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Lead Articles from The Post

including notes from Maura Joyce, Head of School

 

2017–2018

Closing the Book on 2017-2018

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the May 2018 issue of The Post

As we enter the last month of the school year, I have been reflecting on the challenges we have faced together as a community. This year has been an extraordinary opportunity for growth. Despite natural disaster and loss, students persisted in their daily activities and arrived ready to work—they continued their education, their studies, their friendships, and they did so with joy.

While enjoying these glorious spring days, one can’t help but notice how much the children have grown and matured, how much the adolescents have come into themselves, and our hearts swell with pride at the adults our seniors have become. Post Oak students truly are enthusiastic, curious, courageous, engaged, kind, and generous.

The Post Oak School mission extends beyond the walls of our buildings and the bounds of our campuses. It shines in the actions of our staff, students, and families. This year, the Post Oak Parent Association initiated a service program that brought our mission into communities across the city. Beginning with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, POPA mobilized families to support those members of our community who lost their homes, cars, and belongings to flooding. This grew into organizing collections for the shelter at the convention center and marshaling teams to help clean out homes.

Harvey provided a launching pad for the community service projects that extended through the year. Upper Elementary students trained to be reading support for children at Nat Q. Henderson Elementary school, a Title 1 school east of downtown. Families joined together to clean up Buffalo Bayou, and work at the Salvation Army and the Houston Food Bank, to name a few. Coordinated by Post Oak parents Nicole Pedersen and John Duboise, these opportunities brought that environment of “collaboration, cooperation, and peace” to others and gave us the privilege to serve.

At the last community service project, I added my hands to the group of Post Oak students and parents who painted the library at Nat Q. Henderson. Our group worked for hours, alongside their school principal, staff, and their children, to beautify the environment. Watching our students helping others reminded me to be so grateful for the challenges of this year, which provided us with yet another pathway to reach out to others and share our mission.

Service lies at the heart of Post Oak, and our older students engage in it in a variety of ways, such as student-initiated bake sales in Upper Elementary, Middle School weekly service learning, High School internships benefitting local businesses, National Honor Society projects, and community service as a component of the IB program. Service is foundational to who we are at The Post Oak School, and this extension through POPA is a perfect fit. It is the reason that Post Oak exists, and our mission states it: Post Oak fosters collaboration, cooperation, and peace and provides experiences that promote curiosity, inquiry, and engagement.

As we close the book on this school year, I am in awe of the kindness and generosity of our student, staff, and parent community. Students will have their end-of-year celebrations in their classrooms, and I would like to invite all parents and employees to an end-of-year celebration of our own. Let’s raise a glass to the power and purpose of this community. Please join me on Monday, May 21 at 6 o’clock in the Bissonnet Campus Library to bid farewell to the 2017–2018 school year and to let me thank each parent and employee for being a part of this community that we love so dearly.

The Most Important Teacher of All

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the April 2018 issue of The Post

The children at Post Oak are most fortunate to have teachers who are meticulously trained in child development, the Montessori curriculum, IB strategies, and with a solid foundation in the subject areas they teach. Many have completed a full academic year AMI training course, have advanced degrees, and spent several years being mentored by experienced teachers. Some Post Oak teachers have multiple decades of experience, and all of them have engaged in professional development on a regular basis. I myself have two Montessori diplomas, a Masters in Education, a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and philosophy, and engage in professional development and exchange at least twice a year. As an educator, I feel prepared.

But as a parent, I wasn’t given any training before I began the most challenging job I have ever had. Maria Montessori herself recognized that the most important teachers in the child’s life are the parents. Most days, that feels like a lot of pressure, as I don’t have a degree in parenting! And why is it that all the things I learned about child development were much easier to implement in the classrooms of the schools where I have worked than in my own home?

Like your children, my son did not come with an instruction manual. I started out just doing the best I could with what I had. Sometimes that was just great, but other times have been really, really difficult. When my son was much younger, my husband and I made the choice to take a parenting course with a trained Positive Discipline parenting educator. Like the Redirecting Children’s Behavior and Love and Logic series offered by Post Oak, this seven-week commitment really changed our perspective on how to approach our son, and, finally, provided me with the “training” I had craved. It did not give us direct instruction, that is, it was not a “how to” course. Rather, it provided us with a process for looking at our child’s behavior and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust in our home. It helped me to remember that as his parents, we are the most important teachers in our son’s life.

Parenting education is one of the opportunities at Post Oak that really differentiates our school from others. Post Oak offers a plethora of events, a variety of topics, and covers the whole development of the child, from 14 months through 18 years. Post Oak understands that parenting is not always intuitive, and, like the Montessori teachers, some training is really helpful. Like many of you, my husband and I take advantage of the presentations by teachers and staff to better understand what happens at school and how that can inform our home life. In a Montessori classroom, the children learn the balance between freedom and responsibility. They have as much freedom as they can handle and be responsible with. This is a fragile balance parents would like to maintain at home too, and now that we have a teenager who drives, it’s more important than ever.

It’s April already, and the end of the school year is just around the corner, and still Post Oak keeps parent education opportunities on the calendar for parents of toddlers through teens. Pathways to Independence at the Museum District Campus, Coffee with the Elementary Director, Families Integrating School and Home (F.I.S.H.) and YCC Teachers’ Afternoon Tea are all offered this month. We are all very busy, but prioritizing this time for ourselves benefits our children as they grow. I do rely on his teachers to inspire his learning throughout the day. I need to rely on myself, with help from Post Oak, to continue to inspire my learning throughout his life.

 

Parent Perspective

by Judy Le, Post Oak Parent | From the April 2018 issue of The Post

When we started looking at private schools, we did the research, talked with countless parents, toured numerous schools, analyzed our options diligently…and then applied to just one school. As a family, we decided that if we were to go the private school route, it would only be at Post Oak.

As we looked at our options, we came back to our own core values and what was most important to us for their early childhood education. We came to this: we wanted our kids to have academic rigor and, more importantly, we wanted them to love to learn. We wanted them to master critical academic subjects and, more importantly, we wanted them to be critical thinkers. We wanted them to be in a safe and nurturing environment and, more importantly, we wanted them to feel empowered to shape their own experiences and take risks. We wanted them to be surrounded by diversity and, more importantly, to learn about and celebrate differences. Post Oak was the right fit for us.

Our kids entered Post Oak at ages 3 and 5, and it has been a wonderful experience. It’s difficult to fully describe the experience, so let me list just a few of the highlights for us:

  • Responsibility and civility. Having lunch with my child always leaves me in awe. I watch as the children set their own place settings and serve themselves. When there is a guest, the children serve as “hosts.” We have a conversation that is equally silly and serious. And then they clear their plates, load the dishwasher, sweep around their tables, put away their things, and grab a book to read. I never knew lunch with 24 five-year-olds could be so civilized!
  • Consequences. My son has learned that if he forgets his homework folder on Monday, he doesn’t get homework. Sounds great for some! But he understands that means one less day to do it, and he’s not happy about that. My daughter has learned that when she uses up all the construction paper, her friends don’t have any left to use. I have learned to continue these lessons at home, and a common phrase we say in our family is, “When you make bad choices, you get fewer choices.” I love how these lessons are staying with them as they grow older.
  • Needing help and giving help. I had to get used to the idea that one classroom combines three grades. Now that my kids have been through three years of Post Oak, I have seen how helpful it is to be the youngest and have older kids model high standards of learning and behavior. And then I have seen them be the oldest and take responsibility for mentoring and teaching the younger students. What a gift!
  • Finding their voice. My kids were shy when they began at Post Oak. My son would go into anxiety attacks days before having to speak in front of a group. His first class play was performed with his eyes closed every time he was on stage. Last semester, he presented a group project in front of his class, and they received a standing ovation. I can’t tell you how much it means to us to see their confidence in themselves grow.

My professional background is in leadership and team development. I spent seven years doing leadership development at Rice University, working with some of the best and brightest college students. I can definitively say that the skills and behaviors Post Oak instills in students are critical to success for, and beyond, academic achievement. I want my kids to grow up to be active, engaged, and creative contributors to society. Post Oak reminds me that my kids already are. There are so many instances in our time here that have affirmed our decision to be part of the Post Oak community.

