Barbara Isaacs, September 2022
In a recent conversation, Wendelien and I were pondering the benefits Montessori Musings contributes to the Montessori community. We are both committed to our aim of engaging in conversations and questioning our practice; at the same time we are very aware that challenging established practice can be very daunting. However, if we do not explore, test, contest and dare to question, how can we really meet the needs of children of today?
We were thinking about the learning we all do during our training and the focus on teaching children. In our training, we are keen to grasp the accuracy of presentations, to be the embodiment of the gentle guide who helps children navigate through their daily life in a Montessori classroom with patience and calm, and we are encouraged to reflect on our practice. Yet in our daily work with children, we are often conflicted when we come to realise that the presentations mean very different things to children, that we are sometimes irritated or anxious about our own performance and capacity to be the humble guide Montessori urges us to be, and feel that we do not serve the spirit of the child effectively.
In context of this conversation, we also explored what we understood by the spiritual preparation of the teacher. Is the idea of ‘preparation’ somehow misleading? Is not our journey towards understanding the human spirit on-going? And how is it connected with our continued journey of learning. I reflect on of what I understood about the Montessori approach after my initial training, what I understood and learned from working with students at MCI and what I have learned from children and more recently our granddaughters. The journey is as exciting and challenging today as it was at the beginning, almost forty years ago. There are always new things to consider, more research to read and ponder. Each encounter prompting further reflections and more questions. The recent renewed global discussions on diversity and inclusion are just one such example.
I turned once again to Aline Wolf, Montessori teacher and author, who has explored how to nurture the human spirit in her 1996 book. She highlights the difficulty of defining what we mean by spirituality, as this does not necessarily hold a religious connotation. She recognises that many of us will turn to diverse tools to find its meaning; some may find answers in religious writing as passed to us by our families and communities. However, many of us will also search for guidance beyond these boundaries by exploring mindfulness, meditation or controlled movements.
She focuses on the importance of knowing ourselves and understanding our values and quotes Jung (1940:285)
“If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”
This quotation mirrors Montessori’s own view that we need to reflect on our own attitudes if we strive to demonstrate our trust and respect for not only children but also their families and our colleagues.
Wolf goes on to remind us that it is usually the difficult experiences and grappling with them, that help us understand ourselves and subsequently others better. She highlights the role of friends, colleagues and mentors who are often the essential links to gaining this deeper understanding of the human spirit. She also reflects on the role of advocates of holistic education including Montessori, all of whom “….asserted that the developing person unfolds from within, guided by an internal creative source. For them, education means what its Latin root suggests: a leading out or drawing forth of life energies and personal potential that exists within the individual.” (Wolf 1996:46).
For many of us, Montessori’s writing about children and their potential has been the catalyst which helped us identify with and articulate our inner most beliefs and led us to study the Montessori approach. Our training gave us the practical tools and a shared belief in the potential of the child and our own role in their nurture.
As we continue to wrestle with how best to help ourselves and others in the ongoing unfolding of our ‘life energies and personal potential’, we often find that “our spiritual journeys are nearly always made in some kind of relationship with others” (Wolf, 1996:51). Wolf’s reflections on the need for a supportive community are most helpful when we search to make our own spiritual journeys. We are social beings and we thrive in an atmosphere of belonging. We flourish in a community drawn “together for a common purpose, in a spirit of helpfulness”. This does not mean that the searching for a common purpose is easy or always harmonious experience. Some measure of discomfort often pushes us to think beyond; however, the search should be made in the spirit of care and respect for each other.
As our Montessori Musings community returns to its third year of exploration of “nurturing the spirit of the child” we invite you to join us in a conversation with Margaret Whitley, a Canadian Montessori educator, as we explore the topic of spiritual learning and nurture. We hope that our conversation will spark your own reflections on
- the nature of the spirit of the child,
- the roots of your Montessori experience,
- significant events and happenings which contributed towards your own spiritual journey,
- the people who were significant in your deeper understanding of yourself, of children and your Montessori practice.
Please join our conversation and reflection on Tuesday 20 September at 19.00 (BST). Register here.
Wolf A. D. (1996) Nurturing the Spirit in non-sectarian classrooms. Hollidaysburg, PA: Parent Child Press