Saturday, June 8, 2024

 The year will wrap up in 2 weeks. It's the time when a lot of thinking about failures, mistakes, what was missing, what was not, creeps up silently and just sits there with me. I think it has to do with saying goodbye to the children who leave us this year. After doing this enough times, I know that after that Moving On Ceremony things change (we change, but mostly they change) and they go on and move forward with such momentum (which is good and necessary, they are so new and forward is the only way). So there's a part of that surely, even though they are ready and they have to go, it's still emotional and a reminder of impermanence. Is there always a heaviness in this season? It is surely also compounded by so much work to do to wrap things up neatly and well, reports to write, paperwork for new schools, preparations for the Ceremony. So it's heavy. I notice on this written history of our school that I don't write in May or June very often. My personal observations get thin in my record keeping as well during this period. These seem to be parts of the year that are left mostly undocumented, maybe a response to needing more space to just be with things as they close.

So I'm here. Yair says it's always like this at the end of the year for me, full of doubt. Am I good enough to continue? Do I still love this work enough? Why does it feel so heavy? 

Summer beckons, time to make things, to rest and read and swim and be so much a student that the teaching hat takes a break. That seems over a mountain though at this moment. 

The dharma says that when the Buddha was visited by doubt (the last visitor before he became enlightened) he touched the ground and said  (maybe, something along the lines of) "the earth is my witness." I'll take that as advice to stay grounded these days, in the simplicity of the daily work with the children which doesn't really end until it does, in the presence they require which is not one of looking back or forward but of being right there in the moment with them, grounded in the knowing that these are cycles that come and go, that it's heavy now but that that will also change. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Social Emotional Learning Book Club

 Last Saturday we had what I think was my favorite parenting book club that I think I've had since I can remember. We read "Mr. Roger's Parenting Resource Book" over a month and then met for one session over coffee on a Saturday afternoon. I had some questions prepared and I really loved the conversation that ensued. 

1. How familiar were you with the work of Fred Rogers before you read this book? (warm up question)

2. What were your key learnings from the reading?

and then this is where it got interesting:

3. How does your child respond when they are feeling strong emotions like Anger, Fear, Sadness or when they are in physical pain?

4. How do you respond to your child when they have strong emotions such as Anger, Fear, Sadness or when they are in physical pain? 

5.How do you tend to respond to your own strong emotions such as Anger, Fear, Sadness or physical pain?

6. What do you think you role model to your child (unconsciously) in how you respond to both their and your own strong emotions? 

 The conversation was deep and really touched on our own comfort and/or discomfort with our children's and our own emotions. Some of us could see the generational link between our responses and our own upbringing.  I've come some way in my understanding and befriending of my emotions, and meditation training has helped me tremendously with this, and still feel that there's a long road ahead. This is probably the most fertile ground for learning when it comes to work with 3-6 year olds. 

Wheel of Parenting

 Last week we had our parent conferences. I actually really enjoy conference time and I think it's because of how we've structured it over the years. Before conferences happen, I send home a narrative summary of my observations of each child. It takes me a chunk of life to write these reports, but they serve as a touchstone for both me and parents as to where their children are in their development. The beauty of sending that document home is that it frees me from having to spend most of our precious time together during conferences updating parents on what's happening at school. That means we have more time to talk about other important things, like what's going on at home, what struggles the child is having, what struggles the parents are having, how to help support talents, interests, navigate difficulties. I find this to be very valuable for all of us, but especially for the child who is the ultimate recipient of the fruits of the conference. 

Some years back I was having lunch with a friend who happens to also be a nutritionist and life coach who shared a resource with me called Wheel of Life. This tool is a brief assessment of your work and life balance. I have used it myself many times since, and for this conference season I decided to adapt it to parenting. 

