Grace and Courtesy in the High School

By Stuart Mason – High School

Grace and Courtesy is the theme at the Parent Education Evening this week.  In the high school this term is most often applied to seminar discussions.  Students prepare for weekly seminars by reading an article on a current issue and then participating in a 45 minute round-circle discussion in groups of 10 to 15 students.

Seminar begins with the chairperson – a teacher or in the 15-18 years programme, a student volunteer – inviting questions about the text from the group. Questions can be categorised as factual (seeking to clarify facts or definitions of terms), interpretive (arousing interest and seeking meaning) and evaluative (encouraging expression of opinions). The questions asked and the main points made by participants are recorded and a five-minute review back to the group at the end is provided.

From David Kahn of NAMTA (North American Montessori Teachers Association) we have the following list of ten Grace and Courtesy Rules for Seminar:

  • Wait until a person finishes speaking before responding or starting another comment.
  • Do not continue talking for a long period of time. Make your response clear but concise, so others can speak.
  • Make sure you finish your comment clearly so no one is left guessing whether or not you are finished.
  • No one may monopolize the discussion.
  • Politely request for others to have a turn or for a new question to be asked when the discussion seems to narrow to a few participants.
  • Make eye contact with the person who is speaking.
  • Watch the body language of others to recognize when they wish to speak.
  • Advocate for people who have been trying to speak but have not gotten the chance.
  • Call people by their names.
  • Agree or disagree with ideas ­ not with people.

On the subject of rules, Maria Montessori wrote (Childhood to Adolescence) “… in order that individual action should be free and useful at the same time it must be restricted within certain limits and rules that  give  the necessary guidance … The rules must be just those that are necessary and sufficient to maintain order and  ensure progress.”

The rules above obviously contribute to order and also ensure progress by providing the safe place students need to practice reading body language and communicate freely face-to-face.  It is an opportunity to practice expressing ideas out loud without preparation and to share ideas about justice and morality that are important for students of this age.  As with everything in the high school, seminar provides a chance to try on the adult world.

Discovery through Exploration

By Amy Johnson  – Kowhai Head Teacher – Pres

During the first weekend of the holidays, many of the Wā Ora staff were lucky enough to attend the MANZ conference in Hamilton that focused on the topic ‘Exploration – a joyful experience! Hoparatia – he wa pai’.

Since our return to school, I have been part of many different conversations among teachers applying ideas and strategies that came directly from the inspirational presentations and discussions at the conference. It is so encouraging to be reminded that the child’s exploration is an essential part of our curriculum.

One of the unique and amazing aspects of a Montessori education is the encouragement of children to explore their world, their interests and the prepared environment around them. Combined with the child’s natural curiosity and tendency to explore, the materials that surround them in their classrooms allow for personal and self-satisfying discovery.

A child will discover cultural, mathematic, linguistic or scientific facts and gain understanding through their own curiosity, ideas, effort and exploration. Because this information is not just handed to a child by an adult, every child, at each stage of development in a Montessori environment, feels that the learning and discovery is their own personal reward and accomplishment. From very early on they are gifted with the idea that knowledge is something that is gained by exploring one’s own interests and abilities, not something to be chosen or dictated by an adult. All of this self-satisfaction, self-recognition, self-discovery and self-confidence is linked directly to the experience of exploration that the Montessori learning environment encourages for our children as they grow and discover.

There are two key elements required for true exploration that are important to keep in mind, not only in the classroom environment but at home as well.

  • Time is the first thing that children need to explore as their curiosity and inner guide dictates. It is a precious commodity in our modern world and is something that is easy to overlook as we approach each day with our own adult priorities and perspective. It is important for those of us with our eyes on ‘the big picture’ to make a conscious effort to create plenty of free time for children to try things out, to discover on their own, to think creatively about different ways to do things and to make attempts and mistakes as they explore.
  • The second thing children need in order to feel free to explore their world, is what we call, a ‘friendliness with error’. Encouraging the idea that a mistake as a valuable learning opportunity, rather than a failure or problem is one of the best gifts we can give a curious, growing child and it is vital if they are to develop a thirst for exploration and a love of learning.

Kawakawa Service Camp

By Rose Langridge  – Kawakawa Teacher

As Maria Montessori said “Education should therefore include the two forms of work, manual and intellectual, for the same person, and thus make it understood by practical experience that these two kinds complete each other and are equally essential to a civilized existence.”

