Our Journey At School

tree_roots_489_720_480

A school as an institution has its own path of development. Just like the child and the teacher, a school too has developmental stages.

From the very onset, we were mindful that the many choices we made in our initial years, would create the story of our school; Being the foundation from which our school grew it would impact the path of the school in the many years yet to come.

Reflecting back over the academic year just passed, I have come to realise that we at The Earth School are entering a new phase of development! Pondering further on this, I couldn’t help but liken schools development to the stages of development of children.

Indulge me, dear readers, if you have the time and inclination, to explore this thought further.

Today, we are gradually leaving our years of ‘creation’ – of infancy and toddlerhood and entering a phase of consolidation – the childhood years. We are much like the 6-year-old child, straddling two planes of development.

The first years of The Earth School was a heady mixture of unrestrained enthusiasm and optimism – even through the miscalculations and setbacks that are inevitable during the initial years of an institution. With the Montessori pedagogy as our guide, we were creating something that simply did not exist before. We were pure ‘potential’. Each experience carried with it ‘new’ learning and there was much exploration. Slowly, we formed a base for our understanding of the various aspects of a school.

These initial years were prone to many ups and downs.  There was some instability due to the fact that everything was so nascent.  Through these years help always poured in from family and friends in a myriad of forms. They understood our passion and had witnessed us work toward the dream of The Earth School.

For the first time last academic year, we found the ‘umbilical cord’ cut. We felt it the most when two of our dear friends and colleagues left us to pursue other dreams. It was a time of some insecurity for us.

In retrospect, these changes came at the right time. We had grown enough to sustain ourselves – we now had the resilience for the many ‘reality checks’ that the year was to bring. It gave us the preparation to step into the next stage of growth.

Over the last year, without us realising it, we have changed ever so subtly.  Our understanding of people and human nature has grown. Our understanding of the child has strengthened. We are able to ‘see’ the developmental continuum of the child more clearly. We have come to be more accepting of ourselves and of each other.

We have grown in confidence and born out of this we have started looking more outward, just like the elementary aged child. We have started actively building a more involved larger community. Having had the confidence to open ourselves up, we have been blessed with a supportive and insightful parent body, who have taken our hand to walk along with us. Now each active member is  colouring and shaping the path of our school.

Though the bigger picture of our work has always been in the forefront, I find us asking larger questions more frequently. We have started asking more questions regarding our role in a larger community as well. Today, even our small, seemingly inconsequential actions, sets us thinking about the ‘bigger’ picture. The similarity with the elementary child is hard to miss here!

We have barely begun our journey.  I do not know what tests await us in the future, what learning’s are in store for us. There is much to do and more to build and a long, long path to walk on.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening : Robert Frost)

Journey of a Montessori Guide

via hodgepodgery

Much has been said about the development of the child.

Lately though, my thoughts have turned towards the development of the adult in a montessori environment.

Let me start by sharing my journey.

Fresh out of my training, I couldn’t wait to get into the classroom. I had read and re-read every Montessori book I could get my hands on and I had a deep desire to serve the child. I was enamoured with what could be and with the child.

I spent hours upon hours practicing presentations, planning and preparing the environment but the lack of experience showed. My first year of teaching was a whirlwind and many-a-times I felt lost at sea. Nothing worked with the ease that I thought it would. During the first year, my focus was much on what I was doing. I distinctly remember sometime towards the end of the year being struck as if by lightening by words I had read many times previously –  “Instead of giving out what she has in herself, the teacher must bring out the full possibilities of the children” (Advanced Montessori Method – Volume 2).

Over the following years, there were times when I remembered these words and times when I had forgotten them.

I was lucky to have the support of a more mature, seasoned teacher at this fragile stage, who encouraged and gently guided.

In conversation with many teachers over the years I have found the experience of feeling lost at sea, mirrored. Many, however have felt too overwhelmed and left the classroom to move on to other things.  The role of guidance and the opportunity to work in a caring, authentic Montessori environment is so important for the new teacher.

