Wisdom Day Celebration, September 11, 2015

We have a special tradition at LCMCS. In the beginning of the year, the whole school, including parents, gathers outside in a circle to celebrate Wisdom Day. Stemming from a Russian tradition, the intent of Wisdom Day is to honor learning, and to celebrate the community of learners. We say a few words, sing songs  (Dona Nobis Pacem sounds beautiful when 325+ voices sing the parts together, with our backdrop of Mt Hood silently bearing witness!), and make a processional into the school. The students, ages 2 1/2 through 15 years, all bring a small bunch of flowers to make a bouquet in their classroom once inside again. It’s a lovely, short and sweet ceremony.

This year’s celebration had a special poignancy, falling as it did on September 11. In 2015, the hope for humanity is that lessons learned from tragedies can help us create more harmony in our communities. Under the glorious sunny weather, with all of our community together for the start of the day,  there was a sense of peace.

For those who couldn’t be there, we’ll have photos posted soon. And here’s the text of the comments I made for Wisdom Day 2015:

Welcome to the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. We have a very special community at Lewis and Clark, and a special tradition in our annual Wisdom Day celebration.

One of the things that makes our school special is that we learn about and practice ways to achieve peace. We learn about how to listen to others, how to express ourselves so that others might hear, and how to tolerate other people’s opinions. We learn about finding peaceful solutions when there are differences of opinion. And it takes a lot of wisdom to know what to do. This is big work, and life long practice. 

Several years ago on this day, some people from another country were angry, and thought that our country was a cause of some problems they were angry about.

It seemed that they were convinced that what they thought and believed and how they lived was right, and that how people in our country thought and believed and lived was wrong. It seemed that the very thought that others were not the same or didn’t think the same made them afraid, and it made them angry.

With that anger, they chose to make an attack on some very tall buildings in a city, where thousands of people had just arrived to start their work day.

Many people died. We can honor them with some moments of silence now.

Maybe the people who made the attack thought that their anger would change people’s minds. Maybe they thought that their fear would make people in our country so afraid that we would do what they wanted us to do.

People in our country did feel afraid and they were angry. And they wanted to do something. But many people here also knew that violence was not the way to make this situation better.

Many leaders tried to help people stay strong, and instead of pulling apart and making sides, they encouraged people to draw together. Knowing that you are a part of a community can really help when we feel afraid or don’t know what to do. Communities can work on solutions, just like individuals can. 

It can be hard to know what to do when we’re angry or afraid. We might want to strike out at others, make them angry and afraid, too. But there is another way, and that is using our wise minds for a better solution.

When we stop and think, our wisdom can show us that there are other ways to get what we need. Wisdom shows us that there are other ways to solve problems, or to change hearts and minds.

We can let our wisdom show in our words, and as caring that others might have a different opinion. And that there might be a way to find a solution or make an agreement that works for us and for others, too. Developing our wise mind means we are going to make mistakes, or will sometimes be wrong, or need to take guidance from others. It can be hard to know when to stand for something that’s important, and when to let go of “being right”. That takes courage, and it challenges our integrity to grow.

Using our wisdom makes a community strong. Using our wisdom helps us grow. Using our wisdom helps to lessen our anger, our fear. It creates more harmony with others, and increases feelings of contentment, peace and happiness. With our wisdom, we are building a harmonious LCMCS community where everyone can feel safe. We are a special place, and we welcome you to our community.

Gearing up! The prepared environment

The school’s credit card is growing weary with use, and my desk is several thicknesses deep in materials request forms from teachers and invoices from suppliers. While many people’s buying sprees happen around the December holidays, mine comes in late July and into August with the furniture and material ordering I have the honor of doing for our 11 classroom, 325-student school. And then the boxes roll in, filled with brand new tables and handsome, precision-made Montessori materials. It’s better than all the gift-getting holidays combined!

Getting ready for the start of school is a huge undertaking in a Montessori community. While most of our colleagues in education return a day or two before the students begin school to plan out their lessons and tack pictures to the wall, Montessori teachers typically have one or two weeks to fully prepare their classroom environments. In fact, about half of our teaching staff has started this process early, already drifting in and out over the past couple of weeks, and some classrooms are just beginning to take shape here. It’s one of my very favorite times – with all the great anticipation and monumental work of launching into the school year.

