If you were lucky enough to be at Greensboro Montessori School last Thursday night, or with us via the livestream, you were treated to quite a show! Simply put: our fourth, fifth, and sixth graders' 17th annual Fare Faire production, “Back to Families Feudal,” was fantastic: high-quality, well-researched, technically sound, aesthetically powerful, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Fare Faire is a rite of passage for Upper Elementary students at Greensboro Montessori School. This annual theatrical production integrates students’ language arts, history, and performing arts curriculum. As students learn about the medieval historical period, they also read related literature and work together to bring a story to life on stage. The name, “Fare Faire,” is a creative play on words which highlights the communal meal Upper Elementary students and their families enjoy before the student-led performance - this year the potluck dinner of years' past gave way for a sweeter dessert feast.
And with all this work, all this project-based learning, all this technical and logistical demand of putting on a 31-person theatrical production, I have to ask: where were the teachers? I barely saw them all night.
I heard Cathy Moses and Tessa Kirkpatrick may have been backstage to reassure a few worried students or help with a tricky transition; and I saw Jonathan McLean and John Archambault lingering over at the light and sound board, and even once saw them each use the spotlight, but I think it was only because the sixth grader running the sound board told them what to do. The rest of the time, I saw the teachers pretty much relaxing and enjoying the show, sometimes just leaning against the bleachers or even sitting in the audience. When I complimented them on the show, they said, “Yes, the students did a great job.” While I cannot underscore the intense, long, and passionate hard work the faculty have put in over the past three weeks, one thing was crystal clear Thursday night: the teachers were not in charge of this show. The students were.
In my 20 years of independent school education, I’ve seen plenty of wonderful “student-led” productions. But not until our very own Fare Faire, have I seen a show so incredibly run by the students. When we walked into the Gym, it was a student decorations manager who had transformed the space into a medieval stage; where there was a line forgotten, it was a student director who whispered a line; when there was a costume glitch, it was the student costume manager who responded; whenever someone missed a cue to come on stage, there was a student stage manager giving them a gentle shove onto the stage; or when one of the mics crackled, it was the student sound manager who adjusted the board settings.
Sixth graders have the opportunity to step into leadership roles for the production. Stella and Mahinda were the directors. Leila the stage and decorations manager. Whitley was in charge of costumes, while she and Stella also worked with Jillian Crone to spearhead marketing for the show. Andrew was in charge of sound and lights, while Mohamed was in charge of microphones. Dalia was in charge of props, and Kylee in charge of photography. Leading their fourth and fifth grade peers in producing Fare Faire is a capstone experience for these students. They had been preparing for that responsibility and honor all throughout the first two years of their three-year cycle.
Our three-year Upper Elementary program has always delivered a strong and unique learning experience for our students. Building on the Montessori skills and foundations that have been developed throughout the Primary and Lower Elementary divisions, our fourth through sixth graders are empowered to come into their own as they transition to the Upper School. They take responsibility for their learning in real-life applications; they develop all the academic and social-emotional skills they need to thrive in life; and they learn who they are and how they will step into the world. It is a critical time in the students’ development. And it is big work.
And that big work is guided by a group of inspired and hard-working “teacher-guide-people,” as the faculty sometimes call themselves. Each subject matter experts themselves, they know that so much of the Montessori approach is correctly and carefully setting up the prepared learning environment to guide the students to their own success. With most traditional schools, and even some great schools that try to be more innovative, the model is teachers as the "sage on the stage," filling students with facts and information; not at our school. It is teachers as guides, teachers as inspirers, teachers as coaches, and teachers as expert listeners, researchers, and observers to see what each and every student uniquely needs.
So, where are the teachers?
They are there, every single step of the way, knowing how to both nurture and challenge, knowing how to inspire and empower students to do the work themselves, and knowing when to step back and let the students take ownership and responsibility for their own work, for their own success, and for their own theatrical production, as was the case during the simply fantastic Fare Faire production on a recent and chilly Thursday night in January.