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Unfolding Education

“To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself–that is the first duty of the educator.” ― Maria Montessori

8 Great Gifts You Can Give Your Child’s Teacher to Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week – and they won’t cost you a penny

thanks

  1. Treat Her Like A Professional

Teachers are a passionate and well-educated group, but they have chosen to work in a field where they are paid almost 30% less than comparably educated professionals. In a culture where we place value on high earners, teachers often fall to the bottom of the totem pole of respect. Your child’s teacher deserves to be treated as a professional. Her passion for education means she earns less than the rest of her college pals, but it shouldn’t mean that she’s treated as though she IS less than her college pals. Let her teach.

  1. Lose His Cell Phone Number

Teachers may, from time to time, share their cell phone number with parents. When this happens, please be thoughtful about how you use it. Sending them texts during school hours creates the pressure of an immediate response and teachers shouldn’t feel like they need to be attached to their phones during the school day. Sending them texts outside of school hours, intrudes on their personal time; something that they already sacrifice much of to benefit their students.

  1. Consider That She’s an Advocate for ALL the Children in Her Class

Teachers develop relationships with all the children in their class and want the best school experience for each and every one of them. Your child is her child. And that child who is constantly bothering your child – that’s her child too. Please consider that she is constantly working to meet the needs of all the individuals in her classroom in balance with the needs of the community.

  1. Remember That You Only Hear One Perspective

You are your child’s best advocate, and teachers understand that. However, it’s always good to remember that you are only hearing one perspective when your child tells you something that happened at school. Please bear this in mind when you approach your child’s teacher about something your child has reported. Don’t state things as absolutes but, rather, say, “Here’s what I heard. Do you have any input on that?”. Quite often your child’s teacher will be able to add other details to give a more rounded picture.

  1. Realize That Your Child Has A Responsibility in His Learning

All the great lessons in the world won’t help your child to learn, if your child won’t engage in the process. Remember that while a great teacher is a good predictor of student success, all failures in learning do not solely lie with the teacher. Students have a responsibility too.

  1. Understand His Workload

Teachers are expected to pack about ten hours of work into an eight-hour day. Not only that, but they often assume responsibilities that exceed that of educating and reach more into the realm of parenting – feeding, outfitting and attending to the emotional needs of the children in their charge. Be patient in your dealings with teachers. They may not be the quickest to answer your emails and phone calls, and it’s unlikely to be due to inefficiency or lack of care.

  1. Remember That You’re All on The Same Team

Your goals are aligned; both you and your child’s teacher want this to be a successful school year for your child. Working with the teacher from that perspective helps increase the chances of that happening.

  1. Let Her Know You Appreciate Her All Year Long

Teacher Appreciation Week is a wonderful way to show your gratitude for your child’s teacher. Teachers rarely hear from parents until there is a problem. Try to send a little note, or email, every now and again, throughout the school year, to let your child’s teacher know that you appreciate her. The gift of a few kind words can go a very long way towards turning a tough day into a good one.

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10 Very Montessori Gifts You Can Give Your Children This Christmas

Here are some ways that you can incorporate Montessori principles into your family’s celebration of the Christmas season. These are gifts that will have a lasting impact.

  1. The Gift of Work

Help grow your children’s fine motor skills, concentration and sense of being a contributing member of your family by engaging them in making holiday decorations for your home. String popcorn for the tree, make salt dough decorations, cut and glue paper chains, pour Christmas candles. While, in Montessori, we put more emphasis on the process than the product, there are so many great internet articles out there on eco-friendly Christmas crafts, that you will easily be able to transcend tackiness and hit hipster levels of cool with your homemade décor.

  1. The Gift of Environmental Awareness

Keep Mother Nature in mind when drawing up the Santa List. Avoid the urge to splurge on countless trinkets and tchotchkes that are quickly discarded by your children and end up sitting in a landfill for decades. Model environmental responsibility in your purchases by choosing toys made of natural materials when possible. Take the time to explain to your children why this is important.

  1. The Gift of Creativity

Buy toys that encourage open ended explorative play. Some examples are wooden blocks, Lego sets, Magna tiles, puppets, kinetic sand, science sets, and art and craft sets. If choosing video games, ensure they are creatively geared rather than destructive or violent.

  1. The Gift of Cultural Awareness

Encourage your children’s sense of connection to people all over the world. Spend time with your children learning how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, as well as learning about the holidays people of other religions celebrate around this time of year. Head to the local library to borrow some books or DVDs on the topic.

  1. The Gift of Responsibility

Children should always participate in doing what needs to be done for the family and home. Give your children age appropriate responsibilities that contribute to the common good – preparing food, doing housework, serving guests, tidying up after gift exchanges. Christmas should be enjoyed by all the family, and your children can still have a magical experience while also being allowed to feel like their efforts helped make the season better for everyone involved.

  1. The Gift of Personal Boundaries

Christmas is a time when rarely seen relatives and friends descend demanding hugs and kisses from children with the vaguest memories of them. Allow your children to set physical boundaries and give your family members and friends a heads up in advance that this is a practice in your home. Family members may certainly ask if your children would like a hug, but they should also be prepared to hear, “Not right now, thank you”, if your child feels uncomfortable. Think about how often we parents expect our children to grin and bear unwanted physical interactions, and think about the message that sends them. In the same vein, if you have a child who is absolutely is horrified at the thought of sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, have a good think about that too.