Basic to the practice of Montessori education is preparing an environment that is highly aesthetic, is conducive to learning and to human interaction, and fosters feelings of safety and comfort – all key components to harmonious daily living. The classrooms at LCMCS express the personality of the adults and students in the room, reflecting their interests, what inspires them, and the way they like to use space. When you walk into a classroom, you’ll feel more like you are in someone’s living room (if it’s a large family!) or, if the students are there, the work space of many people conducting social research or discovering the laws of science. For that is exactly what’s happening there.

Montessori work environments, by definition, should be beautiful, orderly, and serve the needs of the inhabitants. Shelves and cabinets are open and appropriately sized to make the needed materials readily accessible to students so that they can be independent in their learning. Tables and chairs are also student-sized, with the adults garnering just one of their own somewhere in the room. Fine art work, botanical specimens,  cultural artifacts, and other impedimenta of the human and natural worlds will be found adorning walls and shelves throughout the room. The room must also include tools for cleaning up, for lunch time set up, and places for keeping one’s own things tidy: that can be a challenge in itself in a room of 30+ students!

The Montessori teacher must also think about the traffic flow, plan for group meeting space, quiet corners, and small group working areas, arranging the furnishings in an aesthetically pleasing as well as practical manner.  To accomplish this, the weeks before school might see trials of several different furniture arrangements before the materials even come out to be placed on shelves. Each area of the curriculum has its own place in the classroom, with the shelving just right for the materials the students will use. In the early part of the setup, teachers can often be seen just sitting in the space, seemingly lost in thought, while they mentally sort through the merits of one arrangement or another. Colleagues and administrators are consulted and diagrams drawn. So much thought and care goes into getting this right.

Once the furniture is set, the materials are placed in the specific order that they will be presented to students. Trays and baskets that hold the particular pencils and paper that go along with materials, or the underlays for protecting the tables, need to be placed nearby and just so. Work journals and aprons, small rugs and reference books, scissors, tape, rulers, and watering cans: Montessori teachers are masters with the axiom “a place for everything and everything in its place”.

Why all the fuss? Human beings have a love of beauty and are strongly affected by the “feel” of their environment. We also have a great need for order and organization. In a community of 30 or so people, all working independently (or getting there), everyone needs to be able find what they need and when they need it. And it needs to go back so the next person can find it, too. We also want to foster respect for the classroom – the tools, the materials, the furniture, and, of course, all of the people within that environment. When the students feel comfortable, find the surroundings are pleasing to the eye and satisfying to the sense of order, are able to care for themselves easily, find what they need and know how to take care of their classroom, that sense of community we all seek naturally arises. Students feel ownership in their classroom, become bonded with each other and find peace in the work. And that’s the best recipe for a place to learn and grow.

A Farmer’s what? And other thoughts on why LCMCS is so community-involved

With a couple weeks’ break under my belt, and now that the heat has lessened just a bit, I am back at work on numerous projects – and looking forward to school starting again soon. Working on plans for next year, it seems like just around the corner to me!

There’s much going on at LCMCS during the summer. Rick Trostel just presented a pair of beautiful trumpet and piano concerts, with thanks to LCMCS parent Allison Wilkerson for accompanying! There’s also a mariachi band in the works, which anyone can join in on, Helping Hands for the Hungry produce basket deliveries to senior citizens, lots of work to do on our farm, and then Day in Damascus comes up July 25, and of course Farmer’s Market every Thursday.

Hold the phone! you say. What do those events have to do with a SCHOOL?

Well, keep in mind that this school operates with a special set of unifying principles, which pervades everything we do – from math and reading, to trips and service projects, to community involvement. Maria Montessori had a grand vision of education being “the help we give to life, so that it may develop in the greatness of its powers”. Dr Montessori recognized that education does not start at 5 or 6 years, and end with the college graduate: she created a system of education that spans birth through early adulthood, and if she had lived longer, probably would have developed work for the golden years, too.

