Doing Democracy in School

In thinking about community I’ve been reading one of my favorite authors, Parker J. Palmer, and his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. In this book, Palmer examines the essence of what it means to be a democracy and what it takes for communities, such as schools, to create spaces where deep listening and speaking one’s truth can happen… spaces where teachers, parents, and students can say “what’s in their heart” and listen without judgement, preconceptions or assumptions. Respect, integrity, compassion, honesty, and genuine concern for one another are essential to the practice, and a practice I hope to further cultivate and refine at Brixham. 

Palmer writes, “If we want to teach democratic habits of the heart in our classrooms, we need to help our students explore their inner potential. At the same time we need to help them explore their outer potential- in the school community and in the larger civic community- drawing them into a live encounter with democracy in action.” How do we connect students to the world they have learned about, with the world in which they live? By developing their sense of curiosity, responsibility and agency. In the words of Scott Nine, the executive director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America, “... we must give them practice in real responsibility, real dialogue, and real authority.” Innovative instructional practices, such as Montessori, give students this voice and draws them into action with engaged and meaningful purpose.

~Alica, Head of School

Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass), pp.128-130

The Constructive Rhythm of Life

It’s nearly the end of August and as I look out my office window there are signs of late summer’s beauty- butterflies dancing, dragonflies darting, cicadas humming, golden rod swaying, and an occasional slightly yellowed leaf floating down. I love the change of seasons and the anticipation of what comes next. In just a week, teachers will be bustling around with sponges in hand as they wipe the dust off summer and set up shelves with carefully prepared materials thoughtfully selected with each child in mind, creating an environment that “speaks to the child.” Like a puzzle, the classroom comes apart in pieces and though seemingly scattered, they fit back together again in a composition that is unique and yet, reminiscent of times past. It’s always a marvel to witness… order, chaos, then order again. Children’s development is a little like this… order, chaos, order with each cycle leading to profound growth. Montessori had a name for this, “The Constructive Rhythm of Life” which can be described as the process in which a child moves from one plane of development to another:

As a child passes from one plane to the next, the child experiences a transformation in psychological characteristics. For example, when a child transitions from the First Plane (0-6 yrs) to the Second Plane (6-12 yrs) the child shifts from being an orderly, self-focused, concrete learner to being a less orderly, more collaborative, imaginative learner.”

It can also be described as the process in which the child moves within his or her day with periods of concentration followed by distraction or unsettled-ness to a deeper level of concentration. As an educator of 30 years, I am always humbled by the genius of Maria Montessori whose understanding of how children learn, grow, and develop is truly timeless.

~Alica, Head of School

Heather Pedersen, Ph.D. and Jason A. Pedersen, What is Montessori? A Basic Guide to the Principles, Practices, and Benefits of a Montessori Education. (San Anselmo, CA: Sandpiper Press), 8.