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Manners in the Classroom

Dear Parents,

I have been reflecting on the importance of manners. In the society in which we are currently living, the isolation (we are regularly glued to devices and living outside communities away from extended family) and the fast pace of life, we may be seeing some slippage in the explicit teaching of manners to our children. Good manners are not just a matter of conforming to society’s sociological norms, they are about the assumption of the basic value of all people and they force us to think kindly and compassionately towards others. Good manners dictate that you treat others with respect and kindness. At the core of good manners is respect for oneself and others.

Neuroscience research tells us that when one person is nice to another, the chemical oxytocin is released in the brain of both participants, causing the recipient to respond with kindness. Conversely, when people are faced with distrust, they experience a sharp rise in testosterone, provoking an aggressive response. Research shows us that those who release higher levels of oxytocin have better quality relationships of all types, including friendships, romantic relationships and family relationships. This means that the nicer we are to others, the kinder and more compassionate we are, the more oxytocin we will release and the happier we will therefore be.

High stress levels inhibit oxytocin release and the resultant reciprocation of nice behaviour. So if someone is rude to you, don’t lash back – give them the benefit of the doubt – Science tells us that they are probably having a stressful day (or they weren’t encouraged to practice good manners in their childhood!). Oxytocin encourages us to behave with compassion for others by allowing us to experience shared emotion.

Modelling good manners at home can go a long way towards teaching children that good manners are just the way we do things. Some tips include modelling and encouraging your children to say “please” and “thank you”. Saying “thank you” means taking the time to make another person feel appreciated. Saying “please” respects the other person’s right to choice – to not do as you have asked. We can teach our children to use polite words such as thanking the cashier and leaving a table at a self-serve restaurant or food court clear and ready for the next diner.

As Montessori educators and parents, it is ingrained in our practice that we treat our children with the same politeness that we do an adult so that they experience courtesy, respect and appreciation. We hold them to that standard and expect nothing less of their behaviour.

Have a wonderful week!

Raquel Charet
Principal

Montessori Children's Work

Dear Parents,

One of my favourite things to do is to walk around the school, walking into classes and seeing the children at work. Doing this puts a smile on my face and recalibrates me, it reminds me of why I do what I do and that what I do has meaning. It enables children to find joy in learning.

Last week as I walked around the Primary, this is what I saw: in Junee I watched a group of children making beautiful pop up books for their work on the function of trees and the parts of leaves. This was an exercise in making their work beautiful, in taking pride in the work of their hands. They were given a lesson on this and then used that information to compose their own sentences, working through biological classification, writing composition, sentence structure and handwriting.

As I walked around I saw children engrossed in research on subjects that are of interest to them. In Junee this was research in Mongooses. In Markaling, where I walked around to examine the use of technology in the classroom, I saw two computers open, one displaying a search on arthropods and another was being used by a young boy who was completely absorbed in researching and writing about the Great Wall of China. He was keen to tell about its origins. Did you know that the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang built the Great Wall of China in order to keep the nomadic warriors at bay? I didn’t! I love learning from the children!

Again in Junee I saw transitioning children engrossed in their literacy work, big smiles on their faces, enjoying their new experiences. I also saw children working with the golden bead material, matching quantity to number and exchanging categories (units into tens, tens into hundreds and hundreds into thousands etc.). Deep concentration and joy in learning was evident.

As I walked back to my office I felt inspired, calmed and gratified by the incredible teaching and work that I saw: the politeness, the grace, the courtesy, the depth of learning, joy of learning and pride in learning.

Have a lovely week ahead!

Raquel Charet
Principal

Mental Health in Schools

Last week I attended the Propsych Mental Health in Schools Conference. I was privileged to hear many wonderful speakers (including one of my heroes, Dr Mark Cross from the ABC documentary series Changing Minds – I was a bit star struck to be honest). However one speaker spoke about a topic that is quite pertinent to parenting our children today. Dr Wayne Warburton, a neuropsychologist specialising in brain addiction, spoke about the effects of screen addiction. His talk got quite technical at times, showing various images of the brain through its development and the effects of different variables on the brain – especially addiction of various types.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is the manual for psychiatrist and psychologists in terms of diagnosing mental illness, in its latest edition outlined a newly defined potential psychiatric disorder – internet gaming disorder. Since the release of the DSM5, there has been an explosion of research on this and on problematic screen addiction – mainly among boys and particularly prevalent in Asian countries. In Seoul, Korea there are over 40 clinics dealing solely with screen addiction and many in China, where they use more severe methods such as boot camp.

The reality is that today about 10% of kids worldwide have a problem. This means that their gaming potentially impacts on at least one area of their life, for example sleep or schoolwork. 1-2% have an addiction at a pathological level, which needs serious intervention. There are young people who, at the extreme are actually dying from gaming addiction. They die from exhaustion and dehydration, from blood clots (because they don’t move) extreme obesity and heart attack.

It is surmised that children are attracted by the instant reward that they get for low effort. Games are designed to give constant reward. They have control and mastery, but the games are designed so that you never quite get to the end, they continually have a next step that draws you in. This releases dopamine in the brain, which is the hormone of addiction. In fact we know that the brain of someone with internet gaming addiction looks exactly the same as that of a heroin addict!

Risk factors for internet gaming disorder include:

  • Genetic/temperament vulnerabilities – impulsivity, executive control deficiencies etc.
  • Lack of parental authority or supervision
  • Parental over-control / pressure
  • Parental emotional distance
  • Untreated mental illness
  • Chronically unmet needs – belonging, control, self-esteem etc.
  • Cyberbullying
  • Reward seeking / addictive personality - biological vulnerability: less dopamine receptors / lower dopamine serotonin levels
  • Family discord
  • Mental health difficulties
  • High engagement with technology

One of the serious effects of gaming addiction is its impact on sleep. Lack of sleep leads to serious affects on daily functioning and is also a catalyst for a variety of mental illnesses. Recent recommendations for sleep for young people up to the age of 17 is 11 hours and for adults is actually not the 8 hours that is commonly cited, but 9 hours of sleep a night.

There is evidence to show that heavy screen users have problems in their relationships. This may be because of the effects on the striatum, which is the part of the brain responsible for antisocial impulses. It is also, quite obviously an effect of addiction, which impacts on quality time in relationships.

