Teacher as Learner

We witnessed one of the most amazing interactions today. We wanted to share some of the details with you. We actually managed to capture some of it on camera. In so many respects, it is these singular moments, which we will share with you, that express the spirit of Montessori for us. In our opinion, this is exactly what "school" should be: a place to discover, explore and realize your interests, without judgement or competition, but with support and encouragement. 


Here's what happened:

One of our four-year-old students, who had already mastered the 'pouring water in the funnel activity', which sounds like a secret Kung Fu move, was approached by a younger, three-year-old student. Without hesitation, embarrassment or any sense of apprehension, the three-year-old politely asked: "Can you show me how to do this activity?" "Sure", said the four-year-old. "I haven't done it in a while, but I can show you how to use it."

Thus started the lesson.

After the two friends had found a suitable table, where the light was just right and there were exactly two chairs, the older student carefully explained the activity. In remarkable detail, he pointed out the pitfalls and joys, walking his classmate and peer through the exercise. "You want to hold your hand like this...well, it's probably best if I just show you," he said.

And, that's exactly what he did. He demonstrated the activity with care, precision and a remarkable sense of compassion. The type of compassion that only a "true teacher" has mastered: comprised of patience, determination, and a shared sense of excitement. After all, he said to his young friend, "I just learned this last year."


As they both gazed at the water, it slowly trickled through the funnel. We couldn't help but think that we were witnessing something special. These two young students were engaged in a moment. They were sharing in the magic of the science, relishing the same sense of awe and wonder, but each was drawing something completely unique from the experience. One had become a teacher, while the other was preparing to teach himself, with the guidance of his trusted and respected friend.


"Now it's my turn", the three-year-old exclaimed. "I think I can do it." 

"Oh, you can do it", confided the four-year old. " I know you can."

As the older student methodically watched his apprentice tackle the activity, he was instantly filled with delight and a certain, almost familiar sensation of contentedness. He had helped his friend accomplish a task he had so desired to achieve. 

When the exercise was completed, and the work was put away, the four-year-old found us across the room. He said, with a cheerful smile, "I think I forgot how to do that activity, but showing him helped me learn again." We instantly melted. Our hearts were warm. This is it. This is why we do what we do. These moments mean everything,

Everyone thinks that solving the "crisis in education" is an impossible task. We beg to differ. It's easier than we think. It just depends on the assumptions that you have. Here's ours: everyone is born with a natural propensity to learn, we just need to be given the opportunity to explore our interests, at our own pace.


Measuring Montessori


There's a very interesting and relatively recent etymology to the importance of evaluations and tests in schools. At the turn of the century, the number one cause of death was infection. Children, of course, were highly prone to sickness and disease, which, to be sure, grossly affected development. Not knowing what we know today, about hygiene, genetics, contagion and disease, scientists were actively and aggressively looking for answers everywhere they could. Even in places that we would now consider to be misguided.

At this time, children were subjected to regular physical examinations at school, including measurements - or, what was, at the time, called a "biographical chart". Literally, entire classrooms were turned into scientific labratories. Which is to say, attempts were made to identify, record, and establish etiologies, especially as concerns familial histories. All efforts were placed on obtaining this information to better understand child development.

As Montessori explains, "The main part of the biographical charts consists of questions to be asked about the pupil's history, questions referring to the conditions of the family and to the physical development of the child specifically with regard to diseases, etc. This chart also includes an anthropological part, which guides the measurements we take to study the pupil from a morphological point of view."

In many respects, this method of data collection literally became a source for how to measure the physical growth of students. Subsequently, many of the same methods, tools and modes of observation became standard practice in measuring, comparing and establishing benchmarks on the academic side of things.

We wonder, to what extent these scientific forms of measurement are still in place? And, more importantly, what information is lost by these types of categorization of "growth"? One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century will be to find a way to adequately "measure" growing, instead of growth.

Happy, engaged and social

We talk a lot about academics, showcasing activites and exercises, writing about the benefits and outcomes. Yet, underlying all of this beautiful work, is a fundamental belief in the social component of learning. We like to say, social success leads to academic success, because if the child is happy, engaged and wants to learn, nothing can hold them back. Here's a perfect example: one of our three year old students took it upon himself to wash the dishes.

Now, from a certain perspective, there is definitely an "academic" side to this, i.e.: fine-motor skills, order, concentration, etc. However, there's also a guiding social component. Namely, there's a community behind those dishes. They weren't used by one single hungry student. Essentially they were used by an entire classroom. Knowing that we're in this together, this young student opted to wash the dishes for all of his friends, not just for himself. Imagine a form of education predicated on living and working together.