Grandparents and Special Friends Day last Friday was a day of pure joy and deep connection. It was so inspiring to watch hundreds of adults — many of whom had never been on our campus — discover WMS through the children’s eyes. They took the time to slow down to the pace of each child and listen, carefully and lovingly, to what the children had to say. The classrooms were buzzing with work. And I realized, once again, the value of giving children the agency and confidence they need to make thoughtful and meaningful decisions about their own learning.
To see those classrooms in action — children teaching their grandparents and special friends the lessons they had internalized and embraced — reminded me once again why we come together each day at WMS. We exist to provide rich academic challenges to students in a context of care and respect that allows each of them to unfold as the people they are meant to be.
This week, I read a piece in The New York Times that reinforces the need for Montessori schools. While he didn’t mention Maria Montessori by name, the writer Adam Gopnik described the joy and excitement of teaching himself to play the guitar, and reflected on the ways in which well-meaning adults can rob students of their enthusiasm for learning by pushing them to achieve (for the sake of achievement) rather than guiding them to learn.
In a Montessori school, we have very high expectations for children. We expect no less than that each child learn at the pace at which they are able, and that produces remarkable results. Our Lower School students experiment with the binomial cube, learning in a hands on way the theory behind an equation they will use later in their educations that ((a + b)³ = (a + b) (a + b) (a + b) = a³ + 3a²b + 3ab² + b³. Students complete complicated mathematics in classrooms and in the halls. They write lengthy research reports, and are introduced to high level scientific concepts at every level of their education. As one alumnus (now a physician) shared with her parent recently, “The longest research paper I ever wrote in my educational career was my Expert Project in the 8th grade.”
Another parent told me, yesterday, about the impact that middle school had on her child. When he first arrived, he was struggling with the work load and responsibility. However, with the thoughtful attention of his teachers and mentors, he was able to learn how he himself learned best. Now he is a high school student enrolled in honors classes.
We believe in children and their individual and collective potential, and give them the environment and the tools they need to stretch their growing brains.
But the Montessori method does not rely on external rewards and punishments to press children towards achievement for its own sake. Rather than dragging children up the bumpy staircase of learning (or shoving them upwards from below) we lead them towards an enticing set of lessons and give them the support and encouragement they need to walk up the staircase of achievement on their own steam. With each step, they gain both confidence and competence.
We do this because it is good for children in the present. It is good for them to face challenges and feel the joy of accomplishment. But we also do this because of the impact this has on them over time. Because children who can work with agency, independence and confidence become the adults who live with joy and purpose and can change the world for good.
I encourage you to read Adam Gopnik’s piece, “What We Lose When We Push Our Kids to ‘Achieve,'” and reflect on the experience that we collectively are giving our students. The support of the families and Montessori educators of this community is what allows our school to thrive, and I thank you warmly for all you do every day to make this school a haven for learners of every age.