We know that the light from screens actually inhibits melatonin release. Melatonin is the hormone that our brain emits which makes us sleepy at night and wakes us up in the morning. When we have screens on in our bedrooms, our bodies stop producing melatonin and our sleep patterns are seriously impacted.

Factors that assist in preventing internet gaming disorder include:

  • Parental warmth
  • Empathy
  • ‘healthy’ supervision
  • Pro-active parenting
  • Balance with ‘real world’ activities
  • Commitment to schooling
  • Basic needs met in everyday life (belonging, control, self-esteem etc.)
  • Parental limits enforced
  • Strong self-reflection
  • External assistance / Psychotherapy

If you are concerned that someone in your family may be suffering from too much screen time or internet gaming addiction, there is a wonderful tool to assist you in assessing the situation and finding resources for help. This is available at:

Click here to view more informationhttps://www.niira.org.au/the-improve-tool/

Dr Wayne Warburton has written a book, Growing Up Fast and Furious, for those interested in further reading on this topic.

Have a lovely week ahead.

Raquel Charet
Principal

Dr Cross and Raquel Charet

Montessori Method

Dear Parents,

I know that I am ‘preaching to the converted’ here, because if you are reading this newsletter then you are already part of our Montessori education community, and we are among those privileged enough to have discovered the very best method of education in the world. Possibly the most pressing issue facing Montessori schools, however, is one of teacher supply. At every meeting of Montessori principals and boards, this is the primary topic of discussion. While we have an oversupply of teachers in NSW (except for high school Maths and Science teachers), we have a serious undersupply of Montessori trained teachers. When a Montessori teacher leaves a school, the school often falls immediately into crisis. It is very difficult to replace Montessori teachers or to find new teachers for new classrooms. More and more parents are discovering Montessori education. It can be very difficult to find a place in a Montessori school for your child, as schools are struggling to grow because they are unable to find more Montessori teachers to fill the new positions.

There are several reasons for this. Montessori teacher training is extensive and expensive. Teachers need to have their state-approved teaching degree and then complete Montessori teacher training on top of that. Montessori teacher training is either 1 year full time or up to 3 years part time. It costs up to $16,000 for which state funding is not available and the size of the cohort of students mean that the courses are not regularly available. At this stage, it is not possible to become an accredited teacher by doing just Montessori training.

Montessori teachers are often people who discover Montessori accidentally and then become so passionate about it that they continue on a rigorous course of study to become Montessori trained. However, this does not happen as often as we need it. Becoming a Montessori teacher is very hard work and then working as a Montessori teacher is even harder work. It is a path borne of passion for excellence in education. Therefore, as part of our mission to support Montessori education, our schools work hand in hand with universities and encourage student visits to Montessori environments in order to expose prospective teachers to the Montessori method; to plant the seed in their minds.

Today, as we do each year, we host a day for about 30 Master of Teaching students from the University of Sydney. I talk to them, I teach them about Maria Montessori and the incredible method that she has created and the principles and theory behind Montessori education. The students observe in the classrooms and then come together for discussion. We do this annually in the hope that down the track, some of these prospective teachers might remember, take on Montessori training and become one of our own.

Wish me luck!

Have a great week ahead!

Raquel Charet
Principal

Gratitude Towards Our Teachers

I have recently been reflecting on the work of teachers, particularly teachers in independent schools and most particularly teachers in Montessori schools.

For those of us who work in offices, if we are having a bad day we can close our door or choose to do less arduous tasks, or focus on work, but allow ourselves our mood. Teachers are ‘on’ ALL DAY. From 8.30am to 3.30pm they perform, 5 days a week. Usually they have a class of 20-30 students, all of whom they support throughout the day. They give lessons to individuals and small groups, while simultaneously managing the whole class, who should be working on their own follow-up work from other lessons. A common question from parents is, “How do they see everything? Do they have eyes in the back of their heads?” Our classrooms are calm, yet orderly. When you sit to observe, you will see teachers sitting with their small groups, and the rest of the class quietly getting on with their work. This is mind-boggling to most observers. Our teachers have special qualifications and experience during which they learn precisely how to do this.

During a teacher’s day, there is no time to do all of the planning and preparation work that goes on behind the scenes in order to have a successful Montessori learning environment. In a Montessori class, each child is planned for individually, in each subject. A teacher can plan for a term, however, because we follow a child, their interests and individual progression each week, they often need to replan each week and each day, depending on how that child took to the information and whatever new passion has arisen in that child. When I was teaching in Stage 2, children used to come to me for lessons. I fondly remember one boy who used to write me little notes and tuck them under my computer for me to find. I remember one note in particular, “Dear Raquel, can you please give me a lesson on the crusades?” (not signed – luckily I knew his handwriting!) In a Montessori environment we do not want to lose that spark of learning. We need to grab onto it as it arises. So off I went, after my marking, planning and programming and researched the crusades, in order to give him a lesson the following day. Of course my plan for that day then changed, with all my lessons rearranged to fit that particular one in.

So teachers are ‘on’ from 8.30am – 3.30 pm followed by staff and/or parent meetings till 4.30-5.00pm. Then they either stay at work or go home to plan, research, prepare, mark, program. Often when I am here late for functions or meetings, I go around at 7.00 or 8.00pm and always find teachers still here working. I know they work throughout the weekends too and during school holidays. Teachers, and particularly Montessori teachers, commit their entire lives to your children. They are dedicated and incredibly hard working. They lovingly prepare materials for lessons, they follow up, they contemplate and they spend a lot of time thinking about how to get children to reach the very highest possible standard that they are capable of.

Do you know that an average school report takes 1½-2 hours to write? So during terms 2 and 4 our teachers sleep is radically reduced as they work around the clock creating these carefully written reports for your children.

On top of all of this, the compliance paperwork that independent school teachers are responsible for is enormous. They have to write incident reports, risk assessments, medical plans, Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and fill out multiple administration forms, all in their own time.

Teachers receive and respond to emails from parents. Outside of work hours, teachers come to evening events and weekend open days.

