Purpose of This Blog

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Closing Address: PeaceJam Conference 2017


The following is the text of a brief closing address that I shared with the high school students and staff of Compass Montessori School at the closing of their 2nd Annual PeaceJam Social Justice Conference on May 22, 2017:

"Good Afternoon. It is exciting for me to join you all here again, following a day of study, thought, and co-exploration of issues of self-expression, peace, and social justice. I wonder in what ways today has provided opportunities for you to question and theorize; to collaborate and partner, and to build capacity around being agents of change... I imagine that all of you have been moved in ways that have, perhaps, surprised you.

"Looking out and seeing the one hundred-plus souls here, I feel lifted by our community and each of the individuals that comprise its whole. And I hope that is a feeling that you hold, as well, following today’s events and also after a year’s worth of work and service. You know, if there is any true end-game to the collective work of the adults here that serve you, you all right now - sitting there as you are - are it. Within you reside our hopes for a more accepting society, and for a more peaceful world.

"I’d like to talk to you today about joy and suffering, two sides of life’s coin. When it comes down to it, I believe that it’s navigating the space between pure delight and the depths of pain that shapes a life lived fully and with attention. If I have a wish for you today, it would be to grow to feel life in its fullest, and to avoid the dullness that despair, ignorance, and disaffection can breed from within.

"Think for a moment: What is it that brings you the most joy? I mean, really: Consider those moments when you feel, surprisingly, most like yourself? I don’t mean when you’re having the most “fun”; I mean joy like you rarely experience - sheer delight, where you are able to lose yourself, but for being so immersed in the thing that you love. What is it that you love? Not the what you do because your friends do it too, or because it’s amusing, or because it distracts you from the real pain that you might be experiencing… What is it that calls to you, and allows you to feel more you in the process?

"Can you see it? Do you recognize it? Or, at least, have a sense of what it might be?

"It is critical is that we find time to more fully attach ourselves to the joy that is us, not merely entertainment or a balm that blinds us to the struggles of the day. You’ll find it, your truest self, or it’ll find you. Of course, it’s already there, just waiting to be acknowledged and let loose. Who we are is inescapable. That acorn of our soul has been with us since birth and, I believe, who we are each becoming is programmed in our genetics, our ancestry, and modified only temporarily by our day-to-day experiences. In the end, how we were destined to be is irrepressible.

"Now, consider this: What does it feel like to leave those moments of joy, and to carry on with the rest of your life? Does the person that experiences such joy at one moment, when returned to “real life”, feel like an alter ego of yours, met sometimes in hidden alleys of experience, but rarely connected to who you are day-to-day? What would it be like to be able to bring that joy forward, or that it was to be our truest self through which we interact with the world?

"For how many of you, are you truly aware of the masks and shields you wear as you leave the privacy of your own room? The clothes we adorn, the jewelry and hats we don, the styles we affect, the ways our bodies move, how and if we respond to others, the angle of our gaze, the curve of our shoulders, the smiles we hide, and the tears we quietly dry? Why in the world do we often bury our true selves in protective armor? Who are we protecting? What essential part of ourselves are we keeping safe and hidden from view?

"The way to true peace is, in part, to acknowledge the roots of our own pain so that we might more directly relate to the pain of others. We bring, I believe, violence into our lives when we do not acknowledge this solitary truth: that we are each suffering, and in each other we might find great comfort and solace - if only we open ourselves to that possibility.

"We all want to be seen and heard for the truth we are living. More than anything, we all desire to be seen as we know ourselves to be. For that, unconditional compassion is the key.

"To have true compassion, literally, is “to suffer with” another. When we are able to connect with others through empathy, we can immediately go right there - to the nugget of the other’s experience, to understand the nuances of an otherwise hidden life. This does not mean that we ride freewheeling into the darkness alongside the person with whom we are connecting; rather, we feel their pain as our pain, help to name it and contain it, and - when appropriate - provide new thinking as to its relief.

"What does that do for the other? They are able to be felt, truly and wholly, as they are: broken heart to broken heart. That simple act of bare and honest vulnerability does more to heal than we might expect. And what does this gentle act of grace and kindness do for you? It further unlocks a deeper understanding of your truest self, and connects you to humanity in ways that weave the fabric of peace.

