Purpose of This Blog

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Cosmos


Many years ago my mother had an aged friend that for years took a photograph of the sunset from her balcony apartment. She had a terrific view and, while the pictures collected in multiple albums were indeed beautiful, as a teenager I found her practice to be a bit odd – if not peculiar. After all, there were so many other things that one could be “doing”!

Perhaps it’s not until you reach a certain age, or have had some set of threshold experiences, that you begin to reflect on your past and the whys of your present. If only such meta-cognition could come earlier! But then, I guess, it’s the reflection upon one’s own history that creates the deepest of meanings and the most settled understanding. 

What is it about youth that drives one so inexorably forward? Is it the sense that you are just at the dawn of life’s arc? I recognize and remember that person in me, but he and I are different somehow. I hate to think that it’s because at my ripe old age of forty-two I am sensing the interminable decline towards death! With sore muscles and joints that creak, has this mortal coil just about given up the ghost? Is it all just a matter of waiting out the game?

Well, of course not. Nor has it ever been, though it might feel like that from time to time. One’s life is punctuated with ripples and crenulations – some crests, some troughs. At any moment we can experience an event with the pull of gravity, or the exhilaration of weightlessness. We are who we are from the experiences that shape us.

The old and grey are not the only ones who can impart wisdom. When wisdom comes, it comes in the form of a unique kind of knowledge that has been forged by reflecting upon past events, and the feelings that orbit around them. Upon reflection, what is old becomes new again.

What if we spent more time examining the journey rather than focusing on our destination? As busy adults - with full-time jobs, mortgages, school-age children, etc. - if most of us spend our lives repeating similar habits and patterns day after day, mightn’t we find greater richness in the seemingly mundane if we took a closer look at the what and how of what we do along the way?

Perhaps what is truly essential and definitive is not just the thing we do, but the doing of the thing itself.

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In The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe, author Chet Raymo invites us on a tour of his daily walk to work. A professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts Raymo shares with us the interwoven stories that lay at his feet. The book is broken into sections that define his walk. Each new chapter opens much as the landscape does before Raymo as he walks from his home: through woods and verges, across a brook and open fields, into the water meadow, an old orchard, and community garden.

Raymo speaks to us as a naturalist might, elucidating the particular geological and biological facets of his walk. One can imagine him lingering over the smallest blossom, or the flash of a crystal face reflecting the Sun’s light. And then, beyond the firm, to the cycles that draw the multitude together. The players he describes are connected by the very atoms that they share.

And yet, The Path reads more like a novel than a work of natural history alone. Raymo centers his love of wilderness within the frame of the human history that has shaped and reshaped the land through which his path meanders. Like the trail that he travels, readers are quickly mesmerized by the rich and complex lives of the people he describes. Each new story is another step along his path, another moment of unfolding and greater understanding.

Everything has a story. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is related to something else, some how. In intimate detail, Raymo shares with us the preciousness of his slice of the cosmos, revealing connections where the reader may not have guessed them, and bringing to full consciousness the beautiful enormity of the world and our lives.

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The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe (2003), by Chet Raymo.
ISBN 0-8027-1402-1


Enjoy the walk!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Getting Out of the Way: Rethinking Discipline in the Montessori Classroom


 
Framing the Work

Presentations on discipline frequently focus on the rules and regulations, and the policies and procedures necessary to keep children safe. These conversations, however, have to be more than just about what forms to fill out and who to speak with about a student’s challenges. 

In our world, the question is not whether you handle the issue in your class or refer it to the office; it really has to be much more fundamental to our practice than just a question of paperwork.


Semantics

The way in which words are used is important. They carry particular weight, depending upon the time period and culture in which they are adopted. And, these subtle, commonly agreed upon meanings change as cultures develop.

discipline 1. from the early 13c. meaning "penitential chastisement, punishment"; 2. from Old French descepline (11c.) meaning "discipline, physical punishment; teaching; suffering; martyrdom"; 3. from the Latin disciplina meaning "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge".  (Source: www.etymoline.com)

When we look at the etymological origins of the word discipline, we see that most recently it has been used to refer to something that is done to someone, a correction, indicating a necessarily lopsided power-over relationship.

