Monday, July 31, 2017

An Understanding of the Communication and Collaboration Between Parent and Teacher

There is so much that can be said regarding this relationship. Keeping the idea of the triangle in mind and who or what makes up the sides and angles, it’s an ever evolving and sometimes devolving exchange. However, I like to look at it like a dancing of particles, similar to an explanation given in an elementary lesson called “God Who Has No Hands.” We have to understand the particles involved, and how they interact with each other, knowing their roles and the internal and external influences upon them in order to keep the balance as close to an acute equilateral triangle as possible. To have a simple image and a goal in mind is important when communicating something like this. 

What I am going to touch upon will eventually be so much more comprehensively covered than these blog posts can do justice to what I ultimately want to and will convey. However, please consider this as an introduction to look at what you know, or may not know, in a different way to aide in communication and collaboration with each other. I find that these strategies, attitudes, and perceptions help me be an effective communicator, so I want to share them with you. Based on my successes, failures, and feedback that I have received, I have been working on creating and communicating what I feel will be different, more intuitive, practical, and easier to grasp and follow in areas where we may be lacking and to give us a control of error to fall back on when we may have a blind spot or just may not be sure about something.

Before moving forward, have in mind this image of the triangle, but only the part that relates to the parent/teacher relationship. One vertex of the triangle is the Teacher/Guide and another vertex is the parent(s). We will be aware that “administration” is on the other vertex, “environment” is on the bottom, “assistants” are a side of the triangle, and the other side of the triangle consists of “other adults” who interact with the child. The child is the center of the triangle. Our focus is between Parent, guide/teacher and child.

Now, for a framework. The parent, teacher, and child would not be interacting in each other’s lives if one was missing. They are all connected, which is so important to keep in mind. There is an interdependency; yet, so often, there is an air of entitlement with at least one. Expectations are not even communicated, just expected to be known. All too often, collaboration does not happen. One expects the other to do their job, report back and be done with it. How can this model be successful when there is such an intricate interdependency that is truly and constantly at work? 

Practically speaking, there should be an open forum discussion between each adult. So often, schools ignore or forget the constant notions that have been drilled into parents’ heads about how things should be, and it is usually a very traditional and unfortunately all too common way of thinking. Parents don’t care or do not even realize that, for the most part, teachers are faced with this day in and day out. Teachers are usually in a constant struggle between the dynamics of their student’s home life, parent expectations that don’t match a timeless philosophy, school dynamics, the education from their training, and the experience that they are offering to the students. 

Children are in the middle of everyone’s expectations and eventually, as they get older, a realization of their own expectations becomes convoluted based on the adult’s impression of them and their experiences in different environments. With all of that said, there is one thing that needs to be crystal clear. A Montessori education is for ALL children. Montessori may not be for all parents, generally because they have a different perspective on human development and expectations or understanding of children. Lastly, the piece that I find is too often left out is that a child may not be a good fit for a certain Montessori classroom, but it does not mean no Montessori classroom is a good fit. 

Just like in the classroom with children, we can only meet parents where they are, not where we want them to be. In our communications with them we have to remember not to take anything personally. Which is also good advice in our everyday interactions in life. Have you ever been yelled at by a parent? Maybe you have been told that their child absolutely does not lie. Have you experienced a time when a parent was upset with you because you did not meet their expectations of how you should handle a situation, but you handled it in a way that falls in line with Montessori’s philosophy? I have definitely experienced these situations. You are either going to successfully turn these situations around or you are not. Simple and obvious, right? Well, it is true and we have to accept that. Once we do what we do, the rest is out of our control. We have to find peace in that idea before moving forward. 

Step one in any of these situations is to breathe. People do not need a reaction right away, so don’t give them one. Just breathe, and ask a reflective question or reiterate what you hear them saying. In any one of these situations this works to begin to diffuse the situation either for both parties, or at least yourself. Explain that before you go any further, you would like to agree on what the hope for the outcome is for this situation. When you know what the desired outcome is for both parties, you know there is a place to navigate to, a goal. You may think you know what your desired outcome is and what the parent’s is, but the idea that they are identical is an assumption that is practiced all too often. I have been so successful in diffusing situations and saved time by making this initial clarification my “go to” during a meeting with parents. You might go through a whole rigmarole with parents only to find out they have had every intention of pulling their child out of the school. I am not suggesting to ask if they are planning on pulling their child, although in some cases that may be a good idea. Just make an opportunity to clearly agree on the goal of the meeting. I find that parents are usually surprised by that, and usually end up appreciating it. Once the hopeful outcome is established, it is something you can go back to if the response isn’t, “well, I am pulling my child anyway.” 

