Breathing. Part two: Respiration

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Repetition of inhalation and exhalation of breath is one of the defining features of human life. When tasked with paying attention to it, we can consciously manipulate it. But, for the majority of the time when we are not paying attention, so vital is its function that it goes on without us even knowing.

Montessori certainly set forth an aspirational view of what can be achieved in education, and what children are capable of. But, to only aspire would end in certain death; you would literally run out of breath.

Montessori’s concept of ‘perfection’ tends heavily towards the verb – perfection is a process, and is most associated with the human tendency towards repetition. In getting closer to the aspirational, we must regularly step back, evaluate, consolidate, and (*gasp*) rest. The four planes of development do not conform to the idea that progress is a straight line pointing up. In fact, the planes are commonly portrayed in the form of a zig-zag to emphasize this nonlinear process. Montessori called it the ‘constructive rhythm’:

If we take the measurements of the first period of growth, we will see that during the first year there is tremendous development, during the second year this development begins to wane, and during the third year it slows down even more. This rhythm repeats itself in each of the other periods. In each section of the three-year periods, a period of great effort is followed by a period of rest. So life develops according to a law. All life follows the same law and the periods are the same for every child. (p.23, The 1946 London Lectures)

This constructive rhythm is to be carefully observed and nurtured by a prepared guide. Montessori, perhaps not surprisingly, is nothing short of aspirational in her aims here either, writing that “it is not enough for the teacher to love the child. She must first love and understand the universe. She must prepare herself, and truly work at it.” (Childhood to Adolescence, 1948)

To prepare oneself and love the universe is a very personal process. But, whatever form it takes, it requires focus and care. Modern neuroscience would no doubt say the most constructive preparation we can afford ourselves is quality sleep, and of course a healthy diet, exercise, and positive social connections.

While similar to our ability to forget about our breathing, part of our own constructive rhythm and preparation for each day, and each phase of life, is about paying attention to those aspects which make, and keep us, human, but are so easily neglected or entrusted to autopilot.

And so it is, that the aspiration of changing the world for the better is powered by the respiration of love, care, and rest. Simple, but certainly not easy.

Breathing. Part one: Aspiration

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Correctly applying the Montessori Method has got to be one of the most ambitious and aspirational tasks known to humankind. If you thought school was just about writing, maths, and eating your lunch: reconsider.

Through her incredible years of international research and work with children, the education Maria Montessori believed possible was one that transcended the classroom and paved the way for a brighter future. Montessori stated that “establishing a lasting peace is the work of education … all politics can do is keep us out of war.” (Education and Peace)

Peace as described by Montessori is not just an absence of war but a deliberate and sustainable state that requires constant care and nurturing. This state is to be brought about by those who have been guided through each plane of development by a prepared adult within an appropriately prepared learning environment. For this to be effective, once through the first (and most important) plane of development (0–6) where the self is constructed, the Montessori guide in the second plane (6–12) must do nothing less than assist the child to comprehend the entire universe:

If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child’s mind will then no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work. The knowledge he acquires is organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him, and his interest spreads to all, for all are linked and have their place in the universe on which his mind is centred. (Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, 1989, p. 6)

In the third plane (12–18), the work then centres on developing the personal agency and interdependence on society that is required to convert their honed understanding of the universe into work as a practising adult that will bring about the betterment of all.

The word ‘aspiration’ contains the root word ‘spiro’, which relates to the breath. To ‘aspire’ is to ‘breathe upon’. The connotations are that to achieve a large task, one breathes upon it; focusing their life’s energy to it. All Montessori guides must, in their hearts, believe that what they are doing is ultimately contributing to a state of lasting prosperity and harmony amongst humanity, natural species, and the environment. So, to achieve Montessori’s vision, we must inhale deeply and prepare ourselves for a lifetime of work.