We can also see, however, that this was not always the case. Look at discipline’s earliest record of usage: "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge". Perhaps, when taken this way we can come to view discipline as less of a reactive behavior, and more of a proactive one – one where power is shared.

So, let’s reframe our definition of discipline and refocus our energies in a positive, future-oriented way so that we are building relationships with children.  


The Art of Discipline

The art of discipline is to mold others in your image: who you are and (most importantly) what you do. Who and how you are helps to define what kind of people your students will become.

I would argue that this is our most important work. 

After all, who has the greatest opportunity for consistent messaging about what it means to be fully human? 

We do.

Discipline is best viewed as an act of peace education, distilled. As learning to be peaceful is an active process we need, therefore, to examine our own practices to ensure that the actions that we model to our students are aligned with this vision.


Looking Inward

When we are presented with behavior that flies in the face of our desires and expectations we need to look inward first. Most of the time it is about how we have prepared ourselves and the environment to meet the child’s needs that is the root of the child's actions. 

This can be a challenging proposition for us: it means that we have to be as open to change and risk as we ask the children to be throughout the school day. To accommodate this demand, we need to be flexible, spontaneous, dynamic, humble, specific, direct, and purposeful in our work with children. 


How Do We Get There?

It is important that we recognize our personal limits of behavior:

·      What is it about certain behavior that really pushes your buttons?
·      What is your “shark music” (those cues that alert you to a change in a child’s behavior that will be challenging for you)?
·      How will you convey that “music” to your assistant(s) and colleagues so to get the support you need?

Challenging children are not malfeasant beings created to undermine your every move; they are waiting for your loving guidance and support.

If there is a behavior issue, you need to examine what are you not providing the child: 

    What is it about your choices and decisions that have led to this point? 
Are you fueling and fanning the flames?

When faced with behavior that does not align with your expectations for the moment, what do you do?

·      Do you give a little more, loosen the reigns a bit and wait?
·      Do you pull in tight?
·      Which action allows for sustained and transformative changes in behavior?


Preparation of the Teacher

We must be present to the struggles within us as we make these decisions around our interactions with children.  

It is this mindfulness that will allow for partnerships to triumph over punishments.

Think about the children you have worked with. Which students come to the forefront of your memory? What kinds of memories are these? Do you feel:

                                                         Happy?                   Bittersweet?
                                                         Proud?         OR       Remorseful?
                                                         Fulfilled?                Embarrassed?

Why do we feel such conflicted emotions?

I propose that if we feel a mixture of emotions it is because we ourselves know that our most important work is to “be there” for the children in our care. And, that because of our own baggage around schooling, or our fears and pressures of the work we do, or the demands placed upon us by the multiple stakeholders in public education – we lose our way. 

We lose our focus and prime directive: to be stewards of the Spirit in the children who gather around us.

So. Take a few breaths. Think quietly and explore the light and the dark, the fear and the joy, the clouds and the sunshine of our work with children. As you think about the year before you:

·      In what ways are you coming from a grounded and present place?
·      In what ways can you see yourself growing?


Breaking Old Habits & Developing New Ones

It is through the Montessori curriculum that we meet the children in their heart spaces. As servants and stewards, we worship the child not the curriculum - children first then content, hearts first then minds.

How we frame the energy of our classrooms and the work that goes on in there is truly as important a component to "preparation of the environment" as is where the shelving is placed. 

Discipline is problem solving.

Discipline is more often about letting go and giving in.

Our goal is to become meaningfully attached to the children with whom we work, a system synergy.

·      What do you wish for in that relationship?
·      How would it feel?
·      In five, ten, fifteen years, what memories would you like to have made of the experience?

So often with issues of discipline we can get caught up in what the child is doing or not doing relative to our desires and expectations.

But here’s the thing: 
It’s not about us. 
It’s about being ready for them.


