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September 1st, 2016
School Year Begins: What we’re trying to do and what we expect
A beginning of the school year is often associated with many expectations and resolutions. We see the beginning of something new and with it an opportunity to begin anew. With school years, this is even more so than with calendar years as summer holiday is long enough to divide the years distinctly, it brings new energy and with it, new expectations… Or new desires?
I was inspired by an article in The Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/aug/31/great-expectations-how-to-help-your-students-fulfil-their-potential), which acknowledges the subtle differences between these two terms – aspirations and expectations. It is a great comment for both teachers and parents and the beginning of a school year is a great time to remember it. Moreover, for parents, the beginning of a school year is an entirely new beginning – their child goes to school for the very first time and it is quite logical that they are thrilled. On September 1, the mix of feelings consists of worries whether the child will like school and do well in school as well as joy of a huge step in life.
The article reminds us how all of us can help children by choosing the right amount of expectations - not too low, not too high – and share our expectations with the child. We are actually sharing it no matter if we want to or not – children are able to read our expectations even if they haven’t been explicitly said. It is a great and difficult task for teachers and parents but Montessori pedagogy presents us with a great chance to make it. If we are able to clearly tell our child that our expectations of their success are high (but appropriate to the child’s abilities), their performance improves. However, many teachers in our school still make the same mistake – they manifest in advance that they don’t think too highly of the children’s results.
That is to be my last comment – in the eyes of many (uninformed) people, the Montessori concept might be a little unscientific, ideological or foolish. However, whoever looks at the results of psychological, pedagogical and neurological research, will be convinced that Montessori pedagogy and philosophy and is amazing harmony with modern knowledge. The above-mentioned article is also a proof of that.
I would like to wish all children, parents and teachers a successful school year and I hope that throughout the year, all of us will be discovering more and more proofs that the Montessori concept of education works.
April 11th, 2016
Observations at School – The Best Way of Explaining How a Montessori Class Works
Somebody who came for an observation in class recently said: “The visit was great, thank you so much for organizing it – we were in Lower as well as Upper Elementary and for me personally it was a mind-blowing experience. Honestly, as I actually had only experienced traditional education, I couldn’t really get my head around out how well this works. Clearly, there’s hell of a lot of work behind it.”
About one third to one half of parents who show interest in their child being admitted to our school have already witnessed what Montessori education looks like in practice: some of them in a Montessori preschool (although the word “education” feels somewhat inappropriate in connection to preschool, in reality the way children learn there is quite similar to the way they learn in the elementary), some of them by various ways of fate which brought them to Montessori pedagogy or to a Montessori school (possibly abroad). However, those who come to us without any prior experience often cannot imagine the reality of a Montessori classroom and application of Montessori principles in practice.
We always try to provide these parents with all information available; we show them around the school, we explain things... Nevertheless, although we try to describe everything faithfully, it is still only words. Probably the most effective way of showing what happens in a Montessori classroom, what the role of a teacher is and how children learn, is to show people some relevant part of the day – live. Everybody, having spent 1-2 hours in a functioning Montessori classroom, gets a very good idea which cannot be conveyed by any explanations.
That is why we allow observations in classes, so that parents (as well as interested public) have the chance to see everything with their own eyes, to experience their own “Montessori morning”, even before they send us a binding application form on behalf of their child. After these visits, we see most our visitors experiencing the “effect of discovery”, as they suddenly realize what the essence of the Montessori program is and how very different the organization of a class is when compared to a traditional school. After that, is becomes much easier to explain the details and at the same time, much more insightful questions that go into more depth are posed to us.
After the first couple of years, when we allowed observations basically any time by arrangement, we had to – because of the ever growing number of people interested – introduce some regulation after all. We have concentrated this opportunity into 1-2 days a month. These dates are specified in advance for the whole year in the school calendar. All participants sign up in advance in the office and on the given day visitors are divided into groups that visit the individual classes. Visitors receive rules of observation; the observation lasts 1-2 hours followed with a short time for explanations and questions. This year, we have had around 80 visitors in classes already. It is quite demanding for the school but it is probably the most effective way of explaining what we actually do at the same timeJ!
