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.