A common conversation (and social learning)

by David Starshaw, Mathematics Teacher – High School

 “Where do you work?”
“Oh, I’m a High School teacher.”
“Really? Where do you teach?”
“I teach in Naenae at Wā Ora Montessori School.”
“Wait, Montessori? I thought that was for preschoolers?”
And so on…
I’ve had this conversation χ+1 times where χ is as many times as I can remember. Inevitably, the conversation will then turn to: “So, what’s different about your school?” And this is an enjoyable conversation for me.
I like answering this question because I get to share why I like teaching in a Montessori environment and the listener consistently answers “It just makes sense!” Especially if I’m talking to another teacher. I’m never short for conversation on training days if I mention I work in a Montessori High School.
What makes sense about a Montessori High School, specifically the 12-15 program? We teach them according to their developmental needs. Adolescents have passed the second plane of ‘cosmic education’ where they collect facts, interests and form practice societies. They are in the third plane of preparing for real society and learning to be adults.
How do we do this? We have community meeting once a week where any student can bring up a topic to discuss, agree with one student, disagree with another and be heard by 50 of their peers and teachers. We support students to look after their own needs during long work cycles. Been working on a document for the last two hours? Feeling yourself fading? Take a walk, grab some food, do what you need to do to come back fresh. We expect students to empathise with each other. Through restorative practices, students explore harm done to themselves, others and the wider community. They take steps that they decide are necessary to repair the harm and decide what needs to happen for them to feel restored to one another.
Did you notice that none of the above are ‘academic’? Academic learning happens too. They still learn to factorise quadratics, they can compare a homozygous and heterozygous genotype and can tell you how to “save the bees!” But more so than any other time in their development, their academic interests are diminished and compete with their social interests. “How do I look right now?” “Am I in the right or wrong here?” “Will people laugh if I say that? Or is it too far?”

We match our teaching to what they need to know. And what adolescents need to know is how to become adults that contribute to society, understanding that they have influence in their own lives and in others’, and that they have valuable skills which they can use to gain financial independence. It takes three years for them to ‘get it’. And it’s wonderful when they do.

‘Creativity in the Montessori Classroom’ By Anita Gokal, Kauri Teacher – 6-9 Primary

If we think about the technological revolution in our lives today, we can see that famous people such as Sergey Brin and Larry Page (inventors of google search engine), Will Wrights (inventor of The Sims, Simcity and Super Mario) and Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) are just a few who have had a profound impact on us though their creativity. You may be wondering why I chose these individuals on my list here. To my astonishment, all of them have been Montessori children!

Wow! Isn’t that a big undertaking of a Montessori classroom – to prepare individuals who can create life changing things? Indeed it is!

So how do we support creativity in our classroom when we often don’t see any children’s work on the walls or bulletin boards? This is sometimes a huge question asked of us as educators.

To answer this, I compared two definitions of creativity. According to Dr Montessori, “What is called creation is in reality a composition, a construction raised upon a primitive material of the mind, which must be collected from the environment by means of the senses.” (Spontaneous Activity in Education, pg. 245). And according to the Oxford dictionary, creativity is defined as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness”.

Both the definitions support the use of ideas to construct and create. In Montessori preschool, children collect sensorial impressions. The precise materials allow children the opportunity to refine and accurately classify and abstract their impressions. The creativity at this age is in using the observation and applying it to identify the known. In primary, however, the children use their imagination to augment things in their work. Every key lesson offers the opportunity to explore and investigate a topic further and all follow up work opens the doors to creation by virtue of using the imagination.

Teaching in a primary class often surprises me with the unique “big work” that the children create in all the classes at Wā Ora. I see these on the deck or outdoors, from making volcano models to making a garden shed; from caring for the animals to sharing community lunches; be it a creation of a simple word problem in math or making the cube of 9 to the power of tens; or researching the causes of extinction of whales or finding the effects of global warming. Our children keep going until they have satisfied themselves, challenged themselves, solved problems, created models, timelines or mathematical solutions of whatever it is that has intrigued and captured their interest.

It is natural that the future leaders of the world who will make a difference for others by creating new and innovative solutions to the issues of tomorrow will be found in no other than a Montessori environment where they can “be more!”

Reflections of a Montessori Directress By Amy Johnson, Kowhai Head Teacher – Preschool

I was recently asked to find a quote from Maria Montessori that I found inspiring and to reflect on it for publication. The biggest challenge for me was narrowing it down to ONE quote!  So I thought I might share a few of them here with you all.

“The most important period of life is not the age of university studies but the first one, the period from birth to age six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.”

The truth of this statement is demonstrated to me every day. Not only in my work with the children, but with my conversations with adults in my life.  Any character attribute I assign myself, I can find its source in experiences of my childhood. This statement also highlights perfectly Dr Montessori’s amazing observational skills and a vision beyond her time. This statement was made close to 100 years ago, before all the scientific developments of brain research that have supported this in so many ways.

“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievements; the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”

You have all seen it. I see it every day. This is what keeps me sitting on my hands when I see a child struggling with an activity or the acquisition of a skill. “The image of human dignity”… The pride in, and development of, not only the skill the child is struggling to acquire, but of the sense of SELF. There is an incredible development of self that comes from having struggled and conquored something difficult. Next time you see your child working to complete a task… allow that struggle. Yes, you (as the adult) could do that task much quicker, much more simply… but YOU don’t need the practice. And what you can unintentionally take away is an amazing self-building experience for your child, and often an incredible sense of accomplishment. Teach your child to ask for help when he/she wants it (before frustration sets in) and then follow an easy rule: Do NOT help your child unless you are asked to, by your child. I think you will be amazed at how long and hard they will struggle to accomplish something and at the growth of spirit that occurs when the task is completed. Also, try asking your child if they would like your help before your hands reach in to complete the task.

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, then there is little hope in it bettering man’s future.”

This is the quote I want to leave you with. For your own reflection, for your thought, and for inspiration.