Montessori also recognized that learning did not start when a person enters a classroom, nor end at the exit of the school. For children attending Montessori school, the world is their classroom, either figuratively, allowing study far beyond the prescriptive curriculum, but also literally, going into the natural and cultural worlds on a regular basis.

It is a Montessori educational precept that learning is first done by observation – of a natural phenomenon, or of another person in action – and then is solidified by direct experience. As an organization, LCMCS endeavors to embody these ideas in all aspects of its work – classroom, administration, governance, and community involvement. Another great thinker and doer, Mohandas Gandhi is often quoted as saying “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Both Montessori and Gandhi were working toward a more peaceful world – by example, and by involving others in direct experience.

Dr. Montessori founded the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in order to preserve the integrity of her work, and to ensure the dissemination of the core ideas throughout the world. From the AMI global website, the organization’s mission is stated as: To support the natural development of the human being from birth to maturity, enabling children to become transforming elements of society leading to a harmonious and peaceful world. The vision is to clearly touch lives in more ways than just serving students in the classroom, as important as that work is. This is the larger, important vision that guides Montessori education.

Additionally, Dr Montessori’s granddaughter, Renilde Montessori, wrote in 1999:

“(Our work) must transcend the obvious (borders) to do with nations and states. The truly important ones are the psychological and spiritual frontiers – the ideological, religious, racial, social and economic, cultural and linguistic boundaries which artificially divide a humanity as yet largely unaware of its intrinsic unity and interconnectedness…

Dr Montessori’s work can be applied in a wide variety of ways that can benefit the cause of the child beyond the school and the home. Her own term for the pedagogy she created was ‘Education as an Aid to Life’, and education as an aid to life is applicable at any time, in any place, within all social strata, through public or private agencies, in settings rural, urban and remote.

When Montessori principles are applied in the wider context of society, their possibilities are vast and all-encompassing. They can be of incalculable help to parents, social workers, child-care workers, family counselors, in short, to any person involved with the developing human being.”

To be true to our values, the school’s involvement in the community is intended to provide a model and an opportunity to experience civic engagement, and to participate in solving some social problems in the community in real and meaningful ways. While it may not seem immediately obvious to all, putting LCMCS front and center in the community by managing the Farmer’s Market, when it was in danger of closing after last season, not only spotlights the school and its programs, but also provides networking and support opportunities for the community.

Our own Montessori Adolescent Corps has a booth at the market, selling their farm-grown produce. They donate their surplus each week to the Helping Hands for the Hungry program that the adolescents began in 2014. Importantly, other market vendors have also jumped onto the wagon of donating to the program, which delivers fresh vegetables and other food to senior citizens in the area who experience food scarcity issues.Lately, individual citizens have brought surplus from their own home gardens to add to the baskets. This is how the natural human impulse to help others finds a place to take root and grow. This is how the work of the young begins to transform the world, even in a small way.

The baskets are delivered by volunteers door to door, and the recipients delight in not only the fresh produce, but also the social interaction. They learn about how to use different vegetables they’d never tasted before, and share stories of their lives. In this simple way, LCMCS is supporting some very real work which makes a big difference in a small corner of the world. From these beginnings, great things may grow – it’s a way we can walk our talk outside of school walls. And a lot of good food and good times are shared along the way.

Hello to the community!

Welcome to my new communications space!

There is so much that happens within and outside of the school walls, that to share it all via newsletter would make that weekly missive simply unreadable. Plus, our school has grown so grandly that I don’t get to share with folks quite as much as we used to. So, presto, here’s my blog!

Use of media in this way also let’s the public in on some of the marvels of the world that is Lewis and Clark Montessori. Here I can share some of the thoughts, ideas, and planning that goes on behind the scenes and notes from events I’m a part of as Executive Director. This way I can also share news of the Montessori community, the charter school world, and the broader educational scene, as well as giving a view into what goes on in the leadership of a vibrant Montessori charter school. I welcome your thoughts and comments, too.

So grab a cuppa, sit back, and enjoy!