Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Manaakitanga - kindness, respect and humanity

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of manaakitanga recently, as it applies in the classroom, and in the wider context of staff leadership. For those of you unfamiliar with this Māori term, it's a concept that embodies the ideas of reciprocal caring for others and the environment, showing kindness and hospitality, treating people with respect and establishing nurturing relationships. The Kōrero Māori website provides an additional explanation of the concept if you're interested.

What's interested me lately is how vital the establishment of an environment that embodies manaakitanga is for authentic risk taking and learning to take place. In the case of the magazine project one of the changes I've noticed this year is that those of us (yes, I include myself) who are in their second year have a much better understanding of the need to care for and support each other's learning if we are to collaborate effectively than we did when we were fresh into the project. While the day to day experience is definitely not all rainbows and light and happiness (just like any other working environment, although this one is staffed mainly with adolescents!) there have been several times when the group has noticeably drawn together to support each other when needed. As a result of this there seems to be a stronger sense of cohesion, and more students are going to a deeper level with the research and investigations they're carrying out.

In the context of staff leadership I've been reflecting on manaakitanga as it relates to change management and raising performance. As a school (and let's face it, as educators in general, particularly those of us working in public education at the moment) there's a fair amount of pressure to raise student academic outcomes. In abstract terms this is pretty hard to argue with, and I think most individuals would agree that as educators we should be doing what we can to improve our students' achievement. 

However, in practice there seems to be quite a fine line between encouraging staff to review and reflect on their practice with an eye to improving it and leaving staff feeling overwhelmed or resistant to the changes required to see students do better. Once again manaakitanga seems vital to the process: without the experience of being respected and nurtured through the process it's much less likely that we will take the risks necessary to make meaningful and lasting changes to our practice.

I read recently that from the word go Google set themselves up to provide a version of this kind of support (although I'm not sure what the Silicon Valley term for manaakitanga is!). However, I'd be interested to hear from others of you who are working in a public school environment about how you ensure there is an abundance of manaakitanga for both your students and your staff.

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