Great River School families,

The autumn Harvest Festival at Great River school calls us to gather again on October 7th! From 2-5pm there will be music, bluegrass & folk dancing, Family folk dance instruction bouncy houses, and a 40 gallon cauldron of stone soup made over an open fire. This is a time to share the harvest of the growing season, where adolescent students will have a market for the produce (pumpkins, squash, assorted veggies) and crafts (candles, cards with original photos, maple syrup) from the key experiences this fall. 

Stone soup is a feature of this festival - and the making of the soup is as much a part of the community experience as any of the carnival or music features of the event. All families are invited to bring their own bowls, spoons, and mugs to the event, as well as contributions to the soup. All ingredients will be taken until 2:45pm, prepped and added to the soup. We raise the broth to safe temperatures for an extended time, and the resulting meal is a product of the gifts the community has brought. (Yes, we do begin with a broth that has been cooking all week, and we do have vegetables from the 6thBridge trip to Buttermilk Falls Farm) 

This concept of having what the community has brought, however, is the real theme of the harvest. We have all the gifts brought by those who are present. We have only the the gifts brought by those present.

The soup is not a product, it is cooperation. This is not a sales venture. There is no fee for soup, and there is no economic exchange around this community venture. We all gather, we all contribute, we all wait until the soup is ready. (*Usually* 4pm, but it depends on the weather, the temperature, the ingredients, the fire....) We are subject to the process, and we are together in the process. When several hundred people line up for a serving of hot soup on an autumn day, and those people connect in gratitude for a meal that has been gathered from the good earth and is a testament to our patience, to our fellowship, and to our investment in being together. Waiting. Patient and understanding, we will graciously eat together what we have brought together. Some years the soup is bountiful, and some years we each get a small taste. The breadth of the event, however, is supported at it's foundation with the ritual of serving the soup *only* after it has cooked during the festival, and under the watchful eye of the community. 

Why do we do this?

Teams are defined by the accomplishment of goals that are impossible for individuals to achieve. In our training and thinking as educators this year, the faculty are learning to identify and use the term "group worthy task". This term is the essence of what it means to bring a community together. Stone soup is a group worthy task. Traditionally in humane cultures, house or barn raising, boat launching, fence building, growing and harvesting from the field, and child rearing are all group-worthy tasks that no individual would set out to attempt alone. Why? The lightness of work through many hands is a result of being bound together in owing your hands to your neighbor because you *need* their hands in return. We are playing with fellowship at the harvest festival when we make stone soup, but there is a humane need for each other and our help that can be easily forgotten in an urban setting with the promise of Amazon NOW in your pocket. (And a note to the weary: do not mistake the economic exchange of a global economy for fellowship - friendship through a shared burden requires that we see each other, know each other, and understand that our plight is truly shared.) 

The fellowship we crave with each other comes from the experience of truly depending on what our neighbors bring. And so, the invitation is to bring something to this soup we set out to share on October 7th. It could be potatoes, squash or some other hard and long-cooking starch - just show up early to make sure your contribution is cooked for the community.  Or your contribution could be greens, tomatoes, zucchini or some other fragile fruit of summer - in which case arriving at the last minute could still add to the group meal. 

A team has a higher capacity than the sum of individual members. Teams carry out group-worthy tasks. To put it another way, a team takes the talents of individuals and raises the value of each person simply by membership in the team. A team is worth more than the sum contributions of the membership, because in the context of the team, each person is worth more.  The team catalyzes and adds energy to individual talents, giving contributions of individuals a context that is more impactful and valuable than what they could bring alone.

By surrendering individual goals to the needs of a common group, an individual will experience a deep sense of belonging and a deeper connection to the needs of others. Each team member is *necessary* in a group worthy task. We are all needed. Individuals on teams respect each other and operate within their capacities - we rely on the relationships within the group for success. Often, in a team setting, the individual will have to change the way they would solve a problem alone. Relying on inter-dependence creates a situation in which team members must prioritize the needs of others in order for the team to function.

The result? Increased security, capacity for performance, flexibility and dynamic capabilities that could not have been predicted as a sum of individual abilities. In a classroom setting, this means that the rights and value of each person in the group are recognized and necessary for the group to succeed. The experience of equity is a product of experiencing tasks that require empathy and humanity. In a true team model, individuals do not shine without the team shining first. And, as we gather to celebrate our common harvest, we practice the metaphor of stone soup together, knowing we will eat together as a result of recognizing and sharing each other's gifts.