When you have your own children for a full day, sometimes you feel completely and utterly exhausted. Teachers do this 5 days each week with 20-30 children. Teachers cannot have bad days, because children can feel it. Every day they must be kind, gracious and open hearted no matter how they feel.

Some of our staff members love our school so much that they spend many hours travelling to and from work. We have staff members who live in the Blue Mountains, Hornsby, South Coast and Cobbity, and they travel here each day because they love our school and they are dedicated to your children.

I am in awe of our teachers and I hope that you are too. Please take the time to stop and thank them for the work that they do.

 

Have a wonderful week ahead.

Raquel Charet

Principal

Why Montessori?

According to Raquel Charet, the principal of Sydney Montessori School in Gymea, South of Sydney, the greatest difference between Montessori education and mainstream education revolves around the concept of motivating children to learn. While many schools motivate children to learn through promises of various rewards, Montessori philosophy is based on the belief that if you develop an interest and teach yourself , you learn better and more deeply. This is the basis of Montessori education.

Dr Montessori, over 100 years ago, became the first female medical doctor in Italy. She went on to study psychiatry and during her internship in a mental asylum was put in charge of intellectually challenged children, known at the time as ‘defectives’. She spent many hours observing them and trialling various forms of education with them.  In 1901, these children sat the state exams (similar to today’s NAPLAN tests) and passed. She became a national sensation. But her reaction to this was to wonder what was going on in conventional schools for ‘normal’ children to have such low scores.  She dedicated the rest of her life to observing the learning of children and designing her optimal method to help them achieve their best.

Through her observations, Maria Montessori discovered that, contrary to popular teaching ideas, children are naturally intrinsically motivated to learn, they have an inner desire to learn and work. Once she discovered this, she built an entire pedagogy around preparing an environment that was optimal for children to follow that natural desire and teach themselves, as well as a method of preparing teachers to facilitate that learning.

In a Montessori classrooms you find beautifully prepared environments, full of materials with which children teach themselves. Cutting edge neuropsychological research confirms Dr Montessori’s idea that movement and cognition are closely connected. Therefore, lessons move from the concrete to the abstract. Humans need to move and manipulate objects and work in order to develop and absorb their meaning. Each class has a small library of fiction and non-fiction books, and children are allowed to move freely and choose their own learning and activity. The classroom is set up in such a way that students have firm boundaries, within which they have certain freedoms. Those freedoms are conditional on student’s ability to display self-discipline and take responsibility for their behaviour and learning.

What you might see in a Montessori classroom is a fairly quiet room, with children absorbed deeply in their work. Children may talk to each other, they may choose where to sit, either on their own or with their friends. They may walk around and gather what they need. They may go freely between the indoor and outdoor spaces. They may work on their own or in groups, in a way that is respectful of the work and concentration of their peers.

The role of the teacher in these environments is key. The classrooms are student centred, as opposed to teacher centred environments. The role of the teacher is as a guide, not a figure of authority. The teacher helps the class community (modelled on democratic principles) to develop their rules and guides children to follow them. The teacher is an acute observer of each child. They know the child’s interests and allow the child to learn through that interest. The day is set out in three-hour work cycles, within which the teacher gives small group demonstrations and the rest of the class absorb themselves in follow-up work, which primarily takes the form of practice with materials and projects. Small group demonstrations might take 15-30 minutes. Following this, students are expected to complete follow up work to the lesson. The follow up work is predominantly of the child’s own choosing. If the lesson is a demonstration on how to use a specific pedagogical material, than the student will need to practice using that material, but the extent to which that follow up occurs is up to the child. For example, if the child has learned how to do addition on a bead frame the teacher will not then give a worksheet to the child with 5 or 25 sums to do, instead, the child will be enticingly ‘allowed’ to use the material and practice as they choose. We know that when a child is given a closed ended activity, such as a worksheet, that is what they do and no more. When a child is given an enticing activity and allowed to practice, they often go well and beyond the expectations of the adult. One of the materials available to children, for example, is rolls of ticker tape. This is because, often after lessons such as these where children are encouraged to practice what they have been shown, they will want to do sums of 100 or 2000 digits and they practice to their heart’s content. Lessons are not timed according to a timetable. Children are allowed to absorb themselves in work. Often this means that children may work on one project for several hours, or several days, until they feel that they are done.  

In the sciences and humanities, students are often given a demonstration or taught about a subject and then allowed to prepare follow up work as they desire. Children come up with large projects, presentations, speeches, plays, complex scientific experiments and so on. It is work of their own choosing. They research using the books or technology available to them in the environment prepared for their learning.

The concept of Montessori education is based on the premise that human life is sacred. Children, like adults ought to be treated with respect and respect for others is also expected of them. Therefore, we do not mark the work of children. We respect the work that they produce. We give rich feedback and plan lessons based on observation of the child’s work. Therefore, if a child’s work shows a misunderstanding in a certain area this is not marked on the child’s work. Instead the teacher plans a follow up lesson for the child in that area, teaching them in a slightly different way, until they understand.

Children are not put in classes based on age. Each class is made up of a three year age cycle (3-6, 6-9, 9-12 and mixed age in high school). This allows children to work at their own rate, without comparing their work to the work of their peers. Each child works to the best of their ability. Given that the age gap is so large and the children are never given marks for their work, they do not compare themselves to each other. Rather than relying on extrinsically based systems where children can give up on certain areas of the curriculum when either poor marks make them feel like they are ‘bad at something’ or when they do not get positive reinforcement in that area,  in Montessori education, we work hard for children to learn because they want to and to develop a love of all learning in all areas. We can do this because we never allow a child to feel that they are bad at a certain subject. We do not want to kill their desire to learn.

