Relationships: the foundation of an effective learning environment


By Hilary Asquith –Kawakawa head teacher

Recently the staff at Wā Ora partook in a refresher course on restorative practices to further embed these processes into our everyday school life. Restorative practices are an approach that recognises that good relationships are the foundation of an effective learning environment. At school, ākonga will often work their hardest and be most eager to learn when they are in a positive relational space with their kaiako and peers. However, just like the rest of us, children and teenagers will, from time to time, make mistakes that damage these relationships. Restorative practices acknowledge that we all need to be given the opportunity to repair the harm caused and move forward with our māna intact. Restorative practices take incidents that might otherwise have resulted in punitive actions and creates opportunities for ākonga to become more self-aware of the impact of their choices. It helps them appreciate their need to take responsibility for their actions by putting relationships at the centre. Punishments, however, can lead to resentment and a withdrawal from relationships and participation in the classroom, and damage their connection with the community that surrounds that young person – the very things they need to move forward positively.

Maria Montessori saw education as a means to build a more harmonious society.

“We must help [the child] to develop within himself that which will make him capable of understanding. It is not merely words; it is a labour of education… for peace cannot exist without justice and without men endowed with a strong conscience.”

 Citizen of the World, Montessori-Pierson. Vol 14. p. 38.

Restorative practices are a mechanism for helping to build that conscience through educating our children about responsibility and nurturing their empathy. It requires people to listen to each other, to view others’ perspectives, and collaborate with them on remedies. It is a process of finding out what it was like for all the individuals involved and what each person needs to feel restored, both within themselves and their community. Done well, a restorative process almost always results in a better understanding of each other, stronger relationships and a more positive community life.

Five of the best questions we can all use with our tamariki anytime an incident occurs are:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking or feeling at the time?
  • What have you thought about since it happened?
  • Who has been affected, and how?
  • What do you think needs to be done to make it right?

The language and intricacies of the process may vary with the age of those involved, but the process and outcomes remain essentially the same whether we are supporting preschoolers, adolescents or adults. Local and global events of the past month only remind us as a community, that we need to further value relationships and support the development of restorative skills in hope of a more peaceful future community.

Montessori from birth

By Suzanne Eaddy – Playgroup Co-ordinator

When Maria Montessori began her studies in education in 1897, she found there were no education programmes for children under the age of six. Her observations of young children led her to develop a system of education based on the natural way that children learn, and her first Casa Dei Bambini opened on 6/1/1907 with children aged two to six years old.

Today 0 to 3 years is generally considered a time when babies play while learning to walk and speak.  Then they will attend a Kindy or Playgroup and begin their education at school, aged five. In the Montessori community this is a little different with playgroup, from a few months old, then preschool age three. So, within the Montessori community, when do we consider that education starts for our children?

At birth a baby is totally dependent; their nervous and skeletal systems are not fully developed so independent movement, self-care and communication are impossible. However, the baby’s senses are developed; sight, hearing, smell, feeling/ touch and taste.  From birth the baby’s work is to develop physically and to learn about the environment, language/s and customs they have been born into. Montessori believed that the baby “works” at these tasks because he learns by doing things, by physically interacting with the environment. We cannot tell a baby how to walk or talk; the baby has to learn this himself.

The Montessori educational system is responsive to the “basic responses of human beings allowing their complete development and adaptation to their environment”. One of the difficult skills for a 0 to 3 Montessori parent or teacher is learning to leave a young child uninterrupted for as long as the child is concentrating on an activity. As adults we need to develop preceptorship skills; hands off, encouraging and intervening only if requested or required.  It is fun to sit and play with a young child, however, we must remember:

“Concentration is the key that opens up the child to latent treasures within him” and

“Do not offer to help a child with a task that he believes he can complete”

Montessori developed theories of Planes of Development, Sensitive Periods and the Absorbent Mind. The first Plane of Development is ages 0 to 6 with sub-Planes of 0 to 3 and 3 to 6. From 0 to 3, children develop specific skills at certain times; crawling from 6 to 9 months, walking 9 to 13 months, i.e. during the Sensitive Periods.

A baby is born with no developed knowledge, memory or will power. The necessary organs develop and then the baby has to work to make them function:

“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself”

While he is developing a memory, learning that objects have names and listening to sounds that will become words he is also developing his own personality and character which will be completed by age 3. Education and experience will allow further development to this core personality.

0 to 3 (Playgroup) is definitely the beginning of the Montessori education system….   : )

Independence in the second plane

By Richard Goodyear – Tōtara teacher

I want to take a moment to share with you how it has been for me to move from working with adolescents to children in the 9-12 class again. I guided in a 9-12 class at Berhampore Montessori for nine years before moving to Tōtara class in 2013. There I worked with Carol, then Joel until the end of 2015 when I moved to Kawakawa class, staying there for just over four years. More recently, amongst other things, I worked with adolescents including NCEA level students at Harbour Montessori College in Auckland before returning to Tōtara in November of last year.

It’s been a roundabout Montessori journey that has seen me mainly work with kids in their middle childhood years but in two very different aspects: the second half of the second plane of development and the first half of the third. How much did you change between your bright-eyed 10-year-old self and the probably more world-wise 14-year-old? For me, it was a huge shift when I was young, and professionally it has been a massive and fascinating change of mindset and skills required between those two phases.

What I’m absolutely loving about Tōtara is the way we truly challenge them to work independently. Sometimes it’s hard for them. Sometimes they would prefer more structure, to be told what to work on. But we believe, as Montessorians working in the second plane, that the potential of tapping into their inner motivation is too important to squander. We want ākonga to find the sparks of interest that call to them. So questions like ‘what fascinates them?’ ‘how do they best express themselves?’ ‘what are they passionate about?’ and ‘what are they capable of?’ become hugely important to us.

And so after years of working with adolescents where the key priorities are quite different, I find myself in the familiar, lovely, challenging place where free choice is the priority.  How to interest a child in something when they are already busy working on their own freely chosen activity? It isn’t easy, but that is the challenge. I love it when I find something that occupies them in meaningful ways for an hour or two. A good example today was introducing the concept of measuring area (eg how many square metres is…?) with a story (of course) and seeing their little eyes light up. Then setting them a challenge that involved creating diagrams on the netball court with chalk (super fun) and because they are working independently, I could then move on to the next group and entice them, for just a little bit, in something new.  A beautiful day for me, epitomized by Dr Montessori’s famous quote in regards to the second plane child:

 “The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.”