Purpose of This Blog

Devoted to guiding educators towards a centered and intentional Montessori practice.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Student-Centered Learning: 3 Whole-School Models



"There are many ways that teachers put students at the center of learning. But how do you design and entire school where inquiry, discovery and play form a core instructional model that ensures high achievement for all students? In this panel, three Colorado school leaders will share how they craft authentic contexts for learning based on their community's needs. Learn about best practices for student-centered learning emerging from innovative schools, where game design, a micro-economy and environmental responsibility provide a new way of thinking about teaching, learning and leadership."

I was very fortunate to be part of this panel discussion at this year's SXSWedu in Austin, TX with colleagues from Catapult Leadership (http://www.catapultleadership.org/) on creating schools where autonomy, mastery and purpose shape personalized student experience. It's a great introduction to the core principles and practices of Montessori, Expeditionary Learning, and Game Design in the public school domain.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beyond Belief

           
In each of us, there is a deep desire to do what is right by the children in our care. How that is defined can look very different from person to person - formed by our own educational experiences, the pedagogical leaders who have inspired us, and interpretation of our greater mandate of service to the child.

We are all heirs to the magic of the Montessori method. That magic, that beautiful sorcery, is potent and powerful. We have each felt the incredible resonance of the work as novice teachers, and have seen the deeply meaningful results that come about from our progressively collaborative work with children.

Young and veteran practitioners alike may feel great allegiance to their particular Montessori training: the overarching pedagogical framework of the training center and specific selection and sequence of presentations, as well as the trainers themselves whom - for many teachers - are revered as disciples of the Montessori gospel. 

We must be aware of, however, and guard against the tendency for individual experience, technical proficiency and opinion to be confused with mastery. Teachers and administrators alike can become trapped within these definitions. Through entrenchment in one’s own interpretation of what constitutes authentic Montessori pedagogy, or conscious disregard of other people’s perspectives, a perverse arrogance can develop that is more about the security and reputation of the adult than the needs of the child.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that our work is precious. To at all interfere with the essential ask - that of being an aid to life - is to undermine our duty as shepherds of the future. We have to look beyond our individual beliefs, our trainers and the covers of our cherished albums to see the child - revealed.

On April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed an assembly of clergy and concerned laity at New York City's Riverside Church regarding the war raging in Southeast Asia. 

Part distraction and part paralysis, the nation was burdened with unwieldy and morally bankrupt domestic and foreign policy decisions predicated on a suite of beliefs, held by many in the federal legislature, of what was right: white superiority and anticommunist fervor. This allegiance not only risked endangering the lives of many, but also the image of the United States as a bastion of hope, freedom, and democracy.

Dr. King had watched with growing concern as the energy and momentum of the movement for civil rights at home had been sidelined by the government's attention to and financing of the war overseas, and he saw how such competing interests would serve neither area well.

King was moved to publicly comment on the issue in an effort to broaden his work for civil rights in the United States to include his desire for universal human rights the world over. His message was a call to action, ringing like a clarion bell, for an immediate cessation of violence in Vietnam and the prevention of the spread of the conflict.

In his talk, Dr. King said:

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late... We must move past indecision to action."   

Our work is a gift to humanity. We cannot be distracted by petty allegiances and theoretical divisions. Like Dr. King, we must act boldly - led by our conscience - in the service of our students, their families, and our school communities.

To do so we need to reflect critically on our practice and its pedagogical foundation, while mindfully fostering the spiritual preparation of our staff through guided mentorship.

There is a predictable pattern to this evolution. Novice teachers can, indeed, become very attached to the technical aspects of the Montessori materials and sequence of lesson presentations taught in particular ways. This time is important as a deep understanding of place and purpose can come through meticulous practice. Within a few years, as strict reliance on one’s albums becomes less of a need, the focus on doing shifts and broadens a bit to now include a more open perspective.