Wā Ora Montessori embraces this idea in many ways and I love the chance to be involved in these experiences.

Last week we embarked on the service camp. Kawakawa headed to Wainui Camp and worked on clearing the land and planting native trees in this area. Ākonga (students) participated in tangible work that they could see was making a true difference to the environment in which they were working.

As well as working on the land, ākonga become chefs whilst they are away. All the food is made from scratch so that these meals are very much a labour of love as the group cannot use processed foods; bread is made and vegetables are peeled, chopped and diced and turned into delights. The camp is also meat free and a push for seasonal foods is a priority.

I had the joy of working beside the kitchen crews. Each meal needed a huge amount of input and collaboration as you can imagine when cooking for just shy of sixty people at each meal.  Systems were worked out however and I learnt a few new tricks myself, the favourite being to put a spoon in your mouth whilst you cut onions to stop you crying. The class was amazing at adapting and, when we did not have the food processor, took to making falafel mix without complaint by hand. I was stunned, however they refused to give up and made a brilliant falafel crumble and Greek salad by the time the others were back from work.

The talents that are needed for working in a deadline situation in a kitchen cooking for a large amount of people are complex and it is great to see the groups take this task on with such aplomb. They could really teach those MasterChef competitors a thing or two about unity and grace under pressure. Being able to develop these skills in an environment which the group does not know well is a great thing and pushes the whole group.

This camp is certainly not the norm for most schools in New Zealand. Bonding with ākonga in this way and being the kitchen Queen, sporting a crown made by them, was great fun and I did enjoy seeing ākonga develop and shine when it came to practical experience.

The Ongoing Nature of Brain Development

By Jan Gaffney  – Principal

Coming up this Thursday is the parent evening for this term, the topic of which is something I personally find exceedingly interesting. It’s something I wish had been more available when my three darlings were growing up, but is definitely useful in working with children, no matter what the age.

The development of the brain is a fascinating topic. Looking at a baby’s brain shortly after birth and then a short time later, you can see the number of neurons firing as the infant starts constructing themselves.

It is amazing to me that Montessori created a method of education that allows the brain to develop to its potential, and she did this before brain imaging was available. She did this through systematic scientific testing of theories and observation of children in relation to those theories.

She observed how children reacted to the various materials she put before them, taking away what didn’t’ work and replacing it with something that did, and then watched to see what it was the children needed in order to interact with the activities she placed in front of them.

She developed materials that called to the child’s developmental needs at each stage, and then allowed and encouraged the child to repeat each activity as many times as they wanted. Recently we have learned through the study of neuroscience that it is by repetition that automaticity occurs, and automaticity is required in order for someone to be able to do more and more complex tasks.

Such a lot happens in those first six years of life, and this is the foundation on which all else is built. However, the changes that occur when a child goes through adolescence is the time to shore up those foundations, in preparation for the next great flurry of activity.

What happens during this time, has up until recently, been largely a mystery. Now, thanks to modern science, we can learn more about what happens, why children do what they do as they pass through each stage, and better prepare ourselves to support them as they take the necessary steps to becoming a fully functioning adult.

A very exciting process indeed, and one that I’m always grateful to learn more about. I hope to see you here on Thursday night – in Kawakwa class at 7.30pm where we can find out more together.

Adolescents and Self Worth

By Richard Goodyear  – Kawakawa Head Teacher

Recently I was thrilled to be able to watch my daughter give a speech at her 21st birthday party celebrations. She spoke to a crowd of loving friends and family and gave my wife and me a huge acknowledgement. More importantly she simply oozed with confidence in her place in the world.

It made me think a lot about the belief one has (or doesn’t have) in his/her own worth, and in his/her ability to achieve. In modern parlance it is called self-efficacy. In Montessori we call it ‘valorization’, and it has been said it is the most important outcome of our work.

So what does valorization look like here in the adolescent community at Wā Ora?

We start with respect, understanding and belief in the adolescent’s potential. There is a real tenderness and sensitivity in young adults, due to the physical and psychological turbulence going on, so being aware, and tolerant of this, is perhaps the first attribute of the adult.

Dr. Montessori put it like this:  ‘The teachers must have the greatest respect for the young personality, realizing that in the soul of the adolescent, great values are hidden, and that in the minds of these boys and girls there lies all our hope of future progress and the judgment of our times.’ (Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence 72).

