Grace and courtesy in the primary school

By Tania Gaffney–Deputy Principal Primary

As ākonga enter into their primary years they become a much more social being; they are also testing limits and are developing their independence.  As a result of this, grace and courtesy becomes very social, a negotiated construct within the community, yet still guided by the adult.

Standing alongside grace and courtesy is another term you will hear in the Montessori community–‘freedom with limits or responsibilities’. The limits or responsibilities are often the grace and courtesies that we need, to be able to get on in society–in this case, our school or class.  Mario Montessori Jr. said of freedom, “One can only speak of a true community when each member of the group feels sufficiently free to be himself or herself, while simultaneously restricting his or her own freedom for the sake of adjustment to the group. It is in seeking an optimal solution to this tension between personal independence and dependence on the group that the social being is formed.”  We can all struggle with this at times! Each area of the school plays its part in helping the child develop him or herself socially.

In primary, ākonga are emerging into independence for the first time, pulling away from adults in their lives and wanting to be with their peers more; looking outside of themselves for the first time, but often with a foot in both camps–self and others., Interactions therefore can be fraught as children begin to figure out and negotiate how they will be with each other. “What Freedoms will I insist on?” and, “What shall I adjust?” or, “What grace and courtesy will I use for the sake of my friends and classmates?” They (and in fact, many people) don’t always get it right especially at the beginning of this journey which is when we need to sit down, talk and negotiate to find a way through.

Much of what we do in the primary years is helping the child, both overtly and covertly to develop their grace and courtesy, e.g.

– setting up and negotiating the class rules at the beginning of the year;
– discussing etiquette around lessons or eating or setting up your work space;
– small role plays by the teacher or children about the many different aspects of class life (humour is often used at this age);
– regular class meetings where issues are discussed and solutions found;
– setting up the community jobs; and
– even when telling stories, we may be expressing gratitude for those that have gone before us.

A great persuader to using your grace and courtesy or thinking about your responsibility in the class is your peers–far more than the adult’s influence. This is why whenever possible so much is done in the social setting at the primary age.

The Science of Observation

By Dannielle King–Playgroup Facilitator

Observation is one of the core principles of Montessori practice. If the kaiārahi (guides) do not closely observe the tamariki (children), how will they know if they have mastered a skill in order to be ready for the next lesson, or know what their interests are to help them engage in interesting work?

For most of us observation sounds pretty simple–you just watch and see what is happening; there is no special skill required. Montessori teacher training however spends a large amount of time teaching and practising how to observe objectively. To really see what is happening for a child we must leave all our preconceptions, feelings and knowledge behind and concentrate on what is physically happening in the moment. Of course this is done unobtrusively so as not to interrupt their work.

“Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched. After all, we too sometimes feel unable to go on working if someone comes to see what we are doing. The great principle which brings success to the teacher is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist.” (Dr. Maria Montessori, ‘The Absorbent Mind’.)

Objective observation can be a useful tool as a parent too. Watch a new baby’s body language and facial expressions and you will be able to pick up on their preferences and emotions in different situations. If you can observe your toddler’s behaviour in relation to developmental stages, you can provide materials or tools to help master a new skill. Perhaps toys are constantly being thrown–on the surface this might look like misbehaviour and against the rules, but if you look at it as being driven to practise a new body movement, you could provide a cloth ball and a target or basket to aim at, and this stage might then work itself through with less disruption.

An older child’s actions may often differ from their words. Maybe your daughter says her favourite colour is pink, like all of her friends, but when offered a choice will always pick the green object? Are the small collectible toys (that you dislike so much but were talked into at the shop) actually being played with or are they abandoned once the excitement of purchasing and opening is over with?

I recently attended the Montessori conference and the 0-3 speaker led some really valuable discussions on observation, which I will share with playgroup whānau through the term. You can put it into practice yourself by simply paying more attention to what you are seeing at home, or if you want to be a bit more scientific, find a diary and make some notes. If you only write down physical actions and not your initial feelings as to what they mean, you may look back later and find a different interpretation of what was happening. Either way, any insight you gain can only help you on your parenting journey!