When this settling occurs a teacher can more fully see the children. Suddenly, now shown in a new light, the needs of the students appear more faceted and complex than previously realized. This shift in perspective changes a teacher's response to become one less tied to particular materials and presentations, and more to the inherent aims behind them. The focus then lands on the skills in question, and not only the method of acquisition.

The journey of a Montessori teacher is measured not so much by mastering the specialized materials, but rather by coming to see the children with continually fresh eyes. Over time, and through thoughtful practice, the thin veils of personal preference and prejudice can be gradually drawn away to reveal a more distilled and accurate perspective of the child. When this happens both we and the children are as if newly born. Our response to their needs, then, becomes all the more centered and balanced and true.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mind-SHIFT: Possibility & Potential on the Path to Self-Actualization


This is the summary slide of a presentation 
on how we foster self-actualization in our students - 
and in ourselves.

You can view the whole slide deck at: 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

This is my reflection on the interplay between 
the building blocks of intrinsic motivation and engagement 
(in a Montessori environment).

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Of Stars and Light & the Wonders In-Between


Why is it that Montessorians do what we do? We are bound by a pedagogical framework, in name and in practice, that unifies our presence here and in this moment, but... Why?

It is easy to talk about the What: Providing an alternative education environment in the public charter school arena...

And the How: Through moving from the sensorial to the abstract we ignite the senses and the intellect through the work of the hands; or, through great impressionistic lessons we connect children with their world in rich and meaningful ways; or, by providing real and resonant opportunities for children to contribute to their local community while gaining the academic skills that powers innovation and leadership...

But… WHY?

I am reminded of a time in my youth when I was walking off-trail through the dusty floor of a dense lodgepole pine forest. That day I was very intent on sticking to the bearing that I had cast through the woods, focused on navigating wisely around the trees and boulders that lay in my path so to stay true to my course. My eyes would glance up from map and compass, select a point to walk towards that was in line with my bearing, and I would walk to that mark - repeating the process as each successive waypoint was reached. This I did for hours.

Later that morning, I was awakened by something suddenly between the more stationary things I had been working around. There, in the dappled light of the mid-day sun, stood a young doe and her fawn. The two stood there as if stone, their presence only illuminated by how their breath caught in the rays of the near-vertical light reaching the forest floor. I remember gasping and feeling as if my heart might break open. There, amongst the concentration and vigilance that had filled my morning stood such tremendous beauty, such a powerful sense of belonging.

I lingered for a time, suspended – afraid to move or breathe lest the moment pass too quickly. When I finally did take a step onward it was as if my vision had changed. Everything was more clear, more crisp. In fact, I was no longer drawn to the points along my bearing, but rather to the spaces in-between.

What I realized after my journey through the forest was that for much of the time I was hiking my hyperawareness to my travel plan blinded me to the magic around me. (1)

So it is that the clarifying potency of discernment distills what is most important. Like the sunlight shining through the forest canopy in my story, what is needed becomes shockingly and suddenly clear.

Maria Montessori’s “Why?” was to be an aid to humankind, to be an aid to life. She wrote:

“Only a sane spiritual rebuilding of the human race can bring about peace. To set about this task, we must go back to the child.” (2)

To her, our role was to shepherd a new age of enlightenment and higher consciousness; indeed, to engender in the children of today and the adults of the tomorrow a deep and abiding sense of peace and justice and equanimity.

And more:

“If education recognizes the intrinsic value of the child’s personality and provides an environment suited for spiritual growth, we have the revelation of an entirely new child, whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.” (3)

The atoms of which I am made are the atoms of which you are made. We are all but cosmic dust, cast wide from the days of our ancient universe. Within us are the kernels of great masses of heat and light. Within us is the vibrational energy of the universe, the great flaring forth. We all share this interstellar ancestry.

What is it about how we were made that informs our work with children and, therefore, our “Why?” In how we are and what we do, how can we consciously and conscientiously reflect the great cosmic mystery and the potential for peace?

