An Open Letter to Boards of Trustees ON DIVERSITY, INCLUSION AND ETHICAL LEADERSHIP

Dear Boards of Trustees of Aotearoa New Zealand,

You do an incredibly important job. Your role is critical in ensuring successful outcomes of tamariki and rangatahi across the country. As the overseers of the learning progress and well-being of all learners in your schools, you are, guardians of the young and vulnerable. "As a trustee, your role is to scrutinise information – what’s going on, does it make sense, what other information do I need?...Your focus on improving student outcomes should be explicit and relentless". Your job is challenging, but so very, very important. Please know that your voice, and your actions, truly matter and make a difference everyday for children in the care of your school.

"We need trustees who are able to turn well-meaning policies into practical results so that students with special education needs are able to come to school (attend), enjoy school (engage), participate and achieve alongside their peers. We need skilled, knowledgeable and confident school boards prepared to show ethical leadership in this area. We need your board to commit to taking this journey."

We know you've got this! We are right behind you, cheering you on from the sidelines, offering insights into our kids, sharing our often deep specialist knowledge and experiences around specific special educational needs and ways in which to support kids with these, suggesting links to specialists and resources you can tap into. Stop and chat with us, invite us to share, hear our experiences, be open to new perspectives, new learning, and the chance for previously unseen or unrecognised opportunities to enhance the school's provisions, to make it more inclusive. Get to know our kids for who they truly are, a sum of much more than anything you will ever hear about them from others.

As Trustees you have the responsibility of following tikanga, ensuring ethical leadership practices. We know you have the tricky job of making informed decisions which draw not only on the information, advice and decisions of the Principal, your fellow Board member and employee, but also on input from your community and specialists. We appreciate that this is a critical balancing act to ensure sufficient politically neutral, evidence-based information which results in Board conduct that meets the responsibility for student safety, wellbeing, and learning. Someone has to ask the hard questions and make the hard calls, and that someone is you and your fellow Board members.

  • You, who are keeping the rights and needs of learners at the forefront of all you do.
  • You, who are helping reframe educational approaches to inclusive and rights-based on the grounds of moral and ethical leadership and manaakitanga.
  • You, who sees opportunities in every challenge, just as we expect our students to.
  • You, who appreciate the need for a professional unbiased approach that rises above the politics, keeping the children at the very heart of the matter.
  • You, who are the voice of the community, living and breathing whanaungatanga.
  • You, who understand that your role is not to give up on any child, but rather as a kaiarataki (leader), is to advocate, advocate, advocate - and fight for the change needed to realise the potential and success of all students.

We are all striving for the same thing; inclusive schools "where all children and young people are engaged and achieve through being present, participating, learning and belonging". It is through putting judgement aside, stepping into the shoes of children and their families, being aware of and putting away defensive reactions, and instead, learning, learning and learning some more, so that we can begin to truly fulfil the human rights of children with special educational needs, by creating places that feel safe, and where these kids have opportunities not to simply co-exist amongst their classmates, but to feel acceptance and belonging, to play and learn, and truly be alive.

We ask that you, the guardians of our young and vulnerable, the kaiarataki of our schools, actively hunt down the resources you need about your role in crafting an inclusive school, invite specialists to talk and work with your Board to develop understanding of student needs and what support is available to school staff, evaluate school policies and practices - and drive the change that these kids so desperately need. The educational Code of Conduct adheres to the principle of 'first do no harm' and we ask, that you, in your capacity to ensure safety, inclusion and learning for all, prioritise understanding the harm that comes from practices which fail to be fully inclusive, and the good that comes from getting it right.

"Make this the year you become skilled at planning for, monitoring and reporting on the participation and achievement of students with special education needs." Make this the year that you commit to making a real and positive difference for all, including the gifted and talented.

Ngā mihi maioha,

Vanessa White

On behalf of all whanau of children with diverse learning needs across Aotearoa New Zealand - including those who are gifted and multi-exceptional.

Posted as part of the 2017 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour #NZGAW, run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

Credits:

Created with images by steakpinball - "Committee Meeting"

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