 

Soft Skills Overtake STEM

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the March 2018 issue of The Post

This month we get to welcome new families into our community with a letter saying we have a space for their child next year. During the months leading up to these decisions, I love to hear prospective families share what they are looking for in a school and how they found Post Oak. Just last week I got to sit down with families of young children to answer their questions, which I happily do, but I am really there for introductions and to hear why they are looking at Post Oak. The majority of the parents are looking for much more than an academic environment. They mention all the wonderful things they have heard about our program and teachers, but their questions are telling regarding what they value and want: How do parents get involved? When do children start doing community service? My child can be shy; how do you encourage social interaction? What if my child doesn’t choose work? As parents today, we know that we want our children to develop in many areas and that academics are not the only reason to choose a school. The next generation of Post Oak families knows this too.

For many years, school was about content, studying, and grades, and the goal was moving onto the next grade, the next level of schooling, and eventually a job. In some places, this is still the case. But the new reality is that school is a place where children should develop themselves at the core, where they practice skills that will help them to succeed in all facets of their lives. Those of us working in education, especially the Montessori trained staff at The Post Oak School, know that there are many layers to the work we do. Today’s workplace requires a much more nuanced set of skills than good grades and a degree can provide.

Take Google, for example. The tech giant (founded by Montessori grads) was very forward thinking in the 90s and knew that they needed highly educated people in technology to build their company. They had a narrow perspective on who to hire when they began in 1998. Today they have over 75,000 employees and recently went through the trouble of analyzing the skills and behaviors of their most successful employees. From an article that ran a few months ago in the Washington Post, “Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.” But in 2013, Google tested its hiring hypothesis by hyper-analyzing its hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation.

Their findings:

“…among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

I couldn’t help but share this article with our visiting prospective parents. My description of the Post Oak classroom community and the work that goes on inside hit on all the top characteristics of success at Google. We discussed the opportunity that each Primary child gets in the multi-year cycle of being the youngest student, the experienced student, and the classroom leader. In these three roles, they practice many of the skills listed above, listening and observing as a new student, communication and empathy as the experienced one, and coaching their peers as a leader.

Post Oak students in YCC through Elementary hone their problem solving and critical thinking skills with every material they take off the shelf. The Montessori materials are designed to challenge their intellect and use their hands to figure out and practice a concept. This hands-on method involves trial and error, getting stuck and changing course until reaching success or mastery.

Our Middle School and High School students’ work takes them into the Houston Museum District where they meet with experts during internships and their fellow Houstonians during community service. This unique part of our program is one of the ways they gain insights into different points of view, a variety of personalities and experiences.

These are just a few examples of where these skills weave into a Post Oak education. There are many more. None of the parents who were visiting told me they chose Post Oak so that their child could get a job at Google, but it’s a good example of the type of workplace they will experience in the future.

 

Board Brief: Why Post Oak

by Rochelle Tafolla, Board Member, Post Oak Parent x3 | From the February 2018 issue of The Post

Ten years ago my husband, Rick, and I anxiously awaited a response to our daughter Olivia’s application into Primary. Olivia was two years old, and it seemed a bit strange to feel anxious about her education. But, like all parents, we wanted to set her on a solid path for learning and development.

We wanted a school and faculty that are not just dedicated to teaching kids the curriculum, but also to helping children develop into well-rounded, self-aware, socially-conscious, and responsible young people. A school with confidence in its academic rigor that can permit children to follow their interests and to direct their own learning. We were looking for a school that helped guide students into becoming active participants in the larger world.

We were new to Houston and still quite new to parenthood. As we considered her educational options we consulted our friends and colleagues. One school kept coming up—The Post Oak School.

I signed us up for the prospective parent courses. We walked into the school and admired the flags of many nations that at that time lined the entryway. As we sat around the table with other parents, our interest grew. We listened to Kathy Long (now retired Elementary teacher and wearer of many hats at Post Oak) discuss nurturing independence, self-directed learning, the theory of presenting to the child only what could fit in her hand, and how young people could achieve “flow.” At a subsequent class, we watched a video of toddlers dressing themselves, and environments created to meet the child’s stature and needs. We knew we would submit an application. We wanted Olivia to grow and become a part of this special community.

When the acceptance letter arrived, we were excited about what the future would hold.

And, here we are. Ten years have passed, we now have three children in Elementary, and our family is firmly rooted in The Post Oak School community. We continually think about and evaluate the ways that our school is meeting the goals we had in mind when we started this journey. We see the school’s influence on our family every night in our spirited dinner conversations, whether about world events or classroom and playground dynamics. At family gatherings, play dates, and birthday parties, we see how The Post Oak School molds our children and their classmates into sophisticated conversationalists with any adult who will treat them as the equal participant that they are. And when we attend after-school events, we see the way that Post Oak children learn broadly and deeply, and are eager to share that information with you.

The truth is that we try to pay close attention to our children’s experiences in class, after class, and in the larger community that, for them, centers on The Post Oak School. And, we try to keep in mind, as we approach our 10th year, what attracted us to the school in the first place, and discuss with each child their thoughts on Post Oak and their education. We have learned to follow the child. And without hesitation, each has not only explained but demonstrated to us that this community, this school is exactly where they should be, and more important, where they want to be.

Ten years later, as more experienced parents, our co-workers and new parents now consult with us about their family’s first steps on their educational journey. We are often asked what we like about Post Oak. The answer is simple and gratifying. The Post Oak School is more than an excellent academic institution. It is a community, helping our children become engaged and balanced individuals, nurturing their growth into curious, compassionate, and full participants in our world.

 

 

The Way the Brain Has Always Learned Best

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the January 2018 issue of The Post

As we head back to school after a lovely winter break (and a shorter, icy one), I am feeling the excitement of the students as they “get back to their work.” This phrase is one that teachers at Post Oak hear a lot—the desire from children and young adults to do their work. It is not a magic spell we cast over them; rather it is a drive that comes from their own brains, which are responding to the way a Montessori environment is designed. I was reminded of how well we cater to the way the brain learns best when I read this article in NAIS’s Independent Teacher magazine. Allen Broyles and Scott Hamilton summarize a mountain of studies and research about brain function and learning and prioritize a list of actions that can create a better classroom experience for all learners (brains) in the room. What the article suggests is familiar to those of us with our children in a Montessori school.

The authors’ main premise is that although humans have created and possess advanced technology and our society has evolved over many millennia, our brains are not much different than they were 400,000 years ago. Paleolithic humans had to access a broad range of their brains’ abilities for survival. These humans lived “…in a highly physical, fairly hostile world that forced us to shift rapidly and creatively and to adapt to conditions as they came at us in fast-moving, three-dimensional space.” Below are the six points the article makes about learning and the brain, which just so happen to be consistent with Dr. Maria Montessori’s observations and discoveries over 100 years ago. Tips for the classroom, offered to teachers by the author, are strategies that have been in use at Post Oak for years and continue today.

