Welcome back to School and the advent of spring!
Break is always a wonderful opportunity to take a step back from the constant motion of bustling School days to reflect. While there is always so much to accomplish and achieve, it is equally important to meditate, ruminate, debrief. With a bit of quiet time I could not help but notice certain intersecting themes and events in the weeks just before and during break. Both within our intimate School and externally in national news were reoccurring topics of professionalism, standards, achievement, partnership, and how we hold things in different and sometimes contradictory ways. Issues as disparate as the internet, complex relationships, human nature and the general overarching uncertainly of life. All of which are unavoidable and require attention, but can be navigated with awareness, thought and intention. We have a mission, as a school, as educators and as partners with our parents, to navigate our world at School, nurture the development of our students, and address the needs of our community together. As all things are connected and continuous; we prepare, we support, we educate, we work tirelessly, we execute and we care. Caring matters.
During her visit, educational consultant Jen Cort addressed and led discussions about our commonalities and our biases in this fantastically changing culture and vernacular, and the important role that we as parents and educators play in meeting the children where they are. This is a unique time, as the expansion in differences between the world we grew up in and our children's world is more of a chasm than ever before. Much of this has to do with the internet, allowing information and thought to influence far and fast, changing mores and expectations. This instant, infinite communication and information offers so much good, but we are all aware, and have experienced in one way or another, scary and seemingly unpredictable or unknown products and outcomes. As an example, a parent recently approached me about a concerning internet meme known as the "Momo challenge" which targets children, aiming to frighten and inspire dangerous, anti-social behavior.
While this can feel new, it is only this manifestation that is new. The struggle of good and evil is present as part of the human condition. It is understandable that the instinct for many is to shield children from unpleasant and difficult truths; and our awareness and vigilance are critical to creating a safe – but not sterile – environment. It is our job as parents and educators to inform and prepare them. To give them the tools and knowledge, as they grow and mature, to protect themselves and make good choices. The gift we must give them, and in turn they give to the world, is developing and realizing their potential for good and the character and strength to live as the good people they are. Conscious parenting is a choice and it is challenging work every day. It is natural to jump in front of obstacles that are perceived threats to our children. However, the hard work comes when we must make the distinctions between real physical and/or emotional threats that require adult protection, and obstacles or difficult life experiences that become points of learning. We must protect and teach; teach them to recognize threats and dangers and how to avoid or handle them, as well as manage obstacles that come with living life. In his book Blueprint, Nicholas Christakis puts forth, "...humans are pre-wired to make a particular kind of society – a good one full of love, friendship, cooperation, and learning. These are the traits at the core of the "social suite," the ones that make it possible for us to be a successful species and to keep the darkness at bay." There are practical, thoughtful considerations regarding raising children, and there are answers. To navigate these murky waters takes grace, hope, courage and effort. It is our continued commitment to you to provide venues and opportunities through Parent Education and ongoing discussions to support our community and tackle these topics.
For Staff, we are always rooted in myriad professional endeavors. Most recently, in late February, the AMI Consultant worked with our Elementary Staff. This is intense work, focused on both the pedagogical standards and recognizing the importance of philosophy and School culture. It is a point of pride that expectations are high and high minded. I am impressed by the organizational and intellectual requirements, and the overlay of AMI Montessori standards significantly deepens our School. But perhaps most impressive to me is the focused, earnest, passionate devotion of our Staff. There is no question, it is a point of distinction - everyone is dedicated and everyone cares. Caring matters.
At our Full Staff Meeting just before break, we enjoyed a workshop on Mindful Communication. Our days are full and long. Each day requires a careful and continuous cycle of preparation, collaboration and execution. Math, science, music, language, and writing, lessons in friendship and respect, refining the prepared environment, working with students as they soar or struggle, answering parent questions, coordinating the next big thing (field trip, special guest) fill the busy days for teachers and students. For Staff, taking the time at the end of a long day to come together with purpose is worth every effort. Recently, mindfulness has become more popular in the general culture, but is something we have practiced for decades at this School, reaching back father than the visit from the Tibetan monks well over a decade ago (bonus points for those who remember that!). The partnership of Staff deepens the experience for students, but also makes coming to work every day that much brighter. Caring matters.
Over break, I visited a Montessori school in Massachusetts. It happened to be the day the story broke about the college admissions scandal, so it was interesting to be observing classrooms of children engaged in earnest effort while this was unfolding. Initially, the articles and pundits seemed to focus on the unfairness of the privilege of the rich and famous. But there are consequences, legal and personal, for those involved and our greater culture continues to heighten awareness, reset the balance, redeem itself. What I wonder is why, for this select group, is an educational degree just a symbol or a badge of honor without placing any inherent value on the education it is meant to represent. Of course there is prestige in attending schools that are highly selective, receiving validation that your child is achieving something, by way of competition. Scaled down to the younger years, feeling pressured, many parents painstakingly track how their children perform on standardized tests. While testing does serve a purpose, how we hold this part of the current zeitgeist is a choice and a message to our children about what is inherently of value, and who they are. Test-taking is a real skill and can certainly be enhanced with specific instruction. These metrics are part of the process and part of Practical Life, but they are not how we define education, nor do they quantify it. They are small and narrow samples of a broad and expansive education. Mahesh's Peer to Peer article, sent just before break, is an example of one parent's educational values, and the development of his understanding and thoughtful journey.
Choosing a Montessori education naturally lays the foundation for personal awareness and growth towards achieving a fulfilled, successful life. This may include matriculation at an Ivy, an art school, a trade school or the military. It is about following one's own path, or paths; turning interests into passions, matching passions and aptitudes, earnest industriousness and independent thought. This is a slow, intentional and imperfect process for us, as individuals and as parents raising our children. It is a philosophy and guide of living life. With our busy schedules filled with constant stimulation, needs and responsibilities, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
We are ever present, and what we do at Montessori is truly mindful. We ask the questions and think hard about the answers, and also recognize that at any given time the answers may change. This means making choices of how we spend our time. We stop and think, and ask our students and our parents to do the same. We have expectations. What does it mean to you to raise an educated person? What are your values, and are they integrated into your parenting? These are topics we will continue to mine together. To parents and Staff I say thank you for embracing these challenges and opportunities as we educate each child, and a collective of human beings. Caring matters, and makes all the difference.
Lisa B.A. Potter
Head of School