Be well, and thank you for carrying your share of the community. 

Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien

A beautiful, fun video: thoughts on our experience, sponsored artists, and things that are just fun...

A few thoughts on this:  It helped me consider perspectives, time, and the importance of fun. (This post was not sponsored by Morton Salt or by the band OkGo)
As an educator, this reminds me of how differently some brains experience
the world. The pace of the video's first 4.6 seconds might really be how things seem to some of our students through the day. The beauty of those seconds slowed down is the environment I see so many of our students experience when we all work together to meet their needs. Thank you for that.

As an artist, I reflect on the band OkGo and their performance here. The music genre isn’t my first preference, but the stunning visuals and sheer curiosity for “how did they do that?” really pulls me in. And, the colors and bursting balloons are just fun.
As an art teacher, the willingness to partner with a commercial interest (Morton Salt) is interesting to me. These performers are finding a way to make a living doing their work, and a relationship with Morton Salt is one path. I wouldn’t have respected that choice as an idealistic art student, but I totally respect that choice now as a father of 3 kids. What does sponsorship look like in a society where media is so personalized and focused socially?

And finally one “Art Teacher”  thought on social media. I couldn’t find a promoted link to this production outside of facebook. So, it seems the media of facebook is tied into the way the band is getting credit with their sponsor. The control that company implicitly gains from being the hub we use to pass along news to connecting us to arts and music and culture means that we have to digest facebook media the same way we digest any curated content. Who makes the decisions here about what is seen and what isn’t? What is edited out and what is included? Who gets a voice at the table and in the conversation?
Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien
Example of working together to solve a problem -
building a civil society through dialogue.
Democracy is seeing a test for civility in our society. Our children are watching, waiting, listening, and absorbing what it looks like to be an adult in our democracy.

Let us be our best selves. Let us understand what values support a humane society. Let us dig deep to stand against fear, hate, or blame - and let us find strength and trust in each other to build the society we want our children to inherit.

There are two quotes I'd like to offer:

“Establishing a lasting peace is the work of education,
all politics can do is keep us out of war.”

  ~Maria Montessori
"Saying you don't care about politics is like
a drowning man saying he doesn't care about water."
~Mahatma Gandhi

So, what are we to do?
We are compelled to both realize the limits of politics, and work tirelessly to make sure we keep society civil for our children.

The work of Parker J. Palmer serves as a reminder of the foundational requirements for a functional democracy and civil society. In his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, five habits are identified that I see build stronger neighbors, classrooms, and communities in general:

1. An understanding that we are all in this together
2. An appreciation of the value of "otherness"
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
4. A sense of personal voice and agency
5. A capacity to create community

At Great River School we use these five habits as a training tool for faculty and staff to give a framework for our community meetings. Our work building community is primary to our success as a school, and our view of how we work together in the midst of challenge relies on these concepts.

These are deep concepts, and I wanted to bring them to your attention. These are explained well below, and I invite you to join in our work of practicing these habits and contributing to a civil society for us and our children.

For more information, see these described by Parker J. Palmer at the Courage & Renewal website: 
http://www.couragerenewal.org/habitsoftheheart/

