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Inspiramus: we are in the business of shaping the future

On  August 16, 2021, on the first day of Employee Prep Week at MSR, Lower Elementary Directress, Laura Sayles, "rallied the troops" with her opening "Inspiramus." In her own words...

My name is Laura Sayles and I am a directress in Lower Elementary, or “LE." For those of you who don’t know yet, LE includes first, second, and third grade. Super fun age range! Fun fact about LE, Maria Montessori actually coined it, “The Age of Accidental Rudeness,” because they are hyper aware of everyone around them, and truly do just speak their minds without a filter.

I was only partially devastated on a weekly basis as they narrated the physical changes of my pregnancy, and I can’t wait for the gasps of horror when they see my new haircut. My sweet, little, tactless babies. Luckily, I begin my eighth year here at MSR with a pretty thick skin. Even more luckily, I begin my first full school year as an MSR parent. I am not even being the least bit facetious when I tell you that I can’t believe how fortunate I am to say both of those things. 

In the interest of full disclosure, when Monica reached out to me about delivering MSR’s first ever Inspiramus speech to the faculty, I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce the thing I just agreed to do… in front of EVERYONE. So obviously I Googled it. Surely there would be some really solid leads, some published examples, YouTube videos, a TedTalk. Guess what? Nothing. Like…nothing. Luckily, Monica also provided a brief description- a speech serving to rally the troops, if you will. A speech to remind everyone why we are here and why our work is so crucial and exciting. 

Okay, so, not such a small task after the year and a half we’ve all just had. The doubt set in, hard. Am I even qualified to do this? Eighteen and a half months ago I welcomed my first child and began the absolute physical and emotional rollercoaster that is parenting and the postpartum phase. About five weeks into that, the world shut down. I write this speech fresh off a wonderfully relaxing summer full of first-time-parent heart-attack moments as my tiny, drunken Olympian of a toddler tests the limits of physics, acoustics, and my patience. On the plus side, I now have the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom completely memorized, and all of my Amazon Prime Music suggestions involve Raffi. Furthermore, if I’m painfully honest with you all, this year feels like a very big and scary change for me professionally as well, as it is my first year without my former co-directress, Babe Clawson (now Interim Director of Lower School extraordinaire). I know that she has guided me masterfully for the many fortunate years that I had her all to myself and now she must serve a greater purpose and I must learn to share with others. YOU’RE WELCOME. In the meantime, I embark on a brand new teaching partnership, while asking myself if I can ever be for this new partner what she was for me - calming, confident, graceful. All this to say, I felt like a fraud. How can I rally the troops when I am so deep in my own battles that I forgot what the rally cry sounds like?

And who are these troops? Fresh recruits, and vets alike. Okay, I’ll drop the war metaphor, considering this is a place of Peace Education, after all. You get my point. To those of you who are new, welcome to The Montessori School of Raleigh. There is no other place like it. I hope you find the same sense of purpose, belonging, and community that I did, eight years ago. Hopefully you’ve already come with inspiration in your hearts, those butterflies you feel when you make a new start, a fresh beginning. If you do, thank you for making my job easier this morning! Maybe you are new to this kind of school, this way of teaching children and you’re a little nervous about that. Maybe you come here not as a teacher, but to fill a role that helps keep this school running and therefore directly impacts the outstanding experience we strive to provide for our students and their families. And to my fellow veteran teachers and colleagues, I know you are sitting in front of a screen, again, tired, afraid, overwhelmed, doubtful, I see you. Even if many of you haven’t actually looked at the screen since logging in, or have kept your camera off as you multitask in a whirlwind of palpable anxiety, questioning how in the world you will continue to convey a comforting and compassionate smile through your mask and a fog of cleaning products again this year - I see you, too. 

