stuff like that so it’s a place at school. 
Ariana works closely with staff to make sure that they are finding out information that she is finding out, and at the same time she needs to be the sort of person our community feels really comfortable with. So you know she is humorous, but she is also very focussed.

Ariana Williams

My job is to get parents in or see them where they want to be seen, at church or at a marae and work with them through their kid's assessment as it comes up. So as soon as they have done their assessment, I ring them up and try to catch up with them straight away.

Barbara Alaalatoa

When you're talking about student achievement data you know people get quite nervous, and I guess one of the things that we found is that often parents, when you ring them, they think, what is the school ringing for and it's that kind of you know some things up. And so when you start talking to them, it's still a bit kind of you know where's this all leading because you're kind of not been used to getting an hour long appointment or 45 minute appointment to talk in depth about your student's learning.

Actuality – Ariana and Ana Manu assessing data

Ariana Williams

So with my job is just to go through the assessments, if anything else comes up I always make sure that that is the teacher's role, and I always say if they have got questions, you know the question now, you can go to that teacher and you can ask it yourself. If you get a good answer that is awesome, if you feel it wasn't adequate you come back or talk about it again, you know its still teacher and parent, I am just the extra helping with the assessment that child went through. I can also provide them help with the right questions that they should ask to get the answers that they want.

Ana Manu 

I like to think that I'm very supportive and very active in supporting my kids, but in my role starting from last year I've learnt quite a lot that I didn't know before. And it's empowered me to ask the questions that I think that all parents should ask, and I find that to be a mission for me to make sure that all Pasifika parents have this power, to know what to ask and get rid of that myth that parents, you know Pasifika parents don't care, because they really do.

Actuality – Ariana and Ana Manu assessing data

Ariana Williams

My hope is that all the parents in this school will know all the assessments from when their child starts to when their child leaves, and they come in and out of this room like it's their own. And that I don't have to play such a big part, it's the parents talking to other parents about the assessments that they’ve done and me just sort of facilitating or hanging around if the parents have any other questions. But my ultimate aim is this is the parents centre, pretty much run by parents, yeah, just so that they can take some ownership of part of the school and make it their own.

 Sharing information

Key content

Pasifika parents are not alone in wanting their children to learn and achieve, and they also have much to contribute. Connections and partnership-building can be initiated by teachers "reaching out" to Pasifika parents. It can result in teachers learning as much from families as families learn from teachers and teachers gaining deeper awareness of Pasifika children’s experiences and competencies.

Such partnerships also increase Pasifika parents’ ability to become more actively involved in supporting their children’s in-school learning. Teachers who take the time to share with Pasifika parents their children’s learning goals and achievement levels and detail the kinds of support that would directly help their learning can increase their impact on Pasifika student outcomes.

“Incorporating school-like activities into family activities, through providing parents with access to both additional pedagogical knowledge and information about finding and using local educational resources, can have dramatic and positive impacts on children’s achievement”. 
The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children’s Achievement in New Zealand: Best Evidence Synthesis, pages v–vi

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

  • What kinds of conversations do you have with Pasifika parents about the learning of the Pasifika students you teach? What are their responses? Would you describe these conversations as one-sided or mutual learning conversations?
  • What information does your school share on a regular basis with its Pasifika parents? What contribution does this information-sharing make to improvements in the achievement of your Pasifika students?
  • What particular strengths do your Pasifika families have in relation to their children’s learning? Do you take advantage of these strengths to help your students progress their learning? Give an example of how you do this.
  • What do you consider to be effective strategies for establishing collaborative partnerships between schools, Pasifika parents and families? How do you know these are effective?


Ana Manu

I have been asking the questions at my school with my kids and I have been given the run around from the teachers, which is quite sad, because all of a sudden I've got this power to ask. And I think the teachers find me quite.... shall I say pain in the butt to ask for my kids' assessments, cause I want to know how they’re going cause I'm tired of being told your daughters are behind, but I couldn't..... they didn't give me the tools to help them at home. We were reading as much as I could possibly fit in and yet they were still behind in their reading until I discovered it’s the comprehension that needed working on, not the reading. So now I'm doing things differently at home and I'm asking the questions at school to the teachers, and I'm hoping the other parents that I come across will do the same. Yeah knowledge is quite powerful.

Tom Brown

In order to get the parents on board we want to move away from the traditional five minute prison visits, parent evening, get much more towards mentoring so that we’re setting targets, setting appropriate targets for the students. But we’re doing it with the parents, so it's a two way interview. The parents are letting us know what is happening at home, we’re letting the parents know what’s happening at school and between the two of us we can come up with worthwhile targets for the students. Once we've got those worthwhile targets between the two of us, then we bring the students in, we talk through the targets with the students, with the parent there as well so that everyone is aware what has got to be achieved and how it's going to be achieved.

Anne Miles

Our biggest challenge was to get parents to understand that they didn't have to be able to do the schoolwork. So you didn’t have to be able to help your daughters with geography or history. But you did have to be able to help them with a quiet place to study, not expecting them to go to church every night, not expecting them to do all the housework during the week. Giving them time for studying. Making sure that they came to school everyday. And so we have information evenings for each of the year levels. And that takes an enormous amount of organisation. So we will send out cards that look like wedding invitations and we’ll invite them to a parent evening and we’ll say for instance do you want to find out how your daughter can gain a scholarship or would you like to find out how NCEA works. And we follow that up with a phone call and then we have an afternoon tea for them and we put them seated at tables, not in rows. And once they’re seated at these tables we have a Tongan student and a Samoan student at each table and a staff member who can translate if anybody needs translation.

Barbara Alaalatoa

Often people say about communities, particularly low decile communities, Pasifika communities, Maori communities that don't share too much with them, it’s too much, it's too overwhelming, they won't get it, and that is just an absolute fallacy. And the thing we have found over and over again, is that a lot of this stuff is just not rocket science. But you need to take the time to be able to explain and share it in a timely way, and in a way that‘s perfect for parents with their children at ages and stages.

Language enhancing the achievement of Pasifika |  Pasifika Education Plan |  Effective teaching for Pasifika students – Strategies for success |  Effective teaching for Pasifika students – Working with students |  Effective teaching for Pasifika students – Stories |  Pasifika and e-Learning |  Pasifika giftedness