  1. The Gift of Good Manners

Grace and courtesy are important. While you are empowering your children to set personal boundaries, be sure and set an expectation of good manners with them too. If they deny a hug, teach them how to extend an arm for a handshake instead (and make it a nice firm one). Teach your children the importance of eye contact when speaking to anyone (this may be an inappropriate expectation of children on the Autism spectrum, though). When an adult asks your children how they are, teach them to answer and then ask the question back. Teach graciousness around receiving gifts. Have a conversation about the importance of the intent of a gift (kindness, generosity, love) well in advance of gifts being received. That way, even if the content of the gift is a dud, your child will be able to interact with well-intentioned, but gifting challenged, Aunt Sheila, in a way that doesn’t leave her distraught or disgruntled.

  1. The Gift of Self Reflection

Santa Claus is coming to town, and if you don’t get your act together it will be a lump of coal for you! Many parents look forward to the month of December as a chance to use Jolly Saint Nick, and his dreaded sidekick, the Elf of the Shelf, to manipulate their children’s behavior.  In Montessori, we aim to avoid extrinsic motivators (both the carrots and the sticks), preferring instead to encourage children to see the direct relationship between their good choices and the resultant good outcomes. Rather than spending the weeks in the run up to Christmas dangling the Santa threat over your children’s heads, how about making the Christmas season a time for reflection on good choices? Make it a nightly practice in the month of December to have a conversation with your children about the things they have done that day that they feel proud about. Remember, what you focus on grows.

  1. The Gift of Kindness

Make it a family tradition to spend at least a few hours every Christmas season, volunteering to benefit the less fortunate in your community. This is a gift that extends with great length and breadth into your children’s lives. Not only does it make them realize how much they have to be grateful for, it also teaches them the joy of doing good deeds. Have conversations about those feelings at the end of your time volunteering. Don’t say, “Good boy. Well done”, say, “You really helped. How does that make you feel?”. Connect your child with the great feeling of giving.

  1. The Gift of You

More than any material gift you can give your children this Christmas, the gift of spending time with you, when you are fully present, is the best gift possible. It is the gift that will endure, long after that Must Have toy is a distant memory. Put down your phone, get your children to put down theirs (if they’re at that age) and engage. Many of the activities mentioned above will help you to accomplish this – making crafts, prepping food, volunteering, having conversations about good choices together. This gift is a gift for you too, of course. In this very hectic time of year, it makes you stop, and it makes you appreciate. There’s a long term gain too, because the traditions you establish with your children, are likely to become, in time, the traditions they share with theirs.

I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season.

Cathy Tobin, 2017.

How to Help Your Child to be Successful in Montessori and Life (with Mandarin Translation)

file-1My great thanks to Varya, who reached out to ask if she could facilitate a translation of this article, kindly done by Apple Wei from Zhuhai, to share with her fellow Montessorians in China. Here’s the translation:

The Montessori model of education requires a good deal of independence and self-regulation of its students. Not every child shows up with these qualities in full bloom. Here are some ways that you can support your child’s success, at home:

蒙特梭利教育模式要求学生具有独立自主和自我管理的能力,并不是所有的孩子都能在完全开放的环境中表现出这些品质。以下是你可以在家里支持孩子成功的一些方法:

 

  • Respect your child. While honoring the child she is, also honor the adult she will become. You will spend much longer in the company of the adult version of her, than the child manifestation you see now. Listen to your child. Let her know she’s important (but, not the center of the universe!). Be deliberate in your interactions, because you are helping her to sculpt her future self.

请尊重孩子。同时也要尊重她成长的过程。你不仅仅会陪伴她渡过童年时光,未来你将还会用更多的时间陪伴她的成长,倾听孩子,让她知道她是很重要的(但又并不是整个宇宙的中心!)。让她在跟你的互动中学会思考,因为你正在帮助她塑造她自己的未来。

 

  • Allow your child to do for herself what she can do for herself. Too many parents equate doing things for their children with good parenting, when the exact opposite is true. If your goal is to raise an independent adult human, then you sabotage your child every time you rush to help her with things that she can manage alone. Not only do you rob her of the opportunity to practice new skills, but you also send the message that she is incapable. Stand back, let your child figure it out. You’ll know when she really needs your help, and that’s when you can offer it.

允许孩子为自己做力所能及的事情。很多父母认为帮助孩子做很多的事情才是养育孩子的正确方式,而事实恰恰相反,如果你的目标是培养一个独立的成年人,那么你包办替代孩子做她力所能及的事情的时候,其实对她本人是起到了破坏的作用。你不仅剥夺了她练习新技能的机会,而且还传达了她自己是没有能力的讯息,让她变得退步。请让孩子明白:当她真正需要你帮助时请告诉你,那才是你可以提供帮助的最佳时机。

 

  • When you do offer help, seize the opportunity to teach. Don’t just rush through the doing. Break down the task into precise steps. Use a minimum of language as you demonstrate. Repeat the process, when applicable, and then offer your child a chance to try it herself. The time you lose in teaching, you gain back exponentially as your child becomes independent in the skill.

