Consciously Walking the Journey of Life With Our Children

The journey of life is about being aware of the essence of who we are – and consciously bringing forth that essence in our daily lives moment by moment.  Like our children, we came to the planet like seeds falling upon the fertile earth. Our mission is to become the true measure of ourselves, and to grow into the fullness of our unique potential.  Each of us has special gifts to share with the world. As we adults encourage our children to connect to their inner world and become more aware of their gifts, we can at the same time continue to cultivate and develop our own.

Maria Montessori’s words about the preparation of the teacher can equally apply to being a parent: “The real preparation for education is the study of one’s self. The training of the teacher is something far more than the learning of ideas.  It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit. If we substitute the word parent for the word teacher, this quote is a call to action for all of us adults to the inner work of becoming reflective caregivers and guides.

Grounded in a practice of our own personal reflection and inner awareness, we can be a much more supportive guide to our children. There are no college degrees in fostering the inner spirit of the child. There is now blueprint for how to do it.  However, we have one important resource at our disposal – our own inner world, that special inviolable place deep within each one of us. The more we can spend quiet “big picture” time with ourselves, the better parents and teachers we will be. For it is during these quiet times that we can find the peace, inspiration, energy and imagination we need to nurture the possibilities for the spiritual awareness and healthy development of our children.

We can help our children experience the good things – the beautiful, sweet, pure, and profound experiences of childhood – as deeply as possible so they will have a solid emotional and spiritual foundation upon which they can build their adulthood. It can be a simultaneous and reciprocal process; we allow what is childlike in us the space and time it needs to be nourished, while we provide an environment in which our children’s spirits can become illumined with sustaining self-awareness.  Viewed in this way, childhood is never really “lost” but can live and evolve in us – and in our children – always.

Below are two activities to do in order to connect with your own inner self  – and also to share a positive, meaningful experience with your child:

Practice 1 – Returning to the Flow: Close your eyes and take 3 mindful breaths. Spend a few minutes thinking of a childhood memory, which was very happy – an experience when you felt free, unfettered and content. If your childhood was not a happy one and you don’t want to go there, please think of another happy moment of your life – a time when you were in “the flow” and feeling connected and in tune with life.

 Try to remember the surroundings or circumstances of your happy moment. Where were you? Were you with somebody special or were you by yourself?  Are there sights, sounds, smells you can recall? Perhaps you were in place that was soft to the touch such as the summer grass or smooth like a mountaintop stone or squishy like the wet sand on the beach. Or maybe it was not in nature at all – but a time when you were zooming down the street on your bike for the first time. Try to recall as many details as you can.

 Now try to remember the feeling of that moment in time. Only you can know the particular feelings of that special time. Reconnect with that feeling by naming it. Or you can put the feeling into a sentence: “I was so happy then.” Or “My whole being was so light and carefree.” Whatever it was put it into a few words and speak the words softly to yourself. Of course, you can put the words into the present tense if you wish.

 Stay in this reverie long enough so that you can remember a few central details and so you can speak the feeling(s) of that moment in time. Open your eyes and spend 10 minutes writing or sketching your moment in time if you wish. This will help you to return to this visualization in the future and possibility go deeper into it – or lay the foundation for you to visualize another happy moment in the past.

 Practice 2 – Revisiting an Important Moment in Time with Your Child

Take your child back to a place of one of your happiest childhood memories – or to a place of a very happy moment in your adult life. If going to the place is not practically possible, you can show your child a photograph of the place / time. It could be the same point in time that you reflected on in exercise #1 – or a totally different one.

 Tell your child what was special to you about that moment in time and about the place where it occurred. Tell them why it was important to you. Share how you felt about the experience and why it was and is important to you.

 Let your child ask questions about the event, as this is how he or she will form a more complete picture of it in their minds.

 Doing this exercise will help bond you with your child around an experience important to you and will give your child a sense of what matters to you. It will connect you together around the positive emotions of happiness and connectedness. It will bring you back into “the flow of life” – an experience your child is likely to understand very readily.

