St. Valentine and/or American Greetings has it right: love is the most powerful force in the Universe. Love compels us to honor our children’s desire for independence, knowledge, mastery and success. It motivates us to be the best parents, teachers and educators we can be.
What, may ask, has me contemplating ‘love’? Not the proximity to Valentine’s Day; CVS has had heart-shaped boxes of chocolates on the shelves since New Year’s. I am reading a fascinating book: Viktor Frankl’s holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl’s experience taught him that we are free to choose our attitude and see the beauty, love and joy all around us. For me, it is a reminder of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by those whose life’s work is inspired by their love of others. We all know that teaching in America is not a lucrative profession—and neither is parenting! But aren’t they the noblest?
First, the good: learning is beautiful. Whenever I step into one of our Montessori classrooms, I invariably encounter a room full of children engrossed in thinking and doing. Each child is deep in concentration– quiet, focused and industrious. Some are working on language and literacy skills. Others are working on math skills or practical life skills. Each child is active and mentally engaged.
How can a room of 13 or 20 children be so quietly focused? The Montessori approach appeals directly to their natural desire to learn, to move, to create and construct. Montessori teachers understand that children learn through their senses. The more they can touch, feel, move, listen, see and smell, the more their brains grow.
Being busy is far more interesting that being inactive.
And the bad: I had one of those “remember how lucky you are” moments on class picture day. Unlike being in their engaging classrooms, eighty-two Evergreen students waited and waited in our gymnasium for the photographer to set up the group picture. It didn’t work. Children, deprived of the chance to learn and do, quickly became inpatient and fidgety. They moved. They wiggled. They tested the photographer’s patience. And mine. I will never become a school photographer. So help me God, professional cat herding would be more enjoyable.
Waiting is part of life, and I want our students to be good at it. But not at the expense of their cognitive growth. The less we make our children wait idly the better. This is a core Evergreen School and Montessori value. Why do so many traditional schools insist on talking at children and not let them learn at their own pace?
What would make you riot? With over 140 million iPhones sold worldwide, the Chinese are demonstrating to get the 4S back on their store shelves. Apple products inspire intense passion.
Steve Jobs’ new biography is a fascinating peak inside the mind of one of this century’s greatest innovators. I was shocked to learn that his leadership style did not match my image of him. The book is a great read for anyone whose life has been transformed by the digital revolution (that means all of us!)
More than anything, I was struck by Jobs’ intense passion for his products. He was a perfectionist who relentlessly pursued the most elegant, user-friendly devices. His passion made him volatile and sometimes cruel. To a lesser degree, I was fascinated by his marketing prowess. I reminisced about the Think Different Campaign of 1997 and its anti-establishment poetry: Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently… (the entire ad/poem is here)
To celebrate Jobs, I would rewrite the poem: Here is to the passionate ones. The caring ones. The ones who go the extra mile. The optimists who work to make things better.
And here is to the Evergreen teachers who attended Montessori workshops at Loyola University this weekend, The ones who choose to learn and grow. The ones who look for ways to be better teachers.
Thanks to all your support of professional development at Evergreen School!
The Evergreen School electronic newsletter is named the ‘greenletter because it is paper free—we do not print any copies for parents or teachers. It is one way we are working to reduce the environmental impact of our school.
Each week since the fall, we have been publishing weekly tips on promoting an environmental sustainable lifestyle in the ‘greenletter. Tips have been culled from online sources such as the Sierra Club, the World Watch Institute, wastefreelunches.org, and others.
But why look so far? Last spring we had asked our own elementary students in grades 1-3 for their ideas about being green. Children brainstormed and then turned their ideas into a beautiful and elaborate quilt. Several of the quilt panels are displayed. Here are nine of the students’ suggestions for a sustainable future:
Plant more trees.
Waste not, want not.
Save the Bay!
Power your life with wind.
Keep nature trash free.
Reuse. Reduce. Recycle.
Use solar power.
Ride the bus; no more fuss.
Isn’t it time we start listening to our children? It is their future, after all.
Complete the phrase: Reading is __________. Here are some possible answers: reading is a gift; reading is a process; reading is a pleasure; reading is power; reading is freedom. Reading is the key to success.
At Evergreen School, it is all of the above. When our kindergarten and elementary classes join for their Reading Buddies program on Friday afternoons, older students start by reading their favorite picture book aloud to younger ones. Then the younger ones take a turn. The more experienced readers are thrilled to share their stories. The beginners delight in sounding out words with an encouraging, dutiful partner. And everyone, young and old, learns that reading is satisfying and social.
