The Light in the Darkness

December is the darkest month of the year with the sun setting as early as 4:30pm.  Our world too, often faces metaphorical “Decembers” when tragedies strike; tragedies that create an unimaginable darkness that can consume hearts, minds, and lives.

Recently, I received a letter from St. Edmund’s Academy in Pittsburgh.  St. Edmund’s is close to the area in Squirrel Hill where a shooter killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue.  The letter said that the Head of School was deeply touched when he walked into a local coffee house and discovered that FWM alumni and FWM parents were paying for the coffee for the local community.  The Head decided to share this story at an all-school assembly with the faculty, staff, and students.

The letter I received states, “It is unfortunate that such horrific events should be the thing that binds two communities together.  Your example of strength, and the kindness you have shown, provides hope for us all.”  In addition to the letter from the school, twelve 2nd graders also wrote letters and drew pictures of thanks for the FWM community.

Each of us has the potential to bring light where there is darkness; acts of kindness and love can change the trajectory of people’s lives.  As a school, FWM is intentional in helping children understand the power of compassion in dispelling the dark and bringing hope to a fractured world.  In this month of darkness, I hope you and your family find moments to celebrate the light that is around and within us.

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The Season of Slowing Down

Winter approaches as we step into the cold, dark month of December.  All of nature seems to have settled into its slumber, reflecting the bare trees that have shed the last of their dry leaves and now hang motionless across a stark landscape.  The ancients too would settle into their dwellings, barricaded from the cold and huddled around the glow and warmth of the family fire.

We could learn an important lesson if we shift into the natural rhythm of the season.  Winter invites us to slowdown, to break from the high-paced tempo of our daily lives, and “hunker down” next to the hearth within our hearts and within the hearts of our families.

Below are some ways to embrace the pace of winter and savor the elongated moments with loved ones:

  • Have a “no device” day where everyone in the house stays away from devices
  • Collect kindling as a family and make a tradition of building a fire together each weekend
  • Have a “family read” where everyone in the house is reading for a fixed amount of time
  • Go for a winter hike and look for signs of life (scat, broken twigs, bark rubbings from deer, tracks in the snow, etc.).  More info click here
  • Implement a family game night during an evening when everyone is free
  • Cook a dinner as a family (e.g. homemade pizza making, etc.)
  • Plan a Poetry Evening where family (and friends) share a favorite poem or a poem based on a given theme

To conclude, I hope you enjoy one of the most beautiful and unsettling images of winter portrayed through poetry.  It is Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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Why Montessori? Look to the Future

A little over one hundred and ten years ago, an innovative visionary opened a small school for poor children in a suburb of Rome.  Maria Montessori’s techniques at the time were revolutionary but are now considered by contemporary educators as highly effective.  In fact, leading researchers, scientists, and educational authors will cite the Montessori approach as being an educational model that truly prepares children for the future.  What does that preparation look like at FWM?

  • The emphasis on “choice” and the Montessori “works” prepares children to be independent thinkers who are resourceful and resilient when solving problems
  • The multi-age classrooms and work cycle provides a plethora of opportunities for children to collaborate and cooperate with children of different ages
  • With the focus on the child and not the teacher, children learn self-advocacy and are encouraged to ask questions and think differently
  • The culture is one that emphasizes and intentionally cultivates one’s social-emotional development (e.g. compassion)
  • By partnering with students on their learning (instead of dictating what and when they will learn a concept), children become more invested and more engaged;  this investment and engagement leads to a joy of learning

Recently, Inc. Magazine listed those skills needed for people entering into the work force in 2020 to be successful.  Though there is no plan to have our children employed in two years, the below skills provide a road map for the types of skills needed in the future job market.  I think you will also find that these same skills are cultivated at FWM.  Below is an excerpt from the magazine.

“The World Economic Forum recently surveyed 350 executives across 9 industries in 15 of the world’s biggest economies to generate The Future of Jobs.  The top 10 skills that will be most desired by employers by 2020:

10. Cognitive flexibility

This involves creativity, logical reasoning, and problem sensitivity. It also means being able to adapt how you communicate based on who you’re talking to. Employers want to know you don’t just say the same thing to everyone — that you think critically about who you’re talking to, deeply listen, and tailor communication to that person.

9. Negotiation skills

This will be in especially high demand in computer and math jobs, such as data analysis and software development. It will also be critical in the arts and design (including commercial and industrial designers).

8. Service orientation

This was defined as actively seeking ways to help others. How much do you assist those on your team, your superiors, and people across your industry? How much are you known for that?

7. Judgment and decision-making

As organizations collect more and more data, there will be an even greater need for workers who can analyze it and use it to make intelligent decisions. Good judgment also involves knowing how to get buy-in from a colleague, or making a strong suggestion to a manager (even if it might not make you popular).

6. Emotional intelligence

Robots can do a lot, but they still can’t read people the way other humans can (at least not yet). Employers will place a strong emphasis on hiring those who are aware of others’ reactions, as well as their own impact on others.

5. Coordinating with others

Again, this falls under the social skills umbrella (sensing a trend?). It involves being able to collaborate, adjust in relation to others, and be sensitive to the needs of others.

