The Definition of Success

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Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 8.17.07 PMAssessments are performed at the beginning of each school year. Teachers use them to determine what children remember after a long summer, which skills are strong and where additional support might be needed. Most of the assessments are measured against the “norm,” or the average student of that grade or age. When the results are favorable, the student is deemed to be on the right path; when they are less than optimal, it is determined what skills are lacking and what help is needed to reach that benchmark or average. Though this information may be useful in determining an instructional path for the development of specific skills, it cannot serve as the guiding force for learning. Continue reading

Nurturing Creativity in Schools

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creativity.pngCreativity of thought and action is something that is regaled in our society. Have you thought about what allows creativity to blossom? Where it comes from? How it is nurtured?

Diane Ackerman is a recognized author of books and essays about the natural world and human nature. In her latest book, One Hundred Names for Love, she has written about her husband’s stroke that robbed him of his ability to speak. They were a couple whose lives centered around language and words. The book shares their journey, and also Diane’s approach, which moved beyond the conventional path followed by others in similar situations. She was forced to employ creativity.

In the throes of creativity, a lively brain tussles with a mass of memories and rich stores of knowledge, attacking them both sub rosa and with the mind wide open. Some it incubates offstage until a fully fledged insight wings into view. The rest it consciously rigs, rotates, kneads, and otherwise plays with until a novel solution emerges. Only by fumbling with countless bits of knowledge, and then ignoring most of it, does a creative mind craft something original. For that, far more than the language areas of the brain are involved. Hand-me-down ideas won’t do. So conventions must be flouted, risks taken, possibilities freely spigoted, ideas elaborated, problems redefined, daydreaming encouraged, curiosity followed down zig-zagging alleyways. Any sort of unconsidered trifle may be fair game. It’s child’s play. Literally. Not a gift given to an elect few, but a widespread, natural, human way of knowing the world. With the best intentions, our schools and society bash most of it out of us. Fortunately, it’s so strong in some of us that it endures. As neuroscientist Floyd Bloom observes: ‘Schools place an overwhelming emphasis on teaching children to solve problems correctly, not creatively. This skewed system dominates our first twenty years of life: tests, grades, college admissions, degrees, and job placements demand and reward targeted logical thinking, factual competence, and language and math skills — all purveys of the left brain.’ (245)

OBash the Trash - Noel - 13ur children deserve a rich and creative environment. School’s purpose is not to squelch the desire to imagine, play with ideas, learn and question. It is precisely the opposite.

As we begin another school year, our obligation to the children we serve is to allow and further the creative spirit of which Ms. Ackerman speaks – to encourage “a lively brain that tussles with a mass of memories, and rich stores of knowledge.” It is creativity that has led us to places we never thought possible and may take for granted today. And it is creativity that will continue to lead us to solutions of problems that have eluded us so far.

Redefining School

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As another school year begins, it makes me think more about the purpose school serves in our lives and in societies throughout the world. Most everyone reading this post has attended school and knows what that means to them personally. If asked, would we all have the same definition of school? Does it have the same meaning for a 2-year-old as a 12- or 20-year-old? Does it serve the same purpose for us no matter our age or station in life? What do we expect from school?

Many would define school as the brick-and-mortar building where children go to learn. It houses children who are educated so that they may contribute to society as they grow older. School is a place, and what is supposed to happen there is learning. This limited definition of school assumes that students of any age will learn what they need to learn in this space and in a specifically allocated amount of time. It assumes we are all able to meet mandated goals in the same way and along the same trajectory.  Continue reading

Establishing Peace

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These are difficult times. Tragic events such as those in Charlottesville, Va., and Barcelona, Spain, have focused our attention on acts of violence and intolerance. Conversations are focused on our differences, with race, religion and culture at the forefront. What is our obligation when events such as these dominate our landscape? How can we make a difference?

One need look no further than historic thought leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Dr. Maria Montessori to guide us. They provide wisdom that will remind us of our obligation to each other as we work toward peace and justice. They and countless others have allowed us to live the lives we live today – lives of opportunity, equity and security.Peace Day 2015 - 29

Each day schools have the opportunity to shape our future. Peace and social justice are central to Montessori education. Students are taught grace and courtesy from the moment they enter our schools. These tenets are part of our students’ experience each and every day. Through conflict, they learn acceptance, tolerance and understanding. They make mistakes. They are sometimes unkind. However, what they learn is how to see another’s point of view, how to listen and how to respectfully engage in conversation with others. For as Maria Montessori said so well, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education.”

