Do you believe in your child?


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Heather Siple-Roaming 425-010

I was reading a blog post by Dr. Robert Brooks, a Harvard Medical School professor and speaker and writer about parenting and building resilience in children, and was reminded of a time when my daughter was driving to a new music teacher’s house and got turned around. She had a cell phone, but no GPS. She called in tears and asked if she could just come home. I said no because she had a commitment to the teacher. Well, she drove for over an hour (in circles) until she called me again, I pulled out a map and told her how to get there- giving her every turn- until she arrived safely at her destination. She was frazzled to be sure, but she did it. I could have rescued her – gone to where she was and led the way or told her to come home and we would take care of it. But, for a person who finds directions challenging, she had to prove to herself that she could manage. And she did. It’s now a funny family story, and she uses her phone’s navigation programs like a pro. She is no better at figuring out directions, but has the confidence to use the tools she needs to help her in places near and far.

One of the most important jobs we can do for our children is to believe in them. They need to know that we are there when needed and that we trust them to handle the decisions they are faced with each day. We need to demonstrate confidence in their ability even when we may not feel it. Rescuing them puts the responsibility for their decisions and actions squarely on our shoulders. It also sends the not so subtle message that we don’t think they can manage and need us to handle their difficulties. I am almost certain that most parents do not believe this and want their children to be independent, resilient and able to negotiate good times and bad. To do that, we have to step back, perhaps fret quietly, and exude confidence that we may not feel. That is what builds the skills needed for them to manage their future goals and to rebound from disappointment.




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Standards. We all have them, whether we name them as such or not. We have a standard for everything from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the work we do and the relationships we enjoy. Some of the standards we live by are established externally – the FDA determines the health and safety of the food we eat and the medicines we take. The regulations by the EPA determine the standard for the air we breathe and the water we drink. OSHA determines what safety standards must be in place in every workplace. These standards were established so that we could all live safely and be unharmed in our daily existence. Most of us would agree that we are better off with these standards and regulations in place than without them.

Education has standards. We hear about them all the time – No Child Left Behind, Common Core, NSTA, NCTM, NCTE, ISTE and many other governing bodies. A school’s job is to live up to these standards. Again, most people agree that we are better off with the standards than without. However, how is it determined if a school, a classroom, or a teacher is indeed meeting the standards? How do we know it to be true? Is it the curriculum that is used? Is it the training of the teachers? Is it the performance of the students?

As a Montessori school, it is clear that some schools adhere to the Montessori standards of excellence more than others. Some classrooms within a school administer the standard differently. Some schools have “Montessori” in their name, yet make no attempt to adhere to the standards set forth by the American Montessori Society, the governing body for excellence in Montessori education. Though standards can sometimes push or pull in varying directions, it is important for schools to determine the standards to which they will hold themselves and work to uphold the excellence of those standards. Educating children is the work of schools. Using standards to inform instruction holds schools accountable as they work to serve all students in the very best ways.

The Montessori Difference


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Heather SipleRoaming Jan 23rd028

As a Montessori parent for almost 30 years and an educator practicing in the Montessori world for more than 20 years, I sometimes forget that others do not have the advantage of the Montessori perspective. I came across a blog that fully supported Montessori education, yet tried to find a way to adapt it to other school settings. While I appreciate this thinking and am thrilled with the endorsement, it’s just not that simple.

The blog endorsed student choice, supporting independence, mixed age groupings, focusing on the whole child and individualized lessons. Yes, and… While those are all essential elements of Montessori education and, we could argue, elements of the best standards of all educational models, there is so much more. Each of these elements may be visible to outsiders. What isn’t visible is the underlying structure which is the essence of Montessori education.

The Montessori philosophy and pedagogy are based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s study of children, specifically noting the planes of development: infancy/preschool, elementary, early/late adolescence and maturity/adulthood. Every decision about what materials are on the shelves, which lessons are introduced and what expectations are established is a result of a strong understanding of the students’ development at those ages. Nothing is happenstance. This was all established through Dr. Montessori’s scientific approach as she developed each material, each lesson, and the setting in which they occur. Continue reading

Learning with Purpose


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When we look at the things that each of us has learned most deeply in our lives, the same certain conditions almost always apply: Among other things, we had an interest and a passion for the topic, we had a real, authentic purpose in learning it, we had agency and choice, deciding what, when, where, and with whom we learned it, and we had fun learning it even if some of it was ‘hard fun.’

– Will Richardson

There is not much more to say. When did you learn something that was quite difficult? What were the conditions under which you learned it – was it forced on you or did you want to learn? Did it matter to you? Was there a reason to learn it? In other words, did you have agency, choice and an authentic purpose for learning? This, more than any imposed requirement, leads to the deepest learning. Once we have acquired the basic reading, writing and math skills, it is then up to us to determine what we want to learn and how we will learn it. This is the work of schools and education.

What’s the recipe?


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Do you use a recipe or do you let your senses, intuition and previous experience guide you when you cook? Do you closely follow directions when assembling a piece of furniture or model? Are you willing to experiment with the “known” – the instructions provided?

When I first became a teacher I was surprised to learn that the teacher editions of all textbooks/curriculum provided the words to say when giving each and every lesson. They are the recipes for teaching – the precise recipes. That’s nice to have, I suppose, but what it fails to take into account is the dialogue and conversation that is essential to learning. If we stick too closely to the scripted directions of lessons, we can miss the very thing that makes learning so worthwhile.