  1. Our brains are powerful multisensory processors, connected to multiple sensors in the form of our eyes, ears, hands, tongue, nose, vestibular system, proprioceptive system, and many others… And our brains are made to use them all in concert to make sense of our world. This approach is found at all levels at Post Oak—from the dressing frames in YCC to the tinker labs in Middle and High School. Students use hands-on materials as part of their learning. Their brains are taking in content through their many senses, allowing the brain to create connections and reinforce neural pathways.
  2. We are meant to move. …navigating a moving, changing, three-dimensional world… There is a direct connection between movement, physical fitness, and our thinking. The “lecture and listen” class format is not the norm at Post Oak or any authentic Montessori environment. Students in the youngest classes are moving about all the time, with a purpose, from one activity to the next. As they get older and gain more skills, they are given maximum freedom as their level of responsibility allows to be moving from the classroom to the library, to the gym for physical fitness, to the art or music room for open studio time, or outside to find leaf samples or work in the garden. Our Middle and High School students take this to another level as they move from campus to our partner organizations in the Museum District and beyond to further their learning. There has never been any evidence that sitting in a chair for hours is the best way to learn.
  3. Our paleo brains are wired to create. The arts are integrated into the work of the classroom from the earliest stages of development. Students are encouraged to sing and draw, dance and paint. The article emphasizes the arts, which our Post Oak students enjoy both with specialists and integrated into the classroom work. But students in Montessori classrooms are asked to create work that demonstrates mastery of a concept and the doors are wide open as to how to do that. Post Oak students present work in creative ways including poetry and prose, writing plays and skits, dramatis personae, PowerPoint presentations, blogs, and through debate and seminar. Our Montessori adolescents experience the J-Term and A-Term two-week intensive courses that are designed by students.
  4. Through and through, we are social creatures. The best schools promote mastery in both the academic and the social domain. All classrooms are communities at Post Oak. This is not an “add-on” but rather integrated into the fabric of everyday life at Post Oak. Social relationships are necessary for collaborative work, keeping the environment organized, and enjoying time on the playground. Elementary through High School, classes have a weekly community meeting in which they discuss the needs of the community, problem solve the challenges they have, and plan for events. All community meetings begin or end with appreciations—the practice of expressing gratitude to your fellow students and teachers. Social interaction is constantly happening in YCC through High School, not just during lunch or on the playground.
  5. The unfolding of brain development is just as uneven as physical development… There is, in fact, little support from the neurodevelopmental literature that defends using age as the primary sorting metric for learning. Maria Montessori stressed the importance of the mixed-aged group to create a more dynamic learning environment. Post Oak students get to experience novice and leadership roles as they progress through the two- to three-year cycle. They have opportunities to teach and learn from their peers. We recognize that each student will have his/her developmental path—and will grow at his/her own pace. The mixed-age group guarantees work partners for all and refocuses learning groups on ability, not birth date.
  6. We use executive function skills all the time to adapt to our environment. Executive functioning has been discussed at length for years now in educational circles. Many have been identified by psychologists and educators alike. These include behaviors such as focusing attention; organization of materials and personal space; inhibiting action, planning, time management; self-correcting, as well as others. Post Oak classrooms are designed and structured to engage these executive functions throughout the day. Students choose a material, organize their space, and engage in independent work. Setting goals in an Elementary learning journal, planning a group project, trying, failing, and course-correcting—are all part of what happens in the class on a daily, on-going basis. Executive functions are engaged throughout a student’s years at Post Oak.

The article concludes that what we want is for our students’ brains to be flexible. We do this well at Post Oak, and it is important that we do, as the future our students face is going to be full of artificial intelligence and a changing landscape of work options. (See this article from EdWeek.) Classrooms designed this way will help the student be prepared to reinvent themselves when needed. As technology continues to change our world, our students need to be adaptable—physically, socially, cognitively.

Adaptation was a word that Montessori used in 1906. She stressed that one of the goals of education was to help the child adapt to the world they live in—learning how to learn and being ready (with all those executive functions) to plan and organize, monitor and course correct, in order to adapt to the next change coming their way. Our students may not be thinking about all this now. All they know is that when they walk into school each day at Post Oak, their brains are engaged in a way they were designed to be.

 

 

Music Connects Us

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the December 2017 issue of The Post

A 2013 study from the Gothenburg University in Sweden monitored the heart rates of choir singers as they performed several choral pieces. The researchers found that as the choir was singing, their hearts began to beat in unison. This, they hypothesized, was because the singers were coordinating their breathing, and their pulses began to speed up and slow down at the same rate. Other studies point to the stress-relieving powers of singing, lowering cortisol levels and releasing endorphins, making the singer less anxious and happier.

I did not need to read any research to know the healing powers of singing. I experience it every time I am alone in my car, and one of my favorite songs comes on—I am belting it out and watching my mood shift. I get lost in the song and am able to ignore the funny stares from people in their cars as they pass me by. Maria Montessori did not have to read any of these studies to know the importance of music in the life of a child. She said:

“There should be music in the child’s environment, just as there does exist in the child’s environment spoken speech.”

Music in the Montessori setting permeates the children’s work on every level. Like all subjects in a Montessori environment, music is integrated into other parts of the curriculum. Post Oak students learn that music is poetry, mathematics, history, art, language, and culture. Students at Post Oak experience music in a variety of ways—listening to pieces of music as they work, playing the bells as they train their ear to distinguish pitch, working with the tone bars to learn scales and patterns, clapping rhythms with hands or instruments, learning to play Orff instruments, playing the recorder, or bringing their piano, guitar, and voice talents to the adolescent coffee house. But it all begins with singing, as the youngest toddler in YCC experiences in their first days. Singing a song is a magical way to bring all the children together. Over the years, I have watched Montessori teachers find, share, and sometimes write songs for their students to sing that will inspire them. The children are quick to identify the messages of joy, peace, and hope that are found in music, and they believe that they are projecting these messages to the world through their voices. Listening to children sing joyfully, their voices remind of us the bright future that they will offer all of humankind.

Staff and students have been preparing to sing with you, and I hope you will join us. This new event on the calendar, Post Oak Sings!, is meant to bring us together in song. Although they have been practicing, this event is not meant to be a polished performance; it is meant to bring our hearts together through music. Will you join in the chorus with your Post Oak family? It is sure to be inspiring, and I know it will kick off our winter break in a warm and wonderful way.

 

Follow the Child on the Journey to Mastery

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the November 2017 issue of The Post

Do you remember the first time you saw a Montessori classroom? Was it familiar, similar to what you experienced as a child? For some of you, it must have been, because you attended Post Oak or another Montessori school. But for many of us, we didn’t understand what we were seeing and why it was designed so differently. I like to describe that difference in as many ways as possible to help parents (like me!) get a clearer picture of what we do in a Montessori environment.

In more traditional school models, TIME is a constant, while MASTERY is a variable. That is, each school day is broken down into multiple periods of time in which to address a specific subject (i.e., math, science, English). Students listen, read, study, and try to retain and demonstrate their knowledge of a subject within a time frame, say about 50 to 60 minutes daily. There is a lesson plan and content to be delivered in that time in each course of study. The degree of mastery varies, as different students achieve different levels of mastery given the time frame. For example, some retain 93% of it and earn an “A,” others retain 75% of it and earn a “C.” In other words, time is the constant while the degree of mastery varies among students, which in turn is supposed to be reflected in their grades.

Montessori flips this convention on its head. In a Montessori school, MASTERY is the constant while TIME is the variable. In other words, it may take some students a few hours, or days to grasp a particular concept while others require two or three weeks to demonstrate knowledge of the same material or mastery of skill. But the Montessori teacher is focused on mastery instead of on time or grades. The goal is for each student to master the material regardless of how much time it takes. Teachers observe and re-present, challenge and offer support, so that the student can obtain that in-depth understanding. Our environments are prepared for them to discover, explore, work, think, share, interact, communicate, and meet their needs. Within that framework, we also know that children are all unique and different and that we need to be able to individualize the educational program for each student. So rather than following a curriculum, Montessori follows the child. This aspect of our education system is really what sets it apart from the others: we follow the child.

In a more conventional classroom, when the curriculum is at the center of the school, the focus is the “what” and how to get the students to know “things.” Teaching methods will vary depending on the school, the teacher, and the resources available, but most traditional models follow the curriculum and use various strategies to impart this knowledge to a large group of students. By contrast, at the center of the Montessori classroom is the child. For over a century, Montessori teachers have approached children with a view that is based on their physiological and psychological development. Our focus is on their growth: physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually.

This does not mean we do not have a curriculum—we have a very rich and comprehensive one! Nor does it mean we do not have deadlines as our students get older—we do! But on the road to mastery, there is a higher purpose of a Post Oak education, which is to help children learn how to learn. Following the child means helping them each step of the way on the road to independence—intellectual as well as physical. Deeper understanding and mastery comes from delving into a subject, exploring a material, puzzling through a challenge, making mistakes, drawing conclusions, sharing ideas, and researching. Methods that still insist on the “lecture-memorize-repeat back” process cannot make time for this depth of understanding, as the students have such a limited opportunity to engage themselves in the process. Even within a project deadline, we prioritize giving the students the time needed towards mastery. Blocks of work time are a feature at every program level at Post Oak. There are opportunities to learn more. As fall conferences continue, parents engage in a dialogue with their student’s teacher (and at the upper levels with their child as well) about how they are doing academically, socially, and developmentally, based on their age and program level. Our conferences offer more than a conventional report card can. If you’re curious to explore the classrooms and materials at each level, Montessori Journey takes place January 19 and 20. Watch upcoming Post Highlights emails to register.

