Sunday, September 11, 2016

Intuitive, Critical and Analytical Thinking in the Elementary Classroom - Part 2

My last post was about critical thinking. After doing much research on intuitive, critical and analytical thinking I decided that it makes sense to combine intuitive and analytical thinking for this post. A person can do one without the other, but to be as proficient and successful as possible we need to utilize both. There has even been a term that has been coined to combine both, which is "design thinking." In an article called, “The Design of Business,” the author states that “design thinkers observe the world, imagine alternatives, and bring them into being.” Critical and analytical thinking actually complement each other. 

Analytical thinking is used to break down a complex idea into a series of steps. This is done to create an overall conclusion. For example, a person would ask why something is the way it is and then come to a so called scientific conclusion. Whereas intuitive thinking is not based on time, it’s dynamic, looks at the big picture, and is subjective. A metaphor for understanding what intuitive thinking is would be like when you see with your eyes and observe the whole environment at once. If you think about it, you might notice a brief moment before you start judging and identifying people and things.

In that moment is where you are “seeing the big picture.” Whereas, utilizing analytical thinking would be where you begin to focus in on something specific. Or, you might ask why something is the way it is and then take steps to figure it out. Being in a Montessori Environment definitely nurtures and supports the development of these ways of thinking. A book entitled, “Thinking in English: A New Perspective on Teaching ESL,” in part, talks about the success of the Montessori Method and that many other types of teachers, parents and children testify to Montessori’s Methods. It states that, “We give recognition to the innate intelligence of the student and acknowledge that students can and do teach themselves many things that are necessary for survival through intuitive learning.” 

This is in reference to the freedom given in this environment for the child to explore with material. When we give the children the freedom to explore with their hands, their minds are satisfied by the action of movement. They are given the space to think about what they are working with and adapt when a road block or question arises to do as Montessori said the child wants, “help to do it by myself.” This is also a key to fostering independence and practical life skills. 

These are all important components of a Montessori Education, when really, these should be common place components of education in general. Furthermore, my understanding is that she did not want her findings to be coined as a method. Since our traditional education methods are continuing to go in the opposite way, meaning away from supporting a human’s natural tendencies, you can see the effect it is having on our present college level generation. It is terrifying to think what statistics will look like when our present elementary aged children are in college.


In a Montessori classroom setting the child is free to explore. They are free to make mistakes and learn from them to understand why. Concentration and socialization is encouraged, not interrupted or stifled. Guides and heads of Montessori schools should think of ways they already foster different types of thinking, so it is a more conscious effort. In fact, I have a request for any guide, parent or head of school. Would you comment on examples of how any of these types of thinking are or can be fostered in a Montessori classroom? I would like to compile a list and share it with other online groups that could possibly benefit.

Additionally, we should be thinking of how to more directly encourage activities, such as team-building exercises. They are great ways to foster several wonderful qualities and types of thinking. While a Montessori school experience can naturally foster team building through its group work, I think in this day and age we need more diverse experiences. There is more than one way to learn how to divide or multiply in the classroom among other academic activities. Our schools should come up with a couple of outdoor or indoor team-building activities. For instance, especially at the beginning of the year, I find it helpful to take the Upper elementary on a camping trip designed for team building or a day trip centered around team-building and communication at a local camp.

As always, I look forward to your comments and your insight into examples of how any of these types of thinking are or can be fostered in a Montessori classroom. I really think bringing more educators the awareness of consciously fostering different types of thinking could be of great value for all. Understanding what faculties we are using helps us to become more aware of ourselves. As it is believed Socrates said, “Know Thyself.” Some would argue that is one of the most important things we can do and pass on for our children to take the journey to do themselves.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Intuitive, Critical and Analytical Thinking in Elementary

The A.M.I. Journal 2014 – 2015, Theme Issue: The Montessori Foundations for The Creative Personality, has an article in it called "Intuitive and Analytical Thinking" by Jerome Bruner.  It was first published in The Process of Education, 1960. After reading it, I thought about the elementary children and three different types of thinking: intuitive, critical and analytical. Analyzing these three different types of thinking is a critical issue that may not often be spoken about together and may even be more intuitively practiced by some without even realizing it with respect to the elementary classroom. My reflections and research on this topic will not be comprehensively covered in this blog post. Instead, my goal is to wet the whistle, inspire with a nugget and walk away just as we should in the classroom. I will touch on each type of thinking, at least one application in the elementary classroom, and a call to consciously implement opportunities for our students to practice and identify these types of thinking.

Dictionary.com defines critical thinking as disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. Research shows that the definition has changed over the decades, but one thing remains constant. That is a need to provide effective solutions to complex problems. The elementary classroom provides opportunities to foster this skill all day long. Let’s look at the characteristics of fairness and justice. Conflicts and questions are constantly arising in the classroom. What is fair and just to a 6 or 7 year old might not be enough or the same for an eleven or twelve year old. Group discussions are great to show different points of view and to let children experience what the different ages think about the same topic. However, here is an example of a one-on-one opportunity.

“Mr. Matt, how come the little kids never do any work, or help clean up, says one student?” My reply is that, “First of all, there are no little goats in our classroom (with a smile). Let me understand what you are saying here with your statement to me. You mean that you think that the lower elementary children never do any work or clean up. And by never are you saying that I’m not teaching them, they do not listen, and it is not fair?” Her reply was, “No, I know you teach them, and they do not never do work or clean.”  So I asked, “Then what do you mean?”

