Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Time. Do you own it?

I often think about community service and its importance to any community. Giving back is a vital part of a full and rewarding life.  I have discovered my greatest strengths while serving others. I truly believe in investing my time, knowledge and resources to Montessori education wholeheartedly.. You will be surprised with the number of personal, meaningful, life changing stories I could share from my own experiences with community service.

People choose to give in different ways. Some give time and or knowledge and others donate money. Let's take a moment and think about time. Do we own it? Do we know how much we have left of it? Majority would say no, we don't own time, like we do our knowledge and money. Why is it then time sometimes is the hardest thing to give back? I feel that our time should be used to benefit others. There's definitely something very satisfying about giving your time for the betterment of others.

The Montessori community has several exemplary members who do their best to reach out in the form of philanthropic activities. What could be more fulfilling than doing what you love to do while contributing to the quality of life of others in need within your own community?

The American Montessori Society each year names an exemplary Montessorian a Living Legacy, for their dedication and leadership to the AMS community. The AMS Living Legacy Scholarship Fund was created to give back to the community. Donations in honor of the Living Legacy support the awarding of scholarships to aspiring Montessori educators at AMS -affiliated teacher education programs. These individuals all have dedicated their time, knowledge and money to Montessori in one way or another.

Let me share a few stories about service and time the past few AMS Living Legacy's have rendered to Montessori education.

Munir Shivji and Judi Bauerlein

2010 Living Legacy, Judi Bauerlein.
Judi is a Montessorian top to bottom, left to right, through and through. Judi has five grandchildren in Montessori, the mother of Montessori children, and a Montessori teacher of children and adult learners. To seal the deal, Judi’s husband is also a teacher! She has been gallivanting around the world educating and inspiring teachers in private and public schools for 35 years. Like a super Montessori hero, Judi is known for going where ever she is needed, with joy in her heart and a mission of peace in her mind. 

Without hesitation, Judi came to Houston to share her wisdom and knowledge at TIME's second Montessori Leadership Forum. Seven seasoned Montessori teachers from across Texas including Beverly Carson, Carolyn Edgar, Connie Laufersky, Darla Miller, Kathryn Miller, Nahla Nasser and Nekelai Jones (these teachers also contributed their time and knowledge) joined Judi on a panel to address various topics on teaching in Montessori. This Leadership Forum honored the Montessori teacher and their vital role. After the forum Judi and I headed to Austin, Texas where she gave a special talk, "Nurturing the Spirit of the Teacher" to Montessori teachers.

What was her contribution? How did this help the Texas Montessori community?  

Munir Shivji and
Marie Dugan

2009 Living Legacy, Marie M. Dugan.
Marie M. Dugan has helped nurture the growth of the American Montessori Society and, indeed, the American Montessori movement since the earliest days, when AMS founder Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch became her mentor and friend. Marie Dugan and I both are members of the AMS Development Committee and AMS Gala Committee.  She also chairs both the Archives Committee and the Centennial Campaign Committee which has raised a half million dollars for AMS.

Throughout her career, Marie has been devoted to the American Montessori Society. She served as AMS president for 5 years and as the first chair of the Heads Section. She continued her service to AMS through the Schools Accreditation Commission and as chair of the Founders Fund. Marie also agreed in 2004 to take the position of AMS interim executive director, leaving her home and moving to New York City to help guide the organization through a complicated transition.

Marie is known to support any Montessori initiative or program that needs her expertise or advice. When I requested Marie to come to Houston in 2010 to help launch a new Montessori initiative hosted by The Institute of Montessori Education, she willingly agreed without reluctance. She graciously also agreed to serve as a panel member for TIME's first leadership forum. Without hesitation, Marie shared her time and knowledge to the Houston Montessori community and expected nothing in return. Marie Dugan is a kind, compassionate, insightful person, who inspired me to get involved with AMS.

How can you get involved?

