Real World Experiences / Field Experiences Overview

-by Jack M. Jose

canoeing
Students exploring a river on a school day.

Summer 2014, I was walking to a speaking engagement at the Westwood library when a car pulled into the driveway in front of me. Two young men stepped out. Both had been in my class and my songwriting intersession 5 years earlier. The driver, Devon, was the type of student who would good-naturedly accept your correction on his behavior, and would apologize and commit to self-improvement. However, he would then, after an hour or a couple of days, continue right along making the same mistakes. Course failures caught up to him and he dropped out of school without a plan to support himself or continue his education.

When Devon got out of the car, he greeted me heartily, “I wanted to thank you, Mr. Jose.”

I reflected on the ways I felt I had failed him: how I sat through conferences where I pointed out his weaknesses and called for improvement without acknowledging his strengths, how I was unable to figure out how to keep him focused, how I failed to make him to see the importance of education, and the fact that he left the school without earning a diploma. I genuinely felt that his thanks was unwarranted.

“Mr. Jose, you guys never gave up on me, and you let me know I could be something once I put my mind to it. Oh, and remember the song intersession? I think about that a lot. And white-water rafting? I wish school could have been like that all the time.”

Devon’s last comment demonstrates the powerful nature of experiential learning. Years after he left his formal education, he remembered positively two events with us: two spring “mini-courses” that we call intersessions. The songwriting intersession, and a white water rafting and mountain ecology intersession, had created permanent positive associations with school. He successfully completed the kind of academic work in those events that he struggled to complete during the rest of the school year. These intersession activities kept him engaged and motivated, and he clearly required more of that then we could provide.

A thorough education acquaints a student with many disciplines, of course, but it must do more than that. At Gamble Montessori, we incorporate field experiences to deepen students’ understanding of the world outside the classroom. Field experiences are improved by having as many of the following structural components as is practical:

Components of a Successful Field Experience:

  • learning with experts in the field (including passionate teachers);
  • cover sheet / cycle plan that details the “theme” of what students are learning, captures the “big idea” and key questions to be considered during the study;
  • intense advance preparation
    • teaching about what to expect
    • planning details of the trip together
    • providing a complete checklist of all the work to be accomplished
  • related reading(s) and a seminar (formal guided discussion on topics related to the experience)
  • kickoff and culminating ceremonies or activites to add to the sense that this is a special event, set off from other instruction;
  • community service component, preferably related to the focus of the seminar;
  • a cooperative game to help foster a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment among  participants;
  • culminating project – some permanent keepsake / totem (for my songwriting intersession, every student got the “album” of our collected songs).

Jack M. Jose

The Gamble Montessori Great Lesson

-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.

Slide01

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.

Slide05Luckily 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

An Invitation

-by Jack M. Jose

The impetus for “angels and superheroes” comes from the unscripted words Krista spoke when she was selected as the 2015 Lawrence C. Hawkins Educator of the Year for Cincinnati Public Schools. She has since repeated these words in speeches to various groups who ask her to recount why she gave her $10,000 award to the Gamble Montessori Foundation and the students it supports. Krista acknowledged, most honestly, “this is why I simply can’t be educator of the year. That title implies singularity, and there is nothing about this work that I do alone. Nor could I ever do it alone. We are all teachers of the year.” She does what millions of other educators do every day. Like them – like you – she works in multiple ways to make sure her students learn and grow in a nurturing environment.

Society  sometimes stops to recognize teachers’ accomplishments with awards and platitudes, such as calling us angels and superheroes, or giving us apples. But quite honestly, most people, having only been in school as students, have little understanding of the amount of work it takes to teach in an era of high stakes testing while maintaining a focus on the many needs of individual students. It is frustratingly hard work, often for incremental gains, which may only be realized weeks, months, or even years later.

Teaching is as much an art  as it is a science. When done well, it can appear almost indistinguishable from magic, but it is most definitely NOT magic. Every professional development we attend, every book and article we read, every question we ask serves to increase our skill and our stamina. Soon the most accomplished teachers make it look almost like sleight of hand. But pull back the curtain and you will see a hard working professional, putting in far more hours than the 35 a week that students are in the building (for when does the grading, the lesson planning, the meetings and the phone calls happen? Certainly not while students are in the classroom! “And the paperwork! You forgot all the paperwork!” Krista reminds me.)

So no. We are not angels.  Or superheroes.  We are real educators working hard every day to improve the outcome for our students.

This site is meant to be a resource for teachers anywhere who are seeking to further develop a school, or even just a single classroom.

Why us? The success of Gamble Montessori – according to some measures – has afforded us some attention. Krista’s award provided even more. But it is from the position of having gained fleeting notoriety and recognition for doing the same thing as so many other people that we hope to shine a light on those who are doing the exact same things. Why us? Because we are you. And right now we have the spotlight.

Why this format? We hope that this site serves as a benefit to teachers who are seeking tools and practices to enhance their instruction — or even just a place to find optimism and hope in this tremendously challenging profession.

It’s an awful lot to write down all at once. That would be some book! Incrementally we hope to break the work into manageable chunks, the same way we do with curriculum for our students every day. It gives us – administrators and teachers – a place to digest, to ponder, to correspond and collaborate.

This is an invitation. Please read the entries, respond to them. Share them. Ask questions. Try things out.

Jack M. Jose

Krista Taylor

What We Do Here

-by Jack M. Jose

“Here” is Gamble Montessori High School.

Early in the 2013-2014 school year, my walkie-talkie crackled to life with an urgent call to a classroom. In the hall I passed a girl, new to our school, who was yelling threats and trying to break free from the grip of our security assistant. I could not immediately tell who she was threatening.