“They can just be loud, and they move around more than us, and compared to us, the older children, they barely help clean.”  I answered her by saying, “Those are all good observations. This is what I think about when I hear you say those things. When you were their age, you were the same exact way. You used to get frustrated with the older children for getting frustrated with you.  So you clung more to the children that were your age and younger. In the same exact way that you are coming to me now, there were children who came to me who you remember.  They said the same thing about you and your friends.

Anyway, remember how we have spoken about how humans have a lot of things about them that are the same?  Well, at the age of all the children in this classroom, being fair and just is very important. So, what you are thinking that is unfair and unjust, some of the younger children might be thinking that what they are doing is fair and just.” “How can that be, she asked?” I inquired, “Well, let me ask you a question instead. What could you do to be solution-focused to make yourself feel better?”

After some thought, she concluded, “I could probably sit down and do work with them, I could like be their partner for part of the day and maybe during clean up. If other people feel the same way, then we could partner with the younger children.” “Another thing for you to keep in mind is, are you judging them based on your standard of getting work done and cleaning up and not what the ability of a seven year old might be?”  With an amazed look on her face, she said to me, “I had never thought of it like that.”

“I appreciate you coming to me with a critical issue for you that always comes up in the elementary classroom. There might be more for you to think about on this topic. Who knows, you might help make the dynamics even better than they already are in the classroom." With that, this student was satisfied, and replied, "okay Mr. Matt," and went on to her work again.

Throughout the year I have really been contemplating different types of thinking and how they seem to be less and less evident in students over the past couple of years, at least less than I remember when I first started teaching. So, I started to make it a mission of mine to delve deeper into understanding different types of thinking and how to deliberately foster them more in the classroom. This is why I decided to write about intuitive, critical and analytical thinking.

Over the last couple of months I've posted "Connecting to the Heart Through Awareness" and "Effectively Connecting with Students at the Heart Level," So, as mentioned in the previous posts, I will continue to talk more about perception, mindfulness and connecting at the heart as well as experiences with that and how it all came together.  However, I wanted to do a little segue: a three part post on critical thinking, analytical thinking and intuitive thinking. Then I plan to tie everything together in time for the 2016 - 2017 school year.

As always I look forward to your comments!


Monday, April 25, 2016

Connecting to the Heart Through Awareness

The common connotation of the term "self centered" is having a "preoccupation." In order to be "self centered" one has to be preoccupied with oneself and one's own affairs. It's during a person's childhood that a person tends to be stuck in preoccupation, and unless one is given the right tools and knowledge, they may be stuck in a rut of self centeredness for the rest of their lives. By giving children tools to understand what self centeredness should be, they can better understand the impact of being aware of oneself and their environment, rather than focusing on the self. 

A byproduct of focusing on the self, for example,  may be focusing on singular aspects of the environment and making children aware that there is more to be aware about than the singular self. In considering how to help students connect with themselves at the heart and how to help the guide connect with students at the heart (a very important component to educating the child) the guide should also consider the importance of redefining "self centered" so that it's not just a negative connotation, but a natural human tendency in general to have a sense of self centeredness. It goes along with self preservation, but to truly develop and mature into being a successful, fulfilled member of society, one also has to be self aware and aware of their own environment. 

So, let's focus on two qualities or personality traits: self centeredness and awareness. Let's understand self centeredness and what it means to bring that understanding to the children, followed by what it means to be aware, coupling the benefits and impact this can potentially have, by giving a child this tool for their future and the future in general.

When one is self centered one is preoccupied with oneself, and that, in and of itself, is a negative experience. Bad habits and addictions can come from self centeredness, whether they be drastic addictions such as drugs and alcohol to overeating to relational addictions like being involved in dramatic relationships or not being able to be social, because you are so self centered that you are not able to participate in relationships by reciprocating other feelings or being self sacrificing in enough of a way to maintain a healthy relationship or friendship. Once understanding that, let's redefine self centeredness for our purposes and associate it with self preservation. If self centeredness, in this way, is about self preservation, it's already equipping a child to have healthy relationships and a healthy life. 

With that said, it's important to have a conversation with the children about this idea of self centeredness and the distinction between self centeredness and self preservation. You can ask the elementary child to think about times that they may be self centered and self preserving in that they are caring about themselves or striving to be a better friend or brother or sister. You can revisit it in a few days, after introducing the concept, if they can't think of any examples immediately. An example of a child being self centered might be saying, "Im not going to do this work with you because I'm doing what I want to do. You need to go find your own thing to do." In some cases, you might just hear a child say, "Go away." When a guide hears this, it is the perfect opportunity to shed awareness of the child's ability to communicate differently and express kindness and understanding, which always dissipates one's self centeredness as being the preoccupation of oneself or one's activity. 

An example of self centeredness with our definition would be that an older child might be doing a creative great work, utilizing their imagination. A younger child then gets a work similar to theirs and sits near them and starts trying to copy what they are doing and becoming a distraction to the older child and their work. While we know, as a Montessori guide, that the self preservation of a child's concentration is of utmost importance, there have to be, either exceptions to the rule, or exceptions for the opportunity for greater possibilities. This is one of those times. So, when the older child comes to the guide and says, "this person is bothering me and distracting me and copying my work." It is a chance for the guide to say that they understand how they feel and it must feel frustrating, but ask the child to look at it from a different perspective, before asking the child to choose something else. 

The guide can simply say, "think about you being that child once, for no other reason than you liked them and looked up to them or you wanted to participate in that, but were too scared to ask. So instead, consider giving the opportunity of appreciating that that child is looking up to you as a role model rather than just trying to annoy you and see if you can be there and appreciate that that is what he or she is doing." 

