We Want to Be Engaged

Also in the Weekly Post, December 17, 2010

“I like coming to school in the morning. My previous school was all about conformity. Here you can be yourself.”

That’s a direct quotation from a Montessori high school student. Last week while John Long and I were visiting two Montessori high schools in California and Colorado, we were struck by the commonalities amongst the students despite the differences in the way the programs looked at first glance.
The student experience of the programs was the dominant feature. In their own words, their experiences are remarkable and they are sensitive to how their school differs from others:

  • We want to be engaged. 
  • Montessori school challenges us more.
  • I know everyone in the school, all the students and all the teachers.
  • We’re like a big family. We hate each other and love each other.
  • The geeks are the jocks.
  • No bullies.
  • Here you can be yourself. 
  • People accept each other and their differences.
  • There are no cliques; we’re open to each other.
  • We learn to see things in a different way, from different perspectives. 
  • The teachers know our strengths and shortcomings. Their trust in us is inspiring.
  • We’re able to find our own talents.
  • We’re not taught what to think...but are encouraged to think independently.
  • This is the kind of school where everyone wants to sit in the front of the class.
The Post Oak High School faculty will create an environment to engage the adolescent. The students themselves will bring the preparatory work to life when they walk on campus in August of 2012. Until then, we’re asking current and former Post Oak students as well as Montessori high school students in other schools to tell us how to create a school that they’d like to come to every morning.


Beyond Innovation

Also in the Weekly Post, December 3, 2010.

What is it that sets a Montessori high school apart from other high schools? How do the remarkable transformations of early childhood seen in Montessori schools continue when teenagers enter high school?
When Maria Montessori opened the first “children’s house,” people exclaimed, “Look at the new children.”  The transformation in the children’s abilities and behavior was so extreme, they seemed not to be the same children at all. To call this “innovation” may have been apropos for 1907. But where is Montessori education today, more than a hundred years later? What are the innovations of the twenty-first century? Could there be new adults?

To many people, teenagers appear apathetic. That is disengagement. Many high schools fail to engage teenage students. So, where will adolescents find authentic engagement in a Montessori high school? How will their teachers—their guides—create environments and experiences conducive to deep connections and excitement about new ideas? What are the core components of such a school? Other environments may find it easy to fill a day with busywork that looks like productive movement. But in truth, such work only saps the energy of adolescents creating disengagement and frustration. So what are those core components that set a Montessori high school apart and help teenagers toward becoming new adults? 

Here are a few: 

Connections with the adult world:  This is authentic preparation for adult life. It is not a mock up or an internship at the end of senior year. The access to adult professionals who are living out a contribution to society is a key component that pulls back the curtain on the nature of adult life. Students benefit by working shoulder to shoulder for extended times with subject-matter experts in areas that interest them.

Social justice: Students engage in local, state, national, and global issues of social justice. This is not just to become aware of such issues in the abstract, but to be active in work important to a teenager’s ever-refining ethical mind. It provides opportunities for true compassionate action.

Adaptability: Preparing for life in the world of the twenty-first century means not just learning how to learn, but learning to love learning. Students will not merely be savvy with current tools, technology, and skills, but will become efficiently adaptable, which will serve them in the ever- and more rapidly changing future.

International-mindedness: Students become connected to the whole world and the challenges that face people globally in relation to local and national challenges and opportunities. Life in the twenty-first century will more and more depend on the ability to know and value local and national cultures while simultaneously engaging in productive work as a citizen of the world.

Entrepreneurship and business: Teens are inclined to learn about money and commerce. They are pragmatically interested in social and economic exchange and must develop an economic independence during adolescence. That is, they must become able to earn for themselves and to see what they can do to be a contributing member of society. The questions are, “What do I need?” and “What can I do?”

Post Oak High School will be a school for doing, not waiting.  It is more than just a standalone building with bright students and a dynamic faculty (though there certainly will be both of those!). It is a high school where students ask themselves, “How can I contribute to the world?” This vision of high school is more than innovation; it is a school woven into the mesh of human society and the natural world, a place for learning that connects students to their future, new adult selves.