Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cooperation VS Collaboration
The terms cooperation and collaboration are not often or easily distinguishable, but doing so and understanding the difference can be very beneficial in the classroom and among co-workers. One important distinction is “active” and “inactive” participation. Someone can be inactive or silent and still be cooperating. When collaborating, everyone has an active role. If someone is simply being compliant, they can be considered to be cooperating. That is not the case with collaboration. There is shared action with collaboration. With cooperation, someone can simply give someone help to achieve something. When cooperating a person is making or helping someone to be able to do or achieve something. Collaboration offers the help along side someone or some people to achieve something together.

A Montessori Classroom offers the opportunities for both throughout every single day. Here is an example of collaboration from my classroom. One boy had the idea to create a timeline of the history of the Titanic. Several other boys joined in on the idea. They helped each other do research, draw, write and color on the timeline. As the guide, I had very little to no part in it, and my assistance was not necessary. One boy got the idea from a book to contact someone from the book. He asked an adult for help in contacting him to get some more or unique information. He emailed a historian who helped with the movie “Titanic.” The man responded and they were able to exchange and get new information for their work. This great work had many other benefits besides completing a project together. Everyone had a shared work to do to accomplish a goal, and they all played active roles, while there was no dictating. This is what a Montessori classroom makes room for. Below is an interesting diagram of cooperative and collaborative learning.
Public and traditional schools mostly offer cooperative learning opportunities and very rarely if at all offer collaborative learning. When a Montessori guide gives a lesson, there is cooperative learning between him/her and the student(s) to understand new information. A follow-up lesson gives way to more cooperation to reach the goal of understanding, remembering and/or applying. Yet, if students get an idea to do something different together, which leads them to learn something new (a different goal), those students are collaborating. Now, both cooperative and collaborative learning styles are happening in the classroom.

What about looking at the school as a unit? A school has a mission that is usually developed by one person, the founder. Cooperation is where the parents agree to follow the policies, pay tuition, get their children to school in hopes that the guides and other students will cooperate to help their children learn and be better than when they are dropped off. Some parents do not even think that much about it, they do not even play much of an active role, other than getting their children to school. However, here is a different outlook on collaboration for the school as a unit.

A Montessori school wants to play an active role in children’s education. Families want to play an active role in their children’s education. The basics of cooperation are met. Payment is made, children’s needs are cared for, and parents drop students off on time and come to conferences. Before the children are accepted or start, there is an agreement of goals that are to be attained for their children through a collaborative conversation between head of school, guide and parents. The school provides information that the parents can do at home to facilitate their child’s growth and development. There is also a monthly night of engagement between school and parents to nurture the parents’ understanding of happenings in the classroom and to share information or ask questions about experiences that are happening at home. Then the school takes an active role in creating solutions if necessary. Sometimes, even just the act of sharing helps others with what they are going through, or may go through, in the future. There is not so much lecturing as there is the sharing of information to come to new knowledge, expressing it and being able to apply it for another’s benefit. It is a group work and not a facilitator structured work. By default, it can be argued that there is a facilitator or leader, but beyond that there is a group agreement for group work based on a common goal where everyone plays an active role.

In conclusion, there are many similarities, even with the etymology. Yet, collaboration requires active and group oriented work. By work, I mean the actual meaning of the word, a sustained physical and mental effort to achieve goal(s) or overcome obstacles. While there can be cooperation (working together) during collaboration there cannot be true collaboration during cooperation. When the facilitation to achieve a goal is led by someone, and there is at least one person taking an inactive role, by simply complying, the work is cooperative.

With that said, our goals should include to understand collaboration and cooperation. Have or create more opportunities to allow for collaboration. Get parents involved to collaborate and not just cooperate. Heads of schools and schools would benefit by collaborating with each other to help make the school and school policies better. This is assuming that the head of school is creating a space with staff who want the same thing as the head of school and are willing to work together to get there. This takes humility and good communication skills on the part of at least the head of school. If schools, or even guides, can start with this understanding and applying it at least to their classroom and parents, it would be amazing to see what the reported difference would be before having this awareness.
Please share your thoughts comments and experiences so others can benefit from your insights!