In most cases, as has been my experience, when we communicate with a child in this way, they become more aware of this perception and they're no longer self centered in a preoccupied way, but as long as they can preserve their own work, they can understand their fellow student, because they are trying to do great work too. One might say that this is simply showing empathy, and while that's true, there is no empathy without awareness first. So empathy and other attributes that can be experienced are by-products of being aware first. 

What does it mean to be aware? Being aware or having awareness is the ability to perceive through multiple lenses. When we're on the ground we can see the street in front of us, the trees around us, houses, cars and people. If we climbed a ladder to the roof of a house, we could see the grooves of other homes, people, trees, the street and cars, from literally a different perspective. Additionally, if you got on a plane and you looked at the window as you started to take off, you would see even more from a different perspective. 

Being aware is nothing more than seeing the environment and your experiences from a different perspective. Through our interactions with the children, we use their conflicts as tools to see different perspectives, which brings more awareness to themselves, the environment, their experiences and the people around them. The next step that comes from practicing awareness is deciding what story you want to hold onto and tell yourself. 

Giving the children the opportunity and the choice of which story to hold onto is the key to practicing a fulfilling life. When giving them the experience to choose and letting them have the opportunity to see that choosing a negative story only leads to negative outcomes, you give them the gift of realizing that, holding onto the positive story, yields positive results. These positive results may not be right away, but they always outweigh holding onto a negative perspective. 

In conclusion, both the traditionally accepted definition of self centeredness as well as the new definition of self centeredness needs to be understood, which basically involves removing the sense of preoccupation. Self awareness can come from utilizing the tool of mindfulness, simple meditation, or being given the opportunities to be guided through experiences. Overall, one becomes better at being aware through the conscious daily experience of living and in the beginning, having someone being able to guide you through those experiences in a noninvasive way. In the end, being able to connect with your own heart and someone else, having a healthy sense of self centeredness, being self aware and aware of the environment and those around you can be attained by being given these opportunities by the adult or guide. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Effectively Connecting with Students at the Heart Level



Every somewhat - experienced Montessori guide knows that there are ebbs and flows throughout the year in the classroom. Of course, we see more down hills after a long break. This is because the process of normalization gets interrupted. There are even periods where, during consistent school days, it just seems like the children are too loud or are not cooperating. They are not engaged, are socializing too much, and you feel frustrated in general. Yes there is the rule of thumb: give more lessons, observe, have one on one meetings, etc... All of these things work or work to a certain extent. They are important and must be done. However, I would like to contend that there is something more foundational than all of that. We must connect with our students at the heart level. True education cannot happen without that. When we connect with our students, we give them a key to unlock the door to connect with themselves. Then the work, the joy, begins.

I was fortunate enough to learn this early on in my start. If I do not connect with the children, I will lose them. But, I didn’t even think of it like that. I have always had a passion to connect with all my students at the heart level and see them want to connect with me too. As a guide or head of school, you cannot ask for much more, other than connecting with the parents in the same way. So, what are some exercises or techniques to help make that happen? I have thought of several things that I realized I do. It is important to remember that it can’t be acted or forced, you have to own what you are doing. They see through you and respect your vulnerability. With that said, I’d like to share a story and hopefully it lights a little spark of inspiration.

Now, let me preface this with saying that I have a reputation for being fair but tough, funny but serious when necessary. So, I realize everyone has different expectations of their classrooms and ways of running it. Also, while this post is meant for primarily elementary and adolescents, I think connecting at the heart applies to all levels. However, I am intending my story and insight to be applicable to all types and styles of guides in the classroom. So, I would like to briefly rewind to the beginning of the year and share what I did with the children. What I chose to do is not uncommon in the elementary classroom. 

Like so many other classrooms, we had started our school year with creating guidelines for the class. They came from the children. Everyone had to agree. Then everyone had to sign it. We hung it up on the wall. All of the children were excited then. 

We returned to school in January of 2016, there was also excitement in the air and the room was buzzing. Everyone was legitimately happy to be back. There were a few students still literally on vacation. Things were good, for the most part. The transition back did go pretty smoothly. However, the couple of children returned about a week later. Then we received two new students who had experience in elementary. I was noticing that there was more than a buzz in the classroom. There were too many times where I repeated myself. The class was just feeling off and I was not satisfied. 

Eventually, I noticed after redirecting and pointing out what was on the wall, it was lost and fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. I figured out, even though it originally came from the children, they were not connected to it from their heart. This led me to have a meeting with them in January. Also, I explained how something curious seems to happen with pictures and things that get hung up on the wall.

You see, after about 3 months, people just forget, they just do not notice anymore. It might as well not be there anymore. I said, “what I have noticed is that most of you are not following what you signed and agreed too.” Some children looked upset, like they disappointed me and knew it (my perception of course). I assured them that it was okay and that “when you sign something, it is like making a promise,” and they should know that for the future. In the meantime, I expressed my observations and what I found frustrating. Then I shared with them that it was on them to do better and be better. Either way, I was going to keep being me. Yet, I wanted to convey something to them and ask them some questions about one word. This is where one technique comes in.

