Freemans Bay School in central Auckland is a Decile 6 school with approximately 550 pupils. Of that, 295 identify as Asian, 84 as Pakeha and 71 as Māori. Half of the school roll are migrants. Recently rebuilt, the school is a collection of bright and colourful buildings with space designed for self-directed and group learning. It’s also a celebration of diversity, kindness, and cultural understanding.
Teacher Yu-Ching Liu loves teaching at Freemans Bay School, leading a class of Year 3-4 students. The school day stretches well past the 3pm bell as students rush to her to share important insights before they head home. Ching explains “creating an environment where the kids feel safe, valued and respected started on day one of the school year. I told my class that being respectful of each other will make learning so much easier and enjoyable. What great life skills to learn”.
Ching believes these life values are as important as the reading, writing and spelling skills that she also teaches. “The respect that these students show to each other continues each and every day throughout the school year.”
Inclusion and cultural understanding is an everyday part of learning at the school. Ching hails from Taiwan and describes celebrating diversity in her classroom as a normal everyday experience. During a Taiwanese celebration, Ching wears a family heirloom special robe to class which allows her to share her heritage and family story with her students. Knowing the cultural backgrounds of the children helps when discussing international news events. Sometimes children will express concern for relatives in their home country, so it’s about encouraging other students to awhi or show kindness and care for each other.
When asked about bullying experiences, Ching has to think hard about actual examples. The core school values of Engage, Empower and Enrich are so well embedded into daily school life that bullying is not all that prevalent. “I watch and observe behaviour and encourage all the students to look out for each other.”
Composite classes also help reduce bullying. “The older students, in this case, Year 4, are taught the value of looking after the younger students, guiding them on how to be responsible and respectful.” These are the important life skills of nurturing that she wants the children to leave her class with. Peer mediators also help regulate the issues that can appear from time-to-time.
Ching’s approach to any bullying is to check in on the person who has been bullied to ensure they’re okay, but then spend time with the person doing the bullying. This may be done over a period of days, allowing time for the person to cool down and for them to find the words to describe why they are behaving in such a way. “It’s about creating an action plan for moving forward so it doesn’t happen again. It’s all about prevention and protection,” Ching says.
“The kids need to be taught how to use correct words, they need to describe what kindness looks like and role-play that. This is what we do each and every day. This sort of behaviour is as important as reading and writing and maths.”
“Kids need to find the words to describe why they did what they did, so I often give them time and space and empower them to think about the consequences of their actions.” This approach almost always ends with insight and positive changes in behaviour.
To celebrate Pink Shirt Day, Ching’s classroom will be decorated with Pink Shirt Day posters, bunting and stickers. Her pupils will be encouraged to wear pink to celebrate diversity and to think about both what makes them special as an individual and why looking out for each other is so important. Ching has made a video based on the Pink Shirt Day compliment stickers where the children talk about kindness – a way to engage them on the subject. Her class and the school will be guided by Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora on Friday 21 May as well as each and every day of the school year.