Like with any profession, conferences and congresses are a useful tool to keep you in the loop with trending subjects and developments. From the broad and open discussion to the particular niche, many from all over the world come together and share their opinions towards moving ideas forward or strengthening pre-existing foundations. In the Montessori world there are many congresses organised each year. However, 2017 was a highly anticipated year for congresses, as the International Montessori Congress opened its doors again after it was organised four years before in 2013 in Portland, Oregon. The excitement this time being that it had returned to Europe after over a decade in the heart of historical Prague. This year over 1400 schools from six continents were predicted to be represented over the weekend -- a rather overwhelming number when you hail from a tiny island in the Mediterranean!
Over the weekend the Congress offered amazing Keynote lectures, exciting Breakout sessions, interesting panels, inspiring Research Posters, a Congress fair & Family Market. The theme for the weekend was 'Pathway to Peace: Montessori Education for Social Change'. How does peace manifest itself? This subject brought to light our affects within social and emotional peace through our efforts towards growing peace within the self, society, our approach to others and the universe. In previous years we have focused on the early years -- the Absorbent Mind -- and how we can scaffold the most vital first years of life where the human is being formed. In today's educational culture we are finding our attention being shifted towards the adolescent. The children of 10 years ago are growing into young adults and our efforts need not stop after six years old. How to we support these young people in nurturing their passion and allowing them to actually make a change? Is adolescence more than just hormones and 'fitting in'? The adolescent wants to fit in, but perhaps on a larger scale than we allow them to grow. They have the capabilities to make an impact on the world, but we have to trust them and therefore scaffold our education towards their needs of this period of growth. Something that we have to consider when saying goodbye to our early years groups and fostering their future development as they move on through the world.
Here is a summary of what listened to and participated in over the weekend.
DAY 1 The Self: The Basis for Peace
Angeline Lillard -- Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia
'The Development of the Self as a leader in a Montessori Context'
What we brought home: leadership: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, self control, industriousness, orderliness, and responsibility. In comparison with other educational approaches and programs, Montessori nurtures qualities that support leadership, like strong social skills, executive function, and a mastery of orientation.
Carla Foster -- AMI Director of Training and MTCNE, USA
'The Path from Bossiness to Leadership in the Elementary Classroom'
What we brought home: "We are the species that can cross huge distances. We are good at imagining. Thinking forwards and backwards in time, and we are good at cooperating despite our differences" How do children define a leader? Perhaps we should ask them to define a leader individually and within the group? We should continue to encourage the children to move away from rule-based justice, and move to the response of the needs of the environment. For example, the subject of fairness: is fair the same as equal? Can we challenge the idea of fair within the children, as they develop in order to find out if everybody needs the same amount of help or do others require more or different help dependent on their place in a situation?
As teachers we cannot give a lesson to everyone, therefore we need to promote leadership skills in children that allow the information to be passed on. Montessori's path to self-construction is not about making it east, it is about making it doable.
DAY 2 Others: The Family and Education for Peace
Irene Fafalios -- Director of Training AMI, Athens
'The Promise of Peace'
What we brought home: Our world is a violent ones. Violence appears through adults wielding power over children, whether in the home or in the world. This anger that children store within them is then discharged later in life, probably towards others. However, a helping witness, someone who listens with compassion, unknowingly teaches the children that we are entitled to kindness, which in turn builds resilience.
The work of the child is different from that of an adult -- the work of the child is to create the adult. We must remind ourselves of this and refrain from any attempt to live our life through theirs.
"You are, therefore, I am" -- Satish Kumar. The family is our first school, exemplifying how it is possible to live with one another.
Exploring Parker Palmer's 'Five Habits of the Heart' to Enliven our Role as Montessorians
What we brought home: the heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds and what we know in our bones. The five habits are:
1. an understanding that we are all in this together = mixed ages, recognition of others, promote recognition and communication.
2. an appreciation of the values of otherness = listen to each other without fear.
3. the ability to hold tension in life giving ways
4. a sense of personal voice and agency
5. a capacity to create community = community doesn't create abundance: community is abundance.