“So, who can tell me what respect means?” Right away, hands went up and I got examples, not definitions. I knew that I had to find a word that could encapsulate what might be missing in the classroom during certain interactions. When I heard the children were not getting it, not listening, I asked someone to grab a dictionary. I had them read the definition of respect, respectful and respectfully. I tried to get them to connect to the word. Then I explained to them the power of words. I showed them what happens to the body when we think negatively with a muscle testing exercise. I turned it into a self-talk, self-respect and respect for others lessons. It was awesome! The 6-12 year olds really took to it, reminded each other and applied it for the whole week. It is now February and “respect” is still understood and utilized in the classroom more than the 10 or 15 other agreements. Now that it has been about a month, it will be time to introduce a new word. 

As you know, January and February get broken up with conferences, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day Weekend. Yet, reminding them about respect when they made certain choices, showing them that I cared and not judging them had really brought about a deeper level of, well respect, between all of us.

To recap, connecting at the heart is the goal. The sooner this is done the better, but it cannot be rushed or forced. Helping them to connect to certain words like respect is a key to this journey with the children. Next month I will share another exercise that I have been doing and will continue to do with the children. It has to do with connecting to their individual hearts. If we do not teach children to do this, then connecting with them can only go so far! If you give the above exercise a try please feel free to comment and share with others your experience.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Montessori Education Keeps Cursive Writing Alive



          During the middle of September, as school was starting, a NJ radio station posed a question about writing in cursive.  The question was, “Is it a good thing that cursive writing is no longer taught in our public schools and should cursive writing continue to be a dying art?”  Of course I heard some unintelligent and unsubstantiated answers.  Then I heard answers one might expect from both sides of the argument.  Some callers said things like, “What is the point of cursive, writing is dying out, computers will completely take over by the time our children are grown up, and the only thing we need cursive anymore for is our signature.”  On the other side of the argument callers said, “Cursive is a beautiful art, I think it is sad that they don’t teach it in school anymore, and cursive was the stepping stone for me to become an artist and one other person said cursive started when our country started.  Regardless, whether there is a right answer or a wrong answer, I feel very fortunate to teach in a system where cursive is revered.  When will enough be enough?  When will families stop letting people who are not trained in education decide what is best for their children?  There are clear benefits to writing in cursive and we should not let it become a “dying art.”  It is not an art form, but a beautiful form of communication that has benefits to the brain.  Learning cursive creates the opportunity in the brain to subconsciously be able to make connections during interactions in life.  Furthermore, I strongly suggest that this would not even be a topic of conversation if it was not for computers and unlimited fonts. 
          Like any Montessori teacher might do, first, let’s start with a brief history of cursive.  January 23rd is National Handwriting Day, which is a time to acknowledge the history and penmanship that our nation was founded on.  Yet, non-educators are trying to do away with it, to push more typing and screen time on us whether it be directly or indirectly.  Why is penmanship, cursive, celebrated on this day?  According to History.com, it is because it is John Hancock’s birthday.  This day is in remembrance of his iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence.  This information alone is a lot of history to preserve, educate each other and our children.  We shouldn’t let the fast paced age of computers push our civilization’s history of writing out.  Computers should be left to be used as a tool for information and communication.
Originally, the Romans borrowed a form of cursive from the Etruscans and were the first to develop lower case script, which, flowed into modern day cursive.  By the late eighth century, Charlegmagne assigned a monk to produce a standardized craft.  From the influence of Roman characters, Carolingian Miniscule was created to feature lowercase and uppercase letters for maximum legibility.  From there the history continues to a form of cursive which became known as the Spencerian Method and then Austin Norman Palmer replaced that method during the turn of the century with a slightly different approach in American classrooms.  This form of cursive evolved and changed from there up until the present.  So, for centuries, cursive has been an integral part of our history’s way of communication.
            We are on the brink of losing the ability to write in cursive and yet now we have research to validate it to those who are becoming successful in taking it away from our children and our future.  So, the benefits of cursive handwriting based on an article entitled What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades by science writer Maria Konnikova.  She states, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information.  In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters – but how.” This has been proven by measured brain activity during writing, tracing and typing activities.  So, writing in cursive creates more brain activity than typing and it generates more words and ideas. It is a form of self-expression.  Furthermore, the science of graphology or the analysis of handwriting tells us that one’s personality traits are linked to the way one writes. To eliminate cursive is to make everyone the same.  Since the start of our Industrial Revolution and standardized public education, the government and politics has done a great job at pushing children through the system like factory workers.  Yet, Montessori preserves the individual and equips him/her to express themselves in their own unique way according to his/her own talents, characteristics and tendencies.
If you do further research you can find what our future generations will be missing in other school settings and why it matters. 
And so, I leave you with that.  Hopefully, your curiosity has been tapped and you look to do more, or say more or write more and please let it be in cursive.  Give yourself the opportunity to hold on to what is quickly becoming our past.  Learn for yourself and see that teaching and practicing cursive will help you and our children to better make other connections in life just as we are meant to connect our letters with a pencil or pen.




References



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Montessori Math not Memorizing Math

I came across an article entitled, “Memorizing Math is Wrong – This Study Shows Why,” which lead me to another article by USNews & World Report called, “Should We Stop Making Kids Memorize Times Tables?”  Both articles are interesting.  Upon reading both, I was instantly transported to my mom’s car in third grade when I was forced to continue to try and memorize my times tables by repeating them.  I remember hating every minute of it.  

Math was one of my better subjects up until about sixth grade.  I didn’t love it, I was just able to do it and get good grades.  From what I can remember it was because I did the work and memorized as I was told.  As I got older, math class became a great struggle for me.  It made no sense, I could apply very little to what was assigned and I lost a great deal of interest in it.  This carried on all the way through the well-respected all boys catholic high school that I went to and Jesuit College.  Not even tutors helped me to do more than just barely get by, especially when it came to geometry. 

