A Teacher’s Influence

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Teachers are an essential part of schools. Although current educational thought focuses on the learning, rather than the curriculum, it is the teacher who sets the tone, models the behavior she wants students to exemplify and works to establish the relationships that allow learning to flourish. We can each remember a teacher we loved and perhaps one who was best forgotten. Teachers have a huge influence and impact on the students they see each day.

In Montessori classrooms, the role of the teacher is carefully defined. The teacher prepares the environment for learning to occur. She makes certain that children are able to act independently within the classroom and that they know where materials are kept, how to remove them and the procedures for returning each item to its proper place. The Montessori teacher carefully and thoughtfully observes the children in her care, noting how they move throughout the space and which materials they are drawn to, which they may avoid and how they use them. She knows which lessons will ignite the curiosity and wonder within each child, giving the lessons when the child is ready… not when the curriculum demands.

Perhaps best of all, the Montessori teacher has three years to spend with the children in the classroom. Multi-age classrooms allow the children and the teacher to know and understand one another more fully than can occur in a single-age classroom. Relationships are formed. Though the teacher plays a huge role, influencing children today and well into the future, the wonder of a Montessori classroom is multi-faceted.

We can’t always get what we want.

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heather-siple-read-aloud-011What happens when you don’t get what we want? How do you react? Is it a feeling of hopelessness, or is it a challenge to shift your behavior or reach out to someone? This week has been a challenging time for many. Election day brought results that caused some to rejoice and others to cringe.

No matter your politics, one of the biggest lessons we all need to learn is how to be gracious. Whether we win or lose, our reaction is what sets us apart. Children have ample opportunities to learn this on the sports field, in the classroom and at home. Playing games typically results in someone winning. We’ve all had the experience of the winner gloating and the loser storming off. The challenge that we face when we enter a contest of any sort is to handle ourselves with grace and courtesy, a central aspect of Montessori education. Our days are filled with ways to practice kindness, courtesy and, yes, manners. We teach children to look each other in the eye, to shake hands and introduce themselves to guests, and to apologize when they have hurt another’s feelings.

It’s easy to be a kind winner or a sore loser. It’s a lot harder to be a winner who reaches out to the people on the other team and congratulates them for participating in the game, for giving it their all, and for being a worthy opponent. A good contest is satisfying and rewarding. Though the Cleveland Indians lost the World Series to the Chicago Cubs, both teams gave it their all; the games allowed sports fan to see some of the best baseball games played in a long time.

Winning feels great. Losing, not so much. How will we move forward after an election that was not the best example of grace and courtesy? How will we guide our students and children to help them learn how to behave when things don’t go their way? What example will we set?

Is there math in football?

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Every day, we make hundreds of decisions that are informed by our quantitative judgment. Most of the time, we don’t even realize it. When you’re packing a lot of things into a small bag, you have to think geometrically. When you’re planning a schedule or dividing your time, you’re thinking quantitatively. When you’re trying to decide between two different options, you’re thinking analytically.” – John Urschel

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Skimming my newsfeed the other morning, I came across an article written by John Urschel, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Typically I would stop reading right there. I am an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and the Ravens are our archrivals. But I try to possess a growth mindset, so I powered on to learn more about Urschel and math. Yes, math. Continue reading

Intelligence & Adaptation

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Screen Shot 2016-11-02 at 8.41.53 PM.pngEveryone I know considers him or herself to be an intelligent person. We all like to think we know things and are able to carry on a dialogue that is informative and demonstrates our abilities. On the other hand, many people I know are quite uncomfortable with change. When the unexpected occurs or things do not go as planned, it can be challenging to adapt to the new circumstances.

What we know is that the very universe in which we live is adaptive to changing circumstances. Our world today is quite different from the world that existed at the beginning of time. It has shifted, changed and responded to its environment – literally and figuratively. We need to do the same. As Stephen Hawking suggests, to demonstrate intelligence we must be able to adapt to changing circumstances. We would no more stay seated in a burning building than we should stand by our strongly held ideas in the presence of new evidence. Listening to others – hearing their views and their approach to a given situation – helps us build our intellect. It makes us think.