当你为孩子提供帮助的时候,也是一个教育的契机。不要只是匆匆完成,而要把任务分解成精确的步骤,在演示的过程中使用最少的语言,在适当的时候重复这个过程,然后给孩子一个尝试的机会。比如你会用一些时间去教授孩子某种技能,虽然教授孩子花费了你的时间,但是当孩子具有某种技能的时候,你所用去的时间其实也是得到了补偿的。

 

  • Expect responsibility from your child. In line with item 1 up there, when it comes to picking up, if your child can do it, she should be doing it. There is absolutely no reason why you should be picking up after your child once she is physically capable of doing it herself. You can’t rush around, cleaning up after your child, her whole childhood and then suddenly expect her to turn into a paragon of cleanliness once the teenage years hit. That’s not going to happen!

当你期待孩子具有责任感的时候,请遵循第一条要求,如果孩子能独立做到,她应该独立完成。当孩子有能力自己动手完成事情的时候,你没有理由去帮助她。你应该尊重她的技能。你不能总是跟在后面帮孩子整理和收拾,如果她的整个童年都是这样被照顾,你期望她在青少年时期突然变成一个清洁的典范。这是绝对不可能的!

 

  • Help create organization by having simple systems and procedures in place at home. Establish routines: When you come in from school here’s where you hang your jacket (hang a low coat hook or two for your child), here’s what you do with our lunch box (have her empty it and wash the reusable containers), here’s where you put your work folder (have her check for notes from school), here’s where you put your shoes, and so on.

通过在家里建立简单的生活秩序来帮助孩子创建组织意识。比如生活方面:当你从学校回来,请把你的夹克挂在固定位置的衣帽架上(可以为孩子准备一两个低一点的衣帽钩,以便她自己效仿完成);把你的午餐盒放在合适的位置(可以让孩子也学习清洗饭盒);把你的随身工作物品放在固定位置(可以让她做好学校用品的整理摆放),在固定的位置穿脱鞋子,等等。

 

  • It’s not enough for your child to just be responsible for cleaning up after herself, she should also contribute to the good of the family. As soon as she is physically able, engage your child in meaningful chores. Sure, for a while it’ll likely create even more work for you, but your child will be living in your house for a long time, so it is time well spent. You won’t end up spending your days cleaning, and your child will feel like a valuable and contributing member of your family.

对孩子来说,仅仅负责为自己整理是不够的,她还应该为家庭的利益做出贡献。只要她身体是健康的,请让她做有意义的家务。当然,前期她可能会为制造出更多的家务活,但她还会跟你一起住很长的一段时间,所以花些时间训练,以后你就不用花太多的时间自己去打扫整理了,孩子也会觉得自己是一个有价值的家庭成员。

 

  • Allow your child to feel empowered by giving her choices. In the morning, you can offer your child to pick one of two outfits to wear for school. You don’t swing open the closet door and ask your child to come up with an ensemble; that’s overwhelming. Limited choices are empowering AND manageable.

让孩子通过做出选择来获得力量。每天早上,你可以邀请孩子挑选喜欢穿的衣服去上学。你不需要打开衣柜提醒孩子拿出衣服,表面看这好像有点不近人情。但是有限的选择就是授权,并且的确是易于管理的。

 

  • While offering choices, remember that your child is not the boss. Don’t ever give that sort of power to your child. It does not help her to feel safe, and it creates a very unhealthy family dynamic. Your child must always know that, while she is supported in independence, and given choices, you are the ultimate authority. When you say no, quietly and firmly, she will know, because you have never given her any reason to doubt it, that you really, really mean it.

在给孩子提供选择的时候,请记住她不是老板。不要把这种权力全部给她。他不仅不会给她带来安全感,而且还会营造一种不健康的家庭状态。她必须一直清楚,当她在独立的时候就会得到支持,并会给予她选择的权利,你才是最终的权威。当你温柔而坚定地说“不”的时候,她就会知道,因为你从未给她任何怀疑的理由,你是认真的。

 

  • Don’t use bribes and punishments to motivate your child. You want to raise an adult who doesn’t need to be incentivized or threatened to make good choices. Use natural consequences when possible. If the rule is no running inside, and your child runs, crashes into something and gets hurt, that’s a natural consequence. Be sure to draw the line between the two things, in a matter of fact, rather than condescending way. When natural consequences aren’t available, try to find a logical consequence. If your child refuses to use something in the house respectfully, then she doesn’t get to use it for a time. If your child doesn’t clean up after herself then she doesn’t get to take that same toy or game out again for a time. These consequences are delivered in a calm and clear way –“I see you didn’t put your toys away nicely when you were finished using them. That tells me you aren’t ready to be responsible for those toys yet. That means you won’t be able to take them out again for a while.” Stay firm. You must mean what you say, or don’t say it at all.

如果你想要培养一个不是被激励或威胁就能够做出正确选择的成年人,请杜绝用贿赂和惩罚的方式来激励孩子。在可能的情况下选择承担自然后果的方式。比如规定了不能够在室内乱跑,但是她却乱跑被撞伤了,这就是自然后果。一定要在这两件事之间划清界限,而不是屈尊俯就。当自然后果无法实现时,就尝试寻找一个合乎逻辑的结果。如果孩子拒绝在房子里使用某种东西,那么她以后的一段时间就不可以使用。如果孩子不能做好物品整理,她以后的一段时间就不能再拿同样的玩具去游戏。这些后果以一种平静而清晰的方式传递——“我看到你用完玩具后,没有把玩具收好。”这告诉我你还没有准备好对那些玩具负责。这意味着这段时间你不能再带他们出去玩了。“请保持坚定的态度表达你的意思,否则就什么都不要说。

