I hope to visit the Mall on Saturday for the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. You can see more about the schedule of events this weekend and through the week including an address by President Obama here. It will be a good time to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial where you can find one of my favorite MLK quotes from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964:
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
As Evergreen School prepares for our 50th anniversary celebration as one of the first Montessori schools in the Washington DC region next year, it has been startling to notice all the other milestones from 1964. From the beginning of Evergreen School, the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964, MLK’s Nobel Peace Prize and the creation of the Black Student Fund (see blog post below), fifty years can feel close or far away.
With progress and set backs, we march on working to fulfill the dream for our children and students.
Have the audacity to believe.
At a school like ours, we rely on the parent involvement and volunteerism to make us great. Study after study demonstrates that active, involved and engaged parents make the greatest difference for children.
The Evergreen School Parents Association (ESPA) held its final school-wide meeting of the year. Reflecting on ESPA’s accomplishments, it is clear that Evergreen would not be the place it is without ESPA’s leadership and all the significant volunteers efforts of our parents. We all owe significant thanks to the ESPA Executive Committee for a wonderful year.
Just as significant, we give great thanks to all our volunteers. below is a list of ESPA and volunteer accomplishments this year:
- Coffee on the Green coordinators
- Buddy family volunteers
- Room Parent volunteers
- Field Trip Coordinators
- Pizza Lunch helpers
- Picture Day helpers
- International Day presenters
- Classroom craft and auction project coordinators
- Winter Festival Committee
- Open House tour guides and refreshment providers
- Esteemed Elders’ Day Chair and volunteers
- Breach Movie Night Speaker and helpers
- MixedBag Sale Coordinator
- Auction Committee
- Teacher Appreication Week helpers
- Annual Fund Chair
- …and ESPA Executive Committee
…as we say at Evergreen, “You make the world a beautiful place!”
Perhaps, like me, you were stoked with optimism by President Obama’s address yesterday. Even 40 minutes of Diane Rehm’s post-speech analysis didn’t damper my enthusiasm. President Obama’s words made me think of our children at Evergreen when he said, “America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.”
And as he reminded us of our obligations to our children and future generations, I thought of the great responsibilities upon us: to educate them, to nourish them and protect the natural environment. So to paraphrase (if not plagiarize) the President’s words– at Evergreen, with common effort and purpose, passion and dedication, we carry into an uncertain future that precious light of learning for each of our children.
We owe you, and all Evergreen parents, a debt of gratitude for all the support, help and volunteerism that enables us to provide the best experiences for our students and their limitless futures and endless capacity. Thank you.
What makes a great school?
To me, there are just four fundamentals: The first essential: passionate teachers who strive to understand and meet the needs of each student. These are Evergreen-type teachers who consistently create an environment that is supportive, challenging and safe. They are more than experts in their field; they are compassionate, patient and understanding.
The second essential: engaged parents who participate in the life of the school. Again, Evergreen-type parents regularly visit the school, participate in family playdates and coffees, attend ESPA meetings and lend a hand at school functions. Thank to our parents for enthusiastically giving us their time and your talent.
The third essential: a vision for education that aligns with our modern understanding of how children learn and develop life skills. On this measure, our Montessori philosophy supports current research in education and emphases a holistic approach to learning that is proven to be successful. The fact that our system of education allows children to learn in a natural way, free from coercion, is why their is so much joy here.
And the fourth essential: open, honest and frequent two-way communication. From parent coffees to parent association meetings, to newsletters, observation days and conferences, our goal is to let our parents know what is happening at school– and hear how their children are doing at home. Its a two-way road.
There are more qualities that are important in schools, but these four: great teachers, engaged parents, a guiding philosophy of learning and communication are key.
An event from before school started: we began our Opening Faculty Meeting with an ice breaker. Each teacher wrote down the name of his or her favorite children’s picture book on an index card. I collected the cards and read each book’s name and we tried to guess whose book was whose. Then teachers grouped together and wrote Book Recommendation Reviews for the main bulletin board. Teachers chose wonderful books, but I didn’t think about them much until I started reading a new book called How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.
