June 2014: On Trust

“All happiness depends on courage and work” -Honoré de Balzac

At our first ever Community Coffee, one word was repeated several times in the conversation that resulted in a lot of pondering and reflection for us, that word was: “Trust.”

Parents were discussing the idea that, to a certain extent, they have to trust the school: trust that their children are learning, trust that we’re doing “what a school should do,” because our approach is different to what we are traditionally accustomed to as “evidence” of learning: quizzes, tests, standardized tests, grades, report cards, etc.

This resonated for us in a few ways. Yes, trust is crucial, but as a school we also have a responsibility to demonstrate and document learning, to provide opportunities for parents to “see” it, and to instill confidence in our community. We hope we are doing this- through First Fridays, Community Coffees, student narratives, parent-teacher conferences, weekly blogs and easy accessibility for meetings and conversations. We want to do all we can to make that home-to-school connection strong.

But what really struck us is that the question of trust is so much deeper than ensuring we are meeting academic benchmarks. At that Community Coffee, we were also discussing how to define “progressive education.” One definition that didn’t arise that day, but is a quite compelling one, is “an inherent trust in the individual child.”

Seeing this definition was an aha moment for us.  You do trust us, because we trust your child.

When we give tours of the school and talk about what we do here, we often see visiting parents’ eyes light up, we hear deep sighs of relief and comments such as “this sounds amazing” and “oh this is what education should be, wonderful!” This is of course just what we hope to hear, and we agree.  But we want to be careful that we are not building an expectation that it is a perfect school, free from any dissonance or struggle. This is simply not the case, that is not what progressive education is and it’s not what we set out to do.  PCS is messy, because life is messy: and this is where the learning happens.

Instead of perfection, there will be arguments amongst all members of this community. There will be mistakes, many, many mistakes: by all members of this community. There will be split chins and skinned knees. There will be differences in judgement and opinion. There will be frustration, anger, disappointment, miscommunication and there will be mending. There will be a lot of practice. Because this is learning. We will practice and learn in a safe, nurturing environment, in developmentally appropriate ways, to build skills and confidence, but not in an environment that shields children from challenges.

When a student is first introduced to a new math concept, she might misunderstand it. She might need it explained two or three times. She might keep making the same mistake. She will need to keep practicing it to have it truly ingrained, to be learned.

Similarly, since what we want to do at PCS is teach the whole child: the social, emotional, and spiritual in addition to the academic, there needs to be so much practice as children learn to navigate their world. Whether it is allowing them to form opinions and ideas independent of any preferred or pre-ordained perspective, or learning how to successfully tell a friend something difficult, it is our responsibility to have faith that they can get there. And, as educators, we will be carefully attuned to what, in the Montessori tradition is known as “the sensitive period”, where students demonstrate a readiness to learn and integrate new ideas and skills.

Of course, developmentally appropriate expectations do not necessarily translate to a clean and orderly result. It will be messy. Your three year-old may have never had to be responsible for putting away his snack and lunch: but we are trusting that through practice he can do that, in his 3-year-old way.  Perhaps your son is the youngest child. Here at PCS, in a multi-age class he has the opportunity to be the oldest. What wonderful practice and what an opportunity to develop skills and independence in a way he never had before! Maybe your child is just starting to develop a critical sense about environmental issues: At PCS, we will help her find the information she needs and trust that with that she can form her own opinions, free from ours.

Although we’ve created a lovely nurturing environment at PCS, it is not our goal to shelter or control students’ experiences. We will trust them as they encounter a variety of challenges and thereby build independence, resilience and adaptability, and learn to be the best person they can be.

Kathryn QuigleyComment