Manaakitanga – Kindness and Respect

By Robin Wilkins – Pūriri Teacher

A parent recently asked me how we teach kindness in a Montessori environment considering it is such an important skill. This led me to thinking about staff discussions on the meaning of Manaakitanga – hospitality, kindness generosity, support – the process of showing respect and care for others.

A key component in a Montessori classroom is respect, so how do we teach it?

Maria Montessori believed in kindness and respect to her core. She worked hard with children who were classified as ‘unteachable’, enabling them to master skills that had been thought to be totally beyond their capabilities. She respected them immediately and provided them with an environment full of kindness and respect.

Teaching kindness and empathy is an important part of social and emotional development. Empathetic ākonga are willing to listen to their peers, are open to compromise and learn to understand the needs of others. Dr. Montessori recognised that ākonga need to learn wisdom, honesty, responsibility, compassion, justice, courtesy, patience and humility – characteristics taught and nurtured in a Montessori environment.

Fostering a culture of kindness cultivates empathy and understanding between individuals. As relationships form, trust develops, which allows a culture of learning to blossom where all individuals feel genuinely valued – for who they are and what they are. Devoting time to nurturing the classroom culture through developing kindness is exactly what allows us to also be successful in other areas.

According to neuroscientist and educator, Dr. Judy Willis, “Classrooms can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge. When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition. Brain-imaging studies support this”.

Being part of a classroom is more than just academics, social and emotional intelligence is just as important to nurture as fine motor and academic skills. Ākonga learn to be part of a community, where getting along with others is extremely important. We reinforce the values of kindness and respect every day by modelling appropriate behaviours and through lessons in grace and courtesy. The secret to developing kindness is when it is modelled and taught with passion and purpose.

Lessons in grace and courtesy are essential ways to promote lifelong skills. Community meetings are a great opportunity to develop empathy as ākonga listen with understanding and consider how to respond to their peers. The best way for us to assist ākonga in learning these concepts is to provide them with a clear understanding of the importance of respect through our words, positive actions and always modelling kindness and respect for others. As a student once commented to me, “Respect is a big word”.

Maria Montessori said, “They will imitate us in any case. Let us treat them, therefore, with all the kindness which we would wish to help develop in them”.

Welcome back from the Preschool

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

In ngā akomanga the term has started off very smoothly with tamariki eager to work with their favourite activities, get presented with new ones and see their friends again. It has been lovely to see how warmly new tamariki have been welcomed and ‘absorbed’ into their new hapori (community). The other tamariki have been kindly teaching them our routines and behaviours through Grace and Courtesy groups as well as through gentle reminders. With 20 other children doing these expected behaviours and following the same routine it doesn’t take long at all for new ones to feel comfortable and at home, building up their sense of belonging and security day by day.

Seeing tamariki and their whānau again after the long summer holiday, catching up on news and seeing how much all the children have all grown is a lovely way to start the school year, basking in the feelings of whanaungatanga that carries over from previous years, and now grows to include our new members! There is always a bundle of feelings for that first day or week, for everyone involved! These can include excitement at being back with friends, anxiously checking off the small final jobs we kaiārahi had to do, relief that the holidays are over but nervous about saying goodbye to your child again…. And of course, this is different for each individual.

The trust that you put in us, the kaiārahi of Wā Ora, each day is not taken lightly. One of the aspects that I love most about Montessori education is that we have each child for three years and the opportunity that this gives us to really get to know them and you, their whānau, and the relationship that is built up over this time. It makes such a big difference to helping tamariki settle into school during the first week back or during that wobbly first ten minutes of their day, and to sense when you as a parent may need a helping hand or kind word as you say goodbye to a teary child.

However, the school and class community we have also plays a huge part. I love the way that our school, whānau, and kaiārahi work together to build a hapori in which we all can flourish, especially our precious tamariki! If you see some new faces outside your child’s akomanga or in the playground this week, it would be wonderful to introduce yourself and stop to chat. That way if someone is having a hard time as we all get used to school routines again, there are others there to support them. You have all been through that ‘new, teary stage’ or the ‘my child is having a bad day’ experiences. Although kaiārahi are there, it is also great to be able to chat with others who have been through this and to get the reassurance from another parent that, yes, it does get easier!

Good luck, and here’s to a great 2023 as a school community!