Seeing the Child Anew

We can be champions of our students' thirst to learn and experience the universe around them. We can stand beside them as they call out to their muse in search of beauty, liberty, trust, and joy!

Say Yes More

Anticipate the Struggle

Be Uncomfortable

Take Risks

“Sit on Your Hands” 

Choose Carefully When, Where and Why You Intervene

Let It Go

Broaden Your Definition of Work

Start Seeing “False Fatigue”

Give it time

Soften

Rethink Your Use of Consequences 


Conclusion

Discipline re-framed as peace education allows for the chance to teach and experience new ways of being in the world – both for the child and the adults that serve them. When we do this, we walk together towards a brighter horizon.


Additional Resources on Discipline

1. “On Discipline – Reflections and Advice” by Maria Montessori

2. “The Montessori Approach to Discipline” by Mary Conroy and Kitty Williams Bravo 

3. “Freedom and Discipline” by Marcie Hogan

4. “Liberty and Discipline in the Montessori Classroom”

5. “Freedom and Responsibility: A Life in Balance” by Seth D. Webb


(This post includes excerpts from a staff development training given on August 7th, 2013).

Friday, July 26, 2013

It's in Everyone of Us

I
 
I first heard this song during my initial summer of 6-9 Montessori teacher training in 2001. I was moved and left speechless; it spoke to me in many ways, on many levels. Now, more than a decade on, I am sharing the song and slideshow in preparation for this year's International Day of Peace on September 21, 2013. Enjoy and Blessings!

Click below to listen and watch:

"It's in Everyone of Us" - David Pomeranz


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Our Planet, Our Home



As a child, my father often led me on an adventure in our backyard. On warm, summer days we would lay prone in the spiky grass of our lawn and inhale the sweet, humid smell of the earth.

We would next turn our eyes downwards into the grass to see what we could. Like a camera whose lens takes in more and more detail as it extends towards its focal object, so too did our eyes adjust. Gradually, the world above became less of our concern as we looked for surprises in the world beneath us.

Our eyes first met the brilliant yellow sunbursts of dandelion flowers, and their sisters’ ornate globes of seeds ready for dispersal. Then the feathery and torn blades of grass, the rich green of their stems. Below that, mounds of earthworm castings, wormholes, and sometimes the worms themselves – quiet and slippery as they undulated along in compressed coils, springing slowly forward. We saw ants, big and small, carrying food to their young and trash from their nests, as well as the occasional robin’s egg shell, lodged between the grassy stems and partly filled with dew.

This was a world unknown to me, but one in which I came to love because of its hidden richness and secret activity. Down there, in the grass and truly close to nature, I could feel the soil breathing and imagined the plants growing. I embraced the microcosm beneath my gaze for the connections it highlighted; how there was no part that I witnessed that was not unrelated to the whole.

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Our Planet, Our Home: A Gaian Learning Material by Philip Snow Gang and Marsha Snow Morgan is a work that explores the relationships found between all actors in this cosmological dance. Drawing upon ecological principles and systems theory, participants use arrows to make unique and authentic connections between the pictures provided:

- a Spiral Galaxy
- the Sun
- the Earth
- images symbolizing the Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, Lithosphere and Biosphere - the Biogeological cycle
- Soil
- the Five Kingdoms (Bacteria, Protoctista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia)
- an image symbolizing Humans
- and seven cards representing aspects of Human Activity (Transportation, 
  Shelter, Clothing. Communication, Food, Play, and Love).


On a rug or tabletop with plenty of space, children and adults alike can collaborate to see how the components relate to the each other. It is a dynamic activity, filled with excited and spontaneous discussions as realizations are made and connections explored.


This is not a prescriptive work, but one that allows for wonderment and curiosity to be the drivers. There is room for numerous repetitions, each with its own new set of discoveries.

Our Planet, Our Home suggests a holistic approach to science education, one that emphasizes how things are related and not concepts held exclusively in isolation. It is a powerful work, one that asks us to open our eyes and minds to new connections and novel possibilities.