Kathryn Miller,
Betsy Coe and
Munir Shivji

2008 Living Legacy, Dr. Betsy Coe. I have had the pleasure to work on many volunteer based Montessori projects with Dr. Betsy Coe.  Betsy, is an internationally known and respected Montessorian responsible for significant contributions to education, Montessori teacher education, research, and peace education.

Betsy has served on the AMS Board of Directors for 20 years. Her volunteer positions have included AMS president and chair of the Teacher Education Committee. Betsy continues to serve on various committees and task forces for AMS.

With the help from Betsy, we were able to create a city-wide festival to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Montessori education.  This two part event held at the University of Houston, Main Campus on October 6, 2007 was attended by over 5000 people. The local Houston Montessori community came together and created a Global Village that consisted of ten huts representing cultures from around the world, a mock Montessori classroom and a 100 foot Montessori timeline exhibit. We also produced a finale celebration variety show and tribute  in honor of Maria Montessori, titled, "Celebrating Peace and Culture" at the Cullen Performance Hall.

Along with Judi and Marie Dugan, Betsy has also served on the panel for The Institute of Montessori Education's annual Leadership Forum. Betsy kindly accepts invitations to presents workshops at TIME's conferences as well as supports many of the community initiatives spearheaded by The Institute of Montessori Education.

The above listed stories about the past few Living Legacy's are just a few examples of the community service they have rendered to Montessori. I am sure I could write a book about each one of them. How can you share your time and knowledge? Imagine what you will gain by giving some of your time back, even if it is as small as sharing to others in your own school. What is the worse that will happen by being open and willing to generously share your talent, information and time? Live and practice your life with mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. True time sharing is compassion. I work hard every day to fulfill my purpose and I hope to leave a legacy of sincere service that will inspire others.

FYI: To help aspiring Montessori teachers fund their studies and ensure that Montessori classrooms are staffed by well-prepared teachers who meet rigorous professional standards, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to the American Montessori Society in honor of this year's Living Legacy. This AMS Living Legacy Fund awards competitive scholarships to individuals accepted into AMS-affiliated teacher education programs.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Be Green! What's that?

The Innovative School advocates education for sustainability. The Innovative School has partnered with parents to develop an awareness that reflects Montessori philosophy.  Our goal is to provide enough information to our families to prepare our students for the shift toward a sustainable future.

The term "sustainability" can mean different things to different people. If you are like me, you think of environmental education, the green movement, recycling, and riding your bike to school. Education for sustainability does encompass those things, but there is much more. Sustainability means providing a rich quality of life for all, and accomplishing this within the means of nature. And sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

As the depletion of natural resources becomes impossible to ignore and the results of individual practices continue to nudge the global thermometer upwards, people, civilians, academics, businesses and designers are using something  that is profoundly abundant to solve this problem - human intellect and creativity.
Munir Shivji and Houston Mayor, Annise Parker
According to Mayor Parker, The City of Houston is working harder than ever to make Houston green. We have made a lot of progress, but more is needed. We need the help of every citizen of Houston to do their part. I would encourage everyone to take a little time and explore this web site to learn what they can do to make Houston green. 

-- Mayor Annise D. Parker

The site offers insight into what the city is doing and will be doing as a part of becoming a center of sustainability and renewable energy. Houston has a goal of attaining the new ozone standard by 2018. It is believed that we will achieve it earlier due to the combined efforts that companies and organizations are giving. By each one of us doing our small part, our combined effort saves energy, reduces energy consumption, makes a significant reduction in green house gases, reduces emissions and leads to lower costs, lower waste, lowered tax rates, a win for the city, a win for the economy and a win for the citizens of Houston. With Houston being the energy capital of the world, all eyes are on us to lead the way in being efficient, effective and clear on our pathway to making a difference in the environment.

