“Establishing peace is the work of education”

By Zena Kavas — Biology Teacher — High School

“Preventing conflicts is the work of politics: establishing peace is the work of education.” 

Montessori, M. (1992). Education and Peace. Oxford: Clio Press. p. 24.

This quote seems very apt, given that we celebrated Peace Day last Friday. It was a stunning spring day, and it provided an opportunity for the whole school to gather at the Waddington Drive campus to share songs, speeches, a flag ceremony and best of all, playing with the giant earth ball. It is a reminder to us that while the curriculum and the content and the credits are important, there are broader and more holistic purposes of education, like establishing peace. We approach this in a range of different ways; directly through the curriculum and what we teach, using restorative practices when dealing with conflict, participating in a range of activities during reflection, and by modelling behaviours which promote peace.

The New Zealand Curriculum document states “community and participation for the common good is associated with values and notions such as peace, citizenship, and manaakitanga.” These values are researched and taught in a range of classes and situations, including humanities, P.E. and psychology.

Staff in the school are trained in, and follow restorative practices. These practices place high value on building respectful relationships, helping others identify the impact of their actions and supporting others to accept responsibility for their actions and to make more considered choices in the future. Restorative practices are sometimes seen as the ‘easy way out’, often because the perpetrator of the harm is not seen to be punished. However, restorative practices are far more effective than punitive practices. All parties in the conflict are encouraged to actively listen to what others are saying, to see a situation from a different point of view, and to find creative ways to repair the damage done to the relationship. The skills learned in the process are vital steps on the path to establishing peace.

Reflection is practiced each week by students, and the benefits are numerous, from taking a short break from the constant activity of the school day to arriving at a better understanding of oneself and others. Establishing peace must first occur within oneself, inner peace, before we can strive towards outer peace, whether in the family, classroom, country, or world peace. Reflection allows us to start to recognise the thought processes in the mind, and to link these to our behaviours and what is happening around us. It can help us to decide to do something differently. Reflection can help us to understand our classmates better, and to be more tolerant.

Kaiako act as role models, demonstrating and encouraging respectful relationships, and at the same time open to learning from ākonga, acknowledging that the learning relationship is always a two-way relationship.

Peace Day is a beautiful celebration of peace, and a reminder to us that “establishing peace is the work of education.”

Student choice

By David Starshaw–Mathematics Teacher–High School

Do we want adolescents to be independent learners? The obvious answer is yes. Even if you are not quite sure what it means to be an ‘independent learner’, you probably have a sense that independence is a good thing we want our students to embody. Perhaps you think adolescents should be interdependent learners? A student who doggedly insists they are independent and so refuses to ask for help when they are stuck is not going to be very successful. Clearly, we want students who are neither too dependent, nor too independent.

One way we foster this is through student choice. A common phrase you will hear in Montessori circles is “freedom within limits.” And, here too, a balance must be struck. Montessori says “to let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom” (The Absorbent Mind). But equally, not enough freedom to make good choices denies the opportunity for adolescents to make mistakes of self-management and learn from them. As teachers, our role is to allow students to fail, but not so badly that they do not get back up and learn from it.

As I have increasingly become more interested in educational research, I have learnt that students, as a rule, do not make good choices on how to best develop their learning. Students that are novices in the topic and struggling, will tend to choose more open-ended tasks that are easier to hide that they don’t know. Students that are becoming intermediate in the topic and understanding the basic ideas, will tend to choose familiar, short, closed questions rather than extending themselves into more open-ended problems. One of the roles of the teacher is to limit the student’s freedom to choose ineffective uses of their time so that they can make good choices and be successful. But, as before, there must be a balance to allow enough freedom without allowing too much.

I was recently surprised to learn that learning styles are still being discussed. This used to be a common way in which students were allowed choice. The educational research has been clear for a long time now that learning styles are not a thing. Or, as was published in 2008, “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base.”   1 This is as close to a ‘burn’ as it gets in research.

Student choice is a good and necessary thing. But, like fire, too much is harmful and puts unnecessary roadblocks in the way of progression and future success.

1 https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf

“Why is my child sweeping the floor at preschool?”


By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

The Practical Life activities are a key part of a preschool classroom.  Quite simply they are what they say they are.  They are real life activities that children are naturally drawn to wanting to do and ones that are hands-on and need to be repeated in order to gain proficiency.

Practical Life activities are the first area that a child will be given lessons in.   Right from the very first day they enter a classroom they need skills to be able to operate independently.   In order to have a drink of water they need to be able to pour water from a jug.  They need to know how to carry a chair, roll a mat, carry a tray to a table etc and the key thing is they want to be able to do these things!

“It is interesting to notice that where life is simple and natural and where the children participate in the adult’s life, they are calm and happy.” 

Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, pg 152

The Practical Life activities in a Montessori classroom use real, child-sized tools and equipment that give children the skills that allow them to be independent.  This independence from adult support allows them to gain that sense of satisfaction that they have done it themselves. Using the sweeping analogy, the broom is the right size!  They can be successful in sweeping the floor because the handle is the right length and the broom head isn’t too heavy or ungainly to move.  Even better, they can practice the actions of sweeping for as long as they want to.  It is not about sweeping the floor.  It is perfecting the movement of sweeping that they have seen others do and being able to do it without help.

One sees that these small children have a tendency to work in their play, imitating the actions of the adults.  They don’t consider what they do to be play – it is their work.” 

Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, pg 151

Alongside meeting the need to imitate what adults do, the Practical Life activities also assist self development through control of movement, development of hand-eye coordination and muscle coordination which prepares the child for other activities.  Practical life activities have an important place throughout the whole three year cycle of a child’s time in preschool.  There is a progression in the activities from simple to complex.  Some lessons such as cloth washing have many steps and need the development of concentration and perseverance in order to complete the cycle of activity.  Any activity that is refining the movements and strengthening the hand is providing indirect preparation for holding a pencil and writing.

Rest assured that any time your child comes home from school and talks about all the practical life activities they have been doing at school, they are actively building their intelligence through the use of their hands!

We Can Make A Difference: The Power of the People


By Rose Langridge – Humanities & English teacher

Maria Montessori said that “it is now absolutely imperative to give serious thought to the human side of things in order to help men themselves change for the better. This is the task of education.” Montessori M (1949, preface, xii) Education and Peace. This is just as relevant now.

We live in a world filled with wicked problems. These are problems that are difficult to solve because they involve masses of contradictory evidence, diverse groups of people have a large economic burden and are interconnected with other complex problems. We as humans created these problems so we must learn to adapt. This is big and important work and it can seem overwhelming.

With that being said, Senior Social Studies at level three actively encourages ākonga to engage with wicked problems. The class this year chose to tackle one the biggest: healthcare. They did a lot of research as a group and decided that they would focus on two key issues: stigma and access to care regarding mental health. They decided to run a mental health awareness week, take part in the nationwide Gumboot day campaign (run by Mike King which is to raise money for adolescents to have access to counsellors) and petition the government to improve access to onsite school counsellors.

They organised a week-long Tāwari campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and did a series of events: Monday saw the glass walls of the classroom chalked with inspirational messages; Tuesday the class generated an appreciation wall; On Wednesday anonymous gratitude cards did the rounds; Thursday saw a game of capture the flag run acknowledging the link between physical and mental health; Friday was linked to the national Gumboot day campaign.

Finally, they wrote letters to people who have a direct impact on access to counsellors and generated a petition addressing the ratio of one counsellor to every 400 ākonga. This is something that they feel needs to change and that by generating more opportunities for access to counsellors so that those in need can get help. They hope that by increasing access that this will give people the tools to learn skills and strategies so that they can actively contribute to the wider community as adults.
They would really appreciate you looking at their petition, signing it and passing it on to others http://chng.it/TLzbByrffd.

Making real things


By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher

When I think of the moments of true engagement that I witness as I work in Kawakawa they are, almost without exception, when ākonga are busy creating real things.  There are many opportunities in the adolescent program for rangatahi to make real things.  Things that are beautiful, functional and have value to themselves and others in the community.  To the adolescent, producing real objects brings “a valorisation of [their] personality, in making [them] feel capable of succeeding in life by [their] own efforts and on [their] own merits” [From Childhood to Adolescence p.61].  These are the feelings that help us to build our intrinsic motivations.

This term I have worked with a group of students making flatbreads.  We have come back to this activity every week, and it has yet to lose its appeal, or its value as an opportunity to learn. Its success lies partly in its simplicity.  The ingredients are nothing more than is necessary – flour, water, salt and yeast (if we’re feeling fancy) we cook them on hotplates in the classroom.  But it is this very simplicity that allows ākonga to easily come back to it again and again, to practice and refine their technique.

While working our dough and cooking and taste-testing our bread, we discuss many things: The cross-cultural appeal of traditional flatbreads; the nature of proteins and polymers, like gluten; the relationship between surface area and volume.  We also talk about our lives, comparing family traditions and our preferences for takeaway curry.  This “casual” conversation becomes deeply linked to the work we are doing – we are learning new skills, so our brains are building neural connections at a phenomenal rate. It becomes a part of who we are, and who we are becomes more deeply linked to the things we can do, and the people around us. As a friend of mine likes to say “Neurons that fire together wire together!”

Throughout her writing, Maria Montessori implored us to provide opportunities for students to work with both the hand and the head.  Our ability to manipulate our environment, and thus construct it alongside our own personality, is posited as a driving force of civilisation:

“It is characteristic of man to think and to act with his hands, and from the earliest time he has left traces of his work, rough or fine, according to the type of civilisation…. All changes in man’s environment have been made by the hand of man. It is because the hands have accompanied the intelligence that civilisation has been built, so it may well be said that the hand is the organ of that immense treasure given to man.” [Education for a New World. p62]

So I value the work that we do with our hands in Kawakawa. When we make real things, we are making ourselves. This is important work.

