Alec Solomon, principal of Tikipunga High School in Whangārei, says the school’s emphasis on whanaungatanga helped it navigate the uncertainty and disruption of Covid-19.
For Tikipunga High School principal Alec Solomon, the greatest challenge they have had throughout the pandemic has been during the Omicron outbreak earlier this year. “The coming and going…the juggle of this part of the class being away, and then the teacher was away, and then another part of the class was away… it was almost a complete write-off,” reflects Alec.
Of recent years, Tikipunga High School has been on a journey to strengthen their school culture, one that cultivates genuine collaboration and operates within an environment that is open and transparent with staff and students. Alec holds the view that collaboration needs to be purposeful and when feedback is collected, it needs to be acted on. In addition to collective decisions being made, ‘there will be better feedback in the future’.
Quality connections and an emphasis on whanaungatanga is another strong feature of the school culture and is a consequence of well-developed student whanau groups, the Pou Arahi supporting programmes, and effective tracking of student individual education programmes. Relationships are further nurtured when all staff and students sit down for kai kōrero, as part of the Tiki High Kai - lunch at school programme. “With staff sitting with the students, it has been a real catalyst for deepening of the relationships,” Alec has observed.
As a result of the strong school culture, when Covid arrived in the community and began to impact teaching and learning, the school was well placed to navigate the uncertainty, disruption and constant challenges.
With students learning better at school rather than at home, they made the decision to keep the school open for student learning with staff demonstrating a real sense of shared purpose, with teachers collaborating to meet the needs of each student. Middle leaders were also quick to reorganise how the school operated and accepted the call to support the senior leadership roles when required.
The senior timetable was dissolved, with students for each year level and their teachers coming together to prioritise learning needs. Alec says that everyone worked to gain “a shared understanding of what was most important for each student and rather than Maths and English (or any other subject) competing with each other, teachers decided together what a student would work on for that day”. Having teachers collaborate to further individual students’ learning was “phenomenally successful” and as a result of this wānanga approach, student achievement results for level 2 were considerably higher than national averages.
The success of this mahi has meant that they have now incorporated the wānanga approach into the normal school learning timetable. Alec acknowledges that it was hard work and took a toll on everyone’s energy levels but he is extremely proud of his staff.
As the leader of his school during the pandemic, Alec has focused on making sure his regular messaging to staff has been consistent and considered. Synthesising the continuous stream of information being received was important to help staff keep informed and “enable them to remain calm and measured”.
He also has made his own wellbeing a real priority, recognising that “when I’m in a better space then I can look after everyone else better”. Physical activity has become a scheduled part of what Alec does throughout the week and “not just an add on”. Diving is a favoured pursuit whereby he has no choice but to leave the challenges and demands of being the principal, on the water’s surface.
About the school
Tikipunga High School
Y7-13 Co-educational state secondary school