Needless to say, we are way beyond “education reform”. We are charged with fundamentally changing the way children interact and perceive the world such that we actually elevate our species and evolve higher consciousness. To do so, we must remember that we are each stewards of a child’s inner light, that spark of possibility that needs our undivided attention.

All that we do - our personal preparation, the preparation of our environments, the concerted intentionality behind the lessons and experiences we provide children must all be checked and double-checked relative to that mission-driven purpose. Tending to the light within every child, and within each of us:

    • Classrooms become temples;
    • Materials become meditations; and
    • Work becomes worship. (4)

In so doing, we shine-out our own inner brilliance. We are each like individual stars, seen collectively as constellations, providing the star maps by which children can navigate the Universe.

Journeys such as these can be filled with both discomfort and joy. It is how we intentionally choose to navigate that journey that makes all the difference. Our “Why?” is nothing short of spiritual enlightenment. Through engaging the hands, the heart, and the head we can truly create the future as we want it to be.


(1) Adapted from the previously published “Looking for Grace in the Work We Do” 
(2) Excerpted from Maria Montessori’s 1932 speech at the International Office of Education in Geneva, Switzerland - first published in Italian as “Educazione e Pace”, then later in English as “Education and Peace” (1943) by The Theosophical Society of India.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Adapted from the previously published “ Teaching with Spirit: Maria Montessori’s Cosmic Vision” (http://radicalmontessori.blogspot.com/2012/03/on-spirit-meditations-on-montessoris.html)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Pebble in My Pocket: The History of Our Earth


When learning about science, geography and history children need to be swept away - to be transported. Such is the power of the impressionistic lessons embedded in the cultural curriculum of a Montessori classroom. These great stories excite and surprise, and open-up new ways of thinking about the universe and time.

Who has not once picked up a stone that spoke to us in some mysterious way and slipped it into our pocket, or carried it with us - admiring its color or feeling its unique texture and weight as we walked along? Stones such as these tell the stories of our travels; indeed, they seem to conjure the very memories of where they were found, years distant from their discovery.

In The Pebble in My Pocket: A History of Our Earth, written by Meredith Hooper and illustrated by Chris Coady, a common pebble is the ticket to ride. Children relate to the story by first remembering the rounded stones in their gardens, those along the sidewalks on the way to school, and ones found in the gullies near to where they play.

The book opens by taking that relationship a step further, asking “Where did you come from, pebble?

Hooper’s animated prose moves the reader through the Earth’s geologic history, telling the story of one pebble’s journey in language that is child-friendly, descriptive and energized. Coady’s vibrant drawings of how weathering and erosion have transformed, and continued to transform, the planet’s surface enrich the story and make the content very approachable.

“It has always happened. It will always happen. It is happening now. All that is needed is time.”

Playfully, both author and illustrator allow the reader to experience geologic time by highlighting the major transformations of local landscapes, climate changes, and the pebble’s interaction with intriguing extinct creatures. Each pair of pages draws us nearer to more fully understanding the humble pebble sitting on our own bureaus or desks or bedside tables.

The Pebble in My Pocket offers a novel perspective on a common item, found easily and often looked over or taken for granted. Certainly, much of the book’s power rests in just that: spotlighting the beauty in the seemingly mundane and telling that tale. Beyond cultivating a deeper appreciation of science, however, could the story told here also be a metaphor for the quest for greater interpersonal acceptance? How often have we each felt simple and ordinary? How often have we wished for greater understanding beyond what others might see or perceive on the surface?

“Every pebble has its own story.”


ISBN-10: 0711210764
ISBN 13: 978-0-7112-1076-9

Additional titles in this series:
ISBN-10: 0670876186
ISBN-13: 978-0670876181

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Who I Am, What I Do & Why I Do It


I.