  • Be careful of praise. In keeping with the previous point, you don’t want your child to do things solely to please you. Praise is just another extrinsic reward. You don’t want to praise your child for things she comes by effortlessly, like beauty or intelligence. You do want to notice her effort when faced with a challenge, her ability to persist, her patience, her kindness. And when you do notice those things, you want to do so in a way doesn’t reduce the value of what she has achieved down to how it makes YOU feel. No more, “Good girl. I’m so proud of you!”. You want your child to feel proud of herself, to feel empowered, to notice the effort it took to be successful. Change a few words here and there and your encouragements will become far more effective and positive. Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you”, say, “You must feel so proud of yourself”. Instead of saying, “You’re so smart”, say “I can see how hard you worked on that”. You don’t want to raise a people-pleaser. You want to raise an adult who can see the value in her hard work in terms of how it makes her feel, and how it positively impacts her community. Editing your praise can really help with this.

适当的表扬。与之前的观点一致,你不希望孩子仅仅为了取悦你而做事情。表扬只是外在的奖励。你不想表扬孩子毫不费力就可以拥有的方面,比如长相和正常的智商。你要关注她的努力、坚持的能力、耐心、善良。当你注意到这些品质的时候,你再进行表扬就不会降低她为了达到目标所付出努力的价值。好孩子!我真为你骄傲!其实你希望她为自己感到骄傲,有力量感,注意到成功所付出的努力。在这里改变几个字,你的鼓励就会变得更加有效和积极。与其说“我为你感到骄傲”,不如说“你必须为自己感到骄傲”。不要说“你太聪明了”,而是说“我能看到你有多么的努力”。不为取悦别人,要鼓励一个成年人在她的努力工作中看到自己的价值,以及她如何对所在社区产生积极影响。合适的鼓励真的可以帮助做到这一点。

 

These are just a few pointers to set your child on the road to success in her Montessori classroom.

以上内容只是让你的孩子在蒙特梭利课堂上取得成功的一些指引。

 

 

How to Help Your Child to be Successful in Montessori (and Life)

file-1

The Montessori model of education requires a good deal of independence and self-regulation of its students. Not every child shows up with these qualities in full bloom. Here are some ways that you can support your child’s success, at home:

  1. Respect your child. While honoring the child she is, also honor the adult she will become. You will spend much longer in the company of the adult version of her, than the child manifestation you see now. Listen to your child. Let her know she’s important (but, not the center of the universe!). Be deliberate in your interactions, because you are helping her to sculpt her future self.
  2. Allow your child to do for herself what she can do for herself. Too many parents equate doing things for their children with good parenting, when the exact opposite is true. If your goal is to raise an independent adult human, then you sabotage your child every time you rush to help her with things that she can manage alone. Not only do you rob her of the opportunity to practice new skills, but you also send the message that she is incapable. Stand back, let your child figure it out. You’ll know when she really needs your help, and that’s when you can offer it.
  3. When you do offer help, seize the opportunity to teach. Don’t just rush through the doing. Break down the task into precise steps. Use a minimum of language as you demonstrate. Repeat the process, when applicable, and then offer your child a chance to try it herself. The time you lose in teaching, you gain back exponentially as your child becomes independent in the skill.
  4. Expect responsibility from your child. In line with item 1 up there, when it comes to picking up, if your child can do it, she should be doing it. There is absolutely no reason why you should be picking up after your child once she is physically capable of doing it herself. You can’t rush around, cleaning up after your child, her whole childhood and then suddenly expect her to turn into a paragon of cleanliness once the teenage years hit. That’s not going to happen!
  5. Help create organization by having simple systems and procedures in place at home. Establish routines: When you come in from school here’s where you hang your jacket (hang a low coat hook or two for your child), here’s what you do with our lunch box (have her empty it and wash the reusable containers), here’s where you put your work folder (have her check for notes from school), here’s where you put your shoes, and so on.
  6. It’s not enough for your child to just be responsible for cleaning up after herself, she should also contribute to the good of the family. As soon as she is physically able, engage your child in meaningful chores. Sure, for a while it’ll likely create even more work for you, but your child will be living in your house for a long time, so it is time well spent. You won’t end up spending your days cleaning, and your child will feel like a valuable and contributing member of your family.
  7. Allow your child to feel empowered by giving her choices. In the morning, you can offer your child to pick one of two outfits to wear for school. You don’t swing open the closet door and ask your child to come up with an ensemble; that’s overwhelming. Limited choices are empowering AND manageable.
  8. While offering choices, remember that your child is not the boss. Don’t ever give that sort of power to your child. It does not help her to feel safe, and it creates a very unhealthy family dynamic. Your child must always know that, while she is supported in independence, and given choices, you are the ultimate authority. When you say no, quietly and firmly, she will know, because you have never given her any reason to doubt it, that you really, really mean it.
  9. Don’t use bribes and punishments to motivate your child. You want to raise an adult who doesn’t need to be incentivized or threatened to make good choices. Use natural consequences when possible. If the rule is no running inside, and your child runs, crashes into something and gets hurt, that’s a natural consequence. Be sure to draw the line between the two things, in a matter of fact, rather than condescending way. When natural consequences aren’t available, try to find a logical consequence. If your child refuses to use something in the house respectfully, then she doesn’t get to use it for a time. If your child doesn’t clean up after herself then she doesn’t get to take that same toy or game out again for a time. These consequences are delivered in a calm and clear way – “I see you didn’t put your toys away nicely when you were finished using them. That tells me you aren’t ready to be responsible for those toys yet. That means you won’t be able to take them out again for a while.” Stay firm. You must mean what you say, or don’t say it at all.
  10. Be careful of praise. In keeping with the previous point, you don’t want your child to do things solely to please you. Praise is just another extrinsic reward. You don’t want to praise your child for things she comes by effortlessly, like beauty or intelligence. You do want to notice her effort when faced with a challenge, her ability to persist, her patience, her kindness. And when you do notice those things, you want to do so in a way doesn’t reduce the value of what she has achieved down to how it makes YOU feel. No more, “Good girl. I’m so proud of you!”. You want your child to feel proud of herself, to feel empowered, to notice the effort it took to be successful. Change a few words here and there and your encouragements will become far more effective and positive. Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you”, say, “You must feel so proud of yourself”. Instead of saying, “You’re so smart”, say “I can see how hard you worked on that”. You don’t want to raise a people-pleaser. You want to raise an adult who can see the value in her hard work in terms of how it makes her feel, and how it positively impacts her community. Editing your praise can really help with this.