Whether your child is 14 months or 17 years old, they are on a journey of exploration, learning, reflection, growth, communication, and interaction. And, at Post Oak, we will be following them along the way.

Post Oak Resilience

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the October 2017 issue of The Post

From her speech at POPA Dinner, October 10

Six weeks ago today it was still raining, and we had not begun the drying out process at the Bissonnet Campus. Today, all the Elementary students, the last of our displaced students, returned to their classrooms on the first floor. We truly have a lot to celebrate.

Many of you came up to me and thanked me for my work over the past few weeks. I got a lot of positive responses from the parent community for the emails that I sent out and for keeping you all informed. One person said, “We were confident that you had this under control.” This was great and somewhat puzzling to me as many of those emails repeated these three words: “I don’t know.” I don’t know when school will start; I don’t know how long the reconstruction will take; I don’t know when we will be back in the building; I don’t know about ASEP, etc.

Maybe it was the “tone” of the emails rather than the words in it. Can emails have a tone? I thought about this as I was on a flight last week. I tend to travel a fair amount for both work and family related events. Because I am in the air a lot, I experience my share of turbulence. My father was a pilot—not for his career, just for fun. He flew a twin-engine six-seat Apache, and all of his children took turns flying with him over the years. My father tried to explain turbulence to me, but I just don’t get it. Sometimes when I fly, turbulence simply rocks me to sleep. Other times, it unnerves me—maybe I am over-tired or stressed, but sometimes it gets the better of me. Whichever is the case, the response from the cockpit is always the same. The captain sounds the same from flight to flight—calm, cool, and collected, as if he just woke up and is still in his pajamas. “Hey folks, I’ve turned on the fasten seatbelt sign because we’ve run into a patch of rough air. Kindly return to your seats and buckle up.” He might as well be saying, “Hey, honey, the coffee’s ready. What do you want for breakfast?”

The pilot understands turbulence. His tone is calm because of what he does know. Perhaps that is what you “heard” in my emails. Although I typed “I don’t know” as we went along, it is what I did know that allowed me to communicate in a calm manner. Let me share with you what I did know:

  • I knew that Post Oak had a Board of Trustees ready to support decisions made in the best interest of all the families.
  • Through the Houston Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) and Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), I knew I had a supportive network of schools and colleagues who discussed logistics and how we could support each other. And, ultimately, it was through this network and those first phone calls that precipitated my conversation with Ned Smith at Episcopal High School who gave us such a gift by making classrooms available. Mark Carleton at Presbyterian made room for our girls’ volleyball teams to practice.
  • I knew Post Oak had a rock star admin team who got on the phone with me every day as we discussed the status of the families, staff, and the building, identifying what we needed to do daily as everything unfolded.
  • I knew that Post Oak had a faculty that would rise to the occasion, find a creative solution, and give their all for the students and the school.
  • I knew that Post Oak had a support staff of classroom assistants, school counselors, specialists, and coaches. They would be the glue to hold everything together, supporting the teachers, delivering their content and curriculum from a rolling cart, showing up on the weekend to help the teachers, and doing it all with a smile.
  • I knew Post Oak had a facilities team that would lead us through the challenges of the flooded building, including loading boxes, moving boxes, throwing out trash, cleaning what we were keeping, moving furniture, waxing floors, and washing windows. They got wet and then dusty over and over and over again.
  • I knew that I had POPA and the parent community to take care of each other while we focused on the building and keeping our business operational. I also knew that you would all answer the call for volunteers with such enthusiasm.
  • Most importantly, I knew that I had your students—who would ultimately teach us how flexible Montessori’s pedagogy is. They returned to school after a natural disaster and supported each other. They walked into a foreign space and knew what to do. They taught us the meaning of adaptability, because they are Montessori kids and go to The Post Oak School. They are resilient, optimistic, compassionate, and resourceful. They turned a challenging situation into an opportunity for service, outreach, learning in a new environment, and connection to each other in a new way. They were the inspiration for the last six weeks. They were the ones that made working seven-day weeks bearable. They were our hope that we would come out on the other end of this challenge in a stronger, better position than we were. And we have.

My job was easy, all I had to do was sound like the calm pilot.

 

A Strong & Connected Community

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the September 2017 issue of The Post

I had prepared a different article for the first Post newsletter issue of the 2017–18 school year. However, as all of us have experienced, the last few weeks have thrown original plans up in the air. We were looking forward to starting this year “construction-free,” but that was before Harvey paid us a visit.

Post Oak’s story the past few weeks echoes the stories we have heard throughout Houston. It is a story of courage, resilience, compassion, generosity, community, and the power of togetherness. All of this was evident at the Bissonnet Campus as we dealt with our flooded building, remediation, restoration, and relocation to start classes again for our younger students. Everyone came together to reopen the doors for the children. The Post Oak community also made sure to take care of our families who lost so much—homes, cars, and belongings. You helped them find temporary housing, cleaned out their homes, fed them, brought them clothes, gave them cars, and watched their children while they tried to re-group. We were connected, we were together, and we were strong.

My lesson in leadership was a profound one during this time. As I felt the reverberations that Harvey had on the Post Oak community—503 students, 365 families, 100 staff members—there were moments that were simply overwhelming. Early on in this process, I was razor-focused on solutions and strategies for moving forward, knowing that everyone was counting on me. There was a bell curve to this experience, and at its peak, when I thought I might break, I realized that I was forgetting a basic Montessori lesson: ask for help. It was easy to give help—to see a need and to rush to those reaching towards me. It took a much longer time for me to say, “I need help.”

This is a wonderful part of a Montessori classroom—the permission, the expectation, the freedom to not have to have all the answers, to not have to do it all by yourself, to be able to look around and say, “Look at all these people in my community who can help me.” Many of us grew up in a school culture where no one wanted to be wrong, or make a mistake. It was taboo, embarrassing, and felt like failure. That culture was pervasive when I began teaching at a traditional school in Chicago, where a colleague said to me, “Never let them know you’ve made a mistake.” That was a lot of pressure.

When I became a Montessori teacher, at first, I approached teaching with this same mindset. In the Montessori training, we were told that our job was to inspire learning, give presentations, and “bring the universe to the child who was interested in everything.” There it is was again, the pressure to know everything. In time, I learned that teachers don’t do it alone. In fact, the students were going to do most of it themselves.

Montessori students ask questions, engage in a project or a piece of work, use all their energies, and eventually, like all of us, they get stuck. They know that their peers, their teachers, their parents are resources for help. These students are not afraid to not know something and ask for help. They know they can count on others, and that this is foundational to a Montessori community.

In the midst of the devastation, changes to plans, interruptions to school, and all the construction, we continue to find lessons that Harvey has provided. We can be grateful for the reminder of the power of asking for help. Contrary to old beliefs, it’s not a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength. We are immensely grateful for the help we received. Thank you to our entire Post Oak community for answering the call. •

 

 

2016–2017

A Year of Growth

by Head of School Maura Joyce

I recently spent a lovely Sunday morning walking through Buffalo Bayou Park enjoying the trees, the green of the leaves and the grasses, and lots of wildflowers peeking out as the sun rose higher in the sky. I love spring for many reasons, including the fact that it still gets cool at night and mornings are crisp. Flowers make me happy, and as a person who has spent the last 27 years of their life working with children, flowers in spring come at the same time that I see the growth of a whole school year in the children. Like the flowers, at this time of year, the children are in bloom. It’s as if they are bursting onto the scene with their colorful personalities. Perhaps as parents, you are experiencing this too.

The YCC children are steadier on their feet, more confident on those tricycles, and more verbal about everything. They are asserting their personhood on the playground and in the classroom. Primary children are getting taller—their legs stretching out and I notice, like flowers, they are overflowing with excitement. You can see them climbing higher on the play structures, sewing a button with more pride, and putting those sounds together to make a word.

