Category Archives: Public Schools

Building Adaptive Thinkers is the #1 Goal of Education in the 21st Century

Thomas Friedman’s fantastic new book is called Thank You for Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.   I recommend it as essential reading for educators and parents alike – as we all try to come to grips with the incredible rate of change in our world and what it means for our children.

Friedman points out in poignant detail exactly what is changing and how:  “The three largest forces on our planet – technology, globalization and climate change – are all accelerating at once.”  And the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve had to adapt to before.  Friedman says it is “surely one of the great transformative moments in history.”

The possible pathways forward for us to adapt as individuals and as a species center around our ability to be resilient and adapt in the face of this potentially staggering change.  This ability will increase if we can become “radically inclusive” –  each of us bringing into our work “as many relevant people, processes, disciplines, organizations and technologies as possible.”  “Indeed as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and synthesize more perspectives.”

In reading this book, it struck me like a lightning bolt that Friedman is also laying out in stark detail the pathway forward for education.  This pathway is both exhilarating and daunting.  Exhilarating because there is a world of new opportunities for collaboration, of new technology platforms and of interdisciplinary explorations.  Daunting because we ourselves need to adapt our thinking about education itself – and be courageous enough to let go of the old and explore the new.

If we are to help build new neural pathways for innovation and creativity, we must allow our students the space necessary to explore and develop curiosity.  We must build into the schedule time for students to go deep with subject matter and discover connections between subject fields.  We must allow the opportunity for students to get into the flow of the learning process by supporting what they are passionate about.  And we must foster the opportunity to collaborate, share projects and add their own improvements to the innovations of others.

In these ways we can begin to begin to foster the kind of adaptive thinkers who can leverage the changes we face – and transform them into net positives for humanity .  To accomplish this,  we as educators and parents will need to learn – and to encourage – a new capacity called “dynamic stability”.  Dynamic stability is like riding a bicycle:  you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier.  Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X Research and Development lab says, “It is not our natural state.  But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.”  As we move into this state of adaptive change, Friedman says, “We’re all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”



The Human Brain and the Montessori Classroom

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAz1AAAAJGEwM2Y3ZGRmLTI3M2EtNGQ4My04NDg3LTM2MzRmYTIxYzcxMAThe discoveries Maria Montessori made over a century ago about the evolving brain of a child have been proven to be true by modern brain science. In Montessori education, students learn by doing. They learn in a hands-on way with educational materials scientifically designed to meet their brain development at different ages. Students learn in a concrete way and build concepts from interaction with their work and the socialization that comes with their classroom activities.

In a Montessori classroom the most important thing is the deep engagement of the students in the learning process. Maria Montessori called this “concentration”, but in modern terms we would call it “flow”. The ability of a student to be deeply engaged in their work leads to superior study skills, organizational ability and internal motivation. A major factor in developing this ability is the opportunity for students to have some choices in their learning process – and to pursue topics they are passionate about. A second major factor is to allow students the time to engage in an activity without being rushed and to be able to explore a subject in depth.

Our test driven culture too often results in a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” If we want true learning to occur we must understand that concepts are acquired when the learner makes an active choice to know something new – not when the learner is forced to memorize information that must be repeated later on. Knowledge is how each student puts together information into unique sets of ideas – it is not the mere gathering or storing of information. In this way, Maria Montessori was far ahead of her time – and her many discoveries and innovations are only now being truly appreciated as we strive to develop educational models that match the swiftly accelerating pace of change in our world.


The World Has Changed – Shouldn’t School? Two Things Every Parent Should Ask About Their Child’s School Experience.

The world is changing at a blinding speed. We all know that and can feel the impact of the pace of change upon our lives.  If we pause to reflect upon the last 35 years, the shifts have been cataclysmic and historic.  The Osborne 1 – the computer considered by most historians to be the first true portable computer – was produced in 1981.  The World Wide Web as we know it was introduced in 1991 by a computer programmer in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee.  The first mass produced cell phone was the Nokia 1011 made in 1994.  Facebook was founded in 2004.  Twitter was launched in 2006.  Instagram was created in 2010.   The Tesla Roadster was first delivered to customers in 2008.

Meanwhile over this same period of time, we have seen the automation of myriad jobs that used to be done by humans.  According to Forbes Magazine’s Wolfgang Lehmacher (2016), the U.S. has lost 5 million factor jobs since 2000 – largely due to automation.  Yet we rely on technology to make our lives easier and more comfortable – whether it be following our GPS to our next destination, making purchases online, reserving a table at our favorite restaurant, ordering an Uber, or finding a suitable mate.   We spend the bulk of our work time each day using electronic devices with screens, then most of us relax, read or get entertained via screens at home or at the movie theater.