Once I graduated college and became an assistant at a prominent Montessori School in Houston, my relationship with math began to change.  The vast materials were amazing, life changing, and the variety in which a child could learn how to do an operation was mind-opening.  Then I took the elementary training course that summer.  It was then that I knew my life and my way of understanding math would never be the same.  Scratch that, not even my way, but now there was a way that I did understand and memorizing did not matter.

As an elementary teacher, I have become known as being very good at math and teaching it.  Something that I never would have thought others would think of me.  But, I think there is something more to it and it is not really about me aside from a couple of things.  Parents of our present children have horrible memories when it comes to learning math.  What we are able to teach our children now is mind blowing, but it has been around for over a hundred years.  Most parents today do not realize that so when they see their fourth year child starting to understand what the algebraic expression of the binomial cube is, they are blown away because they definitely did not learn and understand that in elementary, let alone at around age 10.  This is not an exception to the rule, this is the norm in an authentic Montessori program.


A call to action would be to look for or make sure your child is in an authentic Montessori program.  One that encourages different ways of learning and teaching it in more than one way.  Not just with math.  However, it is a shame to think that something as universal as math is so misunderstood because it is so dominantly taught by way of rote memorization.  If your child does not understand it, if you do not understand it and cannot apply it to the real world, than what is the point, really? There is a way for your child to be happy, to be educated.  That way is an authentic Montessori program where they can thrive and understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Learning is not merely a means to an end, but rather a journey that is rewarding, practical and enjoyable.   

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Being Brave

Being Brave

             What does it mean to be brave?   Choosing to be brave is not a destination, but a journey that is traveled every day.   Being brave is a choice.   It does not have to be a magnificent act.   Practicing or making the choice to be brave can be about the choice to go through the process of overcoming a fear or doing something even though you are scared.   As a Montessori educator, being brave is a duty of the guide for the sake of both the children and families.   I have tremendous gratitude for Judith Cunningham, Michael Jacobson and the Montessori Model United Nations.   It is because of them, and the forum that they have created, that I can communicate and better understand bravery. The children and families also inspire me to strive to be a good role model and to do myself what I ask of the children to do.  

             Last year, I participated as a President on the Dais for one of the committees at the Montessori Model United Nations Conference in New York City.   I decided to open up the session by asking the delegates (students) what being brave meant to them.   Then I shared with them what being brave meant to me.  Next, I encouraged them to utilize this safe forum to choose to do one thing that scared them or that they were nervous about.   It could be something such as raising your placard, standing and announcing that you were present and voting in front of over 60 strangers.   Or, if you were scared to meet someone new, go up to someone in the committee and introduce yourself.   I had such an overwhelmingly positive experience with that and such great feedback that I decided to do it again this year when I was invited back to be President at the conference again.

             I was definitely tested at the conference to exercise what I thought I needed to be brave about last year.   However, this year’s biggest test of bravery for me at the conference brought me the greatest gift of awareness.   So, I did my bravery spiel again, and the search for a resolution on the topic of whaling between approximately 30 countries and 60 delegates began.   The room was buzzing; excitement was in the air.   Twenty to thirty parents were in the room observing in the back at any given time.   While everything was moving wonderfully, something different was happening this year that I had not experienced before.   Parents were trying to involve themselves.

             They were passing notes to the children, which I did not find out about until later in the day, and it was not just in my room.   Some were actually trying to influence their children.   Then, in the afternoon, a parent yelled across the room after a vote and said, “I don’t think the children understand.”   I was shocked; this is not supposed to happen in a Montessori environment, let alone a Montessori Model United Nations environment. I had a flash of being at a baseball game and seeing a parent obnoxiously yelling to the children.   This was not okay.   However, it was the end of the session and the parent privately apologized.   Unfortunately, for me, this was not over. Something needed to be done, but what?

             For much of the night I thought about how to handle this situation.  How could I change the dynamics that were being created in this forum?   I could not allow any other parent to think it was okay to interject or continue to take away the possibility for self-directed learning from any of these children.   In my mind, that was my responsibility, the children. Something had to be done, and when I realized a solution that was a possibility, I knew it would not be a popular one.   It was going to be difficult, and many things could go wrong.   Yet, I was a President of a committee, I spoke to the delegates about being brave, education is my life, and in my heart I knew what I needed to do, despite fears of possible undesirable outcomes.

             It was not until the session began that I made the final decision.   I briefed the Dais about my concern and unhappiness with regards to how some parents conducted themselves the day before.   Then, I told them that, because of that, I was going to probably ask the parents to leave the room so that I could speak privately with the delegates.   I explained to them that I did not recommend this, but based on the circumstances, I felt it was the right decision to make, for the sake of the delegates.

             And so, the session began with roll call.   After that, I addressed the parents and let them know that it was not okay to give negative reactions in the back of the room, pass notes to the delegates or speak across the forum to express an opinion.   With that, I asked them to leave the room and the Dais would invite them back in approximately ten minutes after the delegates were addressed.  
             As President, I explained to the delegates that voting on draft resolutions was their decision alone, being on the speaker’s list was their choice, and while it might be hard, they should not let their parents or chaperone persuade them during the session.   I explained to them that a parent calling out across the room as one did the previous day was not okay and just as they are expected to conduct themselves in a certain way, so are the adults in the back of the room.   Along with that, we reopened the floor to vote on whether the delegates would like to vote on the current draft resolution without the parents present.   The delegates voted in favor of voting on the draft resolution, and once we did, it passed unanimously.   The Dais then invited the parents back into the room.