 As adults, it is like we are trying to retrace our steps back to that special place deep within ourselves – where time stands still.   It takes acts of conscious will to re-discover our own inner world – and our own inner world is the well-spring from which inspiration and life-satisfaction flows.  As we walk along the journey of life – toward our own self-actualization  and happiness– we can at support and nurture the unfolding of our child’s self-awareness at the same time.


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.


Building the Schools of the Future: How Long Will We Wait?

“We need schools that provide young people with well-structured spaces in which to discover who they are and what they care deeply about. We need schools where adults prepare students for active citizenship and the 21st century work place. And we need schools to reinforce democratic practices that extend beyond the school’s walls, helping adults unite behind the shared belief that all children deserve to be seen and heard.” –Sam Chaltain American Schools – The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community

Sam Chaltain sums up succinctly and eloquently the change that is on the horizon for American schools – if we choose to embrace it.   We must rethink what school is for, and that requires us to revisit what we deem to be a life well lived. If we keep going down the current path, we will continue to graduate high school students who are all too often disengaged from their own learning and unsure of what the purpose of their education is. Moreover the stress they are under to meet perceived expectations in terms of college entrance requirements saps the energy and joy out of the high school learning experience. The hyper focus on grades, SAT scores and creating the perfect profile for university applications places the goal of education at some obscure distant point in the future rather than a process of human unfolding and personal growth.

We are at a crossroads in education in America. We need to choose between a pathway that unleashes the human creative spirit or a pathway that literally dulls the mind and deadens the heart. This crossroads demands we have the courage to abandon the constraining curriculum structures of the past and allow for more individualized and cross-subject learning. It forces us to pause and reflect how we can fashion standards that serve as useful benchmarks but don’t reduce the human learning experience to the tabulation of bubbles filled in by number 2 pencils. The signs at this crossroads implore us to answer several key questions: Why are we evaluating? What are we evaluating? And how are we evaluating?

Why are we evaluating? We should evaluate to find out if we are doing a good enough job in supporting students in developing their unique Talents and Passions. We should evaluate to check whether the internal motivation of a student is increasing and whether they are developing the Discipline and Drive necessary to achieve their dreams down the road. We should evaluate to help students know if they are on the pathway to becoming good citizens and to finding the opportunities they desire in the 21st century work force.

What are evaluating? I would postulate that the reason we evaluate is to determine if students are making progress toward goals they themselves have set and toward learning objectives that comprise both content and aptitudes. Information and factual knowledge is of course indispensable for students as they head toward the career path of their choice. However the complex world they are entering will require very refined skills in how to gather, verify, combine and share the myriad kinds of information.  In addition, students will be all the more successful and fulfilled in that complex world to the degree they have a personal ethical code and an understanding of civic responsibility.

How are we evaluating? For decades we have measured learning as if it were a lake that is a mile wide and an inch deep. New types of measures will be required to help schools and schools determine if aptitudes such as critical thinking, information literacy, innovation, collaboration and communication are being acquired. This will require teachers to learn new techniques that foster student self-reflection, peer-evaluation, digital portfolios, presentations and exhibits – as well as teacher to teacher professional development.  Such a shift in emphasis will in turn require that teachers be liberated from the pressures to teach to the type of tests that now drive so much of the curriculum and consume the vast amount of class time and school resources.

In his book American Schools, Sam Chaltain quotes Fred Givens, middle school principal of Bronx Prep Charter School in New York City: “Some of us have learned that – despite what intuition might suggest – structure actually creates freedom. Through experiences implementing democratic principles in the classroom and in the process co-creating our shared culture, it has become clear that the potential for looseness, play, free thought and creativity is generated when the structures are so elegantly constructed that they become nearly invisible. This has been a fundamental revelation.”

In other words, it is not that we need to abandon structure altogether in order to foster the creative thinking and love of learning we envision for the new fabric of our schools. Rather it is imagining new types of structures that allow the development of what I call USP™ – Unique Student Potential. Every student has a particular constellation of Talents and Passions. Understanding each student’s Talents and Passions and empowering him / her with the Drive and Discipline they need to develop them – should form the basis for the curriculum frameworks and evaluative mechanisms going forward. The rapidity of change in our world is staggering. The tide of the future is already here. Let’s give our students the tools to confidently ride the waves to the shores they seek.

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