Support for kaiako

Support for kaiako

The COVID-19 situation has highlighted that learning can take place anytime, anywhere – not just in the classroom, but at home, online, and outside, and in any blend of these contexts. The continuing impact of COVID-19 through 2020 and 2022 means that schools have to adapt quickly to ākonga learning from home.

If you have ākonga who speak a language other than English at home, encourage them to use this language. It’s OK to talk about an activity in the home language even if the activity is completed in English.

Supporting your ākonga through change

We have heard that many kaiako and whānau are feeling anxious about the behaviour of their ākonga, the loss of learning time and routine changes throughout this time.

You might be worried about loss of learning time at school, different home situations, and support for those preparing for exams. As kaiako, your words, and actions now, will provide reassurance to your ākonga that learning can continue in these uncertain situations and they will get the support they need-whether at home or at school. Clear communication and reassurance provide a sense of safety and certainty in uncertain times.  

Reactions will settle as ākonga begin to feel safe as they become familiar with new routines such as changes to seating plans, perhaps different kaiako and kaiako aides and expectations such as mask wearing and handwashing.

There are some modules on COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing guide — developed by clinical psychologist Julie McCormack and Future Curious Ltd to provide teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand with information and resources that can help them to navigate discussions about COVID-19 with their students and the wider community and support the hauora/wellbeing of their students.

COVID-19 Wellbeing guide MODULE 1: Hauora/Wellbeing during uncertain times [PDF, 16MB] —

Managing uncertainty and flexibility

Helping ākonga feel safe takes time, patience and reassurance from the important adults in their lives. When ākonga are scared, they also want to be with people who help them feel safe and they might worry when they are not together. Take time to listen. Check in about their feelings and acknowledge and normalise these.

During periods of disruption, our feelings of safety can be undermined. Ākonga can become confused and fearful when changes happen and when they don’t understand the changes.

Some ākonga are going to find it difficult managing the uncertainty of sometimes being at school and sometimes being at home. Whatever the challenge, look for solutions, alongside ākonga. We can do this by providing opportunities for ākonga to talk about their time at home, acknowledging the many ways to learn and what they felt they achieved.

Be aware some ākonga will have nervous butterflies. Be flexible around these fears and plan for a range of activities that promote inclusion and engagement in the classroom. 

Ākonga will have had/be having a range of learning opportunities at home. Ākonga will have gained some skills and may need to practice other skills. Know that ākonga will progressively regain any skills they may have lost.

What to notice and how to respond

Some ākonga and their whānau are going to find uncertainty difficult and some ākonga may behave uncharacteristically for them. Most ākonga will have a wide range of reactions to changes. How they react will depend on what’s changing in their daily lives, what they are hearing, how you are reacting, and the support and comfort you are able to provide.

Common reactions are fears and anxiety about friends and learning and/or the virus and the impact that it is having on their lives. Reactions will generally change and ease over time as the changes settle.

Common reactions maybe excitement about learning from home again or getting back to see friends at school or early learning services or worries about friends and learning and/or about the virus. Worries may continue, if changes continue.

All ākonga are different and will show stress in different ways. Some may demonstrate behaviour that is out of character and prolonged beyond the initial period of distress.  When ākonga show signs of stress it is common to revert to behaviours they may have previously grown out of eg, sucking their thumb, becoming clingy or having tantrums, not wanting to go back to school.

Some ākonga will have experienced stress such as limited access to online learning, exposure to harmful online content, online bullying, inaccurate messaging about the pandemic, the loss of employment of whānau and the associated stress that comes from that.

Ākonga and their whānau may have had reduced access to support services during the pandemic.

How to respond

Wherever possible in the school day nurture these protective factors for their well-being:

  • sense of safety and security - I am safe
  • self-worth - I am respected and valued
  • social connection - I am wanted and needed; I can listen and be heard, we can get through this together.
  • self-efficacy - I can do things to look after myself, and others
  • sense of purpose, hope, and meaning – learning at home/going to school is worthwhile.
  • when talking with ākonga about their individual experiences, avoid putting ākonga on the spot. Invite them to share when they are ready. Provide a safe space for ākonga  to express their experiences through art, social activities and hands-on projects.
  • be patient and take time to listen to ākonga. Avoid making assumptions about how they may be feeling. Acknowledge any feelings they may have but gently move them on to another activity - especially calming ones such as relaxation exercises, listening to a story or quiet music.