             At the end of the conference, parents still shook my hand, complimented me, asked to have me take a picture with their child, and I also received at least one apology.   This experience taught me several things.   Good things can happen when you follow your heart.   This experience was about the children and that gave me the courage to follow my heart, which in turn, led to my experience of making sure I modeled what I spoke about, being brave.  


             It is my hope that, in sharing this story, guides, administrators, and parents can take away something positive from it.  My purpose was to show a personal story that might help someone else decide to be brave no matter how big or small the situation.   Often times, our imaginations make things look more scary than they actually are.   I would like to encourage you to share your story or thoughts about being brave.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Montessori Environment and Optimism

It can be agreed upon that there is both a business and practical side to running a Montessori School.   Michael Thompson stated at the 2015 AMI Refresher Course that 95% of parents have good will, a good heart, and benefit from regular feedback.   That leaves only 5% of parents who are difficult to work with.   Those are really encouraging statistics for both staff and administrators to remember and that optimism is really the duty of the school and staff.   Thompson also says that two kinds of parents, who fall under that 5%, are either threatening, intimidating and assaulting or anxious.  
With the first group, the administration needs to stand by their teacher, who should never be left alone with that parent.  Documenting conversations is important too, so those interactions can be referred to in the future.   This reduces the amount of discrepancies when having future conversations.  

When working with the anxious parent, wording things correctly and positively are so important.  When communicating with anxious parents, they need reassurance about their child.  For example, share the observations made about the student, but also identify the potential. Ask if the parent has any suggestions about what can be done together to support the child so that he/she can reach their ultimate potential.

The teacher or administrator must do his/her best to be encouraging and patient.   However, gently drawing boundaries to protect your time is important as well.  When expressing concern, it is also important to state what is being observed objectively without adding negative emotion.   The guide and administrator must be succinct in communicating observations and optimism. 

The expression of optimism between administrators, to staff and with families is paramount.   We should also leave room for parents to have a bad day or week and not take things personally.   As humans, we have to deal with our own issues.   We have our own external and internal judgments and perceptions that can often be misjudgments and misperceptions.   Sometimes, teachers and administrators have bad days, which can affect their interaction with the children and or parents.  
However, Michael Thompson also shares the importance of what it means to be a leader.   Both the administration and staff must be examples for the school.   The administrator must be an icon.   The history and mission of the school should be easily describable.   With everything that goes on in one’s life, at the very least, the administrator should act both professionally and charismatically, the same way the administrator needs the staff to act composed and with an approachable posture for the sake of the children, despite what is going on personally or professionally.   Michael Thompson is adamant in expressing that the administrator must thrust and trust themselves out there.   Additionally, it is important to inspire the staff to do the same.  

Throughout my time in the Montessori classroom, I have received a lot of advice from many people working in the Montessori environment, as well as from parents.   Some advice, which was mentioned at the refresher course was, “you can’t care more than the person who owns the problem.”   While part of me has looked at the rationale of this advice as a way to not get emotionally attached to a situation, it still was always bothersome to me.   Another thing that was said, similar to the old adage, is that “no good deed goes unpunished.”   Either way, those are pessimistic excuses to not have to deal with a situation professionally, head on, and with love.  

This led me to think about Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa and others.   They didn't own the problem, but they were involved in it.   As educators and owners of schools, a problem involving families is ours to help manage or solve to the extent that the family allows us to participate.   By being in this profession, we decided to be contributing members to humanity and its future.  

Through a correspondence with Maren Schmidt via the Elementary Alumni Association Yahoo group, she reminded me (us) that love is a verb.   She stated that love is not a feeling or state of being.   Then she mentioned the same thing that I was thinking, “we have a choice between love and fear.”   Maren went on to share a version of The Paradoxical Commandments written by Keith M. Kent, which reads as follows:

People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish and ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you;
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight;
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten:
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway. 


What I took from the refresher course was both validating and exactly what I needed.   Be compassionate to everyone.   When we have trouble, there are tools and resources in the Montessori community to help us find our center again.   Inclusion, as much as possible, is the key to success and fulfillment, whether as an administrator, guide, or parent.   We have a role to fulfill and therefore a duty to, at the very least, act as such.   

Friday, January 30, 2015

Communicating Montessori: Food For Thought

As educators of the Montessori pedagogy we sometimes make assumptions about parents.   We assume that they think what we are saying is important to them.   Often times we communicate Montessori jargon because it makes so much sense to those of us that have been trained.   It has become second nature to communicate in a “Montessori way.”    What is really important to parents?   For one, we have to ask them, we have to listen, and we have to connect with them at the heart level.   They want to trust us as much if not more than we want to trust them.   Parents are hoping to entrust us with their most precious seed(s).   Ultimately, they want to know and see their seed(s) be in a nurturing environment where they will grow and flourish to their fullest potential.   What do we say and how do we show parents that a Montessori experience gives their seed(s) the best chance with the best conditions for them to grow to their fullest potential?   That is really a loaded question and each guide and administrator probably needs to figure that out for themselves while taking this journey.   However, I came across leaflet No. 1 from “A Parent’s Guide to the Montessori Classroom” by Aline D. Wolf.   This led me to want to share a few insights and practical information from this leaflet and my own experience.