Monday, January 2, 2017

Resourcefulness: Leading as a Parent, Teacher, or Administrator states that being resourceful is being able to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations, difficulties, etc. Anthony Robbins states that “it’s not the lack of resources, it’s the lack of resourcefulness that stops you.” A lack of resources should not be a sign to give up and quit, but a sign to show us that it is time to be resourceful. I have been consciously studying resourcefulness for a few months now. Because of all I have written about this year, and because a new calendar year is beginning, I thought wrapping up the year and starting the new one talking about resourcefulness would be a good idea.

One’s ability to be a great leader in the situation they are in is dependent upon how resourceful they can and/or choose to be. If you let a conflict with your child, student or co-worker stop you from flowing, then you are not being resourceful. Maybe you are too tired, someone else wants your attention, you have something better to do than to deal with it, or something else needs to get done. Eventually, a cycle, a pattern is created and you develop a bad habit in your interactions with that person or avoidance of your interactions with that person. Here, I am applying the idea of resourcefulness to your interactions with people and not a lack of physical resources. We do not lack resources to resolve something frustrating. What we lack is the awareness to step out of the cycle or situation and to look at it from the perspective of a hawk. Sometimes we have to be the observer, see the picture from a different angle, and imagine the different points of view of those involved. Yet, that is only part of it. Being resourceful is more than that.

At this point, if you google the word resourceful, 16,400,000 results pop up. People are studying and doing research on its importance and role. The University of Oxford Department of Education published a study entitled, “Resourceful Leadership: How Directors of Children’s Services Improve Outcomes for Children.” On page 13 it identifies 8 core behaviors that resourceful directors of children’s services displayed.

  1. Openness to possibilities
  2. The ability to collaborate
  3. Demonstrating a belief in their team and people
  4. Personal resilience and tenacity
  5. The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
  6. Displaying a focus on results and outcomes
  7. The ability to simplify
  8. The ability to learn continuously

They found that the most effective leaders who were being resourceful were differentiated in two clear ways: 
They were able to select the right set of behaviors for a given challenge and most importantly know why the behaviors would be most effective. 
They were able to draw on a broader and deeper set of relevant knowledge, skills and attributes, to help make those behaviors as effective as possible in their contexts. 

Wow, now that is a lot to take in, I know. How do we apply it to our everyday lives? I’m just trying to not feel so frustrated with my student, child or co-worker, or I can’t seem to get my child to go to bed. My child won’t eat. My husband/wife seriously gave this crazy consequence to our child. I have felt like there has been tension between these two teachers, I have not addressed it or no matter what I do it keeps getting worse. Some of these are examples of what I think we are looking for to be able to apply this awareness of being resourceful. 

Whether we are in the midst of the conflict or mediating the conflict, any or all of these 8 core behaviors are applicable. Even they are not enough. We have to also be humble. If we are mediating or directly involved, people need to sense genuine humility or they will not respect what we have to say. That humility also should accompany a sense of confidence. Being willing to ask someone "smarter" for help is incorporating humility and utilizing a sense of resourcefulness. Sometimes we do not know the answers and we have to ask someone else. One purpose of life is to evolve. There are always smarter people. We should utilize them as a resource. At times it is not a matter of smarter people, but people who have more experience. We need to humble ourselves to look to those people and/or their experiences. In turn we become that person for someone else who looks to glean from us.

Let’s look at a practical example of how to apply resourcefulness. I’d like to give a wide example in hopes that it reaches many people so that they can apply something from the example. I'm going to break down a general example into the 8 core behaviors.