Your School Director
March 16th, 2016
Czech Myths about Montessori
Once, a parent of a child that was applying to the school surprised me with a couple of systematic questions dealing with the topic of individualization vs. collective education in Montessori. They stemmed from feedback he got from his friends, many of whom shared the idea that the Montessori system of education artificially keeps children on the same level in order not to compare them among themselves. Thus, there seems to be (at least to a certain extent) an opinion held by parents that in the Montessori system, schools actively prevent some children from showing significant differences in their results, advances in learning, knowledge and skills – basically prevent a group of children from having diverse results. I had not come across this interpretation until that conversation. However, the parent was very interested in how we actually proceed and claimed that he had met a number of people with this opinion. Thus, it seems that we can list this idea among other myths that exist around Montessori which we need to talk about when trying to popularize our educational system.
I was taken by surprise a little by the absurdity of the idea. As it happens with myths, there is something true used as a basis and wrong conclusions are drawn from it. The awareness of the fact that we do not compare children in the Montessori system is the valid basis here; we inhibit competition and focus on the individual learning progress or the comparison of results of the same child in different points in time (the extent and areas of progress are compared with the previous state). However, there is a wrong conclusion being drawn – in order not to compare children among themselves, in order for us (and the children) not to be tempted to do so, we are trying to keep the group as homogenous as possible, or to make sure that the children’s results are not significantly different from each other and their progress is about the same. It is paradoxical, that by doing so we would seemingly also achieve the goal – there is no reason to compare, all children are the same.
However, in reality we are doing quite the opposite! By establishing a learning process with high individualization, we focus on supporting each child to reach their personal maximum (at a given time), and we also create an environment where the child’s attention is not diverted from learning to comparisons with other children’s performance; it focuses on the child’s own abilities and interests, on their inner motivation and comparison with themselves (i.e. on the progress that has taken place in time). We are stemming from the presumption that learning is not a discipline for competition. It is not about winning over others (that would only be a relative success, as it depends on the performance of the others and not on how good I am myself), but about good inner feeling caused by having learnt something new. In Montessori, each child has their own individual plan of development and the opportunity to advance in a pace set by their ability at the given time. And we see every day that children go deeper and deeper with great interest, plunging into the topic that caught their interest. There is no reason for us to hold any children back in anything, as they perceive the differences among themselves as natural and are not motivated to look for comparison criteria (and the teacher does not encourage them to do so, for example by giving them grades, which as a matter of course always turns attention to comparisons). If a child sees that their classmate knows more than them in some area, it can lead to admiration and ambition to get to the same place once, but rarely to the feeling that says “I am worse than somebody else”.
With that I want to say, that our pedagogical goal is to guide each child as far and as deep as possible. We know that there is the right time for everything with each child and the fact that their level of knowledge and skills is very diverse does not pose a problem to us (besides, there are children from 2-3 grades in each class!). We are put under the obligation to reach certain minimum knowledge by the state curriculum; it is up to us and our children to reach the maximum…
Your School Director
March 1st, 2016
Enrolment to Grade 1
That what the viewing survey means to television channels is the same as the time of enrolment to Grade 1 to a private school. Once a year the school receives an intensive feedback on its position in the education market, on the number of persons taking interest in it and whether supply equals demand. In the final week of January we saw that almost all parents who had applied to enrol their almost six-year-old child in Duhovka over the last months, were serious about it and came to enrol with us. And the result? 60 applicants for 35 vacancies.
For the first time in our school’s history (meaning the “Duhovka” time) I faced such a situation that has both a bright and a shady side (in the past we also saw a minor excess of supply over demand, but in the end the real number of rejected children was small). It is a great feeling to see that there is a strong interest in our school among parents, that we can even choose our children; we find it really rewarding after years of intensive development of our school and its programme. Without any doubt, Duhovka is getting stronger and more stable offering a rare product and parents are happy with our school, which is what they pass along to others. But it is really very difficult to decide who out of 60 children shall be accepted or not. I met all the parents in person, I could see their genuine interest in our school and listened to their clear and strong reasoning why they want their child to be enrolled into our school. During enrolment my colleagues met children who were absolutely fantastic and were looking forward to going to school such as ours. But still we have to reject half of them. We are very sorry for every rejected child. We sought to set our enrolment criteria to be as best and fair as possible, but even though…
We are already looking forward to welcoming 35 new first-graders and at the same time we are aware of the high level of responsibility for fulfilling everything of what parents expect from us and of what they expressed during dialogues with us.
Your School Director