The habits are described below also, compliments of the Center for Courage & Renewal:
“Habits of the heart” (a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville) are deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that involve our minds, our emotions, our self-images, our concepts of meaning and purpose. I believe that these five interlocked habits are critical to sustaining a democracy. Download as PDF.
1. An understanding that we are all in this together. Biologists, ecologists, economists, ethicists and leaders of the great wisdom traditions have all given voice to this theme. Despite our illusions of individualism and national superiority, we humans are a profoundly interconnected species—entwined with one another and with all forms of life, as the global economic and ecological crises reveal in vivid and frightening detail. We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent upon and accountable to one another, and that includes the stranger, the “alien other.” At the same time, we must save the notion of interdependence from the idealistic excesses that make it an impossible dream. Exhorting people to hold a continual awareness of global, national, or even local interconnectedness is a counsel of perfection that is achievable (if at all) only by the rare saint, one that can only result in self-delusion or defeat. Which leads to a second key habit of the heart…
2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” It is true that we are all in this together. It is equally true that we spend most of our lives in “tribes” or lifestyle enclaves—and that thinking of the world in terms of “us” and “them” is one of the many limitations of the human mind. The good news is that “us and them” does not have to mean “us versus them.” Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into twenty-first century terms. Hospitality rightly understood is premised on the notion that the stranger has much to teach us. It actively invites “otherness” into our lives to make them more expansive, including forms of otherness that seem utterly alien to us. Of course, we will not practice deep hospitality if we do not embrace the creative possibilities inherent in our differences. Which leads to a third key habit of the heart…
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. But when we allow their tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life. Making the most of those gifts requires a fourth key habit of the heart…
4. A sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak out and act out our own version of truth, while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. But many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change—if we have the support of a community. Which leads to a fifth and final habit of the heart…
5. A capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a way that allows power to multiply: it took a village to translate Parks’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. There are many ways to plant and cultivate the seeds of community in our personal and local lives. We must all become gardeners of community if we want democracy to flourish.
Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien
Farm Trip - made possible by Annual Fund gifts
Planting & Harvest - made possible
by Annual Fund Gifts

Great River Families and Community,

I write this month as we begin our 2016-17 Annual Fund Campaign. This is the way to put resources into our school to create a learning environment where our children thrive. 

This week (on November 10th & 11th) we will hand each family a letter at conferences asking for participation. Participate in supporting the school the way you would participate in supporting any public service that strengthens the fabric of our society. Give what you can. Please give something. We'll be awarding each donor a button to wear in show of support for Great River.

We are a public school, and giving is not obligated. However, when you give, you indicate a caring for the mission and vision of the school and you join in sustaining the future of our program. 
So, if it's $1 for the year, $1 per day, or $10 per month, please participate. We reach our goals as a community not because of extreme wealth but as a result of everyone pitching in what they can. Please, pitch in what you can. 
go to: www.greatriverschool.org/give
\
Hands-on Learning and
Microeconomies- made possible
by Annual Fund Gifts

Every participant counts. Give now and help us reach our Nov-Dec kickoff goal of $15,000. We reach our milestones because every community member pitches in!

And, in the face of a year in which civility and integrity seem to be in sore need in our politics, I'm asking you to recognize the grace and courtesy our students are learning and putting into practice each day at Great River.

Experiential Faculty Inservice:
made possible
by Annual Fund Gifts
If you value any part of the unique experience we build together at Great River School, please participate in supporting the mission and vision of our school.

I'll close with our traditional request - read the mission and vision of Great River; count the words that ring true for you and your student; count the ways your values and experience have been impacted by this institution. Is it 2 ways? Is it 6? Give something for each way Great River has touched your lives.

Read through the text below, and for each bold word, see if you can connect to an experience that you value with a gift...

Great River School Mission and Vision:
Great River School, an urban Montessori learning environment, prepares students for their unique roles as responsible and engaged citizens of the world.

Great River School integrates academic and social experiences in an environment of civility and trust. The Montessori philosophy and International Baccalaureate diploma program inform the curriculum and pedagogy, inspiring deep questioning and peaceful action.
Great River School fosters self-expression in a supportive environment that values critical thinking and the richness and strength of a diverse community.

Great River School encourages students to seek new challenges and explore their abilities. Instruction through travel, practical learning, the arts, and micro-economic ventures provide relevant skills to meet the world with compassion and a sense of responsibility.


How many did you count?
Give for each!



Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien

  • This month: Research on standardized test percentiles and the power of relationships: aka "a reminder for us as parents: really, the goal is not to push our children any faster through growth and learning, but love and support them now through the process of development, and see who who they are as whole people. As far as what usefulness standardized tests have for predicting long-term success for young students, even Harvard researchers are trying to determine what correlates to percentile scores on standardized tests. Achievement correlates to happiness."
  • In December, I'll be tying together whole person education, the importance of our relationships, and why our school culture is the most important factor in learning. aka, how and why we will preserve our culture first in any decision we make for the school. 

A study from Harvard school of education has established a correlation between student happiness and achievement (as measured by GPA).  See the synopsis here.

