We Can Make A Difference: The Power of the People

 

By Rose Langridge – Humanities & English teacher

Maria Montessori said that “it is now absolutely imperative to give serious thought to the human side of things in order to help men themselves change for the better. This is the task of education.” Montessori M (1949, preface, xii) Education and Peace. This is just as relevant now.

We live in a world filled with wicked problems. These are problems that are difficult to solve because they involve masses of contradictory evidence, diverse groups of people have a large economic burden and are interconnected with other complex problems. We as humans created these problems so we must learn to adapt. This is big and important work and it can seem overwhelming.

With that being said, Senior Social Studies at level three actively encourages ākonga to engage with wicked problems. The class this year chose to tackle one the biggest: healthcare. They did a lot of research as a group and decided that they would focus on two key issues: stigma and access to care regarding mental health. They decided to run a mental health awareness week, take part in the nationwide Gumboot day campaign (run by Mike King which is to raise money for adolescents to have access to counsellors) and petition the government to improve access to onsite school counsellors.

They organised a week-long Tāwari campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and did a series of events: Monday saw the glass walls of the classroom chalked with inspirational messages; Tuesday the class generated an appreciation wall; On Wednesday anonymous gratitude cards did the rounds; Thursday saw a game of capture the flag run acknowledging the link between physical and mental health; Friday was linked to the national Gumboot day campaign.

Finally, they wrote letters to people who have a direct impact on access to counsellors and generated a petition addressing the ratio of one counsellor to every 400 ākonga. This is something that they feel needs to change and that by generating more opportunities for access to counsellors so that those in need can get help. They hope that by increasing access that this will give people the tools to learn skills and strategies so that they can actively contribute to the wider community as adults.
They would really appreciate you looking at their petition, signing it and passing it on to others http://chng.it/TLzbByrffd.

Making real things

 

By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher

When I think of the moments of true engagement that I witness as I work in Kawakawa they are, almost without exception, when ākonga are busy creating real things.  There are many opportunities in the adolescent program for rangatahi to make real things.  Things that are beautiful, functional and have value to themselves and others in the community.  To the adolescent, producing real objects brings “a valorisation of [their] personality, in making [them] feel capable of succeeding in life by [their] own efforts and on [their] own merits” [From Childhood to Adolescence p.61].  These are the feelings that help us to build our intrinsic motivations.

This term I have worked with a group of students making flatbreads.  We have come back to this activity every week, and it has yet to lose its appeal, or its value as an opportunity to learn. Its success lies partly in its simplicity.  The ingredients are nothing more than is necessary – flour, water, salt and yeast (if we’re feeling fancy) we cook them on hotplates in the classroom.  But it is this very simplicity that allows ākonga to easily come back to it again and again, to practice and refine their technique.

While working our dough and cooking and taste-testing our bread, we discuss many things: The cross-cultural appeal of traditional flatbreads; the nature of proteins and polymers, like gluten; the relationship between surface area and volume.  We also talk about our lives, comparing family traditions and our preferences for takeaway curry.  This “casual” conversation becomes deeply linked to the work we are doing – we are learning new skills, so our brains are building neural connections at a phenomenal rate. It becomes a part of who we are, and who we are becomes more deeply linked to the things we can do, and the people around us. As a friend of mine likes to say “Neurons that fire together wire together!”

Throughout her writing, Maria Montessori implored us to provide opportunities for students to work with both the hand and the head.  Our ability to manipulate our environment, and thus construct it alongside our own personality, is posited as a driving force of civilisation:

“It is characteristic of man to think and to act with his hands, and from the earliest time he has left traces of his work, rough or fine, according to the type of civilisation…. All changes in man’s environment have been made by the hand of man. It is because the hands have accompanied the intelligence that civilisation has been built, so it may well be said that the hand is the organ of that immense treasure given to man.” [Education for a New World. p62]

So I value the work that we do with our hands in Kawakawa. When we make real things, we are making ourselves. This is important work.

