Archive for the ‘Montessori Method’ category

“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.

Lucky to be here

October 25, 2010

“This is the first duty of an educator; stir up life, but leave it free to develop.” –Maria Montessori

One of the ongoing junior high projects. This kind of work will be a part of their micro economy.

The quick conversation in the car on the way home today caused me to think a bit on what we are doing here. My daughter is in the eighth grade, and the junior high began their “immersion week” today, where they spend the entire week at the farm rather than in the classroom. They will do chores (my daughter told me she wanted to wear her rubber boots tomorrow because she’s on duck pond duty), they will construct a solar-powered water trough, work on their micro-economy (which is woodworking, and now there is a twist–painting quotes like you see above), and clean out the barn, among other things. They will do this Monday through Thursday, and on Friday they will participate in the St. Marcellus Day celebration together with South Bend’s Center for Peace and Nonviolence (St. Marcellus is a model for non-violence). Then they’ll be back in the classroom on Monday to begin another cycle of learning.

The comment I made to Clare in the car on the way home from the farm was, “You are lucky to be here. Lucky to have such a junior high.” Her response was, “I know.”

As I thought about that, I realized just how wonderful it is to have a thirteen-year-old recognize that she is LUCKY to be at school, without a second’s hesitation. She knows. She didn’t need to put on the stereotypical adolescent angst and roll her eyes about school. She doesn’t think school is something she has to tolerate. She loves it. And she is learning and growing in leaps and bounds.

Maria Montessori knew that the child needs to move in order to learn, and that the adolescent needs to relate in order to learn. The adolescent needs to engage in meaningful work with peers. The adolescent needs freedom with responsibility, independence, and our trust. Our junior high students jump on the city bus to go study at the public library, or they walk to the farmers’ market to buy the food they will cook for each other, or they arrange to meet downtown or at a local park or at the river to continue their ongoing research into local history. They review literature in a seminar format, learning how to think and discuss and argue their points. Their Math is advanced and practical at the same time, as they study Algebra and Geometry and also build their own lockers from bookshelves removed from another part of the building. They work as a team, they guide each other, they learn from each other, they work hard, and they love learning.

Clare is not the only one lucky to be here at this junior high. I am lucky to be able to take in even a fraction of what she does, simply by being present.

Tradition and the story we share

October 6, 2010

So here we are again. Apple pie baking time. In October 2002, about one month after we opened our doors for the first time, I baked pies with our founding 16 children. I did that because I enjoy baking pies, the children had done a large unit on apples, and they had visited a local orchard. That night we had our first Back to School Night for parents, and we served the pies.

Somehow that became unchangeable tradition. I bake pies with the children every year now, and we serve them at our Back to School Night. I spend two mornings doing it, one morning with one lower elementary class, the other morning with the second lower elementary class. I enjoy spending the time with them, and they enjoy the work.

This year,  more so than in the past, I noticed a regular comment/conversation. It wasn’t about the flour, or the rolling pin, or the cinnamon. The comment I heard from the majority of the students was about the contraption we used to peel, core, and slice the apples.

Over and over children wondered aloud who would have invented such a thing. They touched it, and moved whatever part would move so they could get a better sense of how it worked.

Inventions. New Ideas. Contributions. That is what the child wants to focus on. Who invented it? How did they figure it out? What caused them to want to invent it?

History is a story of new ideas, new thinking, creative inventions, of contributions to culture. The Montessori classroom is founded on the story of culture; the environment is designed to consider how we are in community with each other. We participate in the conversation begun with the creation of the universe, a conversation that has continued throughout all history, a conversation that was handed to us to continue. We are grateful for the person who invented the lightbulb, the one who invented the plow, the one who figured out how to weave , and even the anonymous person who first domesticated the dog. Each of these “inventions” contributed to culture, contributed to the story, to the conversation in which we are engaged.

A conversation that happens even in a food preparation area of a kitchen in a Montessori school in South Bend, Indiana. Who invented that machine? It sure makes our work easier, it is really cool to watch it work, and it is a lot of fun. Everyone wants a turn.

So we continue baking apple pies with the head of school, because it is now in the realm of Unchanging Tradition. We talk about lots of things when we bake; some children do this work for the very first time, others are seasoned professionals. We spend time in community to create something wonderful for parents, something we can all be happy about. The pies are in no way perfect, but we even talk about that. And this year, we talk about the awesome invention you see below. And we are grateful to that person, whoever he or she is, who invented it and contributed to our story.


September 28, 2010

It has been a long time since I posted here, probably due to the somewhat overwhelming  and disorienting nature of moving.  We moved our family to a new house at the beginning of September, and we unloaded all sorts of boxes at school to recreate classroom environments that had been shut down due to summer construction work.