These are just a few pointers to set your child on the road to success in her Montessori classroom.

 

 

 

 

A Well Educated Child

Since the days of our planet’s earliest civilizations, the education of children has been a hallowed undertaking. The first American public school opened it’s doors almost 400 years ago, and still the definition of a good education, and how to achieve it, is the subject of debate.

When designing systems I find it helpful to start with the end product in mind. What does the product of a good educational system look like? As the parent of three teenagers, a long time educator, and a future school leader, here’s what’s on my list:

  1. A huge curiosity and a love of learning.
  2. An ability to meet challenges with enthusiasm and creativity.
  3. A solid core knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, and an understanding that that knowledge is never complete.
  4. An open-mindedness and appreciation of differences.
  5. A good self awareness and a self esteem that is independent of the approval of others.
  6. A servant/leader mentality.

How do we go about creating a system which encourages those traits? Ideally, we start before our children ever become part of the system; we support a society where all children begin their lives on a level playing field, where everyone gets to school fed, rested, and healthy and children and parents know that participating fully in education really can lead to a fulfilled life.

Once children become part of the educational system we work hard to instill in them an excitement for learning. We create schools where children love to be. How do we do that? We educate them in beautiful environments, rather than in the institutional buildings we house our schools in today. We follow children’s natural inclinations and allow interaction with the outdoors and nature. We surround our children with incredibly prepared adults who feel excitement about learning and teaching on a cellular level. We follow our children’s curiosity and feed, rather than stymie, their desire to learn about things that interest them. Instead of teaching compartmentalized subjects, we teach thematic units with real world connections, pulling from all disciplines. There are no bells signaling the end of one subject and the beginning of another – we give our children long, uninterrupted work cycles which encourage concentration and allow for explorations and trips down the rabbit hole and outside of the box. We don’t confuse memorization with learning. We allow concrete understanding before we move to abstraction. We allow our children to see that knowledge and discovery is the reward; that growing synapses and expanding horizons is the bounty; we don’t march them onstage for ribbons, or bribe them with treasure boxes. We don’t make them equate success with making their parents or their teachers proud; we let them discover that the most profound happiness is found in self satisfaction. We don’t pit them against each other in their academic ventures, we help them to see that when one does well, we all do well.  And as we empower our children in unfolding their own personal greatness, we also foster in them empathy and understanding of each other. We expect not only a self discipline around learning, but also a responsibility of kindness. We model and instruct in grace and courtesy as surely and emphatically as we do in academics.

The societal microcosm of the classroom extends to the entire school; administrators, teachers and children smile and greet each other in common areas, pick up trash they find, they open doors for each other. Visitors on campus know that this is a community full of vested stake-holders. Parents are welcome and made to feel that their contributions are vital to the success of the school. This is no drop-off/pick-up school. This school puts demands on its families, and gives them many opportunities to meet those demands, be it reading in classrooms, making materials at home, participating in the organization of after school or weekend events. Creating a well educated child after-all means that families and schools must work together because a well educated child benefits everyone.

The well educated child is an absolute possibility. It just takes a group of people to stand up and say this is what I want for my child. On a local level, it happened in my community, when a group of parents started a Montessori charter school and required full participation from its members. That school grows and goes from strength to strength because it is meeting a need – the need for well educated children.

The model is entirely possible in all our public schools. We just need to seriously weigh the value to our society of well educated children and then put the foundations in place. We hire inspirational figures to lead our schools and then trust them to do that. We require that only highly educated and passionate teachers interact with our children and then trust those teachers to guide our children in their learning. We remove the shackles that currently bind them and give them all the supports they need to do the heady work of inspiring our children, including good pay, and freedom from the institutionalized joy-killing manacles of our current system.  We put money into creating beautiful environments for our children to learn in. We loosen the constraints of curriculum and kiss goodbye to the corporations who make money from publishing ever changing, always limited text books. We require parental involvement. We make the education of children a “whole village” affair.