I discussed this past month a concern with several families across the levels regarding whether or not their student was moving 'fast enough' through the curriculum, and if the child would be able to get ahead in their study if possible. I am surrounded by Montessori trained colleagues who remind us all that the planes of development define the curriculum we offer students. While students may be offered ways to go deeper into curriculum, our goal is not to get ahead faster. This is a radical idea that is in contrast with wider society and the conventional education culture.

 These phrases of "fast enough" and "get ahead" are conventional school terms for a problem that I see engaging parents and plaguing our schools. (And note here that I am a parent! I find tension between my own educator wisdom and my sometimes parent paranoia.) Really the phrases about "racing to the top" and "getting ahead" imply that a student is not only on a race, but the faster they develop the better. If we follow that logic, we'd be pushing college, careers, and adulthood as early as possible - and something I am so relieved by is the Montessori reminder to follow the developmental needs of the child. The implied race to "complete development ASAP" robs children of the time and space they need to savor their process and appropriately integrate their unique gifts.


It's not a race to develop as fast as possible, but instead we all (educators, adults, parents) have a responsibility to provide children in our society with a rich  and nourishing environment.  We trust that when they are developmentally ready to engage in a standardized measurement  (usually 10th, 11th, 12th grade) is when we can best come up with strategies to support them. In our school philosophy, relationships are the starting point - and a standardized test is at best an indicator of where a student might be in terms of "performance". I really encourage us as a society to think about this word "performance" - and consider when it's appropriate in an academic career to ask a child to perform, versus giving a child a chance to rehearse, reflect, express, and truly learn in accordance with their development.

Questions: 
How would you apply the concept of "developmentally appropriate education"to the following:
A) A student is an empty vessel to fill as quickly and thoroughly as possible with content
B) A student is a living organism - a seedling to nurture, observe and allow to develop?

Montessori education is about going deeper into a subject if there is time and interest. (As opposed to going faster through rote process.) It's engaging with the classroom community. It's personalized learning that inspires deep care for our work. Montessori requires us to see a child as a living organism that develops in it's own time, not as a performer who meets our idea of a timeline. And, we can look Montessori in the early 20th century as a pioneer of this view! (An academic reference to the four planes of development (click) - and a more academic article published by AMI here)

And, I want to make clear, as a child's development moves into the middle and later adolescence, we at Great River see our young adults succeed in achievement and standard measures. Our students have excellent college and IB program outcomes. Our oldest adolescent students qualify for merit scholarships to Ivy league colleges, and score very well on measures. Great River has National Merit Scholar commendations, semi-finalists, and finalists.

But, the relationships students build throughout their schooling are key to enriching a foundation of success. We want to be parents, guides, and students who see learning as a process, not a race!


As the lead researcher concludes:
“In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness... If schools want to support student well being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students.” 
                                                                                                               ~ Christina Hinton
A synopsis of the study goes on to describe: 
"Using both quantitative and qualitative measures, she found that from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. [Hinton] also found that the culture of the school and the relationships that students form with their teachers and their peers play an influential role in their happiness."

Of course! Having a psychologically safe space is the foundation of learning. And what we see at Great River is often a reliable correlation between quality of a student's relationships and achievement because they are engaged in work that is meaningful to them. This is our high aspiration as a school.

Life, and the skills of persistence (aka followthrough/determination/grit) are practices of habit. These are the qualities we measure as guides in observing a student's development. Great River School seeks to meet psychological needs, build safe spaces, and engage students in a conversation about their view of a quality world. This leads students to generally experience nurturing positive relationships.

So, this month, I'll invite us to consider the elements that support our students in having positive and nurturing relationships. Generally, I'm going to suggest that there are a few key qualities to 'nurturing' in this case:
we accept students for who they are now
we ask students what makes a quality world for them
we ask students when they feel safest in their relationships
we listen to and respect their answers
we hold them to a high expectation within a context of developmentally appropriate activity

Supporting development is often a game of watching and waiting. It is rarely a game of intervention and control. And when we have a relationship that is supportive, it allows students to share when they are having a challenge, and we can best offer a rich environment for the students to engage in development.

