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