Idyllic? Entirely. Unrealistic? No. When we provide an educational system to our children which inspires and excites them, and prepares them to be part of the creative workforce needed for our future success, we reduce unemployment and crime. We reduce the need for prison systems and welfare systems. When we provide an educational system which teaches our children to be good humans and citizens of the world, and create an educational paradigm which involves the entire community, then we reduce hate and violence and war. Think of how much that saves our society, and not only financially.

A well educated child is our responsibility as a society, and until we realize the importance of that child, we are destined to fail on so many measures of societal success. Without that well educated child we will never reach the full potential of our humanity. We need to know that it is possible. We need to know that it is essential. We need to demand it.

 

Parenting: Start With the End in Mind

I had been a Montessori teacher for a few years when my husband broached the subject of starting a family. We had been an item for over a decade at that point, had moved continents together, married, and were about as stable as a couple could be, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he would be thinking along those lines. But I was surprised, and not all that enthusiastic.

While having a child in our lives was all a warm and fuzzy hypothetical for Tom, for me, with years of working with children to inform me, it was the prospect of responsibility – the most profound responsibility. I knew that the work of having a child went far beyond the day to day management of a little human, but extended into the development of real life person in the world. Wow. Mind-blowing. Ultimately we would be responsible for a full sized, flesh and blood participant in humanity; someone with a job, a family, religious beliefs, political beliefs. Someone whose thoughts and actions would impact others and even, possibly, the world. I was 28. I wasn’t ready for that. Not even close.

Knowing my love for the children in my charge, Tom worked hard to understand my reluctance. I tried to explain it from a practical angle first. Applying my Montessori teacher sensibilities I painted a bleak picture of a long life of using walking feet indoors, never putting legs up on the coffee table, always having to push in our chairs, using inside voices, cleaning up after ourselves immediately, and having to recycle absolutely everything (I see now that I neglected to modify classroom expectations for home use). Understandably, Tom didn’t accept those as valid reasons to deny him fatherhood.  I realized I’d have to tell him the truth, and shared the psychic weight I felt would befall us once we had the development of another human being in our hands. And that’s where the conversation started.

Discussion proved that the solution to my problem was us both accepting that having a child was a huge responsiblity, and agreeing that we would treat it as such. We both felt strongly that the adult our child would eventually become deserved major consideration. All going well we would know our progeny much longer as an adult than as a child, so it made sense to try and raise someone whose company we would enjoy in the long term. And much as we might love his or her company, we also wanted our child to grow into an adult whom we could eventually release into the wide world without concern.

Through many conversations (in the kitchen, and the car, and the bathroom, and the pub) we arrived at a characteristic blueprint, a wish-list of sorts, for our future child. We agreed that we hoped to raise a person who was:

  1. Trusting, but not gullible,
  2. Kind, but not foolhardy,
  3. Independent, but deeply connected,
  4. Respectful, but never cowing,
  5. Resourceful, but not afraid to ask for help,
  6. Self-disciplined, but fun-loving,
  7. Determined, but flexible,
  8. A leader, but also a collaborator.

We hoped that our person would know that he or she was as important as anyone else in the world, but also not more important than anyone else in the world. Finally, and possibly most importantly, our future person would have a great love of family coupled with killer sense of humor.

Not too much to ask, right? “Impossible” I told Tom, “Can’t do it”. Tom insisted that if we set out on our parenting paths with that adult child as our goal, it was completely doable. Tom has that Irish charm going for him, so eventually, I acquiesced, and our number one child was on the way. And all throughout the pregnancy the conversation continued. Who we hoped our child would be got at least as much attention as what pattern we wanted for her crib set, or what song I wanted playing as I squeezed her out into existence.

In April of 1998 our first daughter was born. The next day we drove away from the hospital with her, in a fog of exhaustion, excitement and absolute terror. And though I loved that baby deeply, Tom got shot the “I told you so” look quite a few times in those first few weeks. We managed the mechanics and endurance of those early months as well as we could.

Now for the second part of the conundrum; how to instill all those qualities we had talked about? It really wasn’t until she was a bit more engaged and mobile that the “parenting plan” came fully into effect.

It’s funny to call it a plan; there was nothing formal about it, just an overarching consciousness of those characteristics we’d talked about.  We learned early on that almost every interaction we had with her either supported or injured the possibility of her possessing any one of them. No, she wasn’t a blank slate, but she was a little sponge, watching how we related to her, watching how we related to each other, watching how we related to the world, and absorbing it all (even when we wished she wasn’t). How we reacted to each new situation with her was consciously influenced by the idea of the person we wanted her to be. It wouldn’t be fair to parent her in a way that encouraged dependency, bad manners, laziness, or selfishness, and then expect her to be magically endowed with all those wonderful characteristics we’d hoped for her at some later stage. It had to happen organically, and every single day.

We always spoke to our daughter like she could understand. As was appropriate, at every age we expressed our expectations of her. We traveled with her, we introduced her to the world. We gave her as much responsibility as she could manage; we tried to limit doing things for her that she could do for herself. We gave her freedom where we could. We told her that she had our full trust, until she gave us reason not to give it. We had fun together. We lived a life that revolved around all of us, not just her. We never accepted bad behavior or disrespect; though we worked through small lapses with discussions on the importance of being kind and forgiving, especially to ourselves. We let her see that we messed up, and were entirely fallible and human too. And parenting like that didn’t take much effort at all; certainly much less effort than might have been incurred dealing with the fallout of a child we’d raised to be a pain in the neck. Parenting in that way became second nature.