A closing quote from Maria Montessori:
"We must take man himself, take him with patience and confidence, across all the planes of education. We must put everything before him, the school, culture, [religions of the world], the world itself. We must help him to develop within himself that which will make him capable of understanding. It is not merely words, it is a labour of education. This will be a preparation for peace, for peace cannot exist without justice and without men endowed with a strong conscience and personality.
~ Montessori “Four Planes of Development”

A few links related to this post:

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/03/because-i%E2%80%99m-happy

Inequitable Opportunities: How Current Education Systems and Policies Undermine the Chances for Student Persistence and Success in College

http://epx.sagepub.com/content/19/2/283.short

Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien
 education: a cooperative goal

 "My vision of the future is no longer people taking exams and proceeding then on that certification . . . but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher stage - by means of their own activity through their own effort of will - which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual."
                           ~Maria Montessori From Childhood to Adolescence

Over labor day weekend, I attended a wedding. Many toasts and speeches were given to the fact that these newlyweds (dating for 11 years) answered to their own timeline for their relationship. Pressure to follow tradition was not their motivation. Stories the newlyweds shared were about development. They traveled, explored, adopted pets, fixed problems, and started hobbies together - grown together. These two allowed themselves to mature together.

We don't live in a culture that generally values maturity. We send the message that quick results and a straight timeline to success are the goal. The culture of education has been overridden for 20 years by demands for 'accountability' - immediate measurement for results, percentiles, rankings, and the impression that racing to the finish line is the only valid goal.


I appreciate the moments when humanity shines through our experience and reminds us of how sane, humane, and joyful we can be. I included here a picture of my daughter raking the school zen garden. I like this picture for many reasons, but specifically it reminds me that we're all happiest when we're engaged, challenged, and allowed to be ourselves. No one intervened here in this picture to correct my daughter raking. There isn't a percentile score for her, and I didn't have parent anxiety about whether or not she would be a 'good raker'
or how she compared to her classmates. She's enjoying learning, and she's feeling good about independence with her new skill. She's respected and challenged. She's rising to the occasion in an environment that's engaging her. 
It's a Total. Montessori. Moment. {insert tears and sniffles for nostalgia here}....


I was asked over dinner at the wedding reception "What's Montessori?"
Typical Montessori conversations like this usually start with "So, it's just letting kids do what they want, right? How do they learn to read or do math?"

I find the need to be simple and direct in my explanation of Montessori. Even when I say "It's about treating kids as human beings, and trusting in their developmental stages." A colleague recently reminded me that it's simple to say "what kind of skills do we want this child to have available to help live a fulfilling life at age 30?" I also remind people immediately that Montessori children learn to read, we learn to understand math, and we learn these things very well by respecting stages of development. We also learn to organize our time, to respect each other, and to care about justice.

Some examples I shared at the dinner table of the wedding reception:


  • Respect humans, and support stages of development. 
  • Trust that a student wants to do their best, trust that they are trying their best with the tools they have available. 
  • Understand that percentile scores on exams and how quickly a student reads or computes on a standardized test is not a skill that makes them happier at age 30.
  • Specifically, Montessori believes that all humans develop, and we should trust in the goodness and desire of children to develop as moral, social, whole beings. 

I realized that in explaining respect for the natural developmental stages of human development - that children absorb, process, and mature naturally - I was mirroring the story of the newlyweds. That we should have faith that things develop in their own time, and that the stages of development don't need to be manipulated to go faster or farther right now.

For instance, no one is going to remember if a student was a "good speller" in 2nd year, but that student will internalize the patterns and feelings of being encouraged to love language in their Montessori environment.

Our children are doing the good work of growing, and our job is to maintain a rich environment for them. At Great River, this is through the elementary classroom, through exposure to the world at large, and through an aspiration to always trust that people - regardless of their age - are going to do their best to rise to the occasion and expectations of their environment. And so, we do our best to prepare a rich and engaging environment for growth. The growing happens thanks to nature.


P.S. I couldn't resist adding in a little video addition here (below).
There's a young person (named Adora Svitak) who travels speaking to adults about learning from chilren. The points she makes here include trust, innovation, and how children must be trusted to build a future that will be better than what adults can currently manage. In case you're interested in being provoked to thought.... enjoy!




Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien
Two preface announcements - the blog is after: 
1) A special email from me the morning of 6/8 inviting all families to observe the last day of school ceremony at 10:30am on Friday 6/10 at school. The annual ice cream social for students at approximately 11:15. Elementary families are especially encouraged to join students as early as 11:15 for the social or just to pickup and start summer break! And we need volunteers to scoop ice cream!(click to volunteer

2)Annual School Board meeting is 6/15! Cookout 530-630pm, and a presentation successes and bright future from 6:30-715. Come meet the board! RSVP here! (rsvp not necessary, just helps us plan a bit!)


And now, some thoughts on building a community... share a meal with each other! 

Last month I was discussing the school culture with a new employee who asked "Why do so many people stay so loyal working at Great River School?" 

Community is the answer, but there's two versions of the same answer to this question. The first is simple, and the second is the deep root of why it's revolutionary to approach school as a tool for building a peaceful society. 

The simple version: people have friendships here. Students, families, colleagues. We try to see each other as people first, and basing our relationships in what we share, we recognize each other. It's refreshing, and builds loyalty. 
If you want to stop reading here because summer is approaching and we all have laundry to do and calendars to organize, go ahead and stop. I just ask that you invite a friend to dinner and thank you for being a part of the Great River community fabric. Thanks! 
oh - and remember to connect with the Parent Engagement Group to stay connected!

Now, for anyone who wants to delve into a long answer to the work of the school...
The deeper version: building relationships is hard work - and we have work to do!  

I continue to work at the school for the hope that we can go deeper each year in creating an improved model for human relationships, recognize each other as important because of our humanity, and from that experience build a more peaceful society. I think many of the families and colleagues here
work together to share the value that we can do better for our children and their future. Better in terms of hope, and better in terms of a society of cooperation and solutions winning over a society of competition and a zero-sum game setup* that fails us all. Our school model builds experiences that are not zero-sum, but in fact demonstrate that when we cooperate we also generate new opportunities and resources that result in new solutions to shared challenges.

There is scientific, social, and poetic research that all supports this concept: compassion is the human trait that works in our favor as a society. And seeing others as sharing common traits with us leads us to be safer in the world by association. When we're safer in the world, we live longer, love more, make more money, and have less illness. If you have time, I invite you to compare the cross-disciplinary discussions below of poets, philosophers, and business consultants who all point to shared experience as a bedrock for success in business, in evolutionary survival, and as humans. 

(If you have a craving for a 20 minute deep-dive on human connection and it's interdisciplinary importance to our past/present/future**: it's Maya Angelou speaking of our connections, or author Simon Sinek discussing why sharing belief and connection is the essential moment in leadership and business, and philosopher Robert Wright identifying compassion as an evolutionary tool.)

And in the work of a school I see that we are just 6 hours of the experience our students have - society at large has 18 hours a day to engage each of us in a grind that is often not about connection. (Finances, calendars, the 24 hour news cycle... few of these remind us of our humanity.) 


The daily grind is a challenge. And folks - let me tell you - no place is the grind felt more sharply than in a classroom of young people, at a school, waiting for summer break. (And also make no mistake, I understand that summer is no break for parents!) So - the question is, how do we answer this overwhelm?  

Connection. Gratitude and recognition lift us up out of the muck and slog of the mundane. A graceful reprieve arises when we thank each other and see what we share together. The best part of my work-week is when I share lunch with a colleague or student at school, just to share what's new, what's challenging, what's appreciated. 

So when I invited that new employee who asked "Why. Great River?" to join us in our work, I told them the community was not a feature to take for granted. The community is forged and won through conflict, through finding a resolution to misunderstanding, and to having a faith that we share more than we differ.  It takes work. It takes dedication and persistence. And, it takes accepting differences while emphasizing what we have in common. 

And now, the radical invitation from a school leader. I want to invite everyone to get together and talk  to each other without me there to moderate or answer. And please, share a hot beverage or a warm meal. (Ha!) This challenge aims to build on the trust I have that we are all in this work together, and we want to share connection. The way we seek a stronger community is by seeking interconnection - shared interests, shared challenges, and a shared experience. It's good for our brains, and good for our children**.

I need you to join in a radical wave of gratitude for someone in this community. Remind yourself of why this community is a positive place for you or your student. And I'd like you to share a meal with someone.  


Beautiful Parent Engagement Signage - handmade!
Let's compliment the PEG by engaging in building
the fabric of our community - together!