In the first part of Aline’s leaflet entitled No. 1 The Purpose of Montessori Education, she states that “early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected curriculum, but rather to cultivate her own natural desire to learn.”   So we communicate to the parents and especially the unfamiliar parent that our classrooms are designed to cultivate your child’s innate natural desire to learn.   Just as a seed grows into what it is supposed to grow into when under the right conditions, your child too will grow into what he or she is supposed to grow into.   A true Montessori classroom and a nurturing, well executing guide will foster the innate characteristics and tendencies (can you link this to my article) of your child.   How?   First, this is done by giving the child the experience of “controlled” exploration to experience the excitement of learning.   The guide helps the child to master the tools being used to learn the given activities.   The materials are the physical expression utilized to fulfill both an immediate and long range purpose.   There can be many and it varies for each material.   However, for example think about how the knob cylinders are used both for their immediate purpose, but also to encourage a correct pencil grip.   That leads us to the section in the leaflet of How the Children Learn.

It states that “Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief educator of the child.   We now have research to prove that not only is that true for children, but also it is simply true for humans.   More can be learned about this from Dr. Steve Hughes, a board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist www.goodatdoingthings.com.   What better experience to give our children then to be in an environment that incorporates hands on learning for every subject area?   What parent doesn't want to see their child become more independent at an earlier age?   We can talk to them about a couple of practical life experiences that can help bridge the gap between the home and school experience.   What about the parent that sincerely asks, “Why is this so important for my 3-6 year old, they are not even six?”

Well, this leads us to what we are all familiar with, the Sensitive Periods.   Parents may have noticed their child is beginning to have an intense fascination with things.   They may be simple, like putting parts of toys in order or doing an activity over and over again.   Aline states, “The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to her own periods of interest.”    In the classroom, they can put things in order all that they need too, they can learn other skills to practice such as pouring, slicing apples, washing a table.   All of these things foster a sense of order through their steps and meet the need of organizing through the experience of the whole activity.  

The last section of the leaflet is, At What Ages?   Essentially, Montessori pedagogy is crucial for all ages of the child.   It is not just for 3-6 year old children.   And it is certainly not another day care.   It is a true preparation for life.   Not to be confused with a preparation for life through a drudging and rote learning process.   Yet, it is a self-rewarding, self-fulfilling, interdependent and enthusiastic process.   This is not just true for the child, but parents would also like to know that the same is true for the guide.   That is a communication that is often left out.   It is something that many public and traditional private school teachers are not getting to experience with the children they are teaching.   Communicate when possible that Montessori education also happen before primary and after primary in an elementary program.   I am shocked by how many parents didn't even know that elementary even existed.   This reminds me to always keep an open mind, listen, ask questions and assume nothing.   The servant’s heart is necessary not only in working with the child, but also the adult.   Sometimes we forget that.


My hope is that this served as some food for thought.   Please share your thoughts, comments and food.   Thank you for taking the time to read.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

From Dream to Reality

Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.  ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
            The date is now January 1, 2015. I came across this quote, and credit for it was given to Albert Einstein. Since I tend to be one to check my sources, I found that it may actually have been written by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., who wrote a best-selling book in the early 90’s called “Life’s Little Instruction Book.” Another source that I found said that the author was unknown. Whoever wrote it, how fitting it seems to me that this is the title, because what I have to share compliments this quote and vice versa. With that said, I would like to share a personal story that is and will always be on-going, transforming and growing. The story started several years ago. 
When the story began, I thought I saw the ending. However, I was very wrong! The story was not ending, but simply changing and evolving. I am so grateful that I found this quote, because it brought me to a realization that goes along with my story.  And so my story begins as follows:
            Several years ago, I thought my life was planning itself out before my very eyes. Everything was falling into place. I knew I would become the head of a certain Montessori school, everything was pointing in that direction. Big ideas and simple ideas were coming to me to help make improvements and I was completely supported. It felt GREAT! The calling and passion that I had longed to realize was beginning to unfold. I loved being a Montessori teacher, but even before I started this job that I was at, I knew that I wanted to lead a high quality, enjoyable, nurturing Montessori environment. 
            To what I thought was my dismay, except for the last half of 2014, the last three years were probably the worst three consecutive years of my life. By the spring of 2014 I felt this plan, this dream, slowly ripped from my fingertips as if I was holding on to the ledge of a rock for dear life. Then in June of 2014, I could no longer hold on. Falling far and fast, something happened along the way down. While fear and uncertainty were certainly present, a sense of peace, fortitude and faith came into my being like light shining its way into darkness. What I thought was my goal, my ambition, my reason for waking up in the morning changed. Going above and beyond, without a care for recognition, was being replaced with resentment, frustration, and uncertainty. 
            Then, within a day, that resentment, frustration and uncertainty of a cocoon that I felt I was in, was actually a cocoon that I broke free from to be transformed forever. I was encouraged to start my own school. Starting my own school in eight weeks seemed like an impossibility. Yet, there was nothing left for me to do, but to do just that. With the help and support of colleagues and parents, that is exactly what happened. Over the summer of 2014 there were many ups and downs that occurred almost on a daily basis. 
            The story of that summer could be a book in and of itself. The very short version of that book is that Montessori Seeds of Education opened its doors in a newly renovated school attached to a church on September 2, 2014. People said that it was impossible, and it seems like it is, but there is one thing I know for sure.  Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.  ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Adding to that quote, “The people behind and who walk with the person with big dreams help that dream to never be given up on and together they are even more powerful than the one or those with all the facts.” There is more to this story and more to this quote, but I will share that in the next post.
              In the meantime, I would like to ask and encourage you to share your own story. Did you achieve something that was against all odds? Is there something you want to achieve, but are afraid to go after?  Maybe you can share something that may not seem grandiose, yet it might make all the difference for someone else who reads what you have to share.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Voices