As another school year begins, we must work to help children learn about others – their similarities and their differences – to create a world of peace.

Good News/Bad News

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People love to complain about the news media, saying most news is bad news. It certainly seems that is true. Each year schools deliver many messages to parents and students. They share facts, updates, and feedback about the students they serve. Report cards are issued and conferences are held. And what do most of us remember about these conversations? The “bad news.” Continue reading

Stories

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rudyard kiplingStories. They are part and parcel of all of our lives. If we are lucky, we begin our lives with stories being read to us from a very young age. The books of our youth are often worn out before we tire of them. Children never tire of hearing a favorite book or story. Stories teach us the rhythm of words, the joy of surprise and the comfort of resolution. Our family stories may not be written in a book, though are shared from generation to generation. They too teach us the elements of a good story and are sometimes embellished, though rarely forgotten.

Summers are often full of friends and family. As your family gets together with those who share some of its history, what stories will be shared? Are there new ones that will have their infancy as a result of some activity or gathering that is happening right now? How will you help your children craft the story and, ultimately, the memory that will accompany them for years to come? Ask the elders in your circle of friends and family to share more of their stories. It is the gift of a lifetime and history in the making.

Summertime Fun

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This week at our school’s summer camp, there are some old familiar faces. Some campers attend other local schools and visit us only in the summer. They spend time getting reacquainted with Wilmington Montessori School, the outdoors and each other. There are others who are with us most every season of the year. It is fun to watch them all come together, enjoying their time, recalling summers past and anticipating what they will do this year: how it will be the same and how it may be different.

Summer is a time for most of us to slow down, to look around and see what’s new, and to enjoy the familiar summer routine – a routine typically quite different from the school year. We hear so much about “summer slump” and losing the hard-fought skills that were acquired during the previous nine months of school that we sometimes forget what summer is all about. It is the time to relax a bit more, catch up with friends and explore. Summer for all of us is much like the camp experience for children. What were your summers like as a kid? What did you look forward to? As you continue to read with your children, play games and perhaps practice some math facts, I hope you find some fun and relaxation in the long days of summer.

Montessori Education: An Example of What’s Possible

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Sir Ken Robinson jokes that when he goes to a dinner party and says he works in education, the conversation stops.

“Of course,” he says, “if you’re in education, you aren’t invited to dinner parties.”

When you say that you work in Montessori education, polite looks of curiosity often follow; not many people know about Maria Montessori and her educational methodology, which was developed more than a century ago. Although there are literally hundreds of Montessori schools throughout the world – and many of those are in your town – people remain puzzled by them. They may not look like the schools of their youth. Continue reading

Where We’re From

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School’s out for most. Another year has ended. Everyone awaits these longer days of summer and enjoys a more relaxed schedule. How did these marvelous students, most children, get to this day?

Heather Siple- graduation-018.JPGWorking in schools – teaching a variety of students – confirms that children take individual paths to graduation day. Some move through school at the established pace, completing the required steps, causing knowing smiles as they accomplish predetermined goals. Others meander, checking out things along the way, perhaps devoting more time to some things than others and getting to the finish line in their own time. Still others may have difficulty determining where the finish line is and an even harder time figuring out what to do to come close to reaching it. Educators find these variations and more. Parents typically prefer the first option as it is tried and true. We know it works and what is expected is carried out. However, which is the best path? That depends. Continue reading

Graduation

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June is graduation month. Schools – from kindergarten to universities – await this special day. Families and friends celebrate as accomplishments are shared and futures are contemplated. Though it is a time for endings and hard work, it is truly a time to look forward to all that lies ahead. Graduation day is typically a day where congratulatory wishes are balanced with warnings of what is to come. And each year, graduation speeches are shared. Enjoy speeches from the past that continue to be relevant today. And congratulations to those of you who are graduating. Your hard work has paid off and it is now time for the next step in your journey.