Various US studies have been conducted done on the effects of Montessori education. Overwhelmingly, children were found to love school, love their teachers and were particularly good at lateral thinking.  Many famous Montessori graduates have commented on the positive influence that Montessori education has had on their lives.  To quote a few cutting edge success stories of today: Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the co-founders of Google, credited their years as Montessori students as a major factor behind their success.  They said going to a Montessori school taught them to be self directed and self starters.  Montessori allowed them to learn to think for themselves and gave them freedom to pursue their own interests. Google executives worldwide send their children to Montessori schools. William Wright, an American computer game designer enjoyed his Montessori experience with its emphasis on creativity, problem solving, and self-motivation. Wright admitted to having been inspired to create certain elements of SimCity from his experiences in the school. “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery...It showed you can become interested in pretty complex theories, like Pythagorean theory, say, by playing with blocks. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori—if you give people this model for building cities, they will abstract from it principles of urban design.” As a preschooler, Jeffrey P. Bezos displayed an unmatched single-mindedness. By his mother's account, the young Bezos got so engrossed in the details of activities at his Montessori school that teachers had to pick him up in his chair to move him to new tasks. It's a trait that goes a long way toward explaining why the company he founded, Amazon.com Inc., has survived to become the most dominant retailer on the Internet. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Columbian author who won a Nobel Prize for literature attended a Montessori school and is an avid supporter of the philosophy. He stated, "I do not believe there is a method better than Montessori for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life."

Montessori pedagogy and practice have been part of the educational landscape for over one hundred years and the above is just a taste of what this method gives to our children. The danger of compacting Montessori theory into an article is that often it can bring up more questions than it answers. Montessori schools know that the only way to truly understand Montessori pedagogy is to witness the school in practice.  They encourage visitors into their classrooms.  Therefore, if this article piques your curiosity, I encourage you to visit your local Montessori school or to contact me for further information.

Have a great week

Raquel Charet

Principal

What Can We Learn From Finland?

Several weeks ago I told you about the education symposium that I was kindly invited to, as a representative of small schools in NSW andMontessori schools in particular. At this event, I was terribly excited to hear from the foremost leader in education thinking today, Professor Pasi Sahlberg, who engineered the Finnish education system, so revered worldwide. The following is an overview of his excellent presentation.

There are three major trends in education today:

1.     Welbeing, health and happiness – This is a central part of education! We need to teach children welbeing as a group of skills. How do we do health? Did you know that 3 countries in the world (Bhutan, Venezuela and Dubai/United Arab Emirates) now have a Minister for Happiness (who, interestingly, are all women)?

2.     Equity and inclusion – We know that there is a link between the socio-economic background of children and their academic performance. We know that most Western countries have dropped in achievement over the last 6-8 years (according to PISA international testing). We don’t know why. Sahlberg does not believe that it is a reflection on teacher quality. He wants us to ask ourselves what else is going on. For example, we do know that during that period of time, there has been an enormous surge in the number of hours that children spend in front of screens. It seems as though no one is looking at the correlation between these two elements. In Finland, the average number of hours that students spend in front of screens is a shocking 8 hours a day! In Australia it is 9 hours a day! However, we need to be very careful when making conclusions. One of the studies done to try to show correlations showed that the more ice cream we eat, the more house fires there are! Clearly, however, the two are not related. So we do need to be super careful when making causative assumptions. Interesting food for thought though!

3.     Small Data - Sahlberg talked about the fallacy of what is known as “big data”. “Big data” refers to national and international testing such as NAPLAN and PISA. Big data tends to provide big numbers that then leads to reactive and restrictive policy – what is known as “high stakes testing”, such as we see in the rapidly declining American education system whereby student testing is linked to school funding (attaching school funding to testing results – so the better a school performs on the tests, the more funding they get) and teacher pay. This leads to “teaching to the test” or cheating on tests, which lowers quality education. Good education systems acknowledge teachers as one of the most important employment groups of society (in Finland teachers are considered by society to be as important as doctors and lawyers and are paid as such, therefore, the most capable and intelligent students often choose to become teachers, raising the quality of education). ‘Small data” is where we are truly able to see causation. It is the data that we collect on each child, which tells us how they are progressing, individually, on their own trajectory. This is meaningful data – not big data.

Sahlberg’s advice to the NSW Minister of Education, Adrian Piccoli was as follows: 1. Increase the study of foreign languages – this has been proven to increase cognition (only 15% of current graduates in NSW schools do languages in their HSC), 2. Implement the full Gonski plan, 3. Work on small data (in other words, abolish NAPLAN and stop reacting to PISA scores).

Finally, Pahlsberg said we should be asking ourselves whether our children are being asked to do too much, too fast. Our work days have increased exponentially each century. This is no good for adults or children! He cited the book, ‘The Overworked American: the Decline of Leisure.” We spent the twentieth century so concerned that with the growth in digital technology, the job market would decline and we would have nothing to do. No one would have predicted that in fact the opposite would be true! Our work hours have increased and our leisure time has decreased. We have become slaves to technology. Here I am, madly typing this newsletter on my laptop for our online platforms and I couldn’t agree more!

Have a great week ahead!

 

Raquel Charet

Principal

The 'Good Enough' Parent

Recently I have been reflecting on the pressure that parents put on themselves to be the ‘perfect parent’. We worry about whether or not we are really best meeting our child’s needs. Are we giving in too much and taking the easy route? Should we be working? Should we not be working? Is making their food/bed/washing their clothes for them showing our love for them or is it creating dependence? Are their problems our fault for bad parenting? Are others judging our parenting (for which the answer is no - they are busy asking themselves the same questions)?

I am very fond of the research that tells us that children create their own outcomes. That unless they are exposed to severe and prolonged abuse and/or neglect, they will generally be fine. From this comes the ‘good enough parenting’ movement. Dr Peter Gray says, “If we define parenting as care giving to one’s child, then the best parent is not the one who parents most, and certainly not the one who parents least, but the one who parents just the right amount.  That’s the parent Goldilocks would pick, if she had tried out three different parents along with the three different bowls of porridge, chairs, and beds.  It’s the one most children would pick if they had the power to choose.” He says that, “The basic idea is: Chill out a little bit. Understand that along the way, things are going to go wrong and your child is going to struggle here and there, but that these struggles aren’t the end of the world.”

Bruno Bettelheim, in his book, A Good Enough Parent says, “There are few loves which are entirely free of ambivalence. … Not only is our love for our children sometimes tinged with annoyance, discouragement, and disappointment, the same is true for the love our children feel for us.”  Jesse Singal, in an article published in Science of Us, says of the above quote, “Good enough parents accept this as part of the human condition. Good enough parents understand that nature has created children to be quite resilient. We would not have survived as a species if that were not true. As long as parents don’t mess up too badly (and sometimes even if they do), the children will turn out OK, and OK is good enough.”