Secondly we must set up the learning experiences in such a way to allow for valorization. Our two key methods for that are occupations projects and community work.

Occupations projects in Kawakawa see the adolescents working for four weeks in a group with one teacher on a particular hands-on project. These projects generally have some sort of problem to solve or opportunity that will benefit the community. For this type of work and to make it more meaningful to the adolescents, the ‘community’ is generally fairly immediate, ie, the class itself, so the fruits of their efforts are very visible.

In community work (in which Tawari students are also involved) the ‘community’ reaches a little wider, being the whole school on a regular basis, and also events such as Peace Day and Matariki.  Community work does also extend out into the wider community with students helping out at Naenae Library, Wesleyhaven Retirement Village and Taita Cemetery. Doing these things in the community are valuable in and of themselves, but they are also small ways to promote valorization – seeing that there is value for others in one’s own efforts.

There is much potential in this idea of valorization for the adolescent and perhaps at the moment we are just scratching the surface. But it is an important part of our work here at Wā Ora. We simply need to think of our current adolescents giving speeches as young adults in a few years time, to see that stepping up as contributing adults in our complex society is a hugely important task

The Power of Suggestion

By Jan Gaffney  – Principal

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you for Matariki on Friday, but I hear it was a great day, and the hakari at night went well.  Our next school community event is a presentation from the Brainwave Trust talking about the developing brain from 8 years old onwards.  Brainwave’s focus is on providing education about the vast potential within each child and how we as parents can help to bring it out.  Maria Montessori talked about this a lot also.

Another thing Montessori often talked about was being careful about what was said around children and the need to be extra careful when they could hear, or even see that they were being talked about. She counselled teachers not to talk ‘ill of the child’, whether the child was present or not. There is a very good reason for this.

When a teacher talks ill of a child, he or she is reinforcing an idea of how she/he believes the child to be, and this can then become a fall-back position as to how the teacher feels the child ‘always’ is. This is something teachers  are supposed to avoid; each day we are supposed to come to the class with a clean slate, receiving the child daily as though nothing bad/wrong/inappropriate (call it what you will), has happened.

When we speak ill of a child, we reinforce to ourselves a usually negative perception and each time we do so, it becomes more entrenched. Then, when we see that behaviour occur again, we say, “Oh yes, that’s just what they are like”, further and further attributing certain behaviours as being natural to that child, which soon enough becomes reality, as the child takes his/her cue from the teacher.

This happens too, when we as parents, speak about a child when they are near, inadvertently reinforcing certain concepts, traits or characteristics that they then make part of themselves. When we say in front of them:

She worries so much about….
He doesn’t like broccoli / vegetables / Sarah, etc
She is very shy
He is very / not so good at math / writing / reading / singing / drawing, etc
She is feeling very grumpy this morning
He is feeling a bit sick, so you can ring me if he needs to come home
She is such a good / bad / disorganised / scatter-brained / messy child

All of these things encourage the child to believe they cannot be any different than what is being said about them, and in the long run, this is not helpful to them at all. A child who is quiet and needs time to warm up can be just that. Giving the label ‘shy’ can become a trait that they take on as a personal view of themselves and can become an impediment to their feeling comfortable in social situations for the rest of their life.

Similarly, when we talk about a child not being good at art or maths in front of them, we give them the idea that we think that is the case. Since we are adults and know so much more, what we say must be right, and so the child believes what we say, and makes that an integral part of who they are and what they can or can’t do. When we do this in front of children, we limit them, and I’m sure you will agree, that that is the last thing we want to do!

This is easier said than done I know (from experience!!), but if we are mindful, maybe we can do it less.

The Journey from 6-9 to 9-12

By Sharon Udy  – Totara Teacher, Primary

It’s been an interesting start to the year for me professionally as I moved from teaching in one of our 6-9 classes to working with 9-12 year olds. You may be aware of Montessori’s ‘Planes of Development’ – the six-year cycles she observed in human development. The second plane of ‘childhood’ is from approximately age six to twelve, so I am still working with children in the same ‘plane’, but there are some fascinating differences to get used to.

Montessori advised that in each ‘plane’ we are dealing with a new person – a new set of characteristics, needs and behaviours, but within each plane are two sub-phases of about three years each – a time of creation, followed by a time of development or “crystallization.” This is what I am seeing in the tamariki of Tōtara. They are reaching towards a point of completion, before they start their journey to adolescence.

