Te wiki o te reo Māori & New Zealand Sign Language week

By Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

Ngā mihi nui, you may have seen a video appear on the Community Facebook page with a “kupu o te wiki” – a word for the week.  This is an initiative to bring Te Reo Māori into focus for us as a community, and to help prepare for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, held in September every year.  Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori began as a Māori Language Day on September 14, 1972 when the Māori Language Petition was presented at Parliament.  Three years later this celebration of te reo Māori was extended to a week.  The petition, with 30,000 signatures, was supported by Ngā Tamatoa, The Māori Language Society of VUW, and Te Huinga Rangatahi and urged the government to allow teaching of Te Reo Māori in schools. By the early 1980s there were more initiatives dedicated to the revitalization of Te Reo Māori, with the first Kōhanga Reo opening in Wainuiomata in 1982.  By 1985 revitalization efforts were increasing in such a way that the Te Reo Māori Claim, stating that the language was a taonga needing protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, was taken to the Waitangi Tribunal.  The claim was successful and Te Reo Māori was made an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1987.   There are now many Kōhanga Reo, Kura Kaupapa Māori, and Whare Wānanga where children, older students and adults can learn not only Te Reo Māori but Kaupapa Māori and Mātauranga Māori.  There are Māori radio stations, television channels, and many online resources that support learners and speakers at all stages of their journey.   While the complete history of Te Reo Māori is too long to study here, there are many online resources available.  Information shared here has come from:  https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/maori-language-week/history-of-the-maori-language. Reading the comments following the articles is highly recommended as they share personal accounts of members of The Māori Language Society and Ngā Tamatoa.

This week the kupu o te wiki will be joined with NZSL – New Zealand Sign Language as this week celebrates NZSL.  NZSL has been formally used in Aotearoa New Zealand since 1995, although it had been developing since the late 1880s.  Signing in schools was actually prohibited until the 1970s, however, the natural will to communicate meant that signing was being used covertly by Deaf students in their schools.  By the 1970s dissatisfaction with the education system for Deaf students drove authorities to introduce sign language into classrooms for Deaf children.  NZSL continued to grow naturally through use and by the mid 1980s the term NZSL was introduced and a dictionary for NZSL developed.  Awareness of NZSL grew and so did support for the language.  By 2006, after decades of advocacy by the Deaf community, NZSL was formally recognised as an official language here.  Interest and support for NZSL continues to grow and many resources have been developed.  Again, the history of NZSL is far too long to study here but check out these resources:  https://teara.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-sign-language and https://nzslweek.org.nz/.  The taster classes are fun and when done in a group you have opportunities to practice with friends and colleagues.  For each of us it may feel small, the one word or phrase that we memorize, the greeting that we use every day, but it’s not small.  Poipoia te kākano kia puāwai – nurture the seed and it will grow.

The Importance of Concentration

By Michael Draper —Physics Teacher

An important concept in Montessori philosophy is the role of concentration in the development of the child:

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behaviour. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting on the child from outside can cause him to concentrate. Only he can organize his psychic life.”  (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 1949 translated 2007, p.202).

“Without concentration it is the objects about him which possess the child. He feels the call of each, and goes from one to another. But once his attention has been focused, he becomes his own master and can exert control over his world.” (ibid p.197-198).

She goes further to say that the process of concentration is restorative to a child’s overall wellbeing (“As soon as the ability of fixing the mind on real things is acquired, the mind will return to its state of health, and begin again to function normally.” ibid p.243). I have seen this ‘miracle’ in action both with my students and with my own children – when they become engrossed in work, any listlessness or contrariness falls away and their vitality and joy is apparent.

Maria Montessori observed that ‘occupation’ in tasks was not sufficient and that true ‘concentration’ was required for healthy development (“because if the children go indifferently from one thing to another, even if they use them all properly, this is not enough to remove their defects.” ibid p.188). She also identified the consequences of interrupting the pattern of concentrated engagement for a child (“If his cycle of activity be interrupted, the results are a deviation of personality, aimlessness and loss of interest.” ibid p.146), and gives explicit instructions to teachers “not to interrupt the child” when they are concentrating on their work (ibid p. 248-9 and 182 respectively).

The purpose of a Montessori school, therefore, is not to keep children busy, but to provide an environment where ākonga engage in interesting work.  Once engaged, it is our job as teachers to enable ākonga to pursue their work free from interruption.  (As a Montessori teacher, one of my challenges is to hold off from automatically assisting my students and instead wait for when my involvement will support their concentration rather than interrupt it.)  This need for concentration also explains why we limit the number of transitions in the school day to give ākonga more time to focus on their own work.

Maria Montessori’s specific advice to parents? “Their children need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.” (ibid p.182).

Maria Montessori wrote these observations in the 1940s, when electronics technology was in its infancy. If she were working now, I wonder what her advice would be regarding children and concentration in our Information Age?

The Planes of Development

By Kala Reyes — Rewarewa Head Teacher – Preschool

Dr Montessori believed that education must begin at birth. In her observations, she detailed four distinct planes of development from birth up to the age of 24. Each plane has specific characteristics that corresponds to the child’s developmental needs. Ideally, if these needs are met, there should be a seamless transition from one plane to the next; whereby the first plane prepares the child for the next and the second plane completes the first.