So if your child refuses to eat carrots or if you give your child a dummy, have disposable nappies over cloth ones, chill out, your parenting is fine and your child will be too.

Have a lovely week ahead and don’t forget to forgive yourself and your parenting. Almost everything that you could possibly do as a parent is ‘good enough’.

Raquel Charet

Principal

Raising Our Children as Disrupters

Last week I was honoured to be invited by the state minister for education, Hon. Adrian Piccoli, to a special Education Symposium, bringing together representatives from the independent, Catholic and Public sectors of education. This is the first time that leaders of all three sectors have been invited to come together. I was invited to represent small schools and Montessori schools, in particular. It was two days of listening to pioneers in education from around the world. We were able to listen to Pasi Salhberg, who is one of the pioneers of the Finnish education system, consistently rated as the best education system in the world. We also heard from one of the key proponents of Shanghai’s leading education system and held robust discussion about what we can learn from their systems and also what would not culturally be able to be transferred to the Australian context. We heard from Charles Leadbetter, one of the key voices espousing education change. I was thrilled to see the minister sitting through the whole conference and listening to these leading voices whose words and cautions echo those of Maria Montessori, proving that Montessori education is still reflecting the very best of contemporary education practice. Here are some highlights of Charles Leadbetter’s presentation.

Leadbetter spoke about how we live in an age of automation. In these times we need, more than anything, to learn how to be better humans. We need to teach our young humans to do those things that only humans can do, jobs that require skills such as empathy, deep thinking, imagination, collaboration, creativity - and yet we are (in the mainstream system), in educating students to follow instructions and all do the same thing at the same time according to a very prescribed curriculum, essentially training people to scan barcodes. Leadbetter advised that we should be automating all jobs that can be automated – we should not be training people to be robots. We need to change the world.

In schools, we tend to teach our children to “keep calm and carry on”, but what we need to do is raise disrupters. Disrupters become leaders. The danger of current complacent education systems is the concept of keep calm and carry on when really, everything needs to change. We have a beaurocratic system of ‘hypernormalisation’ – a fetish of moving things around, changing curriculum, assessment and employment conditions based on the fallacy of big data (such as NAPLAN – which tells us almost nothing about individual children and individual schools, or about deep/critical thinking, creativity or the whole child – but more on this next week when I discuss Sahlberg’s words). Leadbetter calls this “stagnant urgency”. We need to reform hypernormalisation. Instead, we need to learn to play the game of education better. We need to reimagine what education looks like – to create a better game. He talked about how we can prepare our children for the rapidly changing world in which we live. He said we need to change our education systems and move them from one of teaching students to follow instructions to one of solving problems. In a world of systems, our capacity for empathy is going to be vital. Therefore, we need environments that are structures but also very relational. He said that peer learning is essential. Older students should be teaching their younger peers. By the time they graduate school, they should be able to say not “this is what I have learnt”, but, “this is what I can teach; what I have taught.” He described engaged learning as: peer learning, collaborative learning and an agile curriculum. Sound familiar? It is good to hear mainstream, respected educators describe the work that we do as best practice. It affirms that you as parents have made the right choice in choosing Montessori education for your children.

 

Have a wonderful week ahead!

Raquel Charet

Principal

A Child's Imagination

Today I would like to write about some aspects of developing resilience in children, a topic that I am passionate about. I recently listened to a talk by Lyn Worsley, as part of a training course on building resilience in children. Here is my summary of her presentation, including some of my own thoughts on the matter. For me, the building of resilience in our children is a large part of the process of good parenting. The International Resilience Project defines resilience as, “the human capacity to face, overcome and even be strengthened by the adversities of life.” Leading clinical psychologist and expert in student wellbeing, Andrew Fuller, describes resilience as, “the happy knack of being able to bungy jump through the pitfalls of life.”

All of us face some type of adversity in our lives. We all, at some stage or at several stages in our lives will face troubles. Daily, I come across the fact that parents today spend their time attempting to protect their children from any sort of pain or adversity. They are too sympathetic to any type of anxiety. But our children need to encounter anxiety and learn to deal with it. That is resilience. The more we are able to deal with our anxieties, the less anxiety we will have. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Your parenting job is to help your child to face adversity and develop resilience. Let them feel pain. Let them feel anxiety.

As parents, we need to provide our children with the tools they need to develop resilience. This is the ability to bounce back when we feel angst, depression or sadness. Evidence shows us that children with high levels of resilience do better in school: they have better school attendance, their academic performance is 20% better than those with lower level of resilience.

One of the keys to resilience is positive self-talk. We need to teach our children to replace the mentality of “I haven’t, I’m not, I can’t” with “I have, I am and I can. ”Let’s try that this week. More on this coming up.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Raquel Charet

Principal

Children's Inner Drive for Movement

This week I began my forums with the Primary children, where they have an opportunity to discuss their play, playground equipment and their desires for the design of their playground. I want to thank the Junee children for all that they taught me during this session. I went in with preconceived notions that the children quickly proved wrong. I thought that the children would come up with many fanciful plans and that I would need to spend time explaining to them some of the practicalities to keep in mind when designing a playground. Boy was I wrong! I was humbled by their mature contribution and learned again from this experience never to underestimate our children! 


Here is what they told me. They love to just run on the grass, just for the sake of running as well as to play running games, such as tips. They love to play ball games, such as soccer, basketball and handball. They love climbing and swinging. To a lesser extent, they like playing pretend. More than any other piece of equipment, they want a climbing frame, followed by monkey bars. They want places to hide in play, such as mounds and a cubby house (they did suggest that the cubby house be a Star Wars Death Star and gave some suggestions on how to build it). 


All of the above told me something so important; it told me that children have an inner drive towards movement; that they are compelled to run, to climb and to swing (and that they love Star Wars). They need it every day. Montessori discussed this, neuroscience confirms it and the children themselves reminded me of it this week. As parents, it is good to keep this in mind – our children need outdoor movement – and lots of it. Over the past century the natural physical movement in our day to day life has diminished. We drive everywhere and sit at desks or lie on the couch with screens. We no longer walk long distances, nor ride our bikes. We do not carry buckets of water from the well, harvest our fields or scrub our clothes by hand. But as our children are reminding us, they need physical movement. They need it daily. I encourage you to look at your weekends and plan time for your child to have access to physical movement. 


