Chapter 7 of the School Leadership BES (Robinson, Hohepa & Lloyd, 2009) is entitled Creating Educationally Powerful Connections with Families, Whānau, and Communities (p.142). Within this chapter, Alton-Lee, Robinson, Hohepa and Lloyd draw from extensive research to provide three reasons which describe why school leaders should concentrate on developing partnerships and connections with family, whānau and communities. These reasons are detailed below:

  1. Connections with family, whānau and communities have the potential to enhance outcomes for all students, especially those who have been under-served or are at risk. Certain kinds of school-family connections and interventions can have large positive effects on the academic and social outcomes of students.
  2. However, some kinds of engagement with families 
and communities can be counterproductive. It is important that school leaders promote engagement that is effective.
  3. By establishing educationally powerful connections, leaders gain access to a greater range and depth of resources to support the work of their schools.

Some of the research reported on in this chapter reflects the work of Dr Mere Berryman and in particular the findings from her research with Māori whānau and communities. Dr Berryman discusses some of these findings in 
the following video clip.

Video 1: Connecting with the BES


Key thoughts

"If we want to maximise the relationship that schools have with families, then families have to be part of determining that relationship. For too long in education we, as educators, have tried to define how communities will participate with us."

"I understand the body of knowledge that sits within Māori communities and for too long that’s gone unused, it’s gone unrepresented."

Key questions

  1. In what ways are families/whānau able to
 determine how they will participate in and
 contribute to your school?
  2. How is the body of knowledge that sits within
 your Māori community acknowledged and
 represented in your school?

What kind of connections make 
a difference?

  • In general, the largest positive effects were found 
when schools – usually in association with an external researcher – developed the capacity of parents to support the children’s learning through programmes that were designed to teach them specific skills
 (for example, the skills that promote reading and language development).
  • Joint parent/whānau and teaching interventions had 
the highest overall effect size (1.81). These reflected interventions that were designed to help parents or other community members support children at home and school, and that simultaneously provided teachers with professional development.
  • Professionals, family, whānau and community members are taught how to use smart tools and their learning is systematically evaluated. The evaluations help the researchers refine the tools and ensure that the accompanying processes support effective, independent use of the tools at home and at school.
  • The success of school-whānau connections, and the learning designed to support them, is dependent on
 the mahi tahi (collaborative) processes that foster relational trust.


  • Helping to propagate a supportive and collective whānau-approach to parenting - parents and teachers 
a deliberate focus - paralleling the children’s learning - and by creating effective models for facilitating 
adult learning.
  • School leaders have an important role in aligning interventions with parents and teachers as such interventions promote the kind of home-school
 and community learning that enables effective educational connections.
  • Design characteristics that appear to be 
important include:
    • having learning as a primary focus
    • providing parents with information and training 
(for example, modelling and reinforcing appropriate strategies) that enhance their skills in a specific curriculum area
    • supplying materials for use at home
    • helping families / whānau access resources 
such as books
    • raising families / whānau awareness of the
 benefits of working with their children
    • aligning school-home practices so that whānau 
and parents’ actions support school learning, raising whānau and parents’ expectations for
 their children’s achievement
    • helping to propagate a supportive and collective whānau-approach to parenting.

Video 2: Purposeful interactions

Key thoughts

“Schools determined how families would engage
 with them.”

“That’s about schools actually seeing the potential 
in whānau not just seeing the use they want to make 
of whānau.”


Key questions

  1. Consider the ways in which your school currently engages with Māori whānau. Who determines this engagement?
  2. How might you create a context in which Māori whānau wish to engage? Who else needs to be part of this conversation? How will you broker such a conversation?
  3. “How do we provide a context where their students are seen as positive and full of potential?”

In summary

The meta-analysis summarised in Chapter 7 of the School Leadership BES indicates that:

  • proactive strategies to create and sustain
 educationally powerful home-school connections 
can have a significant impact
  • where schools do not provide leadership to facilitate such connections, business-as-usual may actually do educational harm (e.g. when parents try to help with homework and for whatever reasons their help inadvertently undermines achievement)
  • with effective assistance, parents can promote the achievement of valued student outcomes in ways that support and resource the work of the school. This is 
true in both primary and secondary levels.

Key questions

  1. What sense do you make of this graph?
  2. What do you find surprising or challenging?