Now, how do we achieve this and still stay alive? Tune in next week for part two…

Looking on in wonder

By Michael Draper — Physics Teacher

The mistaken idea that the adult must mould the child in the pattern that society wishes still holds sway…. The child is not simply a miniature adult. He is first and foremost the possessor of a life of his own that has certain special characteristics and that has its own goal. The child’s goal might be summed up in the word incarnation; the incarnation of human individuality must take place within him. (Maria Montessori, Education and Peace p. 15)

With our Tāwari students starting their NCEA exams and preparations for the end-of-year concert underway, I find myself thinking back to what it was like to be a parent of Wā Ora tamariki with the end of the school year approaching.

One of the things that always arose in me at this time of the year was the desire to find out what my children would reveal or demonstrate to show how much they’d achieved that year. I would find myself thinking, “What will my children produce? What will they have to show at the end of this school year?” Behind this was a desire to have things that I could point to proudly and say, ‘’Look at what my children have done. Look at what they’re able to do.”

I was also aware, however, that I didn’t want my enthusiasm for individual achievements to unbalance my children’s development of their own intrinsic motivations.

Maria Montessori understood this problem:

The child who has never learned to work by himself, to set goals for his own acts, or to be the master of his own force of will is recognizable in the adult who lets others guide him and feels a constant need for the approval of others. (Education and Peace p. 18-19)

Her solution was as profound as it was simply expressed: “We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself” (Maria Montessori, Education for a New World, p. 106).

The child, in fact, once he feels sure of himself, will no longer seek the approval of authority after every step. He will go on piling up finished work of which the others know nothing, obeying merely the need to produce and perfect the fruits of his industry. What interests him is finishing his work, not to have it admired, nor to treasure it up as his own property. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind p.251)

As a parent, it is nice to remember that the examples of our children’s work that we cherish at the end of the year are only the tiniest glimpse into the true work that they have achieved, and that it is the children themselves, their growth and development, that is the far greater wonder.

The right to make mistakes

By Carolyn Bohm —Rātā Teacher

We have all been scarred by childhood experiences; whether an academic subject we struggled with, constantly felt stupid for when called upon in class, and still struggle with today, or something athletic, artistic, or social that left us feeling inadequate.

Some we managed to overcome and are stronger for, but others still haunt and impact us today. Therefore, it’s only natural we would want to protect those we care about, especially children, from the same experiences.

While this is a justified and healthy response, it can, if taken too far, deprive children of the valuable experience of struggling, problem solving, making mistakes and self-correcting

It is a delicate balance for us to walk, protecting them from real harm, but also letting them make mistakes in a safe setting so they can learn the evaluating skills they will need as adults when mistakes might have higher consequences.

This juggling act appears all the time in the classroom.

While watching a child do a bead frame multiplication problem I noticed him start to move on without finishing the process of exchanging and I had to bite my lip to keep from pointing out the error. I so wanted to tell him and spare him the frustration of doing the whole problem over again. However, as I waited, I saw his eyes go from the bar he was still working on, to the bar he should exchange on, and back again . . . . and then he slid over the bead he almost forgot to exchange. When he did, I couldn’t fight down a smile of victory ­— of his victory. For if I had taken away from him his right to make that mistake, I also would have taken away his chance for the victory to be his.

It’s a constant mental weighing of “how wrong could this go?” So wrong I need to stop it (falling from a dangerous height or redoing the problem enough times to cause damaging frustration)? Or just wrong enough to be inconvenient?

I find myself flinching internally as I watch a child walk across the room with one more box than is practical, balanced in her arms and then have to watch her pick it up when it topples over and makes a mess all over the floor. But she is far more likely to re-evaluate how many she can carry next time after cleaning up this miscalculation, than if I’d intervened and stopped her.

No one wants to watch someone suffer the slings and arrows of life unnecessarily, but it is important to give our children a safe environment to make mistakes, learn from them, and experience the victory of overcoming the obstacle.

It’s a constant challenge and we too will make mistakes – jumping in too early, not jumping in soon enough – but that’s okay, because when we do, we model how to learn from our mistakes.