Monday, May 14, 2012

Lessons on Leadership



Each year, I have several opportunities to have lunch with Wilmington Montessori School's  graduating sixth-graders, and it's always a fun and educational experience. 

A focus on service as responsible contributors to the global community is an integral part of the WMS Mission and curriculum.  Service at WMS begins in the classroom, then expands its scope to the entire school, then the community around us, and concludes at the global level with a major service project. Last fall, this group of sixth-graders began their year-long service project when they visited the United Nations as the culminating experience of our focus on service.  At the UN, the group met with a variety of nonprofits and decided to spend the year raising funds for the organization Save the Rain. For this project, they collected donations through a week of school-wide spirit activities and also held a "Rain Walk," during which children carried buckets of water to experience how it might be for people in developing countries who sometimes walk miles to get water for their homes. They had sponsors for each lap that they completed and raised $1,000!

Today at lunch, I asked the sixth-graders to share what they have learned as a result of their Save the Rain project.  There is a common phrase saying that, "All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten."  I have often rephrased that to, "All I really need to know, I learned at Wilmington Montessori School."  These children shared their lessons of leadership with me - lessons that we hope they carry with them into their next school experiences and indeed into life. 

They shared:
  • “We kept going in circles trying to get everyone’s ideas.  Sometimes there were too many voices.  We needed to make a decision and go forward.”
  • “We needed to know when to be serious and when to have fun.”
  • “Everyone can do some of the work.  We have to share the work and count on people to do it.”
  • “Be prepared for what might go wrong and have a back-up plan.”

One of the human potentials we strive to develop in children is leadership.  This conversation reinforced for me how well the empowering environment of our classrooms allows children to learn from their mistakes and grow as leaders.  I look forward to graduation day and to hearing the stories of these leaders in the years ahead.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Montessori People"

Today, I am preparing to leave to attend the American Montessori Society (AMS) Conference in San Francisco.  The agenda for the conference has many sessions focused on the place of Montessori educators in the educational reform conversation.  I am often heard to say, “when people describe the classroom of the future, they are describing a Montessori education.”  Even more importantly, Montessori educators can point time and again to adults who were educated in Montessori Schools who represent the outcomes of innovation, creativity and collaboration that educational reformers are seeking.

Last spring, Wall Street Journal published an article titled "The Montessori Mafia," in which author Peter Sims shared the concept that Montessori education has for years produced the outcomes that educational reformers seek to produce.

Sims, stated that: "The Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia: Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean 'P.Diddy' Combs."

AMS expands upon this concept, presenting a list of "Montessori People" - famous and non-famous, Montessori parents, alumni, students and teachers - who have been touched by Montessori education.

These "Montessori People" include writer and world-renowned humanitarian Maya Angelou (a Montessori mom), a world traveler/nurse, a neuroscientist, authors, a high-school student, computer programmers, teachers, a corporate executive and many more. Check out the full list to learn more.
What do these "Montessori People," a diverse group from all walks of life, have in common? They're creative thinkers, confident individuals, critical thinkers and people who always ask "Why?" and "How can we do this differently?"

Do you know any amazing Montessorians who are missing from this list? I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recommended Reading Material

One of my favorite things about the internet is the way it allows me access a wide array of articles and ideas, along with sharing my own.  I’m constantly bookmarking and sharing the treasures I dig up during my web wanderings.  With this in mind, I’ve created a “Recommended Reading” section on the right side of this blog, which I’ll be updating regularly with blog posts and articles related to Montessori education.  

The articles I refer to here are just a few examples of the great ideas being shared about Montessori education. Each holds an important message that I encourage you to pass on to your friends, family and colleagues to aid in their understanding of the Montessori philosophy. 

Do you have any recommendations?  Please post them in the comments section.  
  • “Montessori: The Missing Voice in the Education Reform Debate” by Laura Flores Shaw
    This blog post, written by a fellow Montessori head of school, refers to the ongoing conversation about school reform in the United States, how the solutions being sought are right in front of our noses – rather than in other countries or in digital models of education.
  • “Clara Lazen, 10, may be the youngest in history to discover a new molecule” published in Belle News
    This article offers a perfect example of what happens when you are in a school that allows you to follow your interests, imagine, think innovatively and gives you the time and freedom to concentrate.  Ten-year-old Clara Lazen was piecing together over-sized atoms from an educational model in her Montessori classroom when she composed something her teacher had never seen before.  The teacher reached out to a chemistry professor who determined that the formation looked real, just previously unheard of. Now, Clara is a co-author on a major scientific journal article, and scientists are working to synthetically create “her” molecules.  Children enter school with limitless imaginations, believing that anything is possible.  Montessori schools encourage children to explore what others might deem “impossible” ideas, which results in amazing discoveries like this one.
  • Steve Denning’s blog on Forbes.com
    Steve Denning, whose blog “Radical Management” focuses on innovative and creative leadership and management, has had a lot to say about Montessori education and how it prepares children to be the leaders of the future.  Here is just one of many posts I particularly enjoyed:


