Learn, Unlearn, Relearn


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Illiteracy used to mean not being able to read and write. No longer. As Alvin Toffler says above, it means much more. Its definition has broadened while also becoming much less specific.

Over 30 years ago, my father-in-law decided to retire. He had worked for more than 30 years as a draftsman and loved his work. He enjoyed the precision and creativity that his job allowed. Throughout his time as a draftsman, he moved from pencil and paper to learning to do his drawings using a computer program. As T-squares, pencils and papers were moved further and further away from his work life, his desire to retire became stronger and stronger. He finally made the decision to retire and never looked back. When asked how he knew it was time to retire, he said quite clearly, “I didn’t want to learn another way to do my job. I loved my work, but I didn’t want to learn anything new.” In other words, he didn’t want to unlearn and relearn. For him the timing lined up. He was old enough to retire and had a good life ahead of him with lots to look forward to. For others, things don’t line up quite as nicely.

In education – as in most other fields – learning, unlearning and relearning are constant states of being. Many times the barrier is one of mindset rather than difficulty with the skill or concept. It’s one thing to decide at retirement age that you’ve learned enough and it’s time to move on; that’s not so easy for most of your work and school life. How literate are you? What have you unlearned and learning recently?  

Raising Happy Children


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clockRecently, I was having dinner with a friend and her children, and the topic of bedtimes came up.  I explained that my daughter and I would argue about bedtime when she was their age. She insisted that everyone in her school stayed up until after 10 p.m., and I unreasonably insisted she be in bed by 8:30. As many parents have experienced, she wore me down, so I said that I would no longer be in charge of her bedtime. She could stay up as late as she wanted as long as she could get herself up and ready for school and have the energy and positive attitude needed to not only make it through her school day but would also return home and be a pleasant member of our family. She stayed up until 11 p.m. the first night… and that was the end of the experiment. She discovered what I knew from years of watching her; she needed more sleep than many of her peers. She wasn’t rested unless she slept at least 9 or 10 hours each night. We no longer fought about bedtimes; she was in charge. I let her decide and honored her choice. We agreed on the limitations of the choices and I stepped out. As you can imagine, the boys with whom I shared this story were delighted to hear this (the parents not as much) and asked their parents to institute “Lisa bedtime” at their house.   Continue reading

Words Matter


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BOMBOGENESIS_1515164658160_11448321_ver1.0_1280_720.pngLast week, I sat and watched the bombogenesis blow huge snowflakes across the playground at our school. Bombogenesis… really? What a surprise to learn the word is real. A Google search reveals a definition and everything that comes with any other real word; yet, it is not listed on dictionary.com. So, is it a word? NOAA says it is. Whether it is “officially” a word or not, it sure is fun to say, even if we don’t exactly know its meaning (unless we happen to be meteorologists, of course).

I love wordplay. I make words up constantly, complete with definitions. Several years ago, in an effort to share my enthusiasm for words (or “wordthusiasm”) with students, we studied the origin of words and made our own dictionary, creating new words whose meanings were based on their origin. It was great fun and supported students’ continued vocabulary development. Continue reading

You Know Something I Don’t Know


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Bill Nye QuoteThat just about says it all. We can never know everything about everything. It is simply not possible. Schools teach a body of knowledge striving to ensure that children evolve into literate and educated adults. No matter what is included in that body of knowledge, no matter what electives students choose as they move through school, and no matter how long they are in school, they will leave not knowing things. That is the paradox of education. We are in school to learn; we leave with more knowledge than we started with and even more things we don’t know.

Education’s purpose is not to fill young minds with information. It’s true purpose is to promote thinking, questioning and understanding. Children aren’t containers to be filled. Bill Nye the Science Guy says it all in the above quote. Everyone has something to teach us. We may not know what it is or what to expect, but we do know that we will learn something from each and every person we encounter if we are open to the learning. And if that is what we learn in school we will be held in good stead during our school years and beyond. What have you learned from someone today?

Oh, what fun!


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Heather Siple-writing museum-013.JPGSchools are interesting places. When I was in school, students remained many steps removed from the adults in the community. A distance was set by the adults, and it was not crossed. Not so today. Research shows time and again that building relationships between teachers, families and students is the best way to support learning.

Last week, I spent time in a number of classrooms. I raced children on a typing app, seeing who was the fastest typist. Phew! It was so much fun! Then I had the chance to work individually with a student, administering an assessment and sharing reading. I joined a current events discussion, listening to students’ ideas about the happenings in our world. Later that same day, I was invited to participate in a hands-on “museum” of writing. Children used various communication tools to write: a typewriter, feather pen and ink, small letter tiles, clay and stamps. They experienced the communication of yesterday and loved the experience. All of this happened, and it wasn’t even lunch time!