In short,  how we work and how we play looks unimaginably different than it did in world of 1980.  There is perhaps no element of our lives that is very similar to what it was 35 years ago – except one:  School.  The experience of school, generally speaking, is remarkably similar to how it was back in 1980.  To be sure, most schools are now internet connected and students today have access in varying degrees to technology. Vast amounts of federal and state dollars have been spent on building school infrastructure, creating standards and tests, training teachers  and creating systems of  accountability.  The charter school movement has gained momentum as cities and school districts try desperately to increase test scores.

Yet despite money, the political rhetoric and the many attempts at education reform, including No Child Left Behind and Common Core – the Concept of school has remained – astonishingly – almost unchanged.  The vast majority of students, for example, still matriculate on yellow school buses to school, where they spend most of their day going from class to class when a bell signals that it is time to do so.  They sit in rows of desks and listen to a teacher deliver a lesson, the content of which may have nothing to do with the content in the class they just came from or the class they will go to next.  For each class the students must discern what the teacher will ask on the test – so they can master the material in the fashion that will result in the best grade.  In addition they must take numerous other state and national standardized exams each year – not really for their benefit – but so the school can meet administrative and parent expectations.

This is the way many of us experienced school, and either because of habit or out of fear of what might happen if we change, we send our children and adolescents off to a school experience that looks and feels the way it was for us a generation ago – or more.   This archaic school paradigm we are so attached to however,  is no longer viable in preparing our young people for life and work in the 21st Century.  According to the 2015 international PISA test, American students are still in the middle of the pack when it comes to reading and science proficiency – and the results in math placed them near the bottom of 35 industrialized countries. (Emily Richmond, The Atlantic Dec. 2016)

Meanwhile, school has increasingly  become a stressful and dehumanizing experience for most students.  According to a NYU study published in August, 2015, nearly half (49%) of all public high school students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed.  (The results for private high school students were not that different.)

The “arc of history” has been a long one for education in America.  It will take time for wholesale innovation to take hold – and that will come as a result of both bottom up initiatives on the parent and local school board level as well as continued visionary leadership from those who are charting a smarter, healthier and more student-centered  way forward.  Indeed there are a number of inspiring and trailblazing programs across the country, including High Tech High in San Diego, Mc2 School in New Hampshire and Montessori high schools such as Clark Montessori (public) in Cincinnati, Montessori School at University Circle (private) in Cleveland and New Gate School (private) in Sarasota.  We can look to these and other models for inspiration and guidance as we forge a pathway forward that supports the development of students as individuals.

In the meantime, regardless of whether your children attend public or private school, and regardless of the age of your child, there are a two key questions every parent should ask:

Is my child or adolescent learning how to think?  It goes without saying that learning how to fill in the right bubbles on a standardized test is not the ultimate preparation for life in the complex global society our young people will enter.  Teachers, administrators, schools and sometimes entire school districts are under tremendous pressure to meet testing requirements and to demonstrate improvement in test scores.  But what do thedr test results truly show us and what are the tests actually testing?

The development of thinking skills requires the ability to connect things – to see how one concept is embedded in another, to link ideas together and to integrate content in one subject with content in another subject.  The ability to think means the capacity to sort through information; to compare and contrast that information in an effort to determine what is most verifiable.  It also implies that one can listen to another point of view and appreciate the valid points in an argument which one might disagree with.  Most importantly, thinking skills are about creating ideas that are unique to the individual – ideas that nobody else could have because nobody has the same constellation of Talent, Passion, Drive and Discipline.

Ask your child or adolescent what they are learning at school – and ask them what the new concepts they are learning  mean to them?  Invite them to envision new solutions to problems.  Engage them in a dialogue based upon questions you yourself are interested in.  Encourage them to read and to investigate topics of interest to them.  Allow them to try out different experiences to see what might spark their minds. And above all, keep a dialogue going with your child / adolescent about learning itself and the other things you place at the top of your value system.

Is my child’s / adolescent’s heart alive ? When one has to sit passively,  day in and day out and year in and year out,  listening to information being conveyed by teachers who are mostly presenting in a lecture format, the excitement about learning can wane.  More often than not, the classroom experience is not set up to to give space to the things our child or adolescent might be most passionate about.  Only infrequently can they truly follow what they are interested in because curriculum targets have to be met – and as a result learning is often a “mile wide and an inch deep.” As a result students often arrive at university, if they get there at all,  not at all sure of what they really want to pursue – and all too many drop out after their first semester or year.

Our Passion is what keeps our hearts pumping.  It is like the air we breathe – and we must preserve the heart of our child / adolescent by ensuring it is still alive with Passion.  Passion means so enjoying an activity that we can lose track of time and place because of the sheer joy of doing that thing.  Our child / adolescent may well have a Passion for certain academic subjects, but at the same time what may really drive them could be an activity that is outside the realm of academics.  Ideally they can pursue that Passion during extracurricular activities at school – but if not, finding a way for them to pursue that Passion elsewhere could be key to their overall well-being and outlook for the future.  If they feel their Passion has to be delayed until other “more important” academic obligations are tended to, then they could be deprived of the soul-nourishment they need to gain the stamina to meet those obligations.

