When I was 25, I walked into my first Montessori school. I was touring the country for 9 months performing poetry for students and training teachers on how to get their classrooms engaged and excited about reading and writing poems.
I had never witnessed students like the ones I saw that day. 4th-6th Graders working together in groups on a graphic novel, and next to them another group with a large map of the world spread out on the floor, identifying natural and political boundaries. Some students worked independently and were not interrupted by a teacher or peer. They were engaged, focused, and most importantly, joyful. On my way out, I saw a small plaque in the lobby with a Maria Montessori quote, “The child is both the hope and a promise for mankind.” I knew then I wanted to be a Montessori teacher.
Now, every day, I get to witness the “hope and promise for mankind” again and again. This week, students had discussions around the value of civic discourse. They shared passionate opinions, uninterrupted, and then listened to passionate opinions without interrupting. They got angry with each other over rules to a game or a reckless remark or the shifting landscape of friendships and mutual interests. And then they talked about it or just cooled off for a day and began again. We adults often forget how challenging the dynamic of an elementary-aged child’s life is and how great they are doing! Most adults aren’t asked to interact with up to 25 other peers daily, for 6 hours, navigating academic demands, social interactions, and our own emotional landscape. Adults are often behind a computer or interacting with a handful of other colleagues at most. What I am trying to say is that kids are actually amazing at being adaptive, collaborative, inclusive and forgiving. They get angry or hurt, but they bounce back quickly. They move on. Yes, their emotions can be less regulated than ours, but they are a remarkable example of what compromise and forgiveness looks like. We can learn a lot from them. But they too, of course, can learn from us.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” -James Baldwin
Over the past 48 hours we have witnessed examples of despicable behavior play out on TV. The seeds of this behavior (jealousy, greed, intolerance, entitlement, fear and hurt manifested in anger, tribalism, etc.) we see play out in micro-moments in the lives of children. These are the moments for educators to begin the meaningful work of creating frameworks for children to learn from. Frameworks for how to listen, express emotion, argue, remain open to new ideas, fail. Frameworks for how to respond when you do not get your way. Frameworks for how to stand up for yourself but work toward compassionately understanding “the other.”
These types of frameworks can be seen daily at TNSM. Teachers provide civic guidelines around debate, and then they discuss topics. Literature is read and discussed to broaden perspectives. Conflict resolution frameworks are in place to allow students to resolve disagreements. Students are given opportunities to share their cultures and traditions with each other in a safe space. Mediation times, peace corners, and weekly or daily community meetings are held to welcome student feedback, concerns, and celebrations. Students participate in Appreciating Differences classes. They dance together and express themselves through art. We present the Five Great Lessons developed by Dr. Montessori to show the cosmic connection that we all have. These are just a few examples of how TNSM teachers are doing the extraordinary work of preserving “both the hope and a promise” that tomorrow will be better.
Dr. Maria Montessori said,“Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.” We are hard at work here.