Tikanga in the classroom

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

I am often asked as a teacher, “What can I be doing at home to be more aligned with school?” In answering this I usually talk about topics related to the special Montessori character of our kura; such things as allowing independence, providing order and consistency, having freedoms and responsibilities, etc.

However, another part of what we do and how we are at Wā Ora is related to bi-culturalism. Individual akomanga (classrooms) and te kura as a whole adhere to certain tikanga, which children easily and naturally absorb and follow.

An excerpt from https://hakatours.com/blog/cultural-dos-and-donts explains: “Generally speaking, tikanga are Māori customary practices or behaviours. The concept is derived from the Māori word ‘tika’ which means ‘right’ or ‘correct’ so, in Māori terms, to act in accordance with tikanga is to behave in a way that is culturally proper or appropriate.”

A lot of tikanga are based on the Māori concept of Tapu and Noa.

“Tapu can be interpreted as “sacred” but also “not ordinary”, “special” or even forbidden. It is one of the strongest forces in Māori culture. People, places, events and objects can be Tapu and should not be interfered with. Also, everything associated with the human body is considered tapu in Māori belief.

Noa, “ordinary” or “known” is the opposite of Tapu and refers to ordinary, everyday things such as food.”

Some of these tikanga include taking shoes off before entering a class (to leave the puehu or dust we carry from the outside world at the door); not sitting or putting hats on tables, especially tables which are used for kai; saying a karakia before eating kai; and not touching a head of a child, unless invited to – this relates to the head being a very important part of the body (tapu). Using different cloths for different purposes is another example – we have different cloths for a table, for the floor and for bodies, such as hand towels. These are only used for their specific purpose and washed separately.

If you do come into an akomanga and are politely asked, for example, not to sit at a table or to remove your shoes, and do not know the reasons behind this, please do ask. To many, the tikanga adhered to in kura can be just as mystifying as some of the Montessori materials and philosophies we have, but both are great conversation starters and learning opportunities.

Some of you may already have similar tikanga at home or you may have different tikanga based on your own culture and customs. Just as I am sharing our Wā Ora tikanga with you so that you have an understanding of why we do some of the things we do, we love to hear more about your tikanga (what happens in the home lives of ngā tamariki) so that we can appreciate what is important to you and your way of being.