One of the adults who had been present in the hall when the incident started, Roberto A., started to tell me the story by expressing his amazement. “Jack, I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.” He related that the new student was convinced that someone was looking at her “wrong”. Offended, she stood up and started shouting at Michalia, a student who had been at Gamble since 7th grade. The shouting is what prompted him to enter the room and to call for me on the walkie. Michalia stood up and shouted back “I don’t have any beef with you.” As Roberto moved closer, the new student punched Michalia, who took one step back and said, “Somebody better get her. Somebody needs to tell her that’s not what we do here.”

“That’s not what we do here.” This is a most remarkable response to being punched. Many people would say that being hit would excuse Michalia if she chose to fight. I know that once upon a time, Michalia would have fought for less. I know that she felt immense social pressure to solve the problem by fighting, and that each year a small number of students make the other choice when in a similar situation. I also know that many times, parents defend and even encourage this response. That’s why her decision was hard.

Michalia resisted all of this, and accepted – trusted – that the adults in the school would act on her behalf and she did not need to fight. In doing this she was also showing tremendous grace toward her antagonist.

“Somebody better get her. Somebody needs to tell her that’s not what we do here.”

Even in the heat of the moment, Michalia remained cognizant of what we do – and what we don’t do – at Gamble. We have worked very intentionally to create an environment where Michalia, and many students like her, could make that choice. While we can’t explain her thinking exactly, we can explain the work that helped make it possible. We have spent a lot of time training teachers and staff and creating systems to allow students to be heard, to feel safe, to vent their frustrations, and to find appropriate ways to deal with conflict. I know that we made her decision easier because an adult immediately intervened. But it is these other interventions that helped build her trust. We have …

Created policies and procedures

Trained staff

  • provided outlines and staff PD for the Faber/Mazlish book How to Talk so Kids Will Learn
  • trained our staff in mediation three times and retaught the mediation referral process annually
  • provided an outline to mediation and How to Talk… in the staff manual

Taught the expectations to students

  • provided an annual orientation meeting covering the rules about physical and emotional misbehavior and the mediation process
  • overtly taught the difference between bullying and more common types of peer-to-peer misbehavior
  • taught students the legal definition of “self defense” in Ohio, so they know the difference between that and fighting.

This is hard work. We have had difficult conversations in our school about consequences for students who fight, and the relative value of removing them from school. We have not eliminated fighting. But we have created a culture in which students know they can request a mediation, and where they can be heard by their teachers, and where, on many occasions, students make a choice other than to fight.

When I pulled Michalia out into the hall to get her version of the story, she was understandably agitated. After answering my questions, she asked me, “Am I going to be suspended?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“Well, I raised my voice, and that was really loud. And we almost fought.” She paused. “I really wanted to hit her.”

I folded my arms. “I bet you did. No, I am not going to suspend you. In fact, I want to tell you how impressed I am. That was … well, that was pretty brave. Now,” I started to walk away. “You need to get back in there – you’ve missed enough instruction for one day.”

Jack M. Jose

About Us

Krista, left, and Jack, right with their friend Marta Donahoe, co-founder of CMSTEP.Krista, left, and Jack, right, with their friend Marta Donahoe, co-founder of Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teachers Education Program.

Jack and Krista are available to present a wide range of topics around the issues of inclusion of staff and students and commitment to key values in the classroom, school, and beyond. They have presented a range of topics and can be contacted about teaching any of the topics featured in their writing. They have presented in workshop/convention style, and lecture/keynote style, as is appropriate to the setting, on the following topics:

Co-Teaching

Writing Your “Creation Story”

Differentiation

Teaming

Privilege

Email either Jack or Krista at:

Jack: jackmjose@gmail.com

Krista: kristataylor70@gmail.com

 

Jack Jose is the Principal of Gamble Montessori High School in Cincinnati Public Schools. He is proud of their “Excellent” rating in 2012, and of receiving an “A” in value added for two consecutive years. But he is even more proud of their work building community among students and staff. Before coming to Gamble he was an English teacher and Paideia Program facilitator at Hughes Center, a CPS school, for 13 years. He has presented at conferences for the Ohio Council of the International Reading Association, the Cincinnati Montessori Society, and the Ohio Montessori Alliance.  His formal education includes a Montessori Secondary I and II Credential, CMSTEP; Administrative Licensure, Xavier; Curriculum Masters Degree, UC; Undergraduate Degree in English Education, Miami of Ohio; National Board Certification EA/ELA;

Krista Taylor brought a wide range of experiences to her intervention specialist / co-teaching position at Gamble Montessori. Her dedication to co-teaching and inclusion have helped Gamble develop an approach that captures the spirit of Montessori education. In 2015 she earned regional acclaim when, after being awarded the Hawkins Educator of the Year award for Cincinnati Public Schools, she gave her entire $10,000 winnings to the Gamble Foundation to assist students in attending field experiences. She has presented at conferences for the Ohio Council of the International Reading Association, the Cincinnati Montessori Society, and the Ohio Montessori Alliance, and she is an assistant in CMSTEP, the Cincinnati Montessori Secondary Teachers Education Program. Her education includes B.A. History, Kenyon College; M.S.Ed Wheelock College; Montessori Secondary I and II Credential CMSTEP (2014) and her professional experience includes stints at Oak Hills High School (Pull-Out Intervention); Hamilton County Special Center for Learning (self-contained SBH/ED), and North College Hill High School (Inclusion Intervention).