In Elementary, the children are just a little bit more “wiggly” in their seats as the outside is calling to them constantly, just as the flowers call out to the bees. They are busy on the playground observing bugs and caterpillars and smelling flowers. Maria Montessori said, “A child, more than anyone else, is a spontaneous observer of nature.” The Elementary students are most inquisitive in springtime. Much of their growth is intellectual—in the intelligent questions they ask about everything.

The growth of our adolescents is much more subtle. You can see the wisdom on the face of the Middle School students. Their “goofiness” becomes calmer as they come to the end of the year. The eighth graders are getting ready to take their big leap, and the seventh graders walk upright and tall, now that they have completed their first year in the program. The petals that make up their personalities seem to be coming together in a more uniform way, showing us their maturity.

All the High School colors were on display last month at the prom—an event that welcomed all the students ninth through twelfth grade and was attended by most. It was a great example of the uniqueness of this tight-knit community. There were a few dates, but mostly they came as friends to dance and laugh the night away. Their growth is seen collectively, as this group of high school students has gelled together in a supportive way. The seniors are embraced by the rest of the group as they get ready to graduate, enjoying their last spring as Post Oak students.

The students are not the only ones who have grown this year. I can hardly believe it is May, as it feels as if I just arrived in Houston. I have grown in many ways as the head at Post Oak this year, but most importantly, I have grown in my love and appreciation for this special place. Not all parts of this year have been easy, but all challenges were met with a great team around me. The wonderful faculty and staff who love and nurture their students make my part of the work easy. The Board of Trustees and the administrative team guided the way for me this year.

But it is the children—those flowers—that keep me moving forward on my journey. They are wonderful to be around! They make me laugh and smile through my day and carried me through my first year as a student of Post Oak.

 

Published in The Post, May 2017


What Does School Improvement Look Like?

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

As you read this, The Post Oak School will be in the midst of its Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) (re)accreditation visit. This important event happens every 10 years. It can be a stressful process as an accreditation year is filled with reflection, strategic thinking, and writing a detailed report outlining programs and organizational strengths and recommendations for improvement. The self-study process is intense and takes input from all constituents—students, faculty, staff, administration, parents, and board.

As its mission states, ISAS promotes the highest professional and ethical standards of educational excellence for independent schools in the region and recognizes by formal ongoing accreditation those schools that demonstrate adherence to its standards. These standards span the entirety of the school operations. First and foremost is the program, curriculum, and student programs, which are the foundation of all we do.

In addition, ISAS looks at the school community, our mission, operations such as personnel, administration finance and facilities, and our governance structure. It is a comprehensive set of standards that Post Oak is held to, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We want to be accountable to the highest criteria for student achievement and school success.

Although it is the second ISAS accreditation process for Post Oak, this was my first experience with it, and I learned a lot about how Post Oak engages in school improvement. During the self-study process, I learned the answer to these questions: If our accreditation visit is only once every 10 years, what happens in between? In what ways do we “keep things moving” without the pressure of an accreditation visit?

Post Oak has always been interested in school improvement and takes a deliberate path by which to do it. There are a variety of ways in which the school creates a culture of learning. One of those is by prioritizing time to collaborate as a staff. I know those pesky in-service days can be inconvenient, but they are critical in allowing time for self-reflection and discussion of our work and what we want to change to make it better.

Throughout the school year, teachers take the time to observe each other in their classrooms. This is another step on our path. Observation allows Post Oak staff to harvest best practices from its internal resources—each other. Teachers with lots of experience can mentor ones who are just getting started, and those fresh out of training infuse the department with new lessons and innovations from the latest training courses.

Professional development is not just expected but required in schools that take learning seriously, and Post Oak is no exception. Each faculty member has dedicated professional development dollars to further their practice. All staff participates in workshops and training on site to extend their skills and learn about new and effective ways to engage children, or about trends in education.

School improvement begins at the top, and our Board of Trustees leads the charge in making sure we continue to grow. After all, it is their job to make sure that Post Oak is here for your children’s children. They are committed to this work by making sure to use data in their work and solicit feedback from the community. Annually, the board engages the services of Independent School Management (ISM) to survey faculty and evaluate the work of the Board and the performance of the school against stability markers. This process leads to goal setting and keeps the work of the board focused on improvement for the future.

Last, but certainly not least, getting feedback from both you and your student is important to Post Oak, and we receive feedback in a variety of ways throughout the year. Student work samples, testing data, and the student culture surveys are a few of the ways we “hear” from students. And, as mentioned in the Board Brief, I plan to solicit feedback from parents annually through surveys. As with the teachers’ and division directors’, my door is always open, and I welcome your thoughts and comments. I have enjoyed hearing from many of you already!

We will be relieved when this week is over, as there is some healthy stress associated with an accreditation visit and having a group of 15 people analyze your work. However, the process goes on at Post Oak, where we have built school improvement into the fabric of what we do.

Single Tasking and the Post Oak Experience

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

I recently remembered several articles that caught my eye last year about how multi-tasking is not as useful as we think it is. I think it came to mind because I was trying to finish a report I was writing, looking through some educational posts, and making chili all at the same time. (Can you picture my laptop next to the cutting board?) In other words I was multi-tasking, that is, doing several things at once, except that I really wasn’t. One article in particular was written by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, out of McGill University in Montreal, entitled “Want to Learn Faster? Stop Multitasking and Start Daydreaming.” The article confirmed that my attempt to get everything done at once is just a game I play with myself, because my brain really doesn’t work that way.

There is current research (Stanford University’s work in this area has gotten the most press in the past couple of years) that shows that the brain is NOT working on two things at the same time. Rather different tasks are handled by different circuits or parts of the brain—forcing it to switch back and forth. From Levitin’s article, which references the Stanford research: “If you’re studying from a book and trying to listen to a conversation at the same time, those are two separate projects, each started and maintained by distinct circuits in the brain. Pay more attention to one for a moment and you’re automatically paying less attention to the other.” That’s why my chili came out so flavorless and why I failed to mention an important detail in my report. It is also why I was so tired as the study also revealed that this “switching back and forth” between tasks uses up glucose, which neurons need to function optimally. So when I do try and multi-task throughout the day, I describe myself as brain dead and apparently I am in a way. This may have implications for me (and my chili) but it has bigger implications for students and the process of learning. That glucose is vital to staying engaged and focused. Levitin states: “Students who uni-task, immersing themselves in one thing at a time, remember their work better, get more done, and their work is usually more creative and of higher quality.”

But it was not the researchers at Stanford who taught me that single-tasking is a better way to function and a better way to learn. My Montessori students taught me that back when I was a classroom teacher. Children who begin in one of Post Oak’s Montessori environments at either the YCC or Primary level are introduced to tasks in very special way. Teachers present a material one-on-one with all of their focus on the task and the child. The presentation is designed specifically to draw the child’s interest to the movements of the hand and the point of the activity. Teachers model this singular focus by concentrating on the individual student and the work they are doing. The early presentations designed to build coordination and control of movement, are ones in which the teacher does very little talking. Words will distract the child from what is in front of them, and listening and doing requires them to multi-task. Similarly, with a language lesson, the teacher guides the student to focus on what she is saying. She will over-enunciate, speak very slowly, and not be doing other things at the same time, so that the child is focused only on the language. Without the Stanford study, Dr. Maria Montessori knew that a child’s brain works best when concentrating on one thing at a time.

As the children build up their bank of individual lessons, they build their ability to concentrate and work for longer periods of time on a single activity. Many of you noticed this during your tour before you enrolled at Post Oak—children knowing what to do, choosing an activity, and focusing on it independently, or with some help from the teacher. As the child grows and moves onto the Elementary level this ability to focus takes on a new twist—doing so in a collaborative project. Elementary presentations are mostly small group lessons and involve students with a variety of skill levels and talents. These presentations still maintain that Montessori tenet of introducing one specific concept at a time and so the students continue that singular focus, even with the added complexity. Students now have to engage in conversation and planning with others about their project or activity, and there are more organizational elements to the work, but they are still doing one task—it just happens to use many skills.