Here are some ideas Montessorians can use to be proactive:

Litter and Waste
Examine the impact of litter and waste on the environment and explore practical means for reducing and minimizing the amount of litter and waste produced by the school.
Suggest ways in which all members of the school can work together to increase awareness of energy issues and to improve energy efficiency within the school.
Provide an introduction to the importance of water both locally and globally and raise awareness of how simple actions can substantially cut down water use.
Suggest ways for students, staff, and local government to work together to raise awareness of transportation issues and come up with practical solutions that will make a real difference to students’ everyday lives.
Healthy Living
Examine some of the many health factors, mental as well as physical, that influences the ability of students to fulfill their potential and encourage schools to put in place a sustainable plan for becoming a healthy school.

Dr. Montessori said, “There is no description no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees and all of the life to be found around them in a real forest.”
Authentic Montessori programs go hand in hand with the ‘going green’ initiative. Her whole philosophy on Cosmic Education facilitates the knowledge a child gains of the universe around them, how they are connected to everything, where they fit in as a part of it, and what impact they have on everything. It is about the interconnectedness of all living things and the environment.

Cosmic education also includes peace education which embraces Dr. Montessori’s quote from Education and Peace, “The prospect of true peace makes us turn our thoughts to the triumph of justice and love among men, to the building of a better world where harmony reigns.” 

Cosmic Education at the early childhood level is more of an indirect preparation for the elementary, developmentally appropriate experiential learning opportunities during the elementary student’s sensitive period for moral development. One must keep in mind the early childhood student is still in the ‘what is it’ period; they are developing their independence, while emerging into the notion of interdependence. At the elementary level, as the student is entering their moral development period, where the awareness of interdependence and interconnectedness surfaces – both of which are essential to Cosmic Education.

In the Montessori curriculum, countless Montessorians have contributed ideas, lessons, and books to help teachers integrate the great possibilities students have in making a difference on the environment. Possibly the most vital component of the student’s experience is NOT the lessons, but rather the impressions formed by the child during their life in the classroom. The strongest control of error in the early childhood classroom is the teacher. The experience a student, in the first plane of development, has in the classroom is THE opportunity where the they can develop what will later become their awareness of relating to the environment and whether or not they will care for it or be apathetic.

Ways to Create a Green Classroom

Stop and smell the flowers, and the pine trees, and the moss, and the bark and everything else. Take time to get outside and appreciate nature.

Reduce, Reduce and then reduce some more. Since it would take about six planets to support humans if everyone lived like Americans, people must reduce the use of energy, water, paper, and everything else to protect planet Earth.

Empower students to make change. Students are capable to much more than they are generally given credit for if they understand why it is so important to change. Give them a chance to find solutions and create a better world.

Your classrooms should reflect the concepts of green living and planetary protection. It's nearly impossible to transition to a totally sustainable building in the blink of an eye, but there are many small ways you can make the classroom embody the green movement.

 Schools that are sustainable:
- avoid waste
- use locally created products and services
- take responsibility for their effects on the natural environment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Etch-A-Sketching the Brain: From Mnemonics to Memory

The Institute of Montessori Education is pleased to announce our keynote speaker at the 2011 Back to School Conference, Dr. JoAnn Deak! August 20, 2011 at The Shelton School, in Dallas, Texas.

JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., has spent more than thirty years as an educator and psychologist, helping children develop into confident and competent adults. Parents and educators at schools from New York to Hawaii, as well as such organizations as the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Independent Schools, the Association of International Schools, the American Montessori Society and the International Baccalaureate Association, have heralded Dr. Deak's ability to demystify complex issues of child development, learning, identify formation and brain research.
Dr. Deak has written three books: How Girls Thrive; Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters; and Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, winner of the gold medal Mom's Choice Award! She has also co-edited The Book of Hopes and Dreams and contributed to three other books.

Her new children’s book
“Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” 
just won a Mom’s Choice Award!