So, let's say a parent is yelling at you and/or upset with you for whatever reason. Breathe, reiterate the situation if applicable and say, “So, what is your goal for the end of this meeting?” If it is a reasonable answer I would say something like, “I like to think we are on the same team. We both want what’s best for your child, although that may look a little different for each of us. Since we both want the same thing, I think we can work together to A) handle a situation like this differently and here is my suggestion about how this can look. What is yours? B) I want to support you in what you are trying to accomplish with your child and I would like to feel supported by you in how I am trying to nurture your child’s natural characteristics and tendencies so they can be the best person they can be.” Then a more hostile-free dialogue can stem from there. 

What I want to communicate is that we have decided to take on a career where we have to accept the fact that we must continuously play the role of diffuser and rebuilder. If we do not have this mindset then we are setup to fail. When we accept this role, we get less frustrated and take things less personally. It is silly for a garbageman to get mad at the people who throw away the trash that is set out for pickup in the morning. They chose a role and must accept it. Part of our description as guides, which was never told to us, is to be a diffuser and bridge builder. Parents are people, they are what they are, and we can’t get mad at them if we are meeting them where they are. If we are not coming from an emotional perspective, but a higher, more mental perspective, it is what it is. We have to use our emotions to bridge the gap and our mind to rise above a frustrating emotional perspective where we are “taking it personally.” When we work collaboratively together, interactions are optimized for growth, and both sides are benefiting the child, end of story.

Friday, June 30, 2017

An Introduction to the Framework for Collaboration and Cooperation

When one practices transparency it is under the pretenses that he or she is constantly working on open-communication and holds themselves accountable. Professionalism is a skill and practice of good judgement and polite behavior, no matter the situation. Character deals with the integrity of a person always striving to utilize and practice sound mental, moral, and emotional qualities. To be successful in continuing to develop these qualities, two parts are needed. One needs to tap into their will-power to make the decision to act in these ways. The driving force to remind yourself when situations are difficult, should be that you are answering to the child.

In communicating to parents, administrators and other co-workers, you’re not really answering their questions, but rather answering on behalf of the child. It is a mindset that you must constantly hold in both your mind and your heart, to help navigate through challenging conversations. When your thoughts and your communications are focused on serving the child, it is easier to not let comments affect your communication personally. There may be a feeling of advocacy for the child, which might cause you to communicate as if you are taking something personally, but it has to be with the mindset that you are holding the service for the child in the highest regard. When you do this, you can’t or won’t take it personally. Your conversation will be directed into a positive flow with a successful outcome.

So, in your interactions, this mindset will more readily enable you to have a reflective conversation when the other person seems to be attacking either you, what you’re doing or what is happening at your school. The bottom line is that the parents, teachers and the administration all want what is best for the child and the trained teacher needs to direct or redirect any given conversation into a compromise and a collaboration of the end goal: what’s best for the child?

While this is a subjective question, the parents have their personal experience, maybe whatever they have read and their own intuition to fall back on, but the trained Montessori teacher has their education and experience to support the end goal of guiding, not only the child but the directives given to the child to nurture their timeless characteristics and tendencies. When the adult can fall back on timeless characteristics and tendencies, there is little room for arguing or interpretation.

A starting point in any conversation can be with the end goal of having the following statement in mind: The “child” is not just the small person in front of you, but includes all the children who are not in front of you, humanities’ future.  When we focus on something greater than ourselves, we become humble, which is also an important quality to harness. The work before us becomes not about us. The desire to serve the child feeds our will-power to help us accomplish those tasks that otherwise might seem impossible.

In conclusion, as illustrated in the graphic above, there’s a paradigm and framework that I would like to communicate to incorporate as many dynamics as possible to best support the education of the child. The first part will be an understanding of the communication and collaboration between the parent and teacher; the second part will be the teacher and administrator’s perspective; and the third part will be administrator/parent communication and collaboration, to create the angles of the triangle. The final piece will be the role of adults, assistants and the environment, all with the focus of the child in the center, giving us an acute equilateral triangle. This triangle is always the goal, but it will always morph into any of the other 6 types of triangles based on the give and take relationship and interactions among people and the environment. The goal is to have as close to an acute equilateral triangle as possible based on collaboration, cooperation and communication.

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.