Kawakawa Coffee Cart & Canteen

By Sarah Jane Lambie –  Micro Economy Teacher

This term we welcome Rebecca Faulkner to the Kawakawa team. Rebecca is an experienced high school teacher, now business co-owner of Espresso Rescue, and works on Friday afternoons in the prefab training small groups of our Y9 – 10 rangatahi in the fine art of making coffee.

Each course consists of four, two hour sessions. While on the course, trainee baristas are expected to use their independent work time on Mondays to hone their learnings. Once they have ‘graduated’ as baristas, students have opportunities to work in KCC&C (Kawakawa Coffee Cart & Canteen), at Coffee House pop-up café and at various school events where we know an opportunity to buy a great coffee is welcomed by the parent (and teaching) community!

The barista training is a hands-on course, balanced with some science and a look at the back story – where does coffee come from, how does it get to us, and why does it matter? Rebecca explains that

On average it is going to take around five years for a seed to grow into a plant, and then go on a series of processes to get to our cups. A single tree will produce on average 0.9kg of fruit a year! So, each cup of coffee we make has been a long time in the making – let’s make each coffee we make count!

Teaching rangatahi about the interconnectedness between humans and the environment is fundamental to Montessori pedagogy. Through this holistic approach, rangatahi come to understand and take responsibility for their place in the social world as well as the living world.

This is in contrast to the old idea which was that life in the environment meant to get as much as possible from it; today ideas are very different. Now, it is realized that each animal behaves in a particular way, not only for his own good, but because he works also for the environment. He is an agent who works for the harmonious correlation of all things

Maria Montessori., Citizen of the World, p19

Working as a Kawakawa barista is one of the many opportunities we offer rangatahi to engage in the real-world activity of making, marketing and selling something they have produced. By experiencing what Dr Montessori called human interdependence (division of labour and exchange of goods and services to meet human needs) our students are learning, at a micro level, how society is organised along with how to develop skills, and utilise their strengths and interests, in collaboration with people and the environment, to meet the challenges they will face in the adult world.

“We must study the correlation between life and its environment. In nature everything correlates. This is the method of nature. Nature is not concerned with the conservation of individual life: it is a harmony, a plan of construction. Everything fits into the plan: winds, rocks, earth, water, plants, man, etc.”

Maria Montessori., Citizen of the World, p22

Looking forward to seeing you at the Kawakawa coffee cart sometime soon!

Whanaungatanga

By Carolyn Bohm – Rātā teacher

As a whole school staff we have been on a journey exploring different tikanga concepts. Our current concept of discussion is whanaungatanga and as we were engaging with this idea I was struck by how beautifully it connects with Montessori philosophy and principles. Whanaungatanga refers to a sense of family connection and describes the ‘glue’ holding people together in any whānau relationships. In tough times, it’s the relationship-glue of whanaungatanga causing the whānau to gather round, provide support, and put the needs of the group before the needs of individuals.

Whanaungatanga doesn’t just refer to one’s blood family, it can also refer to a community or group. Children and staff spend the better part of their daytime hours during the week at school and so a classroom can become almost a second whānau to them. Maria Montessori also thought of the Montessori classroom as a community and a family away from home. She believed in having mixed age ranges in the classroom as this mirrors a family at home with children interacting with siblings and cousins in a range of ages. This also allows tamariki to go to older members of the class when they need support and, in doing so, for older students to get a chance to be role models.

Montessori classrooms have community meetings to discuss and brainstorm solutions to problems noticed in the classroom. At community meetings possible solutions to the problem are brought up, their merits analyzed, and a solution voted upon. In this case, some tamariki might need to set aside their own wants to support the greater need of the community. This process also brings the classroom together as a family because all tamariki have an opportunity to make suggestions, comment on the suggestions of others, vote, and have a say in the strategies put into place in their classroom.

This sense of whanaungatanga is also created through shared experiences. While the Montessori curriculum is catered towards the unique interests and learning needs of tamariki, resulting in individuals or small groups working independently, we still come together for class trips, school camps, bush walks, school productions / events, occasional group lessons, and celebrations. These shared experiences allow us to create memories and a classroom identity.