At Wilmington Montessori School, relationships are at our foundation. No matter the age of the students, they are building connections with each other and the adults in our community on a daily basis. These relationships are the foundation of what motivates students to learn more, encourage others and wonder about possibilities. What connections have you built today?

Staying in the Moment


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Nick Foles
The Philadelphia Eagles are the Super Bowl champs! It was a long time in coming, but loyal fans have been rewarded with an amazing game, a wonderful team and the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Before the game began there was a clip of future MVP Nick Foles saying he was going to just go out and play the game. He wasn’t going to overthink it but instead would respond to what happens on the field and initiate the plays they had practiced. He and his team did just that.

As I listened to him and later thought about what he said, I was struck by the simplicity of his plan. He was not watching and re-watching game tapes. He was not over-analyzing the routes New England used in past games. He was not absorbing the messages given by the media, letting him know his odds of winning this ultimate game. He reacted, responded and played. Continue reading

Food, Architecture and Montessori Education


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One of the last places one might expect to find an article about Alice Waters, the owner and chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., is in an issue of Architectural Digest. She may be best known for urging us to eat local and healthy foods, but she is also dedicated to education, helping children learn where their food comes from and how to prepare it. She is a Montessori teacher.

Alice WatersI was awakened around design when I went to France when I was 19. I was living in a culture that really cared about food in a big way. They valued how it was served in all aspects, in terms of what was on the plate, what that plate looked like, and what that napkin looked like, and what things were in the room that reinforced what was on the plate. I just absorbed that sense of beauty connected to food and the aliveness of food. I also see this as a Montessori teacher. Dr. Montessori really believed that the senses need to be educated, that they are the pathways into our minds, and so the idea of something looking right and being able to touch, to be able to smell, to be able to taste, to hear, to listen, these are all ways that we can reach people and we can awaken them. I had that real experience when I was in France, and then I thought about the restaurant in that way, using that subtlety of reaching people through aroma and through their actually touching the food, engaging them and sort of winning them over.

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Fly, Eagles, Fly!

My team isn’t in the Super Bowl this year, but I will watch because I am a football fan. During my years as a classroom teacher, I had ample opportunity to share my love of football with many students. They know my home team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and even alumni will still talk to me about football (mostly teasing me when things aren’t going well for my team or letting me know when their team is successful). None of my training to be a teacher or school leader has ever focused on football. Yet, this is a way I have built connections with students, families and staff.

This week, the Philadelphia Eagles are playing in Super Bowl LII. Everyone is beyond excited. One of our WMS dads was so enthusiastic he had a giant Eagles cake made for our entire school. Our facilities manager is also determined to share his love of the Eagles with all of Wilmington Montessori School. This morning, he set up an Eagles display in the lobby, including a lucky football helmet from the movie “Invincible.” He even cut out hundreds of Eagles ribbons for all of us to wear to show our support for the team.

Though most of us are not as enthusiastic about the team as he is, he is building connections that allow the entire community to see him in a different light and invite us all to share in his love of the game, even if it’s only for a brief moment.

Taking the time to learn about what is important to others is a way to build community. It is the way that we learn about each other, create shared moments and have a little fun. This week as we chant, “Fly, Eagles Fly,” we will experience the game through the eyes of someone whose enthusiasm brought us together to create a moment that we’ll remember and talk about for a long time to come. Good luck, Philadelphia!



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Photosynthesis 9-12Much of what we learn in school is memorized, tested and forgotten. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children must experience learning through multiple senses; sensory experiences are crucial in the earliest years of development. She developed materials that you will find in most Montessori schools. These materials allow children to explore a concept through their hands, their eyes and language. They provide more than one pathway to learning.

Experiencing learning in a variety of ways provides more opportunity for learning and retaining information. Just about all of us learned about photosynthesis in science class. Some of us probably learned it more than once. Yet, if asked explain the process, could we do it?

As a school that focuses on integrating the arts AND Montessori education, Wilmington Montessori School’s Upper Elementary students had a tremendous opportunity to learn more about photosynthesis. They not only read about it and watched a movie about it; they also actually became photosynthesis. Students collaborated to demonstrate the parts of a plant (root, stem, leaf, flower) and the process of photosynthesis.

When learning about this process again in a higher level of biology in high school, do you think they’ll remember what they read or what they did? Will they know that a certain child represented the roots while another was the sun? This is learning that will last. This is how the arts impact learning. This is Montessori education at its best.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”


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MLKphoto9Our nation has just honored Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. Dr. King is inarguably a hero to many from many past, present and future generations. His most famous speech is the “I have a dream speech,” delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In thinking about the upcoming memorial to Dr. King, I came across a lesser known speech and quote from a commencement speech he gave at Oberlin College in June 1965: “The time is always right to do what is right.” Continue reading