Unleash the Power of Pōwhiri and Whanaungatanga: How to Cultivate a Transformative Learning Community

Harnessing the Power of Pōwhiri and Whanaungatanga: Creating a Transformative Learning Community

Do you want to learn more about whanaungatanga?

Whanaungatanga encompasses the idea of building and nurturing relationships based on kinship and a sense of belonging. I’ve already written about it here below:

Are you eager to learn more? If so, keep reading. If you’ve ever taken part in a pōwhiri or mihi whakatau, you’ve already glimpsed the essence of whanaungatanga. Now, let’s delve deeper into this concept and unravel its significance. Join us on this insightful journey.

What is a powhiri?

A powhiri is performed on a marae to greet visitors. It involves rituals (tikanga), speeches (whaikōrero), songs (waiata), and physical gestures to formally welcome guests, establish connections, and foster unity.

During a powhiri, the hosts perform rituals like karanga (call of welcome) and whaikōrero (formal speeches) to welcome the visitors (manuhiri). The exchange of hongi (pressing of noses) symbolizes unity. Powhiri ceremonies hold cultural significance, promoting understanding and building relationships between communities.

What’s the difference between a powhiri and a mihi whakatau?

A powhiri and a mihi whakatau are both traditional Māori ceremonies used to welcome and acknowledge guests, but they differ in their scale and formality.

As we’ve discussed, a powhiri is a formal Māori welcoming ceremony held on a marae. It includes rituals, speeches, songs, and physical gestures performed by the hosts (tangata whenua) to welcome the visitors (manuhiri). 

Powhiri ceremonies can be extensive, lasting several hours, and involve specific protocols and cultural practices.

On the other hand, a mihi whakatau is a more concise and informal welcoming speech or ceremony. It is typically conducted in a less formal setting, such as a classroom, workplace, or community gathering. 

A mihi whakatau involves offering greetings, introductions, and acknowledgments to visitors or new members. It is usually led by a representative of the hosting group or individual and focuses on establishing connections, expressing gratitude, and setting a positive tone for the gathering.

While both powhiri and mihi whakatau serve the purpose of welcoming and acknowledging guests, powhiri is a more extensive and formal ceremony performed on a marae, while mihi whakatau is a shorter and less formal speech or ceremony conducted in various settings.

What is whanaungatanga?

Whanaungatanga encompasses the idea of building and nurturing relationships based on kinship and a sense of belonging. If you’ve ever participated in a powhiri or mihi whakatau, you have experienced one aspect of whanaungatanga.

Whanaungatanga highlights the importance of unity, cooperation, and mutual support within a community or whānau (extended family) context. It emphasises the value of establishing positive relationships, respecting others, and working together towards common goals. 

Whether it’s through welcoming ceremonies or other interactions, whanaungatanga encourages inclusivity, empathy, and the recognition of shared responsibilities.

By strengthening these relationships, a sense of whānau and community well-being is fostered. Whanaungatanga plays a significant role in Māori culture, promoting the idea that everyone has a part to play in supporting and uplifting one another. 

It reminds us of the power of connections and the positive impact they can have on individuals and the wider community.

Whanaungatanga is the glue

As Mei notes in the video above, whanaungatanga is rooted in the word “whanau,” which means family. It represents the process of acting like and being part of a whanau, not just limited to your biological family. 

It extends to the whanau you develop and grow within various contexts, such as work, sports teams, or groups of colleagues. As adult educators, understanding and embracing whanaungatanga can greatly enhance our work.

So, how does whanaungatanga benefit us in our role as educators? The aim is to foster a sense of whanaungatanga within the groups we work with, whether it’s on a daily basis or during specific sessions. 

It involves developing strong relationships and a family-like atmosphere where everyone feels connected and supported. Think of whanaungatanga as the glue that holds people together, enabling us to achieve common goals.

To cultivate whanaungatanga, we can employ various strategies. Icebreakers, like the “Maui and Matau” game Mei describes, can help establish a sense of cohesiveness and unity. 

Creating opportunities for shared meals, whether it’s a simple cup of coffee or a shared lunch, can also foster connections and conversations among learners and colleagues. It’s not about the food itself, but rather the interactions and discussions that occur around the table.

Incorporating whanaungatanga into our educational practices can create an environment where learners feel a sense of belonging, where relationships are nurtured, and where collaboration and support flourish. Remember, it’s the connections we build that ultimately contribute to a successful learning journey.

Expanding the Horizons of Whanaungatanga in Adult Education

As an adult educator, your journey of understanding whanaungatanga and whakawhanaungatanga goes beyond its surface-level meaning. It is crucial to embrace a holistic perspective and explore various aspects that contribute to its essence.

Let’s delve deeper into the profound nature of whanaungatanga and discover how it can enrich your educational practices.