4. People management

In the report, this included being able to motivate people, develop the talents and skills of employees, and pick the best people for a job. This will be especially in demand for managers in the media and energy industries.

3. Creativity

In 2015, creativity ranked 10th on the list. It’s now one of the top three skills employers will seek. Why? Because as we’re bombarded by new technologies, employers want creative people who can apply that tech to new products and services.

2. Critical thinking

As automation increases, the need for humans who can employ logic and reasoning increases. This is, in part, because machines must be directed ethically and optimally. Employers want people with critical minds who can evaluate the uses or abuses of the power of technology, and use them to benefit the company, the people in it, and the future.

1. Complex problem-solving

Technology can make life easier, but it can also make things more complicated. For example, you could use wearables to help map the walking patterns of nurses and doctors in a hospital to see how to make things more efficient. But without a human being analyzing those results while also having intelligent conversations with nurses, doctors, and patients, you will likely end up with a wrong or even dangerous result.

The report shows that 36% of all jobs across all industries will require complex problem-solving abilities as a core skill by 2020.”

Click here for the full Inc. article by Melanie Curtin

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Breaking Bread Together

This coming Wednesday, FWM students, faculty, and staff will gather to break bread as a community.  The bread, made by the children, will be shared together by all and is symbolic of the care and kindness that defines our school community.  The 8th graders will lead the process by carrying the baskets of school-made bread to their younger schoolmates.  Watching the faces of the children during this time is priceless and I remember the looks of awe as these tall, young adults approached them with the baskets.

Events above produce moments of gratitude that spring forth like dandelion seeds on a summer day.  When we stop and appreciate the moments before us, we begin to see the true goodness in the world.  This past week, I shared the following quote from author Brene Brown: “I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”

I wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

Head of School

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Pied Beauty in Connecticut

The changing leaves are lit in yellow and green – it looks like an autumn tapestry outside.   The scene reminds me of “Pied Beauty”, one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.   This is an ideal time to be outside with children – the weather is still relatively pleasant; the scenery is spectacular; and there is so much to discover.  The National Wildlife Foundation published an article that cited several studies on the impact of the outdoors on children.  In the article, the authors outline the below benefits of having children connect to the natural world:

  • Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues
  • Being outside improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness
  • Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms
  • Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships

Though our local area in Connecticut is abundant with hiking trails and wooded paths, families need not go far to find evidence of nature.  A small patch in one’s front yard can reap small critters, rocks, or seeds.  A backyard can become unexplored territory – ripe and waiting for curious eyes.   Collecting rocks, leaves, different twigs can evolve into a treasure hunt.  Two of my favorite books on getting children excited about nature are Teaching Kids to Love the Earth by Herman, Passineau, Schimpf, and Treauer and Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.   As you plan your weekends, consider carving in small moments to spend some time outdoors with your children.  Its will be time well spent.

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The Gift of Failure

In her book, The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey writes, “Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of the way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world.”

As a parent myself, I know the temptation of pulling a child away from any potential discomfort.  Seeing the tears on their cheek or hearing the pain in their voice is heart-wrenching; we instinctively want to shelter and protect.  However, if parents don’t give children the opportunity to work through failure and pain (within reason), they will grow to become young adults who are paralyzed when faced with more challenging disappointments or  failures.

This Tuesday (tomorrow, Nov. 13), the Avielle Foundation is hosting Jessica Lahey who will be at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown.  Ms. Lahey’s presentation begins at 7:00pm and tickets can be purchased at the door or online.  To purchase tickets online, click here. Use the code BEFWM to receive a 20% discount.

The focus of Ms. Lahey’s presentation on Tuesday will be the work from her book The Gift of Failure and I believe it is a very relevant topic for today’s parents and educators.  More and more children are growing up lacking the necessary tools to overcome struggles and failures.  Ms. Lahey helps parents to see another way to approach failure while also providing strategies parents can use with their children.  I hope you will join me for this very special event.

Best,

Chris

Head of School

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Changemakers

This past Friday, the faculty traveled to the University of Hartford for the Montessori Schools of Connecticut Annual Conference.  The morning keynote speaker was Harvard University’s Howard Gardner, world renowned educator, researcher, and author.  In the afternoon, teachers and administrators had a choice to attend one of two lectures.  I chose Vipin Thekk’s Complimenting and Inspiring Montessori Education in the 21st Century.

In his lecture, Mr. Thekk talked about the importance of mastering the skills of being a changemaker.  He said, “Change is the only constant.  So we need to give the children the skills to work and navigate in a world of rapid change.”  Mr. Thekk continued by saying that empathy, new leadership, and collaborative teamwork are essential skills in order to be effective in enacting meaningful change.  These same skills are cultivated at Montessori schools which is why so many Montessori children grow up to be innovative thinkers and leaders in their field.  To learn more about Vipin Thekk, click here.

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Letting Creativity Flow

Effective schools intentionally shape the learning environment to inspire children.  By doing so, children instinctively begin to think outside the box; they become innovators who enter into a “flow state” of learning.  Though evident in so many corners of the building, the MakerSpace is a place where the flow of creativity hums consistently (and sometimes with much more than a hum).  Check out this video to get a glimpse into the life of one of the most dynamic learning spaces at FWM.