Jon's Update 4-21-2020

posted Apr 21, 2020, 2:38 PM by Cynthia Friedman
Dear Middle School Family,

As you know the work we do with students in Ridgeline's middle school program is very connective, relational. The systems we've set up to evaluate the students' work is highly interactive. And even when we aren't working with the students in small groups, or individually, we are constantly observing what's happening with the students in the room, checking in, connecting. Our classroom is a controlled environment; life and the routines there are predictable. Comfortable.

There is simply no way to replicate the magic of our classroom via "distance learning." Even in our Zoom meetings, most of the students are too freaked out by seeing a live video feed of their faces to show their face. There are no tell-tale smiles, or squinted eyebrows, or nodding heads to help us gauge their understanding. We're faced, instead, with a grid of black boxes with the students' names on them, and hardly a peep from the students when we ask questions.

Zoom meetings are NOT classrooms; they're not where learning is happening. Learning is happening at home, with you. (I know none of you signed up for this! Ha!) All the connectivity and relationship building that is so very important for our adolescents' growth and development is happening with their family, in a confined space. This is not a bad thing, but it is certainly a challenging thing.

The most important thing you can do for your adolescent right now is be in positive relationship with them. Engage with them. Talk with them. Laugh with them. Struggle through with them. 

This is the time in their lives when they start to break away, push back, struggle to assert (and find) their independence and autonomy. For us, as parents, this is the beginning of the painful process of letting go. Not just as our kids grow into adults and leave home, but also letting go of the power and control of parenting. The Montessori mantra of "help me be able to do it myself" is at its strongest and most important at this age.

When I decided to center the "Com/Human" class around Personal Growth Projects, I was thinking very intentionally about your home as the prepared environment our students are learning in. I was also thinking very intentionally about this opportunity for you and your child to work together on something very real, and hopefully something very meaningful to all of you. Something you, as a family can all relate to, and perhaps even collaborate on.

As far as I can tell, that part is going pretty well. Trumpets have been dusted off and oiled up, Mason Bee habitats are being built in backyards, gorgeous meals are being prepared, furniture is being built, gardens dug. This is the learning that matters right now: that you can literally learn to do anything you set your heart and mind to, and that your family is your first, most intimate, and most valuable "teaching team."

I started the Blog communities so the students could share what they're up to with us, and with each other. On the one hand, it's an online attempt to keep us all connected on a regular basis, and give us some insight into each other's lives. On the other hand, it's a valuable, and authentic, way for them to keep writing. To write to be read by a real audience. To write to engage their audience. To give the gift of being an audience for someone.

One of the hardest things for me to gauge from my home, staring at the Zoom grid of black boxes, is how much work is just the right amount of work. Especially "academic" work. While home is most certainly a prepared learning environment, it is just as certainly not a school classroom. We, all of us, do work at school that we would never willfully engage in at home. Much of our academic learning is "unnatural." School creates a context where learning math out of a textbook, and writing essay responses to newspaper articles is "natural." It's normalized.

You're not going to achieve School at home between now and June. And I'm not asking you to. We want to help you find a learning groove that feels natural and organic to your family. We want you to learn something that feels valuable to you and fits into your life in this weird time. 

I definitely want to hear what you're up to, and how it's going. We all do. Write your Blog entries! That's something we can do for each other that gives us all hope and joy in these trying times. Share those guitar videos, artistic creations, and delicious recipes. Read each other's Blogs and comment on them. Let each other know you're there. That you're listening, and hear each other. Show each other that you care what they're up to and what they have to say.

Maizzy and I are on Zoom from 1-2pm Monday through Thursday. We are here for you, parents and students, alike. Reach out. Let us know how you're doing. Let us know how we can help you find your learning groove at home. Please send us an email to set up a time to meet, or just drop in!

We're in this together!

Jon and Maizzy