This sense of belonging to a classroom family encourages tamariki to make choices keeping the greater good in mind. They can choose where to work, what to work on, when to follow up on lessons, and who to work with but this freedom comes with a responsibility to the classroom community. Choices around work must be made with consideration to the rest of the class and their need for an environment conducive to focused work. Through these different avenues, the Montessori classroom creates for children a family away from home and beautifully works alongside the local cultural tradition of whanaungatanga.

How much is too much?

By Hilary Asquith Kawakawa head teacher

This week the Stuff news site published an article that discussed the latest data from the 2018 PISA survey. The survey found that New Zealand’s 15 year-olds are spending an average of 42 hours a week online of which only 84 minutes was within school hours. This was an increase of an additional 22 hours from the 2012 survey. I found this information shocking and yet not unsurprising. There has been a tremendous increase in the use of screens in previous years. This has been well documented and COVID-19 has seen many in our community increase their time online even further. However, the publication of this data really did cause me to stop and reflect on what the implications are for our ākonga and why they were making these choices to begin with?

I feel that it is a difficult path that we are following, and we must seek out someone who can teach us something more practical. This ‘someone’ who can teach us is the child. The child can reveal to us the origin of society and can show us the way out of this intricate question. Our task is to give help to the child and watch for what he will reveal to us. Maria Montessori, Citizen of the world, pg. 27.

So what are the youth of New Zealand revealing to us through this data? Reflecting on this I began to question the possibility of links between time online, compromised focus and the capacity to develop grit and perseverance? This is an important connection to contemplate given that being able to sustain focus is a necessary requirement in developing the capacities of perseverance and grit.

“Perseverance requires us to have relentless faith in the importance of our work despite the obstacles we face… one must have a strong and developed will to keep disciplined and remain focused on what we know is valuable and worthy of our energy… Grittiness requires absolute and undivided attention to what is in front of us.” Molly O’Shaughnessy, The Observation Artist The NAMTA Journal. Vol 41, No.3 2016.

There is plenty of well documented research that shows that increased time online (in particular time on social media), correlates with increased mental health risks. I am personally curious to dig deeper into the research to find out whether yet another impact of increased screen time is an erosion of attention span due to the flood of instant gratification of click-bait, sound bites, Tik tok clips, endless streaming, or simulated gaming experiences. It seems obvious to think that they might be and I am fairly sure that research most likely exists. The question then arises, is time online then also impacting the capacity to develop the grittiness required to manage life’s adversities? Is the lack of focus another angle on what is contributing to the epidemic of mental health concerns in New Zealand?

Maggie Jackson’s 2008 book Distracted states, “Attention also tames our inner beasts… People who focus well report feeling less fear, frustration, and sadness day to day, partly because they can literally deploy their attention away from the negatives of life.” Molly O’Shaughnessy furthers this discussion with, “One of attention’s highest forms is ‘effortful control’ which involves the ability to shift focus… and regulate one’s impulses.” 

But what of our attention? What might the averages of weekly screen time of the adults responsible for children look like? What time are we as parents or guides spending on screens? Is our time on screens having the dual effect of not only impacting our own capacity to be focused but also taking us away from the day-to-day attentiveness in our roles alongside our taitamariki? And why are our young people self-selecting time online in the first place anyway? Is the adolescent’s choice of routine screen time partially a consequence of the adult’s inattentiveness to begin with? A flow on consequence of the lack of purposeful engagement with others or other materials within their environment? Are our Montessori ākonga any different to the published New Zealand PISA averages? Do they have a different relationship to social media and screens than their mainstream peers? We would hope so but how do we know? How might we find out?

The great benefit we can bestow on childhood is the exercise of restraint in ourselves.Maria Montessori, Maria Montessori speaks to parents, p. 18

Some of these questions are big and profoundly challenging. It would take significant further research and personal introspection to unpack. However, I feel there are questions enough here to warrant a little reflection time around what we are all modelling for our young people, and how we are preparing the environment within our own homes and classrooms to allow students to foster a deep capacity to focus and reflect, in order to build purposeful, and positive lives. Screens are useful tools for learning, they provide a wonderful window out into the world and they can aid students who need additional support to manage their day-to-day learning, but we all need to honestly reflect on how much is too much, for both them and for ourselves.

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.