This continues to be true at the adolescent level, where the deep dive into one area of study helps the students internalize the concept and produce high-quality, creative work. One of the best examples of this is the just completed J-Term at the High School (see photos on page 8 and article in last month’s Post). A singular focus over a period of time can create a learning experience that will not be easily forgotten. At the Middle School level this happens throughout the cycle of the year, with a curriculum organized around a single theme, like Law and Government or Classical Civilizations.

One of my favorite things to observe in classrooms at all levels is what happens in between teacher presentations and that deeply focused work. After students have put forth great effort, concentrated for long periods of time, and are satisfied with their completed activity, often they rest their bodies and their brains. We often see a child go get a drink of water, wander over and stare into the fish tank, sit down and have snack, or just take a walk around the classroom looking at all the materials on the shelf. I have described this to parents as the children “re-charging”. Levitin’s article supports my description: “Healthy breaks can hit the reset button in your brain, restoring some of the glucose and other metabolic nutrients used up with deep thought.” That little break serves a purpose and helps them get ready for some more focused effort. As the parent of a teenager, I have to remind myself that some of that “adolescent inertia” might just be doing some good!

I know that I have to stop kidding myself into thinking that I am a “good multi-tasker.” I need to learn from the students and make sure that my focus is on one thing at a time. This is for the sake of both my brain and my chili.

 

The Cultivation of Empathy

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

As we move into the new year and think about what 2017 will bring, I reflect back on what I learned from the last semester to help guide my focus in this next one. The Post Oak parents who attended the Montessori Outcomes presentation at the end of September were part of my teaching team. During that parent education event, groups of you were asked to identify and prioritize academic skills, social skills, and personal characteristics you hope your children master or exhibit at the end of their time here at Post Oak. The exercise itself was valuable, and the results were telling. At the top of two of the lists—social skills and personal characteristics—was the word empathy. Clearly important to you, but also to the rest of the world, empathy has been the subject of many research studies and articles over the past several years. Googling articles about empathy and education in 2016 alone yields about 2.9 million hits.

As a follow up to the parent event, we were motivated to post a sweet Sesame Street video about empathy on the Post Oak Facebook page. This was accompanied by an article that described a study revealing that empathy is not prevalent among most American children.

That article referenced the Making Caring Common project out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education that aims to create Caring Schools. Richard Weissbourd who runs the project at Harvard was the featured speaker at the November ISAS Heads meeting that I attended in Phoenix.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Why is it so important? As one Post Oak parent said at the Outcomes event, “It is the key to solving all the world’s problems.” Maria Montessori believed this too, and she made sure that empathy was a key element to her work with children. However, if you read all of her books and pore over the curriculum, you might not even find the word empathy, much less presentations or lessons that address it directly. In Denmark, preschoolers begin their empathy education looking at pictures of other children experiencing emotions and are taught to identify them and share how it makes them feel. This is one way to tackle it head on. Montessori took a different approach—one that I believe cultivates empathy within the classroom community by making sure the children understand a very basic premise: everything and everyone is connected.

The concept of connection is presented very early in a very simple way. Many of us grew up learning this as “sharing.” In a Post Oak classroom, by simply putting only one of each material on the shelf (with toddlers, no less!) the children learn that they “own” nothing and share everything. Simple lessons with our youngest children, like walking around another person’s mat or holding the water pitcher with the utmost care, sends a message. The practical life areas in Primary are described with the word “care.” “Care of the person” and “care of the environment” reinforces the idea that everyone and everything has value. In the structure of a Montessori environment, students learn that the limits of their freedom begin and end with the needs of all of the other people in their class. This is the foundation for understanding and sharing the feelings of your classmates.

In the Elementary, there is a beautiful presentation called The Chart of Interdependencies that shows a picture of the sun, earth, water, plants, animals, and human beings. This chart is usually presented in Upper Elementary, after children have a firm grasp of the relationship between the sun and earth, the plants and animals, the winds and the water cycle, etc. The lesson is simple and explains how the earth, sun, and water are interrelated and how the power of the sun makes water and earth affect one another. It shows how the plants and animals rely on the earth, sun, and water, and how animals and plants need each other for survival as well. Through a series of circles and arrows, as you move down the chart, you see how humans rely not only upon the sun, earth, water, plants, and animals, but also need each other.

This lesson about interconnectedness is a profound yet simple concept. It promotes that ability to understand and share other people’s experiences and feelings, because we know that children all over the world are waking up with the same needs—food, water, shelter—we all have, and we all rely on others to get those needs met. Empathy is only possible if there is an understanding and appreciation of interdependency—how we all fit together.

There is a purple circle in the center of the chart. This represents the collection of knowledge and technology and innovation, from farming to the pencil to the computer. The lesson talks about how once humans discover something it becomes part of our collective wisdom for all of humanity to use. The presentation emphasizes a sense of gratitude for those who came before us and made these contributions. None of us can do this alone.

Once again, Montessori is two steps ahead of everyone else. Montessori education doesn’t teach empathy as much as it cultivates empathy, makes it possible by laying the groundwork. As with the beginning of any new year, that understanding of the interdependency of humanity is critical not only for our children but for all of us to empathize with others.

 

The First 100 Days

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

It’s been just over 100 workdays since I arrived at Post Oak. We are also very close to the half-way point in the school year. You may have heard me say that one of my goals is to engage in a dialogue with you as I do my work as head of school. This seems like a perfect opportunity to share some highlights of that time and “check-in” with the parent community.

In addition to a new head of school, Post Oak had other adjustments to make this fall. In my communications with the Board of Trustees and the faculty and staff, I have shared that there is much to celebrate about the 2016–2017 school year.

  • Construction projects at both campuses were completed on time and on budget. Many of you know that this is a rarity as building projects can run into a variety of challenges. We were fortunate to be working with the right people who prioritized our need to have the classrooms ready for the students in time for the first day of school. High School students are making the brand new building their own.
  • Post Oak’s Middle School program is integrating well into the Museum District. The new environment provides a variety of learning spaces, and they are now in closer proximity to their community service activities. Access to the museums has added new learning opportunities to the curriculum.
  • New faculty members in the Primary, Middle School, and High School programs have settled into their routines and have assimilated to the culture of Post Oak and established meaningful relationships with their students.
  • The transition to a new head of school is well underway. I continue to love my new job, and the relationships I am building within the Post Oak community. As always, the best news to share is what is happening in the classrooms. I know that when Post Oak was going through the head search, school culture was a top priority. What parents, students, and staff loved about Post Oak—the community, the high-quality education, the commitment to excellence—that Post Oak difference—needed to continue despite a leadership change.

One of the amazing things about coming here has been to see the programs flourish. It is “business as usual” in classrooms all throughout the school, and the accomplishments of the children are inspiring. Whether it is the High School’s seniors receiving their first college acceptances (Baylor, Texas Tech, and Lynn University this week); Middle School’s mock trial at the appellate courthouse with a sitting judge and two practicing lawyers (both from the Post Oak Community) as part of their government studies; Upper Elementary’s trip to Nature’s Classroom Institute; Lower Elementary plays and luncheons; the Primary classes singing at the peace circle on International Day of Peace; or the toddlers in the Young Children’s Community finally figuring out how to pedal the tricycle, the Post Oak environment continues to provide opportunities to thrive. A lot of changes have been presented to this community over a relatively short amount of time, and yet what matters most has been preserved.

During these first 100 workdays I have been leading the board, administration, and faculty through the finishing stages of the ISAS self-study for re-accreditation, and performing the routine administrative duties of any head of school—from board reports to budgeting, to admissions strategies and faculty support. The majority of my time, however, has been spent building relationships with the people of Post Oak and beyond.

Beyond the walls of Post Oak I have attended the fall meetings for both the Houston Association of Independent Schools (HAIS), and the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS). I have also visited a couple of our neighboring schools both in Bellaire and in the Museum District.

Here at Post Oak it has been great getting to know students, working with this tremendous staff and meeting with parents. Many of you have been able to join me at one of the events over the past few months. I have hosted coffees during the day and presented at two parent education evenings. For those who were able to attend, you know that I truly want to hear from you as much as you hear from me. If you haven’t been able to attend an event or meet with me in person, I still want to check in with you. How has the first part of this year been for your students and your family? I would like to know, so I am going to ask you to do me a favor. As this Post comes out, you will also receive an email with a survey. Please take some time to respond to it so that I can “take a temperature” of the community. The Parent Partnership agreement is a foundational part of the Post Oak culture. As a partnership requires, keeping the lines of communication open is a top priority for me as head.