Growing up, we go on about our lives as children with up to three main voices in our minds: our own, our mom's, our dad's, or that of whomever is responsible for us.  These voices or conversations that are taking place in our minds can be judged as positive or negative.  I can imagine as a toddler, I might go to touch something and my mom or dad says, “don’t touch that!” Then, when I come across a similar experience, I hear their voice in my mind, “don’t touch that.”  At some point in the near future I come across an experience where I have to make a decision to touch something or not.  I might hear one of their voices and choose to ignore it.  Then a judged, either negative or positive reaction occurs, and that experience either gets reinforced or it does not by how I judge the reaction.  I begin having multiple experiences where, even though I may not be aware of it at the time, my own voice speaks to me, and then, at the very least, the voices of those who are closest to me.  I probably think nothing of it because I am not capable yet and my life continues on, just as all of ours does.

Then we go to school, and the voices in our minds increase to include our teachers' and our peers’.  Each of the people who are in our lives for a significant period of time now have an impact on our self-talk and decisions we make throughout the day.  Should I do my homework or shouldn’t I?  What will happen if I do or don’t do it?  We imagine a response or hear a voice of what one of our guardians would say or our teacher.  We might think about whether our friend is doing it or not and based on what we know about them, we hear what he or she might say.  The cycle continues without giving it much of a second thought, if at all.  

As we get a little older, we let certain people into our lives and have more intimate relationships that may or may not last.  However, the voices of those people usually stick with us, especially during certain situations. For instance, let’s say you have a best friend that you spend a lot of time with.  Your best friend notices a quirk that you might have.  It could be that you bite your lip a certain way when you are concentrating.  He or she says that it is weird that you bite your lip that way when you are concentrating on something.  Since he/she is your best friend you feel comfortable doing it anyway and it is never really spoken of, but now you are aware of this “quirk” and you can hear him/her telling you that.  Now, let’s say your friend tells you one day that his/her family is moving far away.  So, you say your good-byes and it’s time to make a new best friend.  Before you know it, you start hanging out with someone new.  Within the first couple of times you are hanging out with this person your old best friend’s voice pops in your head, “it’s weird that you bite your lip when you are concentrating.”  “Where did that come from?”, you think to yourself.  Then, you start to feel self-conscious.  This is when you must make a decision about whether to let your friend’s judgment negatively or positively affect you.  Or to even just realize that he/she thought that, not everyone will think that and it really does not matter. 

When we are young, we may not be aware of our own voice or that we are even able to observe the conversations that are happening in our minds and that we actually have a choice. We have a choice to listen or not listen, to give the voices weight or not.  While this is applicable to everyone, I would like to continue our focus moving forward to our Montessori training. 

At some point we made a decision to go and receive our Montessori training at some level.  We met our passionate and steadfast trainers and they became a significant part of our lives as did our peers in training.  Assuming now, all we want is to do a great job for the children.  Our minds are open to learn, our hearts are ready to receive and eventually we are deemed ready to be in the classroom or to be an administrator.  Once we start our work, we realize that we have the voices of our Montessori peers and our trainer(s) in our minds.  We are not alone, even though it might feel like it at first.  We have experiences, and the voices of these wonderful people are speaking to us as we are going through the day.  It is not good or bad, it is just something to be aware of.  Eventually, with enough experience under our belts, we make our own judgments about these voices.  Additionally, we have the voices of the parents’ expectations, the voices of the children and if we are not in charge, we also have the voices of those above us in our minds.  

All of these voices swirling around in our minds at different times can be quite loud and feel like they are always around as we begin our journey in the classroom. The volume of voices is at a whole new level and the mind chatter is exponential and even more repetitive.  This doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing; in fact, it can be a good thing, if perceived in a positive way.

As Montessori guides, administrators, or whatever our roles are, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, if we are doing what we love.  We might ask ourselves some questions.  How could I have done that differently?  What might my trainer have done?  Was today a failure?  Am I good enough?  Are the parents going to be satisfied?  The voices in our minds are giving us answers to these questions and more throughout the day. 

We need to be more aware of the replaying in our minds of these experiences, fears, worries, and expectations every day.  We run about with our minds racing, wondering if we are adequate enough, trying to measure our day based on other people's reactions and assumed or literal expectations.

I was taking a walk the other night and thinking about a lot of different things with regards to Montessori, school, the pedagogy and my own life. The other thing I was thinking about was what should I do next, what should I focus on and who should I listen to about what? I distinctly remember thinking about the voices, the conversations in my mind, and a fox came darting across the street, in front of me and then into the woods.  With my heart racing, a few moments later a rabbit came darting out in front of me the other way with no fox behind it.  The rabbit stopped just across the street from me, sat and waited for a few moments.  Then I started thinking about symbology.

I thought about a symbology lesson I gave to my students last year.  That led me to thinking about Native Americans and animal symbols.  So, I looked up the meaning of a fox and then I looked up the meaning of a rabbit and I came up with this poem.


Scurry, scurry, worry, worry,
Like the hare I run about,
Busy, busy, in a tizzy,
I only hear the voice without.
Quiet, hare.  Do not despair.
The voice within is strong and sure.
If you just listen, you'll learn your mission,
Be confident and self-assured. 

~ Anonymous                                                               


Now, I have a new sense of peace.