Bush walks in the preschool


By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

In the last year, we have extended the “rite of passage” activities of the 5-year-olds to include a weekly bush walk. This came out of an investigation into how we were implementing spontaneous science.

Our school programme provides many opportunities for this, so the recommendation was that we find a space beyond the preschool where tamariki could be in the outdoors and experience science in a wider, natural context.  After further investigation into how other centers achieved this and discussions within preschool, it was decided that the Rātā Street bush was ideal in proximity and suitability.

Tamariki investigating the natural wonders on Wā Ora’s back door step while on a walk in the Rātā Street bush, Naenae

With support from rangatahi (young people) from the high school and the parent community, we have been able to do a weekly walk into the bush. One of the key objectives of the bush walks has been that tamariki explore this place in all kinds of weather and in each season to experience the changes in the flora and fauna. Another key objective is for the play to be child initiated rather than being teacher led. Adults are in the background observing what interests the tamariki and posing questions to open up new avenues of thinking, but not getting involved or suggesting solutions to challenges.

The success of the activity prompted us to send in an application to MANZ to be considered for the Dr. Nicola Chisnall Memorial Award for 2019. The award recognises initiatives that make significant contributions to tamariki, families and communities.  Entries are voted for by the membership and the winner receives $500 as a contribution towards supporting or extending the work.  The award was set up in Nicola’s honour after she passed away from cancer in 2013.  Our links as a school, with both Nicola and her husband Dave, go right back to the establishment of Wā Ora in 1988.  They were both members of the group who started our school and Nicola was one of the first teachers here at that time.  Wā Ora was the inaugural winner of this award back in 2014 and so we are keen to try again!

Curiosity may not be good for the cat but it is fundamental for us as human  beings

By Rose Langridge–Humanities subjects Teacher; Careers Advisor–High School

Humans by their very nature are inherently curious. Curiosity has a functional evolutionary purpose since people had to be inquisitive about the world around them in order to survive.

There are two types of curiosity. The first is perceptual curiosity, which we exhibit when something confuses or puzzles us. This is exactly the curiosity that directs a three-year-old to spend a large proportion of their time asking a one-word question that always needs a long answer: “Why?” The second type is epistemic curiosity, which feeds our desire to know new things. Our brains and minds value this knowledge and due to this we derive pleasure from learning.

In our digital age the sheer amount of information available is immense and being able to answer any question is really literally at your fingertips. Google is not just a company but a verb. There are of course pitfalls to this open access– the internet is not peer reviewed and fake news is certainly an area raising concern around the world.

Curiosity is piqued and fed by this tool, but how do we learn how to navigate it? How do we know if the answers we find are true? Being able to discern if available information should be believed and used to sate our curiosity is one of the big things that we cover in humanities.

A key component of understanding both current and historical events is being able to understand the different perspectives taken by people for a variety of reasons and being able to see how their perspectives then shape their behaviour.

We learn how people make their decisions by looking at evidence. In order to make sure that this evidence is worth using, we consider the validity. Where is it from? What was the intent of producing this information? Who produced it? Is there bias? Being able to answer these questions means that we can analyse the process that people went through and still go through when making decisions about what to believe.

Learning how to decipher when an event has become contested helps us to understand people’s motives for their beliefs. We can then use our learning to face the hard questions. Once we can look into the past and analyse how opinions were made and changed, we can use this knowledge to tackle the ethical issues that we face today.

As Deborah Lipstad so decisively put it, “Not all opinions are created equal.”

At a time when news and events bombards us, often in bite-sized pieces through lenses that have ulterior motives or actions, we must be aware of how powerful this is. We have to be able to make informed decisions knowing we are reading the information accurately that we have access to.

The adolescent voice  

By Richard Goodyear–Kawakawa head teacher

Last term one of the classes in Kawakawa produced a podcast episode called Fluorescent Adolescent about ‘tribes’ in adolescent society. It’s a great piece of work and if you’d like to hear it, please contact me or look out for it on the airwaves soon. In it, students speak freely about their identity and their lifestyle. It made me think about the idea of ‘student voice’. I think we often underestimate how much they know about themselves and really how different their world is to that of an adult. This has implications for us as teachers and parents.