 

Happiness + Fun = Academic Success

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

My family and friends all over the country have been checking in with me to see how I am faring in regards to the big move to Texas. We talk about Houston and my son’s transition and, of course, they ask about my new job as head at Post Oak. In addition to telling them how busy I have been and how much I am learning about the school, I have found myself saying over and over again, “It is a happy place to be.” I really mean that and I experience it on a daily basis. I walk through the halls at Post Oak and see happy children working alongside happy adults. I observe students having fun in their classes, in their work, in their community. These two attributes—a happy school climate and work that is fun—I come to expect in the best Montessori schools. When done well, as it is at Post Oak, a Montessori environment is joyfully engaging.

As usual, the rest of the education world is working hard to “catch up” and is discovering, through research, what Post Oak has known and practiced for years. Two educational articles caught my attention this past month. The first was published on NPR Ed, the learning and tech section of their online news: “How a Happy School Can Help Students Succeed.” The second article was published in the Independent School Management (ISM) Ideas & Perspectives and is titled: “The Rhetoric of Rigor II: Stress, Schedules, and Fun.”

The NPR article starts with the description of a public school in a small town in Arkansas and how it begins its day with an all-school assembly that involves singing, a presentation on a featured artist or musician, and a celebration of birthdays, among other things. This community building activity has been the cornerstone of changes to the school’s climate, resulting in better attendance and increased student engagement. The description of the school is the backdrop for a study published in the Review of Educational Research that analyzed 15 years of data on schools around the globe that found positive school climate had a significant impact on academics. One of the authors of the study notes that social and emotional connections really help in the academic area. Even the federal government recognizes the importance of a happy school climate. From the article: "For the first time ever, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to include non-academic factors—like school climate—in how they gauge school success. Earlier this year, the Department of Education released an online toolbox to help administrators better measure and understand the school climate."

What do we mean by school climate? It is often defined as the feeling of a place. There is lots of literature about organizational climate and how it affects productivity and sustainability of a business. Some of the work in organizational climate is about environmental match—as in the feeling of the workplace matches the tasks you want people to accomplish. In Post Oak terms, I ask, do you remember that feeling you got when you first walked in to tour the school? I’m sure you remember watching those children in the classroom and thinking “This is really wonderful.” The school climate is the result of creating environments that match the development of the child. YCC through High School, each environment matches the students’ needs and that is simply a happy place to work, a happy place to be.

The Ideas & Perspectives article tries to encourage schools to rethink using the word “rigor” because if its “ill-defined” nature. Rigor is often associated with heavy homework loads, accelerated curriculums, a focus on high-stakes testing, which lead to significant stress and anxiety levels in children. From the article: "The emotional effect that children bring to the classroom also significantly impacts student performance. There is neurological evidence consistent with the importance of positive emotions in learning." Another case for a happy climate to be sure, but the article then goes on to share the results of a survey of hundreds of students through ISM consultants over several years. Students reported that optimal engagement and learning includes a myriad of factors including teachers who are passionate and who care about them, choices in what they study, classrooms where they are active, and classes that are “fun.”

This last one required some further questioning of the students. When they were asked to define “fun” in a school context their answers were telling: you get to work with your classmates, everyone is engaged; anything that is enjoyable while active; doing something you are passionate about with other people; being around kind, energetic, upbeat people; something that’s challenging that you can get better at. That is not the whole list, but it is really significant. I think schools in general avoid using the word “fun” in their descriptive materials because many of us adults might define fun as “frivolity” or “diversions” rather than “challenging” and “active.” But if we were to ask ourselves to reflect on how we became really good at something, there is a good probability that the word “fun” would come up. We are all more engaged in an activity when we are having fun, so why not prioritize that in the classroom? The students’ definition of “fun” classes can absolutely be compatible with “rigor” in its most positive sense—engaging and challenging.

Although these articles were published this fall, Post Oak has known this for a long time. More importantly, through the foundational principles of Montessori, Post Oak has been putting this into practice for a long time. It’s observable day in and day out, in the classrooms, hallways, and wherever Post Oak curriculum takes them, like the Upper Elementary trip to Nature’s Classroom Institute or the Middle School trip to Washington, D.C.

As Post Oak prepares for its ISAS accreditation visit in the spring, we are tasked with reflecting on and writing about school climate and we examine our programs for its level of engagement, challenge, collaborative learning experience, and active (as a opposed to passive) learning opportunity. That is, we need to measure the amount of happiness and fun our students experience in the learning process. An important task as Maria Montessori knew this would lead to learning and academic progress. Research agrees and thinks that other schools should follow suit.

Raising Children in the Information Age

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

Children and technology is a subject that is getting a lot of press lately. I can count on an article landing in my lap as I scan the newspaper or landing in my inbox, emailed to me from a colleague or friend. If you Google “2016 articles on children and technology” you’ll get over 170 million entries. I try to read as much as I can to keep myself informed as head of school and as a parent who is raising a child in the information age.

Last winter, I came across Natasha Singer’s article entitled "Can’t Put Down Your Device? That’s by Design." The article addressed the constant news feed that online activity provides and the “obsession” that results from an infinite entertainment stream. Tech app designers want to make apps enthralling, but the same design elements make it hard to put down.

I know exactly what Singer is talking about. Personally, I have fallen prey to the “tricks of the trade,” responding eagerly to a friend liking a post on Instagram, or a new friend request on Facebook. As the article says, these things “automatically induce feelings of social obligation.” Features, like the automatic playing of the next episode of a show I may be streaming on Netflix, keep me in front of the computer twice as long as I had planned to be, as I have to find out what happens next. Many of you may be thinking, “Maura really needs to work on her own self-regulation and willpower.” This definitely has some truth to it. However, the article quotes Tristan Harris, a Google product philosopher who validated that it may not just be all about me. “The ‘I don’t have enough willpower’ conversation misses the fact that there are 1,000 people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down the self-regulation that you have.”

As a parent of a teen, I have all kinds of concerns about my son’s screen time, and I have employed both successful and unsuccessful measures to limit and monitor it. I worry about how his experience is so vastly different than mine. Several years back I heard a conversation in which young adults were talking about the changes that life online has ushered in. This one perspective that was shared really stuck with me: “We used to get up in the morning and wonder what was ahead of us, what the day would bring. Now we get up in the morning and head to our devices, wondering what we missed.” I wonder how that will change how my son goes about living his life.

I know that his life is one that is deeply rooted in the information age. He did not grow up without it, like I did. Online activity is here and it is a part of his life and culture. It is not going away. Still, I don’t like to think of him as forming an obsession about it, or the possibility of missing out on the wonder of what awaits him. More importantly, as an educator and a Montessorian, I know that children’s brains are still developing and do so through interaction with the environment in a variety of ways. The digital age brings with it a new kind of interaction and I want to know how that affects the brain, but also how my child communicates and interacts with the rest of the world.

As parents we are charged with modeling for our children the best way for them to engage in this “newish” part of our culture. If you are like me, you do not have all the answers, so some help will be much appreciated. On October 12, we welcome Dr. Sharon Maxwell to Post Oak to speak with us about children and technology use. I have seen her speak before, and she has some valuable information to share with all of us about accepting and utilizing technology without sacrificing healthy brain development or giving up what we value as important.

In addition to being a trained psychologist who works with teens, Dr. Maxwell is a parent, who also had her children at a Montessori school. She is someone who has presented workshops for schools, teachers, and health providers. I invite you to join me for this very special event. I have seen Dr. Maxwell speak twice and each time I learned something new!

iChild, or I, Child? presented by Dr. Sharon Maxwell. Wed., Oct. 12, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Welcome Head of School Maura Joyce

We are happy to introduce Post Oak's new head of school,
Maura Joyce, who joined us in the summer of 2016.

Have you met the new head of school?