Here is the "Wheel of Life":

And here is the "Wheel of Parenting" that I came up with:


The categories for each of the aspects are:  Partnership (working together with your partner), Self Care (rest, renewal, recharging, taking care of yourself), Connection with your child (trust, sharing, listening, openness), Routine and Structure (predictability and consistency), Limit Setting (respectful communication, making agreements, consequences, being "ok" with saying no), Support Network (people you can count on to help you when needed), Fun, Learning (creativity, skills, language, literacy). And at the bottom of the chart, some follow up questions to self reflect what we are modeling in terms of our emotions, habits, and prioritizing what is important. 

We started our conference by having parents fill out the wheel and then we reflected on how each parent individually assessed themselves. Just by looking at the chart we could tell where some attention might be needed. Knowing these parent's children quite well, it was also immediately clear where the child might be struggling due to what struggles parents were having in the different areas. We reflected together, gently, without judgement asking more questions and not necessarily trying to solve anything but to bring awareness to the complexity of parenting. 

I found the exercise to be effective and revealing. After the first few sessions, I noticing the parallels between how parents assessed themselves on self care and their support network and partnerships. There was also a correlation between how much fun parents were having with their children and their sense of connection. Establishing routines and structures also played a role in self care. The question of how well parents are role modeling a healthy relationship with emotions was a topic that could have lasted the whole conference and which I think is one of the most interesting areas of conversation with parents at this stage. 

I think I will use this wheel again once in a while during conferences. I found it to be a helpful tool for our second, or third conference in the year. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

20 years: Doubt everything, find your own light.

I've been teaching Montessori for 20 years now. This year, I don't know what it is about it, but I feel like I've strayed. Gradually, but wildly. Maybe it's this point, after the scrambling of the years of Covid. I don't know. I just revisited the beginning of this blog and saw photos of our beautiful young school, and read some of the enthusiastic early posts, and it gave me a sense that I need to Mary Kondo the whole building- on a week with no school take every single thing out of every closet and corner, and decide if it still belongs. I'm no hoarder but 20 years of accumulating stuff... 

But not just Mary Kondo the closets, Mary Kondo myself too. Take out all the parts of myself, put them out on the sidewalk, the habits, the beliefs, the mannerisms, and then inspect each one and decide what is worthy of keeping. I feel like re-taking my whole AMI training. A need to touch base with the core. To get back to the beginning. 

 And then I think, have I really lost touch with the core? 
Where do 20 years of experience take you? Away from the core or closer to the center? 
Why is it the most difficult to measure progress, to acknowledge all that has gone well, to celebrate longevity, and so easy to see all the places that require more work? 

Given that I am clearly in a constant state of self doubt, what keeps me going at work like this for 20 years?

What are the main sources of encouragement on this long road? 

One thing is the philosophy. It is so deep and inspiring. And part of what I mean when I say to Mary Kondo the whole school including myself is that I'd like to spend a week just also rereading all of Montessori's writing which is a flame when the lights are getting dim around me. It works every time. So at this time I am reminded to keep one of her books on hand, even if I manage only a paragraph at night before falling asleep. To rest in Montessori's vision. 

In some ways every school is an island, and in our case, our island is almost like a remote desert island with only 3 teachers in it. But there is still a feeling of community. The community of extended Montessori teachers here, especially my friends who are Montessori teachers, especially my friends who studied Montessori with me 23 years ago, when I meet with any of these people I am invigorated and inspired. I am reminded of making time to connect with them, as a root source of encouragement. 

To write as a source of processing has been a help too. I could see it when I was going back to the early days of this blog, now 17 years ago. I am reminded to write, for myself mostly, and to put it out here in case it is remotely helpful to anyone else. 

So, clean the closets, yes, 
re read the albums, yes, 
get in touch with the philosophy, yes,
but also   


it's not a competition, 
it's not a race, 
there's no report card, 

but it IS a marathon,
a process, 
a path,
and one in which a mind that understands that the road is long and meandering and beautiful and terrifying and exhausting and renewing will serve much better than one which is fixated too intently on to do lists.