"So how does one do this: Embrace that which brings you the most joy, all the while calling out the personal pain you feel within? Crazy, right? At a time in your life when you might be drawn to hide, cover-up, protect your ego… let it go. Humility is ultimately a much less painful path than hubris. You have within you the capacity to act with great care, rather than control; to be deeply compassionate, rather than coercive - all fueled by the courage to move beyond mere compromise alone.

"To live is an act of protest. To be alive is to cry out, “I am!” In mindfully balancing our delight and despair, our joy and our confusion, we bring to our friendships, families, and communities the capacity for more meaningful relationships, grounded in our personal truth. That level of self-reflection and care, coupled with the ability to meet others where they are is an act of great personal power and political provocation - much more of which is needed today, tomorrow, and the next day. The future is ours to build together.

"Thank you."

(Image Sources: 1. PeaceJam Logo: www.peacejam.org; Eath From Space: www.nasa.gov)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Way to Start a Day


Humans across the globe have been rising to greet each day since time before memory. In ritual and rhythm, ceremony and sacrifice, we have turned our eyes to that grand and dependable star – seeking meaning, and understanding, and grace.

How often do we forget this connection? How often is it that the alarm wakes us, demands our attention and, when too much time has past lingering in near slumber, does guilt or fear propel us up and out and on our way?

We are stardust, after all: the atoms in our body stellar detritus from celestial events of eons ago. We owe it to ourselves, and this cosmic ancestry, to pay attention to the source from which we came.

In The Way to Start a Day, Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall explore this esoteric aspect of the human condition. The sparse text reads like an extended poem, each column a stanza and each page a verse. As readers, we are drawn in by the warmth of the story, and are comforted by the familiarity of the experiences depicted therein.

The book is much more, however, than a celebration of possibility and renewal: it reminds us of our collective, universal past – acknowledging that our daily practice is tied to those of our ancestors, our neighbors, and those members of our global community just beyond the arc of the planet’s curved surface. Coupled with playfully austere illustrations of global landscapes and intimate depictions of the people who live there, we are reminded of the power of this connection.

When the first rays of the morning sun wash across our face, we are warmed by the receipt of such pure radiance. Is it not amazing that through the vast expanse of space and time we find each other?

Every day is sacred. And so are you.

ISBN 0-689-71054-2

Additional References:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Spiritual Equilibrium & Cosmic Consciousness


Dr. Maria Montessori spent her life working to design intentionally prepared educational environments that could foster the development of an evolved human being: one possessing the specific skills needed to meet the demands of the times, as well as embodying the spiritual center and cosmic awareness critical for functional adaptation in the world. As a scientist and anthropologist, time and again Dr. Montessori looked to the children to lead the way. “We see the figure of the child who stands before us with his arms held open, beckoning humanity to follow” (Montessori, “Education and Peace” 119).

As educators, guardians, partners, and child advocates how do we support the students in our care such that they grow to possess the capacity to interact in the world as active and engaged global citizens committed to social justice, and the creation of a more peaceful world? The answer resides in the union of two fundamental aspects of Dr. Montessori's approach to education: the development of one’s spiritual equilibrium, and the fostering of a cosmic consciousness.


“Moral education is the source of that spiritual equilibrium on which everything else depends” (Montessori, “From Childhood to Adolescence” 73). One’s spiritual equilibrium is the ever-developing spiritual center that continues to crystallize throughout a person’s life as experiences provide additional opportunities for reflection and growth. It is one’s core personal truth, rooted in one’s sense of morality - of right and wrong - built from early lessons in grace and courtesy: care of the self, others, and environment; and the interwoven peace education curriculum.


One’s cosmic consciousness is a deep awareness of the woven intricacies of the universe, and our place in it. It is a profound sense of connection and responsibility - initially developed through the far-reaching impressionistic lessons of the cultural curriculum - accessed through the child’s capacity to imagine time and lands unknown, and through the child's ability to empathize with one’s unseen brothers and sisters across the globe. “To the young child we give guides to the world and the possibility to explore it through his own free activity; to the older child we must give not only the world, but the cosmos and a clear vision of how the cosmic energies act in the creation and maintenance of our globe” (Montessori, “Cosmic Education” 7).