Learning is a dynamic process. The dialogue between teachers and students is nothing short of eye-opening and inspiring. The conversation goes well beyond the directions and instructions, instead pushing us each to learn and grow in many different directions. There is not one best recipe for learning or teaching. There are millions. The first is to be who you are each every day and to recognize the children in your schools and classrooms for who they are. It is by being willing to put aside the mandated conversations and instructions that we grow as learners and yearn for more. Great cooks know that recipes are meant to be adjusted. The same can be said for great schools. Learning is an ever-evolving recipe based on the essential ingredients the students bring each day.

Decisions Matter


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If you’ve raised children, you know that there are millions of decisions made in the process. Children push us to be deciders, to give permission and, of course, question the decision or lack of permission. They want to know the boundaries, and we are typically quite happy to provide them. You also know that often choices are the order of the day. Do you want to wear this or that, eat this or that, or go now or in five minutes? We repeat questions similar to these every single day, often multiple times each day. We want to allow our children to have some ownership over their decisions and to learn to make decisions.

“How do we create leaders if we don’t let kids make decisions?” I was struck by this question posed by Alice Keeler, a leader in technology education in one of her recent blogs. I don’t know that I ever equated decision-making with the creation of leaders. It makes sense, but I didn’t draw a direct line. Leadership roles require the ability to make decisions but also to know what decisions are critical, somewhat important or perhaps inconsequential. Just as it does not really matter if a child wears a blue or brown shirt, it may not matter if a meeting is held today or next week. However, it absolutely matters if a child holds your hand to be safe in crossing a street just as it matters if this person is qualified for a position and another is not.

The trick is balancing these decisions and making sure that others know you have faith in their ability to decide and will stand by the decision that is made. If your children or your co-workers think you will second guess them at every turn, they will effectively be hampered from making any decisions in their lives. And, as Alice Keeler states, how will they assume leadership roles if they don’t have this practice along the way?

Do You Want to Learn?


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If you want to learn something, I can’t stop you. If you don’t want to learn it, I cannot teach you.

– Wynton Marsalis

Heather Siple-First Day-Rm19-1As I listened to this podcast about creativity, I not only learned a great deal about the lives of a variety of people we would all consider to be creative in very different ways, I was inspired to apply these ideas and experiences to education and children’s school experiences.

At the same time, in talking to a teacher who was attending classes to become a certified Montessori teacher, she shared the idea presented that small class sizes can be detrimental to the idea of children gaining independence. The thinking is that in order to become independent, make the best decisions and learn from mistakes, it is important to have freedom. Children need freedom from adults watching every move they make. They need space for experimentation, for creativity to allow growth in ways they can’t experience if all they know is the “right” way to do things and the rewards are established by someone else, either a person or institution. We need to establish environments that allow students to set their own goals and assess their progress using criteria that continue to evolve through various iterations of a project or assignment. If we don’t allow for this process, students will struggle to become independent and make decisions throughout life. Continue reading

Get Ready


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polar vortex.jpgEveryone likes to be prepared for what is to come. Some of us may enjoy a surprise or two, but typically, we humans like to plan and be ready. This winter has done nothing if not taught us how sometimes even the best preparations are not quite enough.

Last week, many parts of the U.S. experienced a deep freeze of historic proportion. Residents of cities like Chicago and Minneapolis are quite accustomed to cold temperatures and snowfall during the winter. What they have not seen is the subzero temperatures that gripped that part of the country – temperatures that made it hard to carry out even the most mundane task such as starting your car or going to work and school. Meteorologists predicted this weather, but it exceeded expectations and was not part of anyone’s plans. Everyone had to adapt and adjust to new circumstances.

Life often hands us situations that require us to adapt and change. In some instances, nothing prepares us for the change ahead. In others, we have a few warning signals and can begin to think about what it means to change. One of the goals of school is to prepare students for the next steps in their school and work life. Educators pride themselves in helping students be ready for any situation that might arise. Is that reasonable? Or, instead, is it more beneficial to prepare students for the uncertainty that is sure to greet them, if not next week, then next month or next year, or years down the road?

Schools are preparing students for an uncertain future. We know what we know today, and we know the rate of change is faster than humans have ever experienced in history. We can embrace the change, adapt our mindset to one of seeking knowledge, understanding and learning rather than staying the course that was implemented when educating our citizens began. We continually face new and interesting challenges that require more from us. Are we ready? More importantly, are our children ready? They are our future.

The Power of Stories


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Today I happened to step into a classroom in which students were watching novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk. It was the starting point for a writing lesson about stories. If you don’t know it, it’s worth 18 minutes of your time. We all tell stories, and of course try to make them interesting for the listener or reader. What makes a story interesting? What makes a story balanced? Why do we have a need to tell stories?

Most of us probably don’t remember the first story we heard or the first one we told. We are surrounded with stories from the beginning of our lives, probably shared with us by loving family members. Some are the stories in beloved books. Others are stories handed down through our families, perhaps through generations. Through this sharing, the stories may have evolved to be somewhat different from the original. However, they are shared over time and become part of the way we define our lives. They provide comfort and add to our identity as we grow from childhood to adulthood and often repeat the same stories and share the same books with the next generation of little ones in our families.

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The Best Laid Plans


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Some days go along smoothly and stay that way. Others, not so much. One of the interesting things about working in a school is that there is seldom a dull moment. That may sound like things often go wrong, but that’s not the case. Things just go “differently.” A child who navigates assignments and social relationships nicely may hit a snag and need support. A teacher who is reliable and always on top of things may encounter a challenge that requires her to further develop her skills to best address the needs of one particular student, though these skills may eventually serve many. A well-designed schedule may be interrupted by a fire drill or an unexpected visitor. Things change, and we need to be ready to embrace the changes.

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