What is ako?

The Māori kupu/word, ako means to both teach and learn. Ako represents a reciprocal non-hierarchical relationship between the student and the teacher. Ako acknowledges knowledge and experiences of both kaiako/teacher and akona/learner in the shared learning experience. The quality of this relationship is strengthened through open-mindedness, humility, respect and care shared between kaiako and akona.

Ako recognises that the students and whānau cannot be separated. As such, ako incorporates two aspects (Ministry of Education, 2018):

  • Recognising a student as a holistic person, build on what they bring to the learning environment, respect and value their contribution.
  • Recognising a student as a productive partner in the shared learning experience, where we can take what everyone brings to build a better outcome for all.

Ako is concerned with educating and growing a person’s emotional intelligence which Māori know to motivate and guide a person’s actions and ways of being (Durie, 1998; Pere, 1997). There are many traditional ako strategies designed to elicit the students’ potential and to cultivate what it is to be a ‘good’ active citizen of our community. At the core of ako, is the ability to demonstrate aroha, tika, pono, as articulated in our AUT values.

What does ako mean for us as teachers?

It is important to reflect on your own perspectives and your beliefs on learning and teaching. What do you believe the role of the teacher is? Be aware of your unconscious biases. Reflect on your own teaching experience and think of times where you have learned from your students, or a student who shared some insights that have surprised you. Keeping an open-mind and getting to know your learners is key to build that reciprocal relationship in a learning environment that embodies ako.

“Embracing the principle of ako enables teachers to build caring and inclusive learning communities where each person feels that their contribution is valued and that they can participate to their full potential. This is not about people simply getting along socially; it is about building mutually respectful and productive relationships, between teacher and students and among students, where everyone is empowered to learn with and from each other” (Ministry of Education, n.d., para 5).

What would your “class” look like, if you were to embed the principle of ako?

Designing a learning experience with the five dimensions of ako:

There are five dimensions of ako that can be used in designing learning experiences.

  1. AKO – (to learn and to teach)
    • How do you enable an environment that encourages a reciprocal relationship between learners and teachers?

  2. KOA – (enjoyment and motivation in learning)
    • How do your teaching approaches encourage your learners to bring their own knowledge, culture, and talents to their teaching?

  3. KAO – (learner voice and agency)
    • How do you give your learners the opportunity to decide what subject matter is included in their learning?

  4. OKA – (deconstruct and reconstruct learning)
    • How do you allow your learners to help set the way (tikanga) things are done in the classroom/learning space?

  5. KA AO – (KA – to ignite; AO – universal)
    • How do you let students share their own expert knowledge?

Five Top Tips

  1. Where possible, welcome and get to know every student as a holistic and unique person. Value and respect the knowledge, experience, identities, values and cultural background that they bring to this shared learning environment. Be curious about who your students are and the knowledge that they already have. Design whakawhanaunga/icebreakers that allow the students to talk about themselves whilst also preparing them for the session ahead. Incorporate group learning throughout the course and allow students facilitate the group sessions.

  2. Engage students as a whole person and bring enjoyment into the learning environment. Designing in play and exploration into the learning experience can open students’ mindset to view and experience the world differently, hopefully with a touch of wonder.

  3. Encourage and support student agency in their learning to enable them to value themselves – skills, knowledge and attributes – which contributes positively to their community’s wellbeing and prosperity. Ensure that students have platforms of reflection and discussion allow them to apply the course material to their experiences of the world.

  4. Gently and respectfully challenge students’ preconceived ideas and beliefs. To make discussion safe, first codesign with students tikanga, protocols of good practice and conflict resolution. Provide rigorous frameworks of discernment so that students can critically analyse theories, hypotheses, and behaviour. Students’ could also have such frameworks within their own tacit knowledge which may require eliciting.

  5. Consider ways to connect learning with the whānau, the communities, and with potential future work, i.e., create opportunities for the “work and social connection” in the XLE framework. Connecting to students’ realities make what they learn in class my meaningful providing more opportunities for them to experience ako and a-ha moments.

Useful Resources


Durie, M. (1998). Whaiora: Māori Health Development. Oxford University Press.

Ministry of Education. (n.d.). The concept of ako [Education]. Te Kete Ipurangi. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://tereomaori.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-guidelines/Teaching-and-learning-te-reo-Maori/Aspects-of-planning/The-concept-of-ako

Ministry of Education. (2018, September 28). Ako—Culturally responsive learning environments [Education]. Te Kete Ipurangi. https://seniorsecondary.tki.org.nz/The-arts/Pedagogy/Culturally-responsive-learning-environments/Ako

Pere, R. (1997). Te Wheke: A celebration of infinite wisdom (2nd ed.). Ao Ako Global Learning Ltd.