BY CARNEY M. HEAVEY O’BRIEN, HEAD OF SCHOOL
Back to School Night, September 13, 2018
This past week—the past several weeks, since I attended graduation on June 13th, actually—have truly been extraordinary, and beyond anything I could have ever expected. I am inspired by the warmth and welcome, enthusiasm and support I have received from everyone—from you, from your children, from our faculty, and from our awesome administrative team.
And I am absolutely over the moon to be standing here—not in front but among—all of YOU who make up this wonderful, amazing community.
I have been an educator since—well, as the eldest of a tribe of 10 children, I guess informally, since my first baby brother was born—formally, for at least a few decades. I’ve had the great fortune to have taught everything from early childhood art to high school English and have held a whole host of administrative roles in both the academic and business sides of schools. I mention this tonight, not to impress you with my credentials, but to help you understand the unique perspective I bring to my appreciation for Washington Montessori because of the work I’ve done in the past. I have visited and gotten to know dozens and dozens of schools and literally thousands of students along the East Coast, across the country and around the world.
And you know what? There are some really great schools out there. And there are amazing teachers and bright students at every single one of them… AND… (I say this with complete sincerity—and with only the tiniest bit of bias) none of them have as excellently-implemented best practice in education combined (and this is the magical part) with the culture of warmth, welcome, acceptance and inclusion that is so alive here at Washington Montessori School.
There is a sense of identity that radiates here. For me, experiencing it with fresh senses, the integrity of the WMS experience is vivid and pronounced. This highly authentic sense of identity is TRULY the kind of thing schools all around the world are trying to orchestrate.
And yet at WMS, it seems to exist naturally. Of course, I’m not suggesting it’s here by accident—rather, quite the opposite. This incredibly unique identity is an inexorable result of the very intentional and authentic work that’s been going on at Washington Montessori School for the past 5 decades, beginning with the vision of our founders, Elvira and Charles Otis and nurtured lovingly and skillfully by the iconic Pat Werner.
At WMS, academic excellence isn’t measured by tests. It doesn’t come at the expense of respect, honesty or decency; AND it isn’t the only currency we hold as individuals. WMS students learn the difference between “true belonging” and “fitting in;” that “vulnerable” is not a synonym for “weak;” and that “sometimes failing” is always better than “never trying.” The Washington Montessori community knows that the important kind of knowledge—a personal body of knowledge built from relevant inquiry and discovered connections—does not fit in tiny, numbered bubbles scored by a Scantron.
WMS is everything I have ever tried to build, or develop, or create as an educator and as a parent. Just ask my children. They grew up with me in schools (Literally. My youngest daughter never went to school without mom until 9th grade) They took naps under my desk and did homework sprawled out on the chairs in my office. They all know firsthand what is important to me as an educator and a parent, and they all have recognized what a perfect fit Washington Montessori is for me.
They were all here to support me on Monday for the Installation and Opening Bell and are here tonight. Reilly, Quinn and Mario, Seamus, and Connolly. (Connolly is not here tonight—actually this is important and relevant to this message.) We had a little bit of a medical emergency this week, and Connolly has been in and out of the hospital since Monday, so she stayed home tonight. My point is that when all this went down Monday—the first real day of school—everyone here made it so clear that they had my back and that I could take care of my family. It is a perfect example of the kind of community that we have here. I am humbled and thrilled that our search committee said “yes” and that your fantastic community is now my community.
On Monday, we all gathered in the theater—as we do every September— to officially usher in the new school year. This year, the ceremony included a lesson called the “Timeline of WMS,” which is inspired by what is often called the most powerful lesson in a Montessori classroom: “The Long Black Strip.” The Long Black Strip measures about 100 feet long and represents the entirety of the universe from the very beginning of time. At the very end, maybe an eighth of an inch wide, is a tiny white band representing human life. Dr. Maria Montessori called it a lesson in humility. A way for children to begin to appreciate their place in the universe.
Monday’s “Timeline of WMS” was my lesson in humility. A way for me to begin to appreciate my place in this community. For me, it was not so much a realization of being small; but rather an affirmation of being part of something significant, something quite powerful, something awesome.
At the end of the ceremony and inspired by this genuine awe, I vowed to honor the trust that you all have placed in me. As I vowed to students, faculty and trustees on Monday, I now pledge to all of you who have entrusted the care and education of your most precious gifts to us that I will do my very best every day…
- to lead our community with curiosity and an open mind excited about the endless possibilities of the future.
- to honor and uphold the essential mission and beautiful traditions of Washington Montessori School;
- to maintain my focus – in all matters, first and foremost, on what’s best for each and every student;
- to never stop learning and to support and guide our faculty in the imperative work of providing an exceptional education yoked inextricably with the development of responsibility, self-esteem and self-reliance;
- to engage and connect with the different branches of our school community as well as the Litchfield County community at large, and our global community.
- Finally, I promise to lead Washington Montessori School into the future with courage, empathy, and imagination.