I am part of the Montessori movement to re-imagine and reform the education system. I envision something different for our children, families and communities – something beyond a model of education that values dissemination of knowledge over understanding, that confuses sameness with strength, and one that measures achievement only through solitary gains on yearly assessments. 

I believe that children are spirit-filled beings yearning to be empowered, that education is about freeing children to explore learning environments prepared with intention, and that we can create spaces where students can partner with teachers to set goals for their learning, get support when needed, and be provided the freedom to soar. In so doing students develop a powerful personal understanding of what they are studying, and build meaningful connections with their community, and the world. 

When our students authentically feel that they are cared for and appreciated they experience a profound connection that fosters the creation of meaningful relationships and a network of trust. Such bonding allows for risk-taking, deep learning, and new understandings of the universe and their place in it.

This approach to education in the 21st century provides children with an environment that meets timeless needs: a child’s need for respect, honor, time, purpose, choice, autonomy, challenge, practice, feedback, extension, more practice, mastery, and the chance to contribute. It also supports the development of the essential skills necessary for living a fully engaged life: empathy, collaboration, initiative, discipline, independence, self-advocacy, confidence, balance, leadership, and more.

With these ends in mind, we can design what the schools, classrooms and instructional strategies look like moving forward. It is about realizing the innate possibilities of each of the children before us, and accessing the resources we possess to actualize that dream.
  

II.

The Montessori educational paradigm that I champion offers children great, impressionistic lessons that ignite curiosity and inspire questions. Through such opportunities, students learn to make connections and to see how the entirety of a concept relates to its parts, and back again. Students delve deeply into studies inspired by teacher-led lessons and ones of their own choosing. Projects generated from these engaged explorations are commonplace and enliven the classroom community.

One of the many beauties of this approach to education is the time afforded the children to truly “know”. Rushing from one topic to the next is patently avoided. As such, the space for profound understanding is fostered. Children stay with a work because they feel its significance. They form an intimate connection; that relationship resonates within them. This relationship is love.

This way of knowing comes from being genuinely part of what you are trying to understand. Through slowing down and learning to take their time, looking at the familiar from different perspectives, children deeply explore the questions and concepts before them. They are engaged with their studies, working with purpose.

The students in these environments are curious, self-confident, eager and energetic; that is, full of interest and intention. They are partners in directing their learning, engaging with curricula that are novel and meaningful and relevant – all with the support of compassionate and knowledgeable educators. 

By intentionally weaving together time, purpose and partnership we build a powerful platform from which our students can embrace their learning, explore their passions, and realize their responsibilities. 


III.

A Montessori school can be an empowering community center where hearts and minds meet, are strengthened, and challenged to do more. It is the bridge between a child’s family and culture, and her society and the greater world. There - children, parents and staff work together to build a new locus for rich and conscious living.  

In my work as a teacher, department chair, instructional leader and dean I have built authentic learning environments that serve a diverse suite of learners through demonstrating the interconnectedness of it all. It is the conscious tying together of seemingly separate and linear curricula, through holistic academic partnerships, that provides an education with its most precious gift: the child’s ultimate awareness of the ecology of her experience.

I possess the creativity of an artist, the devotion of an alchemist, and the presence of an advocate. Education is meant to be an elegant dance of exploration – a symbiotic union of risk-taking and reflection. As an artist, I embody that thirst and quest for understanding. I share the alchemist’s resolute commitment and tireless faith. And as an advocate, I believe in the unbridled human potential for greatness.

I aim to do more; indeed, change the system – help to re-frame and re-create the world as we want it to be. I endeavor to empower children and staff to seek out knowledge, to ask questions, to challenge themselves, to love living – in short to see before them an unobstructed free horizon with nothing but possibility ahead.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Your Conscious Classroom: The Power of Self-Reflection


I am pleased to have been included in Dr. Barbara Rousseau's book, "Your Conscious Classroom: The Power of Self-Reflection". Pages 200-202 speak to some of my thoughts on the spiritual basis of Maria Montessori's cosmic vision. 