Kawakawa Coffee Cart & Canteen

By Sarah Jane Lambie –  Micro Economy Teacher

This term we welcome Rebecca Faulkner to the Kawakawa team. Rebecca is an experienced high school teacher, now business co-owner of Espresso Rescue, and works on Friday afternoons in the prefab training small groups of our Y9 – 10 rangatahi in the fine art of making coffee.

Each course consists of four, two hour sessions. While on the course, trainee baristas are expected to use their independent work time on Mondays to hone their learnings. Once they have ‘graduated’ as baristas, students have opportunities to work in KCC&C (Kawakawa Coffee Cart & Canteen), at Coffee House pop-up café and at various school events where we know an opportunity to buy a great coffee is welcomed by the parent (and teaching) community!

The barista training is a hands-on course, balanced with some science and a look at the back story – where does coffee come from, how does it get to us, and why does it matter? Rebecca explains that

On average it is going to take around five years for a seed to grow into a plant, and then go on a series of processes to get to our cups. A single tree will produce on average 0.9kg of fruit a year! So, each cup of coffee we make has been a long time in the making – let’s make each coffee we make count!

Teaching rangatahi about the interconnectedness between humans and the environment is fundamental to Montessori pedagogy. Through this holistic approach, rangatahi come to understand and take responsibility for their place in the social world as well as the living world.

This is in contrast to the old idea which was that life in the environment meant to get as much as possible from it; today ideas are very different. Now, it is realized that each animal behaves in a particular way, not only for his own good, but because he works also for the environment. He is an agent who works for the harmonious correlation of all things

Maria Montessori., Citizen of the World, p19

Working as a Kawakawa barista is one of the many opportunities we offer rangatahi to engage in the real-world activity of making, marketing and selling something they have produced. By experiencing what Dr Montessori called human interdependence (division of labour and exchange of goods and services to meet human needs) our students are learning, at a micro level, how society is organised along with how to develop skills, and utilise their strengths and interests, in collaboration with people and the environment, to meet the challenges they will face in the adult world.

“We must study the correlation between life and its environment. In nature everything correlates. This is the method of nature. Nature is not concerned with the conservation of individual life: it is a harmony, a plan of construction. Everything fits into the plan: winds, rocks, earth, water, plants, man, etc.”

Maria Montessori., Citizen of the World, p22

Looking forward to seeing you at the Kawakawa coffee cart sometime soon!


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.

The Importance of Concentration

By Michael Draper —Physics Teacher

An important concept in Montessori philosophy is the role of concentration in the development of the child:

“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behaviour. He must find out how to concentrate, and for this he needs things to concentrate upon. This shows the importance of his surroundings, for no one acting on the child from outside can cause him to concentrate. Only he can organize his psychic life.”  (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 1949 translated 2007, p.202).

“Without concentration it is the objects about him which possess the child. He feels the call of each, and goes from one to another. But once his attention has been focused, he becomes his own master and can exert control over his world.” (ibid p.197-198).

She goes further to say that the process of concentration is restorative to a child’s overall wellbeing (“As soon as the ability of fixing the mind on real things is acquired, the mind will return to its state of health, and begin again to function normally.” ibid p.243). I have seen this ‘miracle’ in action both with my students and with my own children – when they become engrossed in work, any listlessness or contrariness falls away and their vitality and joy is apparent.

Maria Montessori observed that ‘occupation’ in tasks was not sufficient and that true ‘concentration’ was required for healthy development (“because if the children go indifferently from one thing to another, even if they use them all properly, this is not enough to remove their defects.” ibid p.188). She also identified the consequences of interrupting the pattern of concentrated engagement for a child (“If his cycle of activity be interrupted, the results are a deviation of personality, aimlessness and loss of interest.” ibid p.146), and gives explicit instructions to teachers “not to interrupt the child” when they are concentrating on their work (ibid p. 248-9 and 182 respectively).

The purpose of a Montessori school, therefore, is not to keep children busy, but to provide an environment where ākonga engage in interesting work.  Once engaged, it is our job as teachers to enable ākonga to pursue their work free from interruption.  (As a Montessori teacher, one of my challenges is to hold off from automatically assisting my students and instead wait for when my involvement will support their concentration rather than interrupt it.)  This need for concentration also explains why we limit the number of transitions in the school day to give ākonga more time to focus on their own work.

Maria Montessori’s specific advice to parents? “Their children need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.” (ibid p.182).

Maria Montessori wrote these observations in the 1940s, when electronics technology was in its infancy. If she were working now, I wonder what her advice would be regarding children and concentration in our Information Age?