noun: matriarch; plural noun: matriarchs
“in some cultures the mother proceeds to the status of a matriarch”
“a domineering matriarch”
I am perched on the edge of the visitors chair in Yvonne’s office that is reminiscent of a fishbowl. Two of the four walls in her office are floor to ceiling windows looking over the grounds of Caboolture Montessori School. Next to me is Yvonne’s collection of Elephants, every colour every size. I draw in a deep breath while taking in these beauties, thinking of the traits I know about these extraordinary mammals and the matriarchs that lead them – wisdom, strength, intelligence, natural born facilitators, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience, confidence, and compassion. The banging in my chest, the fluttering of wings in my belly and my shaky hands, do not at all mirror the woman sitting comfortably in her office chair, stockinged legs crossed, arms lounging on the arm rests, chest, heart and face open, smiling and confident.
The planning of Caboolture Montessori 20 years ago, was the result of two women making a decision to commit their passion, time, and money into a venture that they wanted to succeed.
“Then three years later I left and went to a bigger school, then nine, nearly ten years ago I heard that they were looking for a principal here.
I decided to come back home.”
Yvonne, like Dr Montessori has training in the medical field. Medical technology and haematology were the fields that Yvonne first trained in, she held a position working with children in Zulu land looking at protein calorie malnutrition. Working closely with little ones she discovered that children were a lot more than physical entities, that they have an amazing capacity. Ever the student, Yvonne needed to know how to understand children on a deeper level than she had been trained for. About to become a mother herself, she sought a type of schooling that would nourish the whole child, the answer was given to her through word of mouth.
“That was 39 years ago, after that I looked at education, I managed to get myself two degrees. Firstly traditional education, and when I was doing my masters, I decided that again Montessori seemed the best thing because it was appealing to all areas of learning. So Montessori is it”
Yvonne’s education on a cellular and intellectual level of children’s development and growth is what sustains her. Her wise assessment and constant wonder of watching a child be able to do things for themselves, their own development and education and not being held to the “monkey see, monkey do” phrase, influences her. She takes her job seriously in influencing others to see the wonder that she sees.
“To get the best out of who they are as adults is looking for the best in children. It’s really not words and I really believe that so strongly. That every child is magic, and it’s up to us to remove those barriers to allow the magic to happen, and then provide scaffolding for them. I have millions of these moments for me. I mean for me it’s a daily occurrence. When I see one of the students and their eyes brighten up and they say over and over again, “I have done it” and you know they have done it. That to me is a glorious moment”.
When selecting people that she can nurture, learn from, teach, be playful with as well have the strength to lead, Yvonne seeks people that: lead with their heart, must be open to learning, know how to be professional, but, most importantly knowing that their own learning is vital for the children. That it is essential for the children to see their role modelling.
“Three or four times a week, I refer to Dr Montessori’s readings and books. And read them again. When you read things again you see if from a different perspective every time. I tell the kids that. I tell the staff that. Learning doesn’t happen in one go it takes repetition, but, repetition when you are ready and you’re ready at different stages, in different areas of your life.
It is always good to go back to good things. Good books, good memories, good people. You will gather more information”.
“They really are my children. Yes my staff are my kids – in a way. It is one on one when you want to reach a person it’s not just about relationships it’s about inter-relationships and intra-relationships. If you know who you are then you will give the best to the other person. So it has to be one on one first, when you are talking to a group absolutely you will start getting a conversation going. But if you are a leader when you are in a group, you try and get everyone else to talk. When it’s two of you, you can really focus on each other. Individuality in the class room is the same you still have to have your focus on everybody, but when you are talking to a student it’s just the two of you in that space. It encourages active listening and most of all trust. If you trust somebody you will give them the best and you will want to do your best. If you don’t trust them it is superficial, you don’t go down inside. Growth is from everyone. When people say look around look what you have done. I am not being patronising when I say that, it’s not what I have done, it’s what we have done as a group. There is no way. No way, that one person alone could’ve every achieved what we’ve got here. It’s just not possible. I have staff that are so committed, so passionate and when I know that they have got that, I can aspire and push for bigger things. Yes, what we have done is phenomenal and it is not ending, now it is what is coming next? What is the next challenge?”
A well respected and wise matriarch with an ability to communicate, know when to take charge and know when to listen, when to connect with other leaders and draw from their wisdom in making decisions. Yvonne, shares with me her perspective on her first five years as the head of her tribe.
“My first five years of being a principal were absolutely terrifying. Terrifying. You feel that there is so much weight on your shoulders and you really don’t have that person next to you to say, “Well let’s do this or let’s do that”. So your decision making, your perception and how you see things is totally reliant on you. The responsibility was phenomenal and at the time, I didn’t have all the knowledge and I didn’t have the experience, I mean experience is something that nobody can buy or teach you. You learn through the process. So there hadn’t been enough process, I had been a teacher, I had been a curriculum director with others helping me make decisions. Those first five years was, “you breathe, you get in do the best”. Every time. Every time I was in a difficult situation, I would go to the bathroom, if I needed privacy,
“I would say think with your heart and do the best that you can with your heart not just your head. If it’s wrong then it will be wrong, but, you have done it with the best you can give at that very moment”
Now days when I look back I think, I was ok. I don’t know if I am proud yet, but I feel that I can relax more, I still have the moments when a big decision comes my way, now I don’t feel like I will crumble, I feel like I look around and grab people to support me. I have learnt that lesson, that, there are people that will help you and I also have an amazing board. When you have people above you and you know that they are there for you it helps a lot”.
Yvonne also draws on the life of other phenomenal humans.
“Mother Theresa I feel that, that, woman spent so much time in so much angst with no support that she was phenomenal. I mean Jo of Arc is another woman that is phenomenal. I need to bring in a man. Leonardo Da Vinci, I mean that man, the brain that really says it all for Montessori. The creative side of the brain, the logical side of the brain. I mean he had art, technical skills and information. I mean if I could have them all here, I would crawl under the table and let them go for it, they could do it all. But I can’t so I suck out the elements of each. If I could have anyone working beside me in the school? I mean the obvious choice would be Dr Montessori. But I think really I would like Madame Curie, she was an explorer, she was one that never felt she had enough and even what she found and discovered she was not happy with that, she kept going.
Seeking more of her openness and female intelligence I ask what the word “woman” means to her;
“Apart from Mother I think woman to me is arms outstretched and positive and powerful”
Of course finishing of for the quote of the day is none other than the Montessori quote.
“Let me do it by myself”.
I am grateful for Yvonne for sharing her story, her journey of wisdom, strength, intelligence, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience, confidence, compassion, and for being the matriarch that has guided my family through our Montessori journey for eight years. She has shown every single one of these traits to the most important boys in my world.
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