Raquel Charet
Principal

Resilience in Children

Today I would like to write about some aspects of developing resilience in children, a topic that I am passionate about. I recently listened to a talk by Lyn Worsley, as part of a training course on building resilience in children. Here is my summary of her presentation, including some of my own thoughts on the matter. For me, the building of resilience in our children is a large part of the process of good parenting. The International Resilience Project defines resilience as, “the human capacity to face, overcome and even be strengthened by the adversities of life.” Leading clinical psychologist and expert in student wellbeing, Andrew Fuller, describes resilience as, “the happy knack of being able to bungy jump through the pitfalls of life.”


All of us face some type of adversity in our lives. We all, at some stage or at several stages in our lives will face troubles. Daily, I come across the fact that parents today spend their time attempting to protect their children from any sort of pain or adversity. They are too sympathetic to any type of anxiety. But our children need to encounter anxiety and learn to deal with it. That is resilience. The more we are able to deal with our anxieties, the less anxiety we will have. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Your parenting job is to help your child to face adversity and develop resilience. Let them feel pain. Let them feel anxiety.


As parents, we need to provide our children with the tools they need to develop resilience. This is the ability to bounce back when we feel angst, depression or sadness. Evidence shows us that children with high levels of resilience do better in school: they have better school attendance, their academic performance is 20% better than those with lower level of resilience.
One of the keys to resilience is positive self-talk. We need to teach our children to replace the mentality of “I haven’t, I’m not, I can’t” with “I have, I am and I can.”

Have a wonderful week!

Raquel Charet
Principal

The Importance of Manners

Today I have been reflecting on the importance of manners. In the society in which we are currently living, the isolation (we are regularly glued to devices and living outside communities away from extended family) and the fast pace of life, we may be seeing some slippage in the explicit teaching of manners to our children. Good manners are not just a matter of conforming to society’s sociological norms, they are about the assumption of the basic value of all people and they force us to think kindly and compassionately towards others. Good manners dictate that you treat others with respect and kindness. At the core of good manners is respect for oneself and others.

Neuroscience research tells us that when one person is nice to another, the chemical oxytocin is released in the brain of both participants, causing the recipient to respond with kindness. Conversely, when people are faced with distrust, they experience a sharp rise in testosterone, provoking an aggressive response. Research shows us that those who release higher levels of oxytocin have better quality relationships of all types, including, friendships, romantic relationships and family relationships. This means that the nicer we are to others, the kinder and more compassionate we are, the more oxytocin we will release and the happier we will therefore be.

High stress levels inhibit oxytocin release and the resultant reciprocation of nice behaviour. So if someone is rude to you, don’t lash back – give them the benefit of the doubt – Science tells us that they are probably having a stressful day (or they weren’t encouraged to practice good manners in their childhood!). Oxytocin encourages us to behave with compassion for others by allowing us to experience shared emotion.

Modelling good manners at home can go a long way towards teaching children that good manners are just the way we do things. Some tips include modelling and encouraging your children to say “please” and “thank you”. Saying “thank you” means taking the time to make another person feel appreciated. Saying “please” respects the other person’s right to choice – *to not* do as you have asked. We can teach our children to use polite words such as thanking the cashier and leaving a table at a self-serve restaurant or food court clear and ready for the next diner.

As Montessori educators and parents, it is ingrained in our practice that we treat our children with the same politeness that we do an adult so that they experience courtesy, respect and appreciation. We hold them to that standard and expect nothing less of their behaviour.

Raquel Charet

Principal

Gossip and Think

I wanted to share a tool that I recently came across for helping both children and adults to develop kindness and empathy to others when carefully choosing their words. This is a particularly useful tool to help our children avoid the harmful effects of gossip. We remember our own parents and teachers telling us, “if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.” Which is great advice, but hard to implement in daily life. Whilst providing such advice is good, guiding our children by providing them with tools to use in different situations is more successful in the long term. 

When we talk to our children about gossip, we can teach them the horrible effects of that gossip. When I was a child I was taught that even saying nice things behind someone’s back is not a good idea because it can end up inspiring negative talk, such as:

Mary: “Anne is so good at drawing!”

Jane: “Yeah but she’s bad at Maths and last week she took my apple and she is sooooo mean, don’t you think?”

Mary: “Oh yeah, Anne is sooo mean! I heard from Joe, who heard from Mollie that Anne steals food from our bags.”

And so on… Very quickly a compliment can turn into a negative gossip session. Imagine what happens when Anne overhears, or hears (via the grapevine), what her friends have been saying about her. How hurt she would feel!

So let’s teach them how to use the THINK acronym

Before talking about others, always ask yourself:

Is it TRUE?

Is it HELPFUL?

Is it INSPIRING?

Is it NECESSARY?

Is it KIND?

Each time we want to speak about someone else, we need to ask ourselves these questions. Unless the answer is yes to all of them, we do not say it. You could write this on card and put it up in your house, to refer to. You could make this with your children, so that they are invested in it. You should refer to it often – because that is the way to make it a habit of behaviour. I like to ask my children, “What kind of human being do you want to grow into? What values do you want to emulate in your life? How do you want others to see you when you are a grown up?” These are the questions that our little adults-in-training ought to be asking themselves, so that they have moral goals to grow towards. Tools like this help them progress toward those goals.

Of course we do not want to discourage our children from talking to parents or telling them about social situations that they might need guidance to work through. Sharing with our teachers and parents is part of the learning process. The emphasis should be on avoiding gossip within the playground and between peers, and even more importantly on personal moral development. 

And of course as adults we need to model this behaviour ourselves, otherwise all the talking in the world is useless.

Let’s teach our children to be kind and thoughtful in their words, to hold love in their hearts, thus promoting a peaceful society.

Have a peaceful weekend,

Raquel Charet

Principal

Montessori Elevator Speech

This week, in a discussion that I attended, I received feedback that parents often struggle with how to ask the question, “what is Montessori?” This got me thinking about what my own ‘Montessori elevator speech’ is, and I thought I’d share it with you. Having said that, I do encourage you to come up with your own Montessori elevator speech. It will be different for everyone. Take the time to design it – what gets you fired up about Montessori education?

