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Head's Corner, March 20, 2013
Greetings CMS Families,
I hope that you had a terrific weekend. Last Thursday, five of my CMS colleagues and I had the opportunity to attend the American Montessori Society (AMS) Conference in Orlando, Florida. I wish I could say that when we arrived that the weather was balmy and that we had ample time to soak up the rays by the pool as we consumed the beverage of our choice. Unsweetened iced tea for me, thank you very much. No such welcoming party. When we arrived it was chilly, ruling out the pool as an option and we had very little time to settle in our rooms because the opening ceremony was about to begin shortly after our arrival. No complaints on this end. The conference was “all that and a bag of chips.” There were workshops tailored to fit the needs of thousands of adults from Montessori schools from all over the country and keynote speakers that inspired, challenged and prompted us to act on behalf of the students that we serve daily. Now there’s a thought.
We may all have different reasons for being at Cambridge Montessori, however we are ultimately here for the students. As wonderful as it is to attend conferences locally and nationally, it’s really not about us. It is all about the kids. CMS doubled its professional development budget last year to help us perfect the art of teaching and leading. There were so many useful workshops including working with a range of students, maximizing your staff’s potential, having difficult conversations, strengthening the relationship with the Board and parents and the list continued. They were all applicable to our role at CMS.
But the highlight of the conference for me was listening to locally based child and adult Psychiatrist Dr. Ned Hallowell’s account of how his first grade teacher helped him overcome his learning challenges and gave him the confidence that he needed to thrive in school. Dr. Hallowell spoke candidly about his struggles as a student and how his beloved Mrs. Eldridge, helped him feel connected and ultimately gave him the confidence he needed to read fluently and succeed in school.
I was not the only one moved by his story. Toddler and Primary Director Katelyn Ryan shared her thoughts with me after hearing Dr. Hallowell speak. I asked and received her permission to share with you her thoughts.
By Katelyn Ryan
Director of Toddler and Primary Programs
“Why are you here?” I sat there and I listened to this question asked of a room full of thousands of Montessorians, as Dr. Hallowell asked it again, “No, think about it, why are you here?”
It was an interesting question that so many people ask themselves in various contexts each and every day. Why are we on earth? Why are we at the job we chose? Why are we waking up at 5:00 am to get to our kid’s early morning hockey game?
But the question really struck me as something more specific. Why were we there, in that room among thousands of Montessorians, at that moment far from home listening to him talk. What drove us to that moment?
He went on to share his story. His story of what brought him to that moment. His story of a difficult childhood, of struggling with family (and lack of family), of struggling in school of succeeding in school, in defying the odds. And why? Why was he able to defy the odds? Why did he have this chance- it was because of what he termed connectedness.
Halfway through his story of the one teacher that changed his life forever, I realized the tears streaming down my cheeks. This teacher simply made him feel connected; she made him feel safe and understood. Through this connection he not only made it through this time in school, he looked forward to it. A child with dyslexia and ADHD looked forward to reading time because of his connection with this teacher. This story moved me in many ways, for him, for myself and also for all the children I have met or will meet along the way. I felt overcome in that moment because I understood, completely, why I was in that room that day- of what brought me there- of the excitement I was feeling leading up to getting to be there with everyone around me.
Why had I defied the odds and why do I talk with endless passion about this unknown (though getting to be known) Montessori philosophy.
It is because of connectedness. I am here today because of that. For me it looked similar and it looked a little different. I was connected to my classroom- the wonder and power of a place that shaped me into being optimistic, independent, caring, empathetic, awe struck, ambitious, thorough, undefeatable (mentally), a person who took on challenges with excitement, and someone who learned to connect (hopefully) with others. This was because of Montessori. Within that, I become connected to the most important person in my life, my elementary teacher.
I grew up in a house with less than nothing- even homeless for long periods of time. My father left when I was barely six and moved down the street- and had proceeded to not have communication with me until I was close to 30, despite the frequent sightings in town. My mother was bi-polar, alcoholic with multiple sclerosis. Needless to say…she was not the one taking care of me but the other way around. My sister disappeared when she was 14 only to return after desperate searching on our part, with a boyfriend in jail and two small kids (who later were placed in my care once I turned 18... the difference was at this point there were 3 of them). This is merely to say- among all this; the cards set me up for joining the ranks.
