Dear colleagues, dear parents,
Another school year has past. We still try our best to get everything organized in a calendar year - but we just can’t get rid of the “end of the year” feeling in July. Regardless - a moment to reflect is always healthy.
We started the school year 2018/19 with much uncertainty. The change of management gave us new perspectives and possibilities. As Casa is growing, we adapted our management structure to provide more room for bottom up management in the form of self steering teams. As everything else at Casa - nothing was created overnight, and the charm and challenge of Casa is that we keep on developing in an organic way. We know which direction we would like to go, and we use the resources at our disposal to reach our goal.
Self Steering teams:
We initiated the self steering teams by the introduction of team coordinators: Marjorie will coordinate the Toddlers and Children’s House and Jetteke the Lower and Upper Elementary. We also introduced a certain structure, rhythm and routine in our meetings to increase efficiency. In an organization like ours, where employees have set schedules and we are open All Day All Year - it is very challenging to physically meet each other. Hence we have to make the most of the precious moments we do have available. To stay on course and to organize self steering teams who define their own developmental goals, it is crucial to meet each other in a structured and organized way. In the coming year we will extend this practise to all teams.
We are very proud of our first toddler group. They have created a beautiful, serene learning environment where the children develop in an amazing way. It is very rewarding to see our very young Casa children moving freely and discovering and developing their own identity with the support of a great team of ladies. At the Toddlers, the daily highlight is, of course, the lunch. Sixteen toddlers, sitting at a table, eating with a spoon and fork, pouring their drink from a miniature jug into a miniature glass and when they are done, taking their utensils one by one to the kitchen and washing up. All in a very orderly fashion as if it is the most normal thing to do!
Freedom and Limits:
It is through the Toddlers that I came to realize how incredibly important limits are in order to create true freedom. That is the core of what makes Montessori great. It is when the limits (that represent our norms and values) are clear that human beings can honestly be free. It definitely doesn’t need to be enforced by an authoritarian adult. It needs to be embedded in the prepared environment. The role of the adult is to prepare this environment and to link the child to the environment and then to guide them very firmly but kindly - taking into account that the conductor (prefrontal cortex) still needs to be developed.
The roles of the guides:
It was with the concept of ‘freedom and limits’ in mind that we started to develop the specific roles of the guides in the Lower and Upper Elementary. Because the traditional teacher tends to be the obstacle in the development of independence, we realized that we had to redefine the role of the guide. In contrast to the guides of the 0 to 6 year olds, who guide children to functional independence, the guides in the Lower and Upper Elementary guide the children to mental independence. These roles the guides fulfill need to support children as they think for themselves. These roles are 1) ‘the Mentor’, who supports the child individually to reflect and to make choices; 2) ‘the Instructor’ gives effective lessons and provides the child with assistance to master the content; 3) ‘the Inspirator’ who entices the child to learn more about the great world we live in and, finally, 4) ‘the Coach’ who supports the group/community to be socially aware and take responsibility for themselves and others.
We have embarked on this journey and still have a long way to go but we are proud of what it has already delivered. We see guides who are much more aware of the impact they have on children and thus taking the responsibility to step back and listen more. We see children much more aware of what they want to learn - children becoming owner of their learning path.
The past year was a year of consolidation in the Children’s House - in one group more than the other. I suppose I have the most beautiful view in the world from my office. Seeing the little ones move freely to the outside work area or other activities, seeing them drilling, sawing, taking care of the animals, making beautiful constructions with wood and pipes, is a daily treat. I am proud of how calm our little ones are. It is beautiful to see their concentration and happy faces when they start to read or when they count these incredible long chains or when they make one booklet after the other with multiplication or addition sums! The variety of activities in the Children’s House is beautiful and their growth towards independence is admirable.
I am extremely proud of the people who have chosen to work at Casa. We have almost 70 staff members and we have had a very low turnover. Though it is sometimes quite challenging to work at Casa, I see a dedicated team that is willing to walk the extra mile.
Without our staff we would never have been able to establish what we have. It became even more clear when the Minister of Education, Arie Slob, announced that he was not prepared to change the law to allow flexible teaching hours. Fortunately we were able to influence the other political parties and we (with the other pilot schools) made it very clear that it would be extremely irresponsible to simply discard that we have developed so far. It made an important difference that we were also able to demonstrate to members of parliament what we had already achieved. Rudmer Heerema from the VVD and Paul van Meenen visited Casa in the past - they fought for us and got the majority to support the motion. We are now very hopeful that the minister will enable us to proceed with our All Day All Year concept.
There is no learning environment like Casa - not in The Netherlands and for what I know - not in the world. We know that children are the future of our planet, and we believe that through our guidance they can develop into responsible, productive and socially aware global citizens. We are, however, pioneers, and this makes life interesting but also harder. We are very thankful for the Casa community of children parents and guides that provides much needed support and, more importantly, inspiration to continue our journey.
We wish you all a wonderful summer, and look forward to seeing you when you return from your holidays.