Taken as a unified whole, one's spiritual equilibrium and cosmic consciousness provide the keys and momentum for the work ahead; that is, the evolution of a new human, one capable of comprehending the great potential and possibility for our species to end suffering, advocate for justice, and promote peace. Truly, this journey is a partnership: between the past and the future; between the adult and child; between the self and those around us. “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity” (Montessori, “To Educate the Human Potential” 5-6).


Our work is, indeed, grand. As Montessorians, this is our calling: “to help the mind in its process of development, to aid its energies and strengthen its many powers” (Montessori, “The Absorbent Mind” 24).





* * *


Sources


Montessori, Maria. Education and Peace. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing
Company, 2007. Print.


---, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing
Company, 2007. Print.


---, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company,
2014. Print.


---, Maria. To Educate the Human Potential. Madras, India: Kalakshetra Press, 1948. Print.


Montessori, Mario. Cosmic Education. Amsterdam: Association Montessori Internationale.
1976. Print.






Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Benediction for a Montessori Guide




What is it that calls us to this work?

What, beyond all other reason, provides for us the energy to continue to step boldly forward in service and support, partnership and solidarity? It must be “belief” - belief in the power of the human spirit to rise above.

We are, all of us, champions of humanity’s capacity to question, wonder, work, struggle, persevere, and to constantly be making itself anew.

I suggest that our work as stewards of the children in our care is often more ministerial than academic, more pastoral than instructional. It’s all related, of course: our work in skills development and content mastery, coupled with social and moral development. If our task is to help support the unfolding of the child’s inner self, it’s blossoming can only be as grand as the fertile soil from which it’s slender stem grows.

Remember, therefore, the significance of the intentionally prepared environment (yes, every nook and cranny), and of the spiritually prepared adult… every nook and cranny; nothing can be left to chance.

In an outer world that often feels fast, loud, scary, and impersonal you provide the light in the darkness. It is your thoughtful presence in our students’ lives that makes the difference; you serve as the beacon of clarity, and promise of safe harbor.

Our work is, at its heart, is an act of great hope, faith, and defiance. We cannot foretell what the future may bring, but we believe that the path forward for humanity - for today and tomorrow - is to equip the young people with which we share our days with the compassion, balance, ingenuity and grace to transform the world as we know it to one in which love triumphs over greed, and where joy dances beyond of the shadow of fear.

On this Winter Solstice, this day of longest night, take heart in knowing that we stand together and together we are strong. In our continual work to refine our practice and reaffirm our commitment to the scope and depth of the responsibilities we hold, shine out your inner light. Let it guide you, and welcome others to the warmth of your soul.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

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).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reflections on Grace & Courtesy in the Montessori Classroom


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Dr. Maria Montessori envisioned a society transformed, led by young men and women who experienced childhood in dramatically new and positive ways following the natural laws of biology and psychology - the Planes of Development and the Human Tendencies.

In observing children across the globe, Montessori concluded that there are specific and distinct phases of physical and psychological development through which all human beings grow - regardless of cultural context. These planes are biological universals, with predictable timelines and characteristics.

In Dr. Montessori’s view, there are four overlapping planes of human development - each spanning six years - and each marked by an initial three years of creativity and acquisition, and a subsequent three years of refinement and crystallization.

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The four Planes of Development are: birth to six years of age; six to twelve; twelve to eighteen; and eighteen to twenty-four. Each plane contains very specific developmental tasks that the body and mind are naturally predisposed to satisfy. The four planes highlight the optimal time periods in which these biological milestones are met and consolidated, thereby providing for successful adaptation and independence within the culture in which the child was born. They also serve as the biological foundation upon which we build the mixed-age environments that we create in a Montessori program.



Montessori also recognized that, in addition to the Planes of Development that humans move through as they mature, they are also unconsciously motivated to fulfill specific Human Tendencies: a set of conditions that humans of all ages are psychically predisposed to work to satisfy throughout their lives.