Join us for one of these events:

  • POPA Welcome Dinner, September 13, 2016
  • Coffee with the Head of School, September 20, 2016
  • Montessori Outcomes Parent Ed Event, September 29, 2016

 

Maura's Bio

Maura Joyce comes to Post Oak this year after serving as head of school at Montessori in Redlands (Calfornia) since July 2000. She holds AMI diplomas at both the Primary (3-6) and Elementary (6-12) levels, a master’s degree in education from Loyola College, and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. Maura has ten years of classroom teaching experience at the Elementary and Adolescent levels. She has been a featured presenter for both AMI/USA and NAMTA and has also lectured at various Montessori schools around the country and the Montessori Institute of San Diego, where she has also been an examiner for AMI. Maura served on the Board of the Montessori Administrators Association for eight years and is the parent of a Montessori student, who attends Post Oak's High School. A native of New York, Maura came to Houston with her husband and son to become part of the Post Oak community and to be closer to her husband’s family, who has been in Houston since 1978.

  

Maura's First Article for The Post Newsletter

A Bright Future

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

There is so much that I want to share with you about my first weeks at Post Oak, so let me start with this: I am really happy to be here. It is such an honor to be entrusted with the care and leadership of this gem of a school. What a gift this role is for me, and what a gift Post Oak is for your children! In a few short weeks it has been easy to see how special the school is because of its diverse, engaged, and warm community. Thank you for sharing your children and young adults with us; spending time with them makes us better people.

Two weekends ago, I attended the board of trustees annual retreat and I was charged with sharing the history of Post Oak with the new trustees. Yes, it’s okay to laugh—I felt a little bit like an imposter, as I had been here all of eight weeks and had to talk about Post Oak’s history. But it was a great exercise as it allowed me to reflect on where Post Oak came from and where it is today.

Sharing the history I thought about the journey of this wonderful school. I won’t go into the entire story here but 53 years ago a seed was planted and it took root and began to grow. As one of the first Montessori schools in Houston, it quickly expanded from serving three to six-year-olds, to serving toddlers, adding Elementary-aged children, eventually a Middle School, and most recently, the High School. What an accomplishment and what an exciting time to be part of Post Oak! As the students begin the school year I am reminded that they are continuing their own journey which began at birth. This journey is one that focuses all of their energy and is the purpose of all their work. The children move, observe, listen, and explore to discover themselves. This journey doesn’t have a particular destination or an end, rather it is the path they move along, as they become the people they are going to be.

On the Post Oak website you will see pictures of famous Montessori alums, like chef Julia Child and Google founder Sergey Brin. I am certain they did not know what they were going to do or who they were going to be when they began in their Montessori schools at the age of three. However, they quickly realized that in this place—their Montessori classroom—they were allowed to find out.

The journey, which is a physical, intellectual, and spiritual one, takes place for all people in all places in the world. It is not only Post Oak children who embark on it. However, Post Oak is a wonderful place designed with this important goal in mind: allowing the child to create him/herself. This goal has many, many parts and it is an awesome task to make sure that everything is in place for this to happen.

Each environment from Young Children’s Community to High School has the elements the child or young adult might need for the journey. It has room for movement, materials for exploration, a community of peers, and the freedom to discover and work. It provides opportunities for purposeful work, intellectual exploration, social interaction, and peaceful reflection. It is inspiring and creative and limitless in its possibilities for learning.

Our mission and our promise to our families is that Post Oak will prepare the environment so that with every step students can reach their full potential—every step will bring them closer and closer to that unique individual they are to become.

As we step onto both campuses at Post Oak this year, we are reminded of the solid foundation of our school. Grounded in Montessori principles, staffed with the most dedicated group of faculty, assistants and administration, and supported by a committed group of families, Post Oak is thriving. We have a full spectrum program from infancy through adulthood, with strong enrollment and lots to look forward to in the very bright future.

There is plenty to look forward to for the 2016–2017 school year:

  • Construction is completed on the new, state-of-the-art High School building, while a major renovation of the Bissonnet Campus is in its final stages.
  • Middle School has transitioned over to the Museum District Campus, a space tailored to the needs of our younger adolescents.
  • YCC, Primary, and Elementary students at the Bissonnet Campus will enjoy a few new classrooms, an enhanced library space, and the new music and performance space.
  • Our Bearkats athletics teams really took off last year and we are expecting this program to be packed again this year.
  • Post Oak will go through its Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) reaccreditation visit, which happens every 10 years. What a great time to welcome a team of educators and to show off who we are and how much we have grown, not only in numbers and programs, but in excellence!

I am looking forward to becoming part of the Post Oak community as a fellow traveler in supporting our children as they grow!

 

We are thrilled to have Maura leading Post Oak into the next stages of growth and continued excellence. Please join us in giving her a very warm welcome!

 

A Bright Future

by Maura Joyce, Head of School

There is so much that I want to share with you about my first weeks at Post Oak, so let me start with this: I am really happy to be here. It is such an honor to be entrusted with the care and leadership of this gem of a school. What a gift this role is for me, and what a gift Post Oak is for your children! In a few short weeks it has been easy to see how special the school is because of its diverse, engaged, and warm community. Thank you for sharing your children and young adults with us; spending time with them makes us better people.

Two weekends ago, I attended the board of trustees annual retreat and I was charged with sharing the history of Post Oak with the new trustees. Yes, it’s okay to laugh—I felt a little bit like an imposter, as I had been here all of eight weeks and had to talk about Post Oak’s history. But it was a great exercise as it allowed me to reflect on where Post Oak came from and where it is today.

Sharing the history I thought about the journey of this wonderful school. I won’t go into the entire story here but 53 years ago a seed was planted and it took root and began to grow. As one of the first Montessori schools in Houston, it quickly expanded from serving three to six-year-olds, to serving toddlers, adding Elementary-aged children, eventually a Middle School, and most recently, the High School. What an accomplishment and what an exciting time to be part of Post Oak! As the students begin the school year I am reminded that they are continuing their own journey which began at birth. This journey is one that focuses all of their energy and is the purpose of all their work. The children move, observe, listen, and explore to discover themselves. This journey doesn’t have a particular destination or an end, rather it is the path they move along, as they become the people they are going to be.

On the Post Oak website you will see pictures of famous Montessori alums, like chef Julia Child and Google founder Sergey Brin. I am certain they did not know what they were going to do or who they were going to be when they began in their Montessori schools at the age of three. However, they quickly realized that in this place—their Montessori classroom—they were allowed to find out.

The journey, which is a physical, intellectual, and spiritual one, takes place for all people in all places in the world. It is not only Post Oak children who embark on it. However, Post Oak is a wonderful place designed with this important goal in mind: allowing the child to create him/herself. This goal has many, many parts and it is an awesome task to make sure that everything is in place for this to happen.

Each environment from Young Children’s Community to High School has the elements the child or young adult might need for the journey. It has room for movement, materials for exploration, a community of peers, and the freedom to discover and work. It provides opportunities for purposeful work, intellectual exploration, social interaction, and peaceful reflection. It is inspiring and creative and limitless in its possibilities for learning.

Our mission and our promise to our families is that Post Oak will prepare the environment so that with every step students can reach their full potential—every step will bring them closer and closer to that unique individual they are to become.

As we step onto both campuses at Post Oak this year, we are reminded of the solid foundation of our school. Grounded in Montessori principles, staffed with the most dedicated group of faculty, assistants and administration, and supported by a committed group of families, Post Oak is thriving. We have a full spectrum program from infancy through adulthood, with strong enrollment and lots to look forward to in the very bright future.

There is plenty to look forward to for the 2016–2017 school year:

  • Construction is completed on the new, state-of-the-art High School building, while a major renovation of the Bissonnet Campus is in its final stages.
  • Middle School has transitioned over to the Museum District Campus, a space tailored to the needs of our younger adolescents.
  • YCC, Primary, and Elementary students at the Bissonnet Campus will enjoy a few new classrooms, an enhanced library space, and the new music and performance space.
  • Our Bearkats athletics teams really took off last year and we are expecting this program to be packed again this year.
  • Post Oak will go through its Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) reaccreditation visit, which happens every 10 years. What a great time to welcome a team of educators and to show off who we are and how much we have grown, not only in numbers and programs, but in excellence!

I am looking forward to becoming part of the Post Oak community as a fellow traveler in supporting our children as they grow!