Dr. Deak will discuss "Etch-A-Sketching the Brain: From Mnemonics to Memory". Memory is the foundation of all learning and thinking. If a brain cannot hold onto the beginning of a sentence or a thought long enough to continue to process it, thinking is impaired. And on it goes from working memory to short-term memory to long-term memory. As we work with students and children, or each other for that matter, knowing how to facilitate memory development becomes a critical part of teaching and parenting and interacting. Current research not only points to some 'tricks of the trade,' but also a variety of approaches that help etch thoughts into meaningful memory and learning.

Dr. Deak recently spoke to a packed audience of Montessori parents and educators at Twin Parks Montessori School’s newest campus, Central Park in New York City.  Dr. Kathy Roemer, Executive Director of Twin Parks Montessori Schools and President of the American Montessori Society Board of Directors (AMS) told me "Dr. Deak was fabulous. You can never get enough of her!". We, at The Institute of Montessori Education are looking forward to her keynote presentation at the Back to School Conference on August 20, 2011. Save the Date!

Dr. JoAnn Deak,
Dr. Kathy Roemer, President of the American Montessori Society
and Marie M. Dugan 2009 AMS Living Legacy

Friday, May 13, 2011

An Authentic Montessori Teacher. Who is it? Who is it? It's…..

What qualities make a Montessori teacher authentic? When I think about Authentic Montessori teachers, many come to mind based on the qualities that I will outline later. In addition to my two colleagues, Kathryn Miller and Shelli Caldwell, my mother Razia Shivji, Nahla Nasser, Gretta Yeager, Marie Conti, Erika Ohlhaver, Carolyn Edgar, Catherine McTamaney, Lynne Aiken, Judi Bauerlein and Marge Ellison (too many others to list), one very special Montessorian sticks out. The lead faculty at The Innovative School have a special bond, friendship and working relationship with this marvelous Montessori teacher, parent, teacher educator and field consultant.

Shelli Caldwell, Kulsum Omer
and Munir Shivji
Mrs. Kulsum Omer a former Houstonian worked at School of the Woods for twenty years as an early childhood teacher and office manager before moving to Alexandria, Virginia.  In addition to her years of classroom experience, Kulsum has been a faculty member of the Houston Montessori Center since 1993, where she trains teachers at the Early Childhood Level.

The "twins" Kathryn & Kulsum
The Innovative School's curriculum coordinator and early childhood teacher, Kathryn Miller also spent majority of her teaching career at School of the Woods. Kathryn and Kulsum whom together are known in the local Houston Montessori community as "twins" who were separated at conception, one ended up in Bangalore and the other in Alabama, found each other through Montessori in Houston. Kathryn and Kulsum have been teaching and training teachers together for over twenty years.  Our second early childhood teacher, Shelli Caldwell was trained at the Houston Montessori Center by both Kathryn and Kulsum and worked with Mrs. Kulsum at School of the Woods.

Mrs. Kulsum holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics and Child Development, and an AMS Early Childhood teaching credential. Mrs. Kulsum is no stranger to the Montessori Community, and is an experienced AMS workshop presenter. She offers a wide range of coaching services – from individual coaching as a field consultant and mentor teacher, to conducting seminars for assistant training, as well as parent education workshops. Kulsum is a certified NLP practitioner, specializing in non-verbal techniques for Classroom Management. Kulsum is a member of the American Montessori Society, and has served on the Teacher’s research network, and the MACTE and AMS Accreditation Committees.

Mrs. Kulsum training EC interns
at the Houston Montessori Center

Why does Mrs. Kulsum Omer come to mind as an authentic Montessori teacher? Well let me outline what is a Montessori teacher. Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambush, founder of the American Montessori Society identified the following characteristics of an authentic Montessori teacher. The following are excerpted from The Authentic American Montessori School.

1. The Montessori teacher is firm at the edges and empathetic at the center, the kind of adult who responds empathetically to children’s feelings, while setting clear and consistent limits.

