-by Jack M. Jose
The morning of the first day of our annual fall staff retreat, I was seated cross-legged on the floor in front of my staff, presenting the Gamble Great Lesson, and I was crying.
I would like to claim I never cry at work. It is, at least, unusual.
I wasn’t alone. Others were crying too. Crying partially because that part of our story is exceptionally sad; the untimely death of two students in the same year deeply affected our school. Crying also because we needed to. In the moment of our most intense sorrow, or the series of endless moments of dealing with grieving students and parents, there simply had not been time to cry. And this time – the crying together – illustrated precisely why we need to tell the Gamble story over and over again, as it changes and grows.
Embedded deep in the Montessori philosophy, including student-directed learning , the Socratic method of questioning and the Adlerian concept of seminar, is an understanding that humans are naturally drawn to explore life’s great mysteries. We want to know the origins of the universe, the origins of life and human beings, how we started to communicate, and the origins of math. In these Montessori great lessons are the roots of the academic disciplines of science, history, reading and writing, and math. And those five stories already exist and are overtly taught to students as part of Montessori elementary philosophy.
Adolescents deeply feel the need to belong. So just as there is a great lesson for each discipline, it is appropriate to create a story to help students (and staff) understand that they are part of something larger – in this case, a school with a powerful history. This was the genesis of the Gamble Great Lesson: if students and staff can understand why the school exists and our core values, and will accept our invitation to belong and make their mark in the school, everyone benefits. When a person feels deep connection to a place or an idea, when they feel they belong, it is a sort of magic. It is the basis of grit, and hard work, and victory … and vulnerability. It makes it safe to try, and safe to fail, and even safe to not fight.
Luckily Gamble Montessori was created in 2005, and I came to the school in 2009, so we can tell the story from the inception, as a proposal from some parents. It includes our slow growth over time, the stories of students and staff who shaped our character, and our academic successes. There are moments where we show how we became who we are. There are negatives that go undiscussed. And there is also deep sadness. Interestingly, when you tell the story again and again, instead of becoming routine or mundane, it gains almost mythological status. It heightens the associated emotions.
Key Components of our Great Lesson
- an invitation to see the school as someplace unique, and to enter the storytelling mindset
- a brief history of key events in the school’s history
- reference to key individuals whose contributions helped shape the history and character of the school
- celebrating the students who have made a profound impact on the character of the school
- recognition of moments of joy, triumph, sorrow, and loss
- an invitation to make a mark on the school through individual contribution and to view the community through the lens of the stories that have been chosen
No video of the Gamble Creation Story exists. It is most powerful because it is told in person. However, in the summer of 2015 I had the opportunity to tell part of the Gamble Creation story at the Know Theatre in Cincinnati. It was an installment of the True____ Series called “TrueGamble”. You can view it here.
I don’t promise (or threaten) that crying is part of the process. That doesn’t demonstrate success or failure, exactly. However, in our case, the Gamble Great Lesson still had something to teach us: the act of telling our story is powerfully therapeutic and cathartic.
Jack M. Jose