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”.