Keep routines going

Be assured, even though ākonga will have a range of reactions, most will settle over time as routines are re-established.

Find ways to incorporate whanaungatanga exercises into your learning routines e.g. a treasure hunt, to help strengthen connections and belonging and can be part of a daily ritual.

Remind ākonga about hygiene practices - maintaining physical distance where possible, coupled with practices like mask wearing (where and if applicable), coughing into your elbow and regular handwashing and drying.

Keep talking with the whānau of your ākonga

  • Building whakawhānaungātanga will provide the foundation for whānau to feel safe sharing their concerns and their circumstances with you and if they or their ākonga needs tailored support. 
  • Establish ways to have ongoing positive contact with whānau, e.g. opportunities to volunteer help, positive feedback regarding participation, apps like Seesaw to share experiences. 
  • Talk with ākonga and whānau about the positive aspects of being back together, and what there is to look forward to. Be aware that some whānau are fearful for their ākonga going back to school, especially if they have been at home for some time.
  • Work with other kaiako and provide a list of resources and supports for ākonga and their whānau. Some whānau can help themselves and just need time or prompts to access support.  
  • For whānau new to the school, give special attention to creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere and connection to a key staff member.  
  • Know that difficulties may take time to resolve, however getting help early to whānau will help. 

Supporting wellbeing through learning activities

  • Learning experiences at home will have been varied. Focus on where ākonga are at on the day and new activities that will support their engagement. 
  • Some ākonga are going to find this time challenging-sometimes at home, sometimes at school. Also, changes such as mask wearing, blended/hybrid learning for some ākonga may be difficult. Whatever the difficulty, look for solutions. Pass on concerns to your management team so solutions can be sought for the whole school as well.
  • Be patient, listen. Distracting ākonga from things they find distressing can be appropriate. Acknowledge their sadness, fear or anxiety but gently move on to another activity.
  • Focus on what we are doing to stay safe and how everyone is working together to help each other. Ākonga need to hear about positive action. This will provide inspiration and hope for their future.  
  • Have fun. Playing a game, designing an activity together, re-reading a favourite story or watching a video can help lift the mood. Ākonga need to know that in the midst of uncertainty there is still happiness and hope.  
  • Games, physical challenges, and getting outdoors can release energy and tension as well as provide a break from indoor activities.  

Supporting inclusion

Every ākonga has the right to a safe, healthy and supportive learning environment, where they are accepted and respected, and feel they belong. Providing education environments that value and celebrate every learners’ identity, language and culture, as well as those of their family and whānau is key to ensuring this.   

When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone. Check in with ākonga and young people about what they may be are saying and model kindness and compassion. It is vital to be clear about and reinforce your school values, including the importance of showing care and respect for each other. Remind ākonga to uphold the mana of all ākonga and their whānau, including those who may hold differing values and beliefs from those of the school.

Keep encouraging tolerance and respect and kindness for each other:

  • Some individuals may choose to wear face masks, as it is part of their cultural practice to do so to support their hygiene needs and sense of safety. This may be part of their cultural practice or a personal choice.
  • Encourage respect – people are being proactive in keeping themselves and whānau safe.
  • Where ākonga are discriminated against or bullied it is important to respond promptly, with fairness, and consistency in line with school or kura policies and procedures.
  • Avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus.
  • It’s important to remember that if bullying occurs for whatever reason, bullying prevention is everyone’s responsibility
  • Statements on social media about groups of people, or exclusion of people who pose no risk from regular activities.

Take time to check in with your colleagues, look after yourself and each other as school restarts and through any other periods of change. Building in times during the days, weeks, and months ahead to keep checking in on each other, creating support buddies or groups can help when things get tough. Remember to look for and share the positives and the things that are making you smile.  

If you experience race-based abuse or it is brought to your attention, whether online or in the community, you can seek help from Netsafe or the Human Rights Commission.

This kind of behaviour is absolutely unacceptable, and we encourage anyone experiencing discrimination to make a complaint.

More information can be found on the Netsafe page on race-based online abuse and New Zealand Human Rights Commission website.

Race-based online abuse – NetSafe

Making a complaint – New Zealand Human Rights Commission

Support to return to school

If ākonga are learning from home with frequent times away from school, they may be reluctant to return. Take notice of:

  • Unexplained periods of absence or increased sickness.
  • Changes in behaviours that don’t settle or are out of character.
  • Ākonga not engaging in learning or online class activities.
  • Peer worries and conversations.