To me Montessori is about the very best way to prepare our children for the skills needed in the 21st century economic milieu. We know that jobs in the 21st century are different than at any time in our history. A multitude of reports come out regularly showing us that the workforce is increasingly looking vastly different than ever before. 

Note: See website for full report

Note: See website for full report

Our children need to be prepared with the skills necessary for a new world. Jobs are no longer automated – computerised systems have taken over those automated jobs – for the most part. Research tells us that our students need to be prepared for the 4 c’s, desired by employees: critical, thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication. You cannot learn this by being told what to do at every minute of the day. Your passions, self-motivation, communication skills and problem solving cannot be taught in snippets between the rigidity of traditional schooling. This is what we do, we prepare an environment where each child’s passions are encouraged. Where they are planned for individually and they learn at their own pace. Children are given lessons which include problems to be solved in groups, exercising on an ongoing basis their communication skills, collaborative learning and creative problem solving. They practice critical thinking all day, every day in school. Our schools environment fosters self-discipline, responsibility, creative thinking (thinking ‘outside the box’) and individuality. Our classrooms look and feel similar to 21st century workplaces. What we have been doing for over 100 years, the rest of the education industry is just catching up with now. Tell your friends – google ‘21st century education’ – because that is what we do. Traditional schools are struggling with these concepts. We have been doing it for 100 years – because Maria Montessori observed and recognised the way that children learn. They learn experientially. We don’t teach them best by breaking their spirit and micro-managing them. We allow them to construct their own knowledge, solve their own problems and work collaboratively and creatively. Montessori is the epitome of best practice.

Tell your friends and family to book in to the school for an observation – because to truly understand Montessori, you have to see it in action. Then try and do an observation in a traditional school. Ha! They don’t let you. We are proud of what we do. We know it is the best, and we therefore open our doors and let anyone come and see what best practice is in action.

Watch the video below – it is fabulous!

I am passionate about this subject. Come and have a chat to me – but beware, I can talk for hours on this topic!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoSrph1Wzbw

Look at what big companies are looking for today. As an example, see below:

From Google’s recruitment website: 

Four things we look for:

Leadership

We’ll want to know how you’ve flexed different muscles in different situations in order to mobilize a team. This might be by asserting a leadership role at work or with an organization, or by helping a team succeed when you weren’t officially appointed as the leader.

How You Think

We’re less concerned about grades and transcripts and more interested in how you think. We’re likely to ask you some role-related questions that provide insight into how you solve problems. Show us how you would tackle the problem presented--don’t get hung up on nailing the “right” answer.

Role-Related Knowledge

We’re looking for people who have a variety of strengths and passions, not just isolated skill sets. We also want to make sure that you have the experience and the background that will set you up for success in your role. For engineering candidates in particular, we’ll be looking to check out your coding skills and technical areas of expertise.

Googleyness

We want to get a feel for what makes you, well, you. We also want to make sure this is a place you’ll thrive, so we’ll be looking for signs around your comfort with ambiguity, your bias to action and your collaborative nature

Have a great weekend and feel free to share your Montessori elevator speech with me!

Raquel Charet

Principal

Helicopter Parenting

I recently heard a wonderful talk about what we know as “helicopter parenting”. The term “helicopter parenting” was first used in Dr Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers, by teens who reported that their parents would, “hover over them like a helicopter”. The term became so widely used that it was included in the dictionary in 2011. Included in the dictionary!!! That is the extent of this phenomenon in our society. Given the enormity of the issue today, the term now has developed a variety of sub-categories. These include, “lawnmower parenting” (whereby parents run ahead of their children to mow the lawn before they walk on it), “bulldoze parenting” (whereby parents mean to protect the child from all short-term harm), and even “blackhawk parenting” (whereby parents, in an overly aggressive manner, come in “guns blazing”, right to the very top, demanding action. They start at the principals’ office, no matter the issue)

As a parent myself, I fight the helicopter parent impulse every single day, and sometimes I lose that battle. However, it is clear that this generation is creating psychologically fragile children. Anxiety in our children is rising at an alarming rate. Our children need to solve their own problems. They need to go through difficult times. This includes allowing them to have social problems with their friends. It means allowing them to go without lunch when they have forgotten it. It means letting them deal with failure and hurt. Not all the time, and not on an ongoing, abusive basis. However, they need to experience unhappiness and challenging circumstances in order to develop resilience. This sometimes looks like short term anxiety – and we need to let them sit with that. We guarantee that things will go wrong for your child, because they are on a learning curve.

Some suggestions: don’t carry their bag (no matter how much they complain). Do not pick them up. Once they can walk, they need to walk for themselves. Expect them to assist with or later independently prepare their own healthy snacks and lunches. Expect them to clear the table, wash up dishes, assist with household chores. Do not pay them to do this. You do not get paid to do household chores and neither should they. It is not your job to do this alone, they are part of a family and chores should be handed out equally between all family members. Of course they should first have lessons on how to complete these tasks (we call this scaffolding. We give lessons then back away slowly as we see that a child is able to do it by themselves. And then we do not give in – they must do these tasks). We are preparing for life as an adult with all its responsibilities, and the ability to deal with its pitfalls.

At a school level, we can see some of this manifesting in the engagement of parents with staff. Whilst we encourage these positive relationships and we try to give plenty of information to parents, we also believe that parents need to allow their children to just “be” in school. If you have a serious concern, please do contact the teacher. That is your first port of call. If, on an ongoing basis, an issue is not being resolved with a teacher, then you might want to contact me.

A wonderful article, providing perspective on this issue can be seen here: http://theconversation.com/bulldozer-parents-creating-psychologically-fragile-children-32730

On the whole, I look around and see a beautiful community of well rounded, independent, polite young people. For the most part, our parents do a fabulous job. Keep up the good work!

Raquel Charet

Principal

 

 

Peace in the Montessori tradition

Last week, in honour of Remembrance Day, I began a conversation about peace in the Montessori tradition. Last weekend we all watched with horror as new waves of terrorism attacked Paris and brought the reality of large scale terror attacks, in our apparently secure Western world, an imminent possibility for us all. As a school we needed to go back to the core of our ethos in order to process, as a community, this existential shift in our reality.