The early years of our backwards design parenting “experiment” went so well that baby number one was followed two years later by another, and then another. Our family was complete with two daughters and a son, all very individual little people. We applied the same principles with each of our children and have ended up feeling very positive and optimistic about the three humans that we have added to the world’s population. It’s not always roses of course, but there’s really no company that we enjoy more than that of our family.

In a few short months our first baby will turn 18. Though there’s a very good chance that we are biased, we think she’s an exceptional human being. She has a grace, and a spark. She’s been class president all four years of high school, held down a part time job for the last two of those, all the while doing a crazy load of AP classes, and still managing to be pleasant to her siblings. Before this year is out she will be leaving us to attend university, possibly very far away. We will miss her terribly, but we know that we have prepared her as best we could to be a successful and independent adult. That gives us comfort. It’s the work of parenting after all; to raise our children to become adults who can go off out into the world without us (and whom we are glad to see when they return).

ciara and riley
With our first baby at age 17 (and her much-approved-of boyfriend).

Tales from the Classroom: Creating Space

As educators we are tasked with filling our students with knowledge but sometimes, even more important, our job is to create space; to plant a seed, step back and allow it time to grow. The work that a student does on his or her own, the learning or self knowledge that springs organically, is the most deeply rooted and impactful of all.

In my kindergarten class, as in many elementary classes around the world, we assign classroom chores every Monday morning. Last Monday, the name I pulled for the chore of being classroom greeter belonged to a very smart and wonderful boy with a few social/emotional challenges. The job involves going up to people who enter our classroom, shaking their hands and saying, “Welcome to our classroom”. Upon hearing his assigned chore I saw my young friend (I’ll call him John) tense up and flush. “No”, he said, resolutely shaking his head, “I’m not doing that. I am NOT doing that”.

Sitting in circle I explained to him that I knew he felt fear about the prospect of greeting people, but that I wanted him to be okay with feeling that fear, to notice it, but to understand that what he was being asked to do wasn’t anything dangerous. I told him that he was fully capable of acknowledging the fear, and doing the job anyway. We had a group discussion, as we often do, about the importance of how we talk to ourselves in our minds – the power of our thoughts. John listened but still asserted that he wasn’t going to do the job. I told him that I accepted his decision, but that I wasn’t going to change his assignment, and that he could either do it, or not do it, when the time came.

All week my Teacher’s Assistant and I waited for a visitor, but none came. John was more keenly aware of traffic in and out of the classroom than usual, but his moments of anticipatory tension all disolved when the person holding the door handle was, invariably, a classmate coming back from the bathroom.

Then came Thursday. Our school is a Montessori charter, and each Thursday a tour of prospective parents comes through many of our classrooms. Engaged in a lesson with a group of children I was oblivious to the sound of the group outside our classroom. My ever observant TA came and tapped me on the shoulder. “Look at John”, she said.

John was standing, ramrod straight, about ten feet back from the classroom door.  I could see the internal diaglogue projected all over his face – he was nodding, looking resolute, he was shaking his head, looking panicked, but his feet stayed firmly planted.

As each of the parents walked into our classroom, John extended his hand, made perfect eye contact and said, “Welcome to our classroom”, ten times in row. When he had greeted the entire group, he turned to me, gave a coy smile, like it was nothing, and went back to work.

My TA and I both had tears brimming. I followed the group outside and shared with them the magical moment they had just unknowingly participated in. Tears brimmed all round.

Some of the most important work we do as teachers has nothing to do with anything that will ever appear on a test. Some of the most important work we do as teachers is in sharing a concept and then getting out of the way to allow it to grow.  Absolutely, this is something that works in academic instruction as well as in social/emotional guidance. But teaching children the power of their own thoughts, helping them to see that it’s okay to feel fear and push through it, empowering them – those are the lessons, more than any academic concept we might teach, that make our job an important one.

 

 

 

Color Blind

When I moved to the U.S. from Ireland back in 1993, I considered myself to be very inclusive and open minded, but the reality was, having lived my whole life in a very homogenous society, I really quite ignorant on the subject of cultural differences. Sure, I had traveled widely throughout Europe and been exposed to other cultures through these travels, but I had never really considered the impacts of people from different races, countries and cultures all living in the same place, utilizing the same resources.

I actually managed to spend fifteen years in America without any proper exposure to another culture. I had friends from different races, countries and cultures, and students from different races, countries and cultures, and I thought that sharing holidays and customs with them nicely rounded out my “diversity portfolio”!

Then in 2010 I decided that it was time for me to get my state teaching certificate. At the end of my training, I had to do a three month teaching internship. At the very last minute, I mean the Thursday before the beginning of Teacher Work Week, my college alerted me to a paperwork problem with my planned placement at a well-to-do, local K-8 charter school, and told me they were scrambling to find me replacement site. The school they found to accept me was a brand new charter is a notoriously rough part of downtown Orlando. I was in the total horrors, but in the spirit of, “everything happens as it should”, I dove in.  My three months as an intern in third grade was one of the most challenging teaching experiences of my life.  I got to experience what it felt like to be one of an extremely small minority of white people working with an almost entirely black staff and student body (and see, I still don’t know if anyone here will take offence to me saying black instead of African American – things I need to work on). It was a really great perspective to gain. The children couldn’t keep their hands off my skin and hair, and anyone else with blonde hair and white skin who showed up on campus was instantly presumed to be related to me!

