Let’s Talk About…the concept of manaakitanga

The Concept of Manaakitanga


Unfurling Fern By Raynah Thomas

Manaakitanga is an important concept in the world of education and although it’s a Maori term the concept can be applied beyond the Maori culture. The virtues listed in the above definition are just as important to me as a non-Maori. As a strong advocate for making learning visible I can’t help but notice how the concept of Manaakitanga reflects that of learning focused relationships, the foundation of Assessment for Learning as defined in Clarity in the Classroom, Absolum.  As teachers we must build positive relationships focused on learning with a commitment to knowing our learners so that we can motivate and engage them in learning that is connected, challenging and fun.  Learners need to be able to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and experience an inner struggle with competing ideas and pieces of information in order to construct new information and learning. If they are to do this then teachers and school leaders must have worked to develop a culture of treating people, whatever their age, experiences, culture, with respect, kindness and humanity.  The infrastructure of the school needs to support students and teachers alike to ‘live’ the concept of manaakitanga.

Culturally safe classrooms

MacFarlane identifies five concepts on his educultural wheel, one of which is Manaakitanga.  He defines this as the ethos of care; a concept that embodies a type of caring that is reciprocal and unqualified, based on respect and kindness, a ‘duty of care’.


In order to fulfil the requirements of Practising Teacher Criteria 2 and 7 then teachers are required to show that they have taken steps to know their learners as individuals in their classroom and establish what MacFarlane refers to as cultural connectedness.  (Creating Culturally Safe Classrooms for Maori Students, MacFarlane et al 2007).

2. demonstrate commitment to promoting the well-being of all ākonga i. take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a teaching and learning environment that is physically, socially, culturally and emotionally safe

ii. acknowledge and respect the languages, heritages and cultures of all ākonga

iii. comply with relevant regulatory and statutory requirements

7. promote a collaborative, inclusive and supportive learning environment i. demonstrate effective management of the learning setting which incorporates successful strategies to engage and motivate ākonga

ii. foster trust, respect and cooperation with and among ākonga

This seems a given to me, yet after being an Assessment for Learning facilitator, I know that some teachers have difficulty in shifting the locus of control from themselves to a shared reciprocal relationship where learning is a process that we all participate and contribute to, not one done to us.  When you’re focused on control you’re not focused on connectedness. Often those who were reticent to give up some of the control based their thinking on behavioural concerns. Their focus was on getting the behaviour right in order to get the students learning.  I’d always thought this was a case of putting the proverbial horse before the cart but I seemed to be alone in my thinking. Surely if you get the learning right the behaviour doesn’t ‘go wrong’. I was thrilled to find an article in the Assessment for Learning folder produced by Evaluation Associates which put my thinking down on paper- it seems I wasn’t the only one who thought the thinking was round the wrong way afterall. Imagine my surprise and sense of awe when I discovered that the author was Lin Avery, my then Principal.

For me, relationships are key in the learning process. Everything is built on the relationship you establish in the early days. Get that right and the year is a success. I can’t expect to gain respect if I haven’t taken the time to find out about my learners or my team. When I was in the classroom I did this by:

  • having positive expectations, and looking for the connections, the things we had in common
  • being clear about the relationships and the purpose for being at school. We were there to learn.
  • making reference to and connections with culture, language and customs in relation to the curriculum I was teaching. (The biggest compliments are when the kids ask me if I’m Maori, Pasifika etc because I’ve taken the time to learn about the things of importance to them.)
  • implementing different ways to learn and work- in a pairs, collaboratively, independently, in home languages
  • providing opportunities for peer support, encouragement, peer feedback.
  • differentiating work to the appropriate level for students- knowing where each child is, where they need to be and co-constructing a pathway to get there.
  • involving families through the use of technology and student led conferences. Both of these were led by the students and they were responsible for informing and involving their parents.
  • supporting students to solve problems through a process of restorative justice rather than ‘growling’ or telling off.
  • creating and maintaining an environment where everyone is seen as a learner (we banned the word ‘dumb’) and is treated with respect, kindness, compassion.
  • expecting and celebrating both mistakes and successes.

Interestingly, when I looked at the work of MacFarlane (1997) he identified similar things as leading to the success of Maori. He called this the Hikairo Rationale. Seven concepts are identified and have been used by RTLB, Restorative Justice practitioners as well as teachers and curriculum leaders. An example can be found here:


I continue on my journey to build on my bicultural practice. My journey is now taking me down the leadership road and consequently my next step is to look at the concept of manaakitanga through the leadership lens.


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