The First Plane: 0 to 6 years

The most striking characteristic of the child at this period is his absorbent mind. With this kind of mind, the child absorbs and adapts to the culture of his environment, and acquires a mother tongue in all its completeness and complexities. The child is a sensorial learner and builds his intellect by exploring a prepared environment that functions as ‘keys to the world.’ Human tendencies (orientation, order, exploration, etc.) and sensitive periods (language, movement, refinement of the senses, etc.) guide the child in his learning. The foundation for future learning is established in this plane.

The Second Plane: 6 to 12 years

Dr Montessori called this period the “age of instruction” — a fitting phrase since the child wants to know the hows and whys of things, the cause and effect, and the relationship between objects. The child moves from the sensorial to the abstract. Social connections become important; friendships are formed and the child is able to work cooperatively within a team setting. This plane recognises the child’s need for a wider environment, the use of a reasoning mind, and the development of moral sense. The materials in the Montessori primary environment are now the ‘keys to the universe’ and part of what Dr Montessori called Cosmic Education that highlights the interconnection of everything in the world.

The Third Plane: 12 years to 18 years

The adolescent at 12-15 is both sensitive and vulnerable. There is a need for him to belong and feel valued by his peers. It is not unusual to hear phrases such as “nobody understands me” or “leave me alone.” At 15-18, they seek to understand their place in society and how to contribute. The express themselves creatively, learning becomes practical and experiential, and they start developing political ideas. As Dr Montessori said, “these children want to make a direct contribution to society and have it recognized”.

The Fourth Plane: 18 years to 24 years

In this plane, young adults develop a true sense of who they are as individuals. They are ready to make their own decisions, to take their place in the world, and to establish social and economic independence. They may choose to study further, to travel, or to find employment as the need to become financially independent grows. They might be living away from home for the first time and use this time to focus on a career path.

Montessori education encourages the development of the whole child in all these stages; and one of our roles as guides is to prepare an environment rich with learning experiences suited to the children’s age and natural inclinations. It is a privilege to be part of children’s self-construction towards the adults they will one day become.

It takes a village – Moral development in adolescence

By Hilary Asquith Kawakawa head teacher

Recently I listened to a lecture by Laurie Ewert-Krocker, Director of the International Montessori Training Institute, in which she explained the many characteristics of adolescent development and the needs of the adolescent to reach maturity with confidence and become fully functional within the world. The lecture outlined how difficult a time of transition adolescence really is. Montessori acknowledged this turbulence through her writings about the third plane of development. There is a commonality of the adolescent experience of feeling both vulnerable and hesitant and a tendency to focus on the self and the role of themselves within the group. Ewert-Krocker says “it is easy to forget that we are dealing with an organism moving towards maturity…to get caught up in the focus of academic performance and success rather than our roles in supporting them to maturity and the social experience.”  Adolescents need opportunities to grow and develop their personal perspectives, empathy and interconnectedness within the social framework of society.

Moral development is fundamental in Montessori pedagogy. Montessori’s belief was that humans have a capacity that is wondrous. Much of Montessori education is about making sure that moral character develops alongside the academic work.

For success in life depends in every case on self-confidence and the knowledge of one’s own capacity and many-sided powers of adaptation. The consciousness of knowing how to make oneself useful, how to help mankind in many ways, fills the soul with noble confidence.” (From Childhood to Adolescence Montessori-Pierson p. 60)

Adolescents need multiple adults to study, build relationships with and have opportunities to hear different perspectives from. There is a gradual move away from their parents and a desire to connect with the worldview of others. Through the sharing of stories and growing their understanding of others, we grow their awareness of themselves and help them discover their place in the world. The need for positive role models and mentors is therefore paramount in this stage of development –

 because adolescence is the age when the child becomes man, which is to say a member of society.” (Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence, Schocken p. 96)

The work of the community is to ensure that our young people are surrounded by plentiful opportunities to engage with the world around them and provide mentors that will positively impact these developing minds. To not collectively work together to support this moral growth during this period of development would be a great loss to the future of humanity. It plays into the old adage that it takes the villages to raise the child. As Montessori said, adolescents are:

 the human energy on which the future depends” and we “must have the greatest respect for the young personality, realising that in the soul of the adolescent- great values are hidden… there lies all our hope of future progress and the judgment of ourselves and our time.” (Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence Schoken p. 112)

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.

Breathing. Part two: Respiration

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Repetition of inhalation and exhalation of breath is one of the defining features of human life. When tasked with paying attention to it, we can consciously manipulate it. But, for the majority of the time when we are not paying attention, so vital is its function that it goes on without us even knowing.

Montessori certainly set forth an aspirational view of what can be achieved in education, and what children are capable of. But, to only aspire would end in certain death; you would literally run out of breath.