1. Openness to possibilities

So, just imagine that I started my own Montessori School and that I also am still teaching elementary aged children between 9 and 12 years old. Now, let’s just say that when I started this endeavor I learned the importance of waking up each day with the awareness that the possibilities were endless and that I would be open to possibilities. I did not have to wait until this experience to start doing this, but having this experience is what triggered it. So, no matter what we do, we have to start and maintain our day with that concept and act as if possibilities are endless. Before long, we see the benefits of being open to possibilities and maintaining an awareness that possibilities are endless. 

2. The ability to collaborate

As a Montessori teacher, years ago, I realized that the ability to collaborate is essential. We cannot maintain a successful classroom or successful anything without collaboration, so I decided to make this applicable to the mission of the school I started and to be more conscious of applying it to all aspects of my life. I soon had the opportunity to be aware of something special. 

3. Demonstrating a belief in their team and people

I naturally believe in my students, and more times than not, I get great results. Unfortunately, sometimes, belief is not enough. However, it is important. The people around you, or who work for you need to know intrinsically that you believe in them. Sometimes, they give you reason not to. Regardless, of what they show you, people always give you something to work with, so believe in that. People come and go in our life. So, believe in them or that part of them until they go or you go. Who knows what kind of positive impact that will have on them or because of your belief what positive impact that will have on the next person they interact with. Conversely, why should we be negative about a person or situation and handle it poorly? Ultimately, it leads to more stress and frustration than handling it well.

Continuing on in a hypothetical example. I get to school and I know I have a child who is going to be disruptive, probably not going to do much “work,” but this child has potential and this child shows me that he/she can realize this potential. This is where resourcefulness comes in. I have to believe in the child, focus on that, and he/she has to believe me. So, I have to connect with this child. That is the most important thing... connecting. I have to, not only collaborate with the child and parents, but also with the children. They all have to know that I believe in all of them to make this work, to help this child make the change for themselves that they need to make. The child’s heart, myself, and the people around this child are my greatest resources. 

4. Personal resilience and tenacity

Next, I have to have a personal resilience and tenacity. My stance must be unwavering and everyone must feel it. It is not always perceived as a firm restrictive stance. Sometimes it is a smile and positive attitude focusing on the good and not the frustrating. What you feed will get bigger. It’s a natural law. 

5. The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system

Everyone has to know that I have a commitment to create and sustain this system and method for this person and really now this group. We now have a common unwavering goal, which is reiterated on a regular basis. Being trained in Montessori gives us an advantage to be better at being resourceful.

7. The ability to simplify

Now goals are simplified at different levels for the people who need them, but the leader knows the goal, mini goals and who needs to focus on what, so we are simplifying and distributing goals to be achieved. Collaboration is happening now. The leader (parent, teacher, administrator) must continuously learn. People are always changing, taking two steps back or evolving. 

8. The ability to learn continuously

We have to continuously learn. There is always something new to learn, adapt to or try differently. If all of these things are happening and used as tools then many different things happen. A few things that happen in this example are that the disruptive child finds peace, acquires life skills, and makes a more positive impact on him/herself and those around them. The children around him/her learn change is possible, patience, resilience, conflict resolution, the importance of collaboration, life skills and several other things. The parents obviously experience the joy and outcome of being collaborative loving parents in a Montessori school. Of course, I also feel fulfilled in my purpose among other things.

In conclusion, I know things do not always go as planned and we do not always feel successful. Sometimes it turns out that, on the surface, we are not successful. However, if we stay the course and do things like this or similar, then we are successful! We cannot control people, but we can control ourselves. There are times when success is not what we thought it was going to be. Sometimes it is about our own personal success in what we learned, how we handled a situation and how that changes us in a positive way for the future. So much is here, and these 8 core behaviors are applicable to smaller situations too, whether it is getting a child to bed, talking back, a disgruntled employee, or potty training. Not to come across as cliché, but life is a school and there are infinite resources available. We just need to be humble enough and dedicated enough to exercise the muscle of resourcefulness, just as we would our bodies at the gym.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Unity and Montessori

Dear Fellow Colleagues and Parents,

In light of negative reactions that have been occurring around the country with regards to the election, what families are going through, what our schools are going through and communications that have been occurring in different online Montessori groups, I feel compelled to share something on this topic. My hope is to help with bringing about more of a sense of unity, regardless of disagreements and personal opinions. Also, I would like to stress the duty that we have to our children and peers.