In the second plane we share a Cosmic Curriculum – everything is interrelated and we make the connections clear to tamariki. We give them a picture of the whole, then give smaller parts and show how they are related to the whole. This approach appeals to their characteristics of imagination and their reasoning minds. We show that everyone and everything has a task. Tamariki come to appreciate everyone and everything, which has come before them, learning gratitude for the creative forces in the universe and for the human beings who have shaped our world.

We introduce cosmic education each year through ‘Great Lessons’. When ākonga hear these stories for the first time at six, they often respond with excitement – the goal is to stir the awe and wonder that resides within these tamariki. They don’t hear every detail, but receive a colourful first impression. They might remember the volcano or another visually impressive part of the story, i.e. just a few of the details.

By the time tamariki are in the 9-12 classes, they have heard these stories a few times. We tell slightly different versions each time, adding more detail to some parts. Tamariki look forward to their favourite stories, knowing most of what is coming and wondering what will be new this time. They become aware of details they had missed earlier and they are more ready to explore details independently. They ask more questions as their minds put together all the information they have heard throughout the years.

These tamariki are ready to make more, and different, connections than they did previously because of all the additional lessons and independent work they have done. They are ready for deeper exploration and in-depth studies. They now have the information and the skills required for these deeper investigations.

It has amazed me how just a brief conversation or a word mentioned in passing, can excite these older ākonga into independent research. They often don’t say what they are going to do, they just go and do it, then ‘report back’ to me with amazing detail and great understanding. I’m loving learning alongside these deep thinkers!

Screens – The Technological Double-Edged Sword

By Jan Gaffney – Principal

Kia ora Koutou whānau

There is so much to take into account when working with children and such a lot of conflicting advice that comes out in increasingly large amounts. This is particularly the case with screen time. I read recently that from quite a young age, children were regularly watching screens for up to seven hours a day. This includes TVs, tablets, phones and more, and includes those times when children are in shops/waiting rooms where there is usually a big screen conveniently located. Also this number of 7 hours only counts time spent ‘out of school’ so for those children in today’s typical schools where each child has their own device, that number could well increase.

For the longest time, The American Paediatrics society recommended no screen time for children under two. While they maintain this as the ideal, they have however also acknowledged that it is almost impossible to avoid exposing young children to screens of one sort or another in today’s world, so instead are now saying to ensure that the total amount of exposure is monitored and have conceded that things such as skyping with Nanna do have other benefits so perhaps could be included.

Increasingly, we are hearing about devices (lap tops, tablets, phones) becoming synonymous with modern school environments and best practice in teaching and learning. After having read more and seen some in action, I remain convinced that our approach here at Wā Ora of limiting screen time while children are young is the right one.

The literature more and more tells us how young children’s brains are actually changing because of over-exposure to screens; in fact recently I read about how adults’ brains are changing as well. One study found that increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with ADHD, even though they have had no signs of this as children. Teenagers’ brains are also affected, especially those who are addicted to being on-line and gaming. Studies have shown loss and shrinkage in grey matter and damage to the area that controls empathy.

It’s a worry when you see groups of children/teens/adults out together but instead of looking at each other, they are staring at their screens or interspersing their conversation with texts and on-line behaviour. It is increasingly rare to see people out and about without their phone handy.

The problem is that screens can be very useful tools and help us in many ways. So then, what can we do to put limits in place – for ourselves and for our children – to stop the over-use and limit the addiction, that we adults, just as much as the children, experience?

We can simply start by keeping technology out of the bedroom – the blue light from the screen interrupts sleep, so instead, charge your phone in the living room and get an old fashioned alarm clock for your bedside. We can have designated screen-free times; meals would be a great time for this, as would ‘family fun nights’ or whatever you do as a family to be together. As adults we should model for our children (and I find this one really hard) not looking at our screens in the morning before school/work and not looking at them for an hour or so before bed time.  All simple strategies that can help to pull back over-use.

You may also have other techniques that you use – it would be great to share these on our face book page. I’d love to hear what you do!

