Approaches: What is tuakana-teina?

What is it?

Tuakana-teina is a teaching and learning approach drawn from the Te Ao Māori.

It refers to the relationship between an older person (tuakana) and a younger person (teina). The meaning is literally “older sibling-younger sibling”. 

Traditionally, it is specific to teaching and learning in the context of Māori. But while these terms have their origin on the Marae, we have come to use them to talk about relationships in adult education contexts in Aotearoa New Zealand.

While these terms have their origin on the Marae in traditional settings, we have come to use them to talk about relationships in our adult education contexts in Aotearoa New Zealand.

For example, in education you might hear people use tuakana-teina to talk about teaching and learning in a number of different ways:

  • Peer-to-peer – teina teaches teina, tuakana teaches tuakana.
  • Younger to older – the teina has some skills in an area that the tuakana does not and is able to teach the tuakana.
  • Older to younger – the tuakana has the knowledge and content to pass on to the teina.
  • Able to less able – the learner may not be as able in an area, and someone more skilled can teach what is required.

Tuakana-teina is a mentoring approach where typically the mentors (tuakana) share their experiences, and their knowledge as well as provide information.

But it’s also more than just a mentoring approach. The tuakana is a support person and adviser for the teina and the teina gives the tuakana a chance to learn new things and meet new people.

How does this approach contribute to a learner-centred teaching environment?

Tuakana-teina relationships are essentially learner-centred in nature. Even when you (as the tutor) are the tuakana, the relationship is more of a conversation or two-way street.

It’s flatter, like this:

Tuakana ↔ Teina

And less of a monologue or one-way street, like this:



By fostering and encouraging tuakana-teina relationships among your learners, you shift the balance of power in the classroom away from yourself and to your learners.

This allows them to take responsibility for the learning, and often some of the teaching too.

Consider your answers to the following questions:

  • What do you do in your teaching to make it more like tuakana-teina…?
  • Do you think your learners would characterise your training as more like a monologue or more like a conversation?

How can you use tuakana-teina to increase learner success?

You can adopt tuakana-teina to “flip the script” and increase learner success. Stop talking so much and, instead, look for opportunities to do the following.

  • Ask your learners to teach something
  • Find out things that a younger person in the group knows how to do well, and get them to share the knowledge
  • Look for opportunities for an older person to share their experiences
  • Try to pair up a learner who has the skills you’re trying to teach, with someone who is still trying to learn them

Any of these variations can work in pairs, groups or for the whole class. 

Keep in mind though that all of these strategies require that you, as the teacher, relinquish some degree of control over what happens. This can seem scary if you’ve never done it before. And there are risks involved.

However, with practice and trust in your learners you’ll find that it has many benefits. For example, tuakana-teina can:

  • Shift the burden of teaching, if only briefly, off your shoulders to others who are, more often than not, happy to share it with you
  • Validate the prior learning and lived experiences of others
  • Open up new and often unplanned learning experiences for everyone including you

Want to find out more?

If this was useful, you might also enjoy reading more about Tuakana-Teina here.

And have a listen to Tamati talking about tuakana-teina.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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