The tendencies are basic to all humanity, and manifest differently at each Plane of Development. They are drivers of behavior, and are irrefutable and intrinsic calls to self-actualization. While the Planes of Development are rooted in biology, the Human Tendencies are psychic in nature. They will each manifest in different ways as the child grows.

Dr. Montessori believed that the child promises a special gift to the world: that within each resides the tremendous potential and hope for a future imagined and not yet seen.
As both a child advocate and peace activist, Dr. Maria Montessori thought that in order to “improve society we must transform the child” (Ewert-Krocker). This, she proposed, could be accomplished through aligning the natural laws of biological and psychic development from birth with intentionally prepared educational environments that match those patterns of growth at every stage:

“[T]he whole concept of education changes. It becomes a matter of giving help to the child’s life, to the psychological development of man. No longer is it just an enforced task of retaining our words and ideas. This is the new path on which education has been put; to help the mind in its process of development, to aid its energies and strengthen its many powers. (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind 24).

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Montessori believed that this new system of education needed to be grounded in a sensorially-rooted understanding of language and math, the physical and natural sciences, and cultural history of the age. As important as these academic ways of knowing are to the child’s development, Dr. Montessori also knew that the development of one’s personality and character, one’s morality and spirituality, and one’s grace and courtesy was equally - if not more - important to the fostering of one’s true independence.

“[T]oday, there is a need for more dynamic training of character and the development of a clearer consciousness of social reality.” (Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 62). And more: “Therefore a new morality, individual and social, must be our chief consideration in this new world.” (Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence 73).

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For Montessori, lessons in Grace & Courtesy - presented initially during the child’s earliest years - are critical to removing barriers to focused engagement and work, as well as to fostering a continually perfecting sense of morality. “Moral education is the source of that spiritual equilibrium on which everything else depends.” (Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, 73).

Dr. Montessori believed that - taken in concert with the cultural, cosmic lessons of the elementary years, and the adolescents’ work in service of their school and wider community - these standards of behavior are the seeds of peace. “When we let the infant develop, and see him construct from the invisible roots of creation that which is to become the grown man, then we can learn the secrets on which depend our individual and social strength.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind 216).

Dr. Montessori knew that it was through the wise preparation of the child that humanity could reshape the future as we want it - need it - to be. Nothing could be left to chance.
What is needed, she believed, is the development in each child a sense of: their own dignity and self worth; of their place and role in their community; of giving and receiving; of altruism; of being part of something greater than themselves:

“[T]his is the key to social reform… it should be made the basis of all education. Social integration has occurred when the individual identifies himself with the group to which he belongs. When this has happened, the individual thinks
more about the success of his group than of his own personal success.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind 212).

And further:

“Good laws and good government cannot hold the mass of men together and make them act in harmony, unless the individuals themselves are oriented toward something that gives them solidarity and makes them into a group. The masses, in their turn, are more or less strong and active according to the level of development, and of inner stability, of the personalities composing them.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 215).

This is the power of the Grace & Courtesy curriculum: direct lessons shared, and experiences offered, that lead children to fundamentally see themselves, and themselves in service of others:

“‘We do not want this child to do this action because we are doing it, or because we have commanded it to be done… [I]t should so happen that when the action does come to be carried out by the child, it must be done as part of a life that unfolds itself’... [I]t is in his mind, and upon his own reflection, that the action should have its origin… the essential thing is that he should know how to perform these actions of courtesy when his little heart prompts him to do so, as part of a social life which develops naturally from moment to moment… spontaneous.’” (E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Times  216-218)

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When we do this, we set the stage for peace.







Works Cited


Ewert-Krocker, Laurie. “Characteristics of the Adolescent”. AMI-NAMTA Orientation to
Adolescent Studies. July 1, 2016.

Montessori, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson
Publishing Company, 2007. Print.

---. The Absorbent Mind. Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company, 2014.
Print.

Montessori, Mario. The Human Tendencies and Montessori Education. Amsterdam:
Association Montessori Internationale. 1966. Print.

Standing, E.M.. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Penguin. 1998. Print.