On the Montessori Teachers Facebook group, Andy Lulka posted:

Many of our members in and out of the USA are fearful today, in a state of shock and grief. Many others are feeling joy - or at least relief. I see in my feed so much pain, so much division. We cannot bring that in here.

I ask only this: Pause. Pause before responding, pause before hitting enter. Make sure your words are healing today.

We have remained a sanctuary from the divisive partisan dialogue out there this far, we will continue to remain so.

Montessori asked us to rise above politics. This is a great time for us to practice that. This seems like a good time to remember Dr. Montessori's words, published just a few years after the second world war: 

Not in the service of any political or social creed should the teacher work, but in the service of the complete human being, able to exercise in freedom a self-disciplined will and judgment, unperverted by prejudice and undistorted by fear.
- Maria Montessori (To Educate The Human Potential), 1948

Please take the time to reflect on these words and make a mindful decision before sharing a certain opinion and what the possible ramifications of that decision may be. We have rights as Americans, we have free-will as human beings, but we also have the ability to use our minds to create unity and choose unity over divisiveness, which does not always reflect our immediate opinions. Even if we cannot create macrocosmic change immediately, we can create change microcosmically immediately. You may be wondering where am I going with all of this. Well, I want to share with you what I think my duty is as an educator, elementary Montessori teacher, head of school and founder. 

Every fall around an election time, children come in with “their opinions” about candidates. Usually it is an echo of what they are hearing or what is being supported at home. Disagreements break out and frustration levels rise between students. I have been around long enough now where I know this is going to happen and it is a mediation, political, and inclusive educational time. In the roles that I have, I feel it is my duty to teach the children about the government, politics, and structure from an objective perspective. So, I am not going to talk about the past couple of months but the present and what we can do now in light of reactions our children are probably seeing and hearing about. 

Whether we agree with it or not, whether he was being honest in his communication or not, President Obama made a choice to communicate unity with President Elect Trump to the public. This seems like what we need to be willing to communicate to our children, staff and co-workers. Unity is the key to rise above social or political creed. Our personal opinion about sides does not have to match our expression of what is universally right. It is a fact that a universal truth or fact is something everyone can agree on and it is inclusive, never divisive. 

An elected politician can make our lives more difficult, and if it affects enough people, can obviously force change amongst a larger power or group. However, while this is a point that can be communicated, this is also not the purpose of this communication. We (educators and parents) have to teach our children to come together for what is right from a place of peace and not fear or anger. 

Those of us who have been around long enough know that things always have a way of working themselves out. Let’s teach our children about facts and truths at an age appropriate level. Heads of schools and Guides should unite in not expressing their opinion even to each other, but communicating truths and unity. It might be best to share our personal opinions with our friends, families, and/or spouses. Being a part of the Montessori Philosophy and education puts us in a place of power. That power should be used to reflect. 

Here at a wonderful NAMTA conference in San Jose California, a fellow “Montessorian” expressed her passion for being an adolescent guide. She read us a beautiful quote and one that drives her. I want to leave you with this thought. 

The educator has the power to give your child(ren) the world and they have the power consciously and unconsciously to make the world, or the place in which they try to find where they fit in the world, to be non-existent. 

What a magnanimous responsibility we have as educators and parents!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Tying it all together: Leadership, Connecting, Mindfulness, and Thinking

Over the course of this academic calendar year I have written about several different topics. I had mentioned that eventually I would come full circle and tie some of those topics together. Effectively connecting with students at the heart level, connecting to the heart through awareness, and intuitive, critical and analytical thinking are all important components of a happy, successful, and fulfilled Montessori school. In fact, I would say for just about any organization, but we are fortunate enough to be talking about Montessori and this environment gives us the freedom and responsibility to be able to do this. I will go so far as to say it is the duty of the head of school to establish this momentum for the staff so that they can overflow to the children and facilitate a symbiotic relationship with the parents. The head of school must be mindful, connect at the heart level and instill an awareness of these things, as well as of the impact that Maria Montessori’s education has on developing intuitive, critical and analytical thinking for the students.