I would like to share a few excerpts from a passage that our LE Level Lead, Rachel Acton, read to us at our last team meeting. It is from a book called The Tao of Montessori: Reflections on Compassionate Teaching, by Catherine McTamaney. Rachel has a gift for uniting others through celebrating differences, rather than trying to homogenize them and I really love that about her. Thank you, Rachel. Before I read it, I want to say that I do understand that many of you here are not trained Montessorians, nor are you required to be for your role in our community, and I respect and welcome that fact. I believe that the key parts of this message are to be applied to everyone here, regardless of your role or your training. 

The core message of McTamaney’s passage revolves around the reality that, quote, “In our shared history, our great challenge has not been in serving the children in our care but in serving the adults who walk beside us.”  She then dares us to imagine a community in which we meet our colleagues with the same abundance of grace and courtesy that we inherently bestow upon our students. A community where we believe in ourselves and each other, as much as we do in the children we serve. She closes this passage by stating, quote, 

We have chosen a most difficult work, and we have surrounded ourselves, by the very nature of Montessori, with a group of people who came to this method because they each individually thought they could serve children differently, better than the norm. We have invited our most headstrong, opinionated friends to dine together and expected an easy meal! Once we acknowledge, though, that each of our colleagues has chosen this most difficult work for the same core reasons we have - that is, to serve children - perhaps we might find compassion for one another’s differences rather than condemnation. So long as children are born their own individuals, so long as we hold fast the belief that each child is unique and perfect, we are obligated to massive and diverse incarnations of the method. When we trade re-union for pride, we will have respected the multitude of worlds of Montessori, spinning around the multitude of children they serve. And although we may not always agree on the menu, we can disagree in a way that still offers a place at the table.”

Immediately upon hearing and digesting this, I remembered that- I am totally qualified. Everyone in this meeting is qualified, and deserving of their seat at this table. I also remembered that I am surrounded by inspiration, not only in the tiny humans, perfect just as they are, who so effortlessly empower me to be a better version of myself every day; but also, in the incredible adults around me who share this wild journey. Even my worries about filling such big shoes in a new partnership have subsided to make way for the realization that I get to be front row and center for the profoundly inspiring moments that occur when a new teacher gives a lesson for the first time and catches that sparkle of joy, understanding, curiosity and excitement that simultaneously exist in his student’s eyes. I mean, just seeing the look in Mr. Ramsey’s own eyes when he got his first racks and tubes division lesson and exclaimed, “I finally understand division!” was enough to remind me that the inspiration is ours for the taking, if we are willing to recognize it. It was enough to remind me that what we do here is nothing short of magic. 

It can be easy to do that. To lose sight of the magic. Many of us are still reeling from the seemingly insurmountable volume of changes in our lives recently. Many things have had to change at this school, and in the world around us. But one thing remains the same for me as I close in on a full decade here: I believe in MSR. And if you’re on this call right now, so do you. Despite the toll teaching during a global pandemic has taken on educators all over our country, you are here. You are here to do the most important work one can do. Inspiration will not be hard to find, if you need it. It will be in the face of every student before you, partially covered though it may be. And right now, with every single second of their brief yet eventful lives being so full of uncertainty, instability, and at times, downright panic- they have never needed you, needed this place, more than they do now. You may be wondering if YOU are qualified to be a beacon of light in a thick fog that has been sneaking into your own eyes for what feels like a lifetime. Yet, here you are. Showing up for your students, your team, your teachers, your community. For many it’s not even the first time you’ve shown up since June 4th, sacrificing the precious summer break you so desperately earned and deserved, because this place is a part of you and you will do whatever it takes to see it succeed. And it takes a lot.

Therefore, I want you to know, I may not be your inspiration, but I assure you, you are mine. 

McTamaney ended that passage I read earlier with a quote from Maria Montessori. It reads, “Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of the whole human, which has roots in the most distant past, and climbs toward the infinite future.” I implore you to remember that whoever you are, whatever you do, we are in the business of shaping the future - and there is nothing more inspiring than that. Thank you.