  1. Whanaungatanga extends beyond biological ties: Recognise the profound significance of building meaningful relationships that transcend traditional family boundaries. As an educator, foster connections with colleagues, learners, and the wider community, creating inclusive and supportive networks. Embrace the inclusive nature of whanaungatanga, celebrating diversity and unity.
  2. Whakawhanaungatanga emphasises active relationship-building: Whakawhanaungatanga highlights the dynamic process of establishing and maintaining connections. Both you and your learners should invest effort in building relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and shared goals. Understand that nurturing whakawhanaungatanga requires ongoing commitment, engagement, and open communication.
  3. Enhance whanaungatanga through cultural competency: Developing cultural competency is pivotal in honoring the principles of whanaungatanga. Take the time to understand and appreciate Māori culture, values, and customs. Incorporate te reo Māori (Māori language) and respect tikanga (protocols) in your educational settings. This cultural sensitivity fosters a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for all.
  4. Whanaungatanga values holistic well-being: Recognise that learners’ academic success is interconnected with their overall well-being. Embrace holistic approaches to learning that address physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects. Create opportunities for learners to develop a sense of belonging, purpose, and self-awareness. Empower them to navigate their educational journey with a balanced and holistic perspective.
  5. Reflection and growth as an educator: Whanaungatanga requires continuous reflection and growth from you as an educator. Regularly examine your biases, assumptions, and cultural perspectives to create a culturally safe learning environment. Engage in self-reflection and seek professional development opportunities to deepen your understanding of whanaungatanga and effectively apply its principles in your teaching practice.

By incorporating these aspects on whanaungatanga into your educational practices, you can foster stronger connections, promote cultural safety, and create a transformative learning experience for your learners.

Embrace the essence of whanaungatanga and nurture an educational environment where learners feel valued, supported, and empowered to thrive.

Nurturing a Welcoming and Inclusive Learning Environment for Vocational Adult Learners

To optimise the learning experience for vocational adult learners, it is essential to create a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected. Let’s explore some practical strategies that will help foster a sense of belonging and encourage active participation.

Share meals and cultural experiences

Arrange opportunities for learners to come together and share meals or cultural experiences that promote whanaungatanga. Food has a special way of bringing people together and fostering connections.


  • Organise potluck lunches or cultural food festivals where learners can contribute dishes from their own backgrounds or try different cuisines. Encourage learners to share stories and traditions associated with the food, creating a sense of cultural exchange and connection.

This one is a super-hack for whanaungatanga. By incorporating shared meals – or even just tea and biscuits – and cultural experiences into your teaching approach, you can create memorable moments of bonding and camaraderie among vocational adult learners, strengthening their sense of whanaungatanga and promoting a supportive learning community.

Build a welcoming and inclusive environment

Establish a safe and respectful space that promotes open expression and embraces diversity. Use inclusive language that acknowledges and values the perspectives and experiences of all learners.


  • Kickstart each class with a warm greeting, taking the time to individually acknowledge each learner. Create opportunities for learners to share their thoughts and experiences, fostering a sense of belonging from the very beginning.

Foster open communication

Encourage open dialogue and active participation among learners, creating a supportive atmosphere where their opinions are valued and heard. Promote a culture of respect, where learners feel comfortable expressing their ideas.


  • Incorporate regular group discussions or collaborative activities that foster interaction and enable learners to share their knowledge and insights. Provide a platform for diverse voices to be heard and valued.

Establish learner-centred approaches

Tailor your teaching methods to accommodate the diverse needs and learning styles of vocational adult learners. Allow flexibility and adaptability in your lesson plans to cater to individual goals and interests.


  • Provide options for projects or assignments that allow learners to explore topics related to their vocational interests. Empower them to take ownership of their learning journey and pursue areas that resonate with their career aspirations.

Promote collaboration and teamwork

Encourage learners to work together, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared goals. Facilitate group activities or projects that require cooperation and collective problem-solving.


  • Assign group tasks that simulate real-world vocational scenarios, where learners must collaborate to achieve a common objective. Encourage communication, cooperation, and the exchange of ideas among team members.

Incorporate Māori values and cultural practices

Integrate elements of Māori culture, such as te reo Māori (Māori language), tikanga (protocols), and whakawhanaungatanga (relationship-building), into your teaching approach.


  • Commence each class with a mihi whakatau, where learners can greet each other using appropriate Māori greetings and engage in cultural rituals to establish a sense of whanaungatanga. Embrace Māori values and customs as an integral part of the learning experience.

Connect learners to industry professionals

Arrange guest speakers or industry visits that provide learners with opportunities to connect with professionals in their field of study. This fosters networking and exposes learners to potential mentors or role models.


  • Invite guest speakers from relevant industries to share their experiences and insights, giving learners a chance to interact and learn from established professionals. Create bridges between learners and industry experts, broadening their horizons.

Celebrate achievements and milestones

Acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of learners throughout their vocational journey. Recognise their progress, effort, and growth to enhance their sense of achievement and belonging.


  • Organize graduation ceremonies, awards, or showcases where learners can showcase their work and be celebrated for their accomplishments. Create a supportive environment that motivates learners to strive for excellence.

By implementing these practical suggestions, you can cultivate a strong sense of whanaungatanga among vocational adult learners, fostering a supportive and engaging learning environment that promotes their success and well-being.

If you found this helpful

I have a short book on learner-centred teaching that incorporates these and other concepts from a Māori worldview. Check it out here on Gumroad.

Author: Graeme Smith

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

Leave a Reply