The next time you find yourself dismissing a new idea, ask if you are adapting or staying the course. Which is the better course of action?

Reflection

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tree reflection.jpgThe first time a baby looks in a mirror, she is surprised and in awe of what is before her…her reflection.

Throughout our lives, we are presented with opportunities to reflect on our experiences, our growth and our path ahead. As John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Montessori classrooms not only allow this time for reflection; they are based on reflection. It is through considering what we’ve tried and thinking about what worked and what didn’t – reflection – that learning occurs.

Nurturing Independence

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Last week, a parent shared the changes that he has seen in his young child’s behavior since beginning school in September. In particular, he has noticed her movement toward independence. One of Maria Montessori’s most quoted phrases is,”Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Continue reading

Writing – Beyond Rules & Grammar Drills

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This quote comes from one of my favorite books, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Though it is a book about writing, it is compelling. Lamott is a great storyteller who has written both fiction and non-fiction. She is a writer who speaks freely about just how challenging writing can be.

Learning to write is one of the most difficult things we do. We first have to learn the physical act of writing and then move on to the craft of writing. As readers, we learn what we like to read and, as children, often do not connect the fact that the books we enjoy are indeed products of writing. Connecting the two disciplines can be challenging.

Continue reading

Reading Aloud

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screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-8-14-17-pmAs September has come to a close, so have our daily read alouds in the WMS Learning Commons. As you may know, the past month featured many WMS friends reading to the children each day. Our special guests included Board members, grandparents, parents, staff members and, yes, even dogs. The children enjoyed the great pleasure of singing a song to get started and hearing about favorite characters in literature. Each day was a little different – though the routine remained the same.

heather-siple-read-aloud-019Reading aloud is one of the most important things we can do for children. Read alouds offer the opportunity for children to experience books they may not be quite ready to take on by themselves. The characters come alive through the different voices, expressions and mannerisms that the reader brings to them. Children learn how a book “sounds.” Most of us can’t recall how we learned to read. What we know through research is that reading is multi-faceted. Children move from learning letter sounds to forming words by grouping letters together to eventually reading fluently rather than plodding along word by word.

Know that as you read that favorite book to your children one more time, they are gaining more than simply a familiar story. They are experiencing the joy of the written word, the beauty of illustrations that support the story, and the wonder of reading.

Rites of Passage

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south-mountain-mollyThroughout our lives, we have rites of passage that reflect movement from one stage to another. In our Upper Elementary classrooms, one of those milestones is the overnight trip that our students participate in each September. Each of their three years in the 9-12 Program, students travel to different locations to spend two days together outside the confines of Wilmington Montessori School. This year, the students set off for a camping experience at South Mountain YMCA Camp. They met the bus with their sleeping bags, luggage, flashlights and terrific excitement. It was time to leave their typical school days behind.

anand-rock-wallThe purpose of this trip is to solidify the community. Children navigate the low ropes challenges, try their hand at archery and climb a rock wall. They help set up before meals and clean up the dining hall when the meal is complete. They make sure their cabin is clean before they leave, and they lug all of their own belongings to and from their cabins and bus – there are no bellhops at camp. The students must work together to achieve success, sometimes leading while other times taking a backseat and allowing others to lead. They cheer each other on as they try new things.

When this class returns from the trip, they share a common experience and wonderful memories. They have learned more about each other, how to work together and how to bring out the best in each other. They have formed a more cohesive group, which is the foundation of the work they will be doing this year as they support each other as learners and friends.

The Power of Observation

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observing-blogObservation is a key component of Montessori education. As part of a Montessori teacher’s training, she is taught how to be a thoughtful observer. Teachers are given lessons on how to allow the space for observing students during the school day, and in those observations, much is revealed. Watching children go about their work, play, interactions and lessons helps a teacher more fully understand the students in her classroom. Through these regular periods of observation, teachers are able to determine which lessons need to be reinforced and the next steps in each child’s path of academic and social growth. Continue reading