If you have not read aloud to someone recently, now is a good time. As the National Commission on Reading reported in its study, Becoming a Nation of Readers, ”the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The commission indicated that reading aloud is essential to reading success, and classroom reading “should continue throughout the grades.”
Let us know what reading is to you. Please leave a comment below. Then go read!
It is not surprising that Steve Hughes is huge fan of Montessori education. After all, it is his job to understand how growing brains work. He is a pediatric neuropsychologist and assistant professor of pediatrics in Pediatric Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Minnesota. Hughes says, “My research is directed at identifying social and emotional rearing environments that help to build better brains. We’re not just interested in intelligence—we’re interested in emotional well being and social functioning, too.”
Although trying to build better brains is a huge task, Hughes is undaunted. “This is a great time in history to be in the brain business,” he says. “Neuroscience is opening a wider window into how brains work, and we think we can figure out how aspects of the environment can help brains work better.”
To raise independent, thinking children, Hughes advocates leaving the traditional model of education behind. He says that ‘school 1.0’ is characterized by children being told what to do and think by adults. School 2.0, on the other hand, looks like a Montessori classroom: children engaging in learning by doing; using their hands and enggrossed in experimental interactions with the environment. He says, “Maria Montessori knew before it was proved by neuroscience that cognition and movement are intertwined.” Now it is a point of fact in the scientific community.
Hughes pointed out the benefits of Montessori not only include better hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial problem solving skills, but also executive function skills and social development.
Hughes spoke to Evergreen teachers Mr. Bingcang, Ms. Tobin, Ms. Liotta, Mrs. Dahmas, Mr. DeMarchi and an audience of Montessori advocates from across Montgomery County at a presentation at Crossways Community Center in December. His presentation is online at www. goodatdoingthings.com
Fables are our best teachers. We know that the turtle knew more than the hare: making steady progress is the key to success. At Evergreen, being a green school means taking consistent and deliberate steps everyday toward reducing the environmental impact of our school and community.
And just like the turtle racing to the finish line, setting a goal helps measure our progress and keep us moving in the right direction.
THE GOAL: Green School Certification from the Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education (MAEOE). MAEOE is a nonprofit educational association that “seeks to encourage, education, support and inspire Maryland educators to build a citizenry that understands and is responsibly engaged in advancing sustainability to address human needs and to conserve the Earth’s natural resources.”
WHO? Elementary teacher Mrs. Lourdes Barden is leading the application process. She is chairing a committee that currently includes Mrs. Liotta, Mr. DeMarchi, Mrs. Basturescu and Mr. Fedder. Parents, alumni and friends of Evergreen are encouraged to join the committee and support the initiative.
WHAT? In order to be considered a Green School, Evergreen must complete a lengthy application process that includes a report about our classroom curriculum, professional development for teachers, description of community-wide celebrations of the natural environment, and a demonstration of selected conservation best management practices (BMP’s).
Evergreen is focused on BMP’s in the area of (1) Water Conservation/Pollution Prevention, (2) Energy Conservation, (3) Habitat Restoration, and (4) Responsible Transportation. Look for tips on going green each week in the ‘greenletter (our eco-friendly digital newsletter.
WHEN? Evergreen’s application is due on April 1, 2012.
“So tell me about Evergreen…” I have been slipping this question into conversations with parents, teachers and past parents since July. I soon recognized a pattern to their answers: most talked about the warmth and kindness that they feel in the school community. Parents told me about the gentleness of teachers, their compassion, their patience and their passion for teaching. Parents are spot on. I have seen these traits in abundance.
What I heard most often: Evergreen is a special place. Children are known and cared for. It is a loving school.
As a newcomer, I realize that we should not take the character of Evergreen for granted. The schools special identity arises from the shared belief (among parents, teachers, the board, and administration) that all our children deserve to learn in a classroom that respects their ability to make decisions, to act with independence, and to use their senses in order to understand the world around them.
These ideas are the roots of our mission and purpose. They may seem obvious to us within the Evergreen community, but in the wider world of education, they are radical.
Across the country, schools are still places where adults force round pegs of childhood through square pegs of education. The result: boredom and frustration at best; alienation and hopelessness at worst.
It is such a joy for me to be in such a self-selected community of adults who believe, like me, in the inherent inner light of children. It is a joy to be a part of a community that works so well together to make a wonderful place for children. A place where there is such learning in abundance.
In my first update from Evergreen, you will find stories on what has been happening here. I am so glad to have you as part of our family. I welcome all past friends of the school to visit me campus or connect with me by email (email@example.com).