Purpose of This Blog

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MonTeSSori


As educators in Montessori environments, our job is to create situations that lead students to the edge of understanding - between what is known and comfortable and what is yet to be discovered, unveiled and considered - and then set them free to make the connections that lead to the development of new skills and the integration of knowledge.

That students come to us all along a broad spectrum of abilities, interests, and predilections is to be expected. As such, we each have students that, at times, struggle. Our task is to work collaboratively to lift them when needed, kindly confront them when they balk, and walk beside them as resistance gives way to, at first, reluctant partnership - and then true collaboration.

There is no superhero, nor perfect program, that will “fix” the students amongst us that face the fiercest of struggles - but for ourselves… We, the Montessori collective, is what stands between their experience of the status quo and a truly transformed life.  

Our job is to unravel the very essence of every child’s being who walks through our doors. Regardless of their family’s motivations for attending our schools, our work - our mandate - is to meet them as they are, give them what they need, and never give up.

Much has been made of the processes and protocols necessary to bring greater success (ease, comfort, joy...) to those who struggle - both the students, themselves, and the adults that support them.

Regardless of the mental model, unless approached holistically, these procedural blueprints trick us into a narrow, linear, and determinate way of thinking about children.

For those of us who have been in and around education for a while we have lived the reality that most answers are not what we expect, and - more often than not - are found through circling back and revising our own attachments, fears, and expectations.
How do we master this task? How do we move from a posture of fixing, problem-solving - or waiting for the help to come - to one that possesses the fierceness that calls us to action?

Our job is to, be dynamic, flexible, and open-minded; to scaffold, plan, anticipate, and co-construct; to interpret, bridge, team, and connect - all with the intention of providing what each child needs at this moment, and this moment, and at this moment, along their personal arc of biological and psychological development.

Our service to our students is embedded in who we are and what we do as Montessorians.

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* Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework, a way of thinking, a mindset through which we can highlight student needs, risks, and opportunities -  and then identify the next steps to employ in service.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Biophilia* (or Love of Life and the Desire to be Whole)




An Essence

I have such fondness for this life. When considered in silence, detached from the burdens and pleasures of each day, there is a balanced mystery to it, and I find myself marveling at the beauty of it all. From where does such attachment spring? Could it really be that it is merely our sensorial appreciation of our immediate environment, moment by moment, that connects us - or is there something more?

An Energy

What is it that calls to us? What is it that moves and shapes us, shakes us and takes us, in turns - first gently beckoning us closer, whispering, near teasing – then, at times, roughly by the collar, demanding our attention, that we wake up - to be fully here and now and present? Is it within us, or from without? Is it our soul, our spirit – or the spirits that sweep around us? Is it biological or psychological? Of life itself, or of the mind suspended?

An Ethos

Of all, such are the questions to our lives that lay incomplete and stranded, strung-out and wanting. These are the infinite riddles that reach forever outwards to the horizon. That they oft go unanswered, in fact, makes them all the more captivating and seductive. What is a question, after all… but a quest?

An Eagerness

There is a voice and rhythm, a pattern of play that guides our days. Who is at the helm?
Oh, Captain, guide my hand and on the rudder till. Stand beside me, and help me keep watch for the storm. 

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(*Note: Credit is due to both to Erich Fromm and E.O. Wilson, two pre-eminent thinkers and posthumous thought partners on this journey. Truth be told, after finishing an earlier draft of the simple reflections above, I was looking for a title that would reflect “love of life”. I credit my years in upper elementary classrooms for letting etymology fuel my search, ultimately landing quite naturally on the term “biophilia”. Little did I know that others preceded me in naming what I explore above. First Fromm, then Wilson, used the term “biophilia” to describe life and our relationship to it.

In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), Fromm wrote:

“Biophilia is the passionate love of life and all that is alive; it is the wish to further growth, whether in a person, a plant, an idea, or group. The biophilous person prefers to construct rather than retain. He wants to be more than to have more. He is capable of wondering, and he prefers to see something new rather than find confirmation in the old. He loves the adventure of living more than he does certainty. He sees the whole rather than only the parts, structures rather than summations. He wants to mold and to influence by love, reason, and example” (p.336).

Earlier, in The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil (1964), Fromm reflected:

“The tendency to preserve life and to fight against death is the most elementary form of the biophilous orientation, and is common to all living substance. Inasmuch as it is a tendency to preserve life, and to fight death, it represents only one aspect of the drive toward life. The other aspect is a more positive one: living-substance has the tendency to integrate and to unite; it tends to fuse with different and opposite entities, and grow in a structural way. Unification and integrated growth are characteristic of all life processes, not only as far as cells are concerned, but also with regard to feeling and thinking” (p. 45).

Working with Stephen R. Kellert in The Biophilia Hypothesis (1995), Wilson interpreted and redefined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” (p. 416).
  
Originally, Wilson explored these ideas in Biophilia (1984), set in both an evolutionary and mystical context:

“[W]e are human in good part because of the particular way we affiliate with other organisms. They are the matrix in which the human mind originated and is permanently rooted, and they offer the challenge and freedom innately sought. To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of re-enchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little-known organisms live within walking distance of where you sit. Splendor awaits in minute proportions” (p. 139).

While certainly not definitive, nor necessarily answers to the questions posed in this post, I look forward to studying these perspectives further toward a greater understanding of ultimate truth).




Friday, May 26, 2017

What Our World Needs Now...




The following is the text of a brief closing address that I shared at Compass Montessori School's thirteenth High School Graduation on May 25, 2017:

"Good evening.

"One of the many beauties of a Montessori education is the time afforded our students to truly know. Rushing from one topic to the next is patently avoided. As such, the space for profound understanding is fostered. Our students 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, our students deeply explore the questions and concepts before them. They are engaged with their studies, working with purpose.

"At Compass, we believe that our students are spirit-filled beings yearning to be believed in, that education is about freeing children to explore a learning environment prepared with intention, where they can partner with teachers to set goals for their learning, and “where trained adults relate to them in a guiding, helpful, positive way around the love of learning” (Schaefer, n.d.). In this relationship, students develop a powerful personal understanding, and build meaningful connections with one’s community, and the world.

"Our students are curious, self-confident, eager and energetic. 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.

"Dr. Maria Montessori wrote the following call to action: "If education is always to be conceived [as] a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of [our] future... The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future. If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities" (Montessori, 1949).

"We are all part of the Montessori movement because we want something different for our children - 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 external assessments.

"At Compass Montessori School, we aim to do more; indeed, change the system – re-frame and re-create the world as we want it to be. Dr. Montessori saw education as “the bright new hope for mankind” (Montessori, 1949). Join us in our continual endeavor to empower our students to seek out knowledge, to ask questions, to challenge themselves, to love living – in short, to see before them an unobstructed horizon with nothing but possibility ahead.

"Thank you all for gathering here to honor these amazing young adults. We are so proud of each and every one. Our students are the heirs of Dr. Montessori’s vision, the recipients and beneficiaries of her legacy. They are the answer our world needs.

"And now, I have, the very special honor of introducing the graduated Class of 2017!"



References

1. Montessori, M. (1949). The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

2. Schaefer, L. (n.d.). Authentic Montessori. MediaSite Recording. St. Paul, MN: St. Catherine University


Portions of this address were previously published in “Why Montessori Matters” (Seth D. Webb, 2011) at Finding Our Center - Reaching Out: http://radicalmontessori.blogspot.com/2011/11/why-montessori-matters.html

Image Source: Compass Montessori School's Pink Unicorns Cross Country Team

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).





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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.