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Shifting the role of Deans from academic to holistic

Case study 30 May 2022

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This story was captured from a Tūturu case study in an evaluation by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research - read the full report.

One school realised that all serious behaviour incidents went straight to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). Deans did not have a lot of involvement with this process; their focus was on academics. School leaders wanted a clearer pathway, and to raise the confidence of deans so they could have initial conversations about alcohol and other drugs (AoD), mental health, or depression.

School leaders involved in the Tūturu pilot noted: “We were working on pastoral care anyway but the Tūturu team input extra ideas. This evolved naturally from our restorative and Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) work ... Our bigger aim is to upskill teachers to be genuinely involved in supporting student wellbeing rather than purely subject content delivery. We are on the way.”

With support from Tūturu, the school developed a clearer pastoral framework and pathway that goes from teachers to deans, to the SLT. The pathway has an associated support plan for students based on the three tiers of PB4L. The plan uses language from the school health curriculum and connects with the school’s values. Tūturu pastoral personal leadership development for deans was a core part of the process which provided staff with an opportunity to co-construct new processes and the tools they needed to have “Are you OK?” conversations. The team of deans also refocused their meetings.

The pastoral leaders/Deans in the school explained, “Our discipline process was ‘blurry’ before—there was no chain—kids went straight to the principal. We are developing a chain and giving deans the tools and the confidence to work with students—this is the first step in changing the process … We have a weekly deans’ catch-up. Prior to Tūturu, this was admin-focused, now we are looking more at using the meeting for information sharing.”

School leaders could see the changes they had made were starting to result in more clarity about how to support students and a more proactive approach to student wellbeing. One of the pastoral leaders in the school said, “the professional development has given me confidence and made other deans more confident. They felt unconfident at the start having tricky conversations … I think the conversations have improved”.

“In the past, I didn’t have deans coming in to talk to me [to refer students]—now we are starting to have more conversations and working things out together … Now deans are increasingly more comfortable approaching students, not just for AoD concerns. One student was coming to school looking dishevelled—I pulled him aside and had an ‘Are you OK?’ chat. I found out he had a lot of late shifts at work. I was glad I had that chat as I was able to talk to him about managing his situation.”

Students could see their teachers were interested in their wellbeing and valued the way some were having “Are you OK?” conversations with them. Their advice for their school was to continue to increase their focus on wellbeing and seek student input. Some of the students fed back:

“Last year one of my friends was having a really hard time. After class, the teacher asked if she was OK. I think that’s really good—to know that the teachers, instead of just coming here to do their job, they’re actually noticing things in the class. Like this person isn’t OK … there must be something wrong. If it continues happening, just ask if people are OK—it means a lot to people … I know the majority of teachers are kind of [aware], but they could just be a bit more aware—and know a bit more about students’ wellbeing.”

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