Freedom, Responsibility, Discipline and Social Development

By Joel Batson Tōtara Teacher

As I ponder the country having to yo-yo between alert levels, it strikes me that the task given to us adults (teachers and parents/whānau alike) is a massive one.  The extent to which we instil in the ākonga around us a sense of social awareness and responsibility can have lasting effects for all involved for a long time to come.  So it behoves us to fully grasp the idea that ‘with great freedom comes great responsibility’.  The actions of single individuals can end up having huge ramifications for large numbers of people and their related communities both positive and negative.

These ideas of freedom, responsibility, discipline and social development are all interdependent and interconnected.  They depend upon each other.  Yet, this idea of giving freedom to the child is one of the hardest ideas in Montessori to understand.  It is often misunderstood.  And it is even harder to implement!

A world used to exist where children were best ‘seen and not heard’. The level of freedom was low and the level of expected responsibility was quite different. Nowadays we generally tend towards a different norm where children are in some cases given as much freedom as fully developed adults, yet they are unable to cope with the responsibility that comes with it. Sometimes, the focus is on making sure everyone ‘feels’ good as opposed to ‘what do you think about that?’ This is a question that appeals to the reasoning mind.  Unfortunately for some, learning new and needed things can and should take some hard graft, which, at the time, often doesn’t feel that good!

In the Montessori classroom we try to give children as much freedom as they can cope with in order to independently self-construct.  It is not complete freedom.  It is the amount of freedom ākonga are able to make good choices with (showing a sense of discipline), based on observation and appropriate for whatever age and stage of social development they are at.

Boundaries and limitations balanced with affection and a sense of belonging are key here.  And for us, these are made concrete in what we call the prepared environment.  Our environments, including the adults in the room, are prepared in such a way in order to give ākonga the best chance to develop a sense of social awareness and discipline through experiencing limited freedoms and the corresponding responsibility at every level.

“Individual freedom is the basis of all the rest.  Without such freedom it is impossible for a personality to develop fully. … Freedom is the necessary foundation of organised society.  Individual personality could not develop without individual freedom.  Only individuals can unite to form a society.”

Dr Montessori, Education and Peace, pp.101-102 (Clio)

Implicit in the above quote from Dr Montessori is the fact that freedom implies responsibility.  Without responsibility, freedom ultimately becomes a lack of unity.

Creating a living community

By Robin Wilkins – Pūriri teacher

I love Montessori; as a way of living, the endless opportunities that a Montessori environment offers each of us, the way that the community accepts every one as a new member. I love that the oldest students in the environment not only teach the younger ones but mentor, nurture and protect them. “There is a great sense of community within the classroom where children of different ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness. There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it”. (Dr. Montessori)

Being involved in a community of friends is vital in the growth and development of our ākonga. It is therefore important that we spend time developing practices that build community consciousness, provide support, a sense of belonging and a strong sense of self and connection. These relationships are critical for emotional stability and ability to focus on learning. Whatever time is spent on building community lays a necessary foundation for calm and peaceful academic work.

We typically begin each school year with activities that help form a bond of mutual respect and collaboration with all members of the class. We are wanting to develop a unified feeling of being a community, to develop and build a spirit of cooperation and recognition of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, differences and uniqueness.

This is the time when we develop our new class treaty which ties in with learning about the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’- understanding that a treaty is an agreement which helps people find a peaceful way to settle an argument or dispute. It must take into account the rights of others. It is always student-generated which promotes self-discipline. It may include statements such as “Everyone should feel included”. These treaties represent an acknowledgement by everyone that there are limits to individual freedom and actions must be based on the needs of living in a community. To signify their acceptance all tamariki, and teachers sign the final document.

Community meetings are also a time for ākonga to share concerns, brainstorm ways to solve a problem and offer solutions in the hope that a consensus will emerge. This is invaluable as ākonga feel invested in the solution rather than a decree by the teacher.

Education for Peace is at the heart of Montessori philosophy.  Montessori believed that it produced a new kind of person, conscious of his/her unity with all others, past and present, everywhere on the globe. One of the principle tools for building a sense of peace is the origin story exploring where we come from as a species. As ākonga learn their origins, they become more conscious and aware of the essential unity of humanity.

Grace and Courtesy lessons are also essential for developing social skills (how to interact appropriately in a community).

This heightened sense of human community helps contribute to the self-discipline we seek in our ākonga.

This is a long learning journey.

Whanaungatanga at Wā Ora

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

As we start a new year we see each sector and individual classroom of ākonga build their new hapori (community). We all said haere rā to our oldest students at the end of last year, and last week all sectors had their mihi whakatau to welcome a new group of ākonga which was a lovely way to start whakawhanaungatanga, building up relationships and a sense of belonging.

This involves a lot of change for the group of ākonga moving into a new classroom: they are in a new environment, with a new group of peers and teachers, new materials to explore, as well as new routines and expectations to learn. On top of that, this group also has to make the adjustment of being the oldest in their previous ākomanga, to now being the youngest.

The students remaining in their class also have to change and adapt, including moving up to being ngā tuakana (the older, more experienced ākonga) who role model for others and help demonstrate the culture of their class.

To help this new hāpori form, to start the process of whakawhanaungatanga, many things happen; small and large groups are held, introductions, the telling of great stories, and the sharing of kai are some examples. It is lovely to see how these tamariki step up to fill the shoes of the older peers who have moved on, ready to help their new hoa coming in. In preschool we see our 4- and 5-year-olds welcoming in new 3-year-olds, giving them lessons and āwhina (help) when the need arises and helping them to feel a sense of belonging to their new class as they settle in.

The Māori dictionary defines whanaungatanga as “relationship, kinship, sense of family connection – a relationship through shared experiences and working together which provides people with a sense of belonging.” (https://maoridictionary.co.nz/word/10068)

It is not only our tamariki/ākonga that are part of the Wā Ora hapori – you as parents and whānau are too. Just as our tamariki have their roles to play in building whanaungatanga, so too do you. Some of you are parents brand new to our kura and some of you have been part of the Wā Ora whānau for many years. Some have tamariki staying in the same sector this year while others may be new to a sector as your tamaiti moves up to primary, or to high school. As a hapori you have many experiences as parents and whānau, and it is always lovely to see these being shared to welcome others. Please make the time to come to events such as parent meet ups, information evenings, twilight picnics, the Matariki concert and evening feast; all of which allows time and opportunity for whakawhanaungatanga, building relationships and the sense of connection. Ask questions, share your experiences, chat, reassure, and laugh – that is what your tamariki enjoy doing every day in their whānau kura.