2. The Montessori teacher is a trained observer of children’s learning and behavior. These careful observation are recorded and used to infer where each student is in terms of his or her development, and leads the teacher to know when to intervene in the child’s learning with a new lesson, a fresh challenge, or a reinforcement of basic ground rules.

3. Montessori teachers facilitate the learning process by serving as a resource to whom the children can turn as they pull together information, impressions, and experiences.

4.  Like all great teachers, the Montessori educator deliberately models the behaviors and attitudes that she is working to instill in her students. Because of Montessori’s emphasis on character development, the Montessori teacher normally is exceptionally calm, kind, warm, and polite to each child.

Mrs. Kulsum in Action!

Mrs. Kulsum is the talented teacher described above. Now, let me share with you what authentic Montessori teachers like Ms. Kulsum do:

1. Mrs. Kulsum recognizes that her role is not so much to teach as to inspire, mentor, and facilitate the learning process. The real work of learning belongs to the individual child. Because of this, Mrs. Kulsum remains conscious of her role in helping each child to fulfill his or her full potential as a human being and of creating an environment for learning within which children will feel safe, cherished, and empowered.

2. Mrs. Kulsum is trained to identify the best response to the changing interests and needs of each child as a unique individual. Because she truly accepts that children learn in many different ways and at their own pace, Mrs. Kulsum understands that she must “follow the child,” adjusting her strategies and timetable to fit the development of each of her students.

3. Mrs. Kulsum organizes appropriate social settings and academic programs for children at their own level of development. She does this to a large degree through the design of her classroom, selection and organization of learning activities, and structure of the day.

Munir Shivji and Kulsum Omer
presenting a workshop at an
AMS Conference in New Orleans
 Did you know… Mrs. Kulsum was one of my instructors at HMC when I took AMS teacher training?! I feel special and blessed to have had the opportunity to work and present workshops with Mrs. Kulsum! If I had to mention one significant thing I learned from Mrs. Kulsum, it would be, trust. Trust the Montessori method and it's philosophy. Sometimes, we get pressured or feel and think children should be doing something faster or advancing sooner academically. Remember, everything takes time! Montessori education is a flow experience; it builds on the continuing self construction of the child - daily, weekly, yearly - for the duration of the three-year program. Give your students time. Believe me, Montessori, when implemented correctly, works! Never doubt it. Think about the qualities listed above. Are you an authentic Montessori teacher?

Kulsum, Shelli, Munir and Kathryn

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Should you punish your child?

Positive Discipline is a program designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities. Based on the best selling Positive Discipline books by Dr. Jane Nelsen, it teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.

Recent research tells us that children are “hardwired” from birth to connect with others, and that children who feel a sense of connection to their community, family, and school are less likely to misbehave. To be successful, contributing members of their community, children must learn necessary social and life skills. Positive Discipline is based on the understanding that discipline must be taught and that discipline teaches.

Jane Nelsen gives the following criteria for “effective discipline that teaches”:
  1. Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance)
  2. Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time.)
  3. Is effective long - term. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)
  4. Teaches important social and life skills . (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)
  5. Invites children to discover how capable they are. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)
Are you aware that instilling fear in children serves no purpose and creates feelings of shame and humiliation? Fear has been shown to lead to an increased risk of future antisocial behavior including crime and substance abuse. Studies also show that spanking and other physical discipline techniques can create ongoing behavioral and emotional problems. Harsh, physical discipline teaches children that violence is the only way to solve problems. Controlling or manipulative discipline compromises the trust between parent and child, and harms the attachment bond.