What is Social Imagination: Nature, Art and Play
What we brought home: Social imagination is the capacity to respect the past and envision the world as it could be through interactions with others in the natural environment. Nature, art and play are direct ways to experience and cultivate social imagination and help children understand and be responsible for the Earth. We embarked on a journey to be catalysts in the classrooms for creative expression with nature and brainstormed natural extensions of your classroom materials and way to create simple "naturescapes" at the school or classroom.
Learning the Peacemaking Circle Process
What we brought home: Way of Council is a practice on non-hierarchical and violence-free form of communication, based on traditional ways of sharing and governing in circle. It teaches us sharing from the heart, listening without judgments, respect and focus on what serves - to us, to the community and to the greater good. We were provided introductions to basic Ways of Council, provided personal experience of sharing in Council circle and how to offer space for discussion about possible use of the method within our school communities.
Leadership: It's in every one of us
What we brought home: Our work in Montessori requires each of us to possess the inner and interpersonal qualities of authentic leadership needed to do our best work for children, for multiple generations of families, and for our world. We will explore what those essential qualities are and how we develop them within ourselves in whatever role we have in our Montessori work. Montessori emphasised the preparation of the adult with children. Now, today, Montessori efforts cover the entire continuum of human life. Our adult task is to work on our own development as leaders as pathway to peace in a world we profoundly want to transform.
Montessori 2030 -- Being part of the solution: a holistic approach www.montessori2030.org
What we brought home: by 2050 60% of people will be 20+ meaning we need 650 million new jobs. Conflicts will be local and competition will be global. There is no plan B and no planet B, so we cannot leave it for the next generation to fix. How can a small school make investments to help meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and become institutions as part of a solution? We can and should do more!
"An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live" -- Maria Montessori, Education and Peace
Day 3 Society: The Agents of Social Change
Scilla Elworthy -- World-renowned peace activist & Nobel Peace Prize nominee
Empowering the Adolescent as an Agent of Social Reform
What we brought home: Self-knowledge -- protects us from projecting our inner fear and anger of what is happening in the world onto other people. It is essential for young people to learn how to deal with fear and uncertainty: to walk towards what frightens you. "There is always some gift underneath suffering".
Presence -- the core of integrity. It enables people to listen to all of you: your mind, heart, body language, spirit.
Anyone can make a difference! Let's move away from what can I get to what can I give. Ask yourself three questions:
1. What breaks your heart?
2. What are your main skills?
3. How can you marry those skills with that passion?
This is the foundation to begin to make a different and bring you closer to making a change within the world. These are the questions we want the next generation to feel comfortable with.
Guadalupe Borbolla -- Director of Training in Instituto Montessori de Mexico
The Adolescent: Of Roots and Wings Across the Planes of Development
What we brought home: Montessori is a champion in providing imagination in the first place of development (0 to 6 years old), where a child can imagine freely without fantasy. We need children that can challenge the world that they have now and work with it, rather than longing for a world that has gone or does not exist.
Institutions that cause anxiety in children regarding high academic rate should not exist. Learning is a natural instinct. The human is so much more powerful and capable than academic expectations: we are born with a cosmic consciousness. Help the children resolve and act for myself.
Montessori & Mindfulness
What we brought home: Research on the benefits of mindfulness - the ability to be in the present moment temporarily setting aside distractions 0 is being shown to have many health benefits. Meditation is just one method of mastering this skill. Our workshop leader shared examples of mindfulness can and should be part of the Montessori practice at any age, and can help children and adults fulfill their potential.
Nature: the first and essential environment
What we brought home: "Collective ignorance about nature leads to collective indifference and from there it is not many more steps to ecological depreciation and collapse"
The timeline of Nature Deficit Disorder:
1940s/50s: children and adults generally connected to the out of doors; neighbourhoods watched out for children; children walked to school and played in the park.
1960s: wider use and availability of AC -- more people cooling off inside; cold war changes our perception of safety; porch sitting a thing of the past.
1970s/80s: the aids epidemic and the fragility of health; stranger danger spreads; people move further out of the suburbs, large plots of land, not knowing the neighbours; security firms move into neighbourhoods, locks and alarms; corporations become profit driven and the employee no longer a priority.
1990s and millennium: sexual predator lists and neighbourhood watch; suspicion of neighbours; fear of the out doors and of nature; increase in school violence; computers change the workforce how we work; no child left behind and the increase in test scores; catholic church scandals.