In the ‘The Whole School Handbook’ a NAMTA publication, written by David Kahn, Sharon.L.Dubble and Renee Pendleton, The first year teacher is refered to as a Neonate being, where the ultimate task is that of survival.

As I continued on my journey, slowly, things became clearer. Each experience carried with it an immense potential for learning. I clearly remember, my third year of teaching. I was making connections every other day. The ‘A-ha!’ moments were many and frequent. This was a time I was constructing my understanding of Montessori in practice. My most valuable teacher at this stage, was the coming together of a 3 year cycle with the same children. I started out as seeing things as black and white. Slowly the ‘craft’ of montessori, those wonderful shades of grey, requiring discernment and a balance of head and heart, became more apparent to me.

In the ‘The Whole School Handbook’, this is referred to as the ‘Consolidation’ phase‘, whose task is that of fluidity- of an integration of practice.

By the sixth year of teaching, my often repeated question was “what now?’. I knew that  my life’s path was connected with working with children and having the montessori philosophy guide that work. This is when I left the school I worked at and briefly tried my hand at consulting and co-conducting workshops …  but I missed the classroom. I longed for the daily rhythm of the environment, the daily watering of a seed sown and most of all – the children. This is when I started ‘The Earth School’.

In the ‘The Whole School Handbook’, this is stage is referred to as the Renewal stage. The task of this stage, if positively navigated is that of, well, renewal.

The stage after this is called ‘The Seasoned Teacher‘ and the task of this stage is a re-dedication to one’s work at a deeper level with a heightened sense of purpose.

The making of the montessori adult in some ways mirrors the development of the child. Each stage lays the foundation for what is to come and is only as strong as what has been previously built. Just as daily living and working in the prepared environment is essential to the development of the child, so is it for the development of the Montessori adult.

What developing teachers need is love, scaffolding, the opportunity to complete a 3 year cycle with the same children and most of all, faith in who they are becoming.

Follow Your Bliss

It’s three days to the start of a new academic year.

To wrap up the last academic year, we sat down today to a meeting of reflection. We usually do our reflection soon after we close for the summer break, but this time around it got postponed. Last year was a difficult one on several levels and by the end of March all of us were burnt-out. Centered again, we were now ready to re-visit the year past.

There was a lot of sharing and some insights arrived at. One point especially was brought into focus that I thought more deeply about.

My dear friend and colleague mentioned that she had realized that besides the environment belonging to the children, it was her environment as well and she was hoping to enjoy it more in the coming year. Occasionally, she would sit down in moments of quiet and do the things she loved doing, while in class. She was going to enjoy the space just like the children do.

Towards the end of the last academic year, the environment that I work in was so settled that I had many opportunities for this. The low hum of activity, the materials all at my disposal, the music in the background and the flood of natural light, all called to me and I found myself wanting to experience the day the way the children did.

At those times I put down my observation sheets and joined them. I drew, embroidered, symbolized poems, did design work with the equivalency insets, practiced some math presentations and made material in class. It was something that happened spontaneously. Initially, the children were curious about what I was doing. After a couple of occasions, they started saying things like, “I did some symbol work yesterday” or “After you, I think I’ll work with the long division”.  I remember a parent who had come in to observe the environment, later tell me that her child had mentioned that she should observe my work as well – because I had finally started working too! 🙂

There were some changes I observed in class. The children had started becoming more careful with the material and their movements around others working, they started re-visiting some presentations that I had worked with, they were eager for the materials they saw me making to be put on the shelves so that they could have a go at them…

Montessori has spoken about indirect presentations and any Montessori guide will tell you how powerful they are. Presentations that you give by doing certain things and being a certain way, yourself. They aren’t overt presentations to individual children, but rather subtle ones to the group.

The most valuable indirect presentation I think the children received here was the joy of work! It is different from the teacher enjoying what she is presenting to the child, or verbally expressing enthusiasm for an activity – it was the quiet, personal joy felt when one loves what one is doing.

So here it is folks – do what you love in front of your children. Follow your bliss and let them witness your joy at work!