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Out of the Classroom – and Into the Ocean

Secondary school teacher Mark Hanlen uses New Zealand’s magnificent landscape to inspire his students to care deeply about the world around them.

Mark regularly takes his students diving to connect their science studies in the classroom with real-life examples of the profound issues affecting our future, such as plastic waste in the oceans.

He also takes great pride in his Māori culture, cultivating a sense of family and belonging among his students.

As a marine studies teacher at Whakatane High School in New Zealand’s North Island, Mark Hanlen makes it a priority to give his students opportunities to learn in nature.

“We'll take students diving and we'll work with a local business, a dive crew, to give them opportunities to become qualified divers. They can gain credits that count towards their qualifications, and they can take those skills on to the real world,” Mark says.

“We're so lucky here in New Zealand because you can travel two hours in any direction and hit the coast.”

Mark’s students love getting out of classroom and into the outdoors. He believes the combination of practical and theoretical learning is invaluable at helping them prepare for life after school.

“The relationships they get in the classroom, and out in the environment, are so important for their learning.”

Another feature of Mark’s classrooms is the Māori concept of manaakitanga, or reciprocal hospitality and respect.

A concept that’s central to New Zealand culture, manaakitanga places strong value on each student's personal background and ideas.

“Manaakitanga to me means sharing and collaborating with your arms open,” Mark says.

“I believe the New Zealand education system is unique because teachers focus a lot on the relationships we have with our students. Here, we give students more opportunities for one-on-one."

“I encourage teamwork and a sense of family and belonging in my classes and I take personal interest in the lives of my students. In that sense, I'm more than just a teacher.

“I guess that's the Kiwi way.”

Mark uses te reo Māori (the  Māori language) in his classroom every day, and so do his students.

“They'll say ‘kia ora’ [hello] to me rather than ‘guten Tag’. It's a wonderful connection.”

He says he enjoys watching international students thrive in a country that gives them the skills and experiences to prepare them for a better future.

“It's wonderful to see them get involved with all the amazing opportunities, from diving to swimming to socialising and living with another family. Those sorts of things certainly change our international students.”

Some of Mark’s students have been inspired to go on to study and work in marine biology and oceanography. Students like these are, he says, our future leaders.

“When they’re the decision-makers, their actions are going to impact on the planet for the next thousand years.”

Watch Mark's video to learn more.

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By Linley Boniface

Updated 3 years ago

Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student. 

*Views expressed are the blogger's own
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