In his book, Tough questions the common belief that success in life mostly depends on cognitive skills — those are the intelligences that are measured on state tests and SATs– the size of your vocabulary, reading comprehension, your skill at calculating, solving equations and story problems. Tough has collected loads of research data from longitudinal studies (like my favorite, the marshmallow experiment) along with personal stories that show a deeper truth: noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence, are more vital than cognitive skills for achieving success.
And then I remembered Ms. Barden’s book recommendation: The Little Engine that Could. Of which our library has four copies. The Little Engine is about persistence, grit, self-confidence. ins’t it? The power of positive thought. I think I can.
Listen to what Paul Tough is saying: persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than cognitive skills for achieving success. According Tough, people generally believe that these crucial qualities can’t be taught in schools. They just arise, magically in ‘successful’ kids.
Montessori thinks different.
I need to tell you, I am in awe of the Montessori system at Evergreen and other schools. Traditional schools don’t talk much about personal habits of character like we do. Most schools want to talk about test scores. It would be so easy for us to simply focus on cognitive skills. These are the skills that can be learned by rote memorization– and they are easy to measure and reward. Pre-school by flashcards! If a child does well on a worksheet, he gets praised; he gets a sticker; he gets an ‘A’. If a child doesn’t memorize well or acts bored, she is corrected or worse… she is disciplined. If the situation is really bad, she simply fails.
What is our approach? I think you know.
- The hundred board– that is about persistence.
- The button frame– that is about independence.
- Serving your own snack– that is about self-control.
- Choosing your own work– that is about curiosity.
- Washing lunch trays– that’s grit.
When a child sticks with work that’s challenging, when she masters that skill—she feels a reward internally. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Success. Yes, I can! Then she wants a new challenge. Children’s minds are programed to learn. Does a baby need to earn a sticker so that he is motivated to crawl? Of course not. He tries. Then he tries. Then he tries.
In conclusion, I will pass on my advice… read great books to your children like the Little Engine as often as you can. And turn off the TV. Follow the advice of our teachers. Trust your own parenting judgment. And continue to learn more about the wisdom of Montessori.
It’s the most common question at open houses, back-to-school nights and parent meetings: “what do you want your child to be like?” As a School Head and a parent, I have been both the asker and the askee.
Pause for a moment. How would you answer? If you are like me, your responses includes the following: I want my child to be happy, well-adjusted, academically prepared, faithful, well-rounded, smart, and fulfilled.
Are these answers universal or do they represent the cultural biases of affluent suburban Americans of the early 21st Century? Recently, two cultural anthropologists attempted to answer this question. Carolina Izquierdo and Elinor Oches looked at an indigenous tribe in the Peruvian Amazon as well as thirty-two middle-class families in Los Angeles. Their reflections are documented in an article by Elizabeth Kolbert in last week’s New Yorker. Read here.
In her sometimes hilarious, sometimes scathing article, Kolbert comes to the sad conclusion that the one thing American parents do not want for their children is for them to be independent, self-sufficient or self-reliant. While six-year-old girls in the Amazon catch, clean and cook crustaceans for their families without any adult direction, in L.A. no adolescent child “routinely performed household chores without being instructed to.” Most often the LA children had to be coaxed, bribed or threatened before they would perform a household duty– including bathing, themselves.
Raising children in times of great affluence is a prodigious challenge. We are torn between providing the greatest opportunities, learning activities, toys, digital tools and other by-products of American affluence on the one hand and teaching the values of hard-work, duty, responsibility and sacrifice on the other. Do we want to raise our children at all? If we wait until they reach adultescence, won’t they be able to raise themselves?
Kolbert relates the story of an exasperated parent of twenty-somethings. Sally Koslow, a former editor at McCall’s, bitterly writes in Slouching Toward Adulthood “Our offspring have simply leveraged our braggadocio, good intentions, and over investment,” They inhabit “a broad savannah of entitlement that we’ve watered, landscaped, and hired gardeners to maintain.”
Montessori education—and our friends at the Parent Encouragement Program—are outliers in the child raising conversation. Why? Because, more than anything, we emphasize life skills and unity of experience over isolated academic skills. When mainstream schools, pedagogies and well-intentioned teachers think about outcomes for students, they rarely mention self-sufficiency or independence. Maybe it is because there is no standardized test to measure self-reliance.
At Evergreen, we believe that children are far more capable, competent and resilience than they are given credit for. Let’s give them a chance to show us.