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1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503




Elizabeth Topliffe

Imagine all the people living life in peace


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

            --John Lennon, Imagine

On behalf of all of the educators and staff, Welcome to Stepping Stones Montessori for the 2018-19 Academic Year!

As a parent, you’ve signed up for a cosmic education for your child. Around here, we don’t think of ourselves as a school. We think of ourselves as partners in a child’s cosmic journey. Our work is intended to save humanity and bring about peace.

The challenge is to truly hold that out front rather than allowing our inner cynic or realist to invade, clamoring that this is impossible! Why not focus on something realistic!

The work of our school is so big that a great deal of the time we cannot even imagine it. Maria Montessori said a great deal about the work of education. Here are a few of her thoughts:

“It may seem that we have drifted rather far from our original subject—Education. This digression, however, must open up the new road along which we now have to go. In the same way in which we help the patients in a hospital to recover their health and continue to live so we must now help humanity save itself. We must be nurses in a hospital, as vast as the world itself.” [The Formation of Man, translated by A. M. Joosten]
“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking: it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to times in which they live.” [Education and Peace, translated by Helen R. Lane]

Let’s face it. Something as big as an “education capable of saving humanity” is difficult to imagine, and it is hard to see the whole thing at once.

When even our imaginations fail to see the picture, our human tendency is to make the dream smaller. We naturally tend to resize it, to think of its components, and to focus on the small things we can understand. When we do, we diminish the ourselves and the children in our school. It is a mistake and error to forget the big and beautiful quest we are on.

Even though I know this, there will be times when I will fail to focus on the vision of an education capable of saving humanity. In my desire to take care of the school and our children and adolescents, I will focus on academics, or independence, or grace and courtesy. All of those things are tremendously important to our mission, but individually, one does not take precedence over the others. Only in the context of this larger goal—saving humanity and bringing about peace—do those concepts have a place.

I think this happens, in part, because I was educated in traditional schools, and our culture tends to think of education with that kind of model. Under this model, the school and its teachers are responsible for “teaching” a child. Teachers are evaluated based on their students’ performance, rather on their own capabilities in the classroom.

The truth is that teachers cannot control whether children learn. Likewise, our school is not in control of their learning. You’re not either. They are.

You get the picture. It is the same mistake most parents make, only to be brought to their knees by a crying, sleepless infant, or a pre-schooler’s tantrum, or an adolescent’s moodiness.

We are not in control. The children and adolescents of Stepping Stones Montessori come to us with everything they need to learn. Their curiosity, their desire, their work results in their education.

Of course, our efforts matter, but they are more about shaping an environment and culture where students realize their own growth—learning, spiritual development, individual value, and a place in the world.

Despite this, every year I think that we must do x, or y, or z to make children learn, become kinder, behave in a certain way. The moment comes when I forget that in the end, we are helpless to determine what the child absorbs, learns, retains. We can only offer the environment.

In return for your grace on these two things, I will offer my own. You will also make these same mistakes. They go along with being human.

As we set off on this path, I ask you (and colleagues, friends, and students) to gently remind me that this education is vast and not to make it too small. I ask you to help me remember that I’m not (nor is anyone other than the child) in control of a child’s learning. I will do my best to return that favor.

I’m looking forward to our journey together!

Peace and grace,