Basic Tips:
·     Allow natural consequences
·     Offer choices
·     Be sensitive to strong emotions
·     Use logical consequences sparingly and with compassion
·     Maintain a positive relationship
·     Use empathy and respect
·     Work out a solution together
·     Be proactive
·     Understand the child's developmental abilities
·     State facts rather than making demands
·     Effective communication and problem solving skills
·     Discipline that teaches (and is neither permissive nor punitive)
·     Focus on a solution instead of a punishment
·     Encouragement (instead of praise)

Dr. Jane Nelsen will offer a Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way course for parents and educators on June 11th and 12th, 2011 at The Institute of Montessori Education in Houston.  This course provides a step-by-step approach to starting and leading experientially based parenting groups. This program stands alone or offers significant enhancement to any program; it emphasizes experiential activities that reach the heart to inspire deeper understanding and change. Parents love the Parents Helping Parents Problem-Solving Steps because this process provides a fun and effective way for them to get specific help with real problems. 

Participants will learn:
• Effective ways to reach parents who love their children but have few skills to parent.
• How to use experiential activities that reach parents at their heart, not just their head.
• How to facilitate parenting classes based on Positive Discipline.

Dr. Jane Nelsen is very well received by many school districts, teacher organizations, conferences and parent eduction networkds throughout the world.

For more information on Jane Nelsen or this course and or to sign up for a free newsletter, please visit: www.positivediscipline.org.

Dr. Jane Nelsen and Munir Shivji

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Tao of Montessori

Have you ever been to a conference or an event and found you clicked with someone straight away? I am sure, as a Montessorian, you will feel that way if you get the opportunity to meet Dr. Catherine McTamaney.

Catherine, a mother of two, is an award-winning Montessori teacher, teacher educator, former school director, and school consultant. Her writing appears in Montessori publications around the globe.

I met Dr. Catherine McTamaney at the American Montessori Society's Heads of Schools Retreat in the Dominican Republic last year. I was drawn to attend that retreat because her book, The Tao of Montessori was a tool that was used enthusiastically when I was taking Montessori teacher training. I gave copies of her book to all my staff members. I still remember some of my teachers smiling when I would start a staff meeting with a passage from the Tao.

Her book, has been described as a gift from one teacher to all teachers and parents of “the tiny miracles that unfold every day in our classrooms.” Catherine links the 81 verses of Lao-tzu's 25-century old Tao Te Ching with short essays on her life as a Montessori classroom teacher. The result is a series of meditations on the teacher’s craft that will bring a smile to your face!

Catherine's inspirational writing not only changed my thinking towards education, but demonstrated the interconnectedness of all the aspects of our life. When you read a chapter, it doesn’t necessary speak to you about the classroom or teaching, but all walks of life.  The Tao of Montessori and articles authored by Catherine, are some of the best reading materials and resources available for Montessorians. Some of my most popular workshops, use her work as the basis of the presentation.

Munir Shivji and
Catherine McTamaney

As the facilitator of the retreat, Catherine's discussion focused on how to observe teachers to identify their strengths and weaknesses, build environments within schools that support best practice and collaboration, and model compassion and grace in leadership. In her presentation, Catherine wove quotes from Maria Montessori with quotes from philosophers, researchers, and theorists from around the world and over many centuries to help us evaluate our own leadership styles and plan how we might be more effective in our roles and responsibilities; she touched the whole group. As a participant, I was in awe. My colleagues, many other participants and I all connected with her presentation and her words kept us all engaged over the two-day retreat. 
Catherine McTamaney

After leaving the AMS retreat, I was compelled to have Catherine as our next keynote presenter for the Montessori Back to School Conference in Houston. I wanted our members and teachers to experience the same awakening. Her presentation, Nurturing the Spirit of the Teacher addressed the inner quest to connect with our spiritual selves in order to better serve the children in classrooms. The audience was engaged, captivated, energized and left motivated.  Her evaluations were nothing but positive.

I am proud to call Catherine a good friend whom I respect tremendously. The Tao of Montessori is a must have for your library. Take a moment to read a single stanza, then put it aside and ponder upon its meaning. By revisiting one verse each day, you can relate its images to your life as a teacher, parent, or child. Whether you are familiar with the writings of Lao-tzu or are simply ready to explore a refreshingly thoughtful perspective on children and teachers, The Tao of Montessori is a profound work of intellectual stimulation.