Read more here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Deepening Our Connections



As we gaze into the candles and fires that form the centerpieces of many of our winter traditions, we can explore the relationships humans have to the physical world. 

- Could it be that it is not only cultural nostalgia that draws us to these iconic practices?   

- Could it be a tickling of our ancestral past - memories of family celebrations, taken deeper, blending into feelings of protection from the unknown wild? 

- Is it a distant perception of our ancestors sitting around a fire for warmth and security? 

What lies deeper still? 

- Could it be that at some profound level we have an awareness of our intimate relationship with the universe? 

- Can we can draw connections between our celebrations of light and the fact that we all come from light – light of the great improbable flaring forth, that tremendous burst of energy that erupted from nothing into all that we now know, and more? 

How incredible to help children make the leap between the bundles of energy dancing in our eyes at the holidays, and the photons present at the very beginning of everything. We are all children of this light.


(This piece was originally posted here on December 9, 2011).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mindfully Celebrating the Holidays


In Montessori classrooms we go to great lengths to make connections between cultures and countries across the globe and throughout time. Rather than isolating people through their differences, we celebrate the commonalities we all share.

One way that this is accomplished is by using the Fundamental Needs of People to compare how such diverse cultures meet their basic needs: nutrition, shelter, clothing, belonging, defense, transportation, communication, self-expression, the healing arts, and spirituality.

On this last need, our class discussions become especially rich. We ask questions that provide opportunities for deep reflection: Why is it that so many cultures from so vastly different regions of our planet have celebrations this time of year that involve light? Our conversations reflect an understanding of the need for sunlight for warmth, as well as energy for growing crops for sustaining a community. We discuss the literary image of light as being one of hope and possibility, and of darkness one of wasting and despair. 

What children take away from these conversations is that humans develop practices that are grounded in their most basic needs. If we look first to these needs as we approach understanding our various ceremonies, we may find that we’re not that different after all.

(A similar piece to this one was originally posted on December 9, 2011).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Winter Solstice


In a Montessori classroom, the opportunities for curricular cross-pollination are many: a teacher’s presentation may lead to deeper questions that enrich and extend; a student-led study may pull from all areas of the curriculum before it feels complete. Each content area is able to influence the others, depending upon the medium required of the educational journey. Working together, the teacher and child use the resources before them to create meaning from their academic investigations.

There is, of course, another plane to this interweaving of curricula - one that lies in the space between the pages of our albums. At times, the studies we embark upon create far more questions than provide answers. While we may be able to label, define, describe, and share some parts of the universe and its rhythms there is still great mystery that leaves us all in awe.

In The Winter Solstice, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, the search to make sense of one such mystery is beautifully illuminated.
Chronicling ancient people from Europe and North and South America, Jackson and Davey create a feeling for how some of our forebears approached the coming darkness and prepared for it’s hopeful return.

This time of year, as the days get shorter and the air temperatures fall, we all can feel something of a kinship for our ancestors. Can you imagine how the ancients must have approached the changing of the seasons? What practices and beliefs were created to explain the change, and provide for a return to what was hoped for?

Jackson’s writing reads like a whispered story over a fire, while Ellis’ painting places us beside people from many cultures as they share with us their way of knowing. Older students can both grasp the scientific basis for the changing of the seasons, and can marvel at how the ancients grappled with what must have been a very tenuous and scary time each year.

Share this set of vignettes with your students and staff. Allow them to explore that sense of wonder that comes from trying to understand people from the past. Like we do when discussing the Fundamental Needs, each new perspective on the human condition brings the possibility of new depths to our learning.

Enjoy the reading, and Happy Solstice!

The Winter Solstice
Story by Ellen Jackson, illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis
ISBN: 1-56294-722-2


Discover other Winter Solstice related activities bellow:

(This review was originally posted on December 3, 2012).