Head's Corner, January 15, 2013

January 15, 2013

Greetings CMS Families,

I hope that you are well and that you had a terrific weekend.  My weekend was spectacular!  On Saturday, almost twenty Cambridge Montessori faculty and staff attended the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts (MSM) Conference.  Three of us gave presentations to crowded rooms of educators thirsting for more knowledge and best practices.  Jennifer O’Brien, Lead Teacher in the Yellow Room, was very impressive in her workshop titled “Beyond Metal Insets II:  Building a Fun and Effective Montessori Handwriting Curriculum.”  Jennifer has become an expert on this topic.  She has done extensive research and has previously presented at the American Montessori Society Conference and will do so again this March in Orlando.  Cheryl Vernick, Elementary and Middle School Art Teacher, collaborated with a colleague from Oak Meadow Montessori.  Their workshop, “Montessori and Art21:  Using Contemporary Art in the Classroom," was exceptional.  It should come as no surprise what my workshop covered – yes, you guessed it – strategic planning and the future of our schools.  My target audience was Heads of Schools and administrators.  

As a member of the MSM Board of Trustees, I must admit that I was as proud as a peacock as I, along with other Heads of Schools, welcomed “Team CMS” at the registration table.  We had the largest number of participants at the conference and the most presenters from a single school.  I am competitive and I secretly welcome friendly competition.  It’s what drives me.  I know it’s not politically correct for a Head of a Montessori School to have these tendencies; however, it doesn’t interfere with my love and support of the Montessori philosophy.  It’s just who I am.  Just saying.  The conference was awesome, not only because CMS representation was impressive, but also because the lessons we learned as a whole were valuable and will benefit Montessori schools throughout New England.  

The Keynote Speaker Tony Wagner set the tone of the day.  He challenged us to think about ways to provide students with a learning environment that values play, passion and purpose.  He said that these values create intrinsic motivation, which eventually leads to the greatest skill that any school can give a student:  innovation!  As I sat on the floor in a standing-room-only auditorium at Dean College, I could barely contain my joy as Mr. Wagner gave repeated examples of why Montessori Schools have been so successful.  Wagner said that innovation demands trial and error, and since most of us are “driven” by extrinsic rewards for motivation, we avoid taking risks.  If we are too afraid to take risks for fear of failure, how can we possibly allow ourselves to be creative?  At CMS, we want students to be internally motivated and not driven by external rewards.

I reflected on an art class I had in elementary school.  I loved art, and still do, but felt that my creative side was misunderstood.  I would always color outside the lines and mix colors that clearly upset my art teacher.  She always had a frown on her face that even Botox wouldn’t fix whenever I completed projects.  I always felt that I was letting her down.  When I learned cursive, my loops were always extraordinarily large with a hint of artistic flare.  The teacher who taught me cursive encouraged me but reminded me that I had beautiful handwriting especially for a person who was left-handed.  I shrunk in art class because I was the only one who could interpret and appreciate my art, and I wanted so desperately for the teacher to put a star on my art projects.  I admired my art but never received the star I was seeking.  Trial, error and conformity.

Wagner’s point about giving children the space they need to play creates passion, which leads to purpose.  That’s what we do at CMS.  Wagner asked us what do Bill Gates, Bonnie Raitt and Mark Zuckerberg have in common?  They all dropped out of Harvard.  What do Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google), P. Diddy, Julia Child, Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) have in common?  They are all products of Montessori Schools.  Wagner, a Harvard alum, loves his alma mater.  He was simply making a statement that even the most highly coveted and respected institution of higher learning has some work to do in giving students the opportunity to become creative problem solvers and innovators.  Montessori schools have been providing a space for children to learn for well over a century.

Our presence at this conference and countless others such as Learning and the Brain, National Association of Independent Schools, and American Montessori Society shows the school’s deep commitment to providing a space for adults to play, embrace their passion and find their purpose.  This year we doubled our Professional Development budget with the sole intent of becoming more innovative.  Administrators, faculty and staff are presenting at conferences, enrolled in leadership programs, pursuing graduate degrees, participating in webinars and engaging in dialogue about the future of education.  These professional development opportunities give us the tools we need to provide your children with an optimal learning environment that encourages all of us to become creative innovators.  Trial and error.  Not conformity.

Finally, Wagner stated that 70% of our Gross Domestic Product is based on consumer spending, not government debt.  Our debt, he said, is the inability of a nation to create.  The only way that we are going to reduce national consumption is by increasing our capacity to produce ideas and innovation.  I think it’s safe to say that Cambridge Montessori is doing just that!  I will be joining about one hundred or so Heads of Montessori Schools at our Annual Retreat on Thursday.  I can hardly wait to share and exchange best practices.

My weekend ended on a high as I watched the Pats advance to the AFC Championship and Ben Affleck, hometown hero, win his Golden Globes.  Competitive?  Yeah, maybe a little bit.  Proud and humbled by what we do at CMS?  Absolutely!

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