And now, even a second challenge: share a meal with someone you don't know very well. Welcome a conversation about what we share. Attend a potluck or invite your kid's friends over and just share a meal with them. Learn who they are. ( I acknowledge this is easier for adults with elementary students. However, I've talked to the adolescents at school about this challenge - and they tell me it's a radical idea. It's reportedly radical because adolescents don't think their parents are *interested* in the lives of their friends. So prove them wrong parents! The embarrassment of having lunch with your teen and their friends is just a superficial hurdle to get past) 

What's the aim here? Radical acceptance. Shared responsibility. A cultural revolution of shared solutions for our children, their children, and the way forward in a society that collaborates and generates solutions. We are a strong community, but only as strong as the effort we put in to sustaining connection between ourselves, our children, and the partners at school who give every day to build and rebuild this community through triumph and through resilience. 

p.s. the Parent Engagement Group will be hosting some official meet & share events this summer! Connect with PEG to learn ways to get officially involved!

Notes: 
*Defnition for zero sum game - a competition in which one person's gain is equal to someone else's loss. This short video is so hillariously formal and "british economist" I couldn't help but share it. 

**These are really three tremendously complimentary sources for thinking about how our society could improve based just on the lens we use to look at our interactions, and our possibilities. And the way these thinkers speak about society and leadership really frames the job of a parent to think about the lens our children use to see the world. A poet (Angelou), a journalist-turned-philosopher (Wright), and a Business professor (Sinek) all telling us how important it is to recognize our connection as human beings. If only Montessori had recorded a TED talk... 
Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien

Hello dearest community! 

A couple quick announcements on community events: 
Family picnic 5-8pm May 26th at Como Park picnic area! 
School Board Annual Meeting June 15th! 5:30-6:30pm cookout, 6:30-7:30pm public meeting! Celebrate the year! Hear about next steps for the School!

Blog post for May 6th, 2016: 

Spring is a wonderful time to wrap up a school year. As life returns to the soil and leaves again appear, we have a reminder of the natural cycles that nourish us. We have worked hard this past year, and together have grown. The time for us to harvest the bounty of our relationships, our care for each other, and the love for our community is now. So please, dear community of families and alumnus, thank a teacher. Thank a friend. Thank a person who came into your life through the school and made you all the better for it. 

For, in a natural cycle of seasons we give thanks at the time of the harvest. We give thanks traditionally when the season of growth comes to an end and the fruit is ripe to harvest. For our work, that time of harvest is now - in the spring - before we break for respite and the sprout of another school year in September. 

I'm thankful for the promise that spring brings - reconnecting us to a promise for hope and new growth, in the face of the fierce or prickly truth or experience. The message of the poem below reminds me how central this kind of hope is to education, to our work together in building a better humanity, and trusting ourselves to be strong enough to find new growth in each season. May you find the same hope as we close this season of work together, and may you join us in our community events this month! Be well all of us ~Sam



In Perpetual Spring

Related Poem Content Details

Bikes from May 4th: Bike to school day!
Gardens are also good places 
to sulk. You pass beds of 
spiky voodoo lilies   
and trip over the roots   
of a sweet gum tree,   
in search of medieval   
plants whose leaves,   
when they drop off   
turn into birds 
if they fall on land, 
and colored carp if they   
plop into water. 

Suddenly the archetypal   
human desire for peace   
with every other species   
wells up in you. The lion   
and the lamb cuddling up. 
The snake and the snail, kissing. 
Even the prick of the thistle,   
queen of the weeds, revives   
your secret belief 
in perpetual spring, 
your faith that for every hurt   
there is a leaf to cure it.




Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien
Often in our school I see the miraculous presence of restraint and respect - even in situations of conflict. This habit of respect for difference, for competing opinions and competing needs to be held in tension, but not divide us as people. A quality of cooperation in spite of conflict, and restraint instead of aggression, is a skill Montessori students learn at all ages. We should acknowledge as parents, this skill to create peace is generally in conflict with what we see in newspapers, video media, and current events. One google of "language of conflict" and you'll find countless explanations of conflict resolution and processes that reflect the kind of approach we take here at Great River School. (For instance, Restitution - the topic of a parent ed night we hosted on March 31st) Practices like restitution are effective, and they are in opposition to traditional discipline and reward models. (See an article on the effectiveness of restitution here)

One google search for "language of conflict presidential race" and instead of finding references to solutions, we have ample documentation of our society demonstrating a traditional approach to conflict and a 'win at all costs' behavior that ignores a common respect for humanity, difference, and respect between people. Indeed, politics is generally not a place where we can look for an ethical compass. The Maria Montessori quote on peace education is particularly relevant this year: "Building lasting peace is the true work of education, all politics can do is keep us out of war." (Link here if you're interested in a conflict scholar identifying Montessori's contribution to peace education.) And, to be clear, this history of foul political language is not limited to one party or group.

Which is why, in the face of a society where adults are not often in the news cycle for their acts of tolerance and peace building, I'm so proud of our school for supporting *students* as leaders in voicing conflict and finding personal solutions to approach social injustice and seemingly insurmountable social challenges such as racism, poverty, and oppression. Our IRACE event is a student-owned event that is a shining example of discussion, passion, and pain around conflict - but all in a context of respect. This is one of the most difficult challenges any school faces: how to have difficult and relevant conversations. It's one small school we have here, but it's an exemplar model for student leadership and civil language of peace in a world that focuses so often on conflict.

So please ask your student how or if they experience our school as different from other places or other schools they know. By no means are we exempt from bullying, disrespect, or other common challenges among developing humans. However, I am thankful everyday for the culture of respect our students learn and teach each other - they teach me every day.


(A link to our IRACE keynote speaker Kao Kalia Yang: http://www.kaokaliayang.com/  & one example of the artistic performances and message our students were able to hear, analyze, and use a starter to civil conversation: http://www.guante.info/2016/03/guante-katrah-quey-post-post-race.html)


Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien
Dearest community,

This week in the adolescent levels, we took a moment of silence to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the unexpected passing of one of our teachers last year. Jay Peterson was our chemistry teacher, and in his short time at great River school he formed many close friendships with colleagues - and a wonderful rapport with students as a guide and mentor. His humor, calm demeanor, and care for the school were exemplars of the work we aim to carry out as adults at the school.

Seeing our community grieve together after that loss was one of the strongest examples of community strength I have seen in my time at great River school. Teachers and students alike made space for each other to be honest, to be whole - to feel both the grief and sorrow of a loss, and share in gratitude and remembrance of joy. 

To identify an emotional tool to cultivate for the situation, I spoke last year to the adolescent levels about gratitude. Often the grace that we all seek - to address deep and challenging feelings - is most easily accessed through thankfulness and expressing the care that we feel for the things we love. And so together in community meetings last year we practiced thinking of things we are thankful for, thinking of the deep care we have for them, and cultivating to literal feeling inside of warmth and care and gratitude for the people and experiences we love.

Implied in this practice is the idea that joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. In fact neither extreme can exist without the other. We must deeply care and deeply enjoy the aspects of our relationship and our experiences before we would ever feel deep loss at their passing. And, in a complementary way, we must know how to feel and express sorrow, and how to express vulnerability. One vulnerable skill we cultivate is how to be able to talk about loss and feel sadness. For, if we are not able to go deeply into the expression of sorrow and loss, our capacity to experience joy and love will be limited.

The two feelings are from the same emotional well, and the deepening of that well depends not only on the vulnerability to care about something - but also the readiness and safety to grieve for that thing as it grows, as it changes, and as we experience an unexpected loss. And so we practice together experiencing success, and sometimes failure, in ways small and large at Great River School. Both extremes of experience, the joy and sorrow we venture to feel are brave parts of our humanity – and all feelings are welcome and have space in our classrooms.

We practice ways to express our feelings of sorrow, of conflict, and of sadness and disappointment of all kinds, and it makes space for deep gratitude because the practice allows us to accept our whole selves.

This practice is a key aspect of the social and emotional learning we aim to do together in the building community, and practicing the interpersonal peace that we hope our students can bring to the world in the future. I am deeply grateful to be a part of this community, and a witness to the healthy and strong emotional learning we have done together as a school over this past year.

Thank you for taking part in that, and for helping provide the strength as a family and for your student to help create a healthy and peaceful world for the future.



Posted
AuthorSam O'Brien