As a child develops, they go through phases with particular characteristics. For the adolescent phase, communication is an area that can be tricky. Sometimes we have trouble hearing their voice. How often do you hear an adolescent openly and honestly sharing their hopes, dreams and concerns? For many adults, it can feel like the adolescent is living in a foreign land. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, it is part of the inevitable chrysalis stage they are in. They will develop into the magnificent butterfly one day. But someone in a foreign land speaks a different language. And the guidebook seems to be published by some mysterious outfit called Patience and Opportunity Enterprises!

So we need to be patient and create opportunities for chatting. The best way to do this in my view starts by recognizing that they are living a life of their own and that just like anyone we love, they need certain things from us.

Like so much of what we do for our young folk, we need to provide structure and freedom, both aspects in measures that probably go beyond what we currently understand as adults. It means setting very clear, predictable and solid parameters and then stepping back. It means being their coach, their guide, their mentor. It means being there beside them and at times being far away. –-–-–

Listening to teens is at the heart of what we do here in Kawakawa. It is the foundation of restorative practice but it shows up all over the place. We hold community meetings. We have changed our parent interviews to be more partnership-focused and we try to put the taiohi (adolescent) at the centre of those meetings. We have changed the structure of their home/pastoral (advisory) groups, so taiohi stay in the same group as they move through Kawakawa, rather than being shuffled around every term. This way we can build rapport in an advisory setting. We also meet with them in their year groups. We maintain an open atmosphere with the taiohi including just ‘hanging out’ at lunchtime around the class kitchen. We structure some of our subjects to allow time for chatting. Allyson is very good at this in micro-economy–it turns out making bath bombs together is a great way to get to know someone!

Ultimately through our approach we consciously and incidentally set up opportunities for them to be themselves, and then simply chat and ask questions.

The holistic role of school sports

By Sarah Jane Lambie – High school sports coordinator

It is widely accepted that participating in sport has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Wonderful things happen to us–physically, chemically and psychologically–when physical activity is regularly included in our daily lives: anxiety and depression are reduced; self-esteem and fitness enhanced.

Furthermore, through playing sports, there are opportunities to learn about commitment, trust and respect for others; opportunities for enjoying friendship, being in community, practicing teamwork; and for developing leadership skills, self-discipline and the fine art of achieving a balanced lifestyle.

This sounds great, especially for those who enjoy participating in sport; those who are ‘naturally sporty’. But what happens for students who are not sporty? How can we encourage and support the students who dread PE, are among the last to be picked for team games, who dislike the feeling they are being compared to their peers and who do not enjoy the competitive nature of sports?

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that competition in the educational environment was not only unnecessary, but harmful. She said that when children are taught to compare themselves to their peers, they become focused on what others are doing rather than the joy that comes with working to be the best they can be for themselves.

In keeping with this ideal at Wā Ora, competition in the traditional sense often associated with sports, is played down in favour of a focus on good health, participation and cooperation when it comes to PE and sport. While we acknowledge that winning in competitive situations feels good, we are clear it is not the main focus. Instead, those teaching PE and coaching sports work to encourage a balanced perspective.

At the school cross country on Friday we saw a favourable example of this approach. Senior PE students created a fabulous atmosphere filled with energy, fun, music, good will and community spirit. All Y4–13 students were expected to participate and this required real self-discipline and determination for some. Completion and a sense of achievement was the focus for most; the students who have expressed an interest in going to the interschool cross country competition will do so in June.

As well as the various team sports Wā Ora students are participating in throughout the year, we can look forward to two more area school sporting events, namely swimming and athletics. Undoubtedly each will present challenges for our students–and we will endeavour to ensure the same levels of encouragement, support and participation as we did for the cross country.

Looking forward to it!