The Emotional Curriculum

By Robin Wilkins – Puriri Teacher, Primary

In Montessori, when we talk about the ‘prepared environment’ we are talking wider than just the equipment which is on the shelves. Ākonga want not only an environment to be enjoyed and mastered, but also one which will help establish the whole personality – moral, social and intellectual. The much needed emotional safety this environment provides is built upon support, consideration, mutual contribution, a sense of belonging, protection, acceptance, encouragement and understanding.

It is interesting to note that emotional safety and the ability to learn have been correlated in contemporary education and brain research. This research has shown that the emotional centre of the brain is so powerful that negative emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety automatically ‘downshift’ the brain to basic survival thinking. Under such stress the reasoning centre of the brain shuts down.

To create a desirable environment therefore, it is vitally important to put the study of relationships at the centre of the curriculum alongside the ‘core subjects’. In Montessori classrooms therefore, we have two curriculums – emotional and intellectual, each of equal importance; each balancing the other.

In the emotional curriculum the children are learning behaviour and self-management. While we all accept that children need to learn to read, to write and the processes of maths, it can be easy to forget that their knowing how to behave socially is not inherent, but also must be learned, therefore many lessons are given in class on grace and courtesy.

We also provide ākonga with new opportunities in which to learn ways to express themselves, listen to others and work interdependently so that they become primary contributors to the cohesiveness and vitality of the classroom. We help them to think about how their actions impact the class community. Role plays are powerful ways to step into another’s shoes and also offer ways of both expressing and listening from the heart.

There are numerous ways in which the classroom is an aid to the moral life of ākonga – their developing sense of right and wrong and their ability to act on their values and beliefs.  An important part in the development of their character is their growing awareness of their (and also of others’) developing integrity, ie, the inner part of them that drives their actions. Who is their true self when others aren’t looking?

Remembering the steps in any activity is difficult and needs to be practised many times. By giving children the opportunity to practise with the freedom to make mistakes, they will be able to undertake the hundreds of repetitions needed to master a skill.

And then, one beautiful day, they will arrive at a place where they have both the necessary experience and skills to manage themselves in situations of a social or moral nature – not by accident but through the safety of the prepared environment and lots of practice.

The Outdoor Environment in our Preschool

By Tara Israelson –Nikau Teacher, Preschool

For many, the outdoors holds a special place.  The wide open spaces, the ability to get lost in nature, the many scientific discoveries to be made – these are all unique in the outdoors. I want to share with you how we are extending our Montessori vision into the outdoor environment in the preschool.

Years ago here at Wā Ora Montessori School, we made a conscious decision to do away with a traditional lunchtime recess and to rather have children be free to move between the indoors or outdoors as they felt the need.  As we made the shift to the ‘indoor/outdoor’ flow we began to notice a sense of calm come over both the tamariki (children) and the kaiako (teachers) as we began to find some purpose in our activity outside.

The space was changed to give way to more purposeful activities, often to assist with physical development.  We set up these activities like the ones inside, so that each activity met with a specific purpose.  Each activity was created to allow a beginning (the choice to engage), a middle (getting lost in activity) and an end (satisfaction and leaving the activity ready for the next person to use).

Since we have made this shift we have developed a productive garden that the tamariki are incredibly involved in.  How thrilling is it that a child who plants the carrots in December gets to harvest and then eat them in February?  We have introduced activities to care for animals, as well as activities to care for the space itself.  We have given the children space to just “be” outside.  We have searched our own childhood memories for games to teach the tamariki such as “Mother may I?” and “Duck, Duck, Goose.”  Sometimes they come up with their own games and we watch and learn from their enthusiasm and joy.

It is lovely to see the calm, satisfied nature of the children who use our outdoors every day. I believe that we can see this because we have decided to treat the outdoors with the same respect as we do the indoors.

When we, as parents, decided to send our children to a Montessori school it is likely that we loved seeing how peaceful, happy, kind and helpful the children were.  So often one of the comments made by observers is, “I can’t believe how peaceful it is and how independent the children are!”  This peace and independence is afforded by the prepared environment that the children manage and we are now seeing this evidence outside too!  It is due to the consistency that we are allowing now, as the children do not have to deal with two sets of expectations.

The child in the 3-6 classroom is desperate for order and needs to trust that the environment (and the people in it) will uphold the order.  I am pleased and honoured to say that with the dedication of the kaiako (teachers) and the trust from the community, we are well on our way to achieving our goal of a seamless indoor/outdoor flow.