Heads Section: Reordering Priorities
As my fast-paced summer evolves into fall, I am enjoying a book from my “bucket” reading list: life is a verb: 37 Days To Wake Up, Be Mindful, And Live Intentionally by Patti Digh. The book begins with the story of Ms. Digh’s stepfather, who was diagnosed with lung cancer and given 37 days to live. Having taken that journey with my own mother a few years ago, Patti Digh’s stories resonated with me, jumping off the page to find a place in my heart and soul. Digh asks, “Would I spend my time cleaning the attic, purging computer files, or going to meetings? My answer wasn’t about taking a world tour or climbing Mt. Everest. It was about living each day with more intention. It was simply about saying yes, about being generous, about speaking up, loving more, trusting myself and slowing down. It was about fully inhabiting the life I have, not creating a new one” (Digh, p. vii).
With regard to my own life, I have mentioned before in Montessori Life how toddlers playing gleefully outside my office window inspire me to stop in my tracks and dedicate myself to their openness, to their proclivity of drinking in the simple joys of life. Throughout the summer, I felt called to peek out the window to see for myself in what delights of the senses these miniscule trailblazers were engaged. I witnessed unforgettable vignettes: children learning to use the slip-and-slide. Their enchantment and wonder at butterflies who laid eggs in our gardens, hatched and then flitted about, filling their vision with multitudes of color and fragile beauty. How they shrieked with pleasure when a big bus or truck drove by, and how they learned to make a fist and pump their arms, causing the big-rig drivers to honk in response. I remember feeling so empowered as a child when we rode down the highway, faces glued to the car window, pumping our arms and hearing that thunderous honk from truck drivers, strangers yet connected. Children make that charming connection with almost everyone.
The Heads of School Listserv, our point of connection, continues to be a magical link to the vast brain trust available to heads (and teachers have one, too), who often have big responsibilities requiring libraries of information to promulgate best practices for our respective schools and faculties. Our neighbors in Japan and Haiti and other areas of the world who have been affected by catastrophic events might now hold a much different worldview from our own. Their appreciation and longing for anything normal gives us all pause. Our small troubles with that one staff person or those parents who love to visit in the parking lot pale in comparison to the staggering issues they must deal with daily. And we are reminded, but for grace, there go we.
I urge all school heads to make the commitment to honor the important work in which we are engaged by making plans to attend the Heads Retreat in Costa Rica, January 13-15, 2012. It will be an opportunity to put faces to the names of the people with whom you share helpful advice, to those forms and messages that fly into your inbox from all over the country and the world. JoAnn Deak will be our speaker for the 2-day symposium. I have watched Deak mesmerize an audience of several thousand people; I can’t imagine anyone I more want to get to know up close and personally than this charming, powerfully intelligent woman who possesses knowledge and mastery in areas I simply do not. My hope will be for hundreds of you to join this influential group of Montessori leaders as we take time to reflect. As Kathy Roemer, our AMS President, said of her experience this past year at the retreat, “For a few brief days, we can expand our thoughts and be surrounded with others who understand exactly the important, difficult job we do every day.”
I call upon all of you to listen to those transcendental dreamers of days gone by; Thoreau and Emerson were some writers I revisited this summer as well. We’re only here once, they remind us. Life should be ecstasy. Patti Digh remarks:
We all deserve to have fun, live large, and be ridiculed by less imaginative people under the erroneous assumption they get extra credit for being prudent and safe. If I recall correctly, the death rate for people who play it safe and for the people who live boldly is the same: 100 percent. (Digh, p. 27)
Watching my toddler teachers launch their adult bodies down the slip-and-slide, showing the toddlers how to achieve mastery, was definitely an indication of ecstatic, bold adventuring.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? (Williamson, pp. 190-191)
Digh, P. (2008). life is a verb. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press.
Williamson, M. (1992). A return to love:
Reflections on the principles of a course in miracles. New York: Harper Collins.
MARGE ELLISON is chair of the AMS Heads of Schools Section. She is founder and head of school of Montessori Country Day School in Houston, TX. She is AMS-credentialed (Early Childhood, Administrator).
Montessori Life Fall 2011
Volume 23, Number 3