There are additional ‘tip’ sheets for kaiako to support ākonga who may be at-risk and to support conversations with parents and whānau.

Your support will be most effective when you work as part of a team to wrap support around the ākonga – with their whānau, other supports at school (SENCO, LSC and pastoral care), specialist services provided by the Ministry, support from other government and community agencies. Work as a team to identify any ākonga of concern. Check in with other support services who were involved with ākonga and their whānau prior to changes in alert level. Problem solve and build a plan.

Support for ākonga with disability

Awhi@home is a parent-led Facebook page supported by IHC and partners including the Ministry of Education and Explore services. It provides support for whānau with disabled ākonga and posts include tools, resources and videos addressing common challenges.

The page aims to help you, as a parent of a disabled ākonga, by providing strategies and tips, links to useful resources, information on COVID-19 and one-on-one support as needed.

Awhi@home on Facebook

Behaviour support

If you usually receive disability support services for ākonga at school, the Ministry of Health has engaged Explore to provide access to behaviour support services during the COVID-19 and these are still available at Behaviour Support - Explore Specialist Advice - HealthCare NZ.

Explore’s Behaviour Support Specialists can:

  • provide immediate wellbeing and support
  • suggest ways to respond to any challenging behaviours
  • discuss risks and safety planning
  • provide other tools and resources.

You, your ākonga and/or whānau or support worker can call 0800 000 421 from 9am to 5pm to access their services. You do not need a referral from your Needs Assessment and Service Coordination (NASC) agency to access these services, but you will be asked to identify your NASC agency.

Explore focuses on the wellbeing of whānau and has expertise and experience in delivering practical advice and support to whānau, ākonga, adults, support workers and organisations. They are also setting up webinars around a range of topics of concern and creating access to resources and materials.

Support for bilingual ākonga

If you have ākonga who speak a language other than English at home, encourage them to use this language. It’s OK to talk about an activity in the home language even if the activity is completed in English. Encourage bilingual staff to talk with bilingual students in their home language, if they are able.

Talk to your bilingual support staff or about how things are going for them. Talk with them about online learning tasks set by teachers and/or continue planned ESOL programmes. It may be a good idea for encourage your bilingual support staff to set up virtual meetings with groups of students who speak the same language.

Encourage bilingual support staff to connect with each other (perhaps within a kāhui ako or an ESOL professional learning cluster) for support and ideas.

Monitoring social media

With all the changes and access to information on the Internet and through social media, ākonga may have been watching or listening to information that might have been upsetting. Netsafe has excellent resources that help.

Helping students exposed to upsetting content - Netsafe

Speak with ākonga about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumours and inaccurate information, and ways they can access factual information.

Tips for teachers, parents and caregivers in Te Reo Māori and Pacific languages

Tips to support children and young people during and after COVID-19

Tips in Te Reo Māori

He tīwhiri mā ngā mātua o ngā kōhungahunga [PDF, 338KB]

He tīwhiri mā ngā mātua o ngā taiohi [PDF, 317KB]

Tips in Pacific languages

Gagana Samoa [PDF, 540 KB]

Gagana Tokelau [PDF, 496 KB]

i Kiribati [PDF, 428 KB]

Lea faka-Tonga [PDF, 565 KB]

Fäeag Rotuma [PDF, 563 KB]

Solomon Islands Pijin [PDF, 377 KB]

Te 'gana Tuvalu [PDF, 553 KB]

Te Reo Māori Kuki Airani [PDF, 489 KB]

Vagahau Niue [PDF, 415 KB]

Vosa vaka Fiti [PDF, 465 KB]


There are a series of webinars recorded over the first COVID -19 lockdown, but have ongoing resonance. All webinars have captions available in both English, and te reo Māori.

Student's family member has died

Losing a loved one during COVID-19 will have been distressing for ākonga and their whānau. Ākonga may show respond to the death of a loved one in a range of ways.

How to respond

  • Talk with the family and whānau about how the school can provide support.
  • Do what you can to re-establish a sense of connectedness with ākonga and their peers.
  • Seek pastoral care from the wider school community and other support agencies if needed.

Find further information here from the Mental Health Foundation.

Getting Through Together – Mental Health Foundation