Teaching Workshops and Performance Art in the Montessori World
Bring Unity into your Classroom!
Last September 2015, I had the opportunity to conduct a teaching seminar called “Understanding Common Core Standards.” Included in this workshop were other Montessori teachers from schools around the nation. The workshop started with a smudge ceremony, questions about what the audience members were looking for, small group discussion, and ended with collaborative participation about how Common Core has affected each member participant. I also gave the participants online resources where they could easily find intersections between Common Core and Montessori. Please contact me for a list of free resources!
The night before the workshop, I felt nervous about whether I could deliver the information the audience was seeking. I came across an article that mentioned the main key to delivering workshops is to make people feel at home. Aha! Finally I felt relieved. Smudge, a Native tradition, uses sage that has been dried and placed in bundles, to conduct a cleansing ceremony. It immediately makes a person feel at home, especially if done daily in a ritualistic manner.
In my lower elementary classroom, the smudge ceremony begins the day. Everyone gathers in a circle. The elder of the classroom lights the smudge stick, and proceeds to smudge every person in the circle. We use the smoke to swipe over the head (cleansing the mind), over the chest (cleansing the heart) and over the body (cleansing the corporeal body).
The participants of the workshop went through this ceremony with me. I felt it settle participants in the same way it settles my students. We all started this workshop mentioning our name, why they chose the workshop, and a moment of silence or speaking gratitude out loud.
Highlights of what the participants learned
The participants truly enjoyed the smudge ceremony and this became what their evaluations were mostly written about. Surprisingly, many of them wrote that they longed for a sense of unity and ceremony in the classroom. Something like smudge is easy to incorporate, although there are many ways to optimize unity into to the classroom.
The bigger concepts discussed in the workshop were:incorporating storytelling, pictures, videos, artifacts
- making sure the portfolios represent the core beliefs of the school
- scheduling professional developments around core values
- measuring growth, realism, choice, reflection, constructions of students throughout the year creating portfolios for each student -making sure this portfolio represents many different aspects of the child’s learning and progress:
- including a passage process at the end of the school year
I learned many of these portfolio ideas from my school where I teach, Escuela Tlatelolco Centro de Estudios, as well as RMSEL (Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning), which is an expeditionary school in South Denver
What the various small groups talked about as I listened in:
- shared beliefs that some Common Core is helpful
- question: how to demonstrate skills in a private Montessori school setting?
- opinion: technology assessment doesn’t’ show true ability
- use of accelerated readers in the classroom – great for fluency
- guided reading – great for reading comprehension
At this point I informed participants of the lesson planning document as well as a portfolio summary sheets that I created last year with an administrator. These documents serve as a guide for my teaching. They are Montessori based in language and content, however also speak to the traditional school systems.
What I have found with utilizing the Common Core is that it’s best to read the standards and create imaginative ways to incorporate them into your lessons if you don’t want to follow the suggested ideas. You may find you have to tweak things, or you may find that your system exceeds what is being suggested. The reason I started the conversations with portfolio and core beliefs, is that you as a teacher, and then bigger, as a school have to put your own core beliefs before anyone else gets to dictate what those are. When all that is said and done, add in the Common Core Standards. They really aren’t that scary if you have your own beliefs in place, as a school. I’ve been lucky enough to work in a school that has never compromised it’s beliefs as a school, and has allowed teachers to still be passionate about our jobs. In summary, the CORE of teaching needs to embody the unique vision, beliefs and important concepts of the school before bringing in outside ideas.
If you have further questions about incorporating the Common Core with the Montessori structure, especially at the elementary level, please let me know!
What I learned
I had a great deal of fun, learned much and received great feedback from this group of professional teachers. I hope to continue the conversation with them, find out how their professional development ideas came to pass, find out how they led to creating core beliefs, talk more about portfolio and interact more about Common Core. I’m so curious and excited for them! It seems this subject has caused a lot of worry and panic within schools and teaching communities nationally. I’d love to help out, be a sounding board, or give further ideas if needed. I am available to help out with unique professional development seminars as well.
The day after this workshop took place, I was given the opportunity to perform a Raven Speaks Performance for the same participants, plus many others who were in other workshops. It was endearing to me to present my sacred art form to such a sacred audience – teaching professionals!
I would definitely do this again – the incorporation of performance art and teaching workshop naturally went together at this conference, and I hope to have more experiences where I present teaching workshops and performance art!