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Click HERE to Order

For more information, check out:
and

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Praise of Teachers: Artists, Alchemists and Advocates


When we speak of the fabric of our society, no one besides a child's family has the power and potential to transform a child's life like a teacher does. Teachers perform the essential role of weaving together social mores, cultural practices and multiple ways of understanding to create a tapestry that tells our story. This work is an ever-expanding creation, made newly rich and complex as each one of us - students all - contributes our experiences and perspectives.

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We are artists. We express our love for life and living through the content that we teach - in both the method and materials we share. In an ever increasing search to meet the needs of each child, we transform the classroom environment and the content we study so that everyone might have a personal and meaningful relationship with learning.

We are alchemists. We constantly balance the needs of one child with the needs of another; we cater to each individual, in service of all. Throughout the day, opportunities are made available, and prescriptions are given. In each action resides the scaffolding for more and more complex educational options. Our compass is the warmth and growing light of excitement which we all feel when working with passion and delight. 

We are advocates. We greet the children with our hearts before we do so with our minds. To move too quickly, to rush head-long into the delivery of content, is to create a space where the teacher is merely performing - dispensing information, regardless of its relevance to or resonance with the children. We work to know both the head and heart of each child. This connection allows for the deep and purposeful exploration of our universe, powered by a trust and faith in each other.

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Our work and the work of our students is not static or passive. Rather, ours is a rich and vibrant world, one where originality and creativity put young thinkers on the edge of new understandings. We are champions of joy and engagement. 


Saturday, January 5, 2013

On the Day You Were Born

 
Many of the stories that we tell our students and the cultural lessons that we share are our part of our collective oral tradition – they belong to all of us. They are of the Earth and we are of the Earth. These stories resonate with us because we have lived them, experienced them first-hand as fellow passengers on this planet.

Like stories once passed down for generations and now seldom retold, the sense of intimacy present in these tales can be lost when not repeatedly shared with children. It is essential that we regularly return to this connection, to remind and refresh us all of where we came from and how we are all related – to each other, to the Earth, and the universe.

The atoms that fuel the energy of the Sun, that form the water in our seas, that build the cells that scaffold the tallest trees, and allow for our brains to make sense of what we perceive all can be traced back to stardust. They and we are one.

In On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier, one’s scientific way of knowing merges with the spiritual. Through gorgeously rendered paper collages and poetic text, the story tells the tale of each human’s journey from within the womb to the world outside – all the while speaking of the patterns and rhythms of nature that have always been. It is an intimate story that connects us again and again to the greater cosmos.

On each page there are volumes being said – the words speak like pictures and the illustrations root you to the world. Each conveys just enough to allow for the mind to wonder and make connections.

Following the story, there are additional pages that explore and illuminate the science behind each illustration. Each description dovetails nicely with the lessons we share in a Montessori environment: the Universe Story, the Work of Water, the Work of Air, Botany, Zoology, The Coming of People, etc. Children delight and find great comfort in the discovery that the stories we tell and the impressionistic lessons we share are part of the wider collection of knowledge held by others - outside the classroom.

On the Day You Were Born balances our inherent desire to highlight the gifts of each individual child, with the strength found in community. Despite the fabulous uniqueness of each one of us, we need to be sure to celebrate each child’s individuality while underscoring the connections that tie us all together. To only do the former, leaving the latter as an afterthought, teaches children just that: that our connections to others and the universe are to be secondary to the “mighty me”.

Developmentally this can be a challenge. Children can, at times, struggle with balancing their growing sense of self and independence with meaningful relationships with others. This makes sense for young children, as they are hard at work understanding how to get their needs met first and foremost. Those around them can be seen as either helping that process or hindering it.

No matter one’s age, however, in sharing stories like Frasier’s we subtly remind us all that there is more to our lives than meeting our own personal needs and desires. We have a collective history that has relied upon, and a future that now yearns for, our collaboration.

On the Day you Were Born by Debra Frasier
ISBN-13: 9780152579951

More at: www.debrafrasier.com