    Is Montessori the Origin of Google & Amazon? 
    In this post, Denning refers to the Montessori Mafia – i.e., the creative elite spawned by a Montessori education – including Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, cook Julia Child and rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs, and the ways in which Montessori education creates lifelong learners who lead their organizations in creative and innovative ways from those with a more traditional educational background. 
Happy reading!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Montessori-Inspired Bedtime Stories

During my time as Head of Wilmington Montessori School, I’ve been happy to see Montessori education grow throughout the state of Delaware and the United States. At WMS, we’ve established the Center for Montessori Advancement to support this growth in the state of Delaware and beyond.

Despite the increasing accessibility and visibility of Montessori education, there are many people who simply don’t understand what it is and how it transforms children into creative, kind, open-minded and confident adults. A simple description can’t do it justice – one has to see it in action.

Trevor Eissler, creator of the popular Montessori Madness YouTube video, brings the essence of Montessori education to life in his new children’s book, 4,962,571.

JuneBooks.com describes 4,962,571 as “the story of a boy suddenly captivated by the idea of counting to a very large number. He sets a goal for himself, and through self-discipline, creativity, insight, and hard work, he...well, you will have to see whether he reaches it or not.”

The story demonstrates the Montessori goal of nurturing children’s natural curiosity and encouraging them to find answers through their own exploration – rather than simply asking an adult for the answer. In 4,952,571, the boy’s creativity and curiosity, as well as his joy in exploring the world around him, demonstrate Montessori learning at its best.



I encourage you to share this video or a copy of the book with friends who haven’t been introduced to Montessori education, as well as the children in your life, who will be inspired by the boy’s imagination and mathematical mind.  Visit the June Books website to see other books by Eissler, all written with the goal to “delight and inspire children, while introducing families to Montessori education.”

The best way to learn about Montessori education is to visit a Montessori classroom, and I hope this book will encourage families to do so. Eissler envisions a world in which Montessori education is the norm, and I also look forward to a day when high-quality Montessori education is accessible to all.

“One day we won’t call it Montessori school,” Eissler said. “We’ll just call it school.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift of White Space


In the midst of this holiday season full of special programs, parties, concerts, “must do” holiday events, crafts and other activities, a concept I read about and discussed back in 2009 comes to mind.

Particularly during this hectic time of year, I often wonder as a working parent if I am doing the right things for my children. I have come to realize that it is a dilemma of all of us, whether we work or not. My children are lucky to have many opportunities, both in school and outside of school, to take part in a variety of activities - and of course, we want our children to have the advantages of a multitude of experiences. However, in “Great Expectations” by Johann Christoph Arnold (part of the book Endangered: Your Child in a Hostile World), we are reminded that there is an important part of childhood that involves just in being a child without any time restraints and structure. He applies this idea to the beautiful concept of "white space."

Visual artists are familiar with the concept of white space, the unmarked portion of a page. To an artist, white space isn't considered blank space. Instead, it's an important element of design which enables the very existence of the objects - the key to aesthetic composition. 

This popular optical illusion demonstrates the integral role
of white space in a design.
Arnold compares this artistic idea to the white space we all need in our lives,

            “As an author I became aware, after completing my first book, of something I had never noticed previously: the importance of white space. White space is the room between the lines of type, the margins, the extra space at the beginning of a chapter, a page left blank at the beginning of the book. It allows the type to “breathe” and gives the eye a place to rest. White space is not something you’re conscious of when you read a book. It is what isn't there.

            Just as books require white space, so do children. That is, they need room to grow. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu reminds us that “it is not the clay the potter throws that gives the jar its usefulness, but the space within.” Our tendency to overbook children, emotionally and time-wise, robs them of the space and flexibility they need to develop at their own pace. They need stimulation and guidance, but they also need time to themselves. Hours spent alone in daydreams or quiet, unstructured activities instill a sense of security and independence and provide a necessary lull in the rhythm of the day.”

We all, adults and children alike, need that time that keeps us replenished for our busy lives and the space to enrich our lives in ways we haven't even imagined. As I wrote in my original blog about this concept, I did not understand the true importance of this gift as a child when my mother told me to choose only one after-school activity, but it is a lesson I'm now grateful for.

No matter what your plans are this holiday season, I hope each of you takes the time to enjoy following your child, perhaps just sitting together for a few minutes, playing with their toys, or sharing stories about your childhood traditions. Give your child (and yourself) the gift of white space this holiday season.