Montessori’s concept of ‘perfection’ tends heavily towards the verb – perfection is a process, and is most associated with the human tendency towards repetition. In getting closer to the aspirational, we must regularly step back, evaluate, consolidate, and (*gasp*) rest. The four planes of development do not conform to the idea that progress is a straight line pointing up. In fact, the planes are commonly portrayed in the form of a zig-zag to emphasize this nonlinear process. Montessori called it the ‘constructive rhythm’:

If we take the measurements of the first period of growth, we will see that during the first year there is tremendous development, during the second year this development begins to wane, and during the third year it slows down even more. This rhythm repeats itself in each of the other periods. In each section of the three-year periods, a period of great effort is followed by a period of rest. So life develops according to a law. All life follows the same law and the periods are the same for every child. (p.23, The 1946 London Lectures)

This constructive rhythm is to be carefully observed and nurtured by a prepared guide. Montessori, perhaps not surprisingly, is nothing short of aspirational in her aims here either, writing that “it is not enough for the teacher to love the child. She must first love and understand the universe. She must prepare herself, and truly work at it.” (Childhood to Adolescence, 1948)

To prepare oneself and love the universe is a very personal process. But, whatever form it takes, it requires focus and care. Modern neuroscience would no doubt say the most constructive preparation we can afford ourselves is quality sleep, and of course a healthy diet, exercise, and positive social connections.

While similar to our ability to forget about our breathing, part of our own constructive rhythm and preparation for each day, and each phase of life, is about paying attention to those aspects which make, and keep us, human, but are so easily neglected or entrusted to autopilot.

And so it is, that the aspiration of changing the world for the better is powered by the respiration of love, care, and rest. Simple, but certainly not easy.

Breathing. Part one: Aspiration

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Correctly applying the Montessori Method has got to be one of the most ambitious and aspirational tasks known to humankind. If you thought school was just about writing, maths, and eating your lunch: reconsider.

Through her incredible years of international research and work with children, the education Maria Montessori believed possible was one that transcended the classroom and paved the way for a brighter future. Montessori stated that “establishing a lasting peace is the work of education … all politics can do is keep us out of war.” (Education and Peace)

Peace as described by Montessori is not just an absence of war but a deliberate and sustainable state that requires constant care and nurturing. This state is to be brought about by those who have been guided through each plane of development by a prepared adult within an appropriately prepared learning environment. For this to be effective, once through the first (and most important) plane of development (0–6) where the self is constructed, the Montessori guide in the second plane (6–12) must do nothing less than assist the child to comprehend the entire universe:

If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child’s mind will then no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work. The knowledge he acquires is organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him, and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centred. (Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, 1989, p. 6)

In the third plane (12–18), the work then centres on developing the personal agency and interdependence on society that is required to convert their honed understanding of the universe into work as a practising adult that will bring about the betterment of all.

The word ‘aspiration’ contains the root word ‘spiro’, which relates to the breath. To ‘aspire’ is to ‘breathe upon’. The connotations are that to achieve a large task, one breathes upon it; focusing their life’s energy to it. All Montessori guides must, in their hearts, believe that what they are doing is ultimately contributing to a state of lasting prosperity and harmony amongst humanity, natural species, and the environment. So, to achieve Montessori’s vision, we must inhale deeply and prepare ourselves for a lifetime of work.

Now, how do we achieve this and still stay alive? Tune in next week for part two…

Looking on in wonder


By Michael Draper — Physics Teacher

The mistaken idea that the adult must mould the child in the pattern that society wishes still holds sway…. The child is not simply a miniature adult. He is first and foremost the possessor of a life of his own that has certain special characteristics and that has its own goal. The child’s goal might be summed up in the word incarnation; the incarnation of human individuality must take place within him. (Maria Montessori, Education and Peace p. 15)

With our Tāwari students starting their NCEA exams and preparations for the end-of-year concert underway, I find myself thinking back to what it was like to be a parent of Wā Ora tamariki with the end of the school year approaching.

One of the things that always arose in me at this time of the year was the desire to find out what my children would reveal or demonstrate to show how much they’d achieved that year. I would find myself thinking, “What will my children produce? What will they have to show at the end of this school year?” Behind this was a desire to have things that I could point to proudly and say, ‘’Look at what my children have done. Look at what they’re able to do.”

I was also aware, however, that I didn’t want my enthusiasm for individual achievements to unbalance my children’s development of their own intrinsic motivations.

Maria Montessori understood this problem:

The child who has never learned to work by himself, to set goals for his own acts, or to be the master of his own force of will is recognizable in the adult who lets others guide him and feels a constant need for the approval of others. (Education and Peace p. 18-19)

Her solution was as profound as it was simply expressed: “We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself” (Maria Montessori, Education for a New World, p. 106).

The child, in fact, once he feels sure of himself, will no longer seek the approval of authority after every step. He will go on piling up finished work of which the others know nothing, obeying merely the need to produce and perfect the fruits of his industry. What interests him is finishing his work, not to have it admired, nor to treasure it up as his own property. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind p.251)

As a parent, it is nice to remember that the examples of our children’s work that we cherish at the end of the year are only the tiniest glimpse into the true work that they have achieved, and that it is the children themselves, their growth and development, that is the far greater wonder.