2000: 9/11 and the rain of terrorism; increase in domestic terrorism; increase in distrust in Government and the education system.
2017: what do we do about it?
Let's not let litigious liabilities limit the children's experience and begin to incorporate more adventure and outdoor exploration take place within our environments. The practical implementations could include starting the day outside, record where you have been going: notice the changes, connect with the earth: get close to the ground, look for the small details, equip the children with real tools (there is nothing as dangerous as a child with a blunt knife!), feel the trees, blindfold to heighten the senses, climb trees: do not help children get up and down as they will not develop the awareness of growth that one day they were unable to reach and then one day they are able.
Working together to support the child
What we brought home: There is an African proverb: it takes a village to raise a child. Montessori parents, teachers, and schools can create their own 'village' as they support the child and each other. We examined the responsibilities of each of these components of the village and how they can build a unified field of support through communication, commitment and community.
Montessori Education -- a pathway to environmental awareness
What we brought home: Dr. Montessori recognised the importance of developing environmental awareness from an early age. Through the ages of development the child develops attitudes and responsibilities towards the environment and learns about ecological principles and prepares to contribute to environmental protection. This presentation helped contribute to our own further thinking about this topic and through mind-mapping and group discussions, we were able to use theoretical and practical solutions that we could implement in the future.
Montessori based gardening in a food desert to help create food security
What we brought home: How do we bring farming into a Montessori/early years environment? Raised bed gardens; partnerships with local companies such as farms, churches, local authorities, universities and collages in order to bring awareness, roles and results; irrigation systems -- rain barrel collection for water for plants. A healthy community has lots of activity within it, therefore there are people everywhere to get involved. Bring the children outside in order to encourage the active participation in the food cycles, and then bring in the families in order for the community to grow further. By developing this community feeling, perhaps not only the children will benefit from sustainable goods but also the awareness of social sustainability where role models are found in all of the acts and people around them.
Day 4 Universe: Peace and Ecological Unity
Paul Gilding -- Environmentalist, author and social entrepreneur
'In global crises lies an opportunity for transformation'
What we brought home: to prepare our children with the understanding and knowledge they will need over their lives, requires us to consider not just our beliefs and values. We must consider the context in which they will live, as human civilisation develops over the coming century. While it is impossible to precisely forecast this, there are some fundamental, science determined things that we know. There, along with our values, can be our guide.
In this, there are some hard truths to face. The climate is changing and this process is now accelerating. The stability of the world is being undermined by the physical impacts of our overuse and abuse of our natural resources, particularly land, water and biodiversity. "It's not what we need, it is what is possible. And on a planetary scale, what is possible, is a planers worth of resources". This is causing nations to become unstable, refugees to flee and conflict, fear and nationalism to worsen. Feeding this further, is the inequality that is growing despite the enormous wealth we have created. "It is an existential crises by true definition of the word".
This task seems impossible to us right now. World War II seemed like an impossible task at the time, and yet it was successful in pushing back and eliminating global threats. Changing our habits from meat eating to plant based diets, getting rid of CO2 emission from coal, gas and fuel, is a walk in the park to WWII! Its about changing how you thing, not defeating an enemy threat. Trust your heart. We are now at the intellectual point that working for the purpose is good. Trust that sense of purpose and trust that the cosmic world is going to tell you when you have reached the point of the right place. Keep on trying new things until you find even more new things, until you find the energy to push you forward. As Montessorians, you are working with the individual and, at this stage in mankind, we are going into the world needing to make a choice. It is a grey area and unclear. "I am going to manifest to my best ability the best in humanity". Continue to grow young people that crises lead to transformation and that impossible only looks impossible now, but will become clear after we have broken through the other side.
If you managed to make it though all of those summaries, then you can see how much we were immersed in over four days! There was a lot of food for thought from all different areas, and we are excited to see them come to life in our settings. Watch this space as you begin to notice our efforts, and don't be surprised if we ask for your participation, guidance and help. A million drops of rain can make an ocean, so together, our small efforts will make a difference.
Emma is the Manager & Lead Teacher at Little Gems Montessori in Larnaca and one of the coordinators for the Little Gems Outdoor Initiative. If you'd like to know what changes we have made this year, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org