Wednesday, November 25, 2015

HOS address to our Grandparent Guests

Good morning and welcome!   My name is Michelle Morrison and I have the privilege of serving this community as Head of School.  We are so pleased to have you here with us today!  

As you’ll discover in the course of your visit with your grandchild, this is a very special place for children.  It is a learning environment for infants through 8th grade, where children can explore, investigate, and discover in a setting designed just for their developmental needs.  Our teachers are passionate, attuned specialists in the age group they teach and guide the students in their learning.  This is a Montessori education and is what sets us apart.

The learning environment you visit today with your grandchild may look quite different from the one you recall from our youth or even that of your adult child’s experience. There are no rows of desks facing the teacher, choice is a part of the learning day, technology is a common tool, collaborative learning is encouraged and expected, and critical and creative thinking is valued over memorizing and regurgitating information. Yet some characteristics of the school day would be familiar. We still give lessons, homework is still a part of the school week, and story time, everyone’s favorite, is a regular part of our week.

In fact, there are stories we tell in Montessori specifically to make a big impression.  We call them great lessons and they are an important and unique part of the Montessori curriculum. These lessons are bold, exciting, and are designed to awaken a child's imagination and curiosity.  The tell the story of how things came to be, from the universe to our number system.  The Five Great Lessons are traditionally presented in lower elementary and are repeated every year after so that children see them more than one time and have an opportunity, at the older level, of being a part of the lesson for younger children.

Speaking of stories, I want to encourage you, as grandparents, to tell your own life story to your grandchildren. You have so much to share from your life experiences. In Robert Cole’s book ‘The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination’, he states that “stories are the single most powerful tool in teaching”.  This is true in the classroom as well as in the home and Thanksgiving is a perfect time to tell some family stories!

I’d like to encourage you to do so by telling you a story from when I was a middle school teacher.  It was 2008 and I had just read an editorial in the NY Times by the ethicist Randy Cohen.  The article was titled ‘A Founder’s Advice’ and explored the way values are passed between generations.  The author shared a letter Thomas Jefferson had written in 1821 to his grandson, who was away at school.  The letter was to serve as instruction on how to be a moral and upright young man.  It was a rather long list of do’s and don’t do’s, such as, “Never suffer a thought to be harbored in your mind which you would not avow openly.  When tempted to do anything in secret, ask yourself if you would do it in public.  If you would not, be sure it is wrong.”  I brought the article to school and shared it with the middle school students.   A discussion ensued on how lessons are imparted across generations and the kids thought it would be fun to invite their own grandparents to write them a letter.  What they wanted to know went beyond moral advice.

They wanted to know three things - what life was like when their grandparent was their age, what historical event had most shaped their childhood, and what their most important life lessons were.  They wrote to their grandparents and asked for a letter back, to be shared on this very same Grandparent’s Celebration Day here at Princeton Montessori School.

The grandparents and students, on that special day, got into smaller groups and read their letters aloud.  They were more than the kids had hoped for and fascinating stories.  As I watched the students focus intently and soak up the anecdotes and wisdom that came from these readings, it made me realize just how important it is to make time to share of ourselves and the stories about ourselves, particularly between grandparent and grandchild.  

Of course, if you have a very young grandchild, the letter can be written now but will have to wait to be read.  Yet there are beautiful books you can purchase designed to show and tell your story as a grandparent, fitting for all ages.  And passing a cooking lesson, a favorite song from yesterday, and family traditions is another way to share your story.

In today’s climate, where it is up to the next generation to make a better world - we need not only educated individuals but caring and mindful young adults who are dedicated to using their particular passion and skill for the greater good, not merely for self-enrichment.  This happens when we connect emotionally and share hopes, wishes, regrets, successes, and nuggets of wisdom we’ve collected along the paths of our own lives.  True education, Jefferson wrote in his letter, means “uniting merit with your learning.”

Something to think about as you enjoy the day and the Thanksgiving break with family.  But for now, you can just sit back and relax as you enjoy our student performances, a shared lunch with fellow grandparents, and your time with your precious grandchild.  

Certainly Thomas Jefferson had a day like today in mind when he stated, “I long to be in the midst of the children, and have more pleasure in their little follies than in the wisdom of the wise.”