“We don’t have students who are ‘different’, as all students are different and unique. Learning needs become part of responding to a person rather than a label, or a syndrome.”
Steven Arnold, principal of the Peace Experiment school in Auckland, talks about how their ethos of individuality and respect underpins that crucial sense of belonging and student’s personal success.
I am a Montessori teacher of 30 years, and Peace Experiment is the third Montessori Secondary school I have opened. I believe there is a need for Montessori education wherever students are feeling anxious, or depressed, or risk having bad thoughts because school is not meeting their needs. We are also good for students who enjoy learning and want to explore personal connections, or allow their curiosity to dictate their exploration, producing children who are respectful, knowledgeable, confident and kind.
Our Kaupapa is our way of doing things, and what we believe in. We have strong values including Rangimarie, we seek to be at peace with self, other and the environment and explore the values of education for peace- with grace, generosity and gratitude; Ako, we position the child / adolescent / adult learner centrally in our curriculum and so consciously challenge conventional approaches to education; and Manaakitanga, we recognise and show gratitude for the diversity of people from different ages, genders, cultures, nationalities, abilities, perspectives, and orientations; and acknowledge their contributions. We recognise and use the strengths of ourselves and each other in our community and we are inspired by each other.
Families often comment on how their child rediscovers a love of learning, a creativity, a happiness and a sociability at Peace Experiment that gets lost in schools where students don’t feel respected. Families report increased engagement, attendance, focus on academics and higher self-esteem. We don’t have students who are ‘different’, as all students are different and unique. For each student we work out where they are at, and what is next. There is no suggestion of conforming individuals to norms, or to standards. There is no differentiation, because all are treated uniquely and differently. Learning needs become part of responding to a person rather than a label, or a syndrome.
In truth, all schools can treat all students as individuals. Most don’t as they don’t know how, or are not interested in doing so. In our setting, we have highly trained educators, who are steeped in the values of Montessori. Perhaps schools such as Peace Experiment could be a place where teachers come and observe the difference. Perhaps teachers could be taught using contemporary and traditional practices of inclusion, and support – rather than competition and judgement. We also know that the lack of timetable, small groupings, specialised equipment, trained staff and effective pedagogy works to support all learners.
We promote all people as people of difference, and where more attention is needed, we provide that. Where more or less structure is needed, then that becomes our focus. We follow the needs of the child, and ensure that they are well respected as a member of our community.