In August, the head of school can and should start doing exercises and communicating with the staff about the importance of mindfulness, awareness, connecting at the heart level and open communication. The head of school should study leadership regularly and be a model for these qualities and practices. The question is, how can the head of school and guides do this? Well, it starts with the leader of the staff, parents and children. A mission statement is the first line of communication to indicate any of these things. Families want to know more than that the guide cares and is effective, but that the school as a whole does as well. In my eyes, a head of school should be firm, but open-minded, compassionate and understanding, and people should be made to feel this. Ice breakers should happen at the beginning of the year. Not just silly ones, but ones that help everyone to get to know each other on a deeper level. If the guides are excited to be there, that will trickle down to the children and parents.

Heads of schools already have an advantage because Montessori guides already want to be there; they just also want to feel connected, welcomed, appreciated and engaged. Just like the children and parents want to feel. Plus, it is a special person who decides to go through the rigorous training of being a guide. Guides should be checked in with regularly, naturally joke with them a little bit and speak to them more about school when possible. These special people want to make a difference and we are honored to be in a position to encourage and support them to do so.  Do something special for their birthdays, help to celebrate their life and your appreciation for them being in yours. Talk about awareness, and if you do not know about it, learn. Ask them engaging questions to think about their classroom differently and always bring conflict and misunderstandings to the fundamentals, hopefully your school’s mission. If guides are not mindful and aware, then the children can’t be. Remind them to breathe and take a step back, compliment them. Ask them if they are teaching and having the children do that as well. Sometimes we get so caught up in pedagogy and curriculum that we lose sight of the heart and the person.

Guides should have opportunities to teach the children to de-stress. Have them teach diaphragmatic breathing. Maybe yoga classes can be given on Friday afternoons. Show the children how to slow down a few minutes each day with some deep breaths. The guides should be remembering to smile and laugh with the children as well as be good managers of their classrooms. How am I encouraging any of the three types of thinking today? What materials encourage any of the given three types of thinking? Why is this important? We want our students to be super thinkers, to the best of their ability. What if they were able to better access and use both their right and left hemispheres more effectively? It does not have to be, oh I am more left brained or more right brained. Give them the opportunity to explore and develop both. This is what I mean by a super thinker. One who can access both hemispheres and practice mindfulness and being aware. These are fantastic life skills, not innate, individual traits.

What do the parents want? If you do not know, and do not assume, then ask them? Give them a survey or ask personally. Ultimately, most parents want their children to thrive, be happy and they want to know what is going on. Montessori is foreign to them, even if parents think they know. In fact, most guides are still learning about their understanding and concept of Montessori’s teachings, even years after being involved in it. Being human often gets in the way of our learning. Being a Montessori head of school, guide, parent and child is a lot like authenticity in that it is a journey and not a destination. Let me also clarify that we are ever so much more than a Montessori school, head of school, guide, child or parent. We are all human beings, some would say spiritual beings having the human experience of manifesting what a woman concluded from her observations and work. However, yes, it is easier to say Montessori school, head of school, guide, child, and parent. Yet, I feel it is so much nicer to have this understanding when we say that.

In essence, we have to constantly work on knowing ourselves and giving those around us the opportunity to know themselves too. Education is nothing without that. Connecting at the heart level is the key to communication and education. Awareness is the opportunity to see it. Mindfulness is the process we use to get there through the tool of Montessori’s approach. Communicate, be open, take a step back, breathe, and connect. It’s a very fulfilling process and an honor to be part of such a journey.

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. 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, 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.