The first time I ever worked in an elementary school was as a Kindergarten class intern within the public schools in Washington state. Over that year, I was asked to take on more responsibilities from the Lead Teacher, so I’d slowly grow more comfortable with the increased expectations of guiding and supervising a classroom of students. There were ample reasons to love the experience: joyful children, supportive faculty, and the space to ask questions and experiment with ideas.
Every day, around 9:30, the entire class would transition to “reading time,” which the students seemed to enjoy. Well, most of the students enjoyed the time, save one. For this story, we’ll call him Tucker! A few minutes before 9:30, the bell would ring for a transition that the teacher had planned. Over the weeks, Tucker had developed a pattern of coming to school, participating in Circle, and then immediately heading to the block area where he would create elaborate cities and buildings. These structures were magnificent and his friends would often collaborate with him, resulting in even more extensive civilizations. Tucker soon learned that this bell meant that he needed to put away his work, and join everyone else in the same activity- reading.
The pattern was soon set for Tucker to hear the bell and reliably become very upset that he had to put away his work to make space for the next thing. Prior to the bell, Tucker was in “the zone,” “concentrating,” “self-regulating,” or anyone of many terms used to describe an individual who is humming along with their work. This bell told Tucker that his work was not as important as the schedule and that the needs of the teacher and group out-ranked his sense of order. The transitions did not go well. Eventually, Tucker would join his peers in reading, but he wasn’t too keen on investing his focus in reading after such an emotional experience. The interruption of Tucker’s work, as well as its message, sticks with me as a meaningful lesson.
Not much later in life, I became an assistant in a Montessori classroom. This kind of general interruption did not occur, and more to the point – breaking a child’s concentration was frowned upon. It was there that I found a new direction to head in the world of education, one that increasingly supported and honored the child as a critical and dynamic part of their own education. With a major goal of helping children to develop and strengthen their ability to concentrate, a tenet of Montessori’s philosophy was to never interrupt a focused child. To honor that focus is to honor the internal work of the child. There are few more powerful messages that we can stress to our children, no matter the age- putting energy and attention into work is valuable, and each of us has the right to direct and follow this energy.
At Casa, I’m grateful that we honor each child’s intention and work. Like a family, we are a community of individuals, which suggests a need for flexibility and compromise at times. However, the importance behind allowing work cycles to be completed, and attention to naturally shift is still a critical piece of what creates our ambiance. This patience and understanding is yet another building block to how Peace Education is modeled and implemented at Casa di Mir. At this point, Tucker is old enough to have conversations with his own children about cleaning up for transitions. Unbeknownst to Tucker, he taught a lesson that I’ve carried for 20 years. As educators, it is part of our perspective to keep this sensitivity for interruptions in mind as we operate through the school day. No matter the role you play with children, the power of allowing children to complete their work before moving on is easy to witness, as it usually results in smoother transitions and an increased willingness. Who doesn’t want that? Plus, your patience may result in an even more amazing civilization (in blocks or otherwise)!
Tyler Bourcier Head of School