Now, just about one month after the faculty arrived, things are settling in a bit and I am coming up for some air. Today I write mostly to get myself to write, so I am borrowing the words of a wonderful Montessorian, Donna Bryant Goertz, to get me started again.

Donna is now a Facebook friend, and I am truly enjoying our interaction there. Additionally, she is coming to South Bend in February to speak to area Montessori schools, something that will be enlightening, I am sure.

Her book (I’ve mentioned it before in this blog) is Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classroom (Published in 2001 by Frog, Ltd., Berkley) and the quote that follows is found on page 11 of the Introduction.

I am all the more inspired to do the work I do when I think of the child in the manner described by Donna:

“Deep down, each child knows he is only as worthy as any other child. Casting some children in negative roles puts the very being of each and every child at risk. If even one child can be cast aside as unworthy, no child is truly safe. He feels keenly insecure at the ground of his being.

…Inclusion of more eccentric children in our classes affirms the human worth of all the children. It provides an opportunity to learn emotional skills as well as academic subjects. It is an unhealthy burden for a child to be ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ We must relieve every child of that burden and allow all of them to be works of art in progress.”

Awesome. Thanks, Donna. Now that I have begun to blog again, I will continue to do so. Pardon the long hiatus.

Grand and lofty ideas

August 29, 2010

“We seek to sow life in the child rather than theories,to help him in his growth, mental and emotional, as well as physical. And for that we must offer grand and lofty ideas to the human mind.” –Maria Montessori

“Grand and lofty ideas.” That keeps my attention with Montessori. Nothing is small. When the goal is a world at peace, it is hard to think small.

The Montessori elementary years connect all learning by way of the Great Lessons–impressionistic and exciting stories about the coming of the universe, the coming of life to earth, the coming of humans, the creation of language, and the creation of numbers. The stories give context for learning, so that when a child is working on the parts of a flower, she is doing so in light of the creation of the stars. Everything in the universe is intimately and irreversibly connected.

Fundamental human needs offer the foundation for culture, as children continually wonder about what it means to be human, what is necessary in human existence, and what is not. Cultural studies guide the curriculum and bring context to learning, connecting humans across time and space. Math and language become all the more alive when investigated in context of culture. When the child chooses among a variety of curricular areas and focuses on what intrigues her most, a spark of imagination is ignited that propels the child deeper into the fire of grand and lofty ideas.  All done in context of cultural studies, forged initially through the great lessons.

In this manner, by way of the great lessons and cultural studies, grand and lofty ideas launch the learning process, which in effect then leads to grand and lofty ideas. New ways of thinking are celebrated, both historically and in the present time; we immerse the child in grand and lofty ideas and observe the exciting formation of new thinking, the birth of creativity.

Grand and lofty ideas inspire greatness.

Abundance thinking

August 21, 2010

“It is not enough for the teacher to love the child. She must first love and understand the universe. She must prepare herself, and truly work at it.”  –Maria Montessori

a walk in the park

It can seem that scarcity is found at every turn. There’s just not enough. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough help, not enough inspiration.

However, we have too much work to do, too much to accomplish, so we need all the resources we can find; we cannot afford to focus on scarcity. A focus on scarcity limits possibilities. It divides rather than unites great people who think great things and do great work. Scarcity ignites fear; fear limits creativity.

Our focus instead is abundance, creativity, energy, and delight. Our message is invitation, not rejection; relationship, not isolation. Love over fear. Love for the universe, love for the community, love for the child. Love’s nature is abundance.

We can exist in a state of crisis or we can seek new and creative solutions together. We can lament the lack of (name your lack: money, resources, time, ideas, people, help, etc.) or we can extend ourselves and build together.

Abundance is everywhere, from the peony bush in my front yard that produces more flowers and aroma than it could possibly need for mere survival, to the wrens who nest in the box in my backyard and bring sweet-songed offspring to our neighborhood year after year after year, to the child whose curiosity and capacity for learning is limitless.

Am I challenged by running a school in these difficult economic times? Yes. Do I worry that the next grant proposal I write will amount to nothing, or the next visit with a benefactor will lead to rejection? Yes. Do I believe that this worry will get me anywhere? No. A focus on scarcity will not lead to abundance. A focus on abundance will generate abundance.

I have been accused of being too optimistic, too idealistic, but I cannot imagine that the alternative will lead to greatness. I d0 not see culture as an account of pessimistic, fear-based thinking. Culture is the story of new ideas, new inventions, new insights, new challenges, new risks.

Our children deserve to be surrounded by people who first love and (at least somewhat!) understand the universe, so full attention can be brought to loving and understanding the child. This, I believe, happens with abundance.