MLEs (Marae Learning Environments) – Lessons from the Marae for Modern Learning Environments

Being culturally responsive goes beyond understanding where someone comes from. Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that recognises the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994). Being culturally responsive enable educators to develop a deeper understanding of cultural practices which, when recognised and implemented, can support both learners and school communities. In this way the true nature of ako is revealed.

“In te ao Māori, the concept of ako means both to teach and to learn. It recognises the knowledge that both teachers and learners bring to learning interactions, and it acknowledges the way that new knowledge and understandings can grow out of shared learning experiences.” (Alton-Lee, 2003).

Cultural responsiveness is a crucial part of all learning environments and leads to enhanced practices and learning outcomes. The Modern Learning Environment (MLE) is no exception. Modern learning practices move beyond the learning space and seek to challenge the traditional frames of learning. These practices are for the enhancement of learning experiences but need to be infused with robust cultural competencies. For Maori, open plan, communal learning spaces are not new. In New Zealand, and particularly for Maori, the marae is one such place. It is a place of learning, where te reo, tīkanga and kawa provide a foundation for well-being and opportunities to enhance community involvement and cohesiveness. 

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Consider what might occur if the ‘M’ in MLE (Modern Learning Environment) or MLP (Modern Learning Practices) is used interchangeably with a ‘M’ for Marae. A ‘Marae Learning Environment’ is a place anchored by distinct principles and practices (‘Marae Learning Practices’). The Marae Learning Environment acts as a focal point in the community and enables traditions and customs to be strengthened and values to be fully expressed. Understanding marae learning practices can offer insight and cultural references that may assist in developing cultural capital.

Marae Learning Practices Modern Learning Practices
The marae is the place where values and philosophy are reaffirmed. The school is the place where values and philosophy are reaffirmed. “Every decision relating to curriculum and every interaction that takes place in a school reflects the values of the individuals involved and the collective values of the institution.” NZC

@HPSS this looks like personalised learning, powerful partnerships, deep challenge and inquiry, excellence, collaboration, connectedness, inquiry and innovation.

The marae is socially integrative in that it fosters identity, self-respect, pride and social control. The school is a place which enables transformational future-focused teaching and learning, rethinking ideas about learning.

@HPSS this looks like a dispositional curriculum (Hobsonville Habits), mixed year levels, learning hubs, co-created learning and learning projects.

The marae is integrative in that all people are welcome. The school is a place for innovative teaching and learning practices that can be embedded through all levels of school which prepares every student with the kind of learning they need to meet the demands of the future.

@HPSS this looks like personalised learning, differentiation, student voice, learning design, curriculum development, common language, student agency, visible learning, learning to learn, collaboration and community engagement.

The marae is a place where we enter an encounter situation, where challenges are met and issues are debated. The school is a place which is future-focussed, with current and emerging technologies, creating opportunities to increase learner motivation, engagement and achievement.

@HPSS this looks like teaching as inquiry, critical friendships, warm and demanding, Individual Education Meetings, reflective practice and restorative practice.

The marae serves as the focal point for community sentiment. The school is visible and community centred. It emerges as a place which reflects the diverse community of learners and their whanau.

@HPSS this looks like consultation, parent workshops, project learning,  community consultation and HPSS Pollinator.

The marae is a place where young children have free reign. They are valued members as indeed everyone is. Children belong to the marae and are important. All adults are parents to these children and it is the responsibility of the closest adults to care for them. The school develops effective partnerships with parents, whānau, and communities. They focus on quality relationships and engagement, having a positive impact on students’ learning.

@HPSS this looks like staff children belonging and participating, whanau, hubs and family.

The marae is a place where teenagers have free reign and they learn by experience. However they are expected work and look after others. They move from someone who has total freedom to the apprentice, preparing for the role of elder. The school ensures the student is at the centre of all it does. It provides support for learners that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual learner preferences, needs, and values. The school provides greater opportunities for students to organise themselves and engage in learning. The shift is from a one-size-fits-all solution to flexible approaches that can be customised and adjusted for individual needs.

@HPSS this looks like student voice, module selection, co-teaching, integrated learning, student council, digital citizenship, assessment for learning, guidance, coaches, e-portfolios, FloorTime, academic excellence and personal excellence.

The marae is a place where the adults are the workers. The school is a place where teachers systematically and critically engage with professional development about curriculum content and pedagogy and use this to inform professional practice. They articulate the aims of teaching and professional development and the reasons for adopting these aims. The school encourages teachers to contribute to the development of an open and reflective professional culture by professionally generating and responding to feedback from members to their learning community. Teachers take responsibility for connecting online and face to face in an ethical and digitally appropriate manner to facilitate and enhance professional learning.

@HPSS this looks like reflective practice, teaching as inquiry, critical friendships, critical thinking, PTC, professional learning, differentiated professional learning, appraisal, observation, curriculum mapping, assessment, reporting and teacher portfolio.

The marae is a place where the mana of the elders is expansive. They are revered by the not-so-old because of their wisdom through experience, their wise counsel, their expertise and their guidance in all things pertaining to the marae and to life in general. Their role is to “front” the marae, welcome the visitors, ensure that the kawa (procedure) is strictly adhered to and generally or specifically pass on their knowledge to the young. The school is a place where senior leaders have a sense of moral purpose and a commitment to improved learning and social outcomes. The focus is not just about supporting and guiding students, it’s also about a commitment to the professional growth and support of other school leaders and teachers.

@HPSS this looks like Monday’s with Maurie, learning relationships, learning design, enabling learning, SLT observations, SLT walkthroughs, warm and demanding, deep challenge, inquiry and professional learning.



9 thoughts on “MLEs (Marae Learning Environments) – Lessons from the Marae for Modern Learning Environments

  1. Feel proud to be a part of this place. Thanks for all the work you guys are doing to welcome new staff and students, and for supporting our growth in and of this learning environment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kia ora. Nei ra te mihi nui ki a koutou te whānau o HPSS. I found this post to be great food for the brain. I too have been making such connections between MLP and early Māori educational practices for some time. I have to say it… Māori did it first and they did it really well! The Marae as a sanctity of whānau, connection, whakapapa and tradition has always been a place where Māori have been able to experience ako in its truest form and in turn feel success in their education pursuits. Educationalists can take a great many lessons from our ancestors about realising potential, contextualised and personalised learning pathways and most importantly the values of manaaki, aroha and kaitiaki. Thank for sharing your learning and practice with us all. Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kōrero, kōrero! I’ll be honest, when I first heard this MLE phrase in the education circle I roll, I thought it was a MĀORI LEARNING ENVIRONMENT!! Does it not encompass all of our practises and learning spaces! We are a very mobile and practical people, so it makes sense to me!! Tō pai hoki e hoa!!


  4. I really like the connections you’ve made with te ao māori the NZC and your workplace. This is a process I see myself exploring in the near future. A good read, thank you 🙂


  5. I like the way how each component of learning at Marae is linked to NZC – and clear examples of how it looks like in Modern learning environment.
    Thank you


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