The following school year the principal asked me to join the staff and, despite already having a job at a Montessori charter, I decided I needed to dive in a little deeper to the cultural difference thing. Despite having taught in private Montessori schools for fifteen years, this was my first year teaching in the traditional model in a public school. I was a novice, until I found my feet. It was the hardest year of teaching I ever put in, and the most rewarding. I learned that braids can fall out whole, and it’s no big deal (I about collapsed the first time that happened). I learned that some children don’t get fed at the weekend. I learned that all parents, even those who are struggling to keep the lights on in their apartment, can care deeply about their children’s academic progress. I learned that it’s hard to teach children who sleep on a pallet with four siblings.  I learned that music is a universally great way to teach young children. I adapted what I did to include lots of movement and music. We made up songs for everything. I really grew as a teacher, and my students grew with me. I employed all the hands on, interactive lessons that I used in private school (having begged an almost complete set of second hand Montessori materials and shelves from Central Florida Montessori schools) and gave my Title 1 children all the same benefits of the techniques I found to work so well with my private school children. At the end of kindergarten year, all but one of my children (who had a DD), were reading at or above grade level, compared to the expectation of 40%. It supported my belief that despite all odds, when given the right tools, all children can learn.

My experience at the Title 1 school made me realize that I had only really been paying lip service to inclusion and understanding cultural differences before. It was so strange to think there were people living in the same city as me, just twenty minutes away from my part of town, who were having an entirely different American experience.  I realize that even within races and cultures, we must resist the temptation to generalize. As Chamberlain (2005) says, “[o]ur perceptions of the ways others think and act depend on our cultural perspective, which depends, in part, on our understanding that cultural differences do exist among groups. Equally important is the ability to recognize the vast diversity within cultural groups. Without such a recognition, we run the risk of stereotyping people”.  I also realize that it’s not acceptable to be “color blind”. Differences must be acknowledged, discussed and celebrated. I am certainly more culturally aware than I was before, but I still have a long way to go. Not being fully culturally aware organically creates biases; when I am uniformed I am ignorant, and that’s bound to negatively impact my instruction. As I encourage my students to explore other cultures, to be impactful as a teacher I must create opportunities for myself to increase my cultural awareness. At the core, we are all part of the human family, but closer to the surface, we have very varied experiences and ways of doing things; and these differences affect how we are and how we teach, and learn.

References

Chamberlain, S. P. (2005). Recognizing and Responding to Cultural Differences in the Education of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners. Intervention In School And Clinic40(4), 195-211.

Earning Goals

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I spent much of Saturday driving my 14 year old daughter around town, picking up bits and pieces of ladies’ golf attire for her high school team practice and tournaments. My dreams of finding some nice, inexpensive golf shirts in Ross or T J Maxx came up short; lots of guys’ golf shirts – no ladies. I had to bite the bullet and go to a sporting goods store, which isn’t known for bargain prices. Despite the expense, I was enjoying spending time with my middle child. She was in a chatty mood. The conversation turned to her career choices.

I think I’d like to be a lawyer (this has been the top pick for at least six years now), or a talk show host (she’d rock that too), or a realtor. Really, a realtor? That’s new. “Well”, she said, “I think that’s something I would enjoy and be good at, and make a lot of money doing. I am DEFINITELY going to have a job where how much money I make is tied into how good I am at doing it.” Hmmm. Was that a raised eyebrow I saw pointed my way?

I broached the idea that success isn’t always defined in monetary terms (I’m a Montessorian, after all – it’s all about the intrinsic motivation with us). Oh yes, definitely – that WAS a raised eyebrow. “I know, I know, you love your job,” she says to me, “I plan on having a job I love too, but when I work hard at it, and am successful at it, I also plan on being rewarded for it.” Not just in her heart, but in her bank account too, was the clear implication. “You are probably a pretty good teacher,” she continued, “but no matter how good you get, the amount of money you make will be always be limited. AND, you actually spend your own money on your job,” (that sentence uttered with a good dose of incredulity). “When I get to be the best at what I do, I think it’s fair to expect that I’ll be paid accordingly.”

Okay, fourteen year old; you’ve got a point. You live my life with me and you see that, in spite of my love for my job, money can be tight. I know you understand that when you choose whatever college to pursue whichever career you finally decide on, you are going to be applying for student loans. I know you understand that’ll be, in part at least, because your own mother is an educator.

Pause for thought.

The old question rises; how is it that movie stars and sports stars get paid the millions while teachers are lucky to make it into the $40,000 range? Sadly, I suspect that it speaks to our priorities as a society; we clearly place more value on being well entertained than well educated.

No wonder we are experiencing teacher shortages and seeing enrollment in teacher education colleges down almost 50% in places. We are raising generations of smart children with a good sense of self worth. They tend to be extrinsically motivated, and place a high value on reward, validation, money and things. How can we expect these children to grow into adults who willingly opt for a job which requires every bit the same hard work, time and expense in college as other career choices, but will ultimately make higher demands on them, while paying them far less than their similarly educated peers?

I can’t help but wonder; who will our future teachers be? Do we lose generations of potentially magnificent teachers to well paid jobs where they aren’t constantly held to public scrutiny, political whim and unattainable, ever changing standards?

And, very seriously, when will we finally care enough about the future of education in America (the future of America’s children), to do something about it?

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