Archive for May 2014

“If she could be surrounded by them…”

May 29, 2014

“…while, in the traditional schools, the teacher sees the immediate behaviour of her pupils, knowing that she must look after them and what she has to teach, the Montessori teacher is constantly looking for a child who is not yet there.” –Maria MontessoriPW8

I finished a “contract talk” with one of my Primary assistants today and was struck by his words to me. During the conversation about his work, he talked about his goals as a father and what was really important in life. One major goal, he said, was for his two year old daughter to be an adult when she is 24, with all the confidence, responsibility and maturity that adulthood implies. We talked about what that meant for him, including  his experience as a child and adolescent. But then he said, presumably in light of this goal, that he wants his daughter surrounded by all the people he sees here at staff meetings every week.

And I completely agree with him. Spring can be a difficult time for me in my role in the school. I hear about people leaving, sometimes for reasons that are sad for me, misunderstandings seem more prevalent, end of school year philanthropic giving (or lack thereof) adds stress, and I can worry about enrollment and budget and all sorts of things. Especially this year, with the long hard winter we had, this has been a difficult spring.

But it doesn’t take much to remind me of what we are doing and why. This conversation with this teacher was one of many things that happened recently to do just that. It is all about the child. Our work here is about the future, but we never disregard the present. We know that the child is already affecting the universe in a very real way, and we nurture that and guide the child to his or her potential. We talk to the child in a way that shows deep respect and a recognition that every word matters. The child is learning every day; the academic pursuit is challenging, but the academic work is never presented in a vacuum. It is always presented in context. And that context includes the environment and the people who surround the child.

The challenges exist, and will always exist. But so long as I can have contract talks like I do with faculty as stunning as mine, I can handle the challenges. Gratefully.

A foundation

May 4, 2014

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning withing him the light which is called intelligence.” –Maria Montessori

103It’s been a busy time for my oldest two children. One is deciding on colleges, the other is preparing to study in France this summer. These two quests merged into a trip to Bloomington, Indiana for a day at Indiana University. My daughter’s French exchange program is through IU, and my son has decided to attend the university in the fall. I spent the day with my daughter at her orientation sessions while my son explored the campus.

Clare has been successful in high school. She has participated in three sports a year and has continued to participate in three different choirs. A member of the National Honor Society, she has maintained an outstanding grade point average in a challenging International Baccalaureate program of study. This foreign exchange program, the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages, was something she applied for, tested into, interviewed for, and then raised money for, once accepted. It was a challenging goal for her.

The day in Bloomington was a bit overwhelming for me. I honestly hadn’t had a complete understanding of exactly what this seven weeks in France would entail. But Clare was energized by it. During the four hour drive home, she told me all about the program, the classes in French literature and French language she’d be taking, the side trips to various points of interest in France, the commitment to speak and hear only French from the time the plane lands, the extracurricular activities with her classmates, and the “counseling sessions” they were going to have every day. “Dad,” she explained, excitedly, “That’s basically a community meeting. I get to do community meetings again!”

Three years after she left Good Shepherd Montessori School, through all her academic and extracurricular success, she still looks back to the Montessori experience and knows how important and formative it was. Throughout her time in a traditional high school, she has perked up whenever a teacher has slipped into something that felt “Montessori” to her, and now a highlight of a trip overseas is the community meeting format, something that guided her experience through eighth grade.

The community meeting is central to the work of the classroom, especially in the junior high. It brings true ownership to the child/adolescent. The structure of the day, the emphasis of various parts of the curriculum, and interpersonal conflict all find their way to the community meeting. From age six (“I never get a chance to use the stamp game because people aren’t sharing”) to age fourteen (“What time will the End of Year Conference Committee be meeting this morning?”) the community meeting empowers the members of the classroom to create an environment that is fair, safe, and challenging.

She misses her years at Good Shepherd, but Clare sees that they gave her the foundation to find a way to love learning, to meet new challenges, and to take ownership of her experience.