An Untapped Resource

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The greatest untapped resource in the world is human potential. It’s not oil or gas. This untapped resource exists because our children aren’t getting an education from an early age.
– Nicholas Kristof

While attending the American Montessori Society’s annual conference last week, I had the pleasure of hearing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof speak to more than 3,500 Montessori educators. With lots to share and a responsive audience, he spoke of the many injustices that he has revealed over the years through his writing and the humanitarian efforts on behalf of those world problems. Speaking to educators provides a welcoming audience, an audience who has the potential to make an impact through their work with children.

One of Maria Montessori’s most important messages is that the future of the world is in the hands of our children; we must develop their human potential. They must be presented the world in order to work to make sense of it and create the change that is needed to ensure the future of our planet and its people. This is the central purpose of a Montessori education. Children are our future. They need the opportunity to learn, to develop an understanding of the world and to begin to create solutions to the world’s problems. The way we care for our world is to care for the children who inhabit our planet and ensure the future of both through education. I can think of no better way to do this than through Montessori education.

Shhh… Quiet

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The last place you might expect to find a person who identifies strongly as an introvert is on a stage in front of more than 5,000 people. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, often finds herself in this position as she shares her message about life as an introvert. Listening to her speak to a large group, 80% of whom raised their hands when asked if they think they are introverts, was fascinating. Cain blends personal stories with research and strategies for introverts and extroverts alike.

One of the things that is of particular interest is her connection between the need for solitude and creativity. Schools and workplaces have worked to provide spaces for collaboration and teamwork; they also need to provide space for us to work quietly, to think and to let our minds wander. We keep hearing that the world of the future will require us to be able to get along well with others, work on a team and manage well in groups. It is also believed that we need to innovate and look for solutions to problems other than those that are obvious. How does this happen? Where will those ideas come from? How will we add meaning to a group or a creative process? How many of your good ideas have come to you while in the shower or driving? Perhaps it is the quiet that allows these ideas to percolate to the surface.

A Community of Learners

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What is school? According to Sir Ken Robinson, “School is a community of learners. That’s it.” Simple isn’t it? School does not depend on the building, the curriculum or the materials housed within. It is the community that makes it a school and that prompts learning to occur. School is about relationships.

Perhaps you recall a favorite teacher, one who inspired you to learn try harder or learn things you thought impossible. Or maybe you recall an accomplishment in school or outside of it that surprised even you. Who inspired you? Who helped you along the way? Did you learn it from a mandated text or did you find another way to learn what was needed to succeed?

By mandating what school is we are depriving children of what is possible. Yes, we need outcomes. We want a literate and educated populace. What we don’t need is the same path for each child. Children are capable of so much. They can guide us as they learn and we join together to create a community of learners.

How will you grow?

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how will you grow.pngThis time of year brings with it a lot of professional development opportunities for educators. Last week, several teachers were able to attend a conference on technology integration. It is a conference held each year to share ideas and experiences with technology in the classroom. This conference is what all professional development should be…inspiring.

Taking the time out of one’s schedule to learn new things and to be inspired by the work of others is one of the things that energizes us each to enthusiastically work to do the best we can to support children’s growth. Each person has varying needs to improve his or her practice. Each year presents different challenges. Just when you think you have it all figured out things shift and new skills and knowledge are required.

Working in a school reminds us that we are all learners. We have things to learn from each other no matter how young or old. As another year’s opportunities for learning take place, where will you focus? What tools will you add to your already overfilled toolbox? It is in yearning for more and refining our practice that we continue to contribute to the lives of the children in our care.

Joy like a Fountain

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joyfountain.pngNothing is more gratifying than quietly working and hearing the soft voice of a teacher strolling down the hallway singing with toddlers, “I’ve got joy like a fountain in my heart.” Moments such as these literally fill our hearts. Working with young children can be delightful, frustrating, enjoyable, difficult and rewarding. After all, they are children, which means they are all of these things and more. People often ask how one can work with children every day or say they could never be a teacher. Isn’t it hard work? You bet it is, but there is no work that is more important or satisfying than working with children and watching them grow. When was the last time you had the pleasure of hearing sweet voices singing the next verse of a well loved song or asking the teacher to sing it one more time? If your job doesn’t provide this opportunity, ask a teacher what delighted her today, sit back and enjoy listening to the response. You’ll be glad you asked.

A Time of Growth

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growth-blogSince Wilmington Montessori School serves children as young as 12 months old, we have an opportunity to watch them grow in every way before they graduate from sixth grade and move on to middle school. The youngest children in the school are very attached to their teachers. They depend on the same faces greeting them each day, helping them with their work, and sending them off into the arms of their parents at the end of the day. However, once these children move on to the next level at age 3, they often are shy and quiet in greeting their former teachers. They may smile or say hello if prompted. They have moved on and are creating new relationships. By the time they graduate from sixth grade, they may only recall their toddler teacher because a photo or parent reminds them of that time spent in the classroom.

Teaching, like so many things in our lives, plants seeds. Teachers plant ideas, build relationships and work to further the growth of those in their care. Most often, they do not have the pleasure of seeing the results of that work. As the oldest students in our school exhibit that growth during a performance or ultimately, at graduation, the teachers who worked with them when they were younger look on proudly, amazed at their growth and the people they have become. They are happy to have had a part in that development.

As you think back on your time in school, what seeds were planted that grew over time? How did others influence you in ways that they never may have known? How will you make sure those qualities exist in your child’s school?