This is where connectedness came into play and changed my life in every way. My elementary teacher was the one person who made me feel known and cared for, understood and connected too. He knew how to make me feel the power of a beautiful lesson or how and when to push me forward or back away. He knew how to ask how I was doing, knew when I needed attention and knew when I needed to be on my own. He let me be me in every way possible- seemingly effortlessly and always consistently. That one relationship within the environment that I connected with shaped me forever. As I said before it was with this relationship but also the relationship I had with my Montessori environment. My classrooms were beautiful, they spoke to me, and they were designed to fit me, to teach me to teach myself. I could count on it; I could be myself within it. I learned about my connection the environment, to the universe, to the person next to me, and to the people I may never meet. I learned there were questions unanswered in the universe and I was inspired and encouraged to seek out more questions as well as strive towards answers. I become confident in myself- I knew how to teach myself and have control over my own work habits and choices, despite the world around me at home being something I lacked control or positive feedback from. My Montessori classroom gave me all the gifts that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. This coupled with the love and care of a connected teacher has led me to where I am now.
In my trail of mistakes of not knowing what I was doing and where I was going in life, I found myself back in this place I called home. Montessori. I thought my destiny was to go to medical school I thought it was my responsibility to go, as I was the only one who graduated from high school in my family and CERTAINLY the only one college bound. I thought I would be failing if I did anything short of this. I got into medical school and realized that if my purpose is to help kids...that didn’t have to be the way. And trying to figure it out. I thought perhaps might as well teach Montessori for a year. That will be filled with purpose as I figure it out. So I came to CMS thinking it would be just one year. It’s funny, I remember writing in elementary school and my mother kept this journal entry - it said “when I grow up I want to give Montessori to everyone, but I won’t. I’ll be a scientist”
You never know where life will take you.
I thought if somewhere in this journey- if I can give just one child in my classroom half as much as my elementary teacher gave to me then it is all worth it. Just one child, then I knew my life had purpose. And I sought out what I hadn’t termed yet- as connectedness. I sought out to help a child feel connected. I realized that my desire to know who each child is- my ability to see what makes them who they are and adjust myself is me trying to connect with these incredible people around me. I wake up each morning filled with purpose- I gave up a lot to be here- my family disowned me as they deemed it “not good enough.” It took strength and uphill battles to make peace with that notion and idea myself. Always wondering...is this enough. I have to tell you- it is. I am lucky to know that early on in life.
In thinking about connectedness- we Montessorians do it wholeheartedly- we do it both with effort and effortlessly. We are constantly trying to connect to those around us, know them and adjust to help them best. We learn the power of love and the power of understanding. And we care. We plan, we create, we discuss ideas, we make materials for one certain child we have in mind.
I watched as Montessorians around me adjusted their own experience at the conference because they had one certain kid in mind they wanted to learn how to reach. They wanted to do everything they could to serve them, to support them, to connect to them. I watched the power and wonder of Montessori light up the minds and hearts of those on the trip with me and those I didn’t even know. And in that moment I realized they were connected- and I perhaps was able to be a part of that for them.
I am refreshed by the child who makes a small step, I am inspired by anticipating the milestones they will eventually reach. I am overcome with joy as I can connect with a family who doesn’t even know yet the questions to ask they just know they need answers. I am delighted by the teacher who smiles at the memory of a small moment (even a difficult moment) because in those times you are reminded of our connectedness.
I thought about the children who need us- about the parents that need us. And I realized there is a disconnect by the parents that hear from us “we can’t best serve your child’s needs.” Do they hear the genuine love and care that goes into a Montessori educator saying that we Montessorians are constantly adapting changing, caring, thinking, inventing, searching, asking, seeking...and if we can’t best serve that child you must believe and truly know how real that is because we have done and tried everything. And we will keep trying if we thought we could do it best.
That is what we do.
We have a huge job here at CMS and if we forget that sometimes just being the person who notices a child frowning or in need a friend...we have touched that child deeply. I thought back to Dr. Hollowell and realized that this one teacher might not have been the complete answer; she was merely a piece of the puzzle. But through that relationship he knew that the feeling of connectedness was possible and knew how to seek out and appreciate those relationships that came after this 1st grade teacher. I realize that each day we all do this- we find ways to connect to these children in small moments, in lasting moments. We are making a difference for those we have now and through building a better school and community for those who are yet to come.
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to best serve your children each day. Our hope is that they feel connected and valued. We, like Mrs. Eldridge, want our students to thrive and understand their self worth.
Have a phenomenal week!