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What is Learner-Centred? 12 Concepts from Te Ao Māori You Should Embrace to Create Learning Success

Time-Honoured Approaches You Can Use to Create the Conditions for Learning Success 

Imagine if your teaching really connected with your learners... if your classroom or training environment was a place where your learners felt like they belonged and wanted to learn.

Here's a secret.

It's totally possible if you discover and embrace time-honoured concepts from Te Ao Māori - the Māori world.

Who is this book written for?

I've been upskilling vocational teachers and educators since 2006. 

What I learned about learner-centred teaching over this time comes mostly from learning more about Te Ao Māori - the Māori world. 

I've written this book based on the training I've done with hundreds of teachers, trainers, educators, managers and others. This includes working with Māori and non-Māori. 

This book is for you if you are interested in:

  • Teaching or training in a way that is more learner-centred
  • Learning to think in a more holistic way
  • Understanding important Māori words that people use in education and everyday life
  • Applying concepts from a Māori worldview to your teaching

What if I Don't Work with Māori Learners?

These concepts are drawn from a Māori worldview perspective. But they are also what we call good practice in the world of adult education and training.

The words might look new or foreign to you, but the ideas behind the words won't be. 

In fact, as long as your learners are humans, you'll find yourself nodding your head in agreement once we get underway.  

So... Yes! The approaches and concepts here will work for you and your learners if you apply them. 

They WILL work for you regardless of:

  • Your own ethnic background
  • Your learners' ethnic background
  • Where you are in the world

These approaches will also work especially well if you are a teacher or trainer, based in Aotearoa New Zealand who works with Māori learners. 

The concepts I describe also have parallels in the different Pacific languages, cultures and worldview. So they will be relevant if you work with Pacific learners. 

And there is a wider application too.

Outside of the mainstream Western educational systems, you will find similar approaches, concepts and methods in most traditional cultures.

I know this is the case, having talked to folks from First Nations cultures, Vietnam, Indonesia and indigenous Taiwanese. 

Everything Changes When Your Teaching Becomes Learner Centred   

Here are the 12 concepts you need to embrace to become more learner-centred and holistic in your own approach:

More than a mentoring approach - Tuakana-teina: Understand how this works in both traditional and more recent educational settings.

Sometimes teacher - sometimes learner - Ako:  This one concept has the potential to transform how you think about teaching and learning. 

The WH word you always needed - Whakapapa: Connect people to knowledge about the word through stories. 

Relationship glue - Whanaungatanga: Learn about the "glue" that your class needs to stick together.

Spiritual power and well-being - Mana atua: Your Western worldview makes you feel weird talking about spirituality in the classroom but it doesn't have to be that way. 

Exploring the world - Mana ao tūroa: Make the natural, social, physical, and material worlds part of your students' learning context.

Belonging - Mana whenua: Create a learning environment where people literally and metaphorically "have a place to stand".

Contributing - Mana tangata: Build on individual strengths, increase learners' self-confidence and self-esteem, and allow your learners to make a contribution. 

Communicating - Mana reo: Harness the power of language to build literacy and communication skills. 

Self-determination - Tino rangatiratanga: Get some clarity on this deeply political term and see how it applies to your learners in your training environment. 

Speaking, observing and listening - Kōrero, titiro, and whakarongo: Think about how you cater to different learning styles?

Guardianship - Kaitiakitanga: Reflect on how principles of caregiving and guardianship apply to you in your unique context

Do you get confused by terminology from te reo Maori in your workplace?

If you are Pākehā - a New Zealander of European descent it's easy to feel intimidated or confused by words that look foreign and unfamiliar.

Furthermore, you will have noticed that you are hearing and seeing more words from te reo Māori in your workplace, in the news media and all around you.

Sometimes this causes frustration and confusion because people don't have a shared understanding of what these words mean.

If you've ever felt like that, then this book will help you as well. 

"How the heck do I make sense of all this...?"

Years ago, when I started teaching a new professional development qualification, I was struggling to understand the content that I had to teach.

This included a learner-centred approach to adult education.

And it included a lot of concepts that were new to me from a Māori worldview perspective. 

The thing that I couldn't understand at the time was why I couldn't seem to get consistent answers from conversations I was having, books I was reading and searches I was doing online.

Back then I realised that people interpreted things differently but I didn't have a way of putting all the pieces together.

Now I do and I share it in this book

There's an easy way to understand the different layers of Māori knowledge

Before we even get into exploring the concepts and approaches I outline an easy visual way to make sense of the different layers of Mātauranga Māori - or Māori Knowledge.

Once you understand how these layers work, you’ll see how it’s possible to retain a system that makes sense in the face of what I used to feel were conflicting understandings for words and terminology.

I'm not an expert and you don't have to be either

I am very much on a learning journey when it comes to understanding these approaches and concepts. 

I'm not Māori and I'm not claiming to be an expert.

But I have spent a long time thinking about how to:

  • Understand this content from my own perspective as a Pākeha - an indigenous New Zealander of European descent.
  • How to teach this stuff to other people who are just like me.

These concepts and ways of thinking have transformed how I think about learning, teaching, relationships and business in a multitude of ways. 

You don't have to become an expert either, but the content here will do the same for you if you embrace and apply it.

Let's get started...! Click I want this and we'll be on the journey together. 


"I wanted to say thank you for allowing me to see more clearly the 12 concepts from Te Ao Maori I need to embrace as an Adult Literacy and Numeracy tutor.

I purchased it yesterday online and it instantly helped me with concepts in the NZCALNE certificate I am currently working on.

Nearly 30 years ago I trained as a teacher and came back to EBOP to teach. Then I stopped after 7 years. I knew some of these concepts but not all of them.

I am also the mother of a part Maori son (I am Pākehā) who very much identifies as 'Maori' and I think somehow I understand him a little better now too.

Heidi R"

7 ratings

  • You'll get this short eBook written in plain English by Professional Learning and Development Consultant Graeme Smith. Discover what learner-centred teaching means and how you can use concepts from Te Ao Māori to create the conditions for learner success.
  • Size2.05 MB
  • Length51 pages


What is Learner-Centred? 12 Concepts from Te Ao Māori You Should Embrace to Create Learning Success

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