Check in frequently with your child / adolescent about how their experience at school is going – especially in regard to what truly excites them.  Pay attention to their “affect” when engaging with them about their day or their week.  Try to be a good listener without uttering too frequent judgements or criticisms.  Sharing your anxieties about their current progress is not bad as long as you express how much faith you have in them in the end.  Discuss with them their goals for their future and try to support those goals – however divergent they may be from what you may have wished at one time or another.  Remember that by being able to pursue their Passions they’ll have the enthusiasm and Drive to accomplish many things – and that without those opportunities, their heart will not have the nutrients it needs to thrive.

At the Oneness-Family Montessori High School of Washington,  we are developing the concept of USP™ – Unique Student Potential – the unique constellation of Talent, Passion, Drive and Discipline within each individual.  We’ve identified 15 Habits of Learning essential to the development of every student’s USP – including Thinking Habits, Social Habits and Personal Habits.  In the spirit of Maria Montessori our goal is for each student to find their voice and develop the gifts they came into the world to share. 

Learn more at

Teaching Citizenship After the 2016 Election

One thing the 2016 election has made starkly clear is that we have a dearth of citizenship skills across the electorate – on both sides. Regardless of whom we voted for, we would do well to reflect upon how we got here and how we move forward toward a dialogue that goes beyond the vitriol and blame which have consumed the airwaves and social media before and after November 8. At Oneness-Family Montessori High School of Washington, we’ve identified core skills that every student should learn to be an informed and engaged citizen. As we enable each individual to reach their Unique Student Potential™, we aim to foster young leaders who have the breadth of knowledge and depth of aptitudes necessary to make actual citizenship work. Three of our core skills of citizenship are outlined below. We all could benefit from taking these to heart.

Information Literacy: According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, Information Literacy is “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning.”

“Because of the escalating complexity of (our) environment, individuals are faced with diverse, abundant information choices–in their academic studies, in the workplace, and in their personal lives. Information is available through libraries, community resources, special interest organizations, media, and the Internet–and increasingly, information comes to individuals in unfiltered formats, raising questions about its authenticity, validity, and reliability.”

At Oneness-Family Montessori High School, we aim to teach that information literacy is about understanding the various sources of information, the different media through which that information may be accessed, the context of time and place from which the information is being shared, and the biases, whether intentional or unintentional, which may be embedded in the information. For our students to become engaged citizens, they must be able to discern the what, where and why of information in order to determine – to the highest degree possible – what is accurate and what is true.

Critical Thinking: According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

“Critical Thinking entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking — in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes — is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.”

Our aim at Oneness-Family Montessori High School is for students to become proficient critical thinkers, capable of analyzing the writing or thinking of others in order to determine what the core thoughts and purposes might be. Critical thinking is absolutely essential in the civic arena, where the key messages of politicians and leaders are expressed by means of a wide variety of rhetorical devices. Understanding the power of language to persuade and inspire can both inure a citizenry from demagogues and also help identify the attributes that define those leaders we admire most in history.

Civics: Civics is the study of citizenship and government. It includes the history of our government’s foundation and it’s development over time. Civics begins by deep reading and reflection upon on the core documents that define our democracy, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, among others. By studying civics, students learn how power and responsibility are shared in American democracy – and how our government both empowers the individual to reach for his / her dreams – and at the same limits the power of any individual to usurp the will of its citizenry as a whole.

Civics teaches the origins of democracy and the historic versions of democracy – from the ancient Greeks to the Iroquois confederacy. It also explores the impact of American politics on world affairs – from our founding to the current day. The teaching of civics highlights the central role of law in the American constitutional system; how our laws enshrine the fundamental truths which we hold as “self-evident – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” By studying civics we learn that, while the rights of American citizens are encapsulated in our founding documents and preserved in our legal system, those rights can only be guaranteed by the informed and active participation of citizens in the democratic process itself.

At Oneness-Family Montessori High School, we encourage our students to take heed of the words inscribed on Thomas Jefferson’s memorial: “Vigilance is the price of freedom”. Students who will be the leaders of tomorrow must understand that being a citizen means staying informed, being engaged and understanding the value of a free press. They also must have a knowledge of how the world is organized politically and how civic participation in the American political system compares to that in other societies around the world. In the end, being a part of a pluralistic democratic political system requires a knowledge base and a set civic skills – such as dialogue and debate – along with a good dose of patience.

If your preferred candidate won the 2016 election: you could gloat, ignore the disparity between the electoral college and the popular votes, and think the work for now is done. If your candidate lost, you could give in to despair and apathy – and blame the system for failing to allow your points of view to be heard. Neither of these responses will be very helpful working through the challenging times and hard work ahead. Sometimes – even often times – democracy is messy and uncomfortable. Let’s do our part to “up our game” as American citizens regardless of our political beliefs. We can start by going back to Civics 101. And let’s hope the next generation of Montessori educated leaders will help ensure that our democracy survives and thrives forever.

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