Friday, March 6, 2015

The Montessori Environment and Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vidya Shankar said...

Wonderful write up. Just at the time when I was faced with this 5 pc onslaught. Parental sign in is very important, or else, random comparisons demean the efforts of the child. While we need to completely stand by children as it is actually they who own the problem of having not understanding parents, we need to find ways for children to articulate their interest and progress which would educate parents. I am moving baby steps in this direction!

Matthew Simberg said...

That is a very interesting comment Vidya! Do you have any exercises or tools to do this? I am definitely going to reflect more on this.

Anonymous said...

This article is very interesting Matt. I'm not sure Michael Thompson is right about parents fitting into two categories. All parents want what is best for their children. To make assumptions that there are two types of parents is a faulty one. Assuming that the parents fall into two categories; ones that are have good will, a good heart, and benefit from regular feedback and ones that are 5% that are threatening, intimidating and assaulting or anxious, is a very bad assumption. It's complex, every parent is different and can not be neatly placed in these boxes. You don't know what parents have been through or why they may appear anxious but yet have good intentions. Such thinking leads to misjudgments and poor decisions.
However, I agree with your summary espousing others to treat all with compassion no matter who they are. This is a central theme of the Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and and Mother Theresa.
The administration of Montessori shouldn't have the teachers, aids and parents walking on egg shells. Dr. Montessori would have never supported such an administration of her program. She was compassionate. She work with special needs children first and with parents who may have not had a formal education. She accepted everyone and did not judge parents or fit them into categories.
With the responsibilities of compassion, one must not ignore communications of parents, nor throw children out of school without dialogue, nor have staff and teachers treat parents as an "us vs. them" paradigm, as many of us seen at some Montessori Schools.
Francis of Assisi once said that in our dealing with others, we should seek to understand as well as be understood. Only then will be able to see the good and the work of God in all people. If administrators, teachers and parents understand each other, then a door for positive success will open. Ignoring each other will only breed mistrust, hard feelings, and failure.

Matthew Simberg said...

Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate it!

Alicia Yip said...

Wonderful write-up.

Matthew Simberg said...

I appreciate that, thank you Alicia!

Julia Volkman said...

Well said and quite useful. Thank you! We've been running a new family orientation program in a public, urban Montessori school for several years now and it is easy to see that most parents are willing but there are always a few who are not. See for a full description of the program and a link to videos and a slide deck.