Through the course of 2015 our school examined the core of what we do and our very belief system to come up with our mission. Our mission statement reads:

“To inspire our students to be lifelong independent learners, develop their sense of wonder and promote them as peacemakers and leaders.”

 To promote them as peacemakers. At the very core of what we do is a call to our educators to inspire our children to be the peacemakers of our future.

This idea came from the life and works of Maria Montessori herself. Montessori’s schools were already established throughout Italy when Mussolini came to power in the early 1930s. The rise of fascism, made her work difficult, and in 1934, Dr Montessori’s refusal to politicize her work and schools resulted in the shutdown of all Montessori schools and her departure from the country.

World unrest and her own exile (in India) led Maria Montessori to advocate publicly for peace. This period of horrific war and totalitarianism crystallised, for Dr Montessori, the clear the connection between her teaching methods and a social and world order generated by respect, cooperation and the intelligent activities of citizens. In a series of speeches, conferences and other activities, conducted in India and Western Europe, Dr Montessori spoke about educational reform and the benefits to a world society. A number of her lectures were published as Education and Peace (1972). Her work, embraced by a worldwide community of educators, politicians and academics, earned her nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950 and 1951.

She wrote in Education and Peace, “Peace is a goal that can only be attained through common accord, and the means to achieve this unity for peace are twofold:  first, an immediate effort to resolve conflicts without recourse to violence—in other words, to prevent war—and second, a long-term effort to establish a lasting peace among men” (Montessori, 1949, p. 27).    

Citizens are less likely to be manipulated and mislead into a war when they have developed a habit of informed reflection. It was the infamous Nazi, Goering, who while awaiting the Nuremberg trials in 1946, expressed this point: "Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece?....Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country" (http://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.asp).  Consciously developing the habit of critical and independent thought can protect men and women from such propaganda (Duckworth, 2008).  

Dr Montessori’s methodology focused on the development of the whole child and prized creative and critical thinking skills, as well as relational skills, which are so critical in men and women who will be both inspired and equipped to build lasting peace.  We are relying on our children for the protection of our planet, our race, our future. 

For young children, we present them with a history of our planet (starting with its very inception and the history of the evolution of our planet, and all of the various plant and animal life that evolved over millions of years to pave the way for the human race). We do this to instill within them an appreciation of its beauty, its vastness, its splendor. Young children do not need to learn about the horrors of the world, they need first to feel safe, to feel love, to feel wonder as they grow and develop their sense of safety and resilience. They do not need to see horrific images, nor watch the news, nor hear it. However, we do raise them to question, to challenge, to converse. Our children are not made “to be seen and not heard”. We teach them to respectfully challenge ideas; we teach them to think critically.

Somewhere in the second half of the Second Plane of Development (6-12 years of age) a child begins to be ready to look at human history with an introduction to politics and social justice issues. By the time they are in the Third Plane of Development (teenagers), they become really fascinated by this topic, and it is important to embrace that. Peace education begins with conversation. We need to talk with our teens. We need to help them process what is happening. We need them to learn about the horrors inflicted on our beautiful planet by our own race, and we need them to spend time thinking about their future - this is the path to developing leaders and peacemakers amongst our children.

The following article may help you with some tips about how to assist your children to process horrific world news events:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/explaining-the-news-to-our-kids?utm_source=November+2015+-+Paris+Attacks&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly#

Yours with hope for peace,

Raquel Charet

Principal

The inquisitiveness of children

As you know, our school is growing very quickly and we now have applications

flowing in at a fast rate. Given the nature of our school, we are often approached by 

families with very interesting, intelligent and articulate young people. These children 

have often researched Montessori education with their parents and often come well 

prepared with questions for me. This week I had one such young person (10 years 

old) come in and we had a written exchange.  I thought I would share with you the 

type of questions I am often asked as well as my responses to them:

 

Does the school have a canteen? No. Children bring their own healthy lunches and 

snacks. However, we do a lot of cooking in our work cycle. Children cut up fruit and 

vegetables to share at snack time. Sometimes, children choose to cook a meal to 

share with the class. When this happens, they design their menu, find recipes, write 

a shopping list, go up to the shops (as a Going Out trip – see below) to do their 

shopping, bring it back, cook it, set the table and share the meal with their class.

 

How is Montessori different from Public School? See this link: 

https://montessori.org.au/montessori/differences.htm

 

What are the most important subjects in Montessori? In Montessori schools the 

subjects that we study are: Maths, English, Geometry, Zoology, Botany, Sport 

(PDHPE), History, Geography (which for us includes Science), Music, Grace and 

Courtesy (welbeing studies), Art. They are all equally important.

 

What is the Montessori school bus used for? It is not really used at the moment, for 

various reasons. Also, given that we are near a train station, we tend to take the train 

for our excursion travel (and sometimes we hire buses as well).

 

Do children go on excursions? Yes! We go on lots of excursions and also on what 

we call ‘Going Out’ trips. Going Out trips are trips designed and organised by 

students for small groups based on something that they are studying or a project that 

they are working on. For example, you might be studying dinosaurs with a friend and 

want to visit the Australian Museum to look at their dinosaur exhibit. You might be 

doing this with 2 friends. You might then organise the trip, including figuring out the 

cost, how to get their and an adult to go with you. The adult’s job is to ensure your 

safety, but they do not help you in any way. The trip is fully designed and executed 

by the student. They are lots of fun! We believe that by going out into the world you 

are learning independence and responsibility, which we encourage.

 

Why is there no school uniform? We believe that each child should be respected for 

who they are and encouraged to express themselves and their own unique style. 

Clothing is one way in which human beings express their individuality.

 

How does a teacher or the school determine when a student can go up a level on a 

subject? A Student’s work is closely monitored by the teacher. When the teacher 

sees that the student is ready for the next lesson, they quietly invite the child and 

give them that next lesson.

 

I greatly enjoy my interactions with children. I have various young ‘penpals’ and am 

happy to answer any questions from children, anytime.

 

Have a wonderful weekend!

 

Raquel Charet

Principal