Encouraging resiliency

By Carolyn Bohm – Rātā teacher

With all the conveniences in our lives today, it can become easy for adults to try and protect children from any and all obstacles in their lives. Adults can be quick to solve a child’s problem for them, or keep them from having to struggle for accomplishment. These actions, done with the best intentions, can rob children of the opportunity to learn the tools, challenges, and joys of being resilient. While it is not helpful to allow a child to become badly injured or frustrated beyond recovery to learn about resiliency, giving them opportunities to fail or struggle safely prepares them for the challenges they will face when older.

As much of human behaviour is learned, one of the best ways to teach resiliency is to model it yourself. When eating lunch outside on a chilly day I respond to comments about the temperature by saying “I was cold too so I put on my jumper”. When we model resilient thinking (remembering to bring a jumper and wearing it when cold), we encourage children to do the same. We also teach resiliency through asking questions encouraging resilient thinking; “Where else can you look for your pencil?” or, “Is there another tool you could use to complete that job?”.

When talking to your child about school, Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, suggests questions along these lines:

  • What have you learned today?
  • What is a mistake today that you learned from?
  • What were you persistent at today?
  • What can you learn from this?
  • What will you do the next time you are in this situation?

It is perfectly acceptable to make a mistake, as long as learning takes place around the mistake. It is also completely normal to handle a situation less than ideally as long as the situation is reflected upon so the response can be improved in the future. Asking children about their experiences and working with them to get the most out of the event is a great way to teach children about resilience.

When I started eating lunch outside with Rātā unless it was raining or wet, complaints abounded in winter about being cold and not having or not wanting to put on warm clothes. Now, having weather appropriate clothing and using it has become what we do. The other week at a lunchtime, I figured we would eat inside given the wet ground but the class headed straight outside with their lunches. Upon finding the ground was wet, but not raining, they brought our class mats out to sit on. Between their resiliency to wet, wind, and cold, at lunch and on walks, I have suddenly found myself to be working with a group of kids who challenge me to be more resilient. When we encourage resilient children, we create a stronger future.


By Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

I recently found myself in a discussion on the subject of rewards for young children and their merits and drawbacks.

As I listened to the rationale behind offering rewards for specific behaviours in the early childhood classroom, I wondered to myself where this fits within the Montessori context.  It’s a tricky concept to unravel because there are many rewarding experiences every day both for the children, and the teachers in the classroom.  However, how many of these rewards are extrinsic versus intrinsic, and what is the connection between rewards and motivation?

An extrinsic reward is something tangible and visible given to someone for an achievement they have made.  An intrinsic reward comes from within the individual and is grounded in satisfaction, pride in work done and a feeling of accomplishment.  In a classroom, an extrinsic reward might be a treat–maybe extra playtime outside or a grade on a paper or end of term project.  In contrast, an intrinsic reward in a classroom may not be obvious at all unless you are close enough to hear the tell-tale, “I did it!” before the child joyfully moves on to their next pursuit.

In our Montessori classrooms we value the intrinsic reward over the extrinsic for a variety of reasons.  Dr. Montessori felt that rewards interfered with children’s learning and studies show that this is true, particularly when looking at long term behaviour.  While for short term results, a tangible reward might get the response we are looking for, the child is not motivated to repeat this behaviour in the long term.  Part of the rationale for giving rewards to children at school is the notion that children do not enjoy learning and that they need an incentive.  In our classrooms we know that this is not true–that children are highly motivated to learn!  Their interest knows no bounds!  Rather than an incentive, we need only give the children time to practice their lessons, and materials to work and play with that feed their interests.  The reward for the child comes from the satisfaction of discovery or being able to complete something completely on their own.

Dr. Montessori said, “a child does not need praise; praise breaks the enchantment.” (The Child, Society and the World, p. 16).  We have found this to be certainly true in our classrooms. Even a seemingly unintrusive “good job” offered to a child who has been feeling quite proud of him or herself can instantly steal the joy.  They have already made their own internal judgements about what they have done and our remarks are completely unnecessary.

As we age we begin to need more external rewards for the work that we do, but for children whose natural inclination is to learn, they are merely a distraction from the real prize.  There is a great chapter on rewards in the book Montessori, the Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.  It is available on Amazon and through Book Depository.