It Takes A Village

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About 20 years ago the phrase, “It takes a village,” was brought to the nation’s attention in a book written by Hillary Rodham Clinton. She did not author the phrase; instead it is believed to be an ancient African proverb, which translates to, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the past month, I’ve been reminded of this proverb many times over.

Maria Montessori has shared her vision regarding the world village in which we live. We are called to honor those who came before us, to learn from the lessons others have learned and can teach us, and to rely on and support each other as we navigate our ever more complicated world. This is true for children and adults alike.

Every day in Wilmington Montessori school, I see examples of the village – children and adults alike – “raising” the children and adults in our community. This occurs from the moment a child holds the door for an adult entering the building in the morning to the adult who provides a warm smile when needed, and an entire classroom celebrating a child’s birthday with the birth and life celebration during which a child walks around the sun to commemorate each year of his or her life. Each of these examples may seem small when taken in isolation. When recognized as a tiny part of each day, they represent the village… our world and our planet.

Nothing we do for each other or in memory of others is too small an act. We are the village and we are here to support, nurture, and raise each other to continue to contribute to the global community or village in which we all live.

Establishing Peace

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This week, our country celebrates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the week that our first African-American President leaves office, and the week of the presidential inauguration. It’s a momentous week to be sure. As we honor these dates, we reflect on what has led us to this place in history – some things we are proud to claim and others we may prefer to forget.

Through many years of working with upper elementary students, one thing I learned is that looking at history through their eyes is nothing short of remarkable. As we have shared stories from World War II – books about children treated as less than because of their race or ethnicity and people immigrating to the United States only to face more struggles than they imagined – the students’ reaction is one of disbelief. They cannot understand why anyone would treat another person in any of these ways; they are rightly appalled. In their lack of understanding of the world, they tend to see it more clearly than we do. Things are much more simple. Kindness results in kindness. Rising up to denounce the cruelty of a person or a society’s actions is an obvious act that must occur. Why did we, the adults of the past and present, allow these things to persist? Why did we not create the changes needed to protect and preserve the people of our world?

Education for peace is a central focus of the Montessori curriculum. As Dr. Montessori stated, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education.” As children move through their school years, history reveals itself. The good and the bad are apparent. Students are sure they can do a better job than their ancestors. They are certain they would not stand for many of the things that have occurred throughout our world’s history. They want to create change and to treat people in the same ways, no matter who they are. They know they have the answers. It is our responsibility to help them find those ways, to right those wrongs and to learn how to make a difference. We open their eyes to what has happened, to see what is wrong with our world so they can move steadily forward making the changes that are needed. They need to know that their actions are imperative, that they have meaning. They are creating the future. And we are there by their side to stand with them, answer their questions and guide them along the way. Peace education is a critical aspect of educating all children. Thank you to Dr. King, Dr. Montessori and all of those who went before us leading the way for our future.

 

Understanding Yourself

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longdivision1Early in my teaching career, I had a parent tell me in utter frustration that her son had received the same comments on his report card since he was 2 years old; he was 12 at the time. In other words, he was true to himself. This child was incredible in so many ways. He was kind, caring, hard working, socially adept and inquisitive. He was the mayor of the school. Everyone knew and appreciated him. He also had a hard time staying on task and getting his work done… because he was busy working the room. And that is who he is; sometimes there is no escaping.

This is the time of year when we resolve to make changes in our lives. We seek to become better versions of ourselves and are determined to do what is necessary to make that happen. One thing that can get lost in this quest is the fact that there are some things we just have to decide to accept. Working in a school teaches us this each and every day.

As educators, we have the unique opportunity to help students understand more about who they are as learners and as people. As they grow and learn more about themselves, they learn how to adapt and accommodate their challenges while also sharing their gifts. If they are not so good at math, they may ask a friend for support and guidance. If they are good at writing, they may support someone who needs to grow in that area. The important lesson is that, while they have challenges, they continue to be a valued contributor to the classroom, to learning, and to their friends and families. Learning to garner the support one needs to be successful is critical because some things continue to challenge us no matter how much we learn and grow. And, sometimes, that is the resolution that is needed for children to see themselves as successful. Accepting our challenges allows us to recognize and address them.  

Continuous Reflection

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john-dewey-quoteAs 2016 came to an end, my inbox was inundated with advice – things I should buy, resolve, change and appreciate. I’m sure yours was filled with similar items. The message behind all of these emails is the same; this is the time of year to reflect on the past and set goals for the year ahead.

Schools are places of continuous reflection. There is not a day that goes by on which questions aren’t pondered about what has gone well and what could be done better. Learning is a continual process, not a one-time-per-year event. It is ongoing. As another year begins there is much to consider. Children are entrusted to us. The goal is to educate them and send them off with the knowledge and skills needed to negotiate their world; a world that is continually changing. While some of the things I learned in school are quite relevant today, many are not. However, what I did learn is how to take ideas apart, to ask questions, to reflect on the information at hand and to add my findings to my already existing knowledge base.

Reflecting on our practice as educators allows us to move forward into the future that awaits the students in our classrooms. It also reminds us to honor those practices that will always be important. It causes us to question and search for answers. It is through reflection that we are able to create an environment for all learners to pursue their quest for understanding and to make sense of the world in which they live. Schools, in their best version of themselves, are working to help children learn. For it is in developing the skills needed to learn that one is able to go out and successfully negotiate the world.