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“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.

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Connectedness

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.

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.

Playing tag

June 2, 2010

junior high at rest

Looking out my window on this last day of the school year, feeling relieved, grateful, and a bit spent from last night’s Blessing and Sending ceremony, I see our junior high students on the playground, playing tag.

Such delight and such freedom. Adolescents on the verge of adulthood, yet they are able to revel in childhood games without self-consciousness.

They are secure with themselves and each other, so they can simply be with each other, playing like brothers and sisters, enjoying their last moments together before their summer break begins.

It is an uplifting scene for me on this day.

Doing Hello and Goodbye Right

May 31, 2010

“Our care of the children should be governed not by the desire to ‘make them learn things’, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within them the light which is called intelligence.” –Maria Montessori

Ms. Holovaty at the farm with children

Tomorrow is our annual end of year celebration with a “Blessing and Sending.” The third year students will be recognized by the sixth year students, as they are “moving up” to upper elementary. The sixth year students will be recognized by the junior high students, as they are “moving up” to junior high. And, of course, we will all say goodbye to our eighth year students, sending them into the world with our blessing.

There will be a slide show and a song sung by the lower elementary children, along with songs sung by the whole assembly. We will have a pot luck supper afterward, with some games being played outside.

Tradition is important. It tells our story and frames our community. We know that beginnings and endings carry special meaning, so we try to do beginnings and endings well, whether the beginnings happen every day as the child enters the classroom environment or if the ending only happens once every eight years as the child is handed off to the world. Each beginning and ending matters, as each child in the environment, each teacher on staff, and each parent matters.

So I look forward to our eighth annual end of year celebration. It is important to do goodbye right.

Montessori research

May 14, 2010

If we could say, “We are respectful and courteous in our dealing with children, we treat them as we should like to be treated ourselves,” we should have mastered a great educational principle and be setting an example of good education. –Maria Montessori

Lower El presentation

Research is supporting the kind of learning that happens in a Montessori classroom. One website highlights some of that research. I encourage you to explore the site:

http://www.montessori-ami.org/research/research.htm

One study on Montessori middle school (found on that website) described the following:

“The results showed that the Montessori students reported a significantly better quality of experience in academic work than the traditional students. There were strong differences suggesting that Montessori students were feeling more active, strong, excited, happy, relaxed, sociable, and proud while engaged in academic work. They were also enjoying themselves more, they were more interested in what they were doing, and they wanted to be doing academic work more than the traditional students.”

“… Results also showed clear differences in the social environments of the two types of schools. Montessori students reported more favorable impressions of their schools and teachers. Teachers were seen as more supportive, classrooms were seen as more orderly, and the overall environment was safer from the slings and arrows of putdowns from teachers and students. In addition, various time use estimates suggested that the Montessori students had more positive perceptions of their classmates, more often perceiving them as friends as well as classmates. Finally, other time use estimates showed that Montessori students spent less time in class listening to lectures and watching media and more time working in collaborative and self-directed ways.”

“Child Centered” and the Montessori method

May 10, 2010

I just toured a potential parent, and found myself describing “child centered environment” to her. Somehow that term can sound like we are perhaps overly indulgent (i.e., not tough enough on them), but I am grateful that this is the environment my own children have been in. Here are some examples of “child centeredness:”

Prairie Winds Farm

Children spend one afternoon a week at the farm

Advanced children are not told to wait until the others catch up, nor are the children who are a bit delayed told to hurry and catch up because everyone is waiting.

Systems are never put in place for the adult’s convenience, but they are put into place for the child’s learning.

We expect that children are here to practice; they practice Math, Language, Cultural Studies, etc., and that they are not expected to be done learning everything there is to know. Likewise, they are practicing the way they interact with others, so our sense of “discipline” is respectful of the child and recognizes that this is all about practice. “Because I am the adult and I said so, and therefore you will obey” is not on our list of ways to help children learn how to be with each other in a manner that is just and compassionate.

The child chooses work. Guided by trained adults who are familiar with the scope and sequence of our three-year curriculum, the child is presented materials and then chooses when he or she will do the work. Research supports this approach (humans learn best when they are giving the opportunity to choose), and it is, indeed, child centered–respectful of the child’s unique needs and abilities.

Establishing a true sense of community is central to what we do, and every member of that community matters, adult and child.

Learning methods, deadlines, and ground rules all consider not only the immediate need of the moment, but the long range development of the child. It is easier to get them quiet and compliant for my immediate satisfaction than it is to treat them in a manner by which they are learning important academic and developmental principles that will move with them as they grow.

Being child-centered is a basic tenet of a Montessori education; it is challenging and enlivening, and creates a vibrant and rich environment for the child.

lower elementary classroom enviornment

Children work in the lower elementary environment