When are we ever going to use this?

By Michael Draper–Physics and Electro-tech Teacher–High School

“When are we ever going to use this?” This is a common question from teenagers in conventional high schools, yet we rarely hear this question in Tāwari. Why is that?

Maria Montessori identified that the primary drive for adolescents is learning what they need to function as an adult.

Part of this is social. Adolescents need to establish their own unique identity, to develop their own self-expression and to fit in with others beyond the environment of family.  In the 6–12 years, children learn through social play, safe in their position as children within a family/whānau.  With adolescence their awareness turns to the challenge of becoming participants in adult society and their social experimentation and learning suddenly becomes very real and earnest.

Another equally important part is occupational: the need to learn how to become a contributing member of the community.  Historically, this was the age children would enter into apprenticeships, working at the feet of a master to learn their trade or occupation. They started with simple tasks, then as their confidence and exposure to the real work developed, they would move on to progressively more skilled and more complex tasks.  This progression also reflects our more recent understanding of the process of body and brain development that occurs in adolescence, starting with broader physical capabilities and progressing through finer skills to the blossoming of abstract thinking proficiencies in later adolescence.

Adolescents want to learn. They are driven to learn what they perceive will be useful for them as adults. Just telling them there is purpose isn’t enough. If they can’t see for themselves a clear connection between what they are being taught and its usefulness for them as adults, they will struggle to maintain attention.  The key here is relevance. When ākonga see relevance in what they are learning, they learn faster, understand and retain more.

At Wā Ora this understanding is reflected in the different emphasis and work patterns of Kawakawa (school years 8-10) and Tāwari (the NCEA years).  In Kawakawa, the emphasis is on social development and on practical experiences of working with others and with the physical world.  There is less emphasis on academic learning in Kawakawa, partly because the young adolescent brain is still developing capacity for this and partly because of the need to give ākonga the experiences that give meaning to future academic learning.

In Tāwari however, the priority shifts to the more academic requirements of senior high school learning.  It is here that the experiences and practical learning in Kawakawa pay off; where conventional school students struggle to see the relevance of many lessons, Tāwari students have a rich store of practical experience to which they can relate the more abstract learning of senior high school.  With a richness of experience to draw on, the question of “When will I ever use this?” becomes redundant.

Why maths isn’t the most important subject

By David Starshaw–Mathematics Teacher–High School

I don’t believe that maths is the most important subject and I want to explain why below. There are also links to a great video and quiz at the end of this article. The quiz is quite confronting but the video contains an important message for everyone to hear.

On one hand, yes, maths is everywhere. It makes your computer work, it drives your car, it underpins the internet, helps people and governments spend their money wisely, it enables data-mining companies to predict your behaviour, it can be used to influence the results of elections and referendums, and it can be used to pass level 3 NCEA.

But while maths makes your computer work, you don’t need to understand the maths in order to use your computer. Only specific professions use high school maths in the real world. Be honest, how many times have you used quadratics since leaving school?

But I believe that the misuse of data is one of the biggest issues in today’s society. And it is allowed to happen because we all have misconceptions about the world that we believe, rather than the reality. I don’t think I’m overstating this. Look at Trump. Look at Brexit. Look at the rise of echo chambers where people can redefine their realities and warp the facts beyond all recognition. Did you know that most people overestimate the proportion of their country’s population who are immigrants? Did you know most people overestimate the wealth held by the richest 1%? It is the stories that we tell ourselves, rather than reality, that define our world view.

Most people are unaware that we have brought extreme poverty crashing down. In the last 50 years, poverty has reduced to 50% of what it was. In the words of the late Hans Rosling, “People say that we cannot solve poverty. Of course they think so. They don’t even know what has already happened! The first thing to think about the future is to know about the present.”

I think therefore that statistics is the most important subject at high school. And also the humanities subjects.

How many misconceptions do you think you have? Watch Hans Rosling’s TED talk: How Not To Be Ignorant About The World and take the Gapminder Global Knowledge Test he mentions. I assure you it’s quite confronting.