MIM 2020  —  Meeting in the Middle

By Zena Kavas — Biology Teacher — High School

Wā Ora Montessori high school recently co-hosted and participated in the annual Meeting in the Middle workshops, a meeting of Montessori teachers spanning 4 different time zones, New Zealand and Australia, with participants from Bali and the United States fitting in with us. Although we were originally looking forward to hosting this event in person and showcasing our amazing school and learning programme here at Wā Ora, the COVID travel restrictions have allowed to us to explore how to present and participate in an on-line meeting and conference.

Many of our teachers hosted on-line workshops — Thomas was one of the hosts, Sarah Jane ran an inspiring workshop on micro economy, Jason hosted a workshop describing the next 8 days of life in the lead-up to Coffeehouse, and David explained how he designed and continues to build the Maths programme at Wā Ora. There were also workshops and discussions on:

– teaching in these COVID times, with discussions on how different schools are dealing with the range of issues that the future holds in terms of on-line teaching

– sharing ideas around the issues and successes of timetabling

– planning a senior Montessori programme that covers the learning that is necessary for the needs of the students

– a humanist approach to creative self-expression, and how to integrate the humanities with mathematics, technology and the sciences

– creative solutions to overcoming barriers, and the euphoria of overcoming the odds

Meeting in the Middle is a wonderful opportunity for us learn what other schools are doing, to share our successes and challenges, to discuss curriculum and programme development, and to collaboratively explore and problem solve. And equally importantly, it is a chance for us to catch up with and get to know other adolescent programme Montessori teachers. Although we teach to the New Zealand curriculum, it can sometimes feel lonely, and that we are marching to a different beat. So we make the most of these chances to be part of the Montessori community. Maria Montessori said “we shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity” (To Educate the Human Potential, p. 6). Although this quote is referring to educating the child, it is also very relevant to how we, as adults work best — when we are supported by caring colleagues in our community, and can share our experiences, both triumphs and our tribulations. This gives us the courage to continue to innovate, to try new ideas and to continue to improve how we teach.

Ironically, I got some great ideas from other Montessori teachers here at Wā Ora, shared over the Zoom forum with our overseas colleagues. I have come away from this conference feeling inspired and supported to continue developing the programmes that I teach.

A prepared adult in a young person’s environment

By Stuart Mason—Chemistry Teacher — High School

Last Monday classes sang ‘Tanti auguri a te!’ and ate cake to celebrate the 150th birthday of Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori, born in Chiaravalle, a small town on the Italian Adriatic coast. Of course we know the subsequent story of the first female Italian to graduate as a medical doctor, whose work with children in Rome led to her developing what she called a scientific pedagogy, a stage-development model of education centred on the needs and tendencies of the child. She was influenced by the thinking of others but she based her work in scientific observation, and the pedagogy we implement today is her set of conclusions about child development, generally regarded as the work of a genius. “It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method… I have studied the child; I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method” (What you should know about your child, 1961, p.3).

Dr. Montessori’s instructions on how to be a prepared adult in a young person’s environment are pretty clear. We are told “the child has a mind to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself” (The Absorbent Mind, 1949/2007, p.5).  Therefore, we should “respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them” (The Child in the Family, 1956/1970, p.88). We must never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed because “the essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self” (The Absorbent Mind, 1949/2007, p.142), and independence is a consistent theme throughout the planes of Montessori education.

A young person’s job is to self-construct. The judgement required of the adult is to know when and how to intervene, or to trust, stand back and observe. Sometimes a good compromise working with adolescents is ‘Spray and walk away’: share an adult opinion about the problem then leave the young person to make their own judgement and take their own action.

The adolescent must never be treated as a child, for that is a stage of life that he has surpassed. It is better to treat an adolescent as if he had greater value than he actually shows than as if he had less and let him feel that his merits and self-respect are disregarded. (From Childhood to Adolescence, 1948/1997, p. 72)

It was well over a century ago that Dr. Montessori began to tell us about the importance of respecting the dignity and autonomy of young people as an aid to their development. However, in many of the institutions in which children find themselves today there seems